Thursday, November 29, 2007

Great time in Mississippi

My wife and I just got back from a 6-day "Thanksgiving" visit with our daughter Rebecca and her family in Gulfport, MS. It's so much fun to be with them, to see how they've all grown and matured, to witness God's patient work in the two churches my son-in-law pastors, to play with my grandkids...and to experience just a LITTLE bit of winter (as compared to Florida!).

Some highlights of the trip (yes, I probably gained 10 pounds on this trip):
  • Fried turkey
  • Pecan pie
  • Sweet potato casserole
  • Lunch at the "pancy new McDonald's" (grandson Eben's term for the new McDonald's with computer games inside!)
  • Sunday morning worship at Handsboro Presbyterian Church
  • Smoked ribs
  • Fried shrimp po' boy and onion rings
  • Riding the carousel with Eben
  • Giving Tyler and Eben "towel throws" and "towel rolls" on their mom & dad's bed
  • Getting grandson Tate to laugh and talk to me
  • Watching the movie, Shattered Glass (a great rental)
  • Laughing at Dancing with the Stars
  • Steak on the grill
  • Playing the game Compatibility and laughing at all the times sex came up
  • Walking with my wife
  • Shopping for Christmas toys for the grandkids
  • Take-out from McAlisters
Ah, the pleasures of being a husband, father, and granddad.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Knowing, Growing, and Serving

For those of you who attend my church, it may be instructive to reflect upon the fall series of sermons I finished last weekend. The nine sermons I preached between September and November were grouped around our church's mission statement, which says that we exist to help people know God, grow together, and serve others.

You probably did not know this, but a team of twelve people called the Congregational Life Team helped me considerably with this sermon series. Back in August and September, the Team and I collaborated on identifying "Nine Marks of a Transformed Life." These nine marks are simply an elaboration on Knowing God, Growing Together, and Serving Others. They identify the core traits of someone who is growing more and more conformed into the image of Christ. Of course no one will ever attain perfection in this life, so these nine marks are really goals toward which we are always striving. But they provide a way for us to know if we are on track with our planning, programs, and activities at UPC, and give all of us something to aim for in our Christian walk.

So here's a list of my sermons this fall, each of which is matched up with one of the Nine Marks of a Transformed Life. If you want to listen to a sermon, go to our church website (www.upc-orlando.com) and look for the Audio Resources tab.


KNOWING GOD

1 - The transformed person enjoys God in worship

Sermon: "Captivated by God" (Psalm 84)

2 - The transformed person engages in God's Word through study and prayer

Sermon: "How To Overcome Bible-Phobia" (Psalm 119:97-112)

3 - The transformed person lives by God’s promises

Sermon: "Preach the Gospel to Yourself" (Galatians 2:20)


GROWING TOGETHER

4 - The transformed person applies the gospel of grace in relationships

Sermon: "How To Get Along with Others Who Don't" (Romans 12:9-21)

5 - The transformed person invests time and energy in a small group

Sermon: "Being Authentic" (Hebrews 10:19-25)

6 – The transformed person fulfills his/her church membership vows

Sermon: "Church -- You Gotta Love It" (1 Timothy 3:1-16)


SERVING OTHERS

7 - The transformed person exercises his/her gifts and passions in all of life

Sermon: "Living Deliberately" (1 Peter 4:7-11)

8 - The transformed person practices biblical principles of financial stewardship

Sermon: "Giving Deliberately" (Malachi 3:6-12)

9 – The transformed person shares his/her faith in word and deed in Orlando & around the world

Sermon: "We Can Change the World" (Matthew 5:13-16)

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thankful

Today is Thanksgiving. Here are just a few of the things that I'm grateful for today...
  • I'm thankful I have a family. Today I drove some homeless people "home" after our church fed them Thanksgiving dinner. A man named Jim told me his unhappy story of parents he has not seen in years, a sister who doesn't want to have anything to do with him, and a wife who killed herself some years back. There are thousands of people like Jim throughout the world. By contrast, I had parents who provided well for me. My family members genuinely love each other. I have a wife who has loved me well for 31+ years. And I have children who love God and are filling & subduing the earth and using their God-given gifts for his glory. For this I say, "Thank you, Lord."
  • I'm thankful I am healthy. I have a friend in SC whose daughter has breast cancer. A lot of people in my church have to put up with chronic fatigue, bad backs, arthritis, bad hearts, tumors, leftover pain from surgery, and a host of other maladies. By contrast, I played tennis this morning. I'll play racquetball tomorrow. My heart beats irregularly every now and then, but other than that I seem to be in great health (subject to change any moment, of course!). For this I say, "Thank you, Lord."
  • I'm thankful for friends. A lot of people go through life alone. I see a lot of lonely people every day and even at church on Sunday. By contrast, I'm in a small group and we laugh together and share the hard things of life together. I'm in a men's group and we talk about marriage and kids and identity and vocation. I have pastor friends scattered around the country and friends from previous churches with whom I still connect. And at my church I count scores of people as my friends. For this I say, "Thank you, Lord."
  • I'm thankful for America. I could have been born anywhere but here, at anytime in history other than now. But God allowed me to grow up in a place of freedom and in a time of prosperity. Certainly there are spiritual dangers associated with comfort, affluence, and plenty, and America is not perfect. But think of our freedoms - to get an education, to worship, to vote, to dissent, to own property, to earn a living, to travel, to build a business, and many others. For these I say, "Thank you, Lord."
  • I'm thankful for the Bible. There are people groups in the world that don't have the Scriptures in their language. There are countries in the world that do not treasure the Bible, governments that suppress it from getting into the hands of men and women, boys and girls. There are churches in the US that once preached the Bible but now hardly open it. By contrast, I belong to a church and a denomination that sees the Bible as God's inerrant, infallible, authoritative Word. God has seen fit to give me a sound theological education deeply rooted in the Reformed tradition. He has surrounded me with godly men and women who have taught me the ways of God. He has spoken to me over and over from the Bible. And countless people gave their lives so that I could own an English Bible and read it for myself. For this I say, "Thank you, Lord."
  • Most of all, I'm thankful for Jesus. I am a really big sinner. There's an old hymn by Thomas Pollack that pretty well sums up the general state of my heart. I'll quote stanzas 1-4 in full:

We have not known Thee as we ought,
Nor learned Thy wisdom, grace and power;
The things of earth have filled our thought,
And trifles of the passing hour.
Lord, give us light Thy truth to see,
And make us wise in knowing Thee.

We have not feared Thee as we ought,
Nor bowed beneath Thine awful eye,
Nor guarded deed and word and thought,
Remembering that God was nigh.
Lord, give us faith to know Thee near,
And grant the grace of holy fear.

We have not loved Thee as we ought,
Nor cared that we are loved by Thee;
Thy presence we have coldly sought,
And feebly longed Thy face to see.
Lord, give a pure and loving heart
To feel and know the love Thou art.

We have not served Thee as we ought,
Alas, the duties left undone,
The work with little fervor wrought,
The battles lost or scarcely won!
Lord, give the zeal, and give the might,
For Thee to toil, for Thee to fight.

I'm thankful for Jesus because even though all those things are true about me, He traded places with me on the cross. He gave me the benefits of His obedient life and His submissive death. He gave me His righteousness and took on Himself my sin. And because of Jesus, I am forgiven, justified, adopted, sanctified, loved, accepted, treasured, pursued, included, and redeemed. For this I say, "Thank you, God!"

Monday, November 12, 2007

Silly cat



These are some recent pictures of our cat Cleopatra. Suzy and I borrowed a "Cat Sitter" DVD and thought it would be fun to see Cleo's reaction to it. You can see that she loved it. It's just one long video of mice, gerbils, birds, and cats, complete with sounds. Cleo was transfixed by it.

The third picture shows Cleo with a plastic thing around her neck. We had to take her to the vet yesterday because the incision from her spaying the week before came undone (!) and was getting infected. Yuck! The plastic thing keeps her from licking her wound. Yiiiickk!!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Grrrr!

I just paid $3.25 per gallon to fill up my gas tank! (I have to put mid-grade fuel in my minivan.) Yikes!

This is crazy. Mass transportation, here we come!

Monday, November 05, 2007

The Hoax

My wife & I rented the movie The Hoax, starring Richard Gere, last week. It's about author Clifford Irving and his attempt in 1971-72 to write a fake autobiography of Howard Hughes and pass it off as genuine. I thought the movie was extremely interesting, very well acted, and effective at recreating the feel of the early '70s. Alfred Molina, who plays Irving's cohort Richard Suskind, was especially good at showing Suskind's sad victimization by Irving.

The story itself was fascinating. While I remember the whole mystique about Howard Hughes quite well, I was not familiar with Irving and the fake autobiography. I was 18 years old when the book was published by McGraw-Hill. It's amazing that Irving got as far as he did with it, fooling the publishing world with forged letters from Hughes and elaborate stories of his interviews with the strange billionaire.

From a spiritual perspective, The Hoax gives a very clear depiction of the blinding, enticing power of sin. It shows the truth of Jeremiah 17:9 - "The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?" While Irving's sin was a lot more "out there" than ours, it was no different in kind from our more subtle forms of lying, using people for our own advantage, manipulating circumstances to get out of trouble, blame-shifting, and violating our promises.

According to the movie, Irving needed money and he was plagued by a guilty conscience. So rather than repent and look to God for mercy, he tacked on the "fig leaves" of a grand plot to write a best-selling novel and pass it off as an autobiography of an eccentric figure. He thought, "If I can just become rich and famous, people will like me, forgive me, and validate my existence." I can think of plenty of times when, rather than face the truth, confess my sin, and deal with it head-on, I either lied my way out of it or found something to distract my attention away from my pain. The Hoax shows very convincingly that "your sin will find you out" (Numbers 32:23), and that persistent sin only leaves in its wake broken lives and hearts.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Priceline

I think those Priceline commercials featuring William Shatner are great. But I had never actually used Priceline until today. I needed to rent an SUV for a trip my family and I are planning around Christmas time, so I gave Priceline a try. All the rental prices I looked at elsewhere were astronomical. So just on a whim I entered a much lower figure on the Priceline website...and it was accepted by Avis! It was about half the going rate from the cheapest rental car company. Even with taxes and fees added in, it looks like I saved over $400.

Next time I'm looking for a hotel or car or something, I'll check out Priceline again.