Tuesday, May 30, 2006
Perhaps the most important concept I took away today was this: Many of the marriages represented in the church today are what the professor termed "intact but drifting marriages." These are the couples who, though married, live on parallel tracks. (I have often called these people "married singles.") They live under the same roof but live as singles, with separate hobbies, separate passions, separate communities, separate jobs, separate ministries, and separate visions for their future.
What makes helping these couples difficult is that they will say their marriage is good. They have adjusted to the low level of intimacy they experience and get along with each other. They take care of business and keep things running. They are often quite involved as volunteers in the church. Divorce would not even be in the vocabulary of these couples. Yet as Wallace Stegner writes in Angle of Repose, "It is a bruised and careful truce; we walk in bandages and try not to bump our wounds.”
When couples like these come for counseling it is often because the husband says his wife is depressed; or the wife says her husband is having a mid-life crisis; or both of them say they are having problems with their kids. The real problem is their own loss of intimacy with each other and with God. But they don't recognize it.
One thing I thought was especially interesting is the idea that these couples have chosen married singleness instead of facing the chaos of relationship and the mystery of their partner. It's a lot easier to establish parallel tracks instead of facing our resentment toward our spouse, or our broken dreams about what we expected marriage to be, or our anger at our spouse's sin. It's messy and threatening to express negative emotions to our spouse. So what many people do is bury those emotions, silently come up with a contract to co-exist peacefully, and seek deeper intimacy in other pursuits or people.
It made me wonder, how many of the married couples in the typical evangelical church -- in MY church -- are "intact but drifting"? How can we help them if they don't see the truth, wave the white flag, and seek help? In our small groups and elsewhere are we picking up the warning signs and, like a surgeon, probing down to the heart of the matter to help bring healing and wholeness to these marriages? I'm wondering if we even perpetuate the problem by being content to "do church" without taking the time to expose the disease at the heart of so many marriages. What do you think?
Monday, May 29, 2006
Our daughter Jennifer and her husband Tim drove down from Jacksonville for the weekend, and we all went over on Saturday to see it.
Bodies is a collection of real human bodies that have been dissected and preserved to show all the different systems that make up the human body: bones, muscles, nerves, blood vessels, organs, everything - and I do mean everything. Sounds sickening, and I guess for some (especially kids) it could be. But for me it was worship. It's hard to understand how anyone could walk out of there not believing in God, or at least intelligent design.
Ironically, some of the displays had signs trumpeting the powers of evolution.
Makes me think of Romans 1:21... "[A]lthough they knew God, they neither glorified Him as God nor gave thanks to Him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened."
Sunday, May 28, 2006
I agree with Eldredge when he says that the three desires of battle to fight, adventure to live, and beauty to rescue are "written so deeply into my heart I . . . can no longer disregard them without losing my soul" (pg. 9). Movies like M:i:III resonate with men because we want to accomplish the impossible mission, do something of value to others, and get the girl. We're pretty simple really. It's the way God wired Adam and his descendants.
You may not be able to go this far with me, but I can't see a movie like M:i:III without making the jump to the person and work of Christ. He took Satan on in battle at the cross and crushed his head (Genesis 3:15). Jesus is engaged in the greatest adventure of all time: building the kingdom of God (Matthew 16:18). And He is daily pursuing His beautiful Bride, the Church (Ephesians 5:25-27). Mission Accomplished.
Thursday, May 25, 2006
* First on my list is Diet Pepsi (although Diet Coke is OK in a pinch). I'm not a coffee or tea drinker, so this is my preferred source of caffeine.
* Music. I am constantly humming some song in my head, or listening to music on my iPod or CD player or radio, or playing my guitar, or drumming my fingers in time to some song in my head.
* 24. It's my favorite TV show. It's going to be tough waiting until January '07 to find out how Jack is going to escape the clutches of the Chinese.
* Movies. I love them. But it's NOT true that I've never seen a movie I didn't like (as many at UPC keep saying about me!).
* Dental floss. I think one of the marks of aging is that I'm constantly getting food stuck between my teeth. If it stays there long enough I get a toothache, and then a headache. Floss is the most wonderful invention at times like that. I have 3 dental floss dispensers: one at work, one in my car, and one at home. So I'm never very far away from my floss. Even if I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, it is there.
* Panera Bread. I spend most of my weekdays in several places. Two of those places are Panera Bread restaurants in Orlando.
* Fox News. Although I must say, I'm getting to the point that I can't watch or listen to the news for very long. Still, Fox News is the cable news network that I can stomach the longest, and I think they are pretty fair and balanced . . . for conservatives like me.
* My foam pillow. I don't like most pillows because they are too soft. But this one is "just right."
* Thorlo socks. They are the best thing for running and working out in. When I don't wear them I get blisters.
* My family. My wife Suzy is still my best friend and the person I want to spend the rest of my life with. She knows my love languages and speaks them. And my kids are just the greatest kids in the world. It has been so wonderful now relating to them more as peers than as kids. I know what the apostle John meant when he said, "I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth" (3 John 1:4).
What about you - what are some of your essentials? (And don't feel like you have to say the spiritual thing. I'm assuming you know we can't live without the Father, Son, Holy Spirit, prayer, Bible, church, etc. I know I can't.)
Monday, May 22, 2006
Though we don't know exactly what happened on board Flight 93, the film showed what likely took place, based on research, interviews, etc. I admired the courage of the passengers who decided something had to be done. What kept going through my mind as I watched was, "How would I have reacted if I'd been one of those passengers? What would I have done? Would I have joined the guys that rushed the cockpit, or hidden out in the back of the plane in fear?" I don't know the answer to those questions. But these were ordinary people, with ordinary families, who had things to do and places to go. Yet in a moment of crisis they decided to sacrifice themselves that others might live. I hope I would do the same.
I see several spiritual connections with this movie. First is the way the passengers on United Flight 93 collectively serve as a Christ figure. "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). The passengers figured that the hijackers were going to crash the plane into some public building and kill hundreds or thousands of people. So they did what had to be done, knowing it would cost them their lives. On the cross, Jesus sacrificed Himself to save us from our sin and misery. In a sense, we are like both the hijackers and the people on the ground in Washington, D.C. We both killed Christ and were spared (forgiven) by Christ.
A second connection is the importance of community. When faced with the threat of certain death the passengers knew they had to act as one. Though total strangers, they quickly became a team. Similarly, we who know Christ face a common enemy. Like it or not, we need each other. We've got to work together to overcome Satan and establish the kingdom of God. There's no time for petty differences and squabbles. Let us be "one in spirit and purpose" (Philippians 2:2).
A third spiritual connection is the importance of friends and family. In their final moments, the people on Flight 93 weren't thinking of their bank accounts, or their jobs, or their to-do list. They were calling their loved ones to say "I love you." It made me think, the next time I say goodbye to my wife or children may be my last. How easily we get so caught up in the stuff of life that we waste time that could be spent investing in people, especially friends and family members. I was reminded of one of Jonathan Edwards' resolutions: "Resolved, that I will live so, as I shall wish I had done when I come to die."
Christians can use United 93 as a tool to converse with non-Christians about spirituality. In a poignant scene in the film, several passengers are praying the Lord's Prayer while the terrorists are praying to Allah. It might be asked, "How are the two religions different? Why did the hijackers think they were doing the will of God? What are the logical outcomes of the teachings of Islam and Christianity?" Be prepared to explore how things are often done in the name of religion (even in the name of Christ) that are deplorable.
United 93 is a good bridge to evangelism. Questions like these would be natural to ask after seeing the movie: "Would you be prepared to die if something similar happened to you? What would you have relied on if you'd been one of those passengers?" Also, the movie exposes the truth that most of us live with a certain degree of fear. Though we may try to deny it, most people fear things like failure, the future, rejection, decline of health, loss of money, terrorism, death, and Judgment Day. In United 93, the hijackers symbolize those fears. It may be asked, "Do you know that you don't have to live in fear? Through a relationship with Christ, you can live at peace even in a very chaotic and uncertain world."
Saturday, May 20, 2006
Here is a picture of Tyler and Eben, my out-of-the-womb grandchildren. They are the greatest grandkids in the world. No kidding.
"Lord, begin to work in this little unborn child an awareness of You in his life, so that from his earliest days on earth he will know, follow, and serve You as his Lord and Master."
Friday, May 19, 2006
Searching for God Knows What, by Donald Miller, has a whole chapter called "The Gospel of Jesus," and it's even more challenging about the way most of us do evangelism. He says that we typically present unbelievers with a list of propositions, ask them to agree with those propositions, and give them the impression that if they will agree with our "points," they will become Christians. He says that evangelism ought to be an invitation to a relationship, rather than just the presentation of ideas. Or, to use Miller's words, "Becoming a Christian might look more like falling in love than baking cookies" (pg. 155).
In a direct slam at E.E. (although without naming it) Miller scolds us for even thinking that trusting Christ can be compared to deciding to sit in a chair (pg. 157). The Bible does not picture Jesus as a chair. He's our good Shepherd, our Bridegroom, our Suffering Servant . . . but not a chair. So trusting Christ ought to be described in relational terms, as if we were telling someone about a friend, a lover, a father, or a spouse.
Here's how one might share the gospel, according to Miller:
"You are the bride to the Bridegroom, and the Bridegroom is Jesus Christ. You must eat of His flesh and drink of His blood to know Him, and your union with Him will make you one, and your oneness with Him will allow you to be identified with Him, His purity allowing God to interact with you, and because of this you will be with Him in eternity, sitting at His side and enjoying His companionship, which will be more fulfilling than an earthly husband or an earthly bride. All you must do to engage God is be willing to leave everything behind, be willing to walk away from your identity, and embrace joyfully the trials and tribulations, the torture and perhaps martyrdom that will come upon you for being a child of God in a broken world working out its own redemption in empty pursuits." (pg. 162)
Well, I don't know how well that would go over with the average non-Christian. But Miller has a point. In making conversion out to be the result of a decision one makes after one hears a series of propositions, we do leave out some of the key elements of the gospel, and we ignore some of the things Jesus said when He preached the gospel. Evangelism is an invitation to "leave our nets" and follow Jesus. It's a call to get to know a Person who gave everything He had to know us and be known by us. It's an invitation to sacrifice and die to oneself and face an uncertain but safe future.
What do you think? Have we missed the boat by summing up the gospel as a series of steps and ideas instead of an invitation to a relationship?
Thursday, May 18, 2006
A good friend of mine has a blog that contains a lot of helpful information about The Da Vinci Code. If you want to know where Dan Brown is right and wrong, check this out: http://www.orangejack.com/davincicode/.
Wednesday, May 17, 2006
I've been posting some of my reactions to Donald Miller's book, Searching for God Knows What. I love this sentence on page 176: "Imagine how much a man's life would be changed if he trusted that he was loved by God."
Well, the book of Revelation can help us catch a fresh glimpse of God's love for us. One of the most powerful glimpses is in Revelation 19. Say these words out loud and listen:
"Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give Him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and His bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear . . . Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!" (vv. 6-9).
I remember my wedding day well. It was almost 30 years ago. I was nervous as all get-out until the doors to the sanctuary opened and I saw Suzy standing there in her wedding gown, about to walk down the aisle toward me. Suddenly a feeling came over me like in a movie. I felt that she and I were the only ones in the church. She was the most beautiful person I'd ever seen. (Still is.) She was beaming with joy and excitement. My nervousness left me as we stood there arm in arm and said our marriage vows before the minister. It was the start of the greatest adventure of my life outside my relationship with Christ.
I wonder if Jesus now feels the emotions I felt that day waiting for the arrival of my beloved. I'm sure He does. Before His death He told His disciples that He would soon leave them and start preparing a place for us in heaven (John 14:2). He also prayed, "Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am" (John 17:24). Hebrews 12:2 says that Jesus endured the cross "for the joy set before Him." What joy? At least partially it was the joy of knowing that soon, very soon, He would see His glorified people, "coming down out of heaven from God prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband" (Revelation 21:2).
The height of our joy as God's people will be reached on this glorious day of the wedding feast of the Lamb! Jesus can hardly wait for it to happen. The bride He has pursued throughout the ages will finally be resurrected and glorified and ushered into His presence, "a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless" (Ephesians 5:27). And the best thing about this feast, unlike earthly wedding feasts, is that it will never end. The adventure will have just begun, and will never get old. In some form or fashion we will party forever in the love relationship Jesus died to establish with us!
"Imagine how much a man's life would be changed if he trusted that he was loved by God."
Does thinking about heaven help you remember how much you have been and will forever be loved by God?
Later in the day I got a splitting headache. Then Suzy reminded me that I have to call a grout guy back because the regrouting job he had done on our shower was unacceptable...and I hate calling people back like that.
So this was the general tenor of my day...until I visited a member of our church who is in the hospital. She's 90 years old, and she'd been taken to the emergency room last weekend for a couple of different reasons. She had developed an infection, and there was a problem with a feeding tube. She had asked to be served the Lord's Supper. So I got an elder from our church to accompany me, and we took a little wine and a few pieces of unleavened bread to serve this woman communion.
We found her very frail and weak. Nevertheless, when she saw us she smiled and thanked us for coming to see her. In her very small but sweet voice she said, "Yes, I would love to take communion." She was obviously uncomfortable in her hospital bed. She had bruises several places on her body. I read Psalm 23, and words from the gospel of Matthew about Jesus' last supper with His disciples. My elder friend prayed, then handed her a small bit of bread, which she took and ate very slowly and gingerly. Then he placed the cup, which held a tiny amount of wine, to the lady's lips, and she drank. Then I closed in prayer. She looked at my elder friend and me and said, "Amen."
Suddenly my frustrations seemed very small and unimportant. I'd met with Jesus in this woman's hospital room, and saw Jesus in her face.
So it's turned out to be a very good day after all.
Monday, May 15, 2006
Eben's baptism once again reminded me of God's faithfulness to the covenant He has made with believers in Jesus to be their God and the God of their children (Genesis 17:7). God has demonstrated his covenant love to me over and over through the lives of my kids. Despite my failures as a parent - and they have been many - God has held on to each of us. It is my greatest joy in life to see my children walking with God. Praise be to Him!
"He remembers His covenant forever. He provided redemption for His people; He ordained His covenant forever - holy and awesome is His name!" (Psalm 111:5, 9)
Thursday, May 11, 2006
This is a picture of one of the buildings at Princeton. It's a beautiful place.
Wednesday, May 10, 2006
- "What am I not getting? What am I not doing right?"
- "Seems like that person over there has power over sin that I don't have . . . . she doesn't worry (or gripe or covet or spend money, etc.) as much as I do."
- "That person over there has a lot more impact on others than I do . . . why, just look at how everybody wants to be around him."
- "That couple over there are much better parents than we are . . . why, just look at their kids. How come our kids aren't as good as theirs?"
We collapse upon ourselves, we compare ourselves to others, and we condemn ourselves for not finding the right formula or mashing the right spiritual buttons.
Maybe like me, you can relate to the story in 1 Samuel 4. The Israelites had just suffered a crushing defeat by the Philistines. Four thousand of their best soldiers had died in the battle. So Israel's troops did what most of us would do after finding ourselves in a mess: they tried to find the formula for success.
"After the battle was over, the troops retreated to their camp, and the elders of Israel asked, 'Why did the Lord allow us to be defeated by the Philistines?' Then they said, 'Let's bring the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord from Shiloh. If we carry it into battle with us, it will save us from our enemies.'" (1 Sam. 4:1-3, NLT)
The Israelites figured out that what they were missing was the Ark of the Covenant. "That's the key!" they said to each other. "If we just take the Ark with us into battle next time, God will bless us and we'll beat those pagan Philistines!"
So they get the Ark of the Covenant, they recruit a couple of priests named Hophni and Phinehas to accompany the Ark into battle, and off they march into a second confrontation with the enemy. The Israelites are pumped! They are confident that this time, God is on their side because they are doing things right. How stupid of them to have forgotten to take the Ark with them in the first battle!
Yes, things did go differently for the Israelites now that they had the Ark with them. In battle #2, they got beat worse than in battle #1.
"Israel was defeated again. The slaughter was great; 30,000 Israelite soldiers died that day. The survivors turned and fled to their tents. The Ark of God was captured, and Hophni and Phinehas, the two sons of Eli, were killed." (1 Sam. 4:10-11, NLT)
The formula didn't work. The "key" they thought they had found led only to failure.
Why? Because what was missing for the Israelite army was not the symbol of the presence of God (i.e., the Ark of Covenant), but the actual presence of God. It wasn't a thing they needed, like a formula, or a new approach, or a strategy, or a better plan. Not even the throne of God would do. It was God Himself they needed. And God will not accept any substitutes for authentic relationship with His people, not even those that wear the garb of spirituality.
I find it really easy to substitute religion for relationship, don't you? I often find myself thinking that the mere act of praying, or going to church, or reading the Bible, or being nice to somebody will guarantee the presence of God in my life. I'm not denying that those things might be means of grace. But merely jumping through those hoops is not the same thing as relationship with God, and that's what Christianity is all about. It's above all about a relationship of the heart.
Donald Miller, in Searching for God Knows What, says this:
"[The Bible] is attempting to describe a relational break man tragically experienced with God and a disturbed relational history man has had since then and, furthermore, a relational dynamic man must embrace in order to have relational intimacy with God once again, thus healing himself of all the crap he gets into while looking for a relationship that makes him feel whole. Maybe the gospel of Jesus, in other words, is all about our relationship with Jesus rather than about ideas. And perhaps our lists and formulas and bullet points are nice in the sense that they help us memorize different truths, but harmful in the sense that they blind us to the necessary relationship that must begin between ourselves and God for us to become His followers." (pp. 154-155, emphasis his)
Coca-Cola used to have an advertising slogan that went like this: "Things go better with Coke." The Israelites in 1 Samuel 4 were thinking, "Things go better with the Ark of the Covenant." Christians today get duped into believing, "Things go better with prayer" or "Things go better with a daily quiet time" or even "Things go better with Jesus" (as if He's a key or a strategy or a rabbit's foot or something like that).
God didn't die on the cross to help us win battles or get a better job or get healed or find a mate or raise good kids. He died on the cross to win our hearts out of their enslavement to sin and misery, and get a Wife . . . that is, to woo us into a relationship of passion and trust and intimacy. Which just astounds me that the God who needed no one and no thing would do that in the first place, but He did. So we dare not forsake Him, the spring of living water, and dig our own cisterns, "broken cisterns that cannot hold water" (Jeremiah 2:13, NIV).
What the Israelites should have done in 1 Samuel 4 is simply draw near to God, just as they were, with all their fears and worries and misdeeds laid out honestly before Him, and rest their hope in Him alone. If there is a "key" to living the Christian life, it's in James 4:8 - "Come near to God, and He will come near to you."
"Come near." That's it. Just go to God. Just as you are. Tell Him everything. He loves you. That's all you need to know.
Saturday, May 06, 2006
But I'll bet even Paul had some pet peeves. I think one of his pet peeves was people who, like John Mark, didn't get with the program fast enough (Acts 15:36-41). We know he got peeved at Peter one time (Galatians 2:11-14). I guess that time it was a righteous peeve, though. Like the time Jesus got righteously peeved with the money-changers in the Temple (Mark 11:15-17). My pet peeves are not very righteous; they're actually rather selfish.
Then again, Pet Peeve #1 kind of goes along with the title of my blog being "The Greener Grass."
Pet peeve #1 - At the top of my list is seeing people pick up dog poop when they're walking their dogs. I live in this development that insists that you pick up your dog's poop and put it in a plastic bag. That is RIDICULOUS!! Dogs are meant to poop on the grass, and people are not meant to pick it up. What, have we stooped that low??!! C'mon people -- if you're doing this, declare your superiority over animals and stop it!! It's good fertiziler for cryin' out loud!
OK, I feel better now, so I'll move on to . . .
Pet peeve #2 - A close second is junk mail (either the electronic or paper variety). Really, I don't get mail anymore. I just get junk.
Pet peeve #3 - A local Christian FM radio station. I kid you not, everytime I turn to this station I hear Steven Curtis Chapman. He's great and all that, but gee don't we have more creativity and variety to offer?!
Pet peeve #4 - "Christian" TV. I blogged about this before, so I won't make myself mad again just thinking about it.
Pet peeve #5 - Waiting in line. I'm getting worse about this as I get older. The worst place to wait in line is Wal-Mart, which is one reason I don't go there anymore. One thing that contributes to waiting in line is price checks. O, for the good ol' days when the cashier could just ask you, "Do you know how much this is?" and enter that price into the cash register.
Pet peeve #6 - TV commercials. One of the best inventions ever is DVR, or Tivo, or the other names it goes by. My wife and I love it when we can watch "24" or American Idol and just fly right through all those commercials!
And speaking of American Idol . . .
Pet peeve #7 - Paula Abdul.
Pet peeve #8 - Realizing that I have an oil leak in my engine, because I see all these little spots of oil on my driveway.
Pet peeve #9 - Losing one tennis shoe. Yes, that's right. Last week I actually packed ONE shoe into my gym bag and left the other one behind in the locker room. Did someone turn it in to the lost and found? No. Or did they leave it there so I could get it the next time I go to the gym? Of course not. By now it's in the land fill. So now I have to go buy another pair of $80 tennis shoes. AAARRGGGHH!
Pet peeve #10 - Paying $2.99 per gallon for gasoline . . . which I just did before sitting down to post this blog. Which probably explains the mood I'm in right now!!
Tuesday, May 02, 2006
RUF stands for "Reformed University Fellowship," and it's coming to the University of Central Florida this fall! I'm really excited about that, for several reasons: 1) Its mission is to reach and equip college students to know Christ and serve His church; 2) it's not just another campus ministry; it's a ministry led by an ordained PCA pastor serving under the oversight of presbytery and designed to feed students into the local church; 3) the national RUF leadership gives the campus minister some excellent training; 4) RUF has a track record of equipping people who go on to serve the Kingdom as business leaders and entrepreneurs, homemakers, moms & dads, missionaries, pastors, elders, deacons, teachers, lawyers, doctors, and leaders in many other fields; and 5) last but not least, I like the man our RUF Committee has selected as the candidate for campus minister at UCF a LOT ... my good friend, Ande Johnson!
Our denomination has put RUF chapters on over 100 campuses in the US, including four campuses in Florida. So today, Central Florida Presbytery gave its official stamp of approval for starting RUF at the University of Central Florida this coming fall. If anyone out there can donate money to help get RUF up and running strong, that would be great. Send your donation to RUF, 1700 North Brown Road, Suite 104, Lawrenceville, GA 30043. Be sure to put "UCF" on the memo line of your check. If you want to know more about RUF, check out their website: www.ruf.org.