Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Born Free

When I run outdoors I am filled with a great sense of freedom. I love being able to go anywhere under any weather conditions. It feels so liberating. Over the last few months, my freedom has been limited because of a minor foot injury. I have been longing for a good, long run outside.

This past weekend, my longing for freedom and running aligned in unusual fashion. Nancy and I were in DC, and I awoke Saturday morning with a chance to go running around the National Mall. As I ran from the Capitol Building to the Washington Monument, I began to think about how wonderful it is to live in a free country.

The outermost point on my run was to the Jefferson Memorial. The Jefferson Memorial was constructed under Roosevelt’s presidency to honor Jefferson’s legacy. Thomas Jefferson was the third president of the United States and a vocal advocate for freedom and for separation of church and state.

As I stood inside the open air memorial, I began reading the inscriptions chiseled into the walls. One quote from Jefferson became lodged in my mind.
God who gave us life gave us liberty. Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God?

Jefferson was referring in this quote to rights given to all men by our Creator to be free, which was taken from a paper written by Jefferson about the rights of all citizens.

On my way back to the hotel, I was considering the basis for Jefferson’s argument. Jefferson appealed to the central ideology that Americans in his day believed in God. I was struck with a variation of Jefferson’s question: Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that there is a Creator God?

Yesterday, I read a recent SBC publication that indicates that 1 out 4 young adults in America do not believe in God. It doesn’t take a prophet or a sociologist to report that we live in post-Christian America.

So what do we do? We can retreat into our churches and rail against the pagan world and bemoan our losses. We can give up entirely and join the rest of the nation under the guise of “loving” everyone. I don’t have all the answers, and I invite you to share your thoughts on this topic.

I do have one suggestion for a response. I propose that we remain faithful to the task of leading people to the One who isn’t surprised by any of the recent surveys. I propose we lead people to the One who can truly make us free.

In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea.
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me;
As He died to make men holy, let us live to make men free,
While God is marching on.
Glory! Glory, hallelujah!
Glory! Glory, hallelujah!
Glory! Glory, hallelujah!
Our God is marching on.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Lucy - the doctor is in

Lucy Van Pelt has often been misunderstood. All she ever tries to do is help people, and she gets so little thanks for all of her efforts. Sure she might be a little crass, but at least she is honest. She has tried harder than anyone else to help Charlie Brown adjust to the realities of life. Is it really her fault that he doesn’t trust anyone? Well maybe.

For a mere five cents Lucy will enthusiastically help anyone identify their phobias. In fact, Lucy is willing to create a phobia just for you if you don’t already have one. Lucy insists that naming our phobias is the first step in overcoming our fears and being able to move on to good psychiatric health. Of course, Lucy gets her five cents either way.

Lucy encapsulates one of the basic tenets of modern psychological wisdom. The current practice is to name our fears so that we can overcome our fears. There really is nothing to fear but fear itself. Some fears are irrational, but should all fear be eradicated?

We fear all kinds of things – spiders, snakes, the economy, being alone, relationships, snow (chionophobia), growing old, teenagers (ephebiphobia), public speaking, bees, bald people (peladophobia), puppets, clowns, relatives, and even the color yellow. Do you want to know one of my fears? I fear that we have lost theophobia, the fear of God.

When is the last time you heard anyone talk about the fear of God? The concept of the fear of God is quite common in the Bible. The word fear occurs 301 times in the NASB. Thirty-four of those occurrences are in relation to fear of God.

Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; Job 28:28

The fear of the LORD prolongs life… Proverbs 10:27

So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria enjoyed peace, being built up; and going on in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it continued to increase. Acts 9:31

Like Lucy Van Pelt, fear of God is often misunderstood. O. S. Hawkins reminds us that fear of God is not fear that God will smack us if we do something wrong. It is the fear that God will simply remove His presence from us. We sometimes misunderstand God’s promise that He will not leave us or forsake to mean that He will tolerate any behavior from us without consequences. We mistake God’s silence for His approval.

9The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. 10But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. 11Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness 2 Peter 3:9-11 (ESV)

In days of relative uncertainty and fear of just about everything, we need to return to a healthy fear of God. We do not need to fear anything or anyone, but the One who created us. The cure for anxiety and fear in general is the fear of the Lord.

28“Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. 29“Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30“But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31“So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows. Matthew 10:28-31 (NASB)

Does anyone else have the sudden urge to go kick a football?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Saving the Day

Curious George has many faults, but we all love him because we know that he truly has a big heart. He always seems to be overwhelmed by the needs that he encounters each day.

I remember watching an episode of Curious George a year or two ago during which he attempted to preserve a water hole for ducks. George discovered a large water puddle after a storm that had become a home to some sociable ducks. He instantly fell in love with the energetic ducks.

As George played with the ducks he realized that the water puddle was dwindling as the sun sucked up the water. The ducks began to leave, and George sprang into action. He immediately located his plastic swimming pool and began filling the pool to keep the ducks. The pool was located at the top of a hill, and his only means of filling the pool was to carry a water bucket to the top of the hill.

George was willing to fill the pool, but he was unable to fill it fast enough to satisfy the ducks. He realized that he needed help – and he got it. Soon there was an assembly line of assorted, unlikely creatures helping George fill his pool and ultimately saving the day.

In ministry I am often overwhelmed by the needs around me. I see the water drying up. I see the ducks leaving. I sense my inability to fill the buckets quickly enough.

I also experience the pure joy of seeing other unlikely creatures join in the task of carrying buckets and saving the day. I am left in awe – not of the unusual creatures, but rather the amazing Creator who calls each of us curious beings to act.

I am continuously amazed at how God tugs at our hearts with universal desires to unite in meeting the irresistible needs that we come across. I am astonished at how much we can accomplish when God draws us together for the sake of the Gospel. I am in awe as God consistently saves the day.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Quiet Strength

My admiration for Tony Dungy has grown considerably over the past few years. My biggest obstacle was overcoming his affiliation with the Tampa Bay Bucs. I don’t have anything against Tampa Bay, but I’m a Bears fan. Bears fans no like Bucs – except when they beat Green Bay.

As a Christian and a sports fan there is a lot to like about Dungy’s book, Quiet Strength. He weaves faith and sports history in a way that captures my attention and imagination.

As a student of leadership I was enthralled with Dungy’s simple leadership strategy for turning around losing organizations. 1. Don’t make excuses. 2. Focus on things that you can change, not on things beyond your control. 3. Continue doing the right things, and you will eventually be successful.

Pop psychology proposes that we need to find and correctly label the source of our problems if we are to move forward with our lives. There are at least two problems with the pop psychology model. First, we rarely find that we are the source of our problem. Second, we tend to turn our newly labeled problems into convenient excuses for why life sucks or why our organization loses. In an age of pop psych, Dungy touts personal responsibility. No excuses. No explanations. In two words – personal responsibility.

Dungy also has a positive attitude about the challenges of life. Focus on things that you can change, not on things beyond your control. I am paraphrasing Dungy at this point, but it is similar to the Serenity Prayer. I like this point because it is so practical. Do the things you can, and don’t worry about everything else.

Dungy’s final point sounds just like a coach – Continue doing the right things, and you will eventually be successful. Dungy believes in character and consistency. This statement is quite counter cultural. We live in a results oriented society. If you don’t perform in the short term, you don’t get the opportunity to influence an organization for the long term. Dungy teaches that you do the right things consistently for long enough, success will follow. Preach on.

I’ll close with Dungy’s definition of success:

God’s Word, however, presents a different definition of success – one centered on a relationship with Jesus Christ and a love for God that allows us to love and serve others. God gives each one of us unique gifts, abilities, and passions. How well we use those qualities to have an impact on the world around us determines how "successful" we really are. (143)

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Home Alone

For the past three months or so, I have been home alone. Nancy has been in Alabama helping take care of her dad. Her father passed away a couple of weeks ago after several years of battling cancer. For the last few months he needed continual care, and we decided than Nancy could best honor her dad by being with him.

When you picture me home alone for months, you may have pictured anything from a young Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone to Tom Hanks in Cast Away. In truth, the past few months have revealed some combination of the two characters in me.

One of the obvious revelations that I have experienced is just how much Nancy does for me every day. Life is filled with little things that must be done so that bigger plans can be accomplished. Nancy is a master of the little things.

Just this morning I realized how chaotic our home can be without Nancy. While I was getting ready for a busy day, I inadvertently left the water running in our upstairs bathroom sink after I finished shaving. For the next several minutes I was in the next room getting ready. A couple of times I had this odd feeling that something wasn’t right, and I began thinking to myself, “I think I hear a waterfall.” Suddenly I realized where the waterfall was located. The bathroom was soaked, but most of the water was absorbed by the pile of laundry that I had not washed – I knew that my procrastination would one day pay off.

Reflecting over the last couple of months provides me with some interesting spiritual applications. I often think in terms of doing great things for God, but I am reminded that I can’t do great things for God without taking care of the little things each day. Every day I need to check on the “little” things – my pride, my quiet time, my personal witness, my need for a servant heart…

I will continue another day, but right now I think I hear a spiritual waterfall.

Monday, March 24, 2008

dumb looks from angels

I sometimes wonder how often I get dumb looks from angels. I screw up fairly often. I know that angels are accustomed to my stupidity by now, but my lack of faith and understanding about God’s will is often embarrassing.

I could tell stories for days about how God has supernaturally provided for me. I remember numerous times when God has changed people’s hearts and brought extraordinary resolutions to challenges that I have faced. I have already seen enough of God’s power to last me a lifetime. So, why do I still get dumb looks from angels?

This Easter has brought several biblical stories to mind for me. The events surrounding the empty tomb reveal the women at the tomb getting dumb looks from angels as the women searched for the body of Jesus.

“Why are you looking in a tomb for someone who is alive? 6He isn’t here! He has risen from the dead! Don’t you remember what he told you back in Galilee Luke 24:5-6 (NLT)

The angels ask two penetrating questions that drive home one central point – If you really know Jesus, why would you think he was dead? I mean come on, weren’t you paying attention? How many times do we have to repeat these things? The women were so stupid – a lot like me.

Then, I fast forwarded one chapter to Acts 1.

“Men of Galilee, why are you standing here staring at the sky? Acts 1:11 (NLT)

Everyone who witnessed the ascension of Jesus must have been swept up in complete amazement. They were standing around waiting for the next move. They took notes this time. Jesus said he was coming back so they were waiting. They just missed one part – Acts 1:8.

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” Acts 1:8 (NAS)

Well, Easter is over. So, what now?

I’m sure I’m getting a dumb look from the angels right now. What are you doing staring into space? Get to work! Go into all the world with the gospel of Jesus.

Does anyone else get the feeling that someone is looking at them?

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Brotherly Love

Male ego warning – this one is a little sappy.

I’ve been working on a message for Sunday, and I have been studying about the church at Philadelphia in Revelation chapter 3. Philadelphia means brotherly love. The word Philadelphia occurs eight times in the Bible and each time it refers to either brotherly love or an actual ancient city in Lydia. When I read about this city, I keep thinking about what it means to love someone like a brother.

I only have one sibling – who is awesome – and I’m not just saying that because she reads my blog ;-) – and she is a sister and not a brother. I mean really girls are okay and all, but most girls can’t throw a football well and make pathetic hunting partners. (Yes, I know that comment was sexist, but not necessarily chauvinistic.) Allow me to plead my case. When we were kids my older sister and I would go bird hunting together with our BB guns, but we never killed any birds. Years later I realized that we weren’t actually bird hunting. My sister only went with me to keep me from killing birds. She would wait until just before I pulled the trigger on my gun to say that she wanted to take the shot. We would wait for an interminably long time, and eventually the bird would simply fly away. I learned that girls love birds and not brothers. So, I suppose I don’t truly know what brotherly love means in the purest sense of the word.

In all seriousness, I may not understand brotherly love, but I have experienced love that is possibly similar if not stronger than brotherly love. Proverbs 18:24b says, “there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother.” (Yes, I quoted the KJV. How often do you get to say “sticketh”? Say it a few times. It is really a fun word to say.) While I may not have a biological brother, I have some friends (male and female) who have stuck by me when I have needed a friend.

I am a fairly independent person, but I have gone through some periods of my life when I have needed someone to help me through some rough patches. For those of you who have the dual honor of having stood by me when I have needed a friend and who read my blog. Thanks for sticking, and teaching me about brotherly love.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

For the love of the game

In our spare bedroom I keep a baseball in a display case. It isn’t a homerun ball from a MLB game. It isn’t even a foul ball from a MLB game. It is a homerun ball from a little league baseball game in the mid 80’s. I still remember the pitch (a failed attempt at a slider that hung just over the middle of the plate). As I swung at the pitch I dropped my left shoulder (even though I knew better) and popped the ball high into the air, but the hit was just long enough to clear the fence. I also remember where the ball went out of the park (just to the right of a big tree outside the fence in right field) and my dad retrieving the ball for safe keeping.

We spent many afternoons practicing baseball and learning the rules of the game. We learned how to throw and how to hit (even though I didn’t learn that part too well) and how catch. We learned strategies for winning, and we learned the correct way to play a game. Our coaches taught us how to be orthodox, American baseball players. And, somehow we never lost our love for the game.

I have been in church and around church most of my life. Many people have invested their lives in me in attempts to teach me correct doctrine and how church and life is supposed to be lived, and I am still learning. Through the years I have seen people learn the “correct” way to do church, but lose their love for the church in the process.

It is always sad to see a kid loose their love for a game because of lifeless recitation of rules. That’s the point where we say, “I just don’t want to play anymore.”

I must confess that there are days when I loose my love for the church. I can get so bogged down in doing church and maintaining correct doctrine that I forget what church is all about. I forget the joy of seeing God hit a homerun and letting me run the bases.

Doctrine (the rules of the game) is important. In fact it is essential to a healthy church. But, doctrine without passion is a meaningless existence.

But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Revelation 2:4

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Call me coach

At Oakland we have just started our winter basketball leagues. For many of our kids, it is their first attempt playing organized sports (okay semi-organized sports), and practice can be quite an adventure. The kids are usually high energy and willing to learn, but they are also easily distracted. Their great concern with who is first in line can rival even the most engaging practice drill that a coach can posit. I have learned that trying to settle their disputes is about as productive as telling Costello “Who’s on first.”

All joking aside the kids are great. But, why am I coaching? Well, I was asked.

Research by Thom Rainer of Lifeway suggests that a significant number of people who are not involved with our churches would get involved if we invited them. In particular when someone we respect invites us to get involved, many of us are willing to get in the game.

We had our first game this past Saturday. The kids were very excited, but one of the kids was fairly nervous and unwilling to leave the bench and play in her first game. I told her not to worry because we were just here to have fun. She reluctantly came off the bench and played most of the game. She had a blast.

I think the bench is warm enough.