Saturday, October 28, 2006

Ten things I like about the fall

Wearing long sleeve shirts
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

Clapton: A class act

My son Michael and I just got back from the Eric Clapton concert at the T. D. Waterhouse Center in Orlando. Wow, it was definitely one of the best concerts I've ever been to. Clapton & friends played songs highlighting most of his musical phases, especially his Derek & the Dominos phase ("Layla," "Nobody Knows You When You're Down & Out," etc.).

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:
"Resolved, to live with all my might, while I do live."

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

Movie famine

Where have all the good movies gone? I haven't seen a good one for a long time, have you? The last good movie I saw was...well, I can't even remember.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

"King James Only" craziness

If you want to be entertained, listen to the most recent series of podcasts from the John Ankerberg Show. I subscribe to these podcasts through iTunes. Ankerberg's shows are really interesting, and he is usually right on target (except when it comes to Bible prophecy, but that's OK).

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

Christianity and food

Every time I eat at McDonalds I leave there saying to myself, "I will NEVER eat here again!" But, for some inexplicable reason, I do.

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

Heart change or behavior modification?

When a husband is not doing a good job of loving his wife, or a wife is not honoring her husband, what needs to happen?

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).

Embarrassing

UCF lost to Pittsburgh last night 52-7. The game was televised nationally on ESPN. Oh, it was painful to watch. We couldn't do anything right. Pitt ran the opening kickoff for a touchdown, and it was all downhill from there. UCF turned the ball over 4 times when we had a chance to turn things around.

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

Paper or plastic?


Paper...definitely paper.

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

Grandkids

Here's a picture of me with my new grandson when he was just hours old in the hospital. That was a couple of weeks ago.

I've already told you what I like about having grandkids. Now I want to tell you what I don't like:
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. I want to buy them everything in the world and I know I can't, and shouldn't.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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

Church

Here's a great quotation:

"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

The important place of counseling

I'm writing a paper for one of my classes at Palm Beach Atlantic University on the integration of faith and counseling. As a pastor, naturally I've given a lot of time and thought over the years to the issue of counseling: what makes for good counseling, what's the best approach to counseling, etc. I don't have all the answers but I'm taking classes in counseling to try to become better at it. I see counseling as a key part of my calling. To me, counseling is simply a way to help people grow. It's a kind of discipleship. Usually it focuses on helping people grow through pain or loss or conflict or whatever.

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

I'm lost


Not gonna do it.

I'm not gonna invest hours and hours of my life in a show that MAKES NO SENSE!!

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

How low will it go?


I was in Sanford today and stopped for gas at a BP station. The price was $2.11.9!

Yay! Keep it going!!

Monday, October 02, 2006

Guilt

I was reading a book by Gary Collins last night and he said something interesting about spiritual warfare. He said Satan's basic goal is to keep believers from depending on God. If he can do that, Satan knows he's won the battle. Temptation is not his ultimate goal; self-reliance is.

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!



Sunday, October 01, 2006

M. Night Shyamalan

Today I wrapped up a 5-week adult class at my church on the films of M. Night Shyamalan. Each Sunday I showed selected clips from one of his movies and then the class discussed the movie from a Christian perspective. My goal was to help the adults of our church think Biblically, appreciate art for art's sake, and learn how the stories of our culture can help us understand and spread the gospel.

The five movies we examined were Wide Awake (1998), The Sixth Sense (1999), Unbreakable (2000), Signs (2002), and The Village (2004). It was fascinating to look beyond these movies to what Shyamalan reveals about himself in his movies.

He is famous for his fondness for Philadelphia as a backdrop, his love of the color red, spooky stories, cameo appearances, and surprise endings. What is not as well understood is how his early experiences in Catholic and Episcopalian schools shaped his view of God. Shyamalan's movies are very religious. Each one is filled with spiritual imagery and symbolism. Wide Awake goes even further, telling the story of a boy's search for God.

Indeed, for Shyamalan, God is sovereign and involved in this world. But something is missing in his worldview. While God is sovereign, He is not terribly personal. While He is powerful, He is not all that loving. People in Shyamalan's films usually have to just figure things out on their own. God leaves "signs" of His existence, and they are remarkable signs. But Shyamalan's God is not the God who came to us in the flesh, and comes to us still, in Jesus Christ.

A guy in today's class made a striking observation. In several of Shyamalan's movies (Wide Awake, Signs, and a deleted scene in Unbreakable especially), the people who are supposed to be spiritual guides turn out to be confused, even cynical, about their faith. The hero is the person who comes to an existential "awakening," rather than embracing the faith of their fathers through more traditional means (i.e., conviction of sin, understanding the gospel message, reading the Bible, etc.). So a good Muslim could be inspired by Shyamalan's films. So could a good Mormon, a good Buddhist, a good Jehovah's Witness, and so on.

We wondered, why didn't Shyamalan "get" the gospel when he was attending religious schools as a boy? Could it be that the very leaders who should have had the answers squandered their opportunity to disciple this gifted, influential young man and lead him to Jesus? Did they not know Him themselves?

The gospel of Christ says that the heart is deceitful and desperately wicked, so it is an unreliable spiritual compass. We need more than warm feelings about a God who heals people, leaves signs of His existence, and visits us with angels. We need a Savior, a Redeemer, a God who is both powerful and loving, both sovereign and personal. That need was met in Christ, the God-Man, who personally identifies with us, carries our sorrows, and makes us right with God.

Shyamalan has incredible insight into human pain and universal longings. He is in touch with the "God-shaped vacuum" that Blaise Pascal talked about. His movies are among my favorites. I just pray that M. Night Shyamalan will one day embrace God's one and only Sign . . . and make even better movies.