Saturday, December 31, 2011

New Addition

Back in May I wrote this, about how God had given me an image of myself as a clay jar to be filled and poured out on to others. At the same time I had been reading about being a warrior. As I was trying to put those two images together, God reminded me of Gideon, who was a warrior who delivered his people with clay jars and swords. The success of Gideon lay in the power of God, not in his own strength.

This is what came out of those images. I had it done this past Thursday.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Weekend Wanderings

The Christmas gifts have all been unwrapped, the paper has been discarded, and anything that didn't fit has been returned. 2011 is winding down and resolutions are being made for the year ahead. Hopes are high and expectations for a good year are on everyone's mind.

For the last time this year, here are the links of the week:

A messy New Year.
Learning from others.
Chaplain Mike finds a path.
Spirituality.

"From Jesus to Jesus."
Gabriel.
The world's coolest church?
The Church imprisoned.

Concentric circles of love.
You may have seen this on the news. Sad.

That's it for this year. Have a blessed New Year!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Out With the Old...

In two more days we will say goodbye to 2011. As this year winds down, many will be making resolutions to break old habits and patterns. Others will be cleaning out closets and getting rid of old clothes. The end of one year and the beginning of the next seems to be a good time to rid ourselves of some things that are old and adopt new habits, clothes, etc.

As I look at Scripture and ponder the state of the church today, I think it is time for those of us who call ourselves Christians, followers of Christ, whatever, to jettison the old and embrace the new. When I look at the organized church, I see an institution that is still bound in an Old Covenant way of thinking and doing things. Walk into almost any church building on a Sunday morning and you will see one person standing in front of the congregation and lecturing the people. That person is part of a particular class of trained professionals who are entrusted with the task of representing God to the people and teaching them. Think Old Testament priests. Those people have traveled to a particular building (temple) on a particular day (Sabbath) to hear from God through the preacher's words. Many believe that the only way to gather in a way that glorifies God is on Sunday in a building that is set aside for that purpose. In many of those buildings the people can come to an altar in the front to sacrifice. Part of the gathering is the when the congregation gives their tithes to pay for the "work of God." Most of the rationale behind the current system of tithing is based on Old Covenant passages that deal with the upkeep of the Temple and the priestly class.

The church has been trapped in Old Covenant ways for so long that what is done goes unquestioned by many. I believe the folks in congregations are good people who love Jesus and are sincere in their faith. I also believe the abundant life that Jesus said he has for us is far greater than what can be found in Old Covenant living. Jesus abolished the Old Covenant system. He established a New Covenant based on grace, a way of life where God is present within each of his children, and where those children can gather anywhere, anytime. In the New Covenant, all are given the responsibility and privilege of ministering to each other, of discipling each other, and teaching each other. In the New Covenant, Jesus' followers live in a spirit of generosity, giving to the needs of others without being badgered or guilted into giving to support programs, buildings, or salaries. In the New Covenant, Jesus is the priority and learning him is the focus. In the New Covenant, forms and structures don't really matter as long as the King is lifted up and we learn to follow him.

Personally, I plan on living my life as an individual under the New Covenant. I will search through the closets of my thinking and acting and bring out those Old Covenant things that need to go. I wonder if Goodwill will take them.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Weekend Wanderings: Christmas Edition

Things are back to what passes for normal around here so Weekend Wanderings is back. It's been an interesting week. We spent a couple days visiting my sister in Charleston, and then I went to Myrtle Beach to coach in a basketball tournament. Thursday, Jan, Josh, and Jennie came down to celebrate my birthday. Today, we gathered with our fellowship for a Christmas Eve brunch. We had a great time sharing a meal, have communion, and celebrating the first advent of the Messiah and reminding each other of the hope we have of his return.

I know you're really here for the links, so here they are:

Harry Potter and the incarnate Christ.
Good words from Alan Knox.
Arthur Sido's favorite Christmas verse.
The first to hear.
The message of Christmas.

One of the better Christmas hymns.
"The Nativity."
Christmas and empire.
Is there any hope?
Waiting for baby Jesus.

The fullness of Deity.
Chaplain Mike has a series on the Magnificat and today's gospel. Part 1 is here.
Candy canes.
Happy Holidays?
Peace on earth.

A Sestina for Christmas

Another replay:

It's the time of year we call Christmas
A time we spend with friends and family
It's a time for us to worship
We worship a baby
Who was born in a stable
But do we worship the King?

The child who came was born a King
Do we just see a baby?
Who do we worship?
During the time we spend with family
In this season of Christmas
Who do we see in the stable?

It was strange there in the stable
Not the usual place for the birth of a King
But there was the baby
His mother welcomed him to the family
We call this Christmas
Who do we worship?

There is only one worthy of worship
He lay in a stable
Surrounded by his family
At Christmas
We too often forget the King
And focus on the baby

It is wondrous that he was a baby
Born in a humble stable
So we celebrate at Christmas
Who do we worship?
A King?
Or an infant in a human family?

Yes, part of a human family
Born a baby
In a stable
He is more. He is King
He is worthy of worship
At Christmas

As we celebrate Christmas, surrounded by family
Remember that we worship much more than a baby
Born in a stable. We worship the King!

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A Poem for Christmas

This is another replay from Christmas past.

People rushing to and fro
Traffic steadily building

Black Friday is going to save us all
Buy, buy, buy

Can't afford it? No matter
Take a year to pay the bill

It's your patriotic duty
Spend, spend, spend

What are we thinking?
We're missing something here

Do we have a clue?
Do we know what Christmas means?

The prophets knew
They predicted it

The angels knew
They sang about it

The shepherds and the wise men knew
They came and worshipped

Herod knew
He tried to have this rival killed

Christmas is a celebration because
The King has come
Yet we enthrone our own comfort

Worshipping the golden calf of Wall Street
We lust after power
Political, economic, social

We have forgotten something
We have forgotten this

The King has come
All the kingdoms on earth are His

The King has come
We are His

The King has come
Let us celebrate Him!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Prayer for the Fourth Week of Advent







Father, in between the joy of the coming of the Messiah and the joy that will be ours at his return, help us to find our joy in you. In the midst of the busyness of the season give us that joy that goes far beyond our circumstances, the joy that comes from knowing that you love us and take joy in us. Amen.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Weekend Wanderings

Something is going goofy with my blog, so I can't post any links right now. Maybe it will be fixed in time for this weekend. If not, Weekend Wanderings will be back next weekend.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Waiting

Replay from last year:

There is a lot of waiting this time of year. Shoppers wait in traffic so they can get to stores and wait in line to pay for their merchandise. Students (and teachers) wait for vacation to start. Children wait to see what gifts they will receive. Other people wait for the season to be over. One thing that seems present in all the waiting is stress and conflict. Sometimes the very act of waiting causes the problems.The people of Israel were waiting. Waiting for the promised Messiah, waiting for God to speak again, and deliver his people. They had been waiting a long time. Today, we wait for that same Messiah to return and deliver us. It has been a long time.Some in Israel had grown tired of waiting and were content with just getting by. Others had put their hopes in their religious rituals, or political works. Before we are too hard on them, let us ask ourselves how we are waiting. Are we waiting for a trip off this old earth, up into the sky? Are we waiting for the right leaders to be elected or the right laws to be passed to turn our nation back to God? Have we given up and been reduced to just getting by?We are told to not become weary in doing good. Jesus is King, and one day he will return and set everything right again. Their will be justice, mercy, and peace. Creation will be renewed. The Kingdom of God will come in its fullness. That is what we wait for. That is what we long for.This Advent season remember that we wait in anticipation of a Kingdom that is here now, and is still to come. We wait in anticipation and in hope.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Runners and Soldiers

Scripture portrays life as a follower of Jesus as running a race. In 1 Corinthians 9:24, Galatians 2:2, Galatians 5:7, and Hebrews 12:1, we are told to run a good race with discipline and perseverance. Alan Knox has a post on his blog titled, "It's a long, hard road, but we're running together," in which he writes about a group he is a part of that runs trails together. In this post, Alan tells how each member of the group watches out for each other member as they navigate the hazards of running trails. There are roots and rocks that can trip an unsuspecting runner, and the results can be painful or catastrophic. Since trail running can be so dangerous when done alone, running in a group is a necessity. Alan writes of a runner in their group who had knee problems and at one point needed to walk. The entire group walked with her rather than leave her behind.

We are also given the picture in the Bible of being a soldier. Philippians 2:25, 2 Timothy 2:3 & 4, and Philemon 1:2 speak of being a soldier and Romans 13:12 and Ephesians 6:10-13 exhort us to put on our armor. A characteristic of a good army is that they do not leave any of their number behind. Men will risk their own lives to rescue a fallen comrade and bring him back to their lines. When soldiers go to war, they have to know that the person fighting alongside them will give up their lives for them if need be. On the flip side of this, the Church has been called the only army that shoots its own wounded. This should never be.

In our fellowships, we need to remember that God brings people into our lives for a reason. They are there for us to serve them and be a blessing to them, or for us to be served and blessed by them. We are in this race, this war together. We are all at different stages in our spiritual journey. All of us are wounded, some more than others. Some can run a long time at a sprint, while others tire easily and have to walk a lot. Sometimes those who can run faster and longer must adjust their pace to stay with the walkers. Sometimes we may be called on to sacrifice ourselves in order to rescue a fallen brother or sister. Jesus said that the greatest love we could have is the love that causes us to lay down our lives.

We must walk this walk, run this race, fight this war together. If we don't we give our enemy a foothold to steal, kill, and destroy, and we fail to show the world what God's love is truly like. God help us to live in love for each other.

Monday, December 12, 2011

What's in a Name?

The Southern Baptist Convention is thinking about changing the name of the denomination. I don't believe they have come up with a new name yet. I do have a suggestion, but I doubt they'll take it. There are some who don't want the name to change. One leader of a church in California said that if the convention dropped the word "southern" it would water down their theology. He also advocated keeping "Baptist." I can understand wanting to keep "Baptist." I used to be one. I didn't realize that there was some sort of a southern theology. I wonder what that entails.

Names are important. Parents put a great deal of thought into picking meaningful names for their children (although I wonder what some of them were thinking). A name can open or close doors in certain situations. Names carry the weight of a family's history and can be very encouraging and challenging. Names can also be an albatross around the neck. A name can cause shame and can drag a person down.

Names also distinguish and separate. That can be a good thing, but it also can be a problem. When a group of Christians put a particular label on themselves, they automatically put distance between themselves and other Christians. Most of the time that distance is never bridged. That is a problem. Jesus prayed that his followers would be one. I believe there are currently something like four hundred denominations in the United States. Somehow I don't think that's what Jesus had in mind. Over the years, those who claim to be followers of Jesus have separated themselves into increasingly restrictive groups, many times over insignificant points of dogma.

The early Church had no problem knowing what to call themselves. They were known because of who they followed, not the creed or doctrines they adhered to. At one point they began to be know as Christians, because they were acting like Christ. Unfortunately, even that term has become something other than what it should be. Most of the time the early Christians called themselves disciples, followers of the Way, believers, the church that meets _____________.

What do we call ourselves? I prefer follower of Jesus, because that describes me better than any denominational label. Besides, I don't think Panerist is a denomination is it? Anyway, how about we simply live our lives as subjects of the King and show his love in such a way that the world has to talk about that love, even if they don't know what to call us. Maybe we can be like Christ enough that the term "Christian" becomes a good thing again.

Ready for my suggestion? Drop the denominational labels and let our actions speak.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Prayer for the Third Week of Advent

Father, as we wait in anticipation for the return of our King, help us to not sit passively by, but to rejoice in the great privilege you have given us to join you in your mission of reconciling the world to yourself. As we await the final culmination of your Kingdom, help us to be about bringing that Kingdom to bear in every part of our day-to-day. Amen

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Weekend Wanderings

Another week has come and gone, here in the sunny South. It is getting a bit chillier and it looks like it could be a colder than normal winter. One more week of school before Christmas break, and I think the teachers are looking forward to the break as much as the students. There's lots to do between now and Christmas, and it seems like we're going to be pushing it to get everything done. Oh well, as I always tell Jan, "It'll get done."

On to the links:

Do you think Jesus was a free-market capitalist? Me neither. (HT: iMonk)
Another post on ministry.
This is interesting.

Talk about your no-frills flight!

This is amazing.

A Christmas classic (?) from Jon Acuff.
I'm not sure either.

Alan Knox on Christmas lights.
Good words from Jared Wilson.

Chaplain Mike has a series on tools. Part 1 is here.
Scot McKnight has some good links over on his blog.

Have a great week.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Prayer for the Second Week of Advent

Lord Jesus, we live in a world that has lost hope, that runs after things, relationships, and so much more in a vain attempt to fill the emptiness. Help us to stay out of that rat race, and remind us that our hope is in you. In the midst of the stuff of life, remind us that you are making all things new and that you will one day finish the job. Thank you for what you have already done in us. Thank you for calling us to join in your mission of restoring your creation. Thank you for the privilege of bearing the hope of your Kingdom to those around us. Amen.

Weekend Wanderings

This has been a week of happenings and celebrations. Basketball season began on Tuesday, and I have learned just how much work I have to do to get the team where they will be at the end of the season. On Wednesday our son, Josh became engaged to his girlfriend, Alicia, and Thursday was Jennie's birthday. Yesterday we met Alicia's parents for the first time, and looked at a couple of possible wedding venues. Last night we went to a Christmas celebration in our neighborhood. A couple of months ago, we began having some of our neighbors over for a dessert night. The first night was such a success that they planned to have the celebration last night and one of them volunteered to host it. Everyone wants to continue getting together, so it looks like we'll be able to build good relationships with our neighbors. This morning our new faith community had its second gathering at Panera. We had a good time learning and discussing the meaning of the hope that we have in Christ.

Enough about me. Here's the good stuff from the past week:

Hmmm. What do you think about this guy?
This is something I need to keep learning.
Very cool (HT: Scot McKnight).
Maybe the church needs more of these.

What Proverbs 29:18 is not about.
Where do you stand in the "war on Christmas?"
I'll agree with this.

This is good.
I like this.

100 greatest guitarists of all time (HT: iMonk). I think they left a good one off the list.
This is a bit disconcerting.
Not a model (HT: Alan Knox).

Have a wonderful week.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

For My "Little" Girl

27 years ago, God blessed us with a little girl. She came into this world the day after I coached a basketball game, and it seemed like she grew up in the gym. This little girl was a whirlwind of activity right from the start, and I've always maintained that she was put on this earth to have a good time, and to help others have a good time as well.

It has been an absolute joy and wonder to watch this little girl as she entered school to begin her education, as she entered the teenage years and I was blessed with the opportunity to coach her, as she went to college and began to mature into a young woman, and as she struck out to make her own impact on this world (although we still wish she wasn't all the way across the country). It has been wonderful to watch how God has worked in her life, and how he continues to work.

Jennie, we are extremely proud of you. You bring joy into our lives simply by being who God made you to be. We pray that your heavenly Father will continue to bless you and hold you in his arms. We love you.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Awesome! Yet...

Today, one of the classes where I work watched a video on the universe. The video began by speaking of the size of the Milky Way Galaxy, and the fact that if we could fly to the sun on a commercial airliner, it would take seventeen years. That is awesome. Yet, the closest star to earth after the sun (Proxima Centauri) is 25 trillion miles from earth! A spacecraft with the speed of the Voyager would take 81,000 years to get there. Awesome!

Yet, that is just a small part of the universe. The universe is defined as all the matter and energy that exists, along with all the space in-between. The size of the observable universe is 93 billion light years. And that's just what we can observe! Scientists say there is more of the universe beyond that, although no one knows how far it goes. Awesome!

Yet, there is a God who created all this! A God who is beyond space and time, who is "bigger" than the universe! A God who is the sovereign ruler over everything we can observe and everything we can't. A God who is outside and yet in this universe. Awesome!

Yet, even more awesome and mind blowing is the thought that this God who created this magnificent universe and stands above it, is the same God who calls me his child, and allows me to call him Father. This God loves me with an unfathomable love that reaches beyond this world. God became one of us, so that we can become like him. He has given me the privilege of following him, and living in his love and grace. He has called me to share that love with others and let them know that they can also follow him. One day this God will set everything in the universe to rights, and will finally restore his creation. That is awesome!

Yet. No, there is no yet. There is nothing more awesome than that.


Sunday, November 27, 2011

Prayer for the First Week of Advent

Almighty Father, as the people of Israel longed for their redemption, so we long for the final redemption and restoration of all things. As they longed for your kingdom, so do we. Help us to not miss you, as many of them did. This season, remind us that our deepest longings find their fulfillment only in Jesus. Amen

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Being Thankful

This Thursday is Thanksgiving Day, so in honor of the season I would like to list a few of the many things I am thankful for.

I am thankful, first of all, that I have a Father in heaven who calls me his child and who loves me with an inexhaustible love. I am thankful for what Jesus Christ has done for me, and for the great privilege of being called to follow him. I am thankful for the wisdom and guidance that the Spirit gives me in my day-to-day. I am thankful for the legacy of godly parents who taught me through their example how to follow Jesus. I am thankful for a sister who loves Jesus and loves me, and for her family.

I am thankful for an absolutely wonderful woman who I am blessed to call my wife. Her love and support means more to me than I can say. I am thankful for her family, and the way they have accepted me as one of their own. I am thankful for two fantastic children who are a joy and a blessing to me, and who have become fine young adults. I am thankful for friends who love me, who have taught me much, and who are not afraid to call BS when the situation warrants it.

I am thankful for a job that is more than just a job, but is also an opportunity to show God's love to others. I am thankful that I get to coach, and use athletics to influence young people. I am thankful for good health. I am thankful for the Father's provision down through the years, even though I didn't always have a lot of faith at the time. I am thankful for the things God has been teaching me these past few years, even the lessons that were hard to learn.

I could go on and on. There is so much to be grateful for. Abba has showered me with his blessings. So, this Thanksgiving I will soak in the riches of God's glorious grace and love.

I'll be taking a few days of the rest of the week. Have a happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Good News From the Church Front

I know I tend to be a bit critical of the American church and what I see as a turning away from what Jesus intended. It's not all bad, though. I would be the first to admit that God can use anyone, even churches that I could never be a part of. Here is a good example of followers of Jesus in churches, one traditional and one more contemporary, doing what our Savior commanded us to do.

I praise God for his people who are willing to show love to others, no matter what we may disagree on.

Better Sundays?

The other day, I saw a church sign sign that read, "Come see us. Our Sundays are better than Dairy Queen." I thought, "Well maybe, but can you get the same thing the other six days of the week?" Dairy Queen is open seven days a week, so you can go at almost any time and get something good. I know a little about this particular congregation, while there may be other times throughout the week when the folks get together, the emphasis is on the Sunday morning event.

This is true in most churches today. The week is spent preparing for what goes on during the Sunday morning service. Sermon prep takes up a great deal of the pastor's time, and the worship leaders focus on what they will be doing and rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. Other parts of the service are planned so that the audience will have a good (insert church name) experience. So, if all you are looking for is a good Sunday, then you probably can find one in any number of church services.

However, if you are looking for community, for a group of fellow followers of Christ who will walk with you on your journey, who will love and accept you and treat you as family, you are probably looking for more than a once a week experience. Even if the early church could have gone to Dairy Queen, I doubt they would have advertised themselves as having "better Sundays." They lived life together. While they probably did not all come together at the same time every day, groups of believers did meet in each others homes from day to day. They shared meals together, they encouraged and edified one another. When there was need, they sacrificed to meet that need.

What the early church did, they did because they were devoted to Jesus first, then to each other. Because of that devotion, they wanted to spend time with each other, to know each other, and to bless each other. That couldn't have happened if they had only gathered as a large group on Sundays. Just as knowing God involves spending time with him, so knowing his children involves a commitment of time and effort. I don't believe that can happen if we only gather one day a week. Of course, I don't believe most Sunday services help believers serve one another, but that's a topic for another day.

One day a week is just not enough.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Weekend Wanderings

The posts have been somewhat sparse the past couple of weeks. I feel that God is teaching me, but right now it's hard to crystallize those things into coherent blog posts. I have been reading though. so you at least you have something to read.

Here are some of the best from this week:


This is must reading.
I don't know. This just seems so wrong.
Ronnie McBrayer has a question.



Have a good week. If you are traveling, be safe. Enjoy time with family and friends.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Weekend Wanderings

The weather here in the sunny South is jumping between fall and spring. We have lows in the 30s, and highs ranging anywhere from the 50s to the 70s. Most of the leaves are off the trees or have turned brown. The colors were beautiful while they lasted. The sports world was rocked with the scandal at Penn State and the firing of Joe Paterno. While I agree that Paterno should have done more and that the university had no choice, I think it is a shame for an illustrious career to end this way.

On to better things:

Bob Hyatt has a Biblical answer.
Alan Knox on sacramentalism.


This is pretty amazing.
Jon Acuff has some wise words.



I hope your week ahead is full of God's grace and love.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Weekend Wanderings

It's been a good week. Basketball practice began on Monday, and we have had five good sessions. This years team is a little less experienced than the squad from last year, so the learning curve is going to be a bit steeper. The trees are in full blaze here in the sunny South, and it is beautiful. Of course that means that something will have to be done with those leaves after they fall. I could just let them blow into the neighbors' yards, but they might not appreciate it.

On to the links:

For the men.
For the women (the rest of us too).

J. Scott McElroy on the arts.
Ronnie McBrayer is longing for home.
Wayward Son on God as sugar daddy.
Jason Elam with some truth about grace.
Jon Acuff has a quiet, loud video.


It's the time of year where we get an extra hour of sleep. Or, you can stay up an hour longer. Don't forget to set your clocks back one hour. Have a great week!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Doing Great Things For God

When I was growing up, I heard a lot about doing great things for God. In Bible college we were regaled with stories of those alumni who had gone on to be senior pastors in large churches, or youth pastors with large followings, or presidents of Bible colleges. These individuals were held up as the standard. As a teacher and coach in Christian schools, I told my students to dream of doing great things. I dreamed of winning state championships, of having former students and players go on to be leaders. I even dreamed of becoming a college coach and having a huge impact for Christ with my players, all while winning a lot of games.

Fast forward a few years. I now work as a paraprofessional in a middle school and an assistant basketball coach at a local high school. Over the years I have sent out a whole lot of resumes, added to my educational credentials, and done everything else I could to do something great. Nothing panned out. There have been many times when I felt as if I had missed my chance to do great things, to make an impact for God's Kingdom. I would look at others who did what was considered great, and wonder why it wasn't me. I felt let down, by God and by myself. I tried to soothe things by being "humble." You know, the whole "I'm just one of those folks that just tries to serve God any way I can" schtick. I would venture to say that there are a whole lot of Christians who have felt the same way.

Over the past couple of years, through Scripture and the encouragement of my family and close friends, I have come to change my definition of greatness. John Wooden used to tell his teams at UCLA that true greatness consisted of doing the best you can all the time (I know that's a rough paraphrase, but you get the idea). I believe that is also true in our walk with God. The Father does not expect us to "do great things," especially as the world defines greatness. He simply asks us to be faithful to the task he has given us. The funny thing is, that actually is doing great things. As followers of the King, and citizens of his Kingdom, we are involved in what C.S. Lewis called an invasion. We are representatives of a King who is in exile, and we are called to bring his Kingdom to bear in a world that is controlled by our enemy. That makes everything we do as followers of Christ significant. We are part of a great story, the story of the restoration of Creation. Jesus said that even giving a cup of cold water in his name was a great thing. Wow. That really changes a lot of things.

Don't let anyone sell you short. Don't buy the lie that you are insignificant, and the things you do don't matter. You are a child of the Creator of the universe, and God's Spirit lives in you. Your heart has been, and is being transformed. The Father has given you gifts and talents that he wants you to use to bless others. Even if the "only" thing you can do is love others as Jesus has loved you (and that's really pretty doggone huge when you think about it), you are playing a role in the greatest story ever. You are doing great things.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Weekend Wanderings

Autumn is here in the sunny South and the trees are beautiful. I enjoy this time of year with the colors of the changing leaves, the smell of wood fires, and the crisp temperatures. Things are about to get much busier here in the Shope household. Basketball practice begins Monday, so my schedule is going to be packed from then until February. At least it will be fun.

Here is the good stuff:

Alan Knox on charitable organizations, sort of.

Just chill.
Andrew Jones on the flight of capital from Egypt.

Alan Knox has a series on giving. Part 1 is here.

Have a blessed week.

Monday, October 24, 2011

In the book, In the Name of Jesus, Henri Nouwen wrote of the temptations faced by leaders in the church, and by the church as a whole. Those temptations are relevance, popularity, and leading.

The first temptation is to be relevant, to be able to do things, to fix things, to take care of things. All of us, individually and corporately, are called to minister to others. It is easy to think that we have to "make a difference" in the lives of the people we serve, and to fall into the belief that that they need us to change them. This is a trap that I have fallen into more than a few times. Nouwen writes that the way to change this thinking is to spend time contemplating the love of the Father for us and learning to grow in our love for him. Instead of worrying about positions on issues of the day, or trying to figure out how best to solve the problems of other people, we "must be rooted in the permanent, intimate relationship with the incarnate Word, Jesus, and they need to find there the source of their words, advice, and guidance."

The next temptation is to be popular. We all want to be thought well of, to accomplish things that will make folks look at us and applaud. If we were honest with ourselves we would have to admit that a great deal of what we do individually, and a great deal of what is done in the church, is to attract others to ourselves. The answer to this temptation is to remember that "We are not the healers, we are not the reconcilers , we are not the givers of life. We are sinful, broken, vulnerable people who need as much car as anyone we care for." We all need to remain open and vulnerable to those we serve, keeping in mind that what they need is the love of God. We are simply to love God, and let him love others through us.

The third temptation is the temptation to be powerful. This is possibly the temptation that the church has succumbed to the most. The early church had no political, economic, or cultural power; and it turned the world upside down. Since then the church has bought into the philosophy that the way to change the world is through power. While the church has continued to do great things through the centuries, I wonder how much more good could have been accomplished for the Kingdom if Christians had remembered that our power is from the Spirit of God, and that our warfare is spiritual not physical. As someone who has been in a position of authority over my students and athletes over the years, that temptation has been hard for me to overcome. I still struggle with the tension between loving those I work with and exercising authority when needed.

None of us likes to be powerless. We have been taught to not be weak, or even be seen as week. I appreciate what Nouwen says about powerlessness: "Powerlessness and humility in the spiritual life do not refer to people who have no spine and who let everyone else make decisions for them. They refer to people who are so deeply in love with Jesus that they are ready to follow him wherever he guides them, always trusting that, with him, they will find life and find it abundantly."

In my own journey, I am learning more and more to love Jesus, to trust him to guide me and give me that abundant life. May we all realize that we are not the ones that change the lives of others. We are simply the vessels that the Father chooses to flow through.









Saturday, October 22, 2011

Weekend Wanderings

You know those days when you just wonder why? I had one of those yesterday. The rest of the week went well, as fall has settled in for awhile. We had to bring our plants in for the night because there was a chance of frost here in the sunny South. The world lost another brutal dictator this week. I hope the Libyans end up with a better government.

On to the links:

Arthur Sido on real men.
Alan Knox has a series on running the race. Part 1 is here.
Tim King's thoughts on an important issue.

Yes, these churches are ugly (HT: iMonk).
This is good.

Let the kids play (HT: Scot McKnight).
Laura Ortberg Turner on disappointment with God.

Jon Acuff on waiting.
Matt on Christmas. Sort of.
Jeff Dunn on dogma.

I hope your weather this weekend is as nice as ours. Have a great one!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Weekend Wanderings

It's been an interesting week. On Monday, Jan went to the doctor about some anxiety and skipping heart issues. He gave her some medicine to help things. Tuesday found us in the emergency room getting Jan's heart checked out because she was feeling worse. Thankfully her heart is okay, she's adjusted the medicine and is doing much better. Fall is fully here in the sunny South, and the weather is beautiful.

Here is the good stuff:

I don't believe a lot of this either.
An English perspective on the American church.

John Armstrong on mercy.
Jeff Dunn on the cross.

Donald Miller on intimacy with God.

Arthur Sido on power.
Evidently, the Dead Sea is not quite dead yet (HT: Scot McKnight).

Have a great weekend.

Friday, October 14, 2011

A Prayer to Christ

This prayer was written by Henri Nouwen in A Cry for Mercy. Further comment from me is unnecessary.

Dear Lord, help me keep my eyes on you. You are the incarnation of Divine Love, you are the expression of God's infinite compassion, you are the visible manifestation of the Father's holiness. You are beauty, goodness, gentleness, forgiveness, and mercy. In you all can be found. Outside of you nothing can be found. Why should I look elsewhere or go elsewhere? You have the words of eternal life. you are food and drink, you are the Way, the Truth, and the Life. You are the light that shines in the darkness, the lamp on the lampstand, the house on the hilltop. You are the perfect Icon of God. In and through you I can see and find my way to the Heavenly Father. O Holy One, Beautiful One, Glorious One, be my Lord, my Savior, my Redeemer, my Guide, my Consoler, my Comforter, my Hope, my Joy, and my Peace. To you I want to give all that I am. Let me be generous, not stingy or hesitant. Let me give you all-all I have, think, do, and feel. It is yours, O Lord. Please accept it and make it fully your own.
Amen.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Hypervigilance

In Gracias! A Latin American Journal, Henri Nouwen told a story of a nun who was visiting in a poor section of Lima, Peru. She had been warned to be very watchful of other people because they would "...grab your money, your purse, and your watch." She was told to "...take your watch off and put it in your purse and hold your purse tight under your arm."

The nun did exactly as she was instructed. While riding on a crowded bus, she had to keep a tight hold on the handle to keep her balance. As she was jostled, she noticed her watch on the arm of a young man next to her. As the story goes, she very aggressively took the watch away from the man, only to later find her watch still in her purse. She had stolen an identical watch from the young man on the bus! Her paranoia had caused her to rob an innocent person.

How much of the time are Christians like this nun. We've been told that we need to watch out for those ___________________ (just fill in the blank), because they will ________________. They are either a threat to Christianity, to our way of life, or whatever else you can think of. We go through our days afraid, afraid of being corrupted or hurt by others. We have done a good job through the years of holding our life tight and hiding things away to keep them from being "stolen." In the end, we end up being the thieves.

When we hide the Source of our life away by separating ourselves, or by loudly proclaiming our opposition to the bogeyman of the day, we rob others of the message that there is a God who is a God of grace, who has become one of us so we can be like him, and who is redeeming this world and will put all things right. We rob them of the love that Jesus told us to show to all we come in contact with. We rob them of the opportunity to see people who have been transformed by God's love and grace, people who are truly different. Like the nun, we steal from others, and then find out later that they really weren't out to get us.

Jesus gave us the commission to go. We are called to be in this world. Jesus gave us the example when he ate and drank with sinners, so much so that the religious leaders called him a glutton and a drunk. Doesn't exactly sound like one who was being careful to not associate with the wrong crowd, does it? One of the big differences I see between the church of the first century and the church of today is the church today seems to more known for what it is against, and the early church was know for their love for each other and for those around them.

May we hold our lives more loosely, and freely share the treasure that we have been given.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Weekend Wanderings

Another week has come and gone. It seems like this past week was only a couple days long, it went by so fast. We celebrated Jan's birthday on Tuesday, had dinner with a dear friend on Thursday, and grilled for about 200 folks on Saturday. Add that to the usual goings on, and the week speeds along.

Here are the links:

I wonder how many of us are like this (HT: Scot McKnight).
Jon Acuff on surrender.

Ronnie McBrayer on worship.
Craig Bubeck on holiness.
Scot McKnight on the Gospel.

Arthur Sido has a question.
Alan Knox on vision.

Well, the weekend is almost over. Have a great week!

Monday, October 3, 2011

New Ways of Community

Bob Edwards left a comment on this post, wondering about a more contemporary expression of community beyond the "going house to house" of the first century church, especially for those with limited mobility. He made the point that we can be blinded to new ideas by trying to hold on to a form that doesn't necessarily work as well in the 21st Century. I believe that the form is not as important as having devotion to Jesus, and to one another.

Here is the question. What other forms of community are possible, that can meet the needs of different groups of people, and remain true to the ideal of devotion to Christ, and to one another ? Please weigh in.


Sunday, October 2, 2011

Weekend Wanderings

Fall is here in the sunny South. This morning the thermometer on our back porch read 41 degrees. That's just a bit chilly for October. We're ready for some cooler weather, but I know there will still be some hot days to come. Last night we had our first neighborhood dessert night. Jan and I delivered flyers to about 100 families, inviting them to our house. Eight showed up , and we had a nice time meeting neighbors that we didn't know and getting to know some others better. Everyone enjoyed it, and we're going to have a second one in December at one of the other homes.

Here are the links:


Here is a fun video.
On "Pulpit Freedom Sunday," here is an iMonk Classic.
Kansas Bob on people who raise us up.
Jared Wilson on worship.


Ronnie McBrayer asks a good question.
Rich Wagner on sharing.

May your week ahead be filled with the Father's love.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Tom Sawyer Christianity

In Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer gets Huck Finn and a group of boys together to form a gang of robbers and murderers. Tom gives the gang members a list of rules that they must follow in order to be a part of the gang. When questioned about some of these rules, Tom says that these rules must be followed because that's what robbers and murderers did in the books that he read. Because it was in the books, that's what robbers and murderers did, therefore that's what the gang was supposed to do. Of course, the rules had nothing to do with reality, and the boys ended up doing what you would expect from a group of young boys: they pretended to rob and kill. No one was harmed, and the gang eventually broke up because it got too hard to get together.

As I read I thought how much this is like a large segment of Christianity today. Folks gather in buildings every Sunday and listen to what essentially is a list of rules that they must follow in order to be in the gang. These rules range from behavior codes regarding dress, music, etc., to principles and steps to follow to be a better _______________. The unfortunate thing is that some in those buildings think they are part of the Body because they made a decision and are following the rules, but are deluded. While determining whether someone really belongs to Christ is way above my pay grade, a good look at the fruit shows a problem.

The rules and the principles and steps are like the rules in Tom Sawyer's gang; they do not correspond to reality. What is real is that Jesus has finished it. He has done everything that needed to be done. Christ has accomplished everything we need. When he said, "It is finished," on the cross, he meant it. He has called us to follow him, and has given us everything we need to do that. Christ did not call us to give assent to a set of propositions about him. He did not tell us to follow a set of rules, to get our act together, or to "get right" with him. He called us into relationship with him.

It is true that a relationship with Jesus will bring about changes in our lives. We are a new creation, and we are called to live as people who are different. Those changes that make us different will come about by the Spirit of God in us, not from following a set of rules or steps. We are not only saved without human effort, we also live in the power of the Spirit, not our own power. We can not get any closer to God by our efforts, we can not please God in our own strength. Everything we do must be done by God's power. Tom Sawyer's gang failed because they were trying to be a gang like Tom had read about, but had no ability to do what those gangs did. How many Christians flounder in their lives, and how many congregations are powerless because they are trying to be what they have read about, but are doing it in their own power.

Tom Sawyer's gang was playing at being a gang. I wonder how many of us who claim Christ are playing at following him. What would it look like if churches were made up of people who were fully committed to following Jesus in the power of the Spirit?

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Weekend Wanderings

It's been a wet week here in the sunny South. The temperatures have gone up a little bit here at the start of autumn, but that's pretty normal. Jan and I spent Friday night and all day Saturday representing World Vision at the Women of Faith conference in Charlotte. It was a good experience, and no, I wasn't the only male there. In our community, we've been working through Micah 6:8 and what that means for us, beginning with our relationships. We've had some good discussion on a topic that I believe is important to our mission as followers of Jesus.

Here is a taste of some of the good offerings out there this past week:

Jo Hilder on the poor.

Wayward Son begins a series on distorted images of God.
Arthur Sido thinks about being pro-life.
Ronnie McBrayer says there is no need to keep jumping.

Keith Giles has a series on Jesus, the Prince of Peace. Part 1 is here.

Chaplain Mike says that prepositions matter.

Have a wonderful week!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Justice, Mercy, and Humility

In our gathering on Sunday, we were looking at Micah 6:8. This verse tells us that the thing that God requires of us is to "do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God." We talked about how the first priority is to do justice within our relationships. As I thought about the discussion, I thought about the command that Jesus gave us to love one another as he loved us. I believe these two passages are essentially the same.

Jesus calls his followers to love others as he loves us. Think about how Jesus treats us. He always acts justly toward us, he always does what is right for and to us. We many times think of justice as making sure someone gets what they deserve. In the world's system, that is the definition, but even that doesn't happen much of the time. The phrase "do justice" can also be translated "do what is right." Sometimes doing what is right doesn't fit with how most folks normally see justice. Sometimes doing what is right means sacrificing our rights, our opinions, our comfort, our life. But doing what is right is a part of loving others as Jesus loves us.

Doing justice in our relationships will require loving mercy. As we seek to love others as Jesus loves us, there may be conflicts. Relationships are messy. There is no way to escape it. In order to love people we will have times when we have to love mercy in order to do what is right. Think of the mercy that Jesus showed, and continues to show. That is the same mercy we are to love and to extend to those around us. Showing mercy is always right.

The third part of the verse tells us to walk humbly with God. Humility is also a part of doing what is right and loving others. To love as Jesus loves us can not be done with a proud heart. We can not go to another and do what is right, and extend mercy to them if we are putting ourselves and our interests first. We must have the same attitude as Jesus. Although he is the King of Kings, he humbled himself and served those around him while he was here on this earth. We also are called to serve those around us, rather than seek to be served. That takes a humble walk with God.

May God help us to love each other as Jesus loves us by doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Weekend Wanderings

It's been some time since the last Weekend Wanderings. The last two weekend were very busy, and I just wasn't able to carve out the time to write. The weather has turned suddenly cooler here in the sunny South. Temperatures have dropped from near ninety on Thursday to around sixty yesterday and today. I'm enjoying the cooler weather and the fact that the grass is now not growing as fast and won't need to be mowed as often.

Dan Edelen writes about fear.
Donald Miller writes about pain.
David Zimmerman writes about a relationship with God.


Dan Kimball reviews (sort of) Scot McKnight's new book.
Alan Knox on working with not-yet-believers.

Jeremy Statton on serving God.

Arthur Sido on loving our wives.

And, last but certainly not least, two good posts from Ronnie McBrayer. Here and here.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

A Bit of Wisdom From Janis Joplin

Really? Janis Joplin? I can explain. This evening, I was listening to the radio on the way home and heard the Joplin version of "Me and Bobby McGee," and a line in that song started the wheels turning. Now I know some of you are thinking I need to get my wheels checked, that they might be just a little bit out of alignment. Bear with me here. I believe that all truth is God's truth and that truth can be found in some unlikely places.

There is a line in the song that states, "Freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose...." Possibly the writer of this song meant to say that it is only those who have nothing who are truly free, and an argument can be made for that. I see it a bit differently. Those who are truly free have nothing to lose. A major theme through Scripture is freedom. From the Exodus from Egypt and the laws concerning freeing servants and property, to the prophecies of One who will free the captives, the Old Testament is full of freedom.

When we think of freedom, we usually look to the New Testament. Jesus stated that he was the promised liberator of the captives. He told the people that true freedom came from the Son setting them free. Freedom echoes through the epistles, and in Galatians 5:1 we are told that we have been set free for ... freedom. Think about that for a second. Freedom is the reason we have been set free! I would venture to say that God thinks freedom is pretty important.

If we have been made free in Christ, is there anything we have to lose? List all the things the world strives to hold on to: money, possessions, relationships, pleasures, reputation, power, etc.. Because we are alive in Christ, we are dead to those things and they are to have no hold on us anymore. When we think that have to worry about losing those things, we are not thinking according to who we are, and we are not listening to our Shepherd's voice. The Kingdom is described as a great treasure that is worth giving up everything else. The more we realize our freedom as a child of God and a co-heir with Jesus, and the more we live in that reality, the more we realize that because of freedom, we have nothing to lose. Even if we were to "lose" everything, if we are free in Christ we already have everything.

Live in freedom!


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

World Vision Wednesday

If there is a situation that breaks the heart of God, it is the enslavement of his children. Join World Vision as they pray for an end to this injustice, and for its victims. Go to this link for more information.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

God is Good

The other day, a friend posted on her Facebook page, "God is good, all the time. when it appears that He is not, HE IS GREAT!" This is certainly true. There is never a time when God is not good, and there really is never a time when he is not great. Due to the fact that I like to take good sayings and play with them, I would state it a bit differently.

Many of us know that God is good. "Of course he's good, he's God!" There is nothing in God that is not good. God is holy, and totally perfect. God is good. I can see where that statement can lead people to see God as a being so far above us and so good that we just can't measure up or please him. It is true that God is pure good, and that, in ourselves, we can not measure up to God's goodness. What we sometimes forget in our day-to-day is the fact that Jesus does measure up, and if we are in him, God sees and loves us as he does Jesus. So, I would add something to what my friend posted, the words "to us."

I would write the statement as, "God is good to us all the time. When it appears that he is not, HE IS GREAT TO US!" It is a small difference, with what I believe are huge implications. Think about it. This God who created the universe, who is sovereign, who is so far above sin that we can't even imagine it, this God loves us with a pure, holy, everlasting love. This pure, holy God loves us just as he loves his Son. God is not an angry judge who is looking at us to see where we are screwing up so he can punish us. God is not a Father who withholds things from us to make us toe the line or to get back at us because we have somehow displeased him. Because of what Christ has done, and because we are one with Christ, God is never more pleased with us or less pleased with us than he is with Christ. The Father loves the Son. We are in the Son. The Father loves us.

We are told in Scripture that we have been given a spirit that leads us to call God, "Abba." In today's terms, we could use the name, "Daddy." There is a saying, "Anyone can be a father. It takes someone special to be a dad." That's the idea behind calling the Creator of all things, "Abba." Think of your concept of the perfect dad. Now multiply that by infinity and you begin to get an idea of Abba.

The God who is good, even great, all the time is the Father who loves us, and is good, even great, to us all the time. Never forget that God loves you. Not only that, God likes you. He is pleased with you. He is good, TO YOU!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Sin

Sin is a popular topic in many Christian circles. Some constantly preach against it. Most agree that it is a problem, and it is. I see a problem with the way a lot of Christians see sin and our relationship to sin. Some believe that we are "just sinners saved by grace." Many others believe that there are two natures living in us, and that the one we "feed" the most is the one that is stronger. I believe Scripture shows us a different way of looking at sin.


Sin is the force that ruled us before we came to Christ. We were indeed, sinners before we came to faith. Now though, we are a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). We have become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21). We have the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16), we have a new spirit (Rom. 8:16), and the Spirit of God is in us (1 Cor. 3:16). We are God's workmanship (Eph. 2:10), we belong to God (1 Pet. 2:9), and we are dead to sin (Rom. 6:11).


Yes, but we still sin! True, but that doesn't change who we are. Sin is still a force that remains in us, but it is no longer part of our nature. Before we came to Christ, sin told us what to do, and those ways of thinking and seeing the world were ingrained in us. When we become a child of God, sin still dwells in us (Rom. 7:17). It is still there, whispering in our ear and seeking to influence us to act in a way that is incompatible with who we truly are. When we sin, it is not because we are still sinful, but it is because we still sometimes do things according to the old way of thinking.


If I am angry with someone and continue to dwell on that anger and not give it up to God, it is not because I am an angry person, but is because I am acting out of an old script in which I was an angry individual who did not forgive and held on to my anger. I need to realize that kind of anger is not compatible with who I am as a child of God. I need to allow the Spirit to transform my thinking in this area.


When I am proud and think that I am better than others, when I fail to see others as God's image bearers, when I am selfish in my interactions with others, it is not because I am sinful. It is because I fail to see these sinful actions as not fitting with who I am in Christ. Again, I need to have my mind renewed. The same is true when I fail to trust the love and goodness of my Father. Any time I sin, it is because I have not taken my thoughts captive and run them through the filter of my identity as a child of God.

May the Spirit renew and transform our minds so we increasingly live as the new creations we are!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Wisdom of Pooh Bear

The other night, Jan and I went to the $2 theater and saw the new Winnie the Pooh. We thoroughly enjoyed it, because we are longtime Winnie the Pooh fans, and because it was a well done film. As usually happens when watching a movie, the wheels started turning in my brain.

What struck me while sitting in the dark was the way the characters related to each other. In the Hundred Acre Wood, there is a wide variety of personalities, with accompanying idiosyncrasies. Each character brings something different to the table, and each has strengths and weaknesses. In spite of all these differences they all get along. As the story unfolded, there were misunderstandings, miscommunication, and a lot of times when one character would do something that would cause a huge disruption. Through all of the coming and going, no matter what happened, the entire Hundred Acre Wood community was characterized by love, grace, and acceptance. No matter how many times Tigger bounced into a scene and created havoc, there were no harsh words spoken. Even though Owl was a pompous windbag at times, no one was critical. Every time there was potential for conflict, it ended with grace and forgiveness. In the end, each of the characters contributed from their strengths and the goal toward which they had been working was reached.

I know that Winnie the Pooh is a children's story, and some may say that it presents an idealistic view of how things could be in order to teach. Think about it. Jesus said that we enter the Kingdom by becoming like a little child. In the Kingdom, we each bring our weaknesses and quirks, as well as our gifts. We are told to let our relationships with others be full of grace and love. We are told to forgive without end. We are told to look out for each other's interests ahead of our own, as Pooh did when he put his hunt for honey on hold to help rescue Christopher Robin. We are told to lay down our lives for each other.

Winnie the Pooh may be a children's story, but I believe there are a lot of lessons there.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Weekend Wanderings

Two weeks of school have passed, and my schedule has already changed twice. Oh well, I guess it comes with the territory. It's a bit windy in our little corner of the sunny South as Irene churns up the east coast, but we don't expect to get any rain out of it. As we head into September it's looking like things may dry up a little. I'm in a somewhat reflective mood today, because five years ago on this date, I said goodbye to my mom and let her go to be with the Father. I still miss her.

Here are the links for this week:

Arthur Sido on the death of faith.
Dan Edelen on church budgets.

Donald Miller on flaws.
Good advice (HT: Scot McKnight).
Scot McKnight's new book is out. It's on my list.

Alan Knox on the "Lord's Supper."
John Armstrong on patriotic music.

Alan Knox on leadership.
Wayward Son on the Church's reputation.

The M Blog on the apostles' teaching.

Have a wonderful weekend. If you are in the path of Irene, stay safe.

A New Morning

It was quite definitely early morning now, not late night. "I'm so cold," said Lucy. "So am I," said Susan. "Le...