Sunday, July 27, 2014

Weekend Wanderings

It's that time again. Is it just me, or are the weeks going by faster? Things are humming along here in the sunny South. Jan's dad is still in rehab from breaking his hip at the beginning of June. Hopefully he'll be able to get back home in a few weeks. I am still looking for work. There are some possibilities out that there, but nothing concrete as of yet. Yesterday, I had the chance to catch up with one of my basketball players from a few years back. He and his family came through town and we had breakfast together. It was encouraging to see him and hear how well he was doing as a teacher, coach, husband, and father.

Here are this week's links:

Slow church, sin and repentance.
A Jesus shaped response to Israel and Gaza.
Confessions of a local pastor.
To the one losing her faith.
The ten official Trappist breweries.

Apartments in DC are getting smaller.
Good post from Kristen Welch.
How poor?
This is good.
Good Kickstarter project.

Five Bible verses to stop misusing.
A Biblical case for awesome beards.
Visions of glory.
Review of a book on the Crusades. Looks interesting.
Mike Bell on hitchhiking.

Have a blessed week!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Forgiveness and Reconciliation

I've been thinking a bit about forgiveness and reconciliation, and I have come to the conclusion that it is one of the biggest problems in our relationships with others, both in and out of the church. I also believe that very few of us really understand what it means to forgive and be reconciled. There are times when I struggle with this myself.

I believe that forgiveness goes much deeper than most of us know. So often, we see forgiveness as the kind of thing where we simply don't hold something against another. And, there may be times when that is the case, such as when the other person has died. For those of us who follow Jesus, forgiveness also carries the idea of reconciliation. Again, there will be instances where that simply is not possible.

When Peter asks Jesus how many times he should forgive someone who sins against him, Jesus replied that he was to forgive 49 or 490 times. The number is not really the issue. Jesus is telling us that we are to forgive others, especially our family in Christ, as many times as necessary. That presupposes a relationship with that person. That's where reconciliation comes in.

In Matthew 5:23-24, Jesus tells us that being reconciled with a brother or sister in Christ is a higher priority than worship. If there is something in the way of our relationship with another, we are to get that right before we come present our worship to God. I believe Scripture goes even farther. In 2 Corinthians 5:16-21, Paul tells us that Christ has reconciled us to God. When we come to Jesus and become a member of God's family, he doesn't say to us, "Well, you're forgiven and all that, so I won't punish you. But, I don't really want you around. I forgive you, but I don't want to have a relationship with you, so stay away." On the contrary, God welcomes us into a close relationship with him. He is pleased to be called our Father. As our Father pursues us and reconciles us to himself, so his children should pursue reconciliation with our brothers and sisters.

Beyond the family relationship, in 1 Corinthians 12 Paul tells us that we are all members of the same body. He even goes so far as to say that we are members of one another! I don't totally understand what all that means, but is seems that our relationships with our fellow followers of Jesus are pretty important. Jesus said that the world would know that we belong to him by our love for one another. I fear that what the world sees is a lot of infighting, anger, bitterness, and a lack of forgiveness. Can we expect those outside to want what we have when it doesn't seem to make much difference in what are our most important relationships?

God help us to seek reconciliation and show the love of Christ to a watching world.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Blast From the Past: Delight and Desire

This was first published on May 18, 2010.

Psalm 37: 4 says, "Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart." I was taught growing up that if you had God as your greatest delight, he would change your desires so they would be in line with what God wanted. and then those desires would be granted. This meant that our desires would become things like having bigger ministries, or other things that meant we were becoming better Christians. Another interpretation is that if we really delight in God, all of our wishes will be granted, even if those include a luxury car, a nicer house, and plenty of money.

Both of these interpretations have one thing in common. They both treat God as a kind of divine vending machine. If you put something in, you get something out. Usually the way you prove your delight in God is by doing more Bible reading and praying, by going to church more often, or by doing any number of practices. Any of these things are fine in and of themselves. The problem comes when we do them thinking that it will obligate God to do certain things for us. It doesn't matter if those things are material or not, if we see them as payment for the things we do, we are wrong.

We were talking about this in our gathering on Sunday, and I got to thinking. What if delighting in God is the desire? God doesn't put the priority on what we do, but rather on being in relationship with him. Jesus said that eternal life is knowing the Father, and knowing the Son. We are given life not just to live a moral life and then go to heaven when we die. We are given life in order to intimately know the Father and the Son. Everything we do comes out of that relationship.

When a married couple love each other, they each take delight in the other. That delight does bring about certain actions, but it is not the actions that bring about the delight, rather it is the other way around. The goal of the delight is not to get things from the other. Instead it is delight that is rewarded with greater intimacy, which brings greater delight, which get the picture.

I believe that it is that way in our relationship with our Father. When we delight in him, when our beings are wrapped up in getting to know him better and living in his love, God gives us the thing we desire, more intimacy with him. That causes more desire, which brings about more delight, and so on. As I look at Psalm 37, I see God blessing his people in ways that go beyond just material and physical.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Weekend Wanderings

A couple of major events dominated the news this week. And no, I'm not talking about LeBron or the World Cup. The first link deals with both of the major stories.

Here are the links:

Discussion on iMonk.
Eating together.
Emily T. Wierenga on letting go.
Richard Stearns on little children and borders.
Two side to the cross.

Desires of the heart.
John Frye asks a good question.
Scot McKnight on creeds.
Zack Hunt on the love of Jesus.
Booting compliance.

Spiritual discipline of scribbling.
For the weary.
Sean Palmer on making disciples.
Lisa Dye on busyness.
Matt Appling on doubt.

Things Jesus will never say to you.
Jesus at the Movies? Part 1.
Fighting God.

Well, that's all for now. Have a blessed week!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Church Signs: H.O.P.E.

The other day on my bus route, I saw a message on a church sign. The message was the acronym HOPE, with the letters standing for Hold On Pain Ends. As always, the wheels started to turn. I thought, "You know, that's true. Pain will end at some point, either during our lifetime or when we die." Then I thought of another way to look at it.

The message could be, "Hold on, pain will be redeemed." I know that doesn't work as an acronym, but that's the way it goes. In Colossians 1:27, Paul writes that the hope of glory for the Christian is Christ in us. Paul also says in that chapter that his sufferings serve in some way to continue or complete the sufferings of Christ himself. Paul saw his sufferings as part of the sufferings of the Messiah. The ancient Jews believed that Israel and the world would have to go through great suffering before the inauguration of the age to come. Paul, and the early Christians, believed that Jesus had undergone that suffering on the cross, and had begun the age to come with his resurrection.

Because the new age is not fully realized until Christ returns, there is still suffering to undergo. The early church got this. One of the reasons they could rejoice in the midst of persecution and suffering was the belief that the suffering they endured served to advance the kingdom in some way. They believed that because Christ in them was their hope of glory that their pain would not only end at some point, but that it would also be redeemed by God.

Much of the church today doesn't get it. A great deal of what is taught and practiced in churches is designed to alleviate and play down suffering, if not to pretend that it doesn't exist. Jesus told us that we would have trouble in this life. He never promised that life would be a piece of cake. Paul doesn't say that we have Christ in us, the hope of our best life now. It is true that we are glorified with Christ. It is equally true that the completion of that glory will only come when we see him. Our redemption is now, and not yet.

Take heart in your suffering. There is hope. Christ in you seals your glory. Your suffering will end, some day. It will also be redeemed for good.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

World Vision Wednesday

World Vision staffer James East writes about the continuing crisis in South Sudan. To get details, go here.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Weekend Wanderings

The last few weeks have been very busy around here. In the midst of the busyness, there is also waiting. A number of things are up in the air and there is a sense of not knowing what is next. well, this is neither the time nor the place for that, so...

Here are the links:

Fast food culture wars.
Oh By The Way Church.
God's will.

Jared Lafitte on expectations.
Abby Norman on being messy.
Chaplain Mike on reunions.
Keith Giles on hard lessons.
John Frye on the old rugged words.

Yeah, I do this sometimes too.
Slow church and the missional movement.
A simple faith?
Ignore the reviews.

David Fitch on caffeine free diet coke.
Adam McHugh on blood from a stone.
Good post from Miguel Ruiz.
Matt B. Redmond on the only really good news.
Rob Grayson on the long walk home.

Have a blessed week!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Blast From the Past: Worship, or Something Else?

This was first posted on April 19, 2010.

Christianity Today has an article about research that has been done that shows that taking certain hallucinogenic drugs can provide an experience that is similar or identical to religious experiences. Aside from jokes about staying home and just popping a pill to get a church experience, there are a couple of important implications of these findings.

Many churches work hard to provide a "worship experience" for their members and any visitors that may be attracted. The leaders strive to create an atmosphere that draws people into a sacred encounter with God. Things such as music, lighting, candles, incense, and structures can all be used to evoke a sense of awe and sacredness. My son, Josh is an architect and firmly believes that church buildings should be designed with that end in mind.

Some people go from conference to conference, from worship concert to worship concert. They continually look for a bigger, more meaningful experience. I can understand the feeling. I remember a few years ago I was at a conference where the music and singing was great, and I felt very let down during the service the next day at the church we were at. I think some of the excesses seen in some of the charismatic meetings led by Bentley and others is fueled by this desire for a bigger and better worship experience.

I have no problem with churches doing the best they can to create an atmosphere that helps people worship God. I enjoy a good band and good time singing. I'm one who likes low lighting, candles, incense, etc. I value times of silence, and times of call and response. I believe communities of faith should gather together for times of corporate worship.

What we need to be careful of is the danger of letting the "worship experience" become the the main thing. Whether it's in a Sunday morning church service, or a Saturday night concert put on by a renowned worship leader, some folks make it the center of their faith. It becomes all about the experience. Somehow the rest of life seems to just not be as important.

If our faith is nothing but times of "experiencing God" in between the normal events of life, then we really have nothing to offer those who do not know Jesus. There are many other religions that offer mystical, ecstatic experiences, including those that ingest mushrooms or other substances. If all we have is a way to have another experience, then we are really no different than anyone else. I know, we are experiencing the true God, while others aren't. Telling someone that we gather to worship the only true God isn't likely to convince them that what they worship isn't God.

When we place too much emphasis on the event, we do folks a disservice. When we neglect to teach them what it means to follow Jesus in the day-to-day, and give opportunities to live that out by interacting with each other through the week, we fall short. When we limit "discipleship" to a Sunday school class, or a small group, we fail.

Jesus didn't establish the Church as a place we go to, or as an event we attend. The Church is something we are 24-7. Discipleship is something that happens as we interact with our brothers and sisters in the trenches of daily life. Worship is what happens when we undertake every activity with the objective of loving and glorifying God. We show we follow the King of Kings by our love for each other and for those around us.

If the Holy Spirit leads us into a mystical experience with God, we can rejoice. That is not the thing we should be chasing after, and that is not going to be the case with most of us.

World Vision Wednesday

Thousands of children are fleeing Central America and streaming across the border into the United States, causing a humanitarian crisis. For more on why the children are fleeing and what can be done about it, go here.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

End of an Era

A couple of weeks ago, I coached for what possibly will be the last time. While I never say never, and there is always the possibility that may change, it looks like my thirty four year career as a coach has come to an end. There are a lot of memories, mostly good, that come to mind as I reflect on what has been a major part of my life.

It all began in college, where I worked with the goalkeepers on the soccer team. That was when I decided that I wanted to coach. The coaches I had during my playing days had a profound impact on my life, and I wanted to do the same thing for others.

After graduation, I took a position at a small Christian school as athletic director and teacher.During the next four years, I coached boys soccer, basketball, and track. I drove the bus, van, or whatever vehicle was available. We traveled all over the Washington/Baltimore area, and one year drove a group of students all the way to Idaho for competition. We played on city soccer fields, church gymns, and had some pretty successful teams, winning a number of tournaments. One of the soccer players led the entire county in scoring one year, and a couple of basketball players went on to play in college.

The next stop was Cincinnati, where I again served as athletic director and coached soccer, basketball, and track. During my nine years there, we made it to the soccer state finals once, and made it to the basketball final four four times in a row, winning back-to-back state championships. Those teams were among the best defensive teams in the Cincinnati area, and one player ranked among the top players in career points in the state of Ohio. A couple of the players went on to play at the next level, and one is a successful high school basketball coach. After leaving that school, I assisted in a NCAA Division 3 women's basketball program, where I got a small taste of the life of a college coach for one year. On that team, we had the number one player in three point shooting in the nation.

Our next stop was Rock Hill, South Carolina. There I coached a wider variety of sports. During the ten years there I coached boys and girls soccer, volleyball, girls basketball, and golf (really all I did is drive the golfers to matches and play behind them). While my teams were not as successful in terms of wins as some of the earlier teams, the athletes worked just as hard and were as much of a joy to coach. I also drove the bus, which gave me the opportunity to travel to Florida and Tennessee for tournaments. The best part was being able to coach both my son in golf, and my daughter in basketball. I cannot begin to tell you what a blessing that was to me. I had given up the search for a college job to be able to see them grow up, and being able to work with them and see them come to love sports like I do made it more than worth it. It's something I would never trade.

The past eight years I have assisted on middle school football and track teams, and been the head coach on softball and volleyball teams. My "claim to fame" is assisting on the 8th grade football team on which Jadeveon Clowney played. I have also had the privilege to coach high school girls basketball on a higher level. I have been the head junior varsity coach and assistant varsity coach, working with one of the best coaches in the area. Those programs are the closest thing I could get to a college level job, and I thoroughly enjoy working with this individual. We had some good teams, making it to the SC AAAA Upper State championship one year. It is that program that I have said goodbye to as a coach.

It's a bittersweet thing. My evenings will be much more free, and the long hours won't wear me out. But, I know I will miss it. I have been blessed to be able to travel, to do something I loved for a long time, and to work with some fantastic people. If you are one of those who have spent some time with me, as a player or a fellow coach, thank you from the bottom of my heart. You are the ones that made it such a joy.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Thirty Four Years and Counting

On this date, thirty four years ago, I married a wonderful young lady by the name of Jan. When we said, "I do", neither of us realized what the years would bring. Like all couples, we brought our own selves into the marriage, and there were adjustments. One of the decisions we made before the wedding was to never consider divorce as an option. I believe that commitment has been a strength of our marriage.

Through the years, we have learned what it means to live out that commitment. We have had to learn how to communicate openly, how to figure out which things were important and which were not, and how to extend grace. As we learned those things, we grew to understand each other more and more. That has served us well in the twists and turns of our journey together.

We've been through a lot together in these thirty four years of marriage. Getting jobs, losing jobs, having enough, and wondering if we'll have enough. We've lost loved ones together, and gained and lost friends. We've had our ups and downs as we've learned to live with one another. Through it all, we have seen God`s grace time and time again.

As I look back on the years, I know that if I had the chance to do it all again, I would. I am so supremely blessed to have the privilege of being married to the most beautiful, wonderful woman on earth. Jan, I love you, and I thank God for you. Here's to another thirty four years!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

World Vision Wednesday

In Rwanda, micro loans are changing lives. For a success story and information on how you can help, check this out.

Moving On

It's been a while since I've written here. Life has been happening the past few months. I have decided to start fresh, so I'm mo...