Saturday, July 22, 2006

Hawaii here we come

Suzy and I are getting ready to go to Hawaii for our 30th anniversary! We've always wanted to go, so we're doing it. We'll fly to Honolulu and take a cruise around the islands. So I won't be blogging for a while...internet is too pricey on the ship. But I'll share pictures when we get back.

We plan to do a lot of fun things while we're there: a bike ride down Haleakala Volcano on Maui...a day at Ka'anapali Beach on Maui...snorkeling in several places...Waimea Canyon on Kaua'i...Pearl Harbor...and who knows what else. I sound like I know what I'm talking about. I really know hardly anything about the 50th state.

But I know this: I'm looking forward to being with my beautiful bride in a beautiful place.

If you've been there and have any words of wisdom on what to do/not do, let me know.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Indispensable parts

Last week I told you that my son Michael accidentally cut his finger at work and needed surgery to repair a tendon on his thumb. Today he finally had that surgery. This picture shows where he got cut. If you really want to know, he cut his extensor pollicis brevis.

Cutting that tendon meant that Michael had to quit working until the tendon heals completely. He has to get weeks of therapy to restore his thumb's ability to work. The surgery totally put him out of commission today. Who knows when he'll be able to help me with yard work and things like that (bummer!).

So here we have a vivid reminder of the importance of every member of the body of Christ. The Apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:22, "Those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable." He goes on to say that "if one part suffers, every part suffers with it" (vs. 26).

Michael would say amen to that. It's funny how injuring that one little strand brings Michael's world to a grinding halt for a long while. Similarly, when someone in the body of Christ gets lazy, or skips out, or gets taken out by spiritual attack, or goes through turmoil, or falls into grievous sin, it affects the whole community of faith.

We forget this. We think we're independent of one another. That we can do what we jolly well please and it won't make a difference to our brothers and sisters in Christ. The truth is, my sin hurts not only me but the body of Christ. My absence penalizes the body of Christ. My pain is their pain and theirs is mine.

Read Joshua 7 for a dramatic Old Testament illustration of how we're all interconnected and interdependent. Just like tendons, muscles, bones, arteries, and nerves. Let's work hard to cherish one another, to watch each other's back, to walk humbly and holy because we know how important we are to each other.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Lagniappe

The other day, my wife and I learned a new word. It was on something she got in the mail. I'd never in my life heard this word. It's lagniappe.

We thought it had to be a misprint. But sure enough, we looked it up. You pronounce it like this: "lan-yap." A lagniappe is "an extra, unexpected gift or benefit," says the dictionary. The word came from the American Spanish phrase la ├▒apa (“the gift”). Then it came into the Creole dialect of New Orleans and acquired a French spelling. It is still used in the Gulf states, especially southern Louisiana, to denote a little bonus that a friendly shopkeeper might add to a purchase. Like if you've ever visited New Orleans and bought a dozen beignets (the pastry pictured here), and the baker throws in a 13th beignet for good measure . . . that's a lagniappe.

Suzy and I started thinking about this, and it came to us that Christianity is a religion of lagniappes. We pray because we believe in lagniappes. We have future hope because we believe in lagniappes. In other words, everything that God gives us day by day is a lagniappe. It's a bonus, a little extra thrown in for good measure. He's already given us Jesus; He's already forgiven all our sins. Everything else is a lagniappe. When He answers prayer it's a lagniappe. When He provides food, shelter, and clothing, it's a lagniappe. When He gives us friends, family, spouse, and church, each one is a lagniappe. Even heaven is a lagniappe.

That's what Romans 8:32 teaches us when it says, "He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all—how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?" If God gave us Jesus (the hard thing), how could He not answer our daily prayers for grace and provision (the easier thing)! Compared to the cross, everything else is just a little thing -- a lagniappe!

This truth should encourage us to be bold in prayer, because God loves throwing in little extras for good measure. We can be confident that if God has given us His one and only Son (i.e., the dozen beignets), He will most surely hear and answer prayer (the 13th beignet).

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Eben is 2 today!

Today is my grandson Eben's birthday! He's now a tremendous 2-year old! Read his amazing story here.

Eben and his family are new citizens of Gulfport, MS. My daughter and her family moved into their apartment there just yesterday. Her husband's first day as a pastor is TODAY!

So it's a very special day in the life of my family.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Dad

I've been thinking about my Dad a lot the past few weeks. He died on July 5, 2000. His birthday is coming up on July 24 (he would be 81, if I remember his birth year correctly). So I guess July brings with it many memories of my father.

To me, the one quality that stands out the most about Dad was his humility. He really had quite an illustrious career. He was in the Army in World War II, stationed in the Philippines. He and my mom were married for 52 years. He won all sorts of awards and distinctions as a business leader in the state of South Carolina. He managed a radio station for 40 years. He did the "color" for the Clemson Football Radio Network for several years in the '60s. Everybody in the town of Union, SC, knew him (to them, at the age of 52 I'm still "Ed Osborne's boy"). But in spite of all those honors and achievements, he was very self-effacing.

Probably my favorite memories of Dad are the many times he took me fishing and skiing on Lake Murray where we had a house. He would drive the boat for hours while my brother and I and our friends water-skiied, and I don't think he ever complained. In fact I don't remember him ever complaining about much. He stayed in our little town his whole working life. I guess he did that because he valued loyalty over ambition, community over upward-mobility.

I'm glad I could be a kid who knew his Dad was up there in the stands watching me play football and wrestling. I'm glad he made his marriage last a lifetime. I'm glad he taught me to work hard, be courteous, and look people in the eye. I'm glad we stayed in the same house my entire life...I think that gave me a measure of contentment and stability. I'm glad for the time we both pigged out on Krispy Kreme doughnuts.

After Dad retired he grew more and more affectionate, even though he also quickly started declining physically. My life changed the day he hugged me and wouldn't let go. We shared some particularly poignant moments in the months leading up to his death.

Thank you, God, for giving me a wise and humble father. I wish he were here to talk to. But there will be lots of time for that in heaven.

Friday, July 14, 2006

My Top Twenty favorite books

Here's a list of 20 books that have meant a lot to me over the years, in no particular order:

1) Pilgrim's Progress, by John Bunyan - I've read it many times and led studies of it; it never fails to inspire, convict, and encourage
2) The Screwtape Letters, by C. S. Lewis - helped me understand how evil Satan is and the many ways he tries to destroy us
3) The Chronicles of Narnia, by C. S. Lewis - my wife and I read each book in the series to our kids, and loved them as much as they did
4) Waking the Dead, by John Eldredge - helped me understand that there is a glory in each believer that must be revealed, not suppressed
5) Wild at Heart, by John Eldredge - of course there are flaws to it, but it's one of the few books out there that tells men it's good to be a man
6) Redemption Accomplished and Applied, by John Murray - a beautiful explanation of each aspect of our salvation
7) The Saint's Knowledge of Christ's Love, by John Bunyan - very formative in my first years as a Christian to help me get hold of grace
8) The Religious Affections, by Jonathan Edwards - a classic definition of what makes a Christian a Christian
9) George Whitefield, a 2-volume biography by Arnold Dallimore - an inspiring account of the Great Awakening that shook America and Great Britain in the early 1700's; it gave me a craving for revival in our day
10) Holiness, by J. C. Ryle - another book formative in my early Christian experience, calling me to aspire to be holy as God is holy
11) Desiring God, by John Piper - gave me a whole new paradigm through which to view my relationship with God: "Man's chief end is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever!"
12) Knowing God, by J. I. Packer - the guys who discipled me in college gave me this book to read soon after I became a Christian; next to the Bible it did the most to help me understand God and the Christian life; a must read for every believer
13) The Pleasures of God, by John Piper - I grew to like this book more than Desiring God; it taught me that God's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Himself forever
14) Between Two Worlds, by John R. W. Stott - fueled the fire of my love of preaching and pastoring
15) The Puritan Hope, by Iain Murray - introduced me to postmillenialism and an optimistic view of the future
16) Bondage of the Will, by Martin Luther - the best defense of predestination ever written
17) Christ of the Covenants, by O. Palmer Robertson - this book, along with his classes at Covenant Theological Seminary, changed me from a Baptist to a Presbyterian
18) Institutes of the Christian Religion, by John Calvin - a treasure chest
19) Prayer, by O. Hallesby - early on, influenced me to see prayer as helplessness
20) Dynamics of Spiritual Life, by Richard Lovelace - helped me as a pastor understand that only a grace-oriented ministry helps people change

Monday, July 10, 2006

Spent today in the ER

This was a strange day! About 10:00 a.m. I got a call from my son Michael, who told me he was in the urgent care clinic because he had just cut his finger at work. (He works at Boston Market as a "Culinary Handler." Translation: he strings chickens, mops floors, cuts open boxes of turkey, sirloin, and chicken and gets stinking dirty! But it's a job, and he's faithful.)

So I went to the clinic, met up with my bleeding son, and after a long wait we were told we should go to the ER. So we went downtown to the hospital where my wife Suzy works. We were there from, oh, noon-ish to about 7:00 p.m. They looked at his finger, cleaned it all up, and said he'd need surgery tomorrow by a hand surgeon, because he had cut strands of a tendon. So he'll go see the surgeon tomorrow. Right now he's in a sizeable bandage with a splint to keep his thumb still. Poor guy had to get several shots and stitches.

Here's what I learned about fatherhood today: It hurts more to see your child in pain than it does to be in pain yourself. You can watch some other man's child get stitches in his hand, but not your own. Honestly, I had to leave the examining room when Michael was getting shots in his hand and in his butt! Not just because I don't like the sight of needles, but because that was my child getting needles in his body!

So just think about this . . . God the Father let His one and only Son, the Child He loved infinitely, be tortured and beaten and nailed to a cross, and didn't intervene. He felt the nails Himself, He absorbed in Himself the sickening sights, sounds, and smells of crucifixion, He endured the agony of watching His own Son suffer and die for wretches like me. Why? Because He loved us more than He wanted to spare His Son.

I would not have gone through what I suffered today with Michael for the sake of some poor homeless guy on the streets of Orlando. I'm sorry, but I love Michael too much, and that guy too little. I would have done anything to spare Michael, even allow myself to be stitched up and operated on if it were possible. But God is not like me. "God showed how much He loved us by having Christ die for us, even though we were sinful" (Romans 5:8, CEV).

To compare my sufferings today to those of God the Father is of course to grossly underestimate the enormity of Christ's agony and the Father's pain. My point is just to say that I was reminded today of God's love for us. God was not a bystander on the day Jesus was crucified -- He was intimately involved in the sufferings of Christ, for the sake of His people. He winced every time the hammer hit the spikes. He ached with love . . . for you and me.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Meanwhile we groan

Has it ever hit you just how much effort and time it takes just to maintain things?

This week we had to shell out BIG bucks for a new air conditioning system for our house. Our 8-yr. old unit was too small to keep up with the heat and it just gave out. This morning I had to get my driveway and back porch pressure-washed. Last week I had to get my wheels aligned on one of our cars. I just finished mowing the grass. . . Michael or I will need to do it again in 4 days. The last time I went to the dentist they told me I have gingivitis, so they gave me this medicine ($25) that I'm supposed to swish around in my mouth every night. . . so now I have to floss AND brush AND swish that stuff around in my mouth. . . dragging that routine out even longer.

Washing clothes for the billionth time. . . changing the oil in the car. . . trimming the hedges. . . washing the dishes. . . cleaning the oven. . . taking clothes to the dry cleaner. . . eating. . . sweeping out the garage. . . taking showers. . . shaving. . . cleaning the shower. . . edging the lawn. . . ironing & putting away clothes. . . making the bed. . . vacuuming the floors. . . making kids do all the things they are supposed to do. . . cooking. . . cleaning up after meals. . .

And that's just a partial list. Why, when you start adding all that up, you find out 99% of the day is occupied with maintenance of something! And somewhere you also have to fit in those other little things, like staying happily married and teaching your kids to love God and building the Kingdom and such.

It's no wonder that Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:2, "Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling."

I believe that one of the greatest things about heaven will be not having to maintain anything. Nothing will wear out or get dirty or die. I'm not sure how we'll get around, but whatever it is will not require gas or oil. We'll have work to do (like Adam and Eve did in the Garden even before sin entered the world), but we won't be fighting irresistible forces of decline. I guess we'll be naked (yikes!!), since Adam & Eve were before the fall. . . so there will be no clothes to wash. (That's a really weird thought. All those glorified bodies walking around. . . yet no lust or embarrassment or comparing one with another?? How can that be??!!)

Anyway, we should be thinking a lot more about our heavenly dwelling than we do. In Pilgrim's Progress, one of the things that kept Christian going was thinking about the Celestial City. Paul tells us that one day "the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God" (Romans 8:21). He says that one day Jesus "will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body" (Philippians 3:21). He says that one day "the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed" (1 Corinthians 15:52). The apostle John tells us that one day "there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away" (Revelation 21:4). He also says that one day those who know Christ "will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever" (Revelation 22:4-5).

In this life we groan because grass keeps growing, teeth decay, cars and air conditioners break down, floors and clothes and bodies and dishes get dirty, kids disobey, and life is just so dadgum daily. But one day, and sooner than we think, we'll hear those wonderful words: "Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world" (Matthew 25:34).

Monday, July 03, 2006

Blinders On: a review

If you like Nickel Creek (which everyone should), you'll also like Sean Watkins' most recent solo effort from March '06 called Blinders On. Sean is the Nickel Creek guitar player, and this is far and away his finest solo album yet. I knew he was a great guitar player, but here you see what an outstanding all-around musician he is. His sister Sara accompanies him on fiddle on a few of the tracks, but Blinders On is not just another Nickel Creek record. For one thing, Sean uses a lot more instruments and effects. The first couple of times I listened to it, I liked it. The more I listen, the more I like it. The unusual harmonies and unexpected twists and turns of melody are engaging. You gotta get it.

Some of my thoughts on the songs:
  • "Summer's Coming" - clearly a Beach Boys-inspired opening number
  • "Starve Them to Death" - I like the Beatle-esque violin parts
  • "I'm Sorry" - reminds me of "Somebody More Like You" from Why Should the Fire Die
  • "Happy New Year" - again, sounds like Sean has been listening to Brian Wilson & the Beach Boys a lot, especially Pet Sounds . . . he can also rock!
  • "Hello...Goodbye" - over before you know it . . . just Sean and his guitar
  • "Runaway Girl" - very pretty interplay of piano and fiddle
  • "I Say Nothing" - a cool electric guitar solo and more fantastic violins
  • "Coffee" - mesmerizing . . . what is that instrument that sounds like a toy piano???
  • "The Sound of My Crush" - Lennon would be proud
  • "No Lighted Windows" - the good ol' familiar Nickel Creek sound
  • "Cammac" - a little surprise
  • "Roses Never Red" - this song has about every genre in it you can think of! But it works for me.
  • "They Sail Away" - haunting . . . it could fit on Sgt. Pepper!
  • "Not That Bad/Blinders On" - Sean goes techno
  • "Whipping Boy" - just when you think it's over, you get a surprise hidden track: Sean shows his bluegrass side at last . . . fun!
I had the pleasure of meeting Sean at the Nickel Creek concert in Gainesville, FL, earlier this year. He came across as a very humble guy. I wish I had just 1/10 of his talent.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment

A few of you reading this post may recognize the title. It's the name of a book written by an English Puritan named Jeremiah Burroughs and published a few years after his death in 1646. Burroughs was one of the members of the Westminster Assembly. Because I'm preaching on contentment tomorrow, I thought I'd review this book, which I read some years ago. It's a classic work on this important topic.

Here are a few nuggets from Burroughs that are worth pondering:
  • "[A] contented man, just as he is the most contented, so he is the most unsatisfied man in the world. You will say, 'How is that?' A man who has learned the art of contentment is the most contented with any low condition that he has in the world, and yet he cannot be satisfied with the enjoyment of all the world. . . though his heart is so enlarged that the enjoyment of all the world and ten thousand worlds cannot satisfy him for his portion; yet he has a heart quieted under God's disposal, if he gives him but bread and water."

  • "The Devil is the most discontented creature in the world, he is the proudest creature that is, and the most discontented creature, and the most dejected creature. Now, therefore, so much discontent as you have, so much of the spirit of Satan you have."

  • "Murmuring and discontent is exceedingly below a Christian."

  • "[Contentment] is a quiet frame of spirit, and by that I mean that you should find men and women in a good mood not only at this or that time, but as the constant tenor and temper of their hearts. A Christian who, in the constant tenor and temper of his heart, can carry himself quietly with constancy has learned this lesson of contentment. Otherwise his Christianity is worth nothing, for no one, however furious in his discontent, will not be quiet when he is in a good mood."

  • "A Christian comes to contentment, not so much by way of addition, as by way of subtraction . . . not so much by adding to what he would have, or to what he has, not by adding more to his condition; but rather by subtracting from his desires, so as to make his desires and his circumstances even and equal. . . . [A] heart that has no grace, and is not instructed in this mystery of contentment, knows of no way to get contentment, but to have his possessions raised up to his desires; but the Christian has another way to contentment, that is, he can bring his desires down to his possessions, and so he attains his contentment."
That last quote is really good. Let's apply it thus: I'd love a new car to replace our '95 Nissan Quest minivan. It's got 200,000 miles on it. It's beat up. The air conditioner does not work very well and would cost more to fix than the car is worth. The shocks need to be replaced. It's loud and it's clumsy. In other words, it's old.

The problem with the car is, it won't die! We're still paying on our other car and I don't want to take another loan. So what Burroughs would say I need to do, rather than finding contentment by adding a new car, is find contentment by subtracting my desire for a new car and trying to enjoy my old car.

Okay, here I go. Nissan minivan, I like you. You are a great vehicle. You're big enough to haul stuff and small enough to feel like a car (kind of). You have a really good stereo. You also have a separate rear air conditioner, which helps a bit. You have a removable back seat which is great for moving days and big home improvement projects. When I sit in you I feel superior to other people because I'm up higher than they are (uh oh, that's probably not a godly source of contentment). You've faithfully carried my family and me practically all over the country. You have a lot of exterior lights, which I think is cool. You have motorized mirrors and a rear window wiper that sprays washer fluid really well. You're fun at the beach because I can open up your huge rear door and have a great place to sit and put on sunscreen. When my neighborhood floods I can drive right through the deepest water because your body is up high (there I go gloating again). You have automatic front seat belts so I don't have to reach back and pull the belt across my shoulder. And last but not least, you're paid for.

There. I feel better already. I'm content...sort of.