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Thursday, July 03, 2014

One Sam Gives Us Another

Think you’ve got it bad?  Well, for this celebration of Uncle Sam’s birthday, I’d like to tell you just a little of another Sam – a true story.

Sam was the 4th child of 12 that his mother, Mary, bore;  but he was one of the only 3 who survived past age 2.  Mary yet encouraged Sam’s faith in God;  so he married Elizabeth, a minister’s daughter who had more than just Christian faith in common with Sam.  She, too, was one of only 3 who survived to adulthood out of the 12 children born to her own mother.

Soon Elizabeth began bearing Sam’s children.  Their 1st was “a boy who lived for only 18 days.  A year later, she gave birth to a son, Samuel, who lived to adulthood.  … She gave birth to a 3rd child, a son, who lived only 37 hours.  Her 1st daughter … died after 3 months and 9 days. Her 2nd daughter, Hannah, … lived to adulthood.  Her 6th delivery … was a stillborn son.  For 19 days, [Elizabeth] lingered.  Then, at 8 A.M. on Sunday, July 25, 1757, she passed away.”  Thus were just some of the challenging circumstances in the life of a young Samuel Adams.

“Samuel Adams was the archetype of the religiously passionate American founder, the founder as biblical prophet, an apostle of liberty.  …  He was the moral conscience of the American Revolution, a man who never lost sight of the Revolution’s political  and religious goals, which for him were fundamentally intertwined.”

I’m looking forward to reading the “book about who Samuel Adams was, why he is forgotten, why he should be remembered.”  --  Samuel Adams:  A Life, by Ira Stoll.  (Free Press, New York, NY.  Copyright 2008.  Pp. 23, 8, 9, & 11, respectively.)

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Incognito

Ha! That was fun.  ~  You other Dads have done it, too, right?  As I saw my 2-yr-old about to enter my office, I threw on a disguise, and he looked at me as if to say, "Umm, I think I know you, but I'm not sure I want you to get very close ...."   He was bold enough to shake my hand; and then when I pulled off the mask, he & I both laughed.

Does God do that, too, sometimes?  Something crazy in your life makes you wonder, "Is God doing this?  Or am I just the victim from some silly decision I made somewhere?"  Then when everything works out in some surprising way, God pulls off the disguise, and we both laugh.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Take me tired; I'm home.

hark Mere: Been a post since I've whiled something here, and I shouldn't probably now, since I didn't get much night last sleep.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Singing in the Shower

Singing in the Shower -- a natural reaction of the soul to getting clean. After all, didn't the entire nation of Israel sing after passing through the Red Sea?

Thursday, July 25, 2013

How long halt ye between two opinions?

What will Americans do when hit by a severe drought?  Cut themselves?  Shout louder?  I can see them doing that, crying out to Baal  --  I mean, the POTUS, the IRS, HUD, NSA, or whatever name he goes by now.  And it'll likely have a similar effect to that of some 28.5 centuries ago ...

Friday, February 15, 2013

Children Play-Acting

Children can learn the value of communicating via the arts and get practice doing such when various theatrical opportunities come to town. They can participate in this means of story-telling by stepping into a story, instead of just hearing or narrating it.

But parents should read scripts before auditions. Dramatic story-telling is a great art form. And it has more value than just for entertainment. I personally learned many life lessons via radio drama growing up, as we didn't have a television until my early teen years. The best stories are those which reflect real truth. Often, the stories which stand the test of time do so because of their success in exemplifying some particular truth(s). Messing with these stories in significant ways changes the message and seriously runs the risk of propagating a lie. When our children are told that big bad wolves, dragons, and ogres aren't really bad, then they're subtly told that evil, if it really exists, is simply in the imaginations of your old-fashioned simple-minded parents since they are probably the ones who first told you that dragons, big wolves, and self-centered step-mothers are bad.

I'd much rather my child play a bad guy in a good story than a good guy in a bad story. The stories that people like (and we prove it with our dollars) are those in which the heroes and heroines most closely resemble the lovers of the Song of Solomon. The Hero in that story is, of course, the Lord and Redeemer of the universe, Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Be Encouraged to Draw Nigh to God

"Draw nigh to God, and He will draw nigh to you." (James 4:8a)  That is a promise from God that, as you desire and seek to get closer to Him, He will draw nearer to you.  So if that's what you're endeavoring to do right now: to get closer to God, then take comfort in that promise.  Your time is not wasted.

God's Word is full of promises.  God cannot break His promises.  They are guarantees -- set in stone -- "you can take 'em to the bank" -- they will not, cannot fail.  But, of course, in order to know what God's promises are, in order to become familiar with them, in order to be able to hold God to His Word when you're praying to Him, you have to be in His Word, reading His Word, memorizing His Word, studying His Word, daily, regularly.

"Heaven and earth may pass away, but God's Word endures forever." (Matthew 24:35)

Now ... Be encouraged ... in the LORD and in His Word!

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Pleasure Forever

Psalm 16:11 says that at God's "right hand, there are pleasures for evermore." Then later Psalms and numerous New Testament passages tell us that Christ is at God's right hand. Thus, our Lord Jesus Christ is Pleasure for evermore!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Repentance

To repent basically means to change your mind, to change your way of thinking, to completely change from doing things one way to start doing them another way. When it comes to good moral behavior, however, you and I cannot really fundamentally change our ways. Because Jesus Christ says that all of our behavior and our actions come from our heart (Matthew 15:16-20 of the Holy Bible); and we cannot change our hearts. Only God can do that.

So if you truly desire to change (to repent), then ask God to give you a new heart. He promises new life, forgiveness of sins, abundant life, mercy that endures forever, peace that passes understanding, eternal life – and more – to those who believe His promises. (To believe does not mean to simply think something in your head but to actually live it out in your actions.)

So if you truly believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, that He came to earth as God in the flesh, that He lived a sinless life, that He took your sins to the cross and to the grave (in His crucifixion and death), that He came back to life again 3 days later, and that He sits at God’s right hand as King of the world, then God will give you a brand new heart. God’s Spirit will move into your body to become one with your spirit. His Spirit will put to death your old way of living, thinking, desiring, behaving, and He will give you a brand new life, with brand new perspectives, brand new desires, and brand new behaviors. “Old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”

Then what God has worked into you, you must work out. As He has done inwardly, you must do outwardly. When He puts a new (clean, pure, wholesome) heart within you, you must put out new (clean, pure, wholesome) actions and behaviors.

That is repentance.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Which Is Sovereign? God's Will or Our Free Will

Name something for which you can thankful but for which such thanks does not need to be directed to God. (I.e., if you're giving credit to whom credit is due for all the good things in your life, is there ANYTHING at all for which full credit could go to yourself or someone else and not at all to God? If your answer is "No, I can't do that," that's because God is sovereign, right? ... over all things.)

More specifically, think of this in terms of the free will argument. If I choose Christ -- if I'M the one doing the choosing, if I exercise MY free will to follow Christ, -- then I get the credit for that, right? But doesn't that immediately rub you the wrong way? (like, Wait a minute. God doesn't get credit for something good that happens? How can that be?)

Please know that I don't deny the existence or the exercise of free will; but neither do I think it is quite what many Christians make it out to be. I believe God sovereignly works through the means of my free will to accomplish His own will and purposes.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Grace and Joy at the LORD's Table

Communion is served weekly at the church I attend, and the pastor offers a short exhortation -- a new one every week! -- about what God is doing in us, to us, for us, through us, by us as we partake in faith of the Lord's body and blood. I've appreciated discovering so much more -- celebration of grace -- in the Lord's Supper than just the very somber individualized reflection that has been so often encouraged in the church associations of my past. To illustrate what I mean by "celebration of grace," I've obtained permission by a teacher at our church, Ben Merkle, who filled the pulpit in place of our pastor a couple weeks ago, to post his particular communion exhortation here. (When he emailed it to me, it was all one long paragraph; I have taken the liberty to insert paragraph breaks, and some punctuation edits, where I see fit, to enhance readability and flow.)

by Ben Merkle:
In Hosea 6, God rebukes Israel, saying, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.” Jesus quotes this passage twice in Matthew. First, in Matthew 9, when the Pharisees are upset about the fact that Jesus has sat down at the same table as tax collectors and sinners to eat with them, Jesus tells them, “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” And then again in Matthew 12, the Pharisees became upset at Jesus’ disciples because they had plucked heads of grain and eaten them as they walked on the Sabbath, thus breaking the Pharisees’ understanding of Sabbath keeping. Jesus responded by quoting Hosea 6: “If you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.”

There are a couple of things that we should notice here. First, food is mercy. If all of this world speaks to us about God and his nature, if all of creation declares the character of God, and it does, then the purpose of food is to testify to us of God’s free mercy. "Here you go," He says to us, "eat up. Let me nourish you. Let me fill that cavernous emptiness inside of you. Let me serve you something hot to warm you up and make you feel better." Food is mercy.

Second, mercy terrifies the pharisaical mind. When grace is served up, free of charge, the pharisaical mind gets nervous and rushes in to tidy things up, to make some basic rules to reign the thing in, lest that mercy get out of control. Since food is God’s mercy, it should be no surprise to us that food and eating inspire a disproportionate amount of pharisaism in our flesh. It was at the dinner table that the Pharisees got uppity about the fact that Jesus was surrounding himself with tax collectors and sinners. And it was about on the subject of how the disciples ate that the Pharisees accused Jesus’ disciples of having broken the Sabbath. But both times, Jesus corrected them, telling them that God delighted in mercy over sacrifice.

God prefers his people to be enjoying his nourishment with gratitude rather than heaping up man-made rules and pharisaical scruples. This is true with food in general, and this is particularly true at this table, the Lord’s Supper. This table is at the center of all of our eating. It makes sense that of all the rituals God could have chosen for us to celebrate Jesus’ death, God chose a meal. Here is the heart of mercy, the gift of the Son. And here we celebrate it by eating.

However, if all the man-made scruples about what can and can’t be done at the Lord’s Supper, which Christians have imagined up over the past two millennia, were to be published, the world itself could not support the pile of books produced. Here, at the heart of mercy, we are prone to become the most pharisaical. But you need to know one thing to come to this table. God desires mercy and not sacrifice. God wants you to know Him more than the burnt offering. So come to this table. God wants to fill you up.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Like My Father

I whistled today! Like my Dad!

Okay, so I've already known how to whistle for a long time; and I think that I can whistle rather nicely. I always enjoyed my Dad's whistling. It seems to me that he was quite talented (as far as talented whistlers go) -- very sharp, distinct, but not shrill. And I like to think that I can whistle a lot like my Dad.

But there's that extra whistle talent: you know that kind of whistle when, as a child, you're three houses down playing at the neighbor's for a few hours, and Dad steps out on the front porch and whistles for you to come home. I've seen some people put their pinky fingers in the corners of their mouth and let 'er rip; but again, my Dad was so talented, he didn't need to use his fingers, ... and boy, could he let 'er rip.

I've always wanted to be able to do that. And I've always told people that I've always wanted to be able to do that. I was telling my children about it again just last evening. But then the thought struck me: while I have tried before, I've never really tried that long and hard. If my Dad could do it, and I'm like my Dad, then I should be able to do it. Isn't it like ... learning to ride a bike? Or is it more like trying to add one cubit to your stature?

So today as I looked out my window and saw my wife getting into the van, I decided to try it. I tried it ten, fifteen, maybe twenty times, reshaping my mouth each time for finetuning. As my wife drove away and I turned back toward my desk, I gave one last attempt, and ... out she ripped!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Only a Few Good Men?

I’ve been thinking a lot about Dr. Gordon Steinke’s article entitled "A Biblical Perspective of Marriage" in the Jan/Feb edition of the Communion together. Now I’d like to weigh in on the discussion.

I’ve heard Ravi Zacharias (perhaps quoting another) say, “Intent is prior to content.” This is not necessarily to say that intent is more important than content, but it does affect how we perceive what another says. For example, if my wife makes a joke about my German nose, I can laugh with her and enjoy the joke, but if a stranger tries the same joke, I probably won’t take it so well. Nevertheless, content should not be totally disregarded just because of the delivery: I dare you to refuse to pay a bill just because the mailman threw it in the mud. – At this point, it would not be wise for me to surmise Dr. Steinke’s intentions for his doctoral dissertation; but please give heed as I share some of the background reasons for my holding the views that I do.

I grew up in the wonderful home of a Church of God minister, his wife, and my three siblings. My father’s visions for our local church led him to do things which brought him under criticism from others within our fellowship. One such thing was the Christian school that was a ministry of our church for nine years. Ten years following our church’s beginnings enjoyed growth and apparent good health. God blessed our church such that we became known within our fellowship for our youth group.

But well into my teen years, I began making observations that were of great concern to me. As they began to come of age, my friends, who had grown up with me in the church and Christian school, were beginning to leave the Christian school, the church, and even the faith. Why? At the same time that my personal relationship with God began to blossom in more exciting and more intimate ways and opportunities to serve the church became more abundant, my friends who’d grown up in Christian homes were becoming less interested.

The next few stages of my life allowed me to observe a general ignorance of the Bible among all ages of the church folk. It was disappointing that the little children were not as familiar with the basic Bible stories as was I at their age, but who could blame them when their parents also seemed challenged with similar Bible quiz questions? Then as I was a candidate for the pastorate at various Churches of God, I saw many churches whose demographic consisted mainly of those just-past to way-past middle age. Of course, there were likely many healthy churches still around who wouldn’t have considered me as a viable candidate, given my youth and lack of experience. But the question still remains: Where are the youth who’ve undoubtedly had some start in these same churches where their parents still attend to this day?

For over twenty years now, I’ve been studying what I believe to be the cause of this problem. Of course, when answering any important question, statistical, philosophical, and psychological approaches should take a back seat to the Holy Spirit and His inspired Word. So what does Holy Scripture have to say about multigenerational faithfulness throughout church history? Indeed, this was a common problem throughout the history of Old Testament Israel, from which we gain insight for the New Testament church.

In Deuteronomy 5 and 6, the Holy Spirit inspires Moses, when speaking to the second generation rescued from Egypt, to remind them of that which their fathers who perished in the wilderness had failed to honor. Moses declares again the Ten Commandments and then “the first and greatest commandment.” Then he immediately follows that up with the command to “teach them diligently unto thy children,” and he adds some detail about how to do such. Then he immediately follows that up with a warning that they not forget God once He has blessed them with many good things in the new promised land. He assumes, if they are faithful to God’s laws and ways, that the children will ask, “Why do we do these things?” They are then to take advantage of such opportunities to teach their children about God, His Word, His will, and His ways.

But upon the death of Joshua’s generation, “there arose another generation after them, which knew not the LORD, nor yet the works which He had done for Israel” (Judges 2:10). How could this be? Except that Israel apparently hadn’t done as they were commanded (in Deuteronomy 6) just before entering the promised land. Israel then goes through seven cycles of disobedience, oppression, repentance, and deliverance throughout the period of the judges, ending with the High Priest Eli being cursed for not restraining his sons in their wickedness. Such a cycle is what we might expect if one generation is failing to pass on the faith to the next generation. And this cycle seems to have continued throughout history.

But what does all this have to do with marriage, which is what Dr. Steinke’s article addresses, correct? Well, the last record of Old Testament Israel before the Messiah takes center stage includes these words regarding the oneness shared by the married man and woman: “Did not He make one? Yet had he the residue of the spirit. And wherefore one? That He might seek a Godly seed. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth.” (Malachi 2:15) So reasoning backward: If a Godly seed is lacking, there is apparently a problem at the marriage level. A moment later, the Holy Spirit inspires these very last words of the Old Testament as a final promise regarding the coming Messiah: “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.” (Malachi 4:5-6)

Are you following this? It is very obvious that the spiritual training of children is the responsibility first and foremost of the parents (much more so than the Sunday School teacher, the Christian school teacher, the youth leader, or even just the pastor). The environment of good teaching and preaching during one’s youth will most often not make up for the significant failures within the home.

So then is it enough to say that God has ordained the teaching and training of children to their parents and then leave it at that? Does the Holy Spirit gives us any further specifics? I’ll remind you of a couple: “Ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). “Furthermore, we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: …” (Hebrews 12:9). – Now that sounds to me like male spiritual leadership.

I’m just getting started ...

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Salty Scandals

Jesus called His followers “the salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13). One characteristic of salt, especially in Bible times, is its usefulness as a preservative. This is the idea behind God’s willingness to spare Sodom & Gomorrah for just 10 righteous. Those 10 would have been enough grains of salt to preserve these 2 cities with all their inhabitants. But God only found 4 grains, and 1 of them apparently had lost her saltiness – at least the right kind of saltiness (because she turned into a pillar of the stuff) – thus, she was "cast out as good for nothing."

I think one of the ways this works is that Godly behavior raises the standard for society. In a town with a high percentage of faithful Christians, even the nominal unbeliever probably feels compelled to behave himself. I.e., if the unbeliever’s Christian neighbors treat their wives splendidly, don’t yell at their children, put in a good day’s work, and celebrate their Sabbaths, then the unbeliever will be afraid of the scandal that would result if he cheats on his wife, abuses his children, or steals from his boss.

Solomon Reforming Hollywood

DVD Special Features, especially “Behind the Making of [Such-n-Such a Movie],” are for those who lean toward the overly-obsessed end of the movie loving spectrum. That said, a tid-bit or two from the Special Features has caused me to ponder again the general hypocrisy of Hollywood personnel. It seems the rare exception to find an actor or actress worthy of having a fan-base.

I have often been disappointed to discover the split-ups of Martin & Lewis, Lucy & Desi, Sonny & Cher, Tom Cruise & Nicole Kidman, Mel Gibson & his wife of 20+ years. I’m glad Laurel & Hardy and Abbott & Costello didn’t split up, until I learn that Laurel & his wife did divorce and Costello was conceited enough to think that he could comedy routines just as effectively with a cardboard cutout for a partner. Elizabeth Taylor & Mickey Rooney had multiple spouses. – Okay, so what’s new? But there’s a great irony worth realizing that still comes from even the best Hollywood productions.

The popular hero is still the one who is honorable, a man of his word, dependable, courageous, persistent, and faithful to his one girl. He doesn’t flirt with other girls along his journey to rescue his damsel in distress. Our favorite heroine, though she desperately longs for the day that her desire for love will be fulfilled, holds on to the promises of her lover to return to her. She does not put her body up for sale until the Mr. Right comes along. She’s a one-man woman for her one-woman man.

We like (and we prove it with our dollars) the heroes & heroines who most closely resemble the lovers of the Song of Solomon. The hero is Charles Ingalls (Little House on the Praire) but not Michael Landon, William Wallace (Braveheart) but not Mel Gibson, “Cinderella” (EverAfter) but not Drew Barrymore, ….

The characters played by these actors tell us that being faithful to your spouse is good and right. The plot becomes complicated if the main male character kisses another woman besides the one that we all know he is supposed to love. The main female character becomes jealously offended, rightly so, and we sympathize with her. So why doesn’t it bother us that Mel Gibson has kissed Madeleine Stowe, Helen Hunt, Joely Richardson, Catherine McCormack, Isabel Glasser, Jodie Foster, and how many more? Or that any particular actress has been kissed by numerous actors, most if not all of whom are not, haven’t been, nor will ever be her husband in real life. –- Where are the Roy Rogers & Dale Evans of today? Go, Kirk Cameron!

I look forward to the day when we can highly regard not only the character played but also the player.