Thursday, August 31, 2006

A happy day

Here are ten things I am very happy about today:

1) Andre Agassi beat Marcos Baghdatis in the U.S. Open. (Sometimes the old guys win.)
2) It's college football time again! Go Tigers.
3) I have a great group of guys in the Communication Lab that I'm teaching at Reformed Theological Seminary. I teach every Thursday afternoon.
4) I just talked on the phone with some of our best friends from a former church I used to pastor.
5) My wife got her certification in Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS) today. Way to go, Suzy!
6) The season debut of The Office is a day closer than it was yesterday (Sept. 21).
7) I heard from my 2 middle kids today - one by phone, the other by email. That always makes my day.
8) Suzy & I ate out at Smokey Bones BBQ tonight. Man, I love that place!
9) I'm encouraged about how God is at work in my church. The Spirit is moving in very obvious ways.
10) Tomorrow is September 1. Even though many hot days remain, I know that another Florida summer will eventually come to an end.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Horn rage

Have you noticed how mean people can get when they're behind the wheel? (Duh.)

Here's what I'm talking about: You're sitting at a red light waiting for it to turn green. To pass the time, you adjust your radio or look for a different song on your iPod or start talking to your 4-year old in the back seat. All of a sudden the guy in the car behind you lays on his horn like you're the dumbest person who ever lived because you didn't notice the light had turned green a millisecond ago.

Something happens to us inside our cars. (Notice I've switched from 3rd person to 1st person, because, yes, I've done it too.) We turn into the prosecutor, judge, and jury for everyone else on the road. We get incredibly impatient and condemning toward other human beings. And simultaneously, they become stupid idiots who don't know how to drive.

I've often wondered, why is this? What makes us think it's not enough to give a short little "beep" to gently nudge the person in front of us to, maybe, look up at the light that has just turned green? Why do we feel we must creep up behind him or her and blast away?

I guess it has to do with the anonymity and protection our car provides. Our car is a bunker from which we can lob volleys of vitriol at our enemies out there, and they can't do much to defend themselves other than yell or raise a certain finger at us.

I think it's interesting that the same person who would not dare cuss somebody out or push somebody around will, without hesitation, blow his horn at another driver with abandon. Maybe our car horn reveals more about ourselves than about others. Or maybe our car horn is a lot like our tongue. The apostle James warns that "no one can tame the tongue. It is an uncontrollable evil, full of deadly poison. Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it breaks out into curses against those who have been made in the image of God" (James 3:8-9).

In other words, like the tongue our car horn can be used for good purposes. But it can also be used maliciously, like a weapon of mass destruction. So James would have us remember that when we're looking at other drivers - no matter how much they might irritate us - we're looking at little reflections of God, human beings who have a glory about them whether we see it or not. The message is, treat them with respect and care.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Whew!

Well, Vision Awareness Sunday, the big event I blogged about a few days ago, happened this morning. It went great! We did a spoof about our church, using the story-line in It's a Wonderful Life. Everything came together in an amazing way. The old adage, "A bad rehearsal means a good performance," proved true . . . only I must say that in this case we never really had a good rehearsal! We had technical and other issues right up until showtime. But when the lights came down at 9:15 this morning, it was like God was in all the details. I don't think it could have gone any better. If you were one of the many who prayed for us, thank you! If you were one of the many who served in some way to pull this off, thank you also!

I love my church. We're far from perfect. We've got a long way to go, and we make a bunch of mistakes. But I really feel that our community is one that "gets" the gospel. Or, to be more accurate, we're "getting" the gospel. I guess we'll never fully "get" it 'til we're home.

Our senior pastor reminded us today to "get the gospel deeply" and "give the gospel generously." That's a great way to summarize the mission of the church. When the gospel message pervades a church's ministries and teaching, there is freedom. I love the freedom we at UPC have to cut up, and laugh at ourselves, and push the envelope, and even fail at times. Because it's not about us, or our buildings, or our programs. It's about Jesus, and His loving embrace of the unworthy and unwanted.

Friday, August 25, 2006

B(ild)ad theology

Have you ever channel-surfed to one of the many religious TV programs and listened as a preacher said something like this:

. . . if you pray to God and seek the favor of the Almighty,
and if you are pure and live with integrity,
He will surely rise up and restore your happy home.
And though you started with little,
you will end with much.

I wouldn't blame you if you thought those words were spoken by Benny Hinn, or Kenneth Hagin, or John Hagee, or Joel Osteen, or Rod Parsley (pictured at right) or someone like that. These guys are often called "prosperity preachers" because their message to us essentially is, "God wants you to be rich and successful, and if you listen to me and follow my teaching (i.e., send me money, or buy my book, or come to my crusade), you'll become rich and successful."

But actually, the italicized words above are found in the Bible, in the book of Job (8:5-7). Bildad, the speaker, was one of the three friends who came to comfort Job in his suffering but ended up criticizing him for his lack of faith. Bildad, Eliphaz, and Zophar all thought that Job's suffering was due to sins in his life that he had not confessed and forsaken. They advised him to "get right with God" and he would once again be healthy, wealthy, and prosperous.

Eliphaz promised Job, "[God] gives prosperity to the poor and protects those who suffer . . . When you survey your possessions, nothing will be missing. You will have many children; your descendants will be as plentiful as grass. You will go to the grave at a ripe old age. . . ." (Job 5:11, 24-26)

Zophar insisted, "If only you would prepare your heart and lift up your hands to [God] in prayer! Get rid of your sins, and leave all iniquity behind you. Then your face will brighten with innocence. You will be strong and free of fear. You will forget your misery . . . you will be protected and will rest in safety." (Job 11:13-18)

Now, it is true that God honors those who honor Him (1 Samuel 2:30). It's also true that God blesses the godly (Psalm 1). But that's not what Bildad and his friends were saying to Job. They went much further, telling Job that if he lived more obediently his problems would be over. The Bible, however, does not promise Christians a problem-free life. It does not teach that God wants us to be happy and rich and successful. Instead, the Bible says "It is God's will that you should be sanctified" (1 Thessalonians 4:3). The sanctification process involves suffering, and pain, and loss, and defeat. We have to carry our cross, and follow Jesus on the Calvary road.

So Bildad's theology was bad theology, and so is modern-day prosperity teaching. Not only is it bad, it's cruel. Some of the godliest people I know are not rich, healthy, or successful. To preach to them that they would prosper if they simply "believed God for blessings" or "had more faith" or "sowed a seed" or "made a vow," like most of these televangelists do, is to be like the Pharisees, who "tie up heavy loads and put them on men's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them" (Matthew 23:4).

At the end of the book of Job, God tells us what He thinks of prosperity teaching. He says to Bildad, Eliphaz, and Zophar, "You have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has" (Job 42:8).

I wonder, have these TV preachers not read the book of Job (or, for that matter, the gospels, or the letters of Paul, or the Psalms, or the prophets, or church history)?

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Chinese food

You know what I've always wondered? Do all Chinese restaurants in America order their food, their rice boxes, their tin containers, their plastic ware, their paper sacks, their little packets of sauce, their menus, their fortune cookies, even the (bad) pictures of their entrees tacked on the wall above the counter from the same supply place?

Orlando Bartending School?

What's with this Orlando Bartending School commercial on TV? They must be spending billions of dollars on advertising. That commercial comes on all the time!! I must say it's doing nothing for me. Think I'll stick with my job.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The body of Christ

As I said a few posts ago, I'm really busy right now with this annual event at our church called Vision Awareness Sunday. We're doing a big production that plays off the old Christmas movie, It's a Wonderful Life. At times it crosses my mind, "Why am I doing this?! I was crazy to ever say 'yes' to this!!"

But there are several reasons why this is an important event in which to invest my time. One reason is that this kind of thing pulls people together from all over the place in our church, and gives the body of Christ a great excuse to work together. New people jump in and get their feet wet. Talented people get to use their gifts of construction, writing, music, acting, and photography. Not-so-talented people get to fill a niche, without whom the show could not go on. In an event like this you get to know people you never would have met otherwise. You get to laugh, create, brainstorm, problem-solve, and celebrate together with others who make up God's family.

Please pray that Vision Awareness Sunday would inform, inspire, and energize the body of Christ at my church. It's happening this Sunday, August 27, at 9:00 a.m.

Monday, August 21, 2006

RUF is born!

Today was an exciting day because my pal Ande got ordained as a campus minister at the University of Central Florida! He'll be starting a chapter of Reformed University Fellowship, a really great Presbyterian ministry that is now on over 100 campuses in the US. The University of Central Florida had 45,000 students last year, and it's growing like a weed. What a great opportunity for the Kingdom as these students hear the gospel from Ande and get plugged into church!

If you can help Ande, he needs three things: One, your prayers. Two, your financial support. And three, the names of students you know at UCF who need spiritual nourishment and care.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

World Trade Center

I saw Oliver Stone's new movie about 9/11, World Trade Center, yesterday. I went with low expectations. I'm not a fan of Stone, and based on the previews I expected the movie to be cheesy and manipulative. I was wrong. I loved it. It was amazing. Definitely a 5-star movie.

WTC is like no other Oliver Stone film. There was not one negative political comment; in fact, this one's a flag-waver. And there are a surprising number of religious symbols and references throughout, all positive. Yes, the movie brought back that sick feeling we all had while watching the news that fateful day. But it made me grateful for the brave men and women who died trying to save others, and it affirmed love of spouse, family, friends, and God.

In a striking scene, one of the police officers struggling to stay alive in the rubble has a vision of Jesus reaching out to him with a bottle of water. What a great illustration of Jesus' conversation with the Samaritan woman in John 4. As this police officer was helplessly buried under tons of concrete, so the Samaritan woman was trapped in her sin and unable to find her way out. Jesus offered her living water which would forever assuage her thirst.

Just from a technical point of view, World Trade Center is an incredible bit of filmmaking. Realistic, honest, disturbing, but inspiring, I recommend it highly.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

False church advertising

If I get one more of these church mailings with stock pictures of people on it who don't really attend the church being advertised, I think I'm going to throw something!

You know what I'm talking about, right? Everybody knows these mailings are mass produced by some company in Nashville, and splashed with pictures of beautiful people (from diverse ethnic groups, of course - we wouldn't want the public to think our churches are segregated!) all full of smiles because they go to this particular church, which isn't true in the first place. The name of the church in question is just imprinted on the front, with their service times stamped on the back - right next to the name of the pastor's hip-sounding upcoming sermon series.

I don't know, I guess I'm a lot less impressed by this kind of thing than I used to be. I know churches send these things out because it's tons cheaper and more professional-looking than something created in-house. Heck, I've done it myself. But, c'mon. Is the image of church we want to saturate our communities with THIS kind of church...where members are in-right, out-right, upright, downright happy all the time? Do we really want to pay an advertising agency to make us look hip and diverse and happily married and child-friendly, when the fact is we are usually a few steps behind last year's trend, we're fairly homogenous, divorce is as prevalent among Christians as among non-Christians, and we are more likely to push our kids to get involved in sports than in Sunday School?

I think the best way for a church to get its name out there is to follow the counsel of the prophet Micah, who told us "to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with [our] God" (Micah 6:8). Maybe the best church advertisements are honesty, repentance, and kindness. Sure, we will always need to promote our church activities; we want the public to know what we've got going on. But let's level with them. We're not beautiful people. We're wounded and broken and searching just like they are. If we have the answer, it's because of grace. As Steve Brown says, "We're beggars telling other beggars where to find bread."

Friday, August 18, 2006

Things I get to do because I'm a granddad

My daughter Rebecca just returned to Mississippi after spending a week with us, taking OUR two grandkids with her. The gall!

We always have a great time with Tyler (age 4 1/2) and Eben (age 2). Here are some things I did with them that I don't get to do when they're not around:
  • Pig out at Dunkin' Donuts
  • Ride the kiddie rides & eat pizza at Chuck E Cheese's
  • Throw kids up in the air in the pool
  • Read a bed-time story
  • Play Old Maid and Crazy 8's
  • Watch the Backyardigans and Little Einsteins on TV
  • Walk very slowly
  • Jump the waves at the beach
  • Dig for sand crabs at the beach
  • Buy hot dogs at the beach
  • Play with Kids Meal toys at McDonalds
  • Feed swans
  • Play hide and seek
  • Make a mess of the house and not worry about it; it'll just get messed up again anyway

Thursday, August 17, 2006

My new blog resolution

Alright, I know I haven't been blogging much lately. My excuse is that I'm 'way busier than ever because of some things I'm in charge of at my church. But it's made me think that I need to adjust my blog philosophy. My friend Rob says to post something -- even if it's a sentence or two -- every day. That's hard for me. I like to write, and my m.o. is to write carefully and thoroughly, or not at all. But I think Rob is right, and I'm going to FORCE myself to sit down and say something every day or two...even if it's something nobody cares about.

So I'm going to tell you about the big thrill of my day. For the first time, I had the new Chick-fil-A milkshake (vanilla, to be specific). Have you tried one of those yet? It's right up there with Steak 'n Shake, only bigger. I'm a sucker for milkshakes, and Chick-fil-A now has one of the best out there.

Chick-fil-A is a great fast food restaurant. I love that they shut down on Sundays. I also love that they have decaf Diet Coke.

Way to go, Truett Cathy. Your stock just went up a little higher with me.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Busy

I'm still alive and well, but so busy I haven't had time to blog. Everything's cranking up at my church and I'm focused on several big events happening in the next two weeks. Plus, my Mississippi daughter and her two kids are visiting with us, and blogging takes a back seat to family. I'll get back to it when things calm down a bit.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

God rejoices over you

Today I met my wife for dinner. It had been a long day for both of us, so we decided to meet at a restaurant instead of me coming home first to pick her up. I got to the restaurant first, and was seated next to a big window looking out on the parking lot.

Suzy pulled up about five minutes later, got out of her car, and started walking to the restaurant. I had been looking at all sorts of people walking past, young and old, men and women. Some of the women I saw were attractive and all that. But as soon as I saw Suzy, my heart just instinctively kind of "leaped" in my chest. It was cool. It was like, "Oh, there's my bride, my best friend! I love that woman like no other. She stands out from the rest. She's special. She's my sweetheart." I wasn't thinking those exact words, but that was the feeling I had. You might say I "rejoiced" over her. I rejoiced over knowing her, being her husband, being connected to her like I'm connected to no one else in the universe. I admired her, felt attracted to her, wanted to be next to her, liked her.

Oh, and dinner was OK too.

Later tonight I got to thinking . . . maybe for that fraction of a moment, when my heart leaped toward my wife, I felt a little bit of the love God feels toward us.

Isaiah 62:5 says, "As a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you." There it is in the Scriptures. God rejoices over you. You stand out to Him. You are one of the many people who make up His prized possession, the Church. Yet you in your individuality are special to Him. He likes you. When He looks at you He smiles. He's pleased with you. You're more than His child, you're His bride. His heart leaps when He sees you. The prophet Zephaniah says He takes great delight in you and rejoices over you with singing (Zeph. 3:17).

How can this be? It's because if you've trusted in Jesus, He has traded His righteousness for your sin. You're forgiven, washed, cleansed of your sins, and clothed in the righteousness of Christ. God is satisfied. More than satisfied . . . He's in love with you.

I sound like I'm talking to you like a preacher, but I'm really preaching the gospel to myself. I forget this truth everyday. I start thinking God is displeased with me because of how I blow it all the time. I start feeling abandoned by God, guilty, and like I have to do something to get back in God's favor. That's a lie. As I rejoice over my wife, so my God rejoices over me.

Wow.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Hawaiian ironies

While on vacation in Hawaii, I was struck by at least three ironies:

Irony #1: "Aloha" can mean either hello or goodbye. And believe me, Hawaiians really do say it - all the time - earning Hawaii the title of "the Aloha State." Besides hello and goodbye, "aloha" can mean love, mercy, and affection. We found that it can even refer to the "aloha spirit" of hospitality and unconditional love. So it's really a beautiful concept, right in line with Biblical injunctions to love and care for others.

Irony #2: As I've mentioned already, we sailed around the Hawaiian Islands on a cruise ship, the Pride of Hawaii. There were over 2,000 passengers on board. It seemed like half of them were complaining about something. Either the food was bad, or the service too slow, or the staterooms too small, or the seas too rough, or something else. Yet the whole time, all around us, was this incredible beauty and luxury. It made me think of the people of Israel on their journey from Egypt to the Promised Land. God had done so much for them, but again and again they complained about what they didn't have. It also reminded me of what Paul tells us about unregenerate people in Romans 1:21 -

"For although 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."

God forgive me for the times I have been ungrateful and discontent, when you have done nothing but supply my needs, throughout my lifetime, far beyond what I deserve.

Irony #3: Throughout the cruise, as we sailed past the beautiful islands of Hawaii, the cruise director would announce over the loudspeaker something else that "Mother Nature" had done. For example, when we sailed past the Na Pali coast on Kauai - which is just extraordinary - we saw a full double rainbow, and behind it the striking cliffs and waterfalls of Na Pali, waves crashing into the vertical cliff walls, clouds shrouding the peaks of the mountains. I hummed "All Creatures of Our God and King." The cruise director came on and gave tribute to Mother Nature. Isn't it ironic that people are willing to grant to "nature" the power of creativity and personality (and even gender), but are not willing to embrace a personal, loving, Creator God who has revealed Himself in Jesus Christ?


Saturday, August 05, 2006

Aloha!

Suzy and I got back yesterday from Hawaii. We were there for ten days. Needless to say, we had a great time! I'm still recovering. Here are just a few pictures. My favorite thing was our bike ride down the Haleakala Crater on Maui (I've always wanted to say "Maui," like I'm a world traveler). I also loved going snorkeling and seeing some of the amazing fish God has made. We did that near the port of Kona on the Big Island, and again in beautiful Hanauma Bay on Oahu.

But I guess the big deal about this trip was the following:
  • Getting away, and not once checking my "work" emails
  • Being with Suzy on our 30th anniversary
  • Eating lots of awesome food on our cruise ship (the Pride of Hawaii)
  • Reading (I got 3/4 of the way through Bob Spitz's 992-page biography of The Beatles . . . something real spiritual)
  • And breathing into my soul one of the most beautiful places God created on earth. I'll have more to say about that in future posts.
Top picture: Our cruise ship in port
Middle picture: Suzy and me in our Hawaiian duds at a luau on our last night in Honolulu
Bottom picture: Waimea Canyon, called the "Grand Canyon of the Pacific," on Kauai