Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Spice of Life

We had great food and desserts over the holiday. The credit goes to the cooks, my wife and daughter. But their success depended on the spices they used to flavor the food.

As I stood here waiting for my coffee from the microwave, I surveyed the spices and thought of the different delights they seasoned. Anise seeds in our traditional springerle cookies. Cinnamon and clove and nutmeg for pumpkin pies. Rosemary and onion flakes for the roast on Sunday...
There are not many spices you would want to eat by the spoonful. Spices that make a roast taste great would be terrible in a pie. But without spices foods would be pretty bland.

God seasons our lives. Everyday we have some joys and some sorrows. We have pleasures and pains. We have things that are sweet and things that are sour. There is variety.

Every hour brings something new. Every day has its own character and composition. Every encounter with people is different.

Is life sweet? Is life bitter? Actually, life is flavorful! God provides what we need for today.

As it says above our spice rack, "Taste and see that the Lord is good." (Psalm 34:8)

Monday, November 29, 2010

Have Your Cake?

"You want to have your cake, and eat it too!"

I was reminded of this saying today...

That always puzzled me as a child.  What was the point of having a cake, if not to eat it?  Of course I want to have it and eat it!  Doesn't everybody?  It turns out that it means you want to keep your cake whole - and at the same time eat it too.  The two things are mutually exclusive.  You cannot have it both ways.

But it is true - most people would like to have it both ways.  A little boy steals the cookie, but when his mother appears he quickly stuffs it in his mouth while at the same time he says, "I'm sorry!"  Adults would like to keep on doing whatever sinful things please them - but at the same time be right with God. 

So they apologize. They quote scripture. They go to church. They profess faith. They are full of humility and religious platitudes.  They say they have come to see the light and the error of their ways.

O.K. - GREAT!  So how about putting that stolen cookie down instead of stuffing it in your mouth?  How about breaking off your immoral relationship?  How about reconciling with the wife you left?  How about paying your child support?  How about paying restitution?  How about turning yourself in and doing your time?

No, they are not willing to do THAT!  They want to have their cake and eat it too.  They want to continue in their sin - but have God (and everyone else) forgive them because they said they were sorry.  ("I SAID I was sorry," says the little boy as the mother starts to punish him.)

Does this matter?  Is it addressed in Scripture?  It sure is!

(Matthew 3:7–8 NKJV) ¶ But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?  Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance,

(Acts 26:20 NKJV) but (I) declared first to those in Damascus and in Jerusalem, and throughout all the region of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance.

Notice that the call to repentance is coupled with a call to do things consistent with that repentance.  You can claim to be repentant, but if you continue in the same sinful behavior as before, you reveal the fact that your repentance is just so many words.

People can be deceived, but God cannot.  God sees the heart.  He is not impressed with religious activities when the heart is unconverted.
(Psalms 51:16–17 NKJV)  For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering.
17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, A broken and a contrite heart— These, O God, You will not despise.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Secret of His Presence

(Psalms 91:1–2 NKJV) ¶ He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.  I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress; My God, in Him I will trust.”
I love the hour before dawn because that is when I spend my sweetest time with God in the study of His word and in prayer.  The house is dark except for the pool of light around my chair.  Interruptions at that hour are rare.  The only sounds are the ticking of our antique mantle clocks and the soft snoring of our miniature poodle who is curled up on the couch.

This hour is not for planning or for working... it is devoted entirely to reading God's word and to prayer.  To read and meditate on God's word.  To softly sing hymns of praise.  To praise and glorify God.  To desire Him and His will above all earthly things.  To lay out before Him every joy or sorrow - every plan or puzzle.  To revel in His love.  To rest in His love.  To get a taste of heaven's joy.
In the secret of His presence how my soul delights to hide!
Oh, how precious are the lessons which I learn at Jesus’ side!
Earthly cares can never vex me, neither trials lay me low;
For when Satan comes to tempt me, to the secret place I go,
To the secret place I go.

When my soul is faint and thirsty, ’neath the shadow of His wing
There is cool and pleasant shelter, and a fresh and crystal spring;
And my Savior rests beside me, as we hold communion sweet:
If I tried, I could not utter what He says when thus we meet,
What He says when thus we meet.

Only this I know: I tell Him all my doubts, my griefs and fears;
Oh, how patiently He listens! and my drooping soul He cheers:
Do you think He ne’er reproves me? What a false Friend He would be,
If He never, never told me of the sins which He must see,
Of the sins which He must see.

Would you like to know the sweetness of the secret of the Lord?
Go and hide beneath His shadow: this shall then be your reward;
And whene’er you leave the silence of that happy meeting place,
You must mind and bear the image of the Master in your face,
Of the Master in your face.  (Poem by Ellen L. Goreh - 1883)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Virtual Lives

(Proverbs 6:9–11 NKJV)  How long will you slumber, O sluggard? When will you rise from your sleep?
10 A little sleep, a little slumber, A little folding of the hands to sleep—
11 So shall your poverty come on you like a prowler, And your need like an armed man.
The movie "The Matrix" has come true! 

The premise of the movie is that machines have taken over the world and only keep human beings alive as a sort of biological battery that generates electricity. The humans are actually kept in dark drawers - asleep - hooked up to life support - in huge subterranean automated complexes.  People experience life in a virtual world - the Matrix - while they in fact are lying in their drawer generating electricity for the machines.  It seems real, but it is really a plugged in experience that happens over the phone lines.

Isn't this true for many people?  Don't vast numbers of people spend hour upon hour plugged in to machines?  Isn't it true that many people have more interaction with a virtual world than they do with a real world?  People are known in the virtual world by their "nicknames."  They are concerned about their avatar as much as they are about their own appearance.  They experience life vicariously in on-line games - and in many cases care more about success in that world, than they care about relationships and experiences in the real world.  They devote hours of effort earning virtual credits for accomplishing virtual tasks in a virtual world in competition with other gamers who they will never know outside of the game world.

So what's the problem? 

Virtual life is not life!  It is a substitute for the real thing.  It is at best a dream, and at worst a delusion.  Virtual life is very attractive - maybe even addictive.  There are less risks in the virtual world than in the real world.  You can do incredible things - fight epic battles - do magic - leap, shoot, jump, kick, flip and maybe fly.  And you don't even need to stretch first.  You will never get a bruise or bump or a torn ligament.  You will not be embarrassed in the virtual world - nobody really knows it is you.  Go ahead and shoot and steal and kill and maim in the virtual world - it is all pretend anyway!  You might even get killed in the virtual world, but you live again a few moments later!

But the fact that it is not life does not make it safe.  It is certainly entertaining, but it is not profitable.  At the very least it is eating up people's lives.  Instead of really living life, they are pretending to live life while their time on earth slips past.

Real life involves real people in the real world.  There are relationships to develop and maintain through person to person interaction.  There are real life tasks to be accomplished that take our physical presence and effort.  In the real world our actions affect other people's real lives for good or evil.  We might be genuine heroes - save a life, comfort the distraught or help a little old lady across the street.

Real life has real risks and benefits.  A real life workout will improve your health, but you have to put up with the sweat and pain.  A real life conversation about spiritual realities might lead a person to an understanding of the truth about eternal life, but it also might result in rejection.

Jesus Christ said that He had come that we might have life and that we might have it more abundantly.  (John 10:10)  When we face Jesus and give an account, will He be interested in the level of success we had in our virtual games?  Will He be disappointed with the hours we spent entertaining ourselves when we could have been living a real life in His service?
(Romans 13:11–13 NKJV) And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed.
12 The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light.
13 Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy.

Thursday, November 11, 2010


(Mark 6:31) And He said to them, “Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” For there were many coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat. 
 I like Thursdays.

For a pastor, Sunday is the pinnacle of the week.  It is both the best day and the worst day.  Most of my work is aimed at Sunday.  I usually have two messages (morning and evening) and a Sunday School lesson to prepare for Sunday.  Sunday is full of activity and requires physical, emotional and intellectual energy.  On Sunday I am wound up tight.

Consequently, on Monday I am wound down.  Monday is my day for taking care of loose ends left over from Sunday - making calls, sending notes - and for planning the week ahead.  It is not a good day for taking a break - I'm too tired and still have too much on my mind.  On Monday morning ALL my work for the week is not even started.  I am too preoccupied with it all to take the time off.

Tuesday is a utility day.  It is the day when I usually complete the bulk of my studying.  On Monday and Tuesday I am usually cranking out handwritten notes about the Bible passages and topics I am studying.  By the end of the day on Tuesday I want to have the text, context, structure, meaning and special features of the passage all figured out.  I will have read it in the original language and have looked up all of the more unique words.  I will know what the meaning of the passage is, and I will be experimenting with ways to preach it.

Wednesday allows even more study, but it is also taken up with the Wednesday ministries.  I usually want to have my draft of the bulletin more or less completed on Wednesday - though I won't send it out until Thursday.  I also need to think about teaching the teen group on Wednesday night - and getting prayer requests ready for the people doing prayer meeting.  Wednesday energy is mostly about Wednesday ministries - but I am still mulling over the material I'm working on for Sunday.

Then comes Thursday!  It is a blessed day!  It is far enough between Sundays that I am fully recovered from the previous one and not yet panicked about the next!  If the week is going well, I can take Thursday morning off to go to the pistol range - without fear that I am neglecting important work.  When I come into the office for the afternoon, I feel refreshed.  Thursday is my most mellow day.  (It helps if my shooting goes well - but even that doesn't matter too much.)

Friday is another busy work day.  Friday is the day to get everything all together.  Sermon outlines finished, illustrations developed, power-point presentation completed, bulletin inserts typed, etc. Monday and Tuesday are the rough work of sorting through all of the material, and Friday is the fine work of putting everything together.  Friday is the day that I am most likely to feel panic.  If things are not clicking by Friday morning, I am fretting.

See how the pendulum swings?  At Friday I start getting wound up again for Sunday.  I need to have my sermons and messages and lessons in mind.  I need to know WHAT I am going to say and HOW I am going to say it.  At this point time is running out fast!

Hopefully I get it resolved on Friday.  Saturday is my family day.  We work together on household projects, do cleaning, do the laundry, work in the yard.  I may glance at my work a few times throughout the day, but usually just for tweaking.  Then on Saturday evening, after supper, I get my computer and head back to the study for my final three hours (6-9) of work before Sunday.  I do my final edits to polish things up, finish my notes and print them out.  Then I go home to bed and go to sleep thinking about my Sunday morning message.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Taking The (Baptism) Plunge

(Matthew 28:19) Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
After church last night, someone asked me about my views on baptizing children.  It kind of caught me off guard since I wasn't thinking about that subject at all.  But the question was appropriate because the Sunday School teachers and Children's Church teachers need to know how their teaching will fit with what I will do with children who come to me about being baptized.

Should children be baptized or not?  Under what conditions would I baptize children?

1) Baptism is a normal part of discipleship.
I believe that baptism is commanded for believers.  After a person comes to faith in Jesus Christ, they should be baptized as a public testimony to the fact that they are identified with Jesus' death, burial and resurrection.  Acts 2:41 says that "those who gladly received his word were baptized..."

It is correct for us to teach this to children who make professions of faith.  On the other hand, it is not necessarily true that we should baptize a child (or adult) just because they make a profession of faith.  We need to do our best to assure that the people we baptize truly understand the Gospel, know the meaning of baptism and are ready to make the commitments suggested by baptism.

2) Baptism does not bring about salvation.
The scripture is clear that salvation is by grace through faith, not of works. (Ephesians 2:8-10)  Baptism is properly thought of as a picture of the person's salvation through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.  While baptism is normal and proper for people who are saved by faith, it is not essential to their salvation.  Baptism is a picture of a spiritual reality - not the cause of the spiritual reality.

Down the road from me there is a church that would be horrified by my reluctance to baptize children! They believe it is baptism that seals the deal and assures the salvation of a person.  Their basic reasoning is no different from the reasoning of those who baptize infants because they believe it removes their original sin - or that it places them in the covenant of grace.  The Bible does not support any of those views.

3) Baptism is not urgent.
We feel a certain urgency to baptize children because we suppose that they will lose interest and will not want to be baptized by the time they become teenagers.  But this is exactly why we should not rush to baptize children.  If their profession of faith is so shallow that it will disappear in a few years, then it is not genuine Christian conversion.

Instead of rushing to baptize a child, we should encourage him or her to continue in his/her profession of faith and to demonstrate the truth of that profession through continued growth in knowledge and obedience to the word of God.  If they are genuinely born of the Spirit, they will indeed continue and still want to be baptized a few years down the road.

4) Baptism should require a certain maturity.
For many children church is strictly a social event limited to Sunday mornings - and this only if there is an entertaining junior church program for them.  For these children, almost everything comes before church.  Is there a sporting event, a concert, a school activity, a family activity, a television show that conflicts with church?  They will NOT be at church.  Are their friends going somewhere else today?  They will not be here either. 

But they want to be baptized.

Jesus said that to be His disciple (and it is disciples that should be baptized) one must take up his own cross daily, deny himself, and follow Jesus.  (Matthew 16:24)  This requires a mature decision - a sober choice to follow Jesus whatever the cost.  But many children will stop attending church as soon as they graduate from junior church and are expected to participate in the regular services of the church. 

I believe that until a person is able to participate in the general assembly of the believers without specialized children's services, they are not yet mature enough to make the decision to be baptized.  I think this is in harmony with the Jewish tradition of celebrating a person's bar mitzvah (or bath mitzvah for girls) at the age of about 13.  While the Bible doesn't mention this specifically, it is interesting that it does tell the story of Jesus staying behind in Jerusalem and questioning the teachers there when he was twelve years old.  (Luke 2:42ff)

5) Baptism is associated with church membership.
Not only does baptism identify the person with Christ, it also identifies that person with the other disciples.  Acts 2:41 says that the believers were baptized, then continues to say..."and that day about three thousand souls were added to them."  By submitting to baptism, believers are identified as members of the church.

The church has a responsibility to screen people who come for baptism to see if they are genuinely converted.  It would be inappropriate for the church to admit non-believers into membership.  With children this becomes more difficult to determine.  Are they professing salvation and seeking baptism because of pressure from adults, parents or peers?  Or are they genuinely born again?  The heartbreaking fact is that 2/3 of children brought up in evangelical churches (baptized or not) will walk away from church as adults.

Even after a child has graduated from junior church to the adult services, there are important questions to be asked.  Are they there because they want to be, or because they are forced to come by their parents?  Are they eager participants - singing out, paying attention and taking notes - or are they slouched in the back row goofing off and sending text messages?  Are they eager to take part in the service or do they use every opportunity to escape to "help" in junior church or the nursery?

I think that we should teach children about baptism.  But I think we should teach them that it is a serious matter that requires them to reach the age when they are able to participate in the adult church program and demonstrate by their attendance and participation that they are serious about their profession of faith, their desire to be baptized and their willingness to put Christ ahead of other priorities.

Putting off baptism does not harm a person who is genuinely born again.  But baptizing a child who subsequently walks away may well inoculate them against the gospel ("I tried that...").  Furthermore, baptizing a person who is not genuinely born again creates a mixed multitude in the church membership that will ultimately cause harm - one way or another.  At the very least there will be the pain of disciplining such people out of membership when they turn away from Christ.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Random Reactions

I read the following quote this morning in Yahoo.com's "The Starting Point."  Do you see any problems with it?
"There is no goal better than this one: to know as you lie on your deathbed that you lived your true life, and you did whatever made you happy." --Steve Chandler 
I gather that Mr. Chandler's motto is "Do whatever makes you happy." So much for moral guidance.  Do what makes you happy - tell the truth or lie, be faithful or betray, be gentle or violent, obey the law or break it, be kind or hurtful, be productive or parasitic.  Whatever makes you happy, so you can congratulate yourself on your deathbed that you "lived your true life."

There is a positive to this quote.  It is refreshingly honest about the ultimate selfishness of atheistic thought.  Many atheists presume that because they have a moral conscience and are pleased to do things that are good, that means atheism is not antithetical to morality.  All it means is that they are selfishly pursuing their own pleasures - and in some cases that pleasure is found in doing "good."

I read this yesterday in an article by Clara Moskowitz, entitled "8 Shocking Things We Learned From Stephen Hawking's Book" in LiveScience.com.
The past is possibility:
According to Hawking and Mlodinow, one consequence of the theory of quantum mechanics is that events in the past that were not directly observed did not happen in a definite way. Instead they happened in all possible ways. This is related to the probabilistic nature of matter and energy revealed by quantum mechanics: Unless forced to choose a particular state by direct interference from an outside observation, things will hover in a state of uncertainty.

For example, if all we know is that a particle traveled from point A to point B, then it is not true that the particle took a definite path and we just don't know what it is. Rather, that particle simultaneously took every possible path connecting the two points.

The authors sum up: "No matter how thorough our observation of the present, the (unobserved) past, like the future, is indefinite and exists only as a spectrum of possibilities."
How interesting an idea from people who declare in the same book that everything in the universe came to be organized as it is through a determinism based on simple physical laws!

How would they know this about such complex events in the "unobserved past?"  Not only is creation the ULTIMATE in unobserved events (by humans), but it is also completely unknown in the present.  Nobody has ever seen life spring from non-life.  Nobody has ever seen matter spring from nothing.  Nobody has ever witnessed macro evolution.  But Hawking is sure they happened by purely natural means.

Of course, what they are really saying is that EVERYTHING is possible in the unobserved past - EXCEPT for SUPERNATURAL THINGS - because they don't believe in supernatural things.  According to them - the organization of the universe and the origin of life have infinite possible NATURAL antecedents that cannot be known for sure because they were unobserved.  From their atheistic perspective, an infinite number of natural antecedents must include the correct formula.

Hawking's problem is that the origin of the universe WAS observed and is described in detail to us by someone who was there.