August, 2020

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#BadNews#GoodNews

Friday, August 28th, 2020

In Job 5:7 Eliphaz tells Job: “Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward.” It is hard to disagree with that statement. The statistics of the wear and tear on people over the past 6 months or so tell an ugly story of loneliness, depression, anger, isolation and a whole bunch of other words. Suicides have reached an alarming rate as well. Parents are tired of having children at home and under foot and children are tired of being home and having their parents around all the time. 🙂

There is other bad news though, far more devastating than something political or social. Psalm 40 describes it as being in “a pit of destruction and mired in clay.” But he also wrote on to say that God set his feet upon a rock and put a new song in his mouth.”  Let me give you a word picture of our dilemma. A mother comes home to see her children all hovering around something.  She looks closer and it is five black baby animals with a white streak up their back. She yells, “Run children!” to them and then watches as they each grab one and run in opposite directions. Yikes!!

We all have had problems blow up in our face, but there is one we can’t seem to handle. You find the answer in Romans 5 where it says we are weak (v.6); sinners (v.8); and enemies (v.10). And there is nothing we can do about it.  That is the bad news.

But there is some very, very good news. We can’t do anything about it, but Someone else has.  Ironically, the same passage that gives us the bad news also gives us the very, very good news. I’ll be sharing both the bad news and the good news Sunday in my sermon entitled Good News for a Sad World. This will be the final sermon in my series on “Promises, Promises.”  My new series starts next Sunday called “Q & A.”  I’ll explain more next week.  But for this week I would appreciate your prayers. And if you have a chance, drop by and listen. Live stream is at 10:45.  Thanks.

#Memories#BookReview

Wednesday, August 26th, 2020

Caution: this is a fairly long post.

I grew up in a church tradition which was somewhat mixed. Part Baptist. Part Christian Church/Church of Christ. Mostly the former, at least for the first 17 years of my life. That all changed when we got a new pastor who then encouraged me to attend a Bible college in KY. I made a real spiritual decision to attend there…they said I could play basketball.  🙂 After a few games I was starting as a Freshman. Goal accomplished. While there I became exposed to what was called the Restoration Movement (RM).  I had never heard of that until my Senior year. But after 3 classes I was hooked. Hook, line and sinker as they say.  I became almost rabid in what I “preached” as doctrine.  Baptism for the remission of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit was the only valid baptism. All others were lost.  Non-eternal security. The evil of denominations. Among others. I became very legalistic.

The founders of this movement were Thomas and Alexander Campbell, Barton W Stone and Walter Scott, with Alexander becoming the figurehead. Think Martin Luther. John Calvin. John and Charles Wesley. All men whom I honestly feel never wanted to start something that would become isolated from the norm. They became known as the Reformers, hence the Reformation Movement. Their goal was to reform the church, to shake off the shackles of Catholicism with its abhorrent practices, and present something different. Campbell’s movement was called (by him) the current Reformation. By others it was called the Restoration Movement because it was seen as an effort to restore the ancient order of things.

I left that movement/denomination years ago. I have no allegiance to it. But I have to admit some curiosity when I saw a book recommended on one of the blogs I read:

A Life of Alexander Campbell (Library of Religious Biography (LRB))

I decided to buy it since I tend to be a somewhat eclectic reader.  Granted there are some books I avoid like a plague (anything with Bethel or Hillsong involved); any name it/claim it book; any “God wants you to feel better about yourself” book; or an out and out “secular” book.  I do like to read biographies from time to time as a change of pace, so I bought this book.

WOW were my eyes opened!

When one learns of another initially, there is almost an aura which surrounds the “hero.” Further study dims the halo. Even further study takes the halo away. While I was grateful for my time in the RM when I was there, I have been away from it long enough to be somewhat jaded. When I read this book,  I found myself having mixed feelings. While awed by Alexander’s mind, I was somewhat taken aback by his attitude.  He was often arrogant and condescending to anyone who disagreed with him. He was (are you ready for this?) somewhat of a white supremacist (not the KKK kind but the kind who believed the white race was superior). He didn’t have slaves and thought slavery was abhorrent, but did not see the Scriptures as denying the right to have them. He lamented the Civil War.  He was opinionated and had a brilliant mind to support that. He was also benevolent and untiring in his effort to further the cause of Christ and the “ancient order of things.” He loved to debate and was involved in several.  It was actually during one of his debates that he cemented his belief in baptism for the forgiveness of sins. But he was also open to “brothers in error,” those who were not immersed and had never been taught of its importance/”essentiality,” who could be considered his brothers.  I found as I read an exasperation developing because he could be inconsistent in his teaching.  He could appeal to both the sectarians (we are the only ones) and the ecumenist (everyone will make it) depending on how one took his writing.  He could preach on immersion in water as the point of forgiveness, yet also preach the absolute sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice as the only requirement for salvation. 

Foster summed him up with these words: “AC was a complex, brilliant, indefatigable, arrogant, racist, aggressive, prolific leader who made a lasting impact on the Christian world. He was a man whom God used and whom God chastened. His spiritual descendants have inherited every one of his characteristics. They have been passionate for the truth of Scripture and the will of God. They have been tempted and have often succumbed to the arrogance of believing they alone were legitimately struggling to follow God (a belief, however, not unique to Campbell’s heirs).  A dominantly rationalistic approach to truth resulted in internal divisions within the movement whose name he now shares, ironically, with Barton W. Stone.” (p.331)  {My note: It is sometimes known as the Stone-Campbell Movement} 

Further note: in 1906 a split occurred  when the church of Christ (non-instrumental) wanted to be known in a census as separate from the movement. A further split occurred in the late 1920s when the more liberal side known as the Disciples of Christ decided some of the core doctrines were not true, like the Virgin Birth and others).  

Jo wondered why I was reading this book- “You aren’t in school anymore.”  I told her I feel I am because I can never stop learning. At times I slogged through this book (especially the earlier part) because of some details the author needed to give. But at other times I didn’t want to stop reading.  AC’s sharp mind deteriorated into dementia, a sad ending to a shining light. I don’t know that I will ever read this again, but I do know I will keep it in my office for possible future reference.  If you like biographies, especially of religious figures and figureheads, you will enjoy reading this. I have a greater appreciation now for my past, but more so for my decision to pursue another path.

#Remixed#Nones

Saturday, August 22nd, 2020

I’m not preaching this Sunday. We have a guest from the church camp we support, Hilltop Christian Camp, in Columbus, IN. Hilltop took a hit this past summer, as did all summer camps. I believe this ministry is so important I am willing to give my preaching time to the director to inform us of the camp’s next moves and how we can support them.  So this post is entirely non-related to any sermon.

I’ve been reading a book over the past week or so that I know someone recommended but I’m not sure who or where. The reason I say that is that it does not seem to be a book I would just up and buy.  That is a nice way to say the jury is still out on this book. 🙂 The premise sounded good.  Oh, but first the book:

Strange Rites: New Religions for a Godless World

As you can see it is called Strange Rites: New Religions for a Godless World by Tara Isabella Burton. Since I believe it is important to know the culture to which Christ-followers are to relate, I thought this would be a good book to get a handle on it.  I can’t speak as to the author’s religious leanings even though she is a columnist at Religion News Service and holds a doctorate in theology from Oxford.  I can’t even tell if she is a Christ-follower or one who writes about religion. One thing I do know is she is knowledgeable and a student of the “Nones.”

The “Nones” have been described (in my very simple way) as a generation of people who have no desire for religious affiliation with the God of the Bible or its teachings. They may have been raised that way; they may have been raised in a church home but walked away from it; or may have even been in the ministry in some way (pastor, youth pastor, etc) and “deconverted.”  Here is the author’s explanation of what she calls a “Remixed” person:

Today’s Remixed reject authority, institution, creed, and moral universalism. They value intuition, personal feeling, and experiences. (p.10)

I live near a university (Indiana University) with two others (Indiana State University and DePauw) not far away.  So I can attest to this philosophy as being very rampant in the minds of many, especially young people. They demand the right to rewrite their own script, their own history, and their own morals. They want to be able to define and describe how the world should operate and turn out.  They have turned their backs on historic, orthodox Christianity and are into making their own rules. 

It’s not pretty now; nor will it turn out pretty in years to come.  You simply CANNOT make your own rules and moral law and see any good come of it. That is especially true when we can’t decide on what’s right and wrong.  (Can anyone say today’s world and uproar?)  We can see or hear the daily devastation of those who want to make their own rules and then try to impose them on someone else. The senseless beating of an innocent truck driver; the beating of a retired police detective; or the senseless beating to a pulp of an innocent white man by a mob. But that is what happens when we have no moral base on which to build. And please don’t get me started on the irreligious and Marxist-leaning BLM organization or the senseless killing of unborn children! And the NONES will find that out. Our world will not be a better world by the lack of moral absolutes and failing to follow the Bible’s advice on how to treat another. We even had a “pastor” (notice the quotes) who tweeted following the death of President Trump’s brother that “#thewrongTrumpdied.” Seriously? That is Christ-like? I think not. I don’t care who it is: death hits us all and there is sorrow and hurt with it. I don’t wish the death of a loved one on anyone- be they atheist, someone I love, or my worst enemy.  That is one of the most un-Christ-like tweets or statements I have seen in a long time…and that man is supposedly a man of God? Give me a break!

I’m going to keep reading this book and will keep posting my thoughts. Agree or disagree you are welcome to respond as long as it is civil. If it is not, I can disapprove your comment.

 

#PowerofOne#Stand!

Tuesday, August 18th, 2020

I was reading during my Quiet Time this morning about the power of one. So I began to ponder it more. Much is said about the difference one person can make-good or bad. Consider some people who made a difference, even though they sometimes stood alone:

  • Patrick Henry- “Give me liberty or give me death!”
  • Henry Ford- He believed in the automobile and wanted to see everyone have one (as long as it was basic black). 🙂  I’m sure glad that changed!
  • MLK, Jr- His “I have a dream” speech has inspired millions of people of all races that equality is possible.
  • Jackie Robinson- Baseball and sports is what it is today largely because of his persistence and talent. When one talks about Jackie you also have to include Branch Rickey, the man who took the chance (in spite of the fact some accuse him of a publicity ploy).  He still took a chance.
  • Martin Luther and other Reformers- “Here I stand. I can do no other.”  What a powerful stand he took against the monster of the Catholic Church.
  • Winston Churchill- he took an unpopular stand-at first- against Nazi Germany. He certainly proved PM Chamberlain wrong.
  • Abe Lincoln- need I say much here?
  • John MacArthur- agree or not he has stood on his conviction and was willing to risk fines and criminal charges.

There is also the other side of the coin-those who stood on the wrong side. Benedict Arnold (the opposite of Patrick Henry). Billy the Kid.  Jesse James and the James Gang (not the motorcycle guy nor the rock group). ANTIFA. Rogue cops. Hollywood elite who cave.

But let’s focus on the ones who make a positive difference-that first list. I’m sure you could add more to that list. Go ahead and do that. We are all called to make a difference. Maybe not in a big way…but to make one where we are. We, as Christ-followers, were never to just put our head in the sand like an ostrich and pretend a challenge is not there. Each challenge we are presented with is specifically designed for us. Our response will determine the outcome. We can take a stand-even if it is alone- or we can go along with the whims of other people.

CHOOSE.  But make sure it is for a righteous cause and has God’s stamp on it.

#Sovereignty#Timing

Friday, August 14th, 2020

I heard a great statement the other day that I will be using in this week’s sermon. 

The silence of God does not equate the absence of God.

That really struck home to me as I thought about the sermon. We are afforded very little information about the future. Unless you are talking about the book of Revelation and even that is clouded in mystery. In our personal lives, we really aren’t given any either. No crystal ball, Ouija board, seance, or Tarot card will tell us what is in our future.

But we all would like, I think, to know something about our future.  Who of us would not like to know what stocks to buy when a company first went public? Who of us would not like to have known not to have taken that route home after work?

But when you think about it there are more important things we would like to know and not given an inkling about. I can think of a couple in the Bible.

  • Joseph. Remember him? After a life of uncertainty he is elevated to second in Pharaoh’s government. When his father died, his brothers thought, “Oh no. He is going to come back on us.” But Joseph’s words to them stand for us as well: “You meant it for evil but God meant it for good.”
  • Esther. Remember Mordecai’s words to her? When she was wavering on approaching the king, Mordecai told her “Who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”

There are more, but those two and Paul’s words in 2 Timothy 4:6-8 will be my focus this week. They are clearly evidence of God’s sovereignty and timing in action. I most certainly would appreciate your prayers this week. Along with preaching, Jo and I will be taking Braden back to Ohio on Saturday. An 8 hour round trip in one day…the day before I preach. That sure beats Jo doing it all on one day by herself (Sunday). So prayers for safe travel and then physical alertness would be much appreciated. Ahead of time: thanks.

#Legalism#Freedom

Thursday, August 13th, 2020

There are a few things I simply can’t stand, the thought of eating them just curls my stomach. (Pun intended). When I say them some of you will say, “Seriously?” I can’t stomach to taste cinnamon, coconut and parmesan cheese (the kind that smells like dirty socks that people like to sprinkle on spaghetti and pizza. **gag**. Talk about ruining pizza!!). It is a joke around here for some to tell me they made chocolate muffins, but added coconut or cinnamon. They ruin chocolate. 

But as much as I can’t stand those ingredients (and probably a few more), there is one thing I hate. I despise with a passion. And that is legalism. Legalism by my definition is ordering the Christian life by a list of rules and regulations, of do’s and don’ts. For way too many years I was in that camp. Tithing (you have to).  Church attendance (no Christian skips). Bible reading (every day buddy). Baptism (by immersion only for the remission of sins). Communion (every week). Prayer (I let some slack on this one because I was sketchy myself). Alcohol consumption (tee-total it without exception). Tobacco use (seriously you would put cancer in your body?). You name it; I probably had a rule for it. Now, in all honesty, I wasn’t trying to be mean. I was trying to legislate the Christian life. Salvation was based on what I do; not based on what Christ has done.

Paul faced that. We see it was an issue in the early church (Acts 15). Paul squared off against it in Galatians 2. The issue was so encroaching and so powerful  it even took down Peter. But Paul was not about to back down from that challenge either! (You can see what he does in Galatians 2: 11-14).  The Judaizers were the culprits, men who said you had to abide by the Mosaic law, especially circumcision. But Paul is very clear in Galatians 2:16: “A person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ…by the works of the Law no one will be justified.”

Case closed. There would be no wavering for Paul. He didn’t care if you were Peter or not. Or Bill. I’m so glad I learned about grace and faith and freedom and God brought me out of that ugly jungle.

“Father, thank you for grace. Thank you for the rescue from legalism. Thank you for the introduction to and embrace of freedom. May I always be a messenger of grace.”

#Relax#PermissionTo#Refresh

Sunday, August 9th, 2020

If there has been one thing this whole virus fiasco should have done is given us permission to take it easy. I know…that is hard when someone is uptight and scared. But then again, maybe that is exactly what was needed to relieve anxiety.

I have a book in my office I read years ago by the late Tim Hansel. It is called When I Relax I Feel Guilty.  I thought that was a rather unique title. Sadly, it is also true. We have this crazy mentality that the busier I am the better it looks. But I think the old saying is true: “The hurrier I go, the behinder I get.” One of the statements Tim makes in his book is the word leisure comes the Latin word which means “to be permitted.”  He then says, “More today than ever, we need to learn how to give ourselves permission to relax, to play, to enjoy life, and to enjoy God for who He is.” (p.30)

And because we can’t relax, we find ourselves wound up tighter than a drum.  We have to somehow give ourselves permission to enjoy moments/hours/days of leisure.  I read enough blogs and listen to several podcasts to know that pastors/youth pastors, etc across the spectrum have found themselves burning out due to the failure to take some leisure time and not feel guilty doing so. Especially during this pandemic.  I’m going to be honest. I tend to be high energy.  I get up at 3:30 and most often my feet don’t go horizontal until 9:30 at night (unless I am happen to be sitting in my recliner).  🙂  But during this pandemic I made sure I found time to do leisure. Now…my leisure was not doing cross-stitch or redoing antique furniture or making a boat in my basement. (NCIS anyone?) My leisure was physical in nature because my relaxation is riding my bike.  Going to the Y was out for obvious reasons so I made sure whenever possible I took a 15-25 mile spin on my bike. Some will say, “But that is not relaxing!” For me it is. I breathe fresh air. I can feel the wind at my face. I can sweat. And I can clear my mind.

We have just got to stop letting work become our identity. That is what gets us into the mess to start with.  Work= identity. More work = recognition added to my identity.  Been there done that.  I find it interesting that Jesus often withdrew to be by Himself to be with His Father. Luke 5 tells us it was to pray.  Hey, the way I look at it, if it was good enough for Jesus to withdraw and relax then who am I to argue?

Take some time away. Relax.  Enjoy yourself.  Someone has said, “If you don’t come apart, you will soon come apart.”  There you go. Think about that the next time you want to cover yourself with a load of “To Do” stuff.

#Grace#HassledHeart

Friday, August 7th, 2020

Have you ever read a passage of Scripture before-maybe countless times-and not really read it?  You know…sort of mindless reading. Honestly, I have found myself doing that when reading parts of the OT.  I have in the past read through the Bible in a year several times. But I “cheated” when reading some of the more tedious passages-like Leviticus and Numbers and Deuteronomy and some of the Prophets. Ezekiel was one of them. But one day I woke up as I was reading Ezekiel 34: 11-16. I was blown away and stunned by its beauty, power and all-encompassing picture of grace.  That grace is seen in so many ways, but I think it is especially seen in the one subject I think may plague more Christ-followers than anything else.

What topic is that? It is the one I’m going to be dealing with Sunday.

FORGIVENESS

That just might be the one subject Christ-followers are more fragile on than any other.  When you think about it, forgiveness actually has two dimensions: vertical and horizontal.  Forgiveness starts with vertical-our relationship with God. Then it moves to horizontal-our relationship with others.  So many try to get the latter right before the former is in place. We get it all wrong.

To show you the emptiness of the latter without the former taking place I want to tell you what happened to me the other day. I was in Circle K (a gas station/convenience store) and the cashier made a comment to me and really to all who were around. As I stepped up to pay she said, “There are 3 things that keep me going-caffeine, tobacco and resentment.” I said to her, “The latter two will kill you.” She repeated it to me like it was a badge of honor. So I did likewise-I repeated my warning.  I felt sad for her and wished she had a wise friend who could help her. 

My sermon Sunday is entitled Grace for the Hassled Heart.  You already know the Scripture and the focus. Now I’d like to ask you to pray for me and for us.  Thanks.

#Beirut#PrayerRequested

Thursday, August 6th, 2020

It is easy to get so myopic that we can’t “see the forest for the trees.”  There is no question our country is in an upheaval (and I certainly have my thoughts about it and when it will end), much of it total garbage. The wanton destruction and taking of lives, especially Law Enforcement, is not the way to get things done.  There is absolutely no call for what is going on in Portland, Seattle, Chicago, New York and others. It is utterly ridiculous. And please don’t tell me it is advancing the cause of BLM (which I won’t get into).

Then there is Beirut. Half way around the globe and barely a peep from those who want us to think they really care about others.  I have watched several clips of the explosion and am just dumbfounded at the power of it. Jo showed me a video of a bride in her wedding dress blown off her feet while having pictures taken.  And to see the pictures of destruction is just mind-blowing.

To be honest, I had no plans to post anything about the explosion.  Sadly, and admittedly, it was not on my radar. I stand guilty of caring but not caring. Until…UNTIL…I read this article. I have linked it so you can read it in its entirety. It is from a pastor in Lebanon who went there to plant a church. It should rock your world and stir your heart to do one thing he has asked:

P.R.A.Y.

Here is the link to the article.

How about doing two things for me…for this pastor and his people in Lebanon? First, pray for them. Second, pass this article along to your readers.

#ConversionStory#KeepitReal

Tuesday, August 4th, 2020

I’ve just finished reading the three accounts of the conversion of Saul/Paul- Acts 9, Acts 22, and Acts 26.  Paul is efficient in each of them. Consistent in each of them. In other words, he doesn’t embellish, add to or take away a particular thought or action to make a stronger point to his audience. He doesn’t heighten emotion to make a stronger point to his audience. He says nothing more to Agrippa in chapter 26 than he does in his defense before the people in chapter 22.

Some people like to do just the opposite. In an effort to be relevant (whatever that may mean) or to present a more enthralling conversion experience, they embellish their story. I’ve read and heard some whoppers in my days. Mine is simple: I was 8 years old; fell under conviction that is what I must do; went forward on Palm Sunday; and was baptized (with others) on Easter Sunday, April 17, 1960. No big sin. I wasn’t a drug user, a pill-popper, a rebel (except as a sinner against God), a murderer, a rabble-rouser, or an obstinate, extremely disobedient child. I was simply a young boy who realized he was a sinner and wanted to accept Jesus. (I also confess I wanted to take communion but that’s a whole ‘nother story).  🙂  No confetti. No big brass band. No one lining up to hear my stirring story. The only sound heard was angels singing, rejoicing, as Luke 15 says.

Every man’s experience is different. No conversion stories are the same. I did not have a “Damascus Road” experience, but that makes mine no less important or special than someone who is radically saved and tells others. Here is what I think: You tell your story. Tell it truthfully. Who knows who may be listening?