Tuesday, December 26, 2006
Will Smith plays Chris Gardner, a real person whose rags-to-riches story inspired the film. He loses everything but his son, and decides that he's going to land a job in a stock brokerage firm even though he's never had a college education or any experience in the field. I won't give away the story, but suffice it to say that the film really catches you up in the angst of what homeless people go through to survive. As I left the theatre, I found myself thanking God for sparing me the experience of poverty and unemployment. Will Smith plays the role with heart and soul. I believed him.
The movie reinforces the value of fatherhood. Also there is a good scene of worship in a church, showing what an important role the faith community has in dispensing mercy and help to the poor.
As a Christian moviegoer, one thing I always look for in a film is whether it succeeds or fails to tease out the search for significance, relationship, and/or transcendence that every human being engages in to some extent. In this particular movie, Will Smith is always running. Also, people are seen darting here and there throughout the movie, as if in a hurry to get somewhere or find something. Hence the title of the movie: The Pursuit of Happyness (purposely misspelled, by the way).
The human predicament is that we, like Chris Gardner, are in hot pursuit of things we believe will validate our existence. Trouble is, as St. Augustine observed in prayer, "Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee."
Ultimately, success and even family will not satisfy. God, and God alone, is the end of the struggle for significance, meaning, and happiness. "Happy is the people whose God is the Lord," it says in Psalm 33:12. Even though we admire Chris Gardner's determination to succeed, the question remains: Is he running in the right direction? At one point in the movie, Gardner says something to the effect that happiness is something always pursued and never achieved. He's right, unless the pursuit is directed toward God.
Monday, December 25, 2006
Another reason it's an unusual Christmas is that it's 77 degrees outside. Not exactly a "Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow" kind of Christmas day.
And yet another reason is that I've kinda downplayed the usual Christmas hoopla this year. I haven't strung up one string of lights on the house. I haven't yet played my two favorite Christmas CD's (Amy Grant's A Christmas Album from 1983 and Michael W. Smith's Christmas, 1989). Even our Christmas tree is fake.
Nevertheless, it is a merry Christmas. I have a wonderful family, a loving church, great friends, health, and way more blessings than I deserve. Best of all, Jesus Christ is my Lion and Lamb. He came 2,000 years ago...and still comes everyday...bringing grace and peace to the world.
Here is my Christmas gift to anyone reading this. These are words from one of my favorite Christmas carols:
Thou who wast rich beyond all splendour,
All for love's sake becamest poor;
Thrones for a manger didst surrender,
Sapphire-paved courts for stable floor.
Thou who wast rich beyond all splendour,
All for love's sake becomes poor.
Thou who art God beyond all praising,
All for love's sake becamest man;
Stooping so low, but sinners raising
Heavenwards by thine eternal plan.
Thou who art God beyond all praising,
All for love's sake becamest man.
Thou who art love beyond all telling,
Saviour and King, we worship thee.
Emmanuel, within us dwelling,
Make us what thou wouldst have us be.
Thou who art love beyond all telling,
Saviour and King, we worship thee.
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
- "In the Bleak Midwinter" - Sarah McLachlan has a nice arrangement of this one on her new Christmas CD
- "Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire" - I know, I know...but when you live in Florida you need songs like this one!
- "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen" - I realize the irony of what I'm about to say, but Barenaked Ladies does a really cool arrangement of this one!
- "Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming" - I wish churches sang this one still, but I'm afraid it's too hard for most folks
- "Thou Who Wast Rich beyond All Splendour" - For the inspiring story behind this hymn, go here.
- "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel"
- "Infant Holy, Infant Lowly"
- "The Holly and the Ivy" - Andrew Peterson and friends do a good job with this song on their Behold the Lamb of God CD
- "What Child Is This?"
- "Merry Christmas, Darling" by the Carpenters - when I was a teenager I had a crush on Karen Carpenter.
- "All My Heart This Night Rejoices"
- "Break Forth, O Beauteous Heav'nly Light" - sung to a Bach tune
Break forth, O beauteous heavenly light,
And usher in the morning:
Ye shepherds, shrink not with affright
But hear the angels warning;
The child now born in infancy,
Our confidence and joy shall be,
The power of Satan breaking,
Our peace eternal making.
All blessing, thanks, and praise to Thee,
Lord Jesus Christ, be given;
Thou hast our Brother deigned to be,
Our foes in sunder riven;
O grant us through our day of grace,
With constant praise to seek Thy face,
Grant us ere long in glory,
With praise to adore Thee.
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
For me, one of several things that I've boasted in for years is my health. My parents had various ailments for much of my life and died in their mid-'70s. I've taken great pride in the fact that I've had low blood pressure, ideal weight, good eyesight, mobility, etc. Well, the day I turned 40 I needed glasses. Now that I'm 52, everything else seems to be deteriorating.
As I write this I am wearing a Holter monitor because my heart seems to have decided to skip a beat every now and then. The cardiologist wants to track it over a 24-hour period. Tomorrow I get a stress test and echocardiogram. A few weeks ago he put me on a cholesterol-lowering medication. My blood pressure seems to be going up too.
"This stinks!! I'm not a person who needs blood pressure medication and all that other stuff. I'm better than those kind of people," I say to myself.
Uh-oh. That kind of thinking shows that I'm trusting in health righteousness, not Christ's righteousness. I'm boasting in something besides Jesus.
Galatians 6:14 says, "May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world."
Boasting in anything other than the cross is...idolatry. It's looking to something besides the gospel for things only the gospel can provide. Things like affirmation, security, congruence, fulfillment, a sense that we're loved, valued, and worthwhile.
It's OK to feel good about our health, our kids, our abilities, our job, our possessions, etc. But when those GOOD things become ULTIMATE things, we are putting them in the place of God. And as I'm finding out, non-God things don't last.
Once again, God is teaching me to boast only in the cross.
Sunday, December 17, 2006
God has blessed Jennifer & Tim...they only had to rent one apartment before they bought this house. In our 30+ years of marriage, Suzy and I have rented two apartments, a duplex apartment,and (unbelievably) 7 different houses. We've lived in 5 different cities and owned 4 houses. We are crazy!! Hopefully our kids will live a more stable life than we have!
Thursday, December 14, 2006
This fall I started a master's program in Counseling Psychology. When it began back in August I thought to myself, "Piece of cake." Well, 5 research papers and hundreds of pages of reading and various other assignments later, I'm realizing it was really stressful! The Christmas break has begun, and it feels good.
I really appreciate my wife and son supporting my being gone each Monday and Wednesday night for class. I've learned a lot, too. Classes start up again in a few weeks. But I'm not going to think about that right now.
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
Here's a lesson learned from this beautiful bruise: Often, things get worse before they get better. That holds true many times when we're struggling to overcome something or when we're working on a problem, say, in marriage. This bruise has gotten uglier and uglier by the hour since last Saturday. The truth is it's actually getting better...but heck, it sure looks disgusting. And it'll probably turn other colors and spread a little more before it starts going away.
So don't give up. It will get better. Galatians 6:9 says, "at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up."
Sunday, December 10, 2006
I'm ultra-sensitive to ultra-violence in movies, and it sounds like this one sets the bar at a new level. Sorry, Mel, it's a no-go for me.
Saturday, December 09, 2006
An added treat was seeing and hearing Sandra McCracken, who sang a couple of her solo numbers during the first half of the concert and then joined Andrew as a backup singer for the main presentation. Sandra and our daughter Rebecca were friends & schoolmates back in the mid-1980s when we lived in St. Louis. I was associate pastor of the church that the McCrackens attended, and Rebecca and Sandra would sing together in front of the church, with me on guitar. Suzy and I got to talk with Sandra after the concert. That girl can sing! Sandra has taken some old hymns and come up with some great new music for them. I especially like her The Builder and the Architect CD.
Thursday, December 07, 2006
Later, I remembered a good song by one of my favorite songwriter-singer-guitarists, David Wilcox. The song is called "Covert War," from his Home Again record. Anyone with toxic parents will appreciate these lyrics. They illustrate the importance, as adults, of setting boundaries with our parents:
Dear Mom and Dad
Here's why I can't come home
I can talk to either one of you just fine
When it's either one, alone
But the Thanksgiving table
Is going to be pulled out bigger
If we talk at all
One of you will pull the trigger
I used to run those battle lines
Trying to smooth over what got said
Trying to get a medal
Trying to get some shrapnel in my head
Thought it was my duty
To plead and to implore
But I caught too much crossfire
In your covert war
The television talks, fills the air
So you don't have to start
You claim your territories in the rooms upstairs
To keep yourselves apart
Holy days, they bring us all together
After so much left unsaid
You taught us well not to kick under the table
You kick under your breath instead
I used to stand between you
Trying to smooth over what got said
Trying to get a medal
Trying to get some shrapnel in my head
Thought it was my duty
To plead and to implore
But I caught too much crossfire
In your covert war
Of course there was the anger where the love is strong
It spilled like gasoline
It's crude but it's a power we can draw upon
If it fuels the right machine
I love you and I'd never want to see you bleed
When comments cut like steel
So to hold your fire I'd block the shot and take the hit for you
As if I could not feel
I thought they'd passed right through me
That I had no scars to hide
But now I open up and try to love
And I find they're still inside
I used to run those battle lines trying to plead and to implore
Please won't you hold the cease-fire out a little longer
Until the next uproar
I took it all in childhood
But I can't take it no more
'Cause I caught too much crossfire
In your covert war
Monday, December 04, 2006
I'm convinced that God reveals Himself in all sorts of ways throughout our days, and we fail to "taste" Him. We fail to see Him in the things that happen to us, or hear Him in the sounds of nature, or smell Him in the air, or feel Him in the people and things that surround us.
So today I tried to think of some of the ways God gives me little "tastes" of Himself:
- Coming home to a house my wife has decorated with creativity.
- Driving past the Merita Bread factory on I-4 at night and smelling their fresh-baked bread.
- Getting a call from one of my kids.
- Looking out my back porch just as three sandhill cranes walk past.
- Hearing Jonathan and Amanda Noel sing together on Sunday morning.
- Enjoying a close game of raquetball with my buddies.
- Listening to my son play his guitar upstairs.
- Watching as a great blue heron takes to flight out of our pond.
- Sharing a meal with friends.
- Getting a backrub from my wife.
- Listening to a Tim Keller sermon on my iPod.
- Getting a cinnamon crunch bagel and a Diet Pepsi at Panera.
What little tastes of God have you had lately?
Sunday, December 03, 2006
- We are sinners who need to be forgiven by God in order to be in His family.
- Jesus took our place on the cross and paid the penalty for our sins.
- Through faith in Him and His shed blood, we are forgiven and washed clean.
- Therefore, we can be in God's family and go to heaven when we die.
Actually, that summary of the gospel leaves out a good chunk of the truth... half of it, I'd say.
Because we don't need to just be forgiven in order to get into heaven. We also need to be righteous. Jesus Himself said, "You must be perfect, even as my Father in heaven is perfect" (Matthew 5:48). He also said that "unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:20).
Jesus' death on the cross wiped out the "debts" in our account, which is wonderful. But in order to get into God's family we also need "assets" in our account. Those assets are a perfect life, a record of scrupulous obedience to the law of God. Where can we get those assets?
We get them through faith in the active obedience of Christ.
The active obedience of Christ is all those things He did as a righteous, committed follower of God while He was here on earth. For 33 years, Jesus lived a perfect life. He was a perfectly compliant baby, an obedient toddler, a cheerful child, an unselfish pre-teen, a humble adolescent, a compassionate young adult, a generous man. He gave to the poor, had mercy on the sick, honored His parents, forgave those who wronged Him, and, in a word, loved His neighbor as Himself. Through every stage of His life, Jesus was fully devoted to God and other people. He crossed every "t" and dotted every "i" of the law of God. He obeyed all ten of the Ten Commandments, every day, both in attitude and in action. From the manger to the cross, Jesus Christ was unflichingly dedicated to the will of His Father. "He faced all of the same temptations we do, yet He did not sin" (Hebrews 4:16). And He did this for us.
In Christian theology, we distinguish the active obedience of Christ from His passive obedience. His passive obedience was His submission to the penalty of the law on our behalf on the cross.
The Westminster Confession of Faith (VIII.5) does a good job of showing that we need BOTH the active obedience and the passive obedience of Christ in order to enter God's family:
The Lord Jesus, by His perfect [i.e., active] obedience, and sacrifice of Himself [i.e., passive obedience], which He through the eternal Spirit, once offered up unto God, has fully satisfied the justice of His Father; and purchased, not only reconciliation, but an everlasting inheritance in the kingdom of heaven, for all those whom the Father has given Him.
More often than not, when we share the gospel we only tell people about Christ's passive obedience. And when we get down and depressed, we typically just remind ourselves that Christ died for us, that we're forgiven. Again, that's His passive obedience.
We need to start preaching, both to ourselves and others, the active obedience of Christ. Christ died for us, it is true. But He also lived for us.
Here's what this means practically: When I fail to love someone as I should, I need not despair, because Christ's perfect love toward others has been credited to my account. When I covet someone else's stuff, I need not get all depressed about it, because Christ's perfect contentment has been credited to my account. When I let out an unkind or judgmental word, I need not fear that I've disqualified myself from God's love, because Christ's perfect kindness has been credited to my account. Through my faith in Christ, His obedience has become my obedience. His holiness has become my holiness. His love and contentment and kindness and all other virtues have become my virtues.
This doesn't mean, of course, that my sins don't matter (they do) or that I don't need to repent (I do). But it does mean that I'm no longer defined by my sins. My identity is that of a righteous person with a spotless record. That's how God sees me, and that's how I should see myself. Always.
Jesus lived for me and He died for me. I am saved by His active obedience and His passive obedience.
J. Gresham Machen, one of our Presbyterian heroes of the last century, said this on his deathbed in 1937:
“I’m so thankful for the active obedience of Christ. No hope without it.”
Saturday, December 02, 2006
Wednesday, November 29, 2006
Yes, that's right. We bought a fake Christmas tree. From Lowe's, the Christmas wonderland of wonderlands.
I feel like an adulterer, a whore, a compromiser, a heretic!
I remember not too many years ago, I swore I'd never do this. And now look at me. What would my Dad say? What would Jimmy Stewart say?
The saddest thing of all is, the box says this is a "Just Cut Ashville Fraiser Fir." (They misspelled Asheville and Fraser.) That's funny, because the other side of the box says it's from China. And we bought it anyway.
I'm sorry, spirit of Christmas past!!
Monday, November 27, 2006
I bought this electric smoker at a yard sale a few years ago. Once you get used to the process, it's a cinch to smoke meats. It took 3 hours to smoke a 14.3 lb. turkey. I had injected a store-bought Cajun marinade into several parts of the turkey to make it moist. I coated the turkey with melted butter and Cajun seasoning. I soaked hickory chunks in water for a couple hours to provide the smoke. In the water pan I poured a mixture of cranberry-apple cider, water, and leftover marinade for flavor. When the turkey reached about 165 degrees, it was done.
Frying a turkey takes less cooking time but more preparation time and expense. I put the turkey in a brine mixture overnight to give it flavor (salt, brown sugar, bay leaves, cloves, & pepper). I heated 4 gallons of peanut oil to 250 degrees, then dropped the turkey in for about 30 minutes until the oil was 350 degrees and the turkey temperature was about 160. Once again, it looked just about perfect! (Thanks for your help, Tim!)
Both turkeys turned out really moist. They both needed a little more cooking time, however. Some of the dark meat was not done and had to be baked some more.
It was a great day to thank God for all His blessings and to enjoy the wonderful family He's given us.
Sunday, November 26, 2006
Farrell surprised me with how well he played a role both tragic and romantic (although his performance is also really funny at times). Emma Thompson as the protagonist was great, as always. Maggie Gyllenhaal is wonderful as the love interest. Dustin Hoffman is perfect for his role as a professor and advisor to Ferrell's character.
Ferrell plays an IRS agent named Harold Crick whose every day is a predictable, planned-out routine. He lives alone. He counts everything, from the number of times he moves his toothbrush up and down to the number of steps that get him across the street. He's always right on time and does his job with precision. But what's missing is passion, love, a sense of purpose, and joy. By the end of the movie, he's discovered all of those things.
Harold finds out there are certain things beyond his control, particularly his own death. His life is being "written" by an unseen, unthwartable force. In a real sense, the movie helps you see how God is the sovereign Writer of the story of our lives, and every single one of us will eventually confront the inescapable reality of death. At one point Harold says, "I think I'm in a tragedy." The truth is, we are all in a tragedy. We're fallen, and life is broken. Because of sin, we die.
That's why we need Jesus. Without Him, we're all trapped in a joyless search for meaning. In a poignant moment, the movie illustrates how Jesus Christ intervened on the cross to save us from death, and calls those He saves to a life spent in service to others.
It's a thought-provoking film with a positive message.
Friday, November 24, 2006
(J. E. Bellous, in "Considering Empathy," McMaster Journal of Theology & Ministry, Vol. 3)
We would be more empathetic with each other if we'd remember how empathetic Jesus is with us.
The incarnation was an act of divine empathy. God came to earth both to share and to understand our experience of sin and misery. In fact the whole of redemptive history is a record of God's repeated attempts to empathize with us.
The climax of God's empathy was the cross, when Christ did not merely understand our sin but became sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21). Now He is the High Priest who is able to "sympathize [i.e., empathize] with our weaknesses" (Hebrews 5:15).
This truth about God ought to stun us. The Greeks of the New Testament era did not think that empathy between humans and the gods was possible. Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses and others who reject the divinity of Christ don't get it either. But Christians understand that God literally became flesh, and now identifies fully with us. As Irenaeus put it, "He became as we are in order that we might become as He is."
Not only is it stunning to think about this, but it's wonderfully comforting. Jesus understands my loneliness, my coldness, my fear, my worry. Because of His bottomless empathy, I never need to feel ashamed to tell Him about my "stuff." He's been there. He was tempted in every single way I am tempted, though He didn't give in. So with God, I've been released from feeling alone and strange. Like Job's three friends did at first (Job 2:11-13), God chooses again and again to sit with us in our pain and not say a word, feeling with us and for us.
So if you know you need to grow more empathetic, think about Jesus.
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
- A wife who has called my heart out of me and loved me through all the ups and downs of our 30 years together, and whom I still enjoy being with more than any other person on the planet
- Children who are secure and happy, love God, are engaged in the church, and are using their gifts to expand the Kingdom of God
- Grandkids...I never thought I'd have 3 of them at age 52!
- Friends that let me be a regular person
- Parents that gave me freedom to explore and structure to keep me safe
- A church that values grace above performance
- A Bible that many people died to give me
- A body that still works pretty well
- A house that is a happy home
- Above all, Jesus the Friend of sinners -- of whom I am chief.
Thank you so much, God!
Tuesday, November 21, 2006
My grandson Tate is now almost 2 months old! I can't wait to see him when he & his family come to see us for Christmas. I saw him the day he was born, but I know he's changed a lot already.
Here's my prayer for you, Tate:
(Psalm 115:15, 128:5-6)
Recently my wife visited our grandkids. Below is a picture of her holding all 3 of them at once!
the Angel who has delivered me from all harm -- may He bless this boy.
Wednesday, November 15, 2006
That is so true of me!
Monday, November 13, 2006
(I'm practicing for Thanksgiving when the kids come to visit!)
Saturday, November 11, 2006
Despite those drawbacks, Babel reinforces the Biblical teaching that one person's mistakes are not merely his own, they ripple out and affect a host of others. All of us are still experiencing the effects of the sin at the plain of Shinar, where some folks got together and decided to build for themselves a city, "with a tower that reaches to the heavens" (Gen. 11:4). Their motive was to "make a name for [themselves] and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth." Instead of trusting in God for significance and security, they relied on a god of their own making, essentially re-enacting Adam and Eve's sin in the Garden. We're still paying for the Tower of Babel, the evidence of which is hatred, war, racism, oppression of minorities, and terrorism...the very things depicted in this movie. The moral is that when I do something wrong, I subject others, even people I love, to the consequences of my sin.
Another way the movie connects with the Biblical story of Babel is in its depiction of man's endless quest for meaning. Everybody in this movie is searching for something of transcendant value, and they mortgage everything they have to get it. The married couple played by Pitt and Blanchett are looking for a fix for their marriage, at ridiculous cost to the wife's heart. Their nanny back in San Diego is looking for love and approval, even if it means putting the lives of two children at terrible risk. The young Moroccan brothers are looking for the love of their father and a sense of manliness, at the cost of their own and others' lives. The Japanese teenager, likewise, is desperate for the love of any man who will play the role of father in her life and let her know she's acceptable.
Those who tried to build a tower that would reach to the sky mortgaged everything they had -- social unity, peace, relationship with God -- in a quest for that elusive "something more." And in the end they lost everything. It's like the rich man of Luke 12 who decided he needed more and bigger barns for his crops. To him God said, "You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you" (Luke 12:20).
I think in this connection of young adults and teenagers who bet their future that a one-night stand is just that, and end up losing their innocence and never being able to enjoy sex in marriage. I think of young married couples who get under a mountain of debt to buy the American dream, and in the process lose their freedom, fun, and relationship with each other. I think of men in midlife who want someone to love them, and instead of asking for it from their wives and friends turn to pornography or lonely women, and end up losing the people who really care.
The search for significance is not bad; it's inevitable, given our lost condition. The question for every person is: Where will your search take you? If you look for it anywhere but God, you'll be frustrated. God meant it when He said, "You shall have no other gods before me" (Exodus 20:3). Fortunately for us, He also meant it when He said, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28).
Wednesday, November 08, 2006
So in my effort to break out of my rut I've been finding out there is some really good music coming from people younger than 50!
One example is The Little Willies. Their self-titled debut record (which you can listen to on their website) came out in March of this year. They remind me of The Band with a bit more of a country sound. Of course the main attraction of TLW is the sultry Norah Jones on piano and vocals. There's a tongue-in-cheek flavor to the whole CD which makes it fun to listen to, sort of like a Barenaked Ladies record.
The album features covers of songs written by country artists like Willie Nelson, Hank Williams, Jr., Kris Kristofferson, and Jimmy Driftwood. Norah Jones' piano playing, Jim Campilongo's guitar solos, and Jon Dryden's contributions on organ sparkle.
Play this CD and imagine you're driving along the Mississippi Gulf Coast on Highway 90 back in the 1950s, listening to a local AM radio station. You'll love the experience.
Monday, November 06, 2006
In counseling parlance (a la Carl Rogers), every human being has an "external self" (that's the person we appear to be on the outside) and an "internal self" (the person we really are). When the two are pretty much in agreement with each other, you have an authentic person. The fancy word for that is homeostatic balance. Homeostatic balance is one of the things that makes a person happy, healthy, and holy. Adam and Eve were in homeostatic balance (with each other and within themselves) before the Fall. Sin ruined that.
A person who lives a double life experiences incongruence or imbalance between his or her two "selves." And that incongruence produces anxiety. It takes an enormous amount of emotional energy to carry that anxiety and still keep up a good front. Apparently a lot of people -- like Ted Haggard, Mark Foley, and countless numbers of lesser-knowns -- are able to do this. How?
The Bible's explanation is the deceitfulness of sin. One of sin's properties is the power to delude the sinner into thinking that his sin is not all that bad. Sin creates self-deception, which energizes us for a while and creates the illusion of safety. You know what I'm talking about, because all of us have rationalized our bad attitudes, excused our mistakes, and justified our immoral choices by blaming others for them. All of us experience incongruence from time to time.
What makes an authentic person different from a hypocrite is that the former can't stand living with incongruence. He or she takes steps to return to homeostatic balance, while the hypocrite finds ways to live with the anxiety of incongruence.
The Bible and our own experience agree that living a double life does not pay. Again and again we've seen the Ted Haggards of the world get found out and suffer the humiliation of public disgrace. But ironically, we don't learn the lesson. You may say that you'll never be "that bad." The truth is, every one of us has the capacity to deceive ourselves into horrible crimes against God, against the people we love, and against ourselves.
So what can we do to keep our two "selves" in balance and thus stay happy, healthy, and holy?
One way is to be in community with a small group of others who will keep us honest. The Bible says in Hebrews 12:12-13,
Of course, I'm sure Ted Haggard was in a small group too. And he was apparently able to hide from them for a long time. So it's not fool-proof. But if we'll work hard to let our friends know what's really going on inside, no matter how dark and ugly it may be, we'll be less likely to succeed at living a double life.
And we'll be happier, healthier, and holier.
Sunday, November 05, 2006
I like that it's in the New Living Translation (NLT). It's easy to follow and faithful to the original.
I'm enjoying listening to it in the car.
Here is the URL.
Saturday, November 04, 2006
Anyhow, it's good! It has a 98% rating so far on RottenTomatoes.com, which is unheard of. It's about Queen Elizabeth II and the Royal Family, and almost all the action centers around the week in 1997 when ex-Princess Di was killed in that car accident in Paris. Performances by Helen Mirren as Elizabeth and Michael Sheen as Tony Blair are incredible. An action film it's not. But it's a compelling story about a powerful woman learning humility, and in the process finding out the power of love.
Redemption shows up in a big way. The pain Elizabeth has carried all her life reaches a climax when she is all alone on her Balmoral estate, and with tears flowing she seems to realize the life she has yearned for has all but escaped her grasp. A beautiful buck suddenly appears by the river, symbolizing the freedom and beauty her heart longs for. Later, Elizabeth learns that the buck was killed by a hunter, and she sees the animal hanging from an iron chain, decapitated and bleeding. It's a stretch I know, but it made me think that the life we've dreamed of and missed has been purchased for us through the death of Christ.
There's also redemption in the attitude of Tony Blair toward Elizabeth. When others rant and rave against her for her stuffiness, Blair sees her pain and the dignity of her office, and believes she has a good heart.
The film reminded me that we're all like Elizabeth II, in a way. While we'll never know the life of royalty, we've all been hurt by life circumstances we did not choose; we've all made terrible mistakes; and we've all suffered rejection and humiliation. What can save us from despair is knowing that Someone very strong loves us a lot, defends us, and will not let us go.
"The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing" (Zephaniah 3:17).
Saturday, October 28, 2006
College football games (especially Clemson - go Tigers!)
No mowing the lawn for a few months
Fried turkey for Thanksgiving
Opening the windows at night
Halloween - despite its pagan roots, we like it!
Running, and not dying in the heat
Lower electricity bills
Getting an hour more sleep tonight
Two of my grandkids' birthdays - Tyler & Tate!
Saturday, October 21, 2006
I was happy that he ended the concert with "Crossroads" from his Cream years (1966-68). He also did a great acoustic set featuring a blues number and a couple of other standards.
As good as Clapton was - and he was magnificent - the real highlight for me tonight was Derek Trucks, who was one of two lead guitarists backing up Clapton. You've probably never heard of Derek Trucks, but he's a phenomenal guitar player. His signature is his slide guitar playing. Clapton let Derek shine a lot tonight, which speaks well of Clapton's concert philosophy. He isn't a showboat.
Another highlight was the Robert Cray Band, the night's opening act. I'd never heard of them but they're awesome. Cray sings and plays a great guitar himself. In fact, he came out with Clapton on a few numbers and stole the spotlight with his blues solos.
As I watched Clapton performing, this thought struck me: Here's a guy who is 61 years old, doing what he enjoys, doing it day after day, and doing it with all his might. He's a good example of "doing one thing well."
He's been playing rock 'n' roll since he was 17. Most of those years have been filled with pain. For example, he was raised by his grandmother and her second husband. He thought they were his parents and that his mother was his older sister. He grew up not knowing who his father was. He was kicked out of art school. Later he developed addictions to heroin and alcohol. Several of his closest friends died tragically. Worst of all, in 1991 Clapton's 4-year old son Conor died when he fell out the window of his mother's 53rd-story Manhattan apartment building.
I learn a lot from Clapton's story. Especially about persevering through trial, and doing what I enjoy as long as I possibly can, for the glory of God. I recall one of Jonathan Edwards' resolutions:
In 1998 Clapton wrote a song about his father, who died in 1985 never having met his famous son. The song is called "My Father's Eyes." In the song Clapton says, "How did I get here? When will all my hopes arrive? When I look in my father's eyes." I hope that one day soon Eric Clapton will meet THE Father, and find all his hopes fulfilled in Christ.
Thursday, October 19, 2006
Wednesday, October 18, 2006
Anyway, the most recent series is called "Which English Translation of the Bible Is Best for Christians To Use Today?" Ankerberg moderates a debate between the general editors of several modern translations of the Bible (NIV, NASB, and NKJV) and a couple of "King James Only" advocates. The "KJV-Only" guys make the most outrageous statements! I can't believe anyone really thinks that the 1611 Kings James Bible is the one and ONLY translation that God has preserved for the church today...but that's what these fellows claim. They even say that no Bible in ANY language is reliable except this one, and that no new developments in linguistics or archeology should EVER be used to change a word in the old KJV. I haven't heard such dogmatism in a long time. You should listen to this!
Now I love the King James Version in many ways. But thanks to discoveries of older manuscripts than were available in the 17th century, and also thanks to the science of textual criticism, we have much more reliable Bible translations available to us today. If you want to learn more about different translations, read this post by Mark Bates.
Monday, October 16, 2006
So I stopped at McDonalds for lunch today on my way to a meeting at church. I was in a hurry. I knew I could grab something quick from the Golden Arches people. So I pulled into the parking lot, parked my car, walked in and got a Classic Grilled Chicken sandwich combo. I sat down and started to eat it, and that's when this thought hit me between the eyes, just like it does every time I eat at McDonalds: "This is DISGUSTING! No, more than that...this is WRONG!"
BTW, this is not just about McDonalds. It's about every restaurant that serves food in cardboard boxes and paper sacks. I'm not even talking about the nutritional value (or lack thereof) of the food. I'm talking about the whole fast-food experience. It's just wrong I tell you!
Here's what I mean:
Invariably, whether it's Taco Bell or Burger King or Arby's or McDonalds or Wendy's, you walk up to this stainless steel counter, stand in line, and place your order with a bored high school student who has worn his or her tacky uniform too many days. S/he doesn't smile at you. What s/he says is, "Next in line." And instead of ordering food you order a number (example: "I'll have a number 3 with no cheese; light on the mayo.").
S/he hands you a receipt and then you get to stand there and watch some very stressed-out people throw your and 7 other people's meals together. There's a lot of yelling going on back there. Bells are ringing and beeps are beeping. Your order shows up on a computer screen. A person whose name tag says "Manager" is walking around eyeing the workers, keeping them on task. You see apple pies stacked in little boxes. A milk shake machine is dripping goo into a bucket. You see unknown bits and puddles of stuff all over the floor. It's on everyone's uniforms too.
If you're at Taco Bell you get the happy experience of seeing somebody squeeze guacamole or sour cream onto your taco through something that resembles a caulk gun. If you're at a burger joint you get to watch someone pour a huge bag of frozen somethings into a cauldron of hot oil. Some guy in a pickup truck at the drive-through window is spitting mad because the girl gave him a Coke instead of a Mountain Dew. Nobody's smiling; it's a job. They're ready to go home.
Your order comes out onto the stainless steel counter. "Number 122," the lady behind the counter says. That's you. So you take your boxed-up sandwich and your French fried "potatoes" (also in a cardboard container), fill up your cup with soda, and sit down....but not before you wipe off the ketchup and salt from the table left behind by the previous customer.
See, that's the problem right there. You're a customer, and this is a business. They're selling speed, not food. Or, if you have kids, they're selling a couple of cheap toys that will be played with for a few minutes and then thrown into the toy box at home, to be forgotten until your next yard sale.
OK, maybe I exaggerated...but not much.
The reason I said this fast-food experience is wrong is that it's not the way God intended us to eat! Food, like God Himself, is supposed to be savored. The Psalmist says, "Taste and see that the Lord is good" (Psalm 34:8). God gave to human beings an enormous variety of foods with all kinds of tastes, smells, and textures, as a reflection of His beauty and goodness. Food is one of the things God richly gave us for our enjoyment (1 Timothy 6:17). It was "created to be received with thanksgiving" (1 Timothy 4:3). So it should be prepared slowly and carefully, to preserve all the flavor it was intended to have. It should also be prepared with creativity and elegance, to glorify the creativity and elegance of the God who provided it. (I know how ridiculous that sounds to parents with little kids, but now that I'm 52 I can say it, and it's true!)
Not only that, but food is supposed to be a thing we enjoy with our friends and family, seasoned with plenty of laughter and conversation, not gobbled down in the car or squeezed into a 15-minute time slot at home. I believe that "fast food" is a contradiction in terms.
In the Bible, meals were special times of fellowship shared among believers, and between believers and God. Jesus ate with His disciples and attended countless parties at which delicious food and wine were served. Two of His most famous miracles involved an abundance of food (Mark 6 & 8). For His very first miracle, He turned water into wine (John 2:1-11). He compared Himself to bread that satisfies (John 6:35).
At least 21 times in the Old Testament, the Promised Land is referred to as a place flowing with milk and honey. God wanted to give good food to His people.
Through Isaiah the prophet God said, "Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare" (Isaiah 55:2). Now obviously, God was talking figuratively about Himself. He is the food that delights the soul. But He used food as a metaphor for a reason. Food is a symbol for God. So let's eat it slowly, and make it as good and as savory as possible.
Will I eat at McDonalds again? Yeah, probably. But I won't enjoy it. And that's wrong!
Christians, let's rebel. When we eat out, let's go to delis and other places where folks smile and food tastes like it's supposed to. When we eat at home (which we need to do more often) let's go more slowly. Let's invite each other over and make meal time a time to talk and laugh and worship and taste and see that the Lord is good.
Saturday, October 14, 2006
When a guy is struggling to stay away from internet porn, or a girl is trying to stop gossiping about a former friend, what does each one need to do?
Well, of course the answer is "try harder," right? Wrong.
The first thing they need to do is realize the problem is in their heart, not just in their behavior. It's fairly easy to change one's behavior for a little while. The husband can stop by a florist on the way home from work and pick up some flowers. The wife can cook her husband a nice meal. The young man can put an internet filter on his computer. The girl can find a new circle of friends to hang out with. These measures may be good things to do, but they won't solve the problem because they don't address it at the source.
Jesus made it clear that for behavior to improve, the heart must change. It is “out of the overflow of the heart [that] the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34b). According to the Bible, the heart is “the wellspring of life” (Proverbs 4:23). It's the origin of the emotions, the will, and the motives and priorities by which one lives. So work on the heart, and you'll eventually get behavior change.
Jesus also used the analogy of fruit trees. He said, "Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit" (Matthew 12:33). In other words, how one habitually behaves indicates whether the heart is healthy. Fix the tree (i.e., the heart) and the fruit (or behavior) will look, taste, and smell better.
The implications of this principle are huge. People come to me all the time looking for the key to a better marriage, or the secret to raising good kids, or victory over temptation, or a way to develop a better attitude about life, or some such thing. These aren't bad things to desire. There are probably some things those people could do to improve their lot in life.
But most of the time, I imagine Jesus would say something like this to us:
"Look deeply into your heart. What's going on down there? Is it fear, or pride, or self-righteousness, or a desire for people's admiration that's at the root of your problem? Is there in your heart a deep-down craving for people to worship you...a lust for control...a secret wish that others suffer instead of you? If so, those are the really ugly things. Repent of those things. Fight against those things. 'Tear your heart, not your clothing' (Joel 2:13). Don't just patch on a few 'action steps' and call it a victory. Dig down deep until you've found the motivating needs underneath your neglect of your spouse, your lust, your gossip, your anger, your forgetfulness. Because if you don't know your heart, and experience heart change, you'll just go right back to that old behavior. Except that you'll be worse off. You'll either fall into despair because you're back in the pits again, or you'll get proud of yourself for learning a new way to act like a Christian."
Heart change is more painful than behavior modification. It takes longer too. But it's the only thing that really transforms lives and marriages and churches and cultures.
It's also something we can't do on our own. God has to help us. He has to lead us on the journey through our heart, show us each pothole and each ugly place, and give us His Spirit of repentance. That's why the psalmist prays, "Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me" (Psalm 51:10).
We do have a couple of players who are fun to watch. Backup QB Kyle Israel completed 13 of 19 passes for 158 yards and zero interceptions. And Kevin Smith is a great running back.
Let's hope we beat Rice next week and get some redemption on the season.
Friday, October 13, 2006
I hate all those little nerdy plastic bags that don't hold enough stuff. With paper bags, the bag person can stuff them really full, and they sit up straight instead of falling all over the place in the back seat.
Real men go with paper.
So I always say, "Paper." Much to their dismay.
Wednesday, October 11, 2006
I've already told you what I like about having grandkids. Now I want to tell you what I don't like:
- I live too far away from them! Last week I was at a get-together where we shared some things we hope to do before we die. I said that one of my hopes is to live in the same city as at least one of my kids. That way we get to "help" them with their children as often as we want...and be near them too, of course.
- I have a hard time understanding my 2-yr. old grandson Eben. (Read his amazing story here.) He speaks a language all his own. He'll say, for example: "I bont a dip a dat." (That means he wants a sip of whatever drink I have in my hand.) But that's an easy one. Most of the time I can't tell what in the world he's trying to say. So I rely on Tyler, my 5-yr. old granddaughter, to interpret for me.
- I want to buy them everything in the world and I know I can't, and shouldn't.
- This one's also about Eben. He is VERY particular about certain things, but like I said above I can't understand what he's saying so he gets upset with me. Last time I was alone with him, I took him to Barnes & Noble for a little "Dad-Dad and Eben" outing. (I'm Dad-Dad.) Eben wanted me to read a book to him. Great idea, I said. So he led me over to these two green chairs where kids sit to listen to books. I sat down in one of the chairs, and he sat in the other one. I was about to start reading the book when he said, "NO, not wike dat." So I got up and moved the chair over a little bit, because that's what I thought he wanted me to do. I sat down and started to read and once again Eben said, "NO, not dat." So I stood up again, put my chair at a different angle from his, and he said, "NO, NO!" Then Eben got up and started turning my chair around backwards and pushed it over in the corner of the little children's area. Now my chair was facing away from Eben's chair. But I thought, OK, whatever you want... Well, when I sat down this time, that's when he REALLY got frustrated and started crying. I gave up. We went over and played with Thomas the Train.
- I could also tell you about the time I took Eben to McDonalds and tried to help him eat a Breakfast Burrito. (A disgusting piece of technology-slash-food, that's for sure.) Well, it was just like the chair episode. There's a certain way Eben likes to eat Breakfast Burritos. No other way will work. All I know is, it has something to do with the way the paper is wrapped around the Burrito. I couldn't figure it out. So once again I made him upset.
- The last thing I don't like about having grandkids is that I have to say good-bye to them. Which leads me back to my first item in the list!
Sunday, October 08, 2006
"We must delight in each other, make others' conditions our own, rejoice together, mourn together, labor and suffer together, always having before our eyes our community as members of the same body."
Those words were spoken by John Winthrop, leader of the Puritan immigrants to America, in a speech to his fellow travellers aboard the Arbella in 1630. The speech was entitled "A Model of Christian Charity." He reminded his fellow colonists that they were called by God to be "a city on a hill," a beacon for the world to see and think of God.
What a great way to view the church!
Friday, October 06, 2006
Trouble is, I only had one course in counseling when I was in seminary, and it was terrible. Most of us thought it was the worst class we ever had. Go figure. Now you see why I'm taking classes at PBA.
There's a stigma against counseling in some churches (not ours, praise God). Many Christians look down on it as a profession, because - well, there are a lot of kooky psychologists and therapists and psychiatrists out there who don't have a clue about anything and give counseling a bad name.
Many Christians look down on GETTING counseling, too, because - well, who wants to be known as someone who needs counseling, of all things? Counseling is for messed-up people, and we're not messed up. We have everything under complete control.
Yeah, right. Honest people know better. We're all messed up to some degree. Frankly, I don't know anyone who wouldn't benefit from counseling now and then. If you're in counseling, I say "way to go." If you stick with it, and you have a good counselor, you're going to grow. And that's what disciples are supposed to do. Grow.
Counseling, if it's any good, is hard work. You have to look at ugly things about yourself. You have to admit mistakes to people you love. You have to repent. You have to change patterns of relating to others. But the benefit is you get to unlock some things that have had a strangle-hold on you, and you break free.
One of Jesus' names is Wonderful Counselor. He is especially good at unlocking strangle-holds. But He frequently uses human agents to do His work. Counselors, like pastors and teachers and elders and mothers and fathers and good friends, are Christ's agents for helping people get free.
And free is good.
Thursday, October 05, 2006
Tuesday, October 03, 2006
Monday, October 02, 2006
Giving me guilt feelings seems to be Satan's chief strategy with me. He's good at reminding me of past failures and present coldness toward God. He plants in my mind doubts about God's promises of love and grace. He gets me to compare myself with others until all my inadequacies are staring me in the face. And I give in. I don't go to God because I'm embarrassed and ashamed. I don't pray because I figure, why would God care to talk with me? I don't believe the gospel because, I say to myself, I've forfeited my right to it.
This vulnerability to guilt feelings is why I love (and need) to read the old traditional hymns as devotional material. The writers of these hymns must have been a lot like me because many of them wrote about their struggle to believe the gospel in the face of guilt and shame. I often turn these hymns into prayer, and Satan flees.
This morning, this hymn by John Newton (1725-1807) lifted my spirits and helped me to pray. Maybe it will help you, too:
Approach, my soul, the mercy seat,
Where Jesus answers prayer;
There humbly fall before His feet,
For none can perish there.
Thy promise is my only plea,
With this I venture nigh:
Thou callest burdened souls to Thee
And such, O Lord, am I.
Bowed down beneath a load of sin,
By Satan sorely pressed,
By wars without and fears within,
I come to Thee for rest.
Be Thou my shield and hiding place,
That, sheltered near Thy side,
I may my fierce accuser face,
And tell him Thou hast died!
O wondrous love! To bleed and die,
To bear the cross and shame,
That guilty sinners, such as I,
Might plead Thy gracious name!