Tonight at the dinner table, Samuel decided it was time to do a little singing.
[D]oubt is a necessary part of faith. We tend to think that faith and doubt are opposites, but they’re not. The opposite of faith isn’t doubt. The opposite of faith is certainty. If we are certain of something, we don’t need faith. Faith and doubt, then, exist side by side — and that plays itself out all over the Bible (“Lord I believe! Help me overcome my unbelief.”).
But — reason #2 — doubt is about as taboo a subject as you can bring up in church. When was the last time anyone in a small group or church service admitted to not knowing if he or she believed in God? Or wondering if God was really present at all, or good? I’ve honestly had readers tell me that they’d love to read my book, but worry about what their friends or family might think when they see them reading a book about doubt. It sounds flippant, but maybe they should hide my book behind a Playboy. It’s more acceptable to be a Christian with a porn problem than a Christian with a doubt problem. That’s horrible. I want doubters to know that they’re not alone in the journey, and that it’s OK. That they don’t have to pretend to have it all together. That they don’t have to fake it. I hope this book gives them the freedom to be honest, and the encouragement to continue pursuing God, however that might look.
We are not much different than burdened travelers, are we? We roll in the mud of self-pity in the very shadow of the cross. We piously ask for his will and then have the audacity to pout if everything doesn’t go our way. If we would just remember the heavenly body that awaits us, we’d stop complaining that he hasn’t healed this earthly one.
Our problem is not so much that God doesn’t give us what we hope for as it is that we don’t know the right thing for which to hope. (You may want to read that sentence again.)
Andrew Farley, The Naked Gospel:
Sometimes we see ourselves as sinners in the loving arms of a God who is pretending not to see us as we really are. In our minds, maybe God is wearing a pair of “Jesus glasses” that hides our true state from his vision. We find it difficult to grasp the idea that God calls us righteous because we actually are righteous. It feels more humble to believe that we’re filthy worms awaiting a future change into beautiful butterflies.
Jesus stated it best. He said that our righteousness must surpass that of the Pharisees in order to enter the kingdom (Matthew 5:20). So if we Christians don’t claim to possess perfect righteousness, we’re lowering God’s standard. We’re watering down the gospel. We insinuate that Jesus can unite himself with sin. And we insult the perfection of God.
Only perfection will do. This is precisely why God had to make us perfectly righteous in our human spirits through our own death, burial, and resurrection. With its apparent humility, this filthy worm theology appeals to the flesh. But God certainly doesn’t condone our wallowing in poor self-image.
The risen Christ doesn’t join himself to filthy worms. The Holy Spirit doesn’t dwell in dirty sinners. Christ only unites himself with those who are like him in spirit. The Holy Spirit doesn’t reside in someone who remains even 1 percent flawed by sin.
But we’ve been perfectly cleansed. And we’ve been made perfectly righteous at our core through spiritual surgery. This is the only way we can enjoy even a moment of relationship with Jesus Christ.
I have often used the same analogy Farley mentions above, of God looking at us through “Jesus-colored glasses,” and I realize I may have been incomplete in my explanation in the past.
Not to be repetitive with Farley’s own elaboration, but my meaning has always been that when God sees a believer, he sees perfection, as when he sees Jesus. As when he sees himself.
This is who we are, fellow Christians. We have no need to add to it. It’s impossible for us to do so. There is no magic checklist we can look at to see how our perfecting is going. At the same time it is ongoing, it’s also already done. Why can we not accept that? What are we afraid of?
Knowing who we are, righteous before a perfect and holy God, should fill us with hope. A hope we should be passing on to our fellow man.
Know who you are. Be who you are. Not to lord it over others, as the Church has too often been wont to do for years, but to show God’s love to the world. He has chosen to work through us, and we should joyfully allow Him to do so.
No offense to ebooks and Kindle, which have their place, but there’s no substitute for a book that has an actual history, that takes up space on a shelf, that has been somewhere, strapped to the back of a bike, that was being read in a British boys’ school library while Lewis was still teaching at Oxford.
Thank you, Lord, for books. Not just the words, but actual physical books you can hold in your hand and touch and smell, and ponder where they have been and what lives they may have touched.
Andrew Farley, The Naked Gospel:
Grace is the system that the Holy Spirit uses to counsel and teach us on a daily basis. Grace is in place, whether or not we’ve sinned recently. We worry that an absence of law will result in a lifestyle that is out of control. This concern is natural. But is contradicts what the Scriptures say about the effects of grace. grace isn’t just a treatment for sin; it’s actually the cure for sin!
When we question the function of grace in our lives, we’re insulting God’s intelligence. Would he users in a New Covenant that not only allows but actually promotes sin? Is God foolish to think that grace really motivates us to live godly lives?
The secret is that grace deactivates our pride. Removing the law from our lives means our self-effort is no longer prodded to control behavior. The law excites human effort. It encourages us to depend on resources outside of Christ. But unconditional acceptance deactivates human effort and allows the Holy Spirit to be all that he wants to be through us.
Our greatest fear is that we’ll be out of control. But we were never made to be in control. Self-control has always been a natural attribute of the Holy Spirit. The reason he lives within us is to produce the self-control that we’re afraid we’ll lack under grace.
Each year our church sponsors a mission trip for the high schoolers. It’s an opportunity for them to experience, if only for a week, some of the missional lifestyle: living in a foreign land, serving others, giving up many of the comforts of home. It exposes them to the real world beyond high school football games, drama classes, part-time jobs in retail, and life in the suburbs in general.
I’ve gone as an adult leader for two of the past three years. (Last year was a no-go because we had a still fairly new little one in the house.) We’ve been working with Amor Ministries to build houses in Juarez, Mexico, but the violence there the past couple of years, and notably the perception of said violence, has led us to explore other avenues.
Last year the group went to serve those on the Mississippi Gulf Coast still recovering from Katrina.
This year, June 19-26, we’ll be going to Arizona, to the reservation of the San Carlos Apache Tribe. Amor has partnered with Arizona Reservation Ministries, where the need for standard housing is great.
Thirty-nine percent of the tribal families live in substandard housing, and of those that live in standard houses, 40% are in overcrowded conditions. Some of the homes have 1,300 square feet of living space, and have 20 people living in them. Three bedroom homes with four families living therein.
There is a need for 2,400 homes. ARM has committed to building 1,600, and they are currently well short of their goal.
The cost of the trip is $650 per person. We generally ask the students to provide around half, and this year they’re expected to provide $300 through fundraising. This is used to pay for the transportation, meals, and lodging while on the road. (It’s a long drive from the Flowerplex to the reservation in Arizona.) The church, through its mission program, provides the rest, which pays for building supplies, any camp fees, etc.
So using that as a baseline, I’m looking to raise $300 from folks who believe this to be a worthy endeavor, likely providing the rest myself. Obviously, anything over $300 is greatly appreciated, but that’s the goal to reach.
So how can you donate?
Unfortunately, there’s not an easy, online way to donate (that wouldn’t eat into your donation; pesky credit card processing fees), so let’s go the snail mail route.
Please make your check out to “Crossroads Bible Church” and mail it to me at:
1079 W Round Grove Rd
Lewisville, TX 75067
Full disclosure: that’s a UPS Store box I’ve had for…gosh, a decade now. It was originally used as a business address, and we’ve kept it as kind of an insurance policy for most of our shipping needs. Keeps expensive stuff from sitting on our front porch or things like checks from nice people from sitting in our mail box.
Funds are to be turned in to the church by June 13.
So that’s it. I’d be happy to answer any questions anyone might have. Leave them in the comments below, or feel free to contact me privately at “retrophisch AT retrophisch DOT COM”.
UPDATE, 9 May 2010:
I decided to pull the trigger on using PayPal to acquire donations, even if they take a cut for processing and profit. I figure something is better than nothing, and if having this makes it easier for folks to donate, so be it.
Any amount is greatly appreciated!
Matthew Paul Turner: Today, America’s Jesus is more of a brand name than anything else, a money-making commodity that churches and large “non-profits” manage using basic business-type practices like strategy development, viral marketing, and publicity and public relations.
In the book, one of the chapter titles was called “JESUS is a Registered Trademark.” In that chapter, I discussed the differences between the JESUS™ people have created and the Jesus we read about in the gospels. JESUS™ can be manipulated or branded into almost anything we want him to be, from a wealth-and-prosperity-providing genie to a hateful Messiah who will one day return with an eternal axe to grind. It’s difficult to do that with the Jesus of the four gospels.
This has been sitting in my NetNewsWire sidebar for two and a half years. So better late than never, I suppose.
The best inoculation, I think, to a wrong perception that Christianity is equivalent to conservatism is the mercy work of many good churches. For every politico a non-Christian sees claiming the Christian label, we want him to see a hundred Christians in his community, quietly, humbly doing the work of our Father. The more we can accomplish that, the harder it will be for people to identify Christianity with whatever happens to be popular among politicians who claim to act on Christ’s behalf. “You will know them,” Christ said of the good and the bad, “by their fruits.” My prayer, in the current political season and the decades to follow, is that more non-Christians will come to know us in that way, by lifechanging encounters with loving Christians.
God doesn’t give us solutions, he gives us a savior.
A lot of the time, I wish it was the other way around. To be honest with you, sometimes a solution feels more manageable. I can control and understand a solution. I can bend and tweak a formula to my own needs. Christ on the other hand, our savior, isn’t like that at all.
He’s messy. And counterintuitive and uncontrollable. Grace and mercy are two of the most puzzling things on the planet. They’re raw and unbridled and out of control and intertwined with love we can’t possibly understand or earn.
So my question to you is, are you a slave to a jury of your peers? Do you always have to explain why you are right? How much do you care what religious people think of you? When somebody else is wrong, do you jump in quickly to tell them so, making yourself feel righteous? My answer to these questions is yes, I do. Doesn’t that stink?
I think we would be a bit more emotionally stable to understand self-righteousness gets us nowhere, and the jury of our peers is neither an accurate or authoritative judge. It really is a waste of your time to defend yourself to anybody but God Himself. And it’s even more of a waste of time to claim any defense other than Christ crucified.
Really good read.
[Wave of the phin to Brent for the link.]
“The riddles of God are more satisfying than the solutions of man.” —G.K. Chesterton
…so let’s all celebrate by:
Happy birthday, bro. Love ya.
I remind him to watch the cars, to look the drivers in the eye and make sure they see him. His brothers and I sit in the minivan while he goes to the curb and waits for a chance to walk out to the girl. Finally a car stops to let him pass. The girl’s face is turned down; she sees nothing but the ground. I watch my son’s narrow shoulders as he crosses the drive, and I am praying that no harm will come to him, not now or ever, that someone who is this loving will be spared the pain of the world, which is when I remember that it is Christmas, the time when we celebrate precisely the opposite, the coming of pure love to suffer for all we who sit with faces turned down, not even knowing what to ask for, knowing only in our crusted-over hearts that anything will help.
Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me to “recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:”
Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enable to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.
And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shown kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.
Given under my hand, at the city of New York, the 3d day of October, A.D. 1789.
Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking: A Seeker’s ABC:
Unfermented grape juice is a bland and pleasant drink, especially on a warm afternoon mixed half-and-half with ginger ale. It is a ghastly symbol of the life blood of Jesus Christ, especially when served in individual antiseptic, thimble-sized glasses.
Wine is booze, which means it is dangerous and drunk-making. It makes the timid brave and the reserved amorous. It loosens the tongue and breaks the ice, especially when served in a loving cup. It kills germs. As symbols go, it is a rather splendid one.
[Totally ripped off from Michael Hyatt.]
Brian “Head” Welch, Save Me From Myself:
All of the man-made religion crap in this world has to die. Whether it’s Christian man-made religion crap or some other man-made religion crap, it all has to die. It must grieve God’s heart when he sees Christians fighting about whose doctrine is right; he doesn’t see denominations, he sees one big glorious bride. When Christians argue about doctrinal issues, all he sees is carnal people acting like children. All that prideful, controlling religious crap is what drives young people away from churches, and it has to go. Much of the world’s population is under the age of eighteen, and we have to bring the love of Christ to them without all this controlling crap going on. Because, where the spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”
Forgiveness is the thing I ask for the most. In my head maybe I know that God’s forgiveness is eternal and inexhaustible but in my heart I feel like he’s going to run out of them. That he’s got a limited supply. And I’m burning them up, one by one, sin by sin.
Boy, have I felt this way, too.
(Yes, I know the blog post is over a year old, but I just put the feed into my RSS reader and am reading the old entries still in the feed.)
I spent a good portion of my time in a small chapel, learning prayers that preceded the Roman Catholic Church. I came with a great weight on my bones, a weight that overwhelmed me in that tiny chapel. I fell to my knees there, and prayed with quivering shoulders and trembling hands, done in by grief over the past, fear of the future, the knowing that this present ground is sand, that my feet must soon move forward or backward. Each way bears a cost; one of the great lies of men is that the path can be traveled without suffering. Another great lie is that we can stand still and read books and let our paltry knowledge carry us into the arms of God. We have to walk, with heavy, stumbling feet.
It’s easy to see why so many of us — Christians and pagans alike — spend lifetimes running from the living God, our hands stopping our ears, our mouths babbling prayers or blasphemies, all in an effort to avoid the great silence where God speaks to man. That silence is a fearful place, but there is love there, the great love of a parent. There is mercy too, and strength for the uncompleted race.
Andrée Seu, “Alice’s battle”:
You have never seen a struggle like Alice’s struggle against joy. The doubting Narnian dwarfs were preemptively miserable, and so is Alice. The girlfriends’ counsel of lowered expectations mounts a new offensive in her mind. (There is no force so powerful as error in a godly person’s mouth.) But just as Alice starts to sink again, the Spirit counters with this coup de grace:
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5).
Alice perceives in a hot instant that this is not only where the present battle is joined, but where every battle is joined—against the counsel of one’s saintliest friend, against the received wisdom of one’s generation, against the carnal instinct to protect oneself. There are only ever these two—the Word of the Lord; your own understanding.
It dawns on Alice that at any given moment of the day she has a choice of which thoughts she may entertain—those of her friends and “her own understanding,” or the word of the Lord. All that is not the latter is the former, no matter how sweetly wrapped.
Glenn Beck, in the epilogue of The Christmas Sweater:
My mom gave me the sweater, but the greatest gift was given to all of us by a loving Father in Heaven. It is the only true gift ever given to all and yet opened or appreciated by so few. It is the gift of redemption and atonement, and it sits on the top shelf, largely untouched, in the closets of our soul.
At Christmas we celebrate the birth of the Christ child, but by doing so, sometimes we miss the real meaning of the season. It is what that infant, boy, and then perfect man did at the end of His ministry that makes the birth so special.
Without His death, the birth is meaningless.
[Wave of the phin to Evan Courtney.]
“Praying about the future? Take heart! God is already there. He’s standing at the end of our lives looking back on all our days.”
“Every child comes with the message that God is not yet discouraged of man.” —Rabindranath Tagore
[Via A Child Chosen.]
Those other issues certainly affect a country’s safety, prosperity, and greatness. But I’ve come to believe that a nation that tolerates destruction of innocents deserves neither safety nor prosperity nor greatness. We’ve descended into barbarism, and it poisons how we treat the elderly, the incapacitated, even ourselves. We shouldn’t be surprised, having made life a utilitarian calculation, that more and more humans become inconvenient.
It’s certainly true that there are other issues that ought to concern Christians, like the sanctity of marriage, and how we treat the mentally ill, the elderly, and children who have been born. But abortion is, in my view, the touchstone. Get this one wrong and your moral compass can guide you in nothing else.
Tony Woodlief, with words I need to take heed of:
Cast aside what you think you know is right, the church marquee urges, and consider the God-breathed Word. Give yourself over to it and these seemingly large things—tax rates, economic growth, wars, and rumors of wars—will diminish. Meanwhile, those seemingly small things—the anger in our hearts when we, say, confront someone whose ideology we dislike or the fact that we find it so much easier to spend time with those we like rather than those who need us—will become grievous to our spirits.
This is the Word that cuts through every heart, through the very heart of darkness, illuminating the world as it is and will be. Beside it every politician ever born is remarkably inconsequential. Our business on Election Day is brief, and regardless of who wins our work remains the same—seeking and serving the lost, losing our own lives in the doing, and clinging to the Cross that shatters nations, tribes, and creeds.
“Who is in the White House is not as important as Who is on the White Throne.” —Stewart Briscoe
“The cure to cancer might be in the slums of Kenya or Indonesia.”
In other words, you don’t know what the children of today are capable of tomorrow, how God may use someone like me, someone like you, now to change the lives of scores, hundreds, thousands, possibly millions, years from now, just because we help change the life of one child today.
Please consider sponsoring a child.
“The last thing Jesus needs is the State. Stupid Christians like James Dobson and Pat Roberton like D.C. more than grace … sad.”
In preparation for the mission trip I’m going on next week to build houses in Juarez, Mexico, I picked up a Panama Jack cowboy hat at Wal-Mart earlier this evening for a mere ten dollars.
The Juarez trip can be tough on gear (the boots I wore last year won’t be making a return trip), but I figure for ten bucks, I won’t worry if the hat doesn’t go another year. (And yes, a backup hat will be packed, just in case.)
Moments like this are reminders for me that the songs and trappings of Christian culture are not the hope of the world—Jesus is! We need to make him known. We need to love and seek to serve the world around us through prayer, through faithful evangelism, and through Christ-like service of those in need. Our goal is not building a more air-tight evangelical bubble. Neither should our goal be hoping that our subculture will burst out into the broader culture to great acclaim.
Instead, our goal should be to proclaim Christ and him crucified to the people we go to the school with, work with, and live next door to. Our goal should be to preach the gospel and live lives worthy of that gospel. Our goal should be to use our gifts in every sector of society so that God is glorified.
[A]nother way I’m convinced He exists and loves us — on the most base of levels — is that He hasn’t simply wiped us off the face of the earth. I don’t struggle with the whole “why does God let bad things happen” — that’s simple to dismiss, and maybe I will here one day. What I’m getting at is that He has such enormous self-control — if I were Him, there would only be a scant few humans left on the planet.
It’s one of two things: He loves as much as He says He does, or He doesn’t give a rat’s behind about us. With much thanks I know wholeheartedly that the latter isn’t true, so once again I’m amazed at how patient God is with us, and how He loves us, though we pain Him so.
Brent McKinney, A Few Thoughts On Jeremiah:
I think absolutes exist. In other words, if we “miss the mark,” there’s an implication that there’s a mark to hit. A truth that is “right” and to wander away from that is, by implication, “wrong.”
I think like the “1d1” definition regarding sin, that there’s a “way” to go and to deviate from that—wander away— is somehow tied to your identity as a human being. That we “miss” or “lose” our very selves. My guess is that we’re created in the image of God Himself, and to wander away from that…or get lost…is actually a denial of who we are and what we’re about.
I think that most followers of God have no idea who they are and what they’re about.
I think that most followers of God, if they knew who they are and what they’re about (and, in order to get that we would have to know God and what He’s about) would take sin a great deal more seriously than we do.
As usual, when Brent’s thinking deep thoughts, the entire thing is really good.
The following is excerpted from Max Lucado’s An Angel’s Story, and was the 12/23/07 e-mail from MaxLucado.com, which anyone can sign up to receive. Max and his crew are encouraging subscribers to share this and the other excerpts with their friends, so here I am, sharing it with my readers.
We were a wreath of Light around the stable, a necklace of diamonds around the structure. Every angel had been called from his post for the coming, even Michael. None doubted God would, but none knew how He could, fulfill His promise.
“I’ve heated the water!”
“No need to yell, Joseph, I hear you fine.”
Mary would have heard had Joseph whispered. The stable was even smaller than Joseph had imagined but the innkeeper was right—it was clean. I started to clear out the sheep and cow, but Michael stopped me. “The Father wants all of creation to witness the moment.”
Mary cried out and gripped Joseph’s arm with one hand and a feed trough with the other. The thrust in her abdomen lifted her back, and she leaned forward.
“Is it time?” Joseph asked.
She shot back a glance, and he had his answer.
Within moments the Awaited One was born. I was privileged to have a position close to the couple, only a step behind Michael. We both gazed into the wrinkled face of the infant. Joseph had placed hay in a feed trough, giving Jesus His first bed.
All of God was in the infant. Light encircled His face and radiated from His tiny hands. The very glory I had witnessed in His throne room now burst through His skin.
I felt we should sing but did not know what. We had no song. We had no verse. We had never seen the sight of God in a baby. When God had made a star, our words had roared. When He had delivered His servants, our tongues had flown with praise. Before His throne, our songs never ended. But what do you sing to God in a feed trough?
In that moment a wonderful thing happened. As we looked at the baby Jesus, the darkness lifted. Not the darkness of the night, but the darkness of the mystery. Heaven’s enlightenment engulfed the legions.
Our minds were filled with the Truth we had never before known. We became aware for the first time of the Father’s plan to rescue those who bear His name.
“Joy to the world! The Lord is come! Let earth receive her King! Let every heart, prepare Him room! Heaven and nature sing!”
The following landed in ye olde e-mail inbox earlier today, penned by talk radio host Laura Ingraham:
Megan pulled a three-ring binder out of her bag and showed me a photograph of herself and her husband. Young—they’re both 21—with big smiles on their faces and obviously wildly in love. “That’s what he looked like,” she said with a somber face, “He was such a cutie-pie, always buying me little stuffed animals and writing the most thoughtful notes the entire time he was in Iraq.” Then she showed me the photo of her husband receiving the Purple Heart on Wednesday from President Bush at Bethesda Naval Medical Center. As President Bush pinned the medal on Mike, he lay unconscious in the ICU, having suffered a traumatic brain injury caused by a piece of shrapnel that pierced his temple.
“This is my Mike now,” she said, rubbing her eyes. He is completely blind and to alleviate a terrible cranial pressure build-up, doctors had to remove the front of his skull. Since being wounded several months ago, Mike has never regained consciousness and suffers from terrible seizures. “That’s my guy,” she repeated, before she went on to tell me about how they met and fell in love.
For whatever reason, I kept thinking about the fact that some person somewhere carefully assembled the IED that would eventually maim Mike and many others. They are often packed with nails, hunks of lead and screws to cause maxim human suffering. When they explode, the contents rip through flesh and bones, shattering countless dreams in the process.
How to comprehend this level of evil and the physical and emotional agony it causes? This young woman and her husband should be out buying their first Christmas tree together, going to parties, raising a glass to their future. When I asked what she was doing for the holiday she said, “I’ll be here with Mike. I would never want him to be alone on Christmas.” They had been married for about three months when Mike was wounded.
In these days before Christmas, Megan and other military wives and moms gave me a precious gift. They reminded me that true love requires sacrifice—sometimes seemingly unbearable, heart-wrenching sacrifice. They are living out their love in big and small ways. Many have moved thousands of miles to relocate to the hospitals where their husbands, wives, sons, and daughters are being treated. This takes an enormous emotional and financial toll, yet they do it for love. When they are not at the hospital bedsides of their wounded warriors, they sit for hours a day in waiting rooms across the United States, hoping for good news—or at least no more bad news. They pray with each other, cry with each other, and yes, even manage to laugh with each other as they hope for a day when they can return to “normal life.” Yet for the families of our most seriously injured troops, they know they will have to get used to a “new normal,” much different from the life they knew before.
As we are about to celebrate Christmas spending time with our families and friends, let us all do our best to live up to the true spirit of this season—and make it a time filled with love, faith, gratitude, hope, charity, and, yes, let’s try for some peace on earth. Let us remember the military families and our wounded heroes who will spend this Christmas at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Brooke Army Medical Center, Bethesda Naval Medical Center and other medical facilities across the nation. As we rush around stressed out because we “haven’t found the perfect gift” for so-and-so, these families hope and pray for gifts that cannot be wrapped up: a hand that squeezes back, a smile, the first step on a new prosthesis, or a positive medical report.
They need our prayers and support at Christmas and every day. Please give what you can to any of the wonderful organizations that support our bravest and their families.
The following is excerpted from Max Lucado’s An Angel’s Story, and was the 12/20/07 e-mail from MaxLucado.com, which anyone can sign up to receive. Max and his crew are encouraging subscribers to share this and the other excerpts with their friends, so here I am, sharing it with my readers.
The King walked over and reached for the book. He turned it toward Lucifer and commanded, “Come, Deceiver, read the name of the One who will call your bluff. Read the name of the One who will storm your gates.”
Satan rose slowly off his haunches. Like a wary wolf, he walked a wide circle toward the desk until he stood before the volume and read the word:
“Immanuel?” he muttered to himself, then spoke in a tone of disbelief. “God with us?” For the first time the hooded head turned squarely toward the face of the Father. “No. Not even You would do that. Not even You would go so far.”
“You’ve never believed me, Satan.”
“But Immanuel? The plan is bizarre! You don’t know what it’s like on Earth! You don’t know how dark I’ve made it. It’s putrid. It’s evil. Its…”
“IT IS MINE,” proclaimed the King. “AND I WILL RECLAIM WHAT IS MINE. I WILL BECOME FLESH. I WILL FEEL WHAT MY CREATURES FEEL. I WILL SEE WHAT THEY SEE.”
“But what of their sin?”
“I will bring mercy.”
“What of their death?”
“I will give life.”
Satan stood speechless.
God spoke, “I love my children. Love does not take away the beloved’s freedom. But love takes away fear. And Immanuel will leave behind a tribe of fearless children. They will not fear you or your hell.”
Satan stepped back at the thought. His retort was childish. “Th-th-they will too!”
“I will take away all sin. I will take away death. Without sin and without death, you have no power.”
Around and around in a circle Satan paced, clenching and unclenching his wiry fingers. When he finally stopped, he asked a question that even I was thinking. “Why? Why would You do this?”
The Father’s voice was deep and soft. “Because I love them.”
I received this e-mail from a neighbor. It’s one of those things where you read their answers, then fill in your own and pass it on to the people you’d like to hear back from. Seeing as how while most of you will be getting ready for work or what-have-you this morning while I’m undergoing prep for surgery to get “unscrewed”, I won’t be in much of a blogging mood, and thought I’d leave this here for you to enjoy.
Please feel free to leave your own answers in the comments, or post to your own blog and link to it in the comments. Merry Christmas!
Welcome to the 2007 Holiday Edition of Getting to Know Your Friends! You know the drill. Don’t be a scrooge! Fill it out, pass it on, blah blah blah. I would love to hear your answers.
1. Egg Nog or Hot Chocolate?
This time of year, I have to go with the nog. I can get hot chocolate any time.
2. Does Santa wrap the presents or just sit them under the tree?
Growing up, Santa just left stuff under the tree, or on the coach next to the tree, etc. Since then, he seems to have upgraded his process, as the gifts he leaves are now wrapped.
3. Colored or white lights?
I prefer white, though I do enjoy the colored lights when they’re done well.
4. Do you hang mistletoe?
Nope. I’m already kissing the person I want to kiss the most.
5. When do you put your decorations up?
We have no hard and fast rules on this one. The tree just went up this weekend, and the lights were put on last night.
6. What is your favorite holiday dish?
Can I go with the nog again?
7. Favorite Holiday memory as a child?
The older gentlemen, Mr. Gridley, who lived next door to my grandparents, would dress as Santa and come over to hand out our presents when we did Christmas at their house. As a child, having Santa right there, handing you the presents he’d brought all the way from the North Pole? Incredible.
8. When and how did you learn the truth about Santa?
I’d have to check with my folks, but it was likely somewhere around ten or eleven years of age. I overheard some other boys talking about, and I confronted my parents with the information. They told me the truth, but swore me to secrecy, as my sister, five years younger than I, still believed.
9. Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve?
That usually depends on where we might be, but generally, yes.
10. How do you decorate your Christmas tree?
White lights, with ornaments from my childhood, plus some that were gifts from my mother-in-law, my mom, and my grandmothers. They’re pretty much all personal momentos of one sort or another. No tinsel or garland. Pretty simple, the way we like it.
11. Snow: Love it or hate it?
Love it, just because, growing up in south Louisiana, and now living in north Texas, we don’t see snow often.
12. Can you ice skate?
Nope. Heck, I barely remember how to roller skate!
13. Do you remember your favorite gift?
So many were favorites at so many different times of my life, I really couldn’t say.
14. What’s the most important thing about the holidays for you?
Spending time with the family. It’s great to see Christmas through the eyes of a child—my son—once again.
15. What is your favorite holiday dessert?
A tie between my grandmother’s chocolate pie, and my grandmother’s lemon pie. The tie is always broken by having a slice of each.
16. What is your favorite holiday tradition?
Watching my son open his presents on Christmas morning.
17. What is on top of your tree?
18. Which do you like best giving or receiving?
Definitely the giving, though I won’t lie and say the receiving—especially when it’s something from my carefully assembled wish list—comes in a close second. Hey, at least I’m honest.
19. What is your favorite Christmas song?
I’m a sucker for a well done “What Child is This?”, and I also love “Joy To The World” and “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”.
20. Do you like candy canes?
To eat? Not really, but I don’t mind them otherwise.
21. What is your favorite Christmas movie?
Technically not a movie, but I love “A Charlie Brown Christmas”
Non-believers should feel more loved by the church than by any institution in the world.
Boy, but do I blow this one on a consistent basis…
So, what am I thankful for this year….?
My wife. Those who know me know that she has to put up with a lot on a regular basis. However, when I injured my left foot earlier this year, a ton of extra stuff fell to her to take care of, and she’s been absolutely wonderful. I love you, sweetheart.
The little phisch. Our little man is a never-ending source of joy—and frustration, but that’s just part of parenting. That smile of his just lights me up any time, and his laugh is the best sound I’ve ever heard. He’s a gas to play with, and it never ceases to amaze me when I see his mind at work on something. Being his dad is the greatest job I could ever have, and has given me a larger appreciation of the love my own parents have for me.
My folks. I had a perfectly normal childhood. My parents, while strict at times, were never abusive in any manner, and I always knew I was loved. I grew up in a nice house in a nice neighborhood, with lots of other kids my age. My folks provided everything I needed, and more. They made sure I went to college without incurring a large financial debt. Since I’ve left the nest, they’ve been a source of encouragement and help in ways I never imagined.
My family. My sister, my grandmothers, my aunts, uncles, and cousins whom I’m lucky to see even once a year. We may not all talk often, and see one another even less, but it’s nice to know that when we do get together, after a few minutes of catching up, it’s pretty much just picking up from wherever we last left off. My life would be more shallow without them.
My friends. I have friends in this nation from coast to coast, and from the far north of the 48 states down to their southernmost. I am blessed to have quite a few right here in my little corner of the world, and more in many other corners. You have all enriched me in some way, and I’m thankful to know you.
The men and women of the United States armed forces. I’m proud to count members from the prior category in this one as well. Thank you all for your tireless sacrifice on behalf of the rest of us. You are never far from our thoughts and prayers. May those of you in the line of fire return home safely upon the successful completion of your mission. In the mean time, watch your six, and God bless.
God. You have made all things possible. You have blessed me in ways far beyond my understanding and worth. You offered Your own Son in my place, so that I might have a place in Your kingdom forever. I am humbled that You, the Creator of all things, would deign to know the number of hairs on my head, much less want to be my friend. All of the above things for which I am thankful are gifts from You, and I am eternally grateful.
Thanks to our friends Brent and Tracy, I was able to go with Brent this past Friday to see Rob Bell on his The Gods Aren’t Angry Tour. I’d never heard Bell, and while I have one of his books, I confess I’ve yet to crack the cover, so I was looking forward to hearing what Mr. Bell might have to say.
I will add a few comments and observations to those made by Brent. I noted how, when Bell was talking about how God changed the entire dynamic of the relationship with humans starting with Abraham, Rob noted how God, “used those other gods, worshipped by the rest of human civilization, as props in His narrative to humanity.” I’m not sure why that line jumped out at me, but it made enough of an impression to get copied into my Moleskine. Maybe it was just a reminder of how big God truly is, that He exists outside time and space as we understand them, and doesn’t display the very humanistic characteristics we see in the gods of the ancient civilizations.
What’s also fascinating is how so much of what transpired, from a spiritual/faith standpoint, in the ancient world still pervades our so-called modern society. Looking at the religions of the world, all of them are still engaged in some sort of “doing” relationship. You have to do this to please Allah, you have to pray at a certain time, facing a certain way, saying certain words. If you sin, you must confess to the priest, and do penance as he directs. If you offend your neighbor, this is the ritual the rabbi can help you with to make things right. It’s all about doing, which is just how the ancients engaged with Apollo, Jupiter, or whoever.
Christianity is unique in that God Himself provided the means of salvation, saying “Done!” The only thing required of you is to say yes to Him. That’s it. Everything that follows is from your relationship with Him, not because there’s anything you have to do, rather there are things that, as a result of the relationship, you want to do. Which was part of what Bell was getting at, too: the God of Abraham is unique in that He reaches out to humanity for a one-on-one relationship with each man, woman, and child. This idea floored the ancients. It would’ve been as radical a concept as showing a modern automobile to the Founding Fathers.
Bell’s still on tour until December 2d, so if you’re in and around Raleigh, DC, Pittsburgh, NYC, Philly, Beantown, Louisville, Indy, or Rob’s home town of Grand Rapids, I highly encourage you to take it in. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
So where is God found? He finds us, of course, as he always has, from the beginning, and will to the end, because a parent seeks his children without ceasing. But listen close, and I will tell you where I saw him last. It was just yesterday evening, when Isaac placed his fresh-washed hands in my palms, his face strangely peace-filled, and sang to me in his warbly voice. Here is God, I thought. Do you want to find God? Then look up from your books and theologies, if you can bear it, for God is here.
Laura Ingraham, Power To The People:
Our Declaration of Independence reminds us of the “unalienable rights” that are ours to enjoy: “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” These rights are dependent upon one another for survival. We often forget that we have been “endowed” with these rights by our “Creator.” How seldom we think of Him and our duty to Him as we exercise these precious rights.
In this age of widespread human embryo destruction, abortion, euthanasia, and cloning, how can we credibly protect the right to life? What is liberty? How do we exercise it without encroaching on the rights of others? And what does it mean to pursue happiness? Is that just a permission slip to indulge our every appetite? Is it a free pass to super-size our meals, wallow in porn, and swell our coffers, regardless of the impact on others?
Too often we have believed that “freedom” means that we have no duties or responsibilities to others. That “anything goes” mentality may appear to be empowering, but it is not. Instead, it creates a sense of anarchy that makes most Americans very unhappy.
The Founding Fathers did not risk their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor so we could become spoiled, pampered, narcissistic, and focused solely on our own pleasure. An ordered society was the Founders’ goal—a place where we could live our lives in limitless possibility—but only if we fulfilled our obligations. They wanted us to have the liberty to tap into our creative powers, for our own good and for the good of our countrymen. This is the pathway to true happiness. But that society is only possible if we, the people, have a shared set of values, a common set of beliefs that bind us together. The Founders did not view liberty as a license, but as a sacred responsibility to be used for the good. They understood that liberty cannot be separated from virtue.
My friend Brandon has a great post today that got me to thinking, and in thinking, smiling.
The walk of faith is not a stroll but a journey. And each one of us walks a different path. Some days that path is familiar and we are excited and hopeful. Other days that path is and dark and we tremble with the deep fear of unknowing. There are days for praise and there are days for fear and doubt and sometimes those two things seem to happen all at once.
So take courage today! If you are excited and hopeful - rejoice! If you are scared and tired and full of fear - take heart! Do not fear the unknown - seek Him! And embrace the tension of walking ahead. For even the unknown can become familiar when we hold onto the One who knows what lies ahead.
We truly serve an amazing and awesome God!
Remember when a few hours ago I said I was really thankful about living in America, and I wasn’t going to get in to some diatribe regarding socialized medicine? After reading the latest from Walter E. Williams, I’m doubly—no, make that triply—thankful:
Before we buy into single-payer health care systems like Canada’s and the United Kingdom’s, we might want to do a bit of research. The Vancouver, British Columbia-based Fraser Institute annually publishes “Waiting Your Turn.” Its 2006 edition gives waiting times, by treatments, from a person’s referral by a general practitioner to treatment by a specialist. The shortest waiting time was for oncology (4.9 weeks). The longest waiting time was for orthopedic surgery (40.3 weeks), followed by plastic surgery (35.4 weeks) and neurosurgery (31.7 weeks).
As reported in the June 28 National Center for Policy Analysis’ “Daily Policy Digest,” Britain’s Department of Health recently acknowledged that one in eight patients waits more than a year for surgery.
(Emphasis added. —R)
Now, class, who remembers what kind of procedure I’m having in just a couple of hours?
That’s right, Nathan. Orthopedic surgery. Orthopedic surgery two weeks after sustaining injury. Two. As opposed to forty. Two.
Thank you again, God. Thank you.
My friends, as I go about my business on the eve of foot surgery, I thought I would take a moment to offer thanks.
Thanks be to God that I was born in America. The United States is, contrary to what a few of our countrymen and very many outsiders would say, quite simply the greatest nation on planet Earth. No, we’re not perfect. Far, far from it. But if you could pick any place to be born and grow up in, surely, this is the place, and this is the time.
I injured my foot the evening of the 17th. Between that time and now I have visited an emergency clinic and been treated, seen a specialist (twice), and had a CT scan taken of my foot. At the two-week mark, I shall undergo surgery to get the foot’s interior cleaned up and have a screw inserted to help hold things together. Hopefully, at the end of four months, the screw will come out, and I’ll go back to normal mobility.
This would have happened in the same way and at the same pace in very few places elsewhere on the globe. I’m not going to get in to some diatribe regarding socialized medicine, but I wonder if I would be as far along in the process in other Western nations. I certainly wouldn’t be here if I were in a Second-World nation, and I might be permanently crippled if I were a resident in the Third World. Thank God I’m here.
Thanks be to God for close friends. Like Drew, who was helping me with a ceiling fan installation when I stupidly injured myself, and who took me to the after-hours clinic so my wife wouldn’t have to deal with that burden, too. And who called this weekend, after being out of town for a week on business, to check up on me, and offering whatever assistance we might need.
Like Nathan and Brent, who do their best to joke around and keep my mind off the injury. For nabbing primo tickets to the local minor league baseball team, so I could have one last hurrah before my mobility is limited for a couple of months. (Thanks so much, Nathan!) Like the folks at our minichurch, who are always so supportive and caring, wondering what it is they can do to help out. I love you guys!
Thanks be to God that I have such an awesome wife and family. If you’re the praying sort, beyond any prayers concerning my injury and recovery, pray for my wife. The Lord knows what she goes through in putting up with me on a normal basis, much less when I’m going to be in a cast and on crutches for a couple of months. Outside of physical pain and lack of mobility, this will probably be harder on her than it will be on me. So please pray for her.
I am so richly and humbly blessed, I can’t even really put it in to words, other than to say thanks. Thank you, Drew, Brent, Nathan, Donna, Bill, Geno, Liz, Brad, Becky, Susan, Larry, Marlie, Carolyn, Veta, Sam, and Brenda.
Thank you, Mom and Dad, for your encouragement. (And yes, Dad, I did feel the eye roll over the phone when I told you what had happened, and I just hear in my head, “I thought I taught you better than that.” Come on, you know you were thinking it. And yes, you did teach me better than that. What can I say? I had a moment of stupidity.)
Thank you, Kelly, for loving me. You are so wonderful and awesome, there are times I can’t believe you’re even in my life, much less my wife.
Finally, thank you, God, for delivering me from sin, for calling me to Your Kingdom, for blessing me with my nation of birth, for my many friends, and my family. You are, indeed, an awesome God!
Well, dear readers, after being gone for a week on a family vacation, I’m now leaving in the wee morning hours—in six hours, to be precise—on a mission trip to Juarez, Mexico. It’s an annual thing our church does, and this year I decided to go as one of the adult volunteers. It’s really a mission trip for the youth of the church, with something around a 65-35 breakdown of youth to adults.
Normally the trip is to build simple homes for the poor of the area, but this year we’ve been asked by the mission sponsor, Amor Ministries, to build some duplex housing for attendees of the local Bible college.
So you won’t be seeing any updates from the phisch bowl for a bit, as we will have little power available, little running water (which we don’t drink any way, we bring our own drinking water), and absolutely no Internet access of any kind. Mobile phone coverage is even spotty, and insanely expensive.
It’s going to be a blast.
See you next week.
I’m not sure if there’s anything to the fact that as George Thorogood’s “Who Do You Love?” was playing, I came across Steve’s great poem, “my convenient social gospel”, but regardless, it’s a good poem. Thanks, Steve!
You can listen to the song.
The gates and doors were barred and all the windows fastened down
I spent the night in sleeplessness and rose at every sound
Half in hopeless sorrow, half in fear the day
Would find the soldiers breaking through to drag us all away
And just before the sunrise I heard something at the wall
The gate began to rattle and a voice began to call
I hurried to the window and looked down into the street
Expecting swords and torches and the sound of soldiers feet
There was no one there but Mary so I went down to let her in
John stood there beside me as she told us where she’d been
She said, “They’ve moved Him in the night and none of us knows where.
“The stone’s been rolled away and now His body isn’t there.”
We both ran t’ward the garden and then John ran on ahead
We found the stone and the empty tomb just the way that Mary said
But the winding sheet they wrapped Him in was just an empty shell
And how or where they’d taken Him was more than I could tell
Something strange had happened there just what I didn’t know
John believed a miracle but I just turned to go
Circumstance and speculation didn’t lift me very high
‘Cause I’d seen them crucify Him, and then I saw Him die
Back inside the house again the guilt and anguish came
Everything I’d promised Him just added to my shame
When at least it came to choices I denied I knew His name
And even if He was alive, it wouldn’t be the same
Suddenly the air was filled with a strange and sweet perfume
Light that came from everywhere drove shadows from the room
Jesus stood before me with His arms held open wide
And I felld own on my knees and I just clung to Him and cried
He raised me to my feet and as I looked into His eyes
Love was shining out from them like sunlight from the skies
Guilt and my confusion disappeared in sweet release
And every fear I’d ever had just melted into peace
He’s alive, He’s alive, He’s alive and I’m forgiven
Heaven’s gates are opened wide
(Repeat chorus two more times)
He’s alive, He’s alive, He’s alive…He’s alive!
Compassion now has a store where you can purchase Compassion-branded merchandise, as well as music and books from artists who support Compassion. This is a great way for those who may not be able to support a child on a monthly basis to make a contribution to Compassion’s ongoing ministries.
My personal favorites are the “Changing the World” t-shirt, the “The opposite of poverty” t-shirt (the front reads “The opposite of poverty is not wealth” and the back reads “The opposite of poverty is enough”), the Men’s Dill Polo, and the Vintage Cap, which is apparently so popular, it’s already on backorder.
Now they just need to add a wishlist feature to the Compassion Store, and I’ll be set!
There’s a lot of discussion about faith these days. I hear many on Television telling me it’s a force. They tell me that I can “use” my faith and make things happen. I have watched as many of them worship at the altar of faith and elevate it above the God who is supposed to be the object of their faith.
Let me simplify this a little. The bible makes it clear that faith is simply a dependance on someone else to do for me what I cannot do myself. Real biblical faith is trusting God, and believing he will really do what he says. That’s it! It’s not hard. It’s not a lever I pull to get a jackpot. It’s not a formula that I can work to get God to act.
[Emphasis added. —R]
See you at lunch. :D
I missed this when it went out a couple of weeks ago, prior to the Super Bowl, but better late than never, right?
On Sunday, one of us will be a world champion. We may have reached the ultimate goal for a football coach, but we know that there is more to life than football. Even when you have achieved the ultimate, someting better lies beyond.
As pro football coaches, we are also men of faith. Our faith drives us every day to seek excellence. It comforts us in the worst of times and produces hope in adversity. It is through our common faith in Jesus Christ that we have individually experienced God’s love and forgiveness.
We would love to tell you more. Visit www.BeyondtheUltimate.org, and discover how you can live “BEYOND” the ultimate.
The coaches have partnered with Athletes in Action to produce the site, which includes stories from players on both the Colts and Bears teams.
No political slogan or hand-held sign has ever changed someone’s convictions. Protests, shouting, and political battle will only polarize people on an issue. Regardless of which side wins or loses a political struggle, people will continue to believe what they did before. If you want to change your community, your nation and your world, the most effective action you can take is to introduce people to Jesus, and to demonstrate His love and compassion to them. Through His death and resurrection, all of us can be free from the effects of sin, and enjoy unlimited and joyful relationship with God. This is where changed lives come from.
It is a good thing to participate in politics as God leads. Vote your conscience. Respectfully voice your convictions in the political arena. But don’t expect the election of a politician or passage of a law to change people’s minds and hearts, much less their lives. Political power and law rule only through fear of consequence, not love. Let’s make our focus the same as Jesus’. People are transformed when they experience love in relationship with Him.
Raise your hand if you’ve ever seen an entire church moving down the road. Put your hands down; I don’t mean the whole congregation cruising caravan-style. I’m talking about the entire church building.
A wave of the phin to Dethroner, and I have to agree with Joel that the video’s soundtrack totally makes it.
A little while ago, I finished watching “The Christmas Show” episode of Studio 60. The show closes with an awesome performance by New Orleans musicians who are supported by the Tipitina’s Foundation. The group performs one of my favorite Christmas songs, “O Holy Night”, and you can still snag a MP3 from Studio 60’s music page.
Yesterday, my wife awoke to find our son still in his bed. Granted, he was awake, but he’s only three and still hasn’t quite figured out the whole Christmas morning, Santa has left presents, thing. So she went to get him up, and moments later he came in to our room.
“Merry Christmas, buddy!” I tell him as Mom helps him up on the bed.
“Merry Christmas, Daddy,” he replies, giving me as big a bear hug as his little arms can muster.
He then proceeds to plop down next to me, still hugging me, and we stay like that for about forty-five seconds before he pops up and says, “Come on, Daddy. Let’s go get presents.”
If nothing else, those sixty seconds made this the best Christmas ever.
I had a good seat (thanks, Samantha!), and took a few shots of the couple as they performed, plus of the good-sized crowd before the concert, and in between sets.
Beyond his lyrical abilities, one of the things I admire about Derek is his desire to simply get the message of God’s love out there. At one point during his set, he remarked how he was going to freak out all the lawyers and record executives by telling all of us to share his music with whomever we wanted to. Earlier this year, he had even gone so far as to put his latest album, Mockingbird, online as a free download. He says it was a very successful experiment.
So, fellow dads, how’s your day going? A pretty quiet one for us here at the Phisch Bowl. It was nice to sleep in a little, then off to church, and Mi Cocina for lunch (Sunset Fajitas!). Both the little phisch and the missus crashed for a nap, and in addition to doing some online reading, I’ve enjoyed one of my Father’s Day gifts: the fifth season DVD set of Seinfeld. Season five is notable because it includes my favorite Seinfeld episode, “The Marine Biologist”, which I watched, along with the episode’s extras, a few minutes ago.
A pair of homemade gifts from the little phisch: a framed handprint he made at school, and a pocket-protector card he colored in Sunday School this morning. As usual, these will take prominent spots on the refrigerator and study whiteboard.
I’m usually the one who gets our little guy down for his naps, and today was no exception. As he drifted off, and I looked at his peaceful face, it was one of those Hallmark moments where your heart feels like it’s about to burst. Since becoming a father, I have learned more about how much my own dad loves me than I ever thought I knew.
Likewise, having had those thoughts parents have, since becoming a dad my relationship with God has deepened, as I understand more how wrenching it was for Him to give up His only Son for the world.
My fellow dads, I hope you all have a great day.
Dad, I love you. Thanks for always being there, and setting the example you did.
During the Christmas season, one sees Angel Trees nearly everywhere: at work, in the malls, at church; you can hardly go anywhere without running in to an Angel Tree. Between church and work, we’ve already picked a few angels ourselves, and I’m sure many of you have, too.
There is a group of children that are often overlooked this time of year, and those are the children of prison inmates. Prison Fellowship started its Angel Tree ministry in 1982, and has been going strong ever since. It’s not these kids’ fault their parents are behind bars, and they deserve to get something for Christmas as much as any other child.
This year, a generous donor is matching all Angel Tree contributions up to $100,000, which means a normal donation that would give one child a gift will now serve two kids.
So please consider making a donation that can turn what is often a lonely time for these kids into one of joy.
Ever since the little phisch was born, the Christmas cards we’ve sent out have been the kind where a photo of the youngun was part of the card. So we have a few boxes of Christmas cards that will likely never be used. Kevin’s campaign sounds fun, and I have the materials.
So the ACLU can expect a Christmas card from me this year. Probably two. Maybe three.
Let’s just say, when I get tired of signing them and filling out the address info on the envelopes, okay?
Despite the financial hardships and the extended family dysfunctional, I have an incredible amount of things to be thankful for again this year. I pray you do, too.
“It is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favors.” —George Washington, Thanksgiving Proclamation, 3 October 1789
(Yes, I know “threesey” isn’t a real word, but I was attempting a rhyme.)
Today was game three of our fall season, and I must confess I have never before been embarrassed to wear the jersey of my team as I was today.
Oh, we won, 15-10. The embarrassment was due to the conduct of a few of our teammates.
The ump behind the plate was being very inconsistent with his pitch calling. Wildly inconsistent, with regard to what constituted a ball for one team versus the other. You can intuit the inconsistency was not in our team’s favor.
As I have gotten older, I have mellowed with regard to sports officials. For the most part. These are guys and ladies who have to make a decision in a nanosecond, including times when the call could honestly go either way. Umpires, referrees, they’re not perfect. They’re human, and like all of us are prone to mistakes. I understand that, and respect their authority.
The remaining issue I have with sports officials is a lack of consistency. If pitch A is a ball, and pitch B comes across in exactly the same spot, it should be called a ball, too. Today’s umpire was not being consistent. By the fourth inning, the ire of the team had been raised to a fever pitch. We were on our third pitcher, and not necessarily because the first two were throwing junk. Mind you, there were balls being thrown, but as I murmured to one of my teammates on the bench (I switched off every other inning with Dave at 3d), the law of averages dictates that some of these pitches had to be strikes.
In the top of the fifth, some words were shared from the dugout by one of our teammates, loud enough for the umpire to hear. This was after an exchange while this player was at the plate. The umpire called our coach over, and the team was informed, via this conversation, that if anyone uttered another such comment, they would be ejected. It was a sad moment, I feel, for our team.
After the game, our coach informed us that while she was catching in the fourth, she had asked for some consistency in the pitch calling from the umpire. His reply was a simple nod. The only failing I see here was that our coach should have informed the entire team of this at the end of the inning. The unpleasantness might have then be avoided.
I’m sure some of you are thinking, so what’s the big deal? The big deal is that this is a church league. Yes, we are out there to play, have fun, and yes again, to win. However, we should be doing so in a manner worthy of the God we call Lord. We failed to do so today.
It has been said on more than one occasion and by more than one person that Christians are their own worst enemies. More often than not, our words bear no witness for us to the world. Rather, it is our conduct which bears that witness, and we failed in that regard. Our opposition, which was losing, showed what good sportsmanship should look like.
Our league’s games are not the only ones in progress. At the park we play at, there are two other fields in operation. There are spectators, and kids playing on the jungle gym. Sometimes, you may get only one chance to witness to another human being, and you may not even know it. Again, the witness may be through your conduct and never through your words. Who may have been watching our game today, and saw what happened? Who may have thought about checking our church out, but now won’t set foot inside of it? Who may have thought, Gee, if those Christians are just like everyone else, what’s the point? Playing softball is fun, yes, and we play to win, but we should keep in mind we are playing to witness, too, and today, we blew it. Personally, I would rather lose with dignity, with our witness to the world intact.
The cliché goes, “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven.” It’s true; we’re still human, though we work to emulate the one Who’s name we bear, the one Who called us to follow Him. People will lose their tempers; that happened today. But we should always be mindful of the consequences of losing that temper.
For the record, I went three for three at the plate, with two RBIs. My defense could have been better; I had a guy cold at first, and my throw is four feet off my baseman’s stretch. The team won.
And we lost.
Congratulations to Michael Hyatt, who is going to have to change the graphic on his blog after his promotion yesterday.
(What Mr. Hyatt doesn’t know, is that when I finally get around to writing my Christian-worldview technothriller, I will relentlessly harass him to publish it. So keep that between us, okay?)
Seriously, though, Mr. Hyatt has big shoes to fill, and we wish him the best and will keep him in our prayers. Sure, all businesses exist to make money, but my view is that Christian businesses, and notably in this case, a publishing house, exist for a higher purpose as well.
If you’re an Accordance user, and aren’t on the OakTree Software e-mail list, there is a free seminar on getting the most out of the company’s flagship product coming up in September:
Saturday September 24, 9:00 am - 5:00 pm
Todd Academic Center — Room 114
Dallas Theological Seminary
3909 Swiss Ave., Dallas, TX
Refreshments will be provided, though you’re on your own for lunch. You are encouraged to bring your own laptop to follow along with. E-mail Dr. Helen Brown for further details and to RSVP.
“In times of impending calamity and distress; when the liberties of America are imminently endangered by secret machinations and open assaults…it becomes the indispensable duty of [Patriots], with true penitence of heart, and the most reverent devotion, publicly to acknowledge the over ruling providence of God…that we may…through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ, obtain his pardon and forgiveness; humbly imploring his assistance to frustrate the cruel purposes of our unnatural enemies…that it may please the Lord of Hosts, the God of Armies, to animate our officers and soldiers with invincible fortitude, to guard and protect them in the day of battle… .” —Proclamation by the Continental Congress, 16 March 1776
I’m certain there is an Anti-Christian Liberty Union lawyer determined to prove the above is a pre-Constitution violation of the Constitution…
If you want to track how tolerant the “Religion of Peace” is, I would suggest one way is to subscribe to the free e-mail updates from the Voice of the Martyrs. While VOM is committed to showing the persecution of Christians around the world, increasingly a lot of this persecution is coming at the hands of the supposedly-tolerant followers of Allah. This week’s update includes:
In Nigeria, “Andrew Akume, a Christian lecturer and dean of the faculty of law at Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) in Kaduna State, has disappeared after receiving a death sentence from a militant Muslim group. …[W]hile the Nigerian constitution professes a secular status for the nation, the 12 states in Northern Nigeria that have implemented Islamic law promote and propagate Islam using public funds.”
In Pakistan, “on Tuesday, June 28th, the homes of Christians in three areas near Peshawar, Pakistan were attacked by a radical Muslim mob. The attacks came after a Christian man was accused earlier that day of burning pages that contained Koranic verses. The man, Yousaf Masih (about 60 years old), has worked as a sweeper for almost two decades for the Pakistani military. While cleaning the home of a military officer, he came across a bag of “rough papers,” and the major told Yousaf to burn them. Yousaf is illiterate and had no way of knowing what was written on the papers he was told to burn. Other workers saw the papers and said Yousaf was burning pages from the Koran. The next day police arrested Yousaf. (Insulting Islam, the Prophet Mohammed or the Koran can be punishable by death under Pakistan’s harsh anti-blasphemy laws.) Radical Muslims returned to the area that night and burned an estimated 200 houses. Many were looted by members of the mob, who stole televisions, refrigerators and other items. The mob beat Yousaf’s three sons and his brother, Yaqoob. Police have reportedly arrested 16 people involved in the attacks. A Hindu temple was also attacked, as apparently the mob at first believed Yousaf was a Hindu.”
In Saudi Arabia, Christians are regularly persecuted by the Muslim majority, with the full approval of the ruling family. “Within the past two months, at least three groups of expatriate Christians meeting privately for worship in Riyadh have been raided and their leaders put under arrest for several days or weeks. Under the rule of strict Islamic law, Saudi Arabia prohibits the public practice of any religion other than Islam within its borders.”
In Turkey, Christian Yakup Cindilli was beaten so badly by Muslim nationalists, he was in a coma for 40 days. Cindilli’s family, conservative Muslims, continue to pressure him to renounce his faith, but he continues his recovery from the October 2003 attack committed to Christ.
It was semi-widely reported that in Afghanistan, the Taliban set to destroy numerous Buddhist statues, some of which had been around for more than a thousand years.
These are the kinds of things Muslims around the world are responsible for on a daily basis. I’m not saying all Muslims are this intolerant of non-Islamic faiths. I’m just saying that this is happening far too often for this to simply be a “few extremists” we are continually told are responsible for such atrocities. Those “few extremists” sure have a way of getting around.
In his Daily Devotional for February 1st (free registration required), Pastor Greg Laurie talks about a homesickness for heaven.
You were created to know God. You were created to go to heaven. God has put this homing instinct in you, and it will only be satisfied when you see Him face to face. Are you ready to do that? Are you ready to go home?
I have experienced this longing before, and I know singer-songwriter Rich Mullins did as well, before he was called Home. Mullins wrote “Elijah” in 1983:
The Jordan is waiting, for me to cross through
My heart is agin’, I can tell
So Lord I’m asking for one last favor from You
Here’s my heart, take it where You will
This life has shown me how we’re mended and how we’re torn
How it’s okay to be lonely as long as you’re free
Sometimes my ground was stony
And sometimes covered up with thorns
And only You could make it what it had to be
And now that it’s done
If they dressed me like a pauper
Or if they dined me like a prince
If they lay me with my fathers
Or if my ashes scatter on the wind I don’t care
But when I leave I want to go out like Elijah
With a whirlwind to fuel my chariot of fire
And when I look back on the stars
It’ll be like a candlelight in Central Park
And it won’t break my heart to say goodbye
There’s people been friendly, but they’d never be your friends
Sometimes this has bent me to the ground
Now that this is all ending
I want to hear some music once again
‘Cause it’s the finest thing that I have ever found
But the Jordan is waiting
Though I ain’t never seen the other side
Still they say you can’t take in the things you have here
So on the road to salvation
I stick out my thumb and He gives me a ride
And His music is already falling on my ears
There’s people been talking
They say they’re worried about my soul
Well, I’m here to tell you I’ll keep rocking
‘Til I’m sure it’s my time to roll
And when I do
But when I leave I want to go out like Elijah
With a whirlwind to fuel my chariot of fire
And when I look back on the stars
It’ll be like a candlelight in Central Park
And it won’t break my heart to say goodbye
‘Cause when I leave I want to go out like Elijah
With a whirlwind to fuel my chariot of fire
And when I look back on the stars
It’ll be like a candlelight in Central Park
And it won’t break my heart To say goodbye
Copyright © 1983 Meadowgreen Music, Inc.
In his 1988 song “If I Stand”, the last line is “And if I weep let it be as a man who is longing for his home.” The first time I heard this song, and that line, I got choked up. I was driving, and nearly had to pull over, it affected me that deeply.
A lot of Rich’s other songs were infused with similar lines on this theme. From listening to his music, and reading the posthumous biography on him, one can see how close Rich’s walk with God was, and how desperately he wanted to be in Heaven with the Lord. Yet while that longing for our true home was there, Rich realized the Lord still had work for him here, and was true to continuing that work.
This is the way we Christians should be living: with our eyes on the prize, our heavenly home, yet remaining steadfast in continuing whatever it is God has called us to do.
In the Beginning
“How did life, in its infinite complexity, come to be?” asks Newsweek in a subheadline. “A controversial new theory called ‘intelligent design’ asserts a supernatural agent was at work.”
Apparently the Old Testament isn’t on Lexis-Nexis, or Newsweek’s fact-checkers would have realized this isn’t actually a new theory.
Today’s American Minute over at WND honors an Englishman, whose works, including Mere Christianity, The Screwtape Letters, and The Chronicles of Narnia are considered seminal volumes in not only Christian, but all English, literature. Not bad for a former agnostic. One of Lewis’s contemporaries was another famous English author, who was also a professor at Oxford, and wrote what is considered the standard for all fantasy fiction: J.R.R. Tolkien.
Elizabeth Farah predicts that Mel Gibson’s upcoming movie, The Passion, about the end of Jesus’s ministry vis-a-vis His crucifixion, will be the most offensive movie ever made. But not for the reasons some of you might be thinking. She effectively debunks and explains the reasons in her essay, and shows how this offensiveness is actually a good thing.
I am looking forward to this film; Ms. Farah has screened it, and if what she says is true, it will be the first-ever portrayal of what Christ went through in the final hours of His human life. I don’t think the vast majority of those who have even heard of Jesus, including many Christians, fully grasp what He suffered through.
This was brought home to me in my teenage years, when a minister at a church I was visiting went through the litany of the agonies Jesus endured. There was a lot more going on than just “they nailed Him to a cross and He died,” though that alone is excruciating enough. In an interview, Gibson states:
I think we have gotten too used to seeing pretty crucifixes on the wall and we forget what really happened. I mean, we know that Jesus was scourged, that he carried his cross, that he had nails put through his hands and feet, but we rarely think about what this means.
Growing up I didnít realize what was involved in this. I didnít realize how hard it was. The full horror of what Jesus suffered for our redemption didnít really strike me. Understanding what he went through, even on a human level, makes me feel not only compassion, but also a debt: I want to repay him for the enormity of his sacrifice.
The crucifixion is the central point of the Christian belief; that Jesus, the Son of God, was sacrificed for the sins of the world, for each and every person that had ever lived, that was living, and that will ever live. Salvation purchased with the ultimate price by the Ultimate Person. Salvation offered as a free gift. Without the crucifixion, there is no redemption. Without the crucifixion, there is no resurrection, the event that firmly established that Jesus was Who He said He was. Hank Hanegraaff has stated about Christianity that no other religion in the world has, at its central focus, the shameful killing of its god. For no other religion in the world has, at its center, the Creator of the cosmos as its path to salvation, through His death and resurrection. This is what is being told, quite bluntly, in The Passion, and I encourage you to see it when it is released in the spring of 2004.
“The Christian faith is not about mere intellectual assent to a set of doctrines, but about a daily walk with this person Jesus. It’s about living in awareness of Christ risen, resurrected, and living in my life. Even though doctrine is important, wisdom in the Bible has more to do with character and the art of living. Christianity is about living out the will of God, and living abundantly.” — Rich Mullins
Can’t Stop Lovin’ You
There’s a time and place for everything. For everyone
We can push with all our might, but nothin’s gonna come
Oh no, nothin’s gonna change
An’ if I ask you not to try, oh could you let it be?
I wanna hold you and say
We can’t throw this all away
Tell me you won’t go, you won’t go
You have to hear me say
I can’t stop lovin’ you
And no matter what I say or do
You know my heart is true, oh
I can’t stop lovin’ you
You can change your friends, your place in life
You can change your mind
We can change the things we say, and do any time
Oh no, but I think you’ll find
That when you look inside your heart
Oh baby, I’ll be there. Yeah!
Hold on. I’m holdin’ on
Baby, just come on, come on, come on
I just wanna hear you say
I can’t stop lovin’ you
And no matter what you say or do
You know my heart is true, oh-oh!
I can’t stop lovin’ you
Oh, I’m so twisted and tied
And all I remember, was how hard we tried
Only to surrender
And when it’s over
I know how it’s gonna be
And true love will never die
Or, not fade away
And I can’t stop lovin’ you
And no matter what I say or do
You know my heart is true, oh
I can’t stop lovin’ you
And I know what I got to do
Hey Ray, what you said is true, oh
I can’t stop lovin’ you, oh no
Oh, can’t stop lovin’ you
© Copyright 1995-2000 Van Halen
From VH’s site:
This was the first single from “Balance” and the song became the band’s 16th Top 40 single! The Ray Sammy refers to in the song is Ray Charles, who had a hit with the Don Gibson original, “I Can’t Stop Loving You” in 1962.
By far one of my favorite VH songs, right behind “Dreams.” I love you, sweetheart.
Hey, I’m the guy who found a treasure in your eyes,
And that’s no surprise. There’s something ‘bout you, clearly.
I can’t recall all the ones I met before.
They move on by, and leave me nothing to believe in.
Though the night may grow, the winds may blow.
The rain may fall from out into nowhere…
Through the night you learn what it is to yearn
When you cannot find the girl.
Through the night you feel how it is to kneel,
Asking God for all the world.
Drove all the way to drop a circus in your face.
If that’s what it takes, I’ll do it every day now.
Still, for your smile, I would run another mile
Barefoot and bruised, and laughing all the while.
Well, the rising sun says the night is done.
Yeah, the day will come after the darkness.
Through the night you learn what it is to yearn
When you cannot find the girl.
Through the night you feel how it is to kneel,
Asking God for all the world.
Asking God for all the world.
Asking God for all the world.
— Owen Thomas, © 2002 Birdwing Publishing
I love you.
It’s pretty cool when your pastor uses a Monty Python reference in his sermon. In this case, it was the “Department of Redundancy Department.” Tim was talking about how the term “born-again Christian” is redundant, since by definition someone who is a Christian is born again through his new faith in Jesus Christ. He threw in the above Python gag as a further example of said redundancy.
“The tongue that brings healing is a tree of life, but a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit.” —Proverbs 15:4/NIV, verseoftheday.com
Last night, I picked up my pre-ordered copy of “Furthermore” by Jars of Clay, their 2-disc studio/stage compilation. Faithfully ripped via iTunes, I’m now listening to the studio disc, mostly re-recordings (as opposed to remixes), with 3 new tunes.
One of my favorite tunes from their last album, “The Eleventh Hour,” is the title track, and the re-recording of that song is fabulous, all acoustic. A decidedly different take of “Liquid” is intensely introspective and worshipful, causing one to take pause even in the middle of work.
A solid addition to anyone’s JoC library. [alternate purchase link]
Today we celebrate the birth of Jesus the Christ, our Lord and Savior, who died for the sins of the world.
“And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.
“And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.
“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
“And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” —Luke 2:1-14
“It is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when its Mighty Founder was a child Himself.” —Charles Dickens
“May the Father of all mercies scatter light, and not darkness, upon our paths, and make us in all our several vocations useful here, and in His own due time and way everlastingly happy.” —George Washington
“Why is it that, next to the birthday of the Savior of the world, your most joyous and most venerated festival returns on this [Independence] day? Is it not that, in the chain of human events, the birthday of the nation is indissolubly linked with the birthday of the Savior?” —John Quincy Adams
“A young man whose father is a carpenter grows up working in his father’s shop. He has no formal education. He owns no property of any kind. One day he puts down his tools and walks out of his father’s shop. He starts preaching on street corners and in the nearby countryside. Walking from place to place, preaching all the while even though he is in no way an ordained minister, he never gets farther than an area perhaps 100 miles wide at the most. He does this for three years. Then he is arrested, tried and convicted. There is no court of appeal so he is executed at age 33 along with two common thieves. Those in charge of his execution roll dice to see who gets his clothing — the only possessions he has. His family cannot afford a burial place so he is interred in a borrowed tomb. End of story? No, this uneducated, propertyless young man who preached on street corners for only three years who left no written word has for 2000 years had a greater effect on the entire world than all the rulers, kings and emperors, all the conquerors, the generals and admirals, all the scholars, scientists and philosophers who ever lived — all put together. How do we explain that? …Unless he really was what he said he was.” —Ronald Reagan
Merry Christmas, one and all!
The world’s shaking with the love of God
Great and glorious, let the whole earth sing
And all you ever do is change the old for new
People we believe that
God is bigger than the air I breathe
The world we’ll leave
God will save the day and all will say
Clouds are breaking, heaven’s come to earth
Hearts awakening let the church bells ring
And all you ever do is change the old for new
People we believe that
God is bigger than the air I breathe
The world we’ll leave
God will save the day and all will say
—Smith/Garrard © 2000 / Delirious?
Well, that’s what Grant has to say about his mom. Keep sending the prayers out.
SnoCat’s got me quiz-crazy this afternoon…
…A BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION!!!
Guest of Honor: Jesus Christ
Date: Every day. Traditionally, December 25, but He’s always around, so the date is flexible….
Time: Whenever you’re ready. (Please don’t be late, though, or you’ll miss out on all the fun!)
Place: In your heart…. He’ll meet you there. (You’ll hear Him knock.)
Attire: Come as you are… grubbies are okay. He’ll be washing our clothes anyway. He said something about new white robes and crowns for everyone who stays till the last.
Tickets: Admission is free. He’s already paid for everyone… (He says you wouldn’t have been able to afford it anyway…it cost Him everything He had. But you do need to accept the ticket!!
Refreshments: New wine, bread, and a far-out drink He calls “Living Water,” followed by a supper that promises to be out of this world!
Gift Suggestions: Your life. He’s one of those people who already has everything else. (He’s very generous in return though. Just wait until you see what He has for you!)
Entertainment: Joy, Peace, Truth, Light, Life, Love, Real Happiness, Communion with God, Forgiveness, Miracles, Healing, Power, Eternity in Paradise, Contentment, and much more! (All “G” rated, so bring your family and friends.)
R.S.V.P. Very Important! He must know ahead so He can reserve a spot for you at the table. Also, He’s keeping a list of His friends for future reference. He calls it the “Lamb’s Book of Life.”
Party being given by His Kids (that’s us!!)! Hope to see you there! For those of you whom I will see at the party, share this with someone today!
I love this:
“The LORD reigns; let the earth be glad; let the distance shores rejoice!
Clouds and thick darkness surround Him: righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne.
Fire goes before Him, and consumes His foes on every side.
His lightning lights up the world: the earth sees, and trembles.
The mountains melt like wax before the LORD; before the Lord of all the earth.
The heavens proclaim His righteousness, and all peoples will see His glory!”
“Fathers’ involvement [with their children] seems to be linked to improved verbal and problem-solving skills and higher academic achievement. Several studies found that the presence of the father is one of the determinants of girls’ proficiency in mathematics. And one pioneering study showed that along with paternal strictness, the amount of time fathers spent reading with them was a strong predictor of their daughters’ verbal ability. For sons the results have been equally striking. Studies uncovered a strong relationship between fathers’ involvement and the mathematical abilities of their sons. Other studies found a relationship between paternal nurturing and boys’ verbal intelligence.” —David Popenoe
“Certainly we do not want men to allow their Christianity to flow over into their political life, for the establishment of anything like a really just society would be a major disaster.” —C.S. Lewis (translating the Devil’s words), The Screwtape Letters
He was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He worked in a carpentry shop until he was thirty, and then for three years he was an itinerant preacher.
When the tide of popular opinion turned against him, his friends ran away. He was turned over to his enemies. He was tried and convicted. He was nailed upon a cross between two thieves. When he was dead, he was laid in a borrowed grave.
He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never owned a home. He never went to college. He never travelled more than two hundred miles from the place where he was born. He never did one of the things that usually accompanies greatness.
Yet all the armies that ever marched, and all the governments that ever sat, and all the kings that ever reigned, have not affected life upon this earth as powerfully as has that One Solitary Life.
And He rose again on the third day, conquering Death, Hell, and the Grave, so that we all may live forever in His kingdom, if we only put our trust in Him. (Philippians 2:5-11)