Friday, March 30, 2007

Defining Marriage Down

Marriage--what it means and how it's defined--has been hotly debated in the public square and in religious circles, including my denomination the United Church of Christ.

One point argued is whether same-gender marriage weakens the institution of marriage. In other words, in the countries where such marriages are permitted, are there more marriages, numerically speaking? And in those cultures, is marriage valued more or less as means for organizing a family?

In a significant article, "Defining Marriage Down," posted at the Weekly Standard, David Blankenhorn--president of the Institute for American Values and author of the book, The Future of Marriage--argues that its time to quit debating whether same-sex marriage is the direct cause or proof of traditional marriage's decline. You don't need proof because there's plenty of correlating evidence:
When it comes to the health of marriage as an institution and the legal status of same-sex unions, there is much to be gained from giving up the search for causation and studying some recurring patterns in the data...It turns out that certain clusters of beliefs about and attitudes toward marriage consistently correlate with certain institutional arrangements. The correlations crop up in a large number of countries and recur in data drawn from different surveys of opinion.
What Blankenhorn shows is that in countries where same-gender marriage is permitted, there exists a corresponding belief that marriage is not looked upon as a valuable institution:
The correlations are strong. Support for marriage is by far the weakest in countries with same-sex marriage. The countries with marriage-like civil unions show significantly more support for marriage. The two countries with only regional recognition of gay marriage (Australia and the United States) do better still on these support-for-marriage measurements, and those without either gay marriage or marriage-like civil unions do best of all.
So while you can't absolutely prove, per se, that allowance for same-sex marriage causes a numerical decrease in marriage and causes a declining attitude toward marriage, there's no denying that a correlation exists:

Here's an analogy. Find some teenagers who smoke, and you can confidently predict that they are more likely to drink than their nonsmoking peers. Why? Because teen smoking and drinking tend to hang together. What's more, teens who engage in either of these activities are also more likely than nonsmokers or nondrinkers to engage in other risky behaviors, such as skipping school, getting insufficient sleep, and forming friendships with peers who get into trouble.

Because these behaviors correlate and tend to reinforce one another, it is virtually impossible for the researcher to pull out any one from the cluster and determine that it alone is causing or is likely to cause some personal or (even harder to measure) social result. All that can be said for sure is that these things go together. To the degree possible, parents hope that their children can avoid all of them, the entire syndrome--drinking, smoking, skipping school, missing sleep, and making friends with other children who get into trouble--in part because each of them increases exposure to the others.

It's the same with marriage. Certain trends in values and attitudes tend to cluster with each other and with certain trends in behavior. A rise in unwed childbearing goes hand in hand with a weakening of the belief that people who want to have children should get married. High divorce rates are encountered where the belief in marital permanence is low. More one-parent homes are found where the belief that children need both a father and a mother is weaker. A rise in non-marital cohabitation is linked at least partly to the belief that marriage as an institution is outmoded. The legal endorsement of gay marriage occurs where the belief prevails that marriage itself should be redefined as a private personal relationship. And all of these marriage-weakening attitudes and behaviors are linked. Around the world, the surveys show, these things go together.

Blankenhorns' article is significant because it demonstrates a very real correlation: Expanding the definition of marriage doesn't increase the number of marriages nor does it increase a culture's appreciation for it.

Instead, expanding marriage tears it down.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Hell of a Statement

"Hell is a place where sinners really do burn in an everlasting fire, and not just a religious symbol designed to galvanise the faithful, Pope Benedict XVI has said."

That's the lead paragraph in an article by Richard Owen in The Australian.

The article was linked by the Drudge Report--which raises a question: why?

Saying that hell is real to a long-established Christian is like telling him or her that the sky is blue. In other words, proclaiming the existence of hell is nothing new.

But the doctrine of hell these days has--in a matter of speaking--gone to hell.

In our pluralistic society--where every belief is equally valid and no action should judged too harshly--hell just isn't a popular concept. It implies judgment and accountability. God isn't mean. He's nice.

Within the evangelical, Bible believing church, hell isn't a subject that gets mentioned much from the pulpit. I admit that mine is included. Among liberal Christians, the idea of hell is repugnant, so much so that I once heard a preacher boast, "I preached a sermon titled, 'Get the Hell out of my Bible.'"

But extracting hell from the Bible is difficult. In fact, it's that pesky guy Jesus who insists on talking about it. In Matthew 7:13-14, he declares: "Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction." And Jesus sure doesn't show much sensitivity when he immediately adds, "and many enter through it." In Matthew 10:28 he tells his disciples, "Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell." And in Matthew 25, he talks about wedding party attendees "shut out", servants tossed into "darkness", and goats sent off to "eternal punishment."

So why does Jesus talk about hell?

The bottom line and hard truth is God is holy. We're each accountable to Him. And He takes justice very seriously.

The Good News that the Church celebrates during this Lenten season is that God in Jesus Christ has given us an escape hatch--the righteousness of Christ, secured on our behalf through his death and resurrection, and made real in your life and mine through trust in Jesus.

As Andy Stanley says, it's not good people who end up heaven, it's forgiven people.

And that's one hell of a statement.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

My Grammy

Tonight is our church's choir practice. We're working on some great Easter music. At the end of last's week practice, I thought of a story that my Dad's late mother--Grammy--once told me.

Having divorced Grandpa when my Dad was just a kid, Grammy never remarried and enjoyed her independence. Her professional life as an executive secretary at Proctor & Gamble later became a well-respected 4th grade teaching career at Wilson Elementary in Cincinnati, Ohio.

When I was 11-years-old, Grammy took me to Europe for a month (lots of stories there!). She lived just five minutes from our house and my family was always visiting. Some of the most memorable moments were sitting in the living room hearing her play and sing at the baby grand piano.

Even though my parents took us kids to church every Sunday, Grammy herself never went--not even at Christmas or Easter. But growing up, those holidays were never complete without a trip to Grammy's house. Waiting for us after church was a spectacular breakfast-lunch buffet and lots of presents for me and my sisters.

After my faith in the Lord blossomed in college, I started wondering about Grammy's relationship to Christ. She was getting up in years and I didn't want to see her spend eternity apart from the Lord. So I opened up a conversation with her via the mail.

My concern for her spiritual life surprised her. She assuredly declared, "I don't need anyone preaching to me" because she already heard it all. Having never known Grammy to be a church goer, that remark surprised me. But in subsequent conversations, she told me that long before my parents married, she attended church every week.

Grammy was there every week because she was once a church organist and choir director. And so, here's her quote that I vividly remember:

"Our church had a full house every week and that damn minister thought everyone came to hear him. But the truth was--everyone came to hear the music!"

Now that I'm one of those you-know-whats, whenever my choir director asks how much music I want for the worship service, you can probably guess my answer.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

You're Lucky

Last evening, out of the blue, my six-year-old blurts out to me, "You're lucky to be a pastor."

"Why," I asked.

She replied, "Because you get to tell people about God."

Years ago when the Lord called me into the ministry, I didn't feel lucky for the chance to be a pastor. In fact, I went in kicking and screaming. I much preferred sharing Jesus from the position of an "outsider," as opposed to a paid professional "insider." But now that I have that title, "Rev." (never liked how that sounded), I've discovered that I get opportunities to share the Gospel that people who aren't pastors do not. At the same time though, because I am a pastor, I've lost other opportunities because I'm marked as the "religious guy."

So whether you're an "insider" or an "outsider," anytime you get the chance to share the Good News of Jesus with someone, you're just plain lucky.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Philip Yancey in SUV Accident

Of the thousands of Christian authors out there, Philip Yancey is head and shoulders the best of our generation.

Many of his books are bona fide classics--like Where Is God When It Hurts, Disappointment with God, and What's So Amazing About Grace. If you've never read Yancey, I highly recommend him to you.

In his latest work, Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference?, Yancey experienced a first-hand answer that began this way on February 25:

I was driving alone on a remote highway, curvy but not too hilly, at about 65 mph. A curve came up suddenly and I turned to the left, perhaps too sharply. As you may know, Ford Explorers are rather notorious for fishtailing, and this one did. I tried to correct, but as best as I can reconstruct what happened, my tire slipped off the edge of the asphalt onto the dirt. That started the Explorer rolling over sideways, at least three times and probably more. Amazingly, the vehicle stopped right side up.

Aside from cuts and bruises, Yancey appeared unscathed, but a life-threatening, invisible danger soon lurked. Fortunately, Yancey lives to write about his experience and once again we're beneficiaries to another one of his good stories.

Click here to read the rest of the drama.

Friday, March 23, 2007

What Is a Church?

Lately I've been asking myself the question, "What is church?" As a pastor, you'd think I know. Well, I do have some ideas, but lately I've been reexamining the question.

Mark D. Roberts has an interesting series on his blog entitled, "What is a church?" In part 5 of an exhaustive 15 part series, Roberts interacts with answers to the question, "The church is like..."

A church is like a concert, but it's better to see a worship service as a concert in which God is the audience and the worshippers are they performers, turning the concert imagery upside down.

A church is like a school, but a church offers much more than religious and moral education. It seeks to transform people's hearts and lives, not just to educate their minds. And it seeks for join people together in life-changing community.

A church is like a club, but unlike most clubs, membership isn't a privilege, but a gift, and non-members are welcome to participate in virtually every aspect of "club" life. A church, unlike a club, exists not just for its members, but especially for its non-members.

A church is like a store, but it ought to do far more than offer "products" for consumption. A church will thrive only if its members are committed to the church in a way far beyond consumer loyalty.

A church is like a hospital in that it offers healing to those who are spiritually sick, just like Jesus did. But a church is not like a hospital because it seeks, not only to get "patients" well, but also to enlist them on the caring team. When you go to a hospital, you're not expected to become a doctor or a nurse. When you got to a church, you should join the care-giving team as well as receive care.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Time Machine

Yesterday I was minding my own business at the church office when my brain was suddenly seized, placed in a time machine, and vortexed backwards about 30-35 years.

Here's how it happened:

(Phone rings) "Congregational Church, this is Ted."

(Person on phone) "Hello Ted. This is Ted."

(Me) "Ted who?"

(person on phone) "The Ted who lived next door to you growing up."

On the phone was my best friend from boyhood in Cincinnati, Ohio. We probably haven't talked to each other since leaving Cincinnati in the early 1980's. But in a matter of moments, an old friendship was rekindled and floods of old memories were on the tip of my tongue:

Playing baseball at the end of the street, whiffle ball in Ted's backyard, volleyball, street hockey, football in the neighbor's backyard, basketball, badmiton, jarts.

Names of people who lived in our neighborhood: Sayers, Kleinhenz, Bachelors.

People we knew in High School: Wilson, Davis, Mayo.

After I got off the phone, I physically felt jet lag--that's how much my mind was reeling.

It wasn't long ago that I got to thinking about my past--college, junior high-high school, my years as a young kid. My thought was everything I did in the past seemed so... disconnected from me. I knew I did them, but they were distant and inaccessible, so far in the past they seemed.

And then my past calls on the phone.

Afterwards, I called my mother to tell her who I just talked with. She said, "Those memories have been there all this time. You just needed someone to prompt you." Indeed!

Verse 5 of Psalm 143 says, "I remember the days of long ago; I meditate on all your works and consider what your hands have done."

My friend Ted will be coming to Kansas for a visit in June. In the meantime, I'm going to be thinking about the past for a while.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Watching a Master Teacher at Work

I enjoy preaching (and being a pastor, that's probably a good thing), but I also enjoy a Sunday off. On those days when I'm not in the pulpit, I like sitting under someone else.

On my road trip adventure to Indiana, I had the privilege of listening to a master teacher--Rev. Dennis R. Miller, pastor of Emmanuel Community Church in Fort Wayne.

Pastor Miller is working his way through Acts 12-28 and last Sunday the text was Acts 16:11-18--the story of Lydia and a slave girl.

At first, I thought his division of the text was strange--telling the whole story of Lydia and only part of the slave girl's. (See here how most study Bibles use paragraph divisions to split the two stories). Miller though united the two women's story as a teaching unit and saves for next time Acts 16:19-40 and the ruckus of Paul's imprisonment.

It was quick to see why. Miller made some excellent observations about the two women (if you're a pastor, that means, "He said stuff I never would have thought of!"):

  • Both women are unnamed. "Lydia" isn't a personal name, but the name of the region she came from (To illustrate: I once knew a guy name Doug, but when he went to Chiefs football games, everybody around his seat called him, "The Undertaker." His job as a funeral director ended up becoming his name; likewise Lydia. Her place of origin ended up becoming her name).
  • Lydia was wealthy and self-employed. The slave girl was poor and employed by others.
  • Lydia was influential. The slave girl was influenced.
  • Lydia was a "God worshipper"--a good person who didn't know Jesus. The slave girl worshipped the devil.
  • These two women couldn't have been more different, yet they both equally needed the salvation that can be found only in Jesus Christ.
  • The first converts in Europe are women. Contrary to popular scholastic opinion, Paul isn't against women. Women play an important role in the Book of Acts and the story of Christianity.

Miller closed with this observation and challenge: "Paul and Silas took a risk in leaving east Asia for Europe in order to preach the Gospel. What risks are you willing to take for the sake of Christ and His kingdom?"

A master Bible teacher brings to light what already exists in the text. Pastor Miller did that in a way that was engaging and compelling.

And I'm left with a challenge: What risks will I take for the cause of Christ?

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Road Trip

1,788.1 miles.

That's what the odometer on my '96 Honda Civic said I drove on my Thursday-Monday trip to Indiana.

I went to the Midwest gathering of the Evangelical Theological Society in Winona Lake, IN to present my paper, "Comma-Tary On the United Church of Christ's 'God Is Still Speaking' Campaign" (An earlier version of it is available here).

Before I left Kansas, I figured I'd be driving 1,000 miles to speak to 3 people. I was right. 3 people came to my presentation. At least they were interested in the subject. Later, I gave copies of the paper to a couple of seminary professors. I've always wanted to present a paper at ETS and now I can say I did.

Gordon Johnston and Darrell Bock of Dallas Theological Seminary gave lectures on the topic, "Jesus the Messiah: Promises, Expectations, and Coming of Israel's King."

The weekend conference was definitely an academic affair, but I enjoyed the brain exercise and the chance to visit with other evangelical Christians.

My trip doesn't compare to "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure," but I did some other things along the way:

I had lunch with my friend Earl in St. Louis.

I spent two days with my cousin and her husband. They live in Ft. Wayne. Last time I saw them was 16 years ago.

I sat in on an outstanding Taylor Guitar workshop S.M. Hansen Music in Salina, KS with finger style guitar genius Chris Proctor.

Best of all, when I came home, the family was very glad to see me.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Peter Pace's Public Pickle

Marine General Peter Pace is in a public pickle.

During an interview with journalists from the Chicago Tribune, General Pace is quoted in a March 12 story saying he supports the military's "Don't ask, don't tell" policy because, "I believe homosexual acts between two individuals are immoral and that we should not condone immoral acts."

Pace is the Joint Chief of Staff and is the principal military adviser to President Bush.

In a Reuters story a day later, Pace back-tracked slightly, but didn't apologize for his original remarks: "
In expressing my support for the current policy, I also offered some personal opinions about moral conduct. I should have focused more on my support of the policy and less on my personal moral views."

The Tribune says its interview with Pace was "wide-ranging," but 80% of the filed story focuses on Pace's homosexual remark. Add the avalanche of criticism that's now heading Pace's way, it all goes to show that condemning homosexual acts will win you no friends in the public square.

John Warner, the ranking
Republican of the Senate Armed Services Committee, quickly took issue with General Pace, saying, "I respectfully but strongly disagree with the chairman’s view that homosexuality is immoral."

I know Mr. Warner is a United States Senator, but I'm pretty sure there's an authority slightly higher than Warner who disagrees.

Monday, March 12, 2007

A Baptized Imagination

Last night at bedtime I was telling my two young daughters about the woman who poured expensive perfume on Jesus' head and how Jesus commended her, saying, "wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her."

Afterwards, my six-year-old daughter asked, "Daddy, what happens to the person who dies right when Jesus is coming back?"

Where do these questions come from?

Golly. I don't know about you, but I've never thought of that thorny question. Then again, adults like to make the things of faith very complicated with their questions.

"Well," I said, "I guess they won't be dead very long. Jesus will raise them up."

That answer satisfied my daughter and she sunk her head into her pillow.

But after the lights went off in the kids' room, my imagination started dancing with thoughts about that glorious day when the Lord does return.

I can see it now. Someday, in the Kingdom of Heaven, someone will probably have the privilege of boasting, "I was dead for three days and then I was raised--just like Jesus."

"Reason can answer the questions," so says Dr. Ralph Gerard. But (to borrow a phrase from C.S. Lewis) a 'baptized imagination' has to ask them.

Taking Your Medicine

Recently my 10-year-old dog went to the vet and was sent home with a bottle of medicine. The orders were to give the lovable beast one pill twice a day.

The pill was large, so I asked I how I was to administer it. "Oh, just wrap up it in some bread," said the vet staff, "He'll do fine with it."

As I gave the dog his first dose later that evening, a thought occurred to me:

"This is how God gives us the 'pill' of suffering. You have to swallow it, but God is faithful to wrap something good around it."

When I give this thing to my dog, I know he's getting his medicine. But the only thing my dog sees is the treat of bread.

Sometimes, I wish I was as smart as my dog.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Observations in Isaiah 53:4-6

During Lent 2007, I'm preaching through the Servant Song in Isaiah 52:13-53:12. It's an incredible Old Testament prophecy that meditates on the suffering of Jesus and the saving benefits His cross brings. This week I'm focusing in on 53:4-6. These three verses describe in detail the meaning of Jesus' death.

There are two features in this section that really stand out to me:

  • 7 times there's a single pronoun--these speak of Jesus and are highlighted in green.
  • 10 times there's a plural pronoun--these speak of anyone who believes in Jesus' saving work and are highlighted in blue.
  • Isaiah uses repetition (or parallelism), a frequent tool in Hebrew poetry, to emphasize the Servant's ministry. The use of repetition in each line is highlighted in red.

Verse 4
Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, (2x repetition, parallel thought)
yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. (3x repetition of single thought)

Verse 5
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; (2x repetition, parallel thought)
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. (2x repetition, parallel thought)

Verse 6
We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; (2x repetition, parallel thought)
and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (No repetition)

As I was studying this passage, the last line really startled me:

It's a stark, blunt, climatic line--"the Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all."

Sobering truth.

Lost Tomb of Jesus: The Real Lesson

In an earlier post I briefly weighed in on the "Jesus' tomb" controversy where a March 4, 2007 Discovery Channel special alleges that the tomb of Jesus and his family has been found in the outskirts of Jerusalem.

The documentary, created by Titanic film director James Cameron, is being throughly dismissed as a shoddy theory sinking fast out of the harbor. At least the Titanic sailed four days before hitting an iceberg.

But before everyone forgets this shameless attempt to sink the Gospel, Dr. Dan Wallace offers some valuable reflection about our faith and the world we live in:

What are we to make of this lost tomb then?

On the one hand, Christians should never be afraid to pursue truth regardless of where it takes them. The incarnation actually requires us to do this, because Jesus came in time-space history; the gospels are full of specific historical data that could have been verified when written. The Christian faith is never against history; indeed, it embraces history. And our convictions are modified when genuine historical facts come to light. That is how it should be, because faith cannot be compartmentalized as though it did not relate to the real world.

On the other hand, The Lost Tomb of Jesus is bad archeology, bad history, and biased investigative reporting. It is sensationalist eye-candy for a bored generation. But make no mistake: this is not the end of the non-substantive attacks on the Christian faith. Jesus is big business these days, especially for those who have a Jesus in mind who is other than the one portrayed in scripture. The onslaught will continue to come, and unwary Christians will be caught off-guard.

It is imperative that believers integrate their faith with an understanding of the culture and history of the ancient world, because the only thing worse than being gullible to silly arguments is sticking one’s head in the sand, hoping that those who make such arguments will go away.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Pleased That We Asked

Greg Tomko was one of my best friends when I lived in Athens, Ohio in the late 1980's. His child like, outspoken love for Jesus--mingled with leftover streaks of his hippie styled California independence--both scared and attracted me all at the same time.

Together we produced and hosted, "The Sunday Offering Show," a Christian rock music program that aired for five years on WXTQ. After an early fight, where Greg was so mad at me he bolted out of the studio and walked 10 miles home, we became the best of friends who complimented one another's gifts. He had the vision and I had the technical know-how to implement it.

After I moved to Dallas for seminary, Greg and his family later moved to Nashville. We lost touch with each other for a few years--until Greg called me out of the blue. I told him, "You must now be some fat cat Nashville music executive and you're calling to bring me on as your vice-president."

"No, I wish" he said, "I called to tell you I've been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer."

In less than two years, one the best friends I ever had was gone.

During the funeral service, somebody said:

"We prayed that God would heal Greg and let him live. We're sad that it didn't happen. But God was pleased that we asked."

That last line has baffled me for over the years. Pleased? How could God have been pleased? If He was pleased, then why didn't He let Greg live?

I couldn't understand how God could take pleasure in bringing Him a prayer request that He didn't grant. Years later, I'm beginning to appreciate the reality that God truly is pleased.

What's moved my thinking is the discussion Jesus has with the desperate father in Mark 9:14-29:
Father: "...But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us."

Jesus: " 'If you can'? Everything is possible for him who believes."

The problem, Jesus says, isn't God's ability. God can accomplish whatever He wants. The question is, "Do you believe I'm able?"

While it troubles me that Jesus put the burden of believing upon the father, my friend Greg gladly welcomed such a responsibility. In fact, there's no Christian I knew who had greater faith in God's ability than Greg. Compared to Greg, I was always the one who said, "I do believe. Help me overcome my unbelief." Numerous times Greg said his healing was coming soon.

And it did. God took Greg home in May, 2001.

Throughout the whole cancer ordeal, Greg, his family, and friends trusted and believed in God's love, power, and providence.

And though our prayers weren't answered in the way we wanted, God was pleased that we asked.

UPDATE: Scot McKnight has started a series on unanswered prayer.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

When Our Eyes Cheat Us

What's your favorite car?

Mine is my family's 1965 Ford Mustang. It was first purchased by my grandmother and then handed down to my Dad. Today it has 70,000 original miles. It's sweet.

In 1981, the floor boards were nearly rusted through, so Dad decided to get it repaired and have some extensive restoration work done. We took the car to our friends at Bramlage Automotive.

After a few weeks, we called to see how the work was progressing. "Oh come on down," they said. "We'd be glad to show you."My Dad and I were expecting to see our old car looking even better than when we first brought it in.

Instead, our mouths dropped in horror:

The paint job was stripped to bare metal, the front hood, back trunk, and convertible top were off, and everything inside the car--dash, front seats, back seats, carpet, etc., was laying around the shop in pieces.

We both went home saying, "Our car is ruined." Like Humpty Dumpty's court, we were convinced it could never be put back together.

I thought of this story as I was studying on the Servant Song in Isaiah 52:13-53:12. This Lent I'm preaching 3 verses a week through this incredible Old Testament vision about the death of Jesus. It was given to the prophet Isaiah 700 years before the birth of Christ. This past weekend's sermon was based on Isaiah 53:1-3:
Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?

He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.

He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Concerning this section, Dr. Allen P. Ross makes a brilliant observation (BTW--find his outstanding exegetical notes here and expositional notes here):
These words illustrate vividly a habit we all share, the habit of letting the eye cheat the conscience, of letting the sight of suffering blind us to the meaning. We dislike pain and suffering; we turn away from it, forgetting that it has a reason, a future, and a God. We look on things so superficially. We make snap judgments about suffering on the surface... We allow suffering in others or ourselves to blind us to the fact of the reasons and purposes for sufferings... The truth is that suffering is part of God’s plan to remind us of the human predicament we share, to bring up out of ourselves in sympathy and patience, and to eventually fit us for glory. So it is reasonable that the suffering Servant himself share the suffering of the world to redeem the world.
My Dad and I were horrified to see our beloved car in such a state of "suffering." But when we picked it up several weeks later, it was better than new.

The "suffering" had served its redemptive purpose.

Whatever suffering God brings to you, let it shape you into His faithful vessel.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Memory and the Moment

Friday evening I was listening to Chuck Swindoll on Christian radio as he was talking about the Sabbath. Prompted by something he said, in my mind I made an observation Jesus' relationship to the day of rest:

"Wow," I thought, "That's really good. I don't know if I've ever heard anyone say that before."

Then I went on:

"That'll preach."

"That would make a good magazine article."

"You could blog about that."

Now what's that observation about Jesus and the Sabbath?

I can't tell you. I've completely forgotten.

All weekend long I've tried to recall it, but I simply can't. I should have written it down--New Testament manuscript expert Bruce Metzger used to say, "the faintest ink is better than the fondest memory"--but I was driving at night. Moreover, I just assumed that I'd remember--the idea was so good and obvious to me.

At one point during he weekend, I got really frustrated at my bad memory, but then the Lord tapped me on the shoulder and whispered, "Hey dummy, every time the Spirit reveals something to you, it isn't so the whole world can consume it."

I still can't recall that "brilliant" observation. But I do remember this: The Lord and I were communing together.

And that memory is more than good enough.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Analogy for a Time of Trouble

The storm came in, borne on the wings of raging wind,

And the sky was black, and the sun was hid.

But the Father said, "Just wait--

for this same wind
will take the storm away again."

And it did.

--Leonard Mann, from Treasures Found in Passing

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Close Vote Keeps Us in UCC

By a 1 vote margin, our church decided last night to remain affiliated with the United Church of Christ.

There were 59 votes to leave and 31 votes to stay. That result does not fulfill the 2/3 majority threshold that our constitution requires to change our denominational status.

Several people asked me last night, "Now what?"

The short answer is we move forward. The Board of Trustees and the Deaconate have scheduled a meeting for Wednesday, March 28, 7:00pm, to discuss what specific steps we should take next. One thing we should do is formally become a Faithful and Welcoming Church.

God has put us all together and made us family. Let's stay together. The Lord has a positive future for us.

Consider what God is doing now among us. The Gospel is being proclaimed. People are growing in their relationship to Jesus. We have long, established friendships, rooted in love. We have a fulfilling worship experience. We provide meaningful service to neighbors in our community and beyond.

Let's remain committed to seeing that continue!