Friday, December 20, 2013

Progressives, Homosexuality and The Bible

The "progressives" are raging again - this time against "Duck Dynasty" star, Phil Robertson, for his negative remarks about homosexuality. He believes it is immoral and that people who practice it are sinning against God.

The "progressives" are not very progressive and they are definitely not liberal. Their ability to tolerate opposing viewpoints is as brittle as an islamic fundamentalist's sensitivity over insults to their prophet. Screams, curses, rants and riots... all because people have the temerity to make statements they disagree with. Wow!

Phil Robertson is only one current example. The United Methodist Church is also getting flayed right now for defrocking a minister who clearly violated the code of the church that he had sworn to uphold.

What is particularly amusing is the way the "progressives" try to argue their case for homosexuality from the Bible. They have a suite of talking points that are all either flat out wrong, contradictory of each other, or both.

  • The Bible does not forbid homosexuality.
  • The Bible promotes slavery (so it shouldn't matter what the Bible says.)
  • The Bible forbids hateful behavior so you should not condemn homosexuals.

In fact, the Bible very clearly and repeatedly condemns homosexuality as always immoral - a sin against God. One simple example is 1 Corinthians 6:9-10.
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Corinthians 6:9–10 ESV) 
It is important to note that it is not the ONLY sin, but it is CLEARLY a sin. You can claim that homosexuality is not a sin only if you flatly reject the Bible and everything that it says. If homosexuality is not a sin, then neither is any other kind of human behavior - sexual or otherwise. Anybody who claims that the Bible does not condemn homosexuality as a sin is either ignorant or a liar.

Meanwhile, some of the same progressive rants say something like, "How can you believe the Bible since it approves of slavery? You don't agree that slavery is right, do you?" 

The answer to this is a bit more complicated because the subject of slavery definitely does come up in the Bible and is not flatly condemned in every situation. But here are some points to ponder.
  1. The type of slavery that was most prevalent in Bible times was related to debts. Those who could not pay their debts became slaves. That situation has not really changed much in the modern world. You enter this type of slavery whenever you become over your head in debt.
  2. In another type of slavery, people are kidnapped and sold into slavery. The Bible does condemn kidnapping and kidnappers, though it did allow enemy peoples to be spared from death to serve as slaves of the conquerors - which was consistent with the culture of the time.
  3. In every type of slavery that existed, even where the Bible didn't forbid it, the Bible placed restrictions on it that gave rights and dignity to the slaves and restrained the behavior of slave owners. Slaves were not to be mistreated. Slaves taken because of debt were to be freed after a reasonable time. Christian slaves were told to be good workers. Christian slave owners were told to be good masters.

So where did the modern world get the idea that slavery is wrong? To what did people like Wilber Wilberforce resort in his quest to end slavery in the British Empire? Is it significant that he was a committed Christian and thought it was his Biblical duty to end slavery in his time? What would be the atheistic or agnostic or evolutionary basis for a moral condemnation of slavery (or anything else)?

Finally, "the Bible condemns hateful behavior, so you should not condemn homosexuals."

Well, yes and no. On the one hand yes. The Bible makes it very clear that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:23). The fact is that I am just as much a sinner as any homosexual, so I have no room to condemn.

On the other hand, no. The Bible makes it very clear that "the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men..." (Romans 1:18). I do not have the standing to condemn people as if I were myself perfect, but I do have the word of God on the matter. God condemns it. Homosexual behavior is sin. The wages of sin is death.

If I hated homosexuals and wanted them to face an eternal punishment from God, I would keep my mouth shut and let them go to their deaths in complete ignorance.

But if I really love homosexuals and want them to find God's forgiveness and eternal life, then I must speak up. I must lovingly communicate the true message about sin, judgment, and wrath. Whether it is appreciated or not. Whether it is politically correct or not.

I am not in favor of Christians sitting around with other Christians and bashing the homosexuals as if that were the only sin in the world. But I am very much in favor of Christians standing up for the truth and speaking the truth in love.

Some will see the light. Some will repent and believe and be saved.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Secure In God's Hands

I wonder how many times have I read Psalm 39 in the past 57 years? Today it jumped off the page at me:
(Psalms 39:4–5) “O Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am! Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing before you. Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath! Selah
The last time I was reading through the Psalms I had no idea that I had a terminal illness already at work in my body. I could read these verses with a sort of detachment. I knew that life was fleeting and unpredictable. I knew that my death was out there somewhere in the future and that there was some disease or accident that would bring it to me. But back then my knowledge of these things was unfocused, general, impersonal, and vague.

Nowadays the perspective of these verses is constantly with me. The Psalmist's prayer has been answered for me. The mission is accomplished! Day by day I can't seem to avoiding thinking about "my end and the measure of my days." I have a very acute sense of how fleeting I am! 

But I don't want to go over the edge here. I want to benefit from this new perspective, not be smothered by it. I'm not dead yet and there are important things to be done before I go.

Nothing has really changed. The measure of my days was the same before my diagnosis as it is now. My days are in God's hands. He is the one who determines how long I will live on this earth. God might let me live longer than the average myelofibrosis patient. He might allow the development of a new treatment in time to rescue me. God might also take me to heaven some other way before my disease progresses at all.

My life is in God's hands. It has always been in God's hands. Nothing has changed. Same God - same hands - same plan he has for me. 

This is just where I want to be!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Atheist Mega-Churches?

That certainly caught my eye. "Atheist Mega-Churches Take Root Across US, World."

The facts as revealed in the article don't quite live up to the billing. Two British comedians have organized what they call "Sunday Assemblies" of atheists participating in what looks something like modern mega-church gatherings. They are on a "40 dates, 40 nights" tour across the USA and Australia. They hope to raise $800,000.00 to help start other Sunday Assemblies.
Hundreds of atheists and atheist-curious packed into a Hollywood auditorium for a boisterous service filled with live music, moments of reflection, an "inspirational talk" about forgotten - but important - inventors and scientists and some stand-up comedy.
All of these Sunday Assemblies together would not add up to a single "mega-church." I think that they used the term to reflect the relaxed atmosphere of many contemporary churches.

Supposedly these meetings will appeal to people who do not share Christian belief, but who miss the community and celebration of the church services. I have my doubts. I think they are just having fun mocking Christian churches. They are effectively saying, "See - we can even have church without God. So there!" (I wonder what would happen if they tried a mosque version of this?)

The article says they "don't bash believers but want to find a new way to meet likeminded people, engage in community and make their presence more visible in a landscape dominated by faith." I believe it is just a stunt - and maybe a way for two British comedians to make a living. There is no particular statement of faith that they are agreed on - so their views are quite diverse. There is no clear basis for people to commit to continued attendance, participation and support of these groups.

There are already plenty of churches that don't believe in God (e.g., Unitarian Universalist). There are already secular community service groups like the Kiwanis, Rotary, Lion's Club, etc. Atheists could find plenty of companionship and community in any of these. But they wouldn't be making fun of the Christians.

Ironically, many atheists are offended by the Sunday Assemblies because they argue that atheism is not a religion.


Monday, November 4, 2013

Truly Thankful

As we were singing songs of praise, thanksgiving and worship in church last night, I was overwhelmed with the conviction that I need to do more than stoically endure the myelofibrosis that has come into my life. I need to be truly thankful for it.

This deadly disease is not "bad luck" that I should resent. It is not the result of bad decisions or past actions that I should regret. Having myelofibrosis is not a result of the world running amok that I should fear. It is not an abandonment by God or a withdrawing of his blessings.

I believe that God is in perfect control and takes a personal interest in my life. He will never leave me or forsake me. He has promised that all things work together for good to those who love him. He has said that nothing can separate me from his love for me in Christ.

I want to see my disease as a special privilege from God.

  • A perspective on life that not everyone gets to see.
  • An opportunity for ministry that not everyone gets to have.
  • A challenge to meet that not everyone gets to try.

I see the Lord using this to deepen me and stretch me. In this he can teach me lessons I could not learn any other way.

Jesus loves me.

For this I can be truly thankful.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Economic Systems

I think that too many American Christians think that free market capitalism is the Christian approach to economics. They reason that since America is (supposedly) a Christian Nation or was founded on Christian principles, the economic system that we have here in America must be Christian.

I am sure that free market capitalism appeals to Americans because they are individualistic, egalitarian, and they believe in self-determination and an achievement ethic. They believe that they have pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps and have provided for themselves by their own hard work. They believe that anybody can do the same. It is the triumph of the entrepeneurial spirit - taking risks, working hard, getting there first, etc.

It strikes me that the communist system is actually based on Christian principles. I grew up during the cold war and the godless communists always called each other "comrade." The Christians recognized that they were all brothers and sisters. The earliest church (Jerusalem) practiced a kind of voluntary communism in which people sold their excess possessions to provide care for the Christian brothers and sisters in their need.

(Acts 4:32–35)  Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common. 
33 And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all. 
34 Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, 

35 and laid them at the apostles’ feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need. 

The failure of the Soviet Union and other European communist states was that they combined the communist system that relied on caring for each other with an atheism and evolutionary theory that removed the ethic necessary to make it work. If there is no God (and thus no universal moral foundation) and if the developmental principle at work in the universe is survival of the fittest - then why should I help my neighbor? I should eat my neighbor before he eats me!

The Chinese communism has been somewhat more successful because the people of that region already had a deeply engrained Confucian ethic with a sense of collectivism. Even so, as the government educated everyone there in atheism and evolutionary thought, the communist collectives systematically failed. The government is technically the communist party, but the engine of the economy is capitalism. 

Here in the USA, free market capitalism aligns more with secular ideas of evolutionary theory - again the survival of the fittest. Here it is a dog eat dog world and only the strong survive. This is not exactly a Christian perspective!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Amazing Squirrels

I remember being fascinated by monkey's as a child. I really wished that we had monkey's in the trees in upstate New York. When we visited Florida I was disappointed that they didn't even have monkeys there. It seemed to me that if they had palm trees, they should also have monkeys.

By the time I got to visit South America I was sixteen, but I still hoped to see wild monkeys in the edges of the jungle in Suriname and the Amazon region of Brazil. But I was disappointed again. Lots of bright birds, for sure, bats, snakes, and unusually large rodents - but no monkeys that I can remember.

All we had at home were squirrels. Gray squirrels, flying squirrels and red squirrels in New York. To me they were boring, except as potential food. (And I thought it was gross that people in places that did have monkeys tended to eat them.)

Here in Canton we have more squirrels than I have ever seen. Here we have big fox squirrels (not to be confused with the small red squirrels of my youth.) We have gray squirrels, black squirrels and sable squirrels. We even have a few blonde squirrels (and that is not a joke about blondes.) We have so many squirrels that I am amazed the population can support itself.

This morning I was watching a squirrel travel along the squirrel highway consisting of telephone lines that run through the middle of the blocks in my neighborhood. As I watched, the squirrel suddenly decided to change lanes to another cable about his body length away from him to his side and above him. He just flipped up there without breaking stride.

It made me think about the acrobatics I have seen from squirrels... up, down and around they go. Onto the slimmest branches to retrieve seeds - wild leaps from a branch onto the roof of a house - a ten foot jump at least! They are amazing!

Now, for me, this prompts praise to God as the Designer of Squirrels. He has perfectly equipped them with a bushy tail for balance, strong muscles for climbing and jumping, back feet that can rotate to keep them on the side of a tree going up or coming down, and incredible judgment of distances for jumping from one branch to another. They are clearly designed for their incredible (pesky) lives.

But I know that my atheist friends see this as a testament to the functionality of evolution. They don't believe in a creator god and it is too incredible (even for them) to believe that multiple complex and differentiated life forms all "appeared" on the planet at once. So - they HAVE TO believe in evolution - a slow change over millions of years that equipped squirrels to live in the trees.

This strikes me as sad. With no god, no purpose, no meaning - the amazing squirrel (and everything else) is reduced to impersonal matter. Though they do experience awe and an appreciation of the beauty of the world they have no real basis for it... Everything - including them - is just an impersonal product of an impersonal natural process that is going nowhere in particular and has no meaning or measure. That humans are "sentient" is a cruel joke.

This they accept by faith - not having observed something coming to exist from nothing - not having observed life coming from non-life - not having witnessed any form of macroevolution nor having found any fossilized record of it. They have rejected faith in God and embraced pure rationalism based on faith in "No God" and stories they invented about how things "must have" happened.

But rationally speaking they have no basis for wonder, gratitude, praise, delight or hope. And that is sad.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Job and Me

I am fascinated by the scene in heaven that opens the book of Job. God points out Job to Satan as an example of a godly man.

(Job 1:8) Then the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil?” 
Satan argues that Job fears God for strictly pragmatic reasons. God is protecting Job, so Job is faithful to God. Satan says that if God will remove Job's protection, Job will, "curse you to your face."

So much of religion in the world (even much of Christianity) is exactly what Satan suggests about Job. People are religious because they think it will bring God's blessings and protection. The preachers of prosperity theology are essentially running a mob like protection racket. Give God a payoff or he will let bad things happen to you. Get on God's good side and he will give you good things.

Job's friends had this basic perspective too. Good things in this life are God's blessings and bad things in this life are God's punishments. If you get good things you must have been good. If you get bad things you must have been bad. (Job must have been really, really bad.)

But what God knows and what the story shows is that Job loves God and will continue to trust God no matter what. Job says, "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him" (Job 13:15). Job loves God because of God's absolute worth - not because of some scheme to gain earthly health and wealth.

So why put Job (not to mention his wife and children) through all of these difficulties? It is spiritual warfare! Satan has impugned Job and God by his accusations. He has thrown down the gauntlet - the challenge. By allowing the loss, the sorrow, and the pain God takes up Satan's challenge and defends his own honor.

This should inform our prayers. We should not pray just for physical deliverance. We should pray for spiritual strength in the face of Satanic attack. Whether we are healed or we die, the most important thing is that we honor God by our response to the circumstances.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Pondering the Coming Train

I have wanted to get back to writing in my blog, but the recent developments in my life have hindered me. In the almost two months since my diagnosis with myelofibrosis, I have not had a day when I don't think, "I have myelofibrosis and it is killing me."

I want to write in my blog, but I don't want it to be a downer for everybody (or at least my six followers). On the other hand, my diagnosis and prognosis with myelofibrosis is one of the more significant things that is going on in my life right now. So, I've decided to write about it. Hopefully it won't be too morbid for you.

The fact is, that right now I have a median life expectancy of seven years. That is not really too bad. I might be an outlier on the positive side of seven and live ten more years. That would put me in my mid-sixties and lots of people die in their mid-sixties. (Although I would have liked to have gotten SOMETHING out of my social security that I have paid 15% into every year.)

What is different is that I can see the train coming that is going to hit me. Right now I feel great and it seems bizarre that I have this very serious disease. How can I be dying of this when I feel so good? It just doesn't make any sense.

But I have it - sure enough. The JAK2 mutation. The enlarged spleen. The dry taps when they tried the bone marrow biopsy. The slightly elevated temperature. And the high white blood count and lower red blood and platelet counts. This is what I've got, so the myelofibrosis train is coming to run over me with increasing pain, fatigue, anemia, bruising and bleeding and compromised immune system.

So you would think that with this kind of time frame I might be able to get out of the way of the train?

Well, maybe! The one problem is that right now there is no curative treatment except a bone marrow transplant and that is very risky itself. Nothing I can take right now is going to stop the train that is coming and if I go for the transplant I might be dodging the first train and getting hit by another. It is too early to do that. On the other hand, they might develop some new treatments that are effective in controlling myelofibrosis and extending life - but they had better hurry if they are going to help me. I can try to get into clinical trials, but these are not proven to help and might actually hurt - for all I know.

So, instead, I have to kind of sit here on the railroad tracks and ponder the situation.

Pondering leads me to the following points.

  1. God has truly blessed me throughout my life - and this is no exception. It is a blessing!
  2. All things work together for good to those who love God - and this will too. It will grow me.
  3. Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ - not even this. God is with me & is helping me.
  4. Jesus Christ is victorious over sin and death - I have nothing to fear in life or death. I am his.
  5. Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life - the believer doesn't really die. I will be with Christ.
  6. God's strength is made perfect in weakness. As the disease (or treatment) progresses I will be weaker, so God will be increasingly glorified in me. And that is what I want more than anything.
  7. God does not allow us to be tested beyond our ability to endure - he will shepherd me through this "valley of the shadow of death" and make it a picnic.
  8. The "faith hall of fame" in Hebrews eleven is people who faced difficult trials by faith in God. The opportunity to face a more difficult trial is actually a privilege entrusted to me by God. I just want to be faithful through it all.

May Jesus Christ be praised! He alone is worthy.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Reflections On Being Sick

I had a cold this weekend.

Actually, I've had it for a while, but it got bad this weekend - just in time to interfere with my preaching and teaching ministry on Sunday. I coughed until my sides ached. On Saturday I had to have tissues with me everywhere I went because my nose ran like a faucet.

I prepared for a very difficult Sunday. A handkerchief in my back pocket. A pack of tissues in my suit pocket. Cough drops in my other pocket. A flat of water bottles in the base of the pulpit.

I figured it would be bad.

But then God smiled on me. By church on Sunday my cough was pretty much controlled and my nose had dried up. I had one brief coughing spell - but just one - during the course of my sermon. I took just one drink of water. I used just one cough drop. And the message went forward with minimal distraction from my cold.

Praise the Lord.

I pray that God will do the same and even more with my myelofibrosis. I don't want it to distract from ministry. If anything, I want to see it intensify ministry and cause God to be glorified in even greater ways.

May Jesus Christ be praised!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Moving To The Next Level

I have neglected this blog for a long time, but I will try to keep up a little bit better. It made me smile to read my last few posts - to see what I had written before I knew that I had a serious health issue brewing and before I got the more definite diagnosis.

I wrote about "Happily Ever After" before I knew I was sick at all.
We are stressed trying to get to the point were everything will go well. Then we are stressed by the realization that things are still going wrong. Then we are stressed by the fear that things will go wrong, even if they are not currently going wrong.

The solution is to realize that we are imperfect people living in a broken world. We cannot ever reach the happily ever after point in this world, because this world is broken by sin. Death, disease, frustration, injustice and corruption are an ongoing part of our lives here.

Our goal cannot be "happily ever after life" on earth, or we will be frustrated. We should seek our satisfaction in handling daily problems well. We seek comfort in trusting God to carry us safely through the difficulties of life. Faith in God gives us the confidence that we are loved and even our problems are ultimately for God's good purposes.

Life is an adventure of challenges in which we try to bring God glory through proper attitudes and actions. The real happily ever after of our existence is out of this world and beyond the scope of this life. And it is guaranteed by God in Christ, in spite of our shortcomings in this world.
That was published over two months before I knew I had any health issue - almost three months before I got the final diagnosis. First I had an enlarged spleen, but it was probably a "benign process." That afternoon it was determined to be a "leukemic process" and I had to go to the hospital. Two weeks, a bone marrow biopsy, CT scan and several blood tests later and it is confirmed that I have "myelofibrosis" - a disease in which your bone marrow turns to fibrous material and doesn't work to produce the blood cells you need. There are limited treatment options and nothing short of a bone marrow transplant will bring a cure. The median life span for my phase of the disease is seven years.

What a surprise! Since I still feel healthy, the idea that I have a terminal illness seems surreal! The news has given me a new awareness of various things in my life - of how blessed I have been throughout my life!

God has been so very good to me and having myelofibrosis is more of the same! This is another blessing piled on top of all my other blessings! He had brought me to a place of blessing in my ministry and life, of maturity and contentment. He had blessed me in my family, in my ministry and even with material things. Now the Lord has bumped me up to another level of life challenges to face for his glory.

Praise the Lord! I stand by what I wrote back in June! "Life is an adventure of challenges in which we try to bring God glory through proper attitudes and actions. The real happily ever after of our existence is out of this world and beyond the scope of this life."

Live every moment for Jesus Christ. He is worthy! Nothing can shake us out of his hand!

Emma helps!

Emma helped me rake up some leaves while they were visiting us. That was very nice!

Saturday, August 24, 2013

God's Great Grace

I want to say "thank you" to everyone who has been concerned about my physical health the past few days.

In case you don't know, although I have been feeling very healthy and strong in recent weeks, on Friday I ended up in the hospital to get a bone marrow biopsy and a CT scan. 

The cause for this sudden development was the discovery that my spleen is significantly enlarged and my white blood cell count is very high. Besides that, the kind of white blood cells discovered suggested I might have Chronic Myeloid Leukemia. The doctors felt that it was important to get to the hospital, get a definite diagnosis and start treatment ASAP.

So - I have all sorts of extra holes in my skin today that I didn't have yesterday. Multiple blood draws, an IV line, three holes for bone marrow biopsy, a TB test and multiple inoculations. I am now out of the hospital and in my study.

I praise the Lord for his blessings. I know that God's purposes are perfect and gracious. He knows what he is doing and will accomplish good things - no matter what the final diagnosis.

As for a more definite diagnosis, we meet with the oncologist on Wednesday afternoon. By then all the tests should be in. I am hoping it might be something more friendly than leukemia, but we will just have to see.

I appreciate your prayers on my behalf - certainly for healing - but even more that I would be faithful to God through whatever the future holds and that I would make the most of the opportunities he gives me through this to bring him the glory he deserves. God has been gracious to me. He owes me nothing. I owe him everything.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Developing Live Broadcast Delay

For much of what seems to be live broadcasts on radio and television, there is actually a mechanism that delays the broadcast briefly so that inappropriate things can be bleeped out if necessary.

I think that the people on these shows like this feature. They feel like they can say whatever they want and the unseen editor will make sure the profanity does not get heard by the public. Except of course that it encourages them to be unrestrained in their profanities and it doesn't always work.

Proverbs has a lot to say about controlling what you say. Generally speaking, the fool says everything that comes to mind. The wise person puts a guard on his lips and controls his speech.

(Proverbs 29:11)  A fool vents all his feelings, But a wise man holds them back. 

We need to learn to think before we speak. I know from personal experience that this is no small task, but it is absolutely essential for maturity and godliness. The scriptures are very clear on this.

(Proverbs 15:28)  The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things.

Our culture values individualism and directness.  People are encouraged to be themselves, to speak up, and to say what they think. And people do - in person, on the air and online. You know exactly what they are thinking - and most of it isn't worth much.

We need to learn to control our impulse to speak. We need to remain silent long enough to evaluate our feelings (especially angry ones) and control our speech. What comes out of our mouths should be purified and helpful to the hearers. Many of our feelings should not be expressed.

Our goal is to bring every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. The thoughts that do not serve Christ should not be expressed... and should be discarded after a momentary (silent) reflection.

Lord God, help us to develop a broadcast delay that lets us serve you more effectively.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Happily Ever After

Much of the stress in life comes from our pursuit of "happily ever after."

We think that once we get to a certain point, everything else will go well for the rest of our lives, but then it doesn't keep going well. So we struggle to patch up the problem or achieve new goals. We are sure that once we get these things fixed, everything will go well for the rest of our lives. But it never does.

A man struggles to get training and certification and rejoices on his graduation day. But then he can't find a job. He struggles in the job search and working at "dead-end" jobs that he dislikes.

He finds a job in the field he has trained for and is sure this is the HEA point. Then he finds out that he needs to get more certification to stay current and has to achieve at a certain level to stay employed. He struggles to achieve and to get more training and certification. The economy fluctuates, competition is fierce and money is tight.

He works at his job for several years and accepts ongoing training and competition as a part of the mix, but feels safe in his work. But his family grows, his house is too small, the car breaks down and needs to be replaced, his wife is unhappy with his work schedule, he begins to have health issues. His company is sold to a competitor who will downsize and consolidate. He may need to move to another city.

Get the idea?

We are stressed trying to get to the point were everything will go well. Then we are stressed by the realization that things are still going wrong. Then we are stressed by the fear that things will go wrong, even if they are not currently going wrong.

The solution is to realize that we are imperfect people living in a broken world. We cannot ever reach the happily ever after point in this world, because this world is broken by sin. Death, disease, frustration, injustice and corruption are an ongoing part of our lives here.

Our goal cannot be happily ever after life on earth, or we will be frustrated. We should seek our satisfaction in handling daily problems well. We seek comfort in trusting God to carry us safely through the difficulties of life. Faith in God gives us the confidence that we are loved and even our problems are ultimately for God's good purposes.

Life is an adventure of challenges in which we try to bring God glory through proper attitudes and actions. The real happily ever after of our existence is out of this world and beyond the scope of this life. And it is guaranteed by God in Christ, in spite of our shortcomings in this world.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Embarrassing Jesus?

As I drove down the street today, I noticed a man at the edge of a church parking lot with a placard in his hands. His small sign said, "Christ died for our sins." I was stopped in traffic, and when he noticed that I looked toward him, he started shouting at me across five lanes.

I am not sure what he said, because I couldn't hear him well enough to distinguish his words. I am willing to give him the benefit of a doubt and suppose that he was shouting a clear and biblical explanation of the Gospel - that we are sinners and Jesus provided the sacrifice necessary for the forgiveness of our sins. But even given that benefit of a doubt, I think that what he was doing there today was wrong. He may have had a good message. He may have had good motives. But his approach was, in my opinion, an embarrassment to Jesus. What he was doing might get him points with his particular church group, but I believe most unchurched people who saw him ended up thinking less of him and less of Jesus.

Just down the street from him was a man in a funny hat who was dancing and pretending to play a guitar in front of a pizza place. During tax season there were people dressed up as the Statue of Liberty dancing and waving a sign a few blocks in the other direction. But these other guys are trying to be funny, clowning around to get attention for a fairly simple transaction. By contrast, this guy in the church parking was earnest and intense. His message involved death and life. I think he made people nervous. I am not sure how effective a dancing Statue of Liberty is at attracting business for tax preparation services, but I think a Bible screaming fanatic must be far less effective in gaining a hearing for the Gospel.

I've known other people who have taken similar approaches - sometimes involving a bullhorn. They tend to subscribe to "magical thinking." They know the Bible verses that say, "Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God" (Romans 10:17) and that "It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save those who believe" (1Cor. 1:21). Certainly these verses are true - but these folks take them to mean the word of God is magic. If they can just get you to read a verse from their placards or hear them shout some verses while you pass by - then "God's word will not return void." It will accomplish God's purpose and save some souls.

Tonight this guy can go home and say, "I went out and witnessed for Jesus for X hours today. Certainly God will use this to save some souls... His word will not return void. We will never know how many responded until we get to heaven."

I think he is completely mistaken. He spent X hours scaring people and embarrassing Jesus. Those who saw him just think he is weird - maybe even dangerous. I doubt that anybody heard enough of a gospel message to seriously consider it, but they got enough to associate Christ Jesus with weirdness.

Driving back past this church I noticed the construction workers laboring in the hot sun just down the block. I wondered how much more effective the man with the placard might have been if he had just brought them a cold bottle of water. That might have opened an opportunity for the gospel, but what he was doing certainly did not.

By all means, work to tell people the gospel. But not in ways that embarrass Jesus and discredit the message you are trying to share.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

On Getting Old

Generally speaking, I have not regretted getting older through the years. I don't feel old at 57. My body hasn't let me down in any major way yet. I feel like I am somewhere in the middle of life - not much toward the end as far as I can tell.

But recently I have been struggling to get through my workweeks. It seemed to me that I was following my normal routines, but by the end of the week I still didn't have things done - or at least not done as well as I would like. Then I would think of friends of mine in ministry and all the work that THEY get done. THEY don't seem to have this problem. What is going on?

  • Am I being lazy?
  • Am I being unwise in my use of time?
  • Have my mental abilities been compromised?
  • Am I not getting enough sleep? Do I have sleep apnea?
  • Is my exercise routine (recently renewed) wearing me out?

I was relieved by the process of writing my Pastor's Report for the Spring Meeting of the church. It turns out that in the past three months, in addition to spending about three weeks in China, I had special events almost every weekend. We had a Men's Breakfast, a Missions Conference, a Men's Retreat, a Work Day, a Ladies' Day. In addition I have been working on recruiting a part-time assistant pastor and that has involved a couple of trips to do interviews. There is also the "normal" preparation of a Sunday School class lesson, two Sunday messages and a Wednesday teen group program. Plus we are planning and preparing for our Summer programs and buying flowers for Mother's Day and meeting with the board and calling people regarding the Spring Meeting and setting up tables and moving tables... On top of all of that, Lola and I worked through a couple of weeks of buying a new car and I'm trying to do the reading for my next seminary seminar.

I found this all very reassuring. I've been more tired than usual because I've been more busy than usual.  That doesn't mean that I might not have done more with less sleep twenty years ago. But it does seem to me that it is reasonable to be tired when I am very busy with lots of work.


Tuesday, May 7, 2013

View From My Porch

Now that the weather has warmed up I can sit on my front porch in the morning. I love being there with my Bible, my prayer journal and a nice cup of coffee. (Note to self - tomorrow use an insulated cup for the coffee.)

On the porch I enjoy the fresh air, the greening of the trees and shrubs and the chance to watch the birds and animals. But even more than that, I enjoy watching people walking, running, riding or driving by. A few are regulars and we exchange greetings. Others are strangers. But all are interesting.

A young mother stops her car at the curb two houses down and gets her toddler out of a car seat. The neighbor runs a small daycare and I enjoy watching the kids come and go. They are cute and curious. They are excited to see their daycare mom in the morning and excited to see their parents at the end of the day.

But I wonder about the parents - especially the moms. Maybe I'm imagining things, but it seems to me that it costs them something more than money to leave these little ones to go off to work. There is a reluctance - a sadness in their morning routine as I glimpse it through the rhododendron.

Another woman walks by every morning - I imagine that she is going to catch the bus to go to work. I also wonder if she might be fighting an illness. Her hair is very short, she walks very erect and with slow deliberation. She has also been losing weight over the past year. I feel like asking her if she is ok - but we just say, "hi."

Bob from down the street often walks by with his aging shelty. We may talk for a few minutes about neighborhood events or lawn care or dogs or almost anything.

This morning, lost in my prayer time, I looked up just in time to see an obviously pregnant woman walking by to the west, dressed for exercise. She must have been watching me as she approached because she waved a greeting and I waved back. I had such a brief glimpse of her that I wouldn't recognize her if I met her again.

Others come and go. Children on the way to the school bus stop. People walking dogs and/or children. Adults returning from Walmart with a few bags of grocery items. A mexican friend of mine on his bike - going to the restaurant where he works. Neighbors going to the house across the street to make final preparations for the auction to be held there tomorrow afternoon.

I like people. I'm interested in people. But above everything else, I am concerned that people need the Lord Jesus Christ in their lives. They need to know Jesus because he is their Creator and the Judge of all the earth. They need to know him because he is the only Savior and the key to eternal life. They need Jesus because they need the true meaning and purpose that he alone can give to life.

People need the Lord!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Spring Days

One of the things I like about living here is the changes in the seasons. I can appreciate each of the seasons - Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall - but my favorites are Spring and Fall.

Summer is hot. Winter is cold. Spring and Fall have the mildest temperatures and the dramatic changes to foliage.

Tuesday was sunny and warm. Wednesday we had a steady rain and falling temperatures.
Today started with temperatures below freezing, but it is sunny and will be nice.

The grass is green. The trees are leafing out. Spring flowers are still blooming, but the magnolia tree a few blocks over is losing its blossoms.

Early in the morning - in the early light 30 minutes before the dawn - the birds begin to sing their Spring songs. The robins, the sparrows, the cardinals all sing loudly. When it is full light they quit to work on building nests. (Too bad that here in the city we don't have some wild turkeys. That would add a special music to the morning songs.)

Monday, February 25, 2013

Infant Baptism?

Somehow or other a group that believes in infant baptism sent me an email today. They claimed that they had condensed all their studies of the subject of infant baptism into a few pages and urged me to read those online.

I did read the material and must say it is completely unconvincing. Their justification for infant baptism requires that you accept replacement theology (the church replaces Israel) and the idea that the Abrahamic covenant continues to govern the church.

If the church was a continuation of the Abrahamic covenant it is strange that the Jewish believers got so bent out of shape about the fact that the Gentiles who were saved were not required to be circumcised and to live by the law of Moses (Acts 15:1-5). The apostles could have easily explained that nothing had really changed - just a new sign of the covenant, etc.

It seems to me that if covenant theology were correct there would have been no particular reason to replace circumcision with infant baptism. The Bible never mentions, orders or suggests infant baptism, but does have a great deal to say about circumcision. But, of course, the New Testament makes it very clear that believers should not submit themselves to circumcision - so these folks are looking for a different initiation into the presumed covenantal community. (Look especially at Acts 15 and the book of Galatians.)

This group answers the charge that the Bible uniformly links baptism to believing the gospel and never mentions, orders or describes the baptism of infants by saying the Bible never FORBIDS the baptism of infants. This seems to me to be extremely weak theological reasoning. Such an approach could justify almost anything.

I think they should give it up.

The New Testament clearly says that the subjects of baptism are "disciples" (Matthew 28:19-20) In Acts 2:41 it was those who "gladly received" the gospel who were baptized and it was the mark of their addition to the church - not the Abrahamic covenant. (Interesting that they were already circumcised Jews who presumably could have been grandfathered into the covenant they were already in. Besides that, the early church, being Jewish, kept on circumcising their infants, but they baptized believers.)

I cannot see how an impartial reading of the New Testament would ever suggest the baptism of infants.

Friday, February 8, 2013

The Sabbath Rest

Mark 2:27-28
And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”

About a year and a half ago I became very busy. My normal work as a pastor is busy by itself, but I was also taking classes, serving on committees, renovating my house and going on missions trips. I was so busy that I stopped taking a day off and even worked while on vacations.

Believe it or not, that schedule became a drag after a while.

On the one hand, I was so tired all the time. The work I had to do took longer than it should have and brought me less satisfaction. Besides that, since I wasn't taking any time off, I tended to procrastinate more. Deadlines and structured work times lead to better time management, but I had neither. I could put many things off till tonight or tomorrow or next week. (As long as it wasn't something I needed to do for Sunday.)

But about a month ago I started taking Thursday off. I don't go into the office. I don't check the phone messages. I don't make appointments. I don't get the mail. Instead I go to the shooting range and participate in the pistol league. I shoot, I score, I talk shop, I ask questions. We go out to a restaurant and eat. Then I do some shopping and some non- work things.


I feel rested. And because I want to take Thursday off, I am more disciplined to get things done in my more limited work time.

God knows us better than we know ourselves. We need a Sabbath rest.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Wise Man or Wise Guy?

James 3:13-15
"Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic."

What do you think about the comments you can read after Internet news stories? They may reflect knowledge or ignorance, but they are almost always full of "bitter jealousy and selfish ambition." Sarcasm and slap downs are the order of the day.

True wisdom is not primarily about communicating the truth. It is about knowing when to communicate the truth, how to communicate the truth, and when to remain silent. A person who is bragging about his own intelligence and ragging on someone else's ignorance is not wise.

James 3:17-18
"But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace."

True wisdom is characterized by meekness. It is demonstrated with reserve, patience, gentleness, kindness.

Friday, February 1, 2013

None Of The Above

I've heard several comments lately about the fact that in recent poling a large proportion are selecting "none of the above" as their religion. Last night on the radio I heard it again in an interview with a man who teaches evolution at Cornell University and is the front man for a punk rock band called "Bad Religion."

He shared his story of growing up in a non-religious home and finding existential purpose in his study of evolution. (This reminds me of Richard Dawkins' statement that evolution allows an atheist to be intellectually fulfilled.) The interviewee said that his experience was similar to those who are the "none of the above." They are disciples of Dawkins, Hitchens and Sam Harris.

So what, you may ask?

Consider the national debate about "gun violence." They are searching for the keys to this problem of mass shootings. Is it guns? Is it mental health problems? Is it security lapses? Is it violent role playing games? Is it violence in movies?

I would suggest that they consider the fact that almost all of the shooters in the random mass killings are from the "none of the above" group. They see themselves as the product of an impersonal mechanistic process. They do not believe in a transcendent God or an "afterlife." They have no objective moral reference point. They do not believe that they will be held accountable for their actions. They believe that the principle underlying their existence is "natural selection" which has also been called "survival of the fittest."

Given their worldview, they are completely unpredictable. They might do anything. What is worth living for? What is worth dying for? What matters?

They have no absolute reason to value any life. They have no fear of ultimate accountability. They have no room for respect or civility or humility - they are the epitome of evolution to date. Their thoughts are the only measure of truth.

So will they all choose to kill innocent strangers? Certainly not! But they don't have any reason WHY not! If their life becomes too difficult, if their ability to achieve fame and fortune seems limited, if they don't get a kick out of life anymore ... Why not go out in a blaze of glorious gore? Why not try to get high score fame that will be broadcast around the world?

It is not that the video games make them commit the crimes - but for them, real life has no more meaning than a video game.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Keep You Eye On The Target

Two weeks ago I returned to the Canton McKinley Rifle & Pistol Club after almost two years away.

That first day back I knew that I had lost a lot of my skill, but I couldn't believe how much the red dot in my sight was jumping around. I tried to bring it into the black, but it fluttered all over the target. It was never still.

Since the dot was always moving, I began to jerk the trigger as I tried to get the shot off while the dot was in the black. My score was low. I couldn't believe how badly I was doing.

But by the next week I had remembered something important. When you are aiming with a red dot sight, you need to look at the target, not the dot. If you look at the dot you will see how it magnifies your trembling. The more you try to steer it, the more it jumps around the target.

But if you focus on the target center and concentrate on the trigger, the dot will calm down and even appear to stand still sometimes. The gun and your arm are always moving, but the target is still. Focus on the center of the target and you will gradually find the dot there too.

I think that is a good lesson for the Christian life. As long as we look at our various efforts and programs we see the magnification of our flaws. We see our inconsistency and we become discouraged. We are missing the mark. We are erratic.

But if we focus on the goal we will do better. Keep your eyes on Jesus. He is unwavering. Concentrate on him and you will come closer to hitting your mark.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Waiting For A Better Offer?

I noticed that the charges for my DSL jumped from $24.95 per month to $48.00 in December. When I asked why, the AT&T person said the $24.95 price was the low INTRODUCTORY price. After a year, you are moved to the STANDARD price. When I said that I wasn't about to keep paying that price, he offered to connect me to somebody in the CUSTOMER-RETENTION department who could give me a BETTER PRICE to keep me with the company.

(Better a low paying customer in the hand, than a customer who flees to another provider.)

But we have long been dissatisfied with our DSL service. I wasn't interested in keeping mediocre service for ANY price. So I've been shopping.

What a racket! Different providers. Different speeds. Different bundles of services. Different levels of support. Internet, TV, Wireless Phones... What do you want? Every different combination of services has a different price tag. And that is before tax.

It is enough to make your head spin. They have live chat people who will shepherd you through the whole process to buy, buy, buy their services. It couldn't be easier, but how do you know what you are really getting? How do you know that you are getting a good deal? How do you know there isn't a better offer out there?

You could be caught in the whirlpool of price and option comparisons forever - and never end up buying the services you need.

This is how I feel about some people who have considered the claims of Jesus Christ.

They understand the offer - their sins can be forgiven by God if they will repent and turn to follow Jesus Christ in faith. It doesn't "cost" them anything - but it does require a wholehearted commitment. God doesn't want what they have or can do. God wants THEM - heart and soul.

Many of my young friends know the offer, but are holding back from the commitment. Why? I am afraid they are trying to get a better offer. They don't want to give themselves to Jesus until they have enjoyed "the pleasures of sin for a season." They are not convinced that a relationship with Jesus is worth more than the various thrills that this world offers.

They don't understand that putting off the commitment to Christ IS a decision. Life is uncertain. You have the opportunity of the present moment. You might decide to follow Christ now, but you cannot decide to follow Christ "later." That kind of stalling now will result in lifelong procrastination. Then it is too late.

There is no better offer. Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life. A relationship with Jesus is the only thing that has ultimate value - and that value extends beyond this life.

But there is no such thing as a trial offer or a thirty day money back guarantee. You either commit to Christ or you don't.

Friday, January 11, 2013

A Troop

While we were in Florida in December, we were able to surprise my parents with an early 60th anniversary party.
The Descendants of David and Ruth Denny (except for Jeff)
It was a rare opportunity to have the whole family together. Here we had mom & dad and all their descendants and spouses (except Jeff, who had to work.)

David & Ruth (Aardsma) Denny
     David & Lola (Sharp) Denny
          Darren & Roberta (Denny) Wells
               Emma Wells
               Caleb Wells
          David & Jessica (Lee) Denny
     Tim & Cindy (Denny) Parido
          Tim & Anna (?) Parido
               April Parido
               Kennedy Parido
          Paul Parido
          Jeff Parido

(Proverbs 17:6)  Children’s children are the crown of old men, And the glory of children is their father.