Thursday, December 27, 2007

Lousy Church Sign

This has got to be the dead-level, lousiest church sign I have ever seen. While traveling in SC visiting family, we came across this sign. I wanted to post it before I forgot it.

Happy Birthday Son

-God

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Something Gross, Something Funny, and Something Amazing

First, something gross.

Not too long ago I stepped over to the church office from home to make a few copies for homeschooling purposes. When I arrived, one of the sweet ladies who gives of her time to clean the facilities was there. I stopped in the sanctuary for a moment to speak with her and exchange pleasantries. She was hard at work polishing the backs of the pews. It did not immediately register to me what she was polishing the pews with until I walked up and greeted her. As she sprayed the polish on the pews, she was rubbing it in with a pair of men's underwear.

I have learned a lot about frugality at the church I serve, from seeing used Ziplock bags washed and propped up on a dish drainer to dry, muffins brought to a fellowship on a meat tray, to some folks who drive cars that are twenty years old or older. But I just talked with her like polishing furniture with a pair of worn out men's underwear was the most natural thing in the world to me.

OK, something funny.

I haven't posted any lousy church signs in a while because I have not seen anything relatively original in its level of lousiness, just more and more of the same. However, this one I saw on an independent, fundamental baptist church a couple of days ago.
Take Christ out of Christmas and
all you're left with is _ _ _ _ _ _ mas.
Those independent, fundamentals do tend to be fairly literal in their approach.

Now--something amazing.

Last week my good friend and fellow blogger Steve Sensenig posted on a topic that I had been mulling over for a while, particularly since I had been doing some private study on spiritual gifts for Wednesday evening services. In response to a request from another blogger, Steve posted on the topics of miracles and particularly healings, to which much of the discussion turned. (You can find the posts here, here, and here.) I won't get into the bulk of Steve's arguments because I would much rather you go there and read them for yourselves, giving him the hit counts he deserves.

I will say though that Steve's primary contention, and I believe it, was that healings are part of the Gospel message and serve a much greater purpose than just authentication. Healings are just as valid today as they were during Christ's time on earth and it is God's will that we be healed of our diseases and infirmities. Further, nowhere in Scripture is anyone ever told "no" to a healing request and Christ even healed some who didn't ask.

I haven't nearly shared the bulk of Steve's arguments but only to lead to this point. My wife has had kidney stone trouble for years. In summer 2003 she had a delicate operation where a stone was directly removed from her kidney. Since then, kidney stones have been a constant worry. Since our last baby was born, and even before the delivery, she has had a stone that has bothered her intermittently. Sometimes she has just been uncomfortable, other times she has been in severe pain.

This had been going on for over five months. Then I read Steve's posts on miracles, threw my two cents worth in the comment thread, and Steve helped me think through some things. I discovered my views on healings were not entirely biblical. I didn't tell my wife that I had been thinking and pondering and searching Gods' heart on this matter.

Late last week, I began to pray in accords with what I had learned from the Lord through Brother Steve. I claimed no promises, placed no obligation upon God, nor did I "pray in faith," as the faith healers say is necessary. I simply prayed, knowing what I now know about the character of God and His desires regarding physical healings.

My wife went to the doctor last week, had a culture done, and then this past Monday had an ultrasound. Leaving the hospital Monday she called me on the way out the door. There was no kidney stone. When we hung up, I wept and whispered a prayer of gratitude. Like I said, something amazing. I am still assimilating it all and I'm not sure how to completely respond; right now just in thanksgiving and praise.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Thirteen

That is how many years I have been married as of yesterday. I often joke around and tell other guys I have the utmost in sympathy for them because they had to marry the second best lady in the world and it must be terribly difficult knowing you are married to the second best. At the last wedding I officiated, I told the bride she was the second prettiest bride I had ever seen. It took her a moment and she finally got it, but the initial note of offense on her face was priceless.

This post is in some way a tribute to my wonderful wife. Other than my Savior Jesus Christ no one means more to me than her. She crashed into my life a little over thirteen years ago (yes, the engagement was very short) and it has never been the same. I met in her all that I could ever hope to complete me in a soul mate.

We have come to that point in our marriage where we complete one another's sentences, know what the other is thinking without saying a word, and can communicate from across a room with just the flicker of an eyebrow. Moreover, she has borne for me five beautiful children. This past July we finally had a boy, though I was threatening some kind of Henry VIII retaliation if she didn't deliver (no pun intended) this last time around. (Again, just joking!)

She has also been the consummate pastor's wife. Always there when I need to vent, she listens to all of the trials and troubles of ministry, she always has a word of wisdom just when I need it, and most importantly, I know that she prays for me.

I would be loathe not to mention that she takes wonderful care of our family. The children never want for anything when she is on duty. When I am in charge, the house could burn down around us and I would be none the wiser. I am that inept. Tim "the Tool Man" Taylor and I were conjoined twins separated at birth, I am convinced. When mommy isn't here, they all whine, "When's mommy gonna be ho--oo--oo--me??"

We celebrated last night by toasting some Welch's sparkling white grape juice over light conversation. The background music was the incessant crying of #5 as we have been training him at five minute intervals to put himself to sleep. When we talked about what we loved most about the last thirteen years, we agreed that it was having gotten to know one another so well.

So, to my beautiful wife, I love you. May I one day become all that you have been to me.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Comment Moderation Enabled

To all of those who regularly read and comment here, I sincerely appreciate it. Your interaction is a blessing. My goal for both blogs has never been to moderate comments, but to allow free expression of opinion yet without belligerence. As of late, I am unable to make no other choice. For a brief period comment moderation is enabled and if you comment on a post, I will receive your comment and I will respond. Again, to all of the regular readers and the Internet community I have come to appreciate, thank you.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Christmas and Eschatology

I have been told many times that there is an apparent "war on Christmas", that secularists and liberals are trying to run Christmas out of the public sphere. I am also told that secularist engineers are recklessly encouraging American retailers to sweep the term "Christmas" under the rug so as not to offend their base of customers. Congress has even passed a resolution affirming Christianity as "a holiday of great significance to Americans and many other cultures and nationalities, [and] is celebrated annually by Christians throughout the United States and the world."

In this post, I want to offer a different perspective on America's "drift into secular monotony," as one prominent preacher has put it. I am persuaded that this "war" has much less to do with Christians being on the defensive as much as they are on the offensive. The current climate of dispensational eschatology has warped the Christian's triumphant spirit into an aggressive attack on anything non-Christmas, perceiving it as anti-Christmas, and that the appropriate response is to go on the defensive against it.

Dispensational eschatology, a la' Left Behind, really does not inspire the church to greatness. The eschatology essentially says that the church is going to wither up and shrink from the earth until there is a rapture that will come and rescue the few faithful remaining Christians from a horrible end. This overtly defeatist tone has pushed the church into a supposed corner and therefore it interprets itself as having to come out with tooth and claw borne so as to defend itself from secular humanist and atheistic attack.

According to the House resolution mentioned above, there are 225,000,000 Christians in America. Obviously then, Christians occupy a majority status on America. Of course we must account for nominal and carnal Christians, not to mention indifferent ones. Plus, there are the vocal minority that continuously claims that Christianity is being assaulted upon every street and avenue. Wither then the brave Christian?

We have picked and chosen the wrong enemy and it isn't the secular humanist or the atheist. Our adversary is still the devil and he gets great pleasure watching God's children flounder wasting their precious evangelistic time waging a war for Christmas. God has not called us to be culture warriors; rather, He has called us simply to be faithful. Persecution is something that should be expected; indeed we are blessed when persecuted (Matthew 5:11). If a "secular", a "liberal", or an atheist reviles Christmas, we should count our blessings, not get on the offensive, rattling our green and red sabers.

By recapturing the triumphalist tone of Christmas we can cause more good for the Savior than by marching to the drum beat of the culture warrior. Consider Isaac Watts' words in the second through fourth verses of Joy to the World, which ironically, really is not a Christmas hymn:

Joy to the World, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.

Notice just a few considerations and Scriptural reflections. Jesus is on the throne of David, has been, and will continue to be (Acts 2:29-35).
"Joy to the World, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ..."
Mr. Watts also recognized Christ is extending His rule unto all the nations and is putting all His enemies under His feet (1 Corinthians 15:25-26).

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found...

As a final reflection, Watts realized that Christ's rule was "already" though still "not yet." The government indeed rests upon His shoulders and His rule would increase until consummated (Isaiah 9:6-7).

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love...

Jesus rules as King of kings and Lord of lords. This is much reason for the Christian to celebrate Christmas yet to remember that Christ already reigns and does not need His rule spread by coercion or force, but by simple evangelistic witness. The eschatology of Christmas is not one of defensive market and media aggression but one of triumphant hope and a victory that has already been won.
In His days, the righteous shall flourish, and abundance of peace, until the moon is no more. He shall have dominion also from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth. Those who dwell in the wilderness will bow before Him and His enemies will lick the dust. Psalm 72:7-9

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Some Miscellaneous Notes

The family went out to eat at Wendy's yesterday evening. My oldest daughter went to the bathroom after the meal and when she returned she had turned her shirt, a white turtleneck, around. Walking up to the table, she remarked what she had done. I asked her to turn around and when she did there was a stain at the tail of her shirt.

"I turned it around so no one could see it."

I laughed. Hard. How often do we try to cover up our sin in such a way that we cannot see it but it becomes readily noticeable to everyone else?

*******

I stopped by to visit with the nursing home residents of our church yesterday as well. While visiting with one 89 year old lady whose hands are riddled by arthritis, the nursing assistant brought her lunch and I had the joy of blessing her meal and helping her eat it. No, I didn't eat half of it; her hands don't function the way they ought to because of the crippling disease within so I helped her get the food to her mouth. How grateful she was!

When the lady dropped her meal off, Mrs. Francisco remarked that I was her pastor. We introduced ourselves and she asked me what church I pastor. After exchanging pleasantries, she asked me a remarkable question.

"What else do you do?"

"Huh? I don't think I understand. What do you mean?"

"I mean, what other job do you have?"

"Oh! I'm a full-time pastor."

Incredulous: "Oh...mmm...OK. It was a blessing meeting you."

Dumbfounded: "You, too."

To give a bit of necessary context, the lady was African-American. I have been blessed to get to know many of the other African-American pastors in our community and county at large. Of all the ones I have met, they all work secular jobs as well as pastor their respective churches. I was taken aback when she discovered that pastoring was all I do.

*******

Say a prayer for my baby brother. He is tying the knot this weekend. I get to stand up and be a groomsman and I'm kind of glad I'm not doing the ceremony. I don't want to be held personally responsible when she discovers his true demeanor and runs off. I mean, he might pop out of the washing machine and scare the poor girl half to death.

*******

And finally, a picture of #4 to conclude. The irony is that it was really cold that day. Notice the disparity.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Notable...

I have not blogged out here in a while but have spent a great deal of time at my faith and culture blog, The RP2, plus commenting at friends' blogs. I just recently posted over there about the deplorable conditions of sweatshop labor in China, making of all things, crucifixes. I was torn about whether it deserved to be posted here or there, but nevertheless, it is over there and not here, so click over and please read. Thanks.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Personhood Question Arises in Colorado

Not too long ago at the collaborative blog I posted on whether or not abortion is a religious issue. A good discussion ensued and boiled down to mostly a policy discussion. A good-natured debate in respect to the inequality of different religions was the primary topic of the thread and that different religions say that life begins at different times, whether in the womb or not.

I find it amazing that we must debate when life begins. Only because we have the unnatural capability of stopping a life from growing in the womb does this debate arise. In Colorado last Tuesday, a measure was taken by their court system to define when a life begins. A constitutional amendment was passed unanimously in the state supreme court and will go to a ballot vote in November of '08. The language of the amendment is as follows:
"Shall there be an amendment to the Colorado constitution defining the term 'person' to include any human being from the moment of fertilization as 'person' . . . in those provisions of the Colorado constitution relating to inalienable rights, equality of justice, and due process of law."
I walked through the argument for personhood and its endowment by God in the womb at the post at sbcImpact. Michael J. Norton, a lawyer who represented supporters of the proposal, said the real impact of the proposal would be in its simplicity, asking a profound philosophical and moral question.

“The whole issue centers on when does life begin,” Mr. Norton said. He said that though the word “abortion” would not appear in the language of the proposal, it would effectively make an abortion “the destruction of a person” and therefore illegal.

“Whatever rights and liberties and duties and responsibilities are guaranteed under the Constitution or other state laws would flow to that life,” Mr. Norton said.

Crying foul, Vicki Cowart, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, said this then "would give fertilized eggs the state constitutional protections of inalienable rights, justice and due process." Opening a Pandora's Box of legal implications, birth control and in-vitro fertilizations would also be called into question.

This is an important debate that needs to happen. It is the responsibility of a free, civilized society to protect the weak and oppressed and certainly the unborn fall into this category. Several states (GA, MS, MI, OR) have attempted such measures, but thus far only Colorado has been successful, and Colorado would be the first state to vote on such an initiative.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Keeping Little Girls Little

As a father of four little girls, brother Bowden McElroy's post on Keeping Little Girls Little especially resonated with me. It has always been a major concern to me and my wife that our little girls stay little as long as possible. It is distressing to see other little girls, the same age as my oldest, look like they are eighteen years old in terms of body build. For a time, we tried to buy all organic foodstuffs to try to stave off early onset of puberty due to the growth hormones injected in milk and meats. Buying organic quickly became cost-prohibitive. However, the study Bowden has posted seems to intimate otherwise, and thankfully so.
The results of the study show that children living in families with greater parental supportiveness, from both mothers and fathers, less marital conflict and less depression reported by the fathers experienced the first hormonal changes of puberty later than other children. In addition, children whose mothers had started puberty later (a genetic factor), whose families were better off financially when the children were in preschool, whose mothers gave them more support when they were in preschool and who had lower Body Mass Index when they were in third grade developed secondary sexual characteristics later than their peers.
As Bowden notes, "A stable home environment may delay the onset of puberty in girls." One thing my wife and I constantly struggle for is a semblance of order in our home. The premise we base this on is that heaven is often referred to as "home" in the Scriptures as well as in popular culture so we try to foster as "heavenly" an environment as we can. It is a challenge!

Though we only have one nearing pubescent age, the results are evident. A stable home life counts for so much more than just the normal rhythms of life and prayerfully, it will develop happy, whole, God-fearing children in our home.

Monday, November 12, 2007

The Weekly Exposition

I have enjoyed posting snippets of my messages from Sunday mornings and I hope they have been of some benefit to all you precious readers out there. This week's offering continues in the book of Hebrews, 12:3-11. This represents my last message from the book as I will head into holiday messages next Sunday that will carry us through the end of the year.

Here is an excerpt from Spiritual Discipline.

Verses five and six teach us that discipline is a mark of the relationship of a child of God with his God. "You have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons." He says, "My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord," rather welcome it! He says, "Do not be discouraged when you are rebuked," rather be encouraged!

For to be disciplined means you are a child of God and that He loves you! Too many children these days get away with too many things. I wore enough stripes on my legs as a boy to know that my father was concerned about my erring ways and that he desired for those ways to be trained out of me. He never punished out of malice; it was always out of love. And there are certain levels of discipline we can expect according to this writer.

The first level is that of a rebuke. Consider with me the power of a mother's eyebrow. My mother could make me stand up lock-straight just by a curl of her eyebrow. Consider the snap of a father's finger; same effect. This is God getting your attention. It may come as a friendly word of advice from a friend; a word of admonition from your pastor; a song lyric; an impression from the Holy Spirit. This level is by far the simplest and easiest to endure, yet easily overlooked and typically broomed away.

The second level is God getting more serious because you didn't. It is the level of chastening. The discipline is stepped up so that you might take notice of the path you are now treading and the dangerous place you have put yourself. This comes as the stern "talking-to" that my dad used to give me as a teenager. (Sometimes I wished he would just whip me and get it over with.) This is the prayer that lays heavily upon your heart, the word of admonition that went unheeded that constantly troubles your heart and mind, when the skies feel as gray as gun metal and are closed just as fast. However, this is the level that God desires that you PAY ATTENTION because in no way does He desire to proceed to the next level.

If you choose to ignore Him it gives God no pleasure to proceed to scourging. This is the same word used of Jesus' scourging in Matthew 27:26; a frightening prospect indeed, knowing that all our sins were laid upon Him and He received all our punishment for them. It pleased God to bruise Jesus, but in no way does it give Him pleasure to bruise His children.

I just recently finished Elie Wiesel's book Night about his imprisonment and hard labor in a German concentration camp. Elie just happened to catch a German guard with a young woman. Fearing he would get in trouble, the guard took measures to insure Elie would keep quiet. He called for a crate and had Elie stretched out over it, bare-backed. Elie only felt the sting of the first lash; the following twenty-four lashes drove him into unconsciousness. After the beating, the guard had Elie stand in front of him and he demanded that he would never speak of what he had seen. Elie's response was, "My head bobbled yes, it bobbled as if it would bobble that way for all eternity."

In no way is scourging ever done in such a way by our loving Father. Every stroke is measured; every stroke is for our good. He does resort to such horrendous means but only when He has exhausted all others. When He scourges, it isn't to be taken lightly, but soberly and sensibly. His correction is always to be received to bring us to our senses, never to leave us senseless.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Important Books (To Me)

Other than the Bible, what books have had a profound influence on you, shaping the way you live and act as a Christian, the way you believe, do ministry, and relate to others? Five books have been especially significant to me (in no particular order).
  1. Knowing God, J.I. Packer
  2. Overcoming the World, Joel Beeke
  3. A Passion for Prayer, Tom Elliff
  4. Every Man's Battle, Stephen Arterburn and Fred Stoeker
  5. Ministering Like the Master, Stuart Olyott
What books have had a profound influence on you and your walk with Christ?

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The Preacher's Pledge

I have blogged on pulpit plagiarism before (here and here). It still amazes me that some preachers are not above plagiarism and use the Internet frequently and regularly for sermon preparation. I admit, the Internet is a useful tool, but for a pastor to download and preach verbatim a sermon is theft and at worst just sheer laziness. However, I am just simply flabbergasted by the need of pastor's to sign a pledge not to base their sermons off the labors of others.

And, the pledge affirms that a preacher should preach from, of all things, the Bible (insert sarcasm)!

In a new campaign aimed at putting the centrality of the Bible back into a preacher's message, "The Preacher's Pledge," introduced by SermonCentral.com, has been signed by pastors from over 50 nations so far.

"We introduced The Pledge because we think preachers must engage the Bible in their sermon preparation and not simply short circuit the process with someone else's study," says Ron Forseth, general editor for SermonCentral.com. "Our site is a valuable supplement but not the primary source for a sermon. God's Word is."

Preachers then make their commitment to the following:
• I will make the Bible my primary resource in sermon preparation and preaching.
• I may use other resources such as commentaries and web sites to enhance, not replace, my personal interaction with Scripture.
• As I study I will strive to accurately understand and honestly apply God's Word, allowing Him to uniquely proclaim His truth in a relevant way through me.
Maybe it is just me. I hope it is. Why this need? Is Sermon Central so naive? I'm going to be bold: if a pastor needs to sign this pledge, does he need to be in the ministry anyway? It seems a commitment to the Bible would be a non-issue and that without reservation the Bible would be central. Perhaps as preachers graduate from seminary they can just sign a little pledge card akin to True Love Waits.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Books from Church Members

Occasionally, church members will give me books to read and critique for them. This is something I encourage them to do, especially since it gives me peace of mind that they are indeed reading. Reading is a practice that is definitely lost on some church people and if they are reading then often it is something froofy (technical term). Lately, I have been given two books and I would like to share my overall critiques.

The first is 23 Minutes in Hell, by Bill Wiese. It records the author's twenty-three minute descent into hell with the intent to scare you straight. I do not discount Wiese's experience. He quite legitimately may have been given a tour of hell and allowed to experience some of the torments so that he might return to warn people of their impending doom if they fail to accept Jesus.

Some of the imagery was like it was out of a childhood nightmare and Wiese may have done a much better job if a more experienced writer co-authored the book with him. The scenes he depicts seem more to be grounded in horror movie epics rather than biblical truth. For instance, in grisly detail he describes his demonic accusers and the shrieks of terror of others imprisoned in hell. Though he does describe the isolation and separation he felt while in "hell" it seems biblically incongruous that he could experience the terror of others, as well as be tormented by a demon.

The latter half of the book is Wiese's attempt at developing a biblical doctrine of hell, which a writing theologian alongside of him would have helped, but as a lay writer, Wiese did an admirable job. Obviously Wiese wanted the biblical record to match his experience and that portion of the book, as I described to the church member, is a hermenuetical embarrassment. I do not discount Wiese's experience and that part of the book can stand alone on its own merit. It is up to the reader to decide whether or not Wiese is sincere. His theology leaves much to be desired and a word of caution, if you are looking for a biblical doctrine of hell, you won't find it here.

The second book comes highly recommended. When this lady handed me this book, pleading that I read it because "I would never be the same," I shuddered because of the Oprah's Book Club sticker adhered to the cover. Reluctantly I took the book and agreed to return it the following Sunday.

She was right. After reading Night by Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel (and I didn't notice the similarities in the author's names until I posted) the horror of the Nazi concentration camps became a little too real. Devastatingly simple in its detail yet graphic enough to churn your stomach, I finished this book after the second sitting.

It chronicled Wiesel's family's abduction by the Nazis in World War II and their transport to the extermination center of Auschwitz. Separated from his mother and sisters forever, he and his father made it through "selection" and immediately began hard labor. The narrative then becomes Elie's feeble yet desperate efforts not to be separated from his father.

The book is appropriately titled for darkness settles in on the prisoners as they arrive in the camp. A blackness that should be unfathomable in human experience envelops those unfortunate enough to be alive.
What are You, my God? I thought angrily. How do You compare this stricken mass gathered to affirm to You their faith, their anger, their defiance? What does Your grandeur mean, Master of the Universe, in the face of all this cowardice, this decay, and this misery? Why do You go on troubling these poor people's wounded minds, their ailing bodies? [p. 66]
Elie loses all hope in humanity and eventually in God as he watches horrid death after horrid death. The story climaxes with a death march to Buchenwald, where he and his father are transferred as the Russians and Americans are marching through Germany. Their lives were reduced to the avoidance of violence and the constant search for food. Never should another human being be treated in such a way. Never should man forget man's capacity for inhumanity.
In the afternoon, they made us line up. Three prisoners brought a table and some medical instruments. We were told to roll up our left sleeves and file past the table. The three "veteran" prisoners, needles in hand, tattooed numbers on our left arms. I became A-7713. From then on, I had no other name. [p. 42]
Liberation for Elie was welcome yet horrifying. Having not seen his own face in years,
One day when I was able to get up, I decided to look at myself in the mirror on the opposite wall. I had not seen myself since the ghetto. From the depths of the mirror, a corpse was contemplating me. The look in his eyes as he gazed never left me. [p. 115]
The book concludes with Wiesel's acceptance speech for the 1986 Nobel Peace Prize where he takes a bold stand against worldwide injustice and oppression, calling all with the ability to fight against it. May we never forget man's ability to do evil and to harm another human being, including our own.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Weekly Exposition

This is an excerpt from the weekly exposition I deliver at the church I serve, taken from The Secret to Enduring Faith, from Hebrews 12:1-2.

I have been reading the book Band of Brothers by Stephen Ambrose. It chronicles the exploits of Easy Company of the US Army during World War II. They were known as one of the best combat outfits in the military. Being a volunteer outfit, only the strictest requirements let a young soldier in. Physical training was of utmost importance, the men doing it most of their waking hours. Intended to be a paratrooper regiment, the men began to get irritated that they had not began training in that regard. They did nearly twice as much calisthenics as normal basic.

However, basic came to an end and the boys transferred from Camp Toccoa in Georgia to Camp Mackall in North Carolina. Training at Mackall was to be broken into four regimens, A, B, C, and D. A was to be strictly physical exercises. Easy was so well-trained physically that they were able to skip Week A. The men began doing their runs backwards, literally running around the staff sergeants as they led them out on runs, and challenging the staff sergeants to races.

After two days of this abuse, the staff sergeants went to the CO and recommended that the boys of Easy advance to Week B and skip A. Standing in awe of the boys' endurance, the staff sergeants, as well as men from other outfits, got out of their way and let them begin training as paratroopers.

Many of us know similar people in our walks of faith. Much like the boys of Easy, we stand in awe of some of our contemporaries' faith. How do they do it? How do they endure under such difficult circumstances? Many of us have mature Christians we look up to and we wonder where they get their strength and stamina from.

The writer of Hebrews says, "Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us." The Christian experience is like a race and not an easy one. This is one of the grand lessons of Hebrews 11. By faith each figure in chapter eleven endured, and it wasn't by perfect faith, but by enduring faith. Now the writer wants us to know how to endure just as those of the roll call.

The two secrets to enduring faith are so simple anyone can follow them; even me! First, we must lay aside every impediment. And then, we must keep our eyes on Jesus. Simple, isn't it?

Monday, October 29, 2007

Another Offering

Of Lousy Church Signs! This one smacks of elitism and Christian superiority, akin to "Christians aren't perfect, just forgiven."
Heaven: a prepared place for a prepared people
I have no problem with the theology behind the statement but we don't want to use heaven as a badgering point for calling people to repentance and faith in Christ; especially not on a potential first point of contact with unbelievers.

The second is an offering from brother Ron Jackson, emailed to me over six weeks ago. I apologize brother Ron! It got caught up in my inbox and underneath a flurry of email I lost it until today when I was cleaning out the inbox. There shouldn't be several hundred messages in one inbox!

I'm not quite so sure. Google is kind of like Wal-Mart; if they ain't got it, you don't need it. If you can't find it on Google, you can't find it, right? Right? Anyone?

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Quote(s) of the Day

Via Dave Black quoting Corrie ten Boom in his latest essay The Astounding Power of Poverty.
“Look inside and be depressed, look outside and be distressed, and look to Him and be at rest.”
Brother Dave goes on to say in retrospect:
This intimate assurance that Christ can be trusted is our security. It resolves the dilemma of our insignificance, our mortality, our futility. Gradually we become aware that God takes unimportant nobodies, fills them with His Presence, and empowers them to live lives of unhypocritical love (Rom. 12:9). Our growing awareness of, and confidence in, the adequacy of Christ constitutes the unshaken rock upon which our faith stands.
Amen.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Praise Report: Thank God for Rain!

Southside Virginia has been terribly dry over the summer and nary a drop of rain has fallen since spring. However, rain has been steadily falling since Wednesday morning and is falling now as I type. I wonder though...

Two weeks ago, a church member emailed me with a burden and related the she had a burden that our church was not praying enough. She then asked if she could organize a prayer vigil for Saturday, October 27th. I heartily concurred and agreed to take a slot. She wanted to pray specifically for rain because rain is completely bound up in the providence of God and only through prayer can a change be affected.

The irony is that since yesterday evening, our local weather report has stated we have received over five inches since Wednesday and our county is under a flood watch! We will still gather tomorrow at the church for our prayer vigil, which now will morph into a "praise" vigil! Perhaps tomorrow you might like to join us in prayer? I hope so.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Lousy Church Signs Continued...

OK, OK. I'm on a roll again. I can't help it. I spent about six hours in the car today making hospital visits and the church signs were just ripe for the picking. On a Baptist (ironic, huh?) church sign:
We'll care about you.
As opposed to whom? It must be that other church. (Shhhhh...you know which one I'm talking about!!) Like I've said before, if you have to put it on the sign...
God gave us faces.
We create our expressions.
At least God didn't create church signs. Because I couldn't imagine He could be responsible for such lousy "expressions" on them. This next one takes the cake. My first question is, why do you need a banner in addition to a marquee? Are you multiplying lousiness?
Wednesday, October 31st 4-7 PM
Family Fun
and a
Holy Ghost Wienie Roast
I can't comment. I just can't. I'm wiping the tears from my eyes.

Miracle Baby Turns One

Earlier this year I blogged about miracle baby Amillia Sonja Taylor and the fact that she was born at one day under twenty-one weeks, the shortest gestation period known for a live human birth. A lively discussion ensued regarding reproductive choice. Amillia turned one yesterday. Follow the link to see a picture.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Lousy Church Signs

It has been quite some time since my latest offering of lousy church signs. Here are a few for your Wednesday. This one my wife found on the new "worship center" downtown.
Let your life match your lip.
Interesting diversion from "practice what you preach." Its good they didn't lose the alliteration. That is always important.

This one belongs in the "so sweet it will make you sick" category.
The next time you are reluctant to change,
think of the beauty of autumn.
Awww. It makes me want to get a new hair-do. And this one comes from my good blog friend Chris, The Evangelism Coach. And its OK to laugh out loud!

So, verbal adjective or adjectival verb? You make the call!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Sunday Morning Sermon

I have been preaching through the book of Hebrews. In this past Sunday's exposition, I dealt with Hebrews 11:30-40; the title of the message was Faith that Overcomes. In the development of verses 35-37, I transitioned the writer's expectation of persecution for the Hebrew Christians to contemporary persecution. Here is a brief snippet.

Persecution is very real. I could give example after example of modern-day persecution, yet we are lulled into believing that it really doesn't happen. We are insulated by a first amendment that guards our religious expression. We can gather freely, talk about the Bible, and worship with absolutely no recourse.

Yet, there are Christian brothers and sisters around the world that earnestly pray for the freedom you and I have. What does that freedom engender in us, however?

A white-hot passion for the Gospel?

A zeal to see souls saved?

A radical worship that changes hearts and lives?

An earnest calling forth of men and women to repent and believe the Gospel?

No--none of this. Rather it engenders in us a complacency, a slothfulness, a laziness that God abhors. It does not drive us to our knees in fervent prayer for our persecuted brothers and sisters. It drives us onto our backsides just glad that it ain't us.

These martyrs; these persecuted Christians are who the writer of Hebrews is holding up for us by way of example. He isn't holding up who we would consider giants of the faith--Billy Graham, Charles Stanley, David Jeremiah, Jerry Falwell--yes, these are great men of God and we should listen to them, honor them, and respect them and their ministries. Yet they aren't the men whom will be in the roll call of faith per Hebrews 11.

It will be men more along the likes of Tilmann, Necati, and Ur, Turkish believers who died for their faith in April of this year. Or the Chinese believer who was brutally beaten, along with his wife, for refusing to reveal the meeting location of their house church.

This is a disconnect that we need to overcome as the people of God. Persecution is real and it takes place everyday--even if it doesn't happen within our shores. Our freedom is a blessing but one we take woefully for granted.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Notes on Pastoral Authority

Having difficulty with an argumentative church member, I asked a couple of brother pastors' advice on the issue. From two different pastors, I received two different responses, polar opposites from one another. One pastor said simply tell him that you're the pastor and that's that. The second said I needed to lovingly admonish the brother and walk with him through this issue.

Pastoral authority is a difficult topic to discuss. How much authority should the pastor have, if any at all? If he does have authority then to whom does he answer? Likewise, who answers to him? How should he exercise that authority? Positions on authority are as many as there are pastors and there are several other factors that guide a pastor's understanding of his own authority.

Some pastors feel they don't need to know what is going on in the church; a hands-off approach. Some pastors micro-manage every minute detail of church life. The Scriptures give evidence of some semblance of authority when Peter urges the elders to whom he was writing. "Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain, but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you but being examples to the flock" (1 Peter 5:2-3). It is apparent that in Peter's time there were pastors who saw their role in church life as "he who is to be obeyed." Perhaps this attitude did not play out in actual practice but quite certainly the tendency was there.

It was about fifteen minutes before I was to preach at a funeral with one of the predecessors of the church I serve. He is seventy years old. Spending twelve years at the church I now pastor, he asked, "How long have you been here now?"

"Almost six years, sir."

"Well, you've been here long enough to be called pastor now haven't you?"

This is one of the first principles of pastoral authority. Authority is earned. I believe a certain amount comes with the office, but not much. People are not by nature trusting people and when a man comes in from outside their congregation, there is a natural uphill climb to garner respect. Many pastors do not take advantage of this uphill climb to allow their muscles to be hardened by the difficult work of winning people's hearts.

A good friend of mine (and if you're reading, you know who you are) often says, "A man who leads and nobody follows is only taking a walk." Pastoral ministry is not some kind of divine follow-the-leader. It is an earned respect, an earned influence.

A second principle is just to simply love people. We emphasize the Great Commission as well we should, but often we have done it to the detriment of the Greatest Commandment. Loving people is hard and its much easier to tell people about Jesus than to love them to the point of acceptance.

Moreover, people are needy and demand care. One brother pastor jokingly said he had 85 children. Though I disagree with the spirit of that retort, there is a grain of truth in it. As children are needy so God's people are needy and need constant attention and provision.This does not mean God's people won't act unloving. The pastor then can take the lead in a delicate area of church life and show the congregation he serves how to love unloving people. Peter did say "be examples."

A third principle I guide my ministry by is trod where they have trod. Walk with the folks through their difficulties and burdens, rejoice in their rejoicings, weep when they weep. Sometimes pastoral ministry just needs to be a ministry of presence. For the pastor's watch to stop for just a few moments means the world to a lonely elderly person, a grieving widow, or a hurting divorcee.

A final principle is to always pray. I pray with the people God has given me to serve every opportunity I get. I never leave a congregant's home, bedside, or hospital room without praying. Whether the time is happy or sad, I always pray.

One final concern is when to exercise authority. The pastor only has as much authority as the congregation allows him to have. It can raise incrementally through a life of integrity, dealing well with mistakes, and living an authentic Christian life before them. A real pastor and not "super-Christian" fosters an environment of trust when times to exercise authority comes yet hypocrisy can do irreparable harm.

Pastoral authority has its limits and can be abused. The Bible does not even call for "servant-leaders," the vogue, falsely humble moniker for how pastors ought to be. Rather, Jesus just calls for servants.
You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. And whoever of you desires to be first of all shall be slave of all. Mark 10:42-44

Friday, October 12, 2007

A Good Question

Lawrence Henry, writing for the American Spectator, asks a good question. In an article entitled Church and Me? he asks,

Is a church its people, or is it the body of Christ, or both? When you feel like certain people -- perhaps key people -- have let you down, what do you do?

Lawrence states a problem I have often had in my own ministry and as a church member. What do you think?

But, at various stages, I have stopped going to church, because some human fallibility, some shortcoming in the congregation itself, has brought me up short. As a church, we belong to Jesus Christ, not to any particular person, whether he be preacher, teacher, elder, or friend.

But those preachers, teachers, elders, and friends do mean something, and when something goes awry -- when the church as a church just plain doesn't work, and when I start to feel the way I felt as a child, that some of the grownups are faking it, or taking refuge in rigidity -- then I start to feel that old uneasiness again, and find it a lot more comfortable to retreat to my Bible and my prayers and solitude.

Monday, October 01, 2007

What I Said Sunday

This past Sunday I preached a message from Hebrews 11:17-22 entitled "Confidence in Christ". Expositing verses 17-19 about God testing Abraham, I said...

Testing accompanies faith--it is a given. The Bible teaches that Abraham was tested, meaning that Abraham did not go looking for this test. It meant that any number of people or circumstances may have been the cause of this test, but ultimately, the originator of the test was God. But the test was not about God. It was not about proving Abraham's faith to all his friends and neighbors. It was about proving Abraham's mettle. It was about proving Abraham to himself. It was about Abraham being shown his deficiencies and how God would be sufficient to meet his every need; past, present, and future.

This was an amazing test for Abraham. When God called Abraham to leave Ur, Abraham gave up his past. But in the sacrifice of Isaac, Abraham was asked to surrender his future to God as well. All Abraham's hopes for the future lie in that boy--all of God's promises being fulfilled lie in that boy--yet God asked Abraham to give up that as well. God was going to make sure that Abraham had no claim on his own future--only God did.

And what proof did Abraham have? Only a simple promise and the voice of God. Isn't it amazing how, through the Bible, level of belief decreases with increasing level of revelation? Abraham had no accompanying miracle, no manifestation of the power of God, no burning bush, no crucifixion; yet he believed. Compare the bitter, hateful Israelites of Moses' day.

They had all manner of revelation, including a promise and the voice of God. They had Moses' experience at the burning bush, the horror of the ten plagues, the parting of the Red Sea, manna from heaven, a cloud to lead them by day, and a pillar of fire by night, yet how many of them refused to believe! Abraham had only a a simple promise and the voice of God yet this caused him to conclude that God was able to raise Isaac up, even from the dead.

But all this is beside the main point: that God, despite all obstacles and events to the contrary, He is faithful to His promises.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

A Post to Consider...

...at my other blog. I posted last night on some valid questions David Gushee, ethicist at Mercer University, asks of those holding to a complementarian view of Scripture.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Friends or Friendly?

Being new in ministry, other pastors felt the need to give me advice and lots of it. Standing in the Danville Mall, my family had bumped into another pastor and his family. Talking shop, my brother pastor related the story of how a church member, who he claimed was a friend, "stabbed him in the back" (I'm not very fond of that phrase.)

He then offered this piece of advice: "You can be friendly; but don't be friends."

That piece of advice I have not followed. Yesterday, as I stood behind the pulpit preaching yet another funeral service, I understood how atrocious that piece of advice was.

Brother Billy and his family have grown very special to my family in our tenure at our church. They have nearly adopted us as part of their own family, something (unfortunately) unheard of in many churches. There seems to be a presupposed distance between church member and pastor, as well as his family. I understand this distance, but it just does not mesh with my personality and who I am in Christ. I am a very relational person, and I think that is vital for being a successful minister.

The distance breeds an artificiality that is simply impossible to overcome. How can you minister to a flock of God's people and not get close to them? Relationship implies nearness.

Billy's wife regularly kept nursery and my wife and I, as has been said of us, "are determined to keep the nursery full." Billy had progressed to the point where the pulmonary fibrosis he was diagnosed with several years ago needed constant care. Billy's wife had been unable to come to church since our new baby was born, so my baby boy and I made a trip over about six weeks ago. He was passed around like a sack of taters and Billy was thrilled to get to hold him for a short time. There is something about the "babyness" of a baby that just makes elderly people feel good.

About two weeks ago, I made another visit to see Billy, his situation having gotten worse. He felt like the end was near, but still seemed like he had not digressed; there was no noticeable difference in his health. However, this past Monday evening, Billy's son called and said that his daddy had gone on to be with the Lord. I quickly got dressed and spent the next four and a half hours with the family.

As Billy's wife and I stood at Billy's bedside, awaiting the funeral home to come pick up the body, I remembered a promise I had made. I had told Billy the last time I visited that I would bring my boy back over to visit. He was elated and said he couldn't wait to see the "little feller".

As I was preaching yesterday, I related the story to the assembled family and friends. I made a public apology to Billy and his family for failing to keep my promise, and then it happened. The tears began to flow. Perhaps it was because I had failed to keep that promise; perhaps it was because I had sinned, fallible as I am. However, I think I know why. Death is unexpected. We cannot predict it. And Billy's death also caught me off guard.

The shortest verse of the Bible has profound and deep meaning. Jesus wept. He was not afraid to show His emotion. He was not afraid to be transparent. He was not afraid to get close. At the grave of a close friend, Jesus' eyes dripped water, an indication of His humanness, His identification with frail humanity, His love for those to whom He was close. Why should the pastor be any different?

Saturday, September 15, 2007

The Hits Just Keep on Comin'

Friends and family are catching on with this church sign thing. I really need to post something of substance but man, these are just too much fun. Blog friend with the solid, respectable name of Gordon Cloud dropped this beaut in the comment thread of my last post and it is too lousy to let it sit in there and rot, so I brought it out for the world to behold its lousiness.
Even Jesus had a fish story.
My response mirrors Gordon's. Huh?

And my dear, sweet, loving, mother-in-law emailed me this one, horrid as it is.
Sunday School, Worship, and a Sweet Afternoon Nap. Priceless.
Mother-in-law replied to just combine worship and the nap and you got the afternoon free. I say don't give them any ideas.

Keep 'em comin'!

Monday, September 10, 2007

More Lousy Church Signs

If you are saying I should begin a whole 'nother blog for lousy church signs, its already been done, so, I cannot in good conscience do that. However, I can in good conscience post these, the first from a Baptist church in Lynchburg, VA.
Just because you were made from the dirt
don't mean you got to wallow in it.
Sound theology, bad grammar, and a pig reference; all in one sign. I wonder how they do it.

And this self-motivational piece on the local Pentecostal Church:
It is better to try and fail than to fail to try.
Thank you for that wisdom, Mr. Miyagi. Or was it Master Yoda?

Knowing my penchant for lousy church signs, blog friend Chris out at Evangelism Coach emailed me this one; it made my day! Though it isn't a church sign, it is lousy nonetheless.

In case you cannot read it, it says "Prebuy The Rapture Today." Funny, I didn't know you could get reserved seating at Family Christian Stores for that. I'll be by to pick up mine "Soon", I mean, I wouldn't want to get "Left Behind" or anything.

Thanks, Chris!

Monday, September 03, 2007

Not just Lousy...Pathetic!

My disdain for church signs has grown by leaps and bounds, but these two really do not help my outlook nor help me to search for some redemptive quality in them.
Prevent truth decay.
Brush up on your Bible.
Clever, that one is. This one is worse.
The Great Physician heals Sunday sickness.
But is He out of the office on Monday through Saturday? What if I am stricken with a severe case of Monday melancholy? Or afflicted with the Tuesday tantrums? Or Wednesday woes? I'm going to stop now, I'm making my own self sick.

A Post to Instill Jealousy...

...or something like that. For all of the Starbucks junkies out there, the family made a short junket to Danville today and boy, that grande cinnamon dolce latte was fabulous.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

sbc Impact! Launches Today

The new collaborative blog of which I am blessed to be a part of launches today. Brother Geoff Baggett has written an initial piece outlining where we will go on this new blog. I hope you will give it a read and drop a shout-out to us in the comments. Don't forget, there will still be regular programming here at The RP and The RP2. God bless for a great day.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Lousy!

The new "worship center" church sign in town really turns my giggle box over, as my grandmother used to say.
Don't fit a big God in a small dream.
It sounds like a name it and claim it kind of thing to me. If you aren't receiving enough (or an abundance), then you are claiming too little.

Though the second one is simply an announcement on one of the local rural churches, I had a vision of dismembered kids flying everywhere (sorry, I do have a sick sense of humor sometimes).
Saturday August 25th
Back to School Youth Explosion!
Not to mention the sign is outdated, a no-no in all the church sign manuals.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

sbc Impact!

I have always remained a rather quiet voice in the Southern Baptist blogging scene. I have read many Southern Baptist blogs, commented on a few, and unfortunately, flamed out on a couple. It REALLY caught me off guard when blogging buddy Geoff Baggett emailed me about an exciting new venture he was praying about and asked that I might join him on this excursion.

After twenty-four hours of prayer, reflection, and emailing some of my good blog friends (you know who you are and I am grateful to you all), I decided that I would join Geoff and several other contributors on a collaborative blog entitled sbc Impact! The bar is raised really high for this blog. It is envisioned to become an open forum for safe, courteous, humble dialogue about a multiplicity of issues with not just Southern Baptists but prayerfully Christians of any stripe, without degenerating into the fire-fights characteristic of some blogs.

I am grateful to be included among the likes of Geoff Baggett, Rob Ayers, SelahV (aka Hariette Peterson), Bowden McElroy, Roger Ferrell, Les Puryear, David Rogers, and Cyle Clayton. Lady and gentlemen, please know I am praying for each one of you in this venture. May it bless God, be a benefit to Christian readership, lead us to a deeper and more committed relationship with Christ, and a greater level of service and ministry.

I would like to invite you to the site to check it out. I am humbled by this opportunity and pray that I will perform adequate to the task and bless many people, and that I might grow a bit on the way, too. The official launch is Saturday, September 1. Hope to see you there!

Monday, August 27, 2007

Lousier and Lousier...

While in Richmond, I spotted a church sign that made me laugh out loud after my initial thought. My oldest daughter thought it was right funny, too.
Play it Safe
Take God on Vacation
Yeah, but how do you get Him to fit in the suitcase?

This one was found in town. Sound bytes are our culture's way of communication now and though nothing is inherently wrong with the sign, even being theologically correct, it aggravates me nonetheless. It sounds like a lazy preacher's Saturday night special.
Life is Short.
Death is Sure.
Sin is the Cause.
Jesus is the Cure.
And if you take 3 nails and add 1 cross you get 4-given. Lord, deliver us from church sign lunacy.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

A Banner Report

It has been a booger of a week. Hospitals; surgeries; a stressful in-home visit; preparing three messages and a Bible study; homeschooling; plus spending the night in Richmond away from family (though I had my oldest daughter with me).

In the thread of my last post, a few readers requested that I share a bit about how my preaching engagement went at Banner Christian School. Everything went spectacular and I was immensely impressed with the school. Banner is an actual school, not one of those where they stick a DVD in and a proctor circulates the room. I had a great time meeting the kids, sharing with them, and preaching the Word. I was afraid that a group of 6th - 12th graders would be unruly and I would not be able to keep their attention but they were genuinely interested in what I had to say. Don't get me wrong, they were still a group of obnoxious teenagers!

The day was tailored to foster an environment of unity among the young people. A neighbor Christian school had closed their doors and Banner subsequently picked up about fifty new kids. Afraid an "us/them" mentality might develop among the student body, the faculty discussed and approved the idea of a field day centered around a common theme: unity.

The day began with praise and worship at 7:55 (yawn, I'm a preacher; everyone knows I don't get out of bed until 10:00). At 8:15 I shared a message from Ephesians 4:1-3 and my outline was clever: If you walk as Jesus walks, you will act as Jesus acts and you will love as Jesus loves. I could not believe it, but they listened better than my Sunday morning crowd!

After a brief time of prayer, the kids went outside and had a field day of sorts, all the games team games; no individual competitions: tug-of-war and the human knot were notable. After a packed lunch provided by our hostess (it was the first time I had eaten a fruit cup in years) we gathered back in the sanctuary for another time of Scripture and Bible study. I had been asked to share something about myself during the second study session, so I shared my testimony of how I came to Christ. At the conclusion, the kids applauded and several of the teenage boys in the back pew rolled their fists in the air, vintage Arsenio Hall, grunting "Oooh, oooh, oooh!"

I focused on John 13:34-35 during the Bible study and the radical new standard that Jesus placed on loving one another and how it applies even to teenagers. Afterwards, my daughter and I stayed around for skits the kids had prepared on 1 Corinthians 12. I left much more blessed than those kids. I saw the fresh look of God on their faces and it was a blessing to me to encourage them in their walks with the Lord.I begged them to walk humbly among one another and to look for opportunities to minister to one another. Stick up for one another; defend one another; don't allow the devil an inch in your walks with Christ nor with one another. Avoid cliques; and I assured them that, yes, kids your age can and indeed should minister.

It was exciting to me to be near a group of kids genuinely interested, hoping, and praying God will work through them. I also encouraged them to see the minister inside of them; that it is not a cheesy thing but something God honors. I prayed with them before I left asking that God's hand of blessing would be upon their school and each one of them.

So, like many of my visits with my congregants, I leave having intended to be a blessing but rather come away blessed. Odd, huh?

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Prayer Request

I have been invited by Banner Christian Academy of Richmond, VA to come and preach at their inaugural chapel service this Friday. I actually have to speak twice in that day, two separate messages, one in the morning and one that afternoon, but to the same audience. The school has experienced some varied transition over the past year and the principal asked me to speak on a particular theme: unity.

The unity of God's people has always been near to my heart. I would appreciate your prayers as I prepare to address several hundred 6th - 12th graders and their faculty. If you have any suggestions, I would love to hear them. Thank you!

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Leah's Pony: A Word on Community

The ladies at our local library love to see us coming. The reason? We check out lots of books (typically about twenty at a time, not including momma and daddy). This last time we stopped in, my six-year old found a book with a horse on the cover; obviously that makes it worth checking out. The story contained within however, led me to tears for what the church is, and what it has become.

The book she found was Leah's Pony, by Elizabeth Friedrich. The story is set in the 1930's in the Great Plains. Leah has a pony given to her by her daddy. Proudly she rides it until the Great Depression sets in and ransacks the family finances. Add to that a drought as well as an infestation of locusts that finish off their meager corn crop and the family is broke. In order to save the family farm from foreclosure, several items necessary to their livelihood are to be auctioned off by the local bank.

Determined not to let that happen, Leah goes to the local mercantile and offers the owner the opportunity to buy her pony. He does and with the squalid amount she received, prepares her heart for what was to come next. Knowing the tractor was essential to the family's life, Leah bravely makes the first bid.

"One dollar," she said, timid as a mouse. The only one offended by the leanness of her bid was the auctioneer himself, as he scorns her bid, "That tractor is worth five hundred dollars!" However, what happened next is what caught me off guard, my heart genuinely unprepared for what was about to happen.

All eyes were immediately upon Leah as she clutched the ransom price for the family farm, having traded her pony for beans. No one bid against her. Reluctant and renitent, the auctioneer received one dollar for the tractor. As other items were auctioned off, neighbors bid on the family's things for nominal prices and after paying for them, turned them back over to the family.

This is a story of loving, caring community; a story of sacrifice; a story of placing others over oneself; a story of giving. A story of solidarity.

We seem horrified to break into the lives of others, into their pain, into their sorrows and griefs. We become so wrapped up in our own problems, however insignificant they may be, that they eclipse the needs of others; the forest for the trees. There seems to be a gap governed by politeness that keeps us from other people. You don't bother me with your problems and I won't bother you with mine.

And sometimes we rationalize and think to ourselves, "Well, I don't want to be a nuisance; they have enough problems as it is without adding mine." The fact is, the church has become abysmally deficient in developing genuine community among her people. Our cult of individuality and "do it self" mentality holds community at bay. We convulse at the notion that we cannot do it ourselves.

And sometimes, we just don't want to be saddled with someone else's troubles. So what do we do? Offer a half-hearted smile, breathe a good word about God, mouth support, and tuck tail and run. Let's face it: a supportive community is an intrusive community.

By intrusive, I don't mean that you are all up in everybody's business. Having the heart to look in on people that you know are in pain is what makes Christian ministry Christian. And then shouldering that burden, owning that pain with them, and letting them piggy-back on your faith is what fosters genuine community. The pain of life sometimes simply cannot be shouldered alone.

Leah's one small sacrifice led to many others also sacrificing. When the opportunity was there to take advantage and reap a benefit at someone else's expense, her sacrifice emboldened others to do the same. That is a genuine community, a community Christ honors.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Movie Recommendation: Flywheel

This movie is from the same production house that brought us Facing the Giants, Sherwood Pictures. The movie casts Alex Kendrick, who played Coach Grant Taylor in Facing the Giants, as Jay Austin, a slick talking used car salesman who cannot turn an honest deal. He falls prey to his own deception and eventually cannot stand to even look at himself in the mirror. Ostracizing his co-workers, his wife, and lamentably his son, a turning point must eventually come and it does.

While having a classic Triumph convertible repaired, Jay becomes disgusted with himself and embarks on a journey of confession, heart-felt repentance, shame, and reconciliation. The movie has a powerful message of the transforming and life-giving power of the Gospel. Kendrick is believable as the distant, self-centered husband; almost too believable. He verbally berates his wife, ignores his son, yet his staff pseudo-respects him because he has taught them how to line their pockets with dishonest money. The turning point comes in a gripping scene where he rips his pastor off and the pastor prays with Jay before he leaves the lot. "Lord, I ask you to treat Jay the same way he has treated me in this deal."

Jay enters a spiral of self-abnegation that climaxes in a happy ending for all. Two thumbs up for the feel-good aspect of this movie! Unfortunately, as well as things turn out for Jay's family, things almost turn out too good. The climax is highly romanticized, everything perfectly orchestrated to save Jay's hide. I found the same weakness in Facing the Giants, almost a sense of entitlement that since NOW the lead characters are faithful, God will bless. It seemed to be a veiled prosperity message, that God blesses contingent upon the amount of faith you exercise. Nevertheless, Flywheel has some particularly funny scenes and the reconciliation between he and his wife was powerful, bringing tears to our eyes.

Sherwood Pictures turns out quality films on a low budget and the Christ-centered, believable, ordinary stories more than compensate for the poor acting on account of some. The film is unrated and has no questionable elements that would hinder you from watching with young children.

Image courtesy of Christian Cinema.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Lousy Church Sign

I know, I know, don't say it...I found this one in town on the new "Worship Center" church (name withheld because, well, you know why.)
Don't get into debt
Act your wage
Clever! The principle is a good one, definitely, but is this the message of Christ to an unbelieving world, to get out of financial debt? I guess we are all confused as to the purpose of church signs. Scheduling? Announcements? Scripture messages? Or cute, clever tripe? It is as elusive as the number of licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll Tootsie Pop. Such as this really compromises the effectiveness of a viable point of contact with your community.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Official "I've Been Blogging a Year" Post

It seems after you have been blogging a year, it is obligatory to commemorate the event with an official post. So this is mine with a few musings about this journey, a journey I have enjoyed immensely. Today marks the anniversary of my first post. Its not a big deal to most and I will forgo reposting some of my old posts as commemoration. Its like the audio visual guy once said about four years ago; "Hey, Tony, I've got some old tapes of your sermons I am planning on throwing out. Do you want them?" Are you kidding me? Why would I want to listen to those? No way!!!

My first muse: don't expect everyone wants to read what you have to say. I expected the blog to blossom into some kind of ministry though not sure what that would look like at all. (My first post detailed that aspiration.) I don't post thematically enough, nor frequently or consistently enough really to warrant that. Plus, expecting certain posts to resonate with others is often too high an expectation. Just because something interests me doesn't mean others will be. The posts I thought would have received several comments usually molded; the ones I asked, "Why am I posting this?" generated a heavy response. Go figure. So, the blog is more of an outlet for me and a chance to make friends, grow a little, and be challenged.

Secondly: grow a thick skin. Blogging is not for the over-sensitive. I learned that quickly. There ought to be understood in good-natured debate an anticipation of passion and heated discourse without having to say over and over, "I apologize for x, y, and z." I learned to make my case, say it pointedly, not to expect the bloghost or fellow commenters to agree, and say it mannerly and courteously. Then move on.

Third: sometimes its best to say, "This isn't for me." This goes for my blog, too. I've gotten into my share of firefights. There are a plethora of opinions and I certainly have had to learn that it is better to exercise a bit of discernment and say, "This isn't for me" and move on.

Fourth: get to know bloggers before engaging them regularly. Drive-by commenters and the occasional blast from anonymous really annoy me. I think its best to try and get to know somebody first; drop a few positive comments before saying that what you think they wrote is the stupidest thing you have ever read.

Fifth: since I have been away from regular posting for a few weeks now since my son (!!!) was born, it has given me some much-needed time to think about blogging and the format I have grown accustomed to. I enjoy writing about ministry, theology, homeschooling, society and culture, contemporary Christianity, and faith and politics; a bit broad. Well, too broad. I have tried to cram too much into one blog and many of my regular readers and friends just do not know what to expect when they drop in. One of my goals for the blog has been that whenever someone drops in, that they know what they are here for. One blog has been too constricting to share all my thoughts. Some who expect theological ruminations show up on a day I have posted on faith's intersection with politics and it has hindered some from participating regularly. I don't want that!

I enjoy interacting with news articles, political machinations, and culture; basically where faith and society coincide. Plus, those comment threads tend to be pretty lively and I greatly enjoy the discussions (though some don't). So, whenever I post a response to a news article, a response to another blog post about faith and politics, or culture in general, I will use my new blog, ingeniously titled The Rambling Prophet 2. I am going to give it a try and see how it works. Perhaps this will help in expressing myself and I can write some quality stuff regarding theology and ministry here at The RP. Like a good friend from college used to say, "If the shoe fits, wear it. If it don't, kick it off and keep on goin'." I hope that you will update your blogrolls with this new blog, put it in your feeds as well as my old blog, and please, read and respond regularly.

I will continue to talk theology, ministry, church issues, and the occasional homeschooling post here at the Rambling Prophet (1?). My prayer is that both blogs will be challenging and prompt us to think more coherently about what it means to serve Him, in church and out. Moreover, both blogs will give me a better way to express myself, I think. I hope you will drop in!

To all you readers out there, thanks for a grand year.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Some More Lousy Church Signs

I know, I should consecrate a blog just for lousy church signs! These are HORRIBLE!
Do you have a G P S?

God's Plan of Salvation
For those who aren't techno-savvy, a GPS is a Global Positioning System. They are small, electronic devices that communicate with a geographical satellite to let you know your position literally anywhere on the planet. I would hazard to guess that out here in Mayberry, most folks just would not get the connection. (I mean, I post on DIAL-UP.) Got to realize your audience, folks!

The second one is one of these, "you think its hot here" signs. Temperatures soared into the mid 100's here yesterday, so the framers of this sign must have thought it apropos, though I just haven't wrapped my brain around the significance of the number yet. I post it as it is on the sign. Any ideas?
Hell is 539 deg hot.
Funny, funny stuff!

Saturday, August 04, 2007

The Pastor Got "Creamed"

And thus, Vacation Bible School comes to an end.

Each year during Bible School, there is a contest between the boys and girls to see who can raise the most offering. If the boys give the most, the VBS director gets a pie in the face; if the girls give the most, then yours truly gets the pie. Its funny how every summer the girls give the most (I think the contest is rigged, personally). This year, the VBS director had the great idea you see below in lieu of the yearly pie. Given that our theme was Lifeway's "Game Day" all of the offering, a few cents shy of $300, went to the county Special Olympics. All in great fun!



Thursday, August 02, 2007

Two More Lousy Church Signs

In the absence of being particularly inspired to write anything of any substance, not to mention that my brain has felt like Jello since our son was born (so it isn't necessarily a lack of inspiration but rather inability) I continue to offer more local church signs that egregiously undermine the Christian message.

This one was spotted on a UMC church sign:
IN GOD WE TRUST
RIGHT ON THE MONEY
I guess there is a multiplicity of messages inherent here. Perhaps we should trust God simply because it says it, right there on the dollar bill (whatever the denomination). Perhaps trusting God is just as secure as "money in the bank." Perhaps there is some patriotism here that we should cling to, that the God of America is better than, say, the God of any other particular geographical region, as if God plays favorites. Or perhaps we should just ignore this sign altogether. That seems to be the wisest course of action.

And this one is for all you Arminians out there. Or Calvinists. Or, phooey, I don't know, I just cannot seem to understand this sign.
God's will is imperfect without you.
This one reminds me of the tired, old, "What's missing in CH_ _CH?" sign. If you can make heads or tails out of this one, please let me know, I'm dying to find out!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

What is the Gospel?

Just curious to know your thoughts. The thread is open.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Guess What! More Lousy Church Signs

I need to dedicate a whole 'nother blog to lousy church signs. We at The RP saw these on the way to Danville this morning. There seems to be no lack of creativity in southside Virginia.
Headed in the wrong direction? God allows U-turns!
It must be because you missed the YIELD sign a few miles back.
The Deeper Life Fellowship

Take the Plunge!
I cannot even bring myself to comment on that one. (Its OK to laugh, by the way.)

And one more to follow up on the church sign about fear a few days ago.
Fear is unbelief in disguise.
Hmmm...I wonder what doubt and skepticism go out as on Halloween?

Sunday, July 15, 2007

"Iron your pants," the pastor demanded.

(This story is true, though I have changed the names.)

Brian is a young bachelor, 36 years old. Having never been married he is ill-acquainted with some of the more subtle domestic niceties. Often he reeks of body odor though it seldom seems to bother him, so it is easily overlooked. Dandruff is a constant companion, flakes residing both on the tufts of his frequently tousled hair as well as on his shoulders. Shaving must be a daily struggle because I have regularly seen circular Band-Aids affixed to his neck, even in the evening, having forgotten he put it there at 7:00 a.m. He shops at Goodwill. Working at the local library does not seem to afford him some of the luxuries you and I enjoy. Quite often his clothes do not fit.

I have known Brian for several years now and I have seen him in some messy garb. He once wore a cream-colored Oxford, the top button buttoned yet no tie, without an undershirt so his chest hair was plainly visible; no, not acquainted with some aesthetic subtleties. Brian is not a member of the church I serve (though I wish he was). He is a member of another church yet close enough that he is not precluded from attending worship at our church on occasion and he often attends choir practice just for the sake of singing with God's people.

Brian has a gift; an extraordinary gift for music. He is the type of musician that makes one ashamed of knowing less about the field. Were Brian to have been blessed with greater than adequate resources, there is no telling where his talent might have taken him. However, he is content to use his talent serving God's people. He is frequently invited to direct cantatas and dramatic presentations at area churches. Once while directing an anthem at a church I had the blessing of preaching revival services, the sleeves of his blazer (twenty years out of style) extended beyond his wrists, so his directions were hard to follow.

When Brian sings, a hush falls over the assembly as if all at once they know they are about to be ushered into the presence of God. Some people however fail to realize this characteristic about some of God's people. Brian had attended choir practice at our church and had hung around for an unusually long time at the conclusion. I realized he was waiting to talk with me, so I hurried up conversing with other saints and pressed to make time for Brian.

"Tony, this should not bother me and I feel childish for allowing it to."

"What's wrong?" I responded.

"Well, Pastor Don has been preaching messages about Christians' looking after themselves. He has talked about smoking, drinking, and the like, and one Sunday he talked about the way a Christian ought to dress."

"Hmm. It sounds as if something might have gotten close to you. Did something happen?"

"Well. This is childish, but...(sigh) as he was greeting people after the service and I walked by, he caught me by the arm and said, 'Next time you come to church, make sure you iron your pants.'"

At this moment my mouth dropped open, the utter horror and disbelief plain as the noonday sun on my face. I know Brian's sensitivity and I have made numerous allowances in consideration of his appearance, being mindful of his great heart.

Brian was nearly to tears. "Tony, I don't know how to iron. I have tried. And Pastor Don even had the gall to chase me down in the parking lot and tell me if I needed her to, his wife would be glad to iron my pants before church next Sunday."

Needless to say, Brian was crushed, what little self-esteem he possessed having been annihilated by an over-zealous, nit-picky, uncomfortable do-gooder of a pastor.

There are a thousand different ways this could have been dealt with. If, and this is a mighty big if, the condition of Brian's britches was such an issue, why did the pastor find it necessary to single Brian out? Perhaps he thought he could get away with it, knowing Brian's oversensitive heart that he would suffer no repercussions. Brian would never retaliate. He doesn't have a vengeful bone in his body.

Nevertheless, an easier way to help Brian improve his appearance, if that is even necessary, is enlist a grandmother in the congregation to come alongside of him to flatter him, invite him over for supper, ask him to do some chores around her house, and then casually mention that she would love to iron his clothes for him.

"Honey, you are so sweet to do these things for me and I so enjoy your company. You know, you always look so nice on Sundays, but it ain't nothing a little ironing couldn't help out just a smidge. Would you let me iron a few of your shirts and pants for you? I'll make you look extra-special-nice come Sunday."

The Body would have been strengthened, Brian would not have been shattered, and he would have gotten fresh, crisp, starched, pants, ready for Sunday morning.

Discomfort with social graces motivates much nastiness among the Body. It motivates nastiness among a lot of people regardless of spiritual standing. Each one of us has overlooked a need, discounted a potential friendship, and missed a blessing because we were uncomfortable with someone's appearance. We all have a Brian somewhere in our lives, begging to be noticed, begging for friends, begging for recognition, begging to bless and be blessed, begging to be loved. It doesn't take much to bless someone like Brian.

Someone like Brian strives to be a blessing to others, but rarely is the blessing ever returned because "that boy just ain't quite right." If right by mental or emotional standards is what you are after, the wrongness of your thoughts and intents betray the thoughts and intents of your heart. If you mean not quite right by what we consider normative, then you may be correct.

The Brians remain fighting a needless uphill battle in the Body--until someone like you or like me chooses to overlook what distances them from "us." Do you know a Brian? Of course you do.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Oh No! Not Another One!

Yes, another lousy church sign. I know, I know, I need to post on something else, but drives to Lynchburg just give me too much church sign fodder.
If you can't stand the heat,

BELIEVE IN JESUS!
Huh? What?

That's OK. I don't get it either.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Another Lousy Church Sign

If fear knocks on the door, make sure faith is allowed to open it.
No real theological problems with this church sign, it is just the whole door-knocking motif is trite and overused. Some originality is in order and perhaps could communicate the "fear is a problem, faith is the answer" idea a little better. Any ideas?

Thursday, July 05, 2007

I Promised Pictures

Here are some pictures of my little guy. He didn't come out looking like a Klingon and right now he looks like every other newborn baby boy. I think he is right handsome but I am a little biased, though.


And this one for a little perspective...

So far he has been a good baby. I'm glad he's here. Thanks, everyone. May God bless.

I'll be back to regularly scheduled programming in the next couple of days. Meanwhile check out the blogs in the sidebar; they're worth your time.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

He's Here

Things have been pretty exciting over here the past several days. I just checked my reader and it looks like blogland has been pretty exciting, too. I've missed out on several discussions worthy of conversation, but, well, my wife just would not have it. See, I've been at the hospital having a baby.

Michael Byron (named after the grandfathers) was born Monday, July 2nd at approximately 11:10 am. He was 7 lbs., 8 oz. and was 21" long. Mom and baby are doing very well. Me, well, I'm tired--just tired; exhausted as a matter of fact. Hope to see all of you real soon.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Jonathan's Undoing

Jonathan Falwell has gone on record as defending Ann Coulter.

Her point was that Bill Maher, a liberal, can get away with saying the most scandalously terrible things about a national leader, so she’ll do the same thing since it is evident that that type of language is acceptable on the public airwaves.


But that language is not acceptable.


That is, if you’re a conservative.


And so the media has been reporting, quite erroneously, that Ann Coulter has stated that she wishes John Edwards was killed by terrorists.


It would be funny if it weren’t so pitiful.


You see, the truth doesn’t seem to matter these days.


The media appear to be more concerned with creating perception than reporting the news.


It sometimes amazes me that members of the mainstream press do not even comprehend the basics of a story. I wonder if they are simply slow-minded or if they are willfully blinded by their political agendas.


It’s got to be one or the other.


Whatever the case, it is increasingly evident that there is no equal playing field in the so-called mainstream media, the great embracers of “diversity.”

Miss Coulter was on the Fox News Channel’s “O’Reilly Factor” on Thursday night and she seemed to be worn out by the continuing dishonest portrayals of her words.

Who wouldn’t be?


So I say this to Miss Coulter: As long as you continue to contradict the policies of the mainstream — which expect us to gullibly accept everything they say — you will carry a target on your back. This is a truth that my dad experienced almost daily throughout his 51 years in ministry.


It is apparent that when you stand up for conservative values, and especially when you stand up for Christian values, you will be ridiculed. But as my dad often said, we are not called to be popular, we are called to be faithful.


Ann, rest assured, there are millions of people in this nation who appreciate your willingness to step into hostile fire in order to point out the inconsistencies of the mainstream. May you be bolstered by our prayers and well wishes.

Jonathan posted on the same take on this issue as my new blog friend Luke took me to task for. However, I stand by this position: Ann took her opportunity. She could have responded differently--but she didn't. Her distaste and anger against John Edwards colored her response. She calculated what she wanted to say and said it. Ann's remarks may have been taken out of context and used by the media against her-in a manner of speaking. However, Ann's previous bromides (see my previous post) against the Edwards family does not make up for sniping yet again at the presidential hopeful.

Laying conservatism aside, when are conservatives going to become examples of the very values they proclaim? Laying Christianity aside, why is it OK for a (proclaimed) Christian to talk this way? This type of language is not acceptable; it isn't even permissible to joke around about someone's death. Conservatives should expect better than this for those who tout that they support our values in the public square. For Jonathan to defend Ann Coulter is disingenuous at best, foolish at worst. My hope for Jonathan was that he would not have trod the same political path as his father. I guess I am wrong.