Tuesday, November 30, 2010

leaving church, part 2

See the previous post.  And now the search for a new church has begun for my friend, and he's having a difficult time of it.

My insight for today is that people don't go to church because those in charge of church make it too unpleasant. This is a distressing discovery as I loved going to [a previous church] every Sunday for about 5 years.  Here, after 1-1/2 years I've come to dread much of the experience.

In our immediate area (10-mile radius) we are surrounded by Baptists, with a smattering of liberal Methodists and Presbyterians.

There are some Roman Catholic churches, but they keep pretty quiet, which is probably a good thing considering the kinds of things the bishops have been up to with the homosexual priests over the past several decades.

The local Presbyterian church is in a state of collapse following the pastor's affair with a member of the congregation.

One of the Baptist churches publishes on its web site a demographic survey showing the education levels and annual incomes of its members. What do we make of that? Is that a warning to stay away if your income is too low or you spent too much or too little time in school?

Most of the Baptist churches are tiny and might consist of not much more than a grouping of a few extended families.

One of the non-affiliated churches we tried treats the worship service like a coffee shop gathering where everyone feels good about God.

We were in one church a couple of years ago where the coffee and donut bar was in the vestibule as you entered and the Communion buffet was down the aisle at the front of the church. You could walk up and partake as you saw fit.

An elderly friend attends a church near here that teaches that God is love and that She will save everyone. You just have to think loving thoughts and be kind of good to others.

We attended another church in a storefront (by mistake as it turns out when we took a wrong turn) where several people with prayer requests spent 15 or 20 minutes lying flat on their backs on the floor after the minister and some others had prayed over them. Reminded me of a Benny Hinn TV program.

And, of course, our former church has been cranking up the decibels during the past year so that if they were a factory OSHA would require us all to wear ear protection. I wonder that OSHA doesn't have requirements for church employees in this environment.

I was thinking at supper tonight that this church has a considerable fortune invested in electronics with all the audio equipment, remote control video cameras, giant flat-screen TVs in the auditorium and throughout the building, and production studios and the full-time staff it takes to run all this. At least the Catholic Church put its money into gold goblets, which could always be sold when money was needed. The electronics is worth about zip the moment it is installed.

Out of its nearly $4 million budget, our church spends $200,000 on missions, mostly in the form of sending money to support the Missions Board. A couple of dozen people did go on short term mission trips this summer. $700,000 goes to salaries and benefits for the staff of the education ministry, meaning the youth, education, missions, and children’s ministers and staff. Almost $400,000 goes to salaries and benefits for the Media Ministries staff. 

And every one of the church web sites I look at has the most obvious technical and content errors after just a couple of clicks. Doesn't anyone ever look at what they publish? On some you cannot get a consistent statement of the time at which some events will occur since different pages have different times.

I'm hoping to come out of my stewing funk by tomorrow.  My wife and I will celebrate our anniversary on Sunday. Time to thank God for that blessing and let things develop as He leads.



Monday, November 29, 2010

from a friend leaving a church (not ours)

I followed with some interest a longtime friend who is leaving his church.  Here's one installment of what he wrote me, with a few things changes or omitted to protect the innocent (and the guilty)...

I'd appreciate prayers for our family as we search for a new church.  We are quitting our church this week.

Our misgivings about this church have been growing for the past several weeks. Things came to a head this past Sunday. The worship service was a preview of what will be a new service starting soon. It was basically a rock concert with smoke filling the auditorium, chanting of mindless phrases, and the prancing around of our new worship leader who came from a mega-Church several weeks ago. He seems to think he is a performer rather than a leader.

As it turned out the whole experience adversely affected all of our family, both spiritually and physically. After the service I learned from the pastor that the sound level was adjusted to 92 decibels, which turns out to be normal practice and why I have been complaining about the painful volume and ringing in my ears after the service for the past several weeks. My son-in-law, who also attended, says OSHA requires ear protection for employees working in environments at that level.

I approached several of the members of my small group about my misgivings about where the church was headed in trying to adopt the styles of the day to sell the product. I asked if they could help me resolve the turmoil in my heart and mind that followed this Sunday service. Several responded that they didn't understand my questions and if I didn't like it I should go elsewhere. This from a group I have been meeting with weekly for about 18 months. What an eye-opener.

The pastor got wind of my questions and responded in such an un-pastoral manner that no one in our family could ever again consider him our pastor. This has been kind of devastating for us all. We have invested a lot in this church and we have made many friends.

So, we will be searching for another church. We would appreciate your prayers that we should be more successful in finding a good Bible-based church that is not driven by the numbers game...

[Second installment to come.]
 

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

grace

Lately I have been thinking about grace and coming across good quotes (so random it might seem) on the topic...

First, this from Fred Smith, former Dallas businessman:

Grace was genuine, real, personal, and palpable to the great saints.  Brother Lawrence, Frank Laubach, Francois Fenelon…these Christian mystics never doubted they were the constant recipients of God’s amazing grace.  Grace was a practical part of their every day lives.

For example, Brother Lawrence said when he made a mistake, he didn’t spend time agonizing about it - he just confessed it and moved on.  Before I read this, I spent a lot of time trapped by guilt.  Immediate grace was too good to be true.  Brother Lawrence released me.

Nevertheless, legalism appeals to our common sense and reasoning.  I find it necessary to remind myself that the very Scripture that makes me know my guilt lets me know His grace.  By refusing grace, we play God striving to discipline ourselves.  We view events as punishment.  We see correction coming when, in reality, it isn’t correction at all --- it is just the cause and effect sequence.  We try to read into our circumstances interpreting them as God’s judgment. 

Why do we do this?  Because we feel we deserve judgment rather than grace.  But, grace brings freedom.  If we could only, like Brother Lawrence,  repent and experience the joy of grace, then we could move on, released from guilt.

Grace cannot be earned or deserved, so why do we think some are worthy and others not?  Why do we think we cannot be the “object of grace?”  The Bible tells us not to think of ourselves more highly than we ought, but it doesn’t advocate “worm thinking,“ either.

To grow in Christ means growing in grace.  What do we do with this faith gift?   Humility and gratitude are the responses of the mature Christian.  Anything else is foolish arrogance.
Why can we think in the way of grace?  It is because of the super-abundant, fully sufficient work of Christ.  This quote from Jonathan Edwards in his third sermon on the History of the Work of Redemption:

"The manner of God's saving those persons when all the world besides was so overthrown was very wonderful and remarkable; it was a wonderful work of God and a remarkable type of the redemption of Christ, of that redemption that is sealed by the baptism of water and is so spoken of in the New Testament, as 1 Peter 3:20–21 ["In the days of Noah … eight souls were saved by water. The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us"].  That water that washed away the filth of the world, that cleared the world of wicked men, was a type of the blood of Christ that takes away the sin of the world. That water that delivered Noah and his sons from their enemies is a type of that blood that delivers God's church from their sins, their worst enemies. That water that was so plentiful and abundant that it filled the world and reached above the tops of the highest mountains was a type of that blood the sufficiency of which is so abundant baptismal for the whole world's baptism, to bury the biggest mountains of sin. The ark that was the refuge and hiding place of the church in this time of storm and floods was a type of Christ, the true hiding place of the church from the storms and floods of God's wrath."


And finally a wonderful excerpt from Isaac Watts' "The Invitation of the Gospel"...



Dear God, the treasures of thy love
Are everlasting mines,
Deep as our helpless miseries are,
And boundless as our sins.

The happy gates of gospel grace
Stand open night and day,
Lord, we are come to seek supplies,
And drive our wants away.



 

Saturday, November 20, 2010

he himself

Just noticed that the opening and closing teaching sessions by our Lord Jesus, according to Luke's Gospel, have a striking similarity:

And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read.  And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,  "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."
And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, "Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."  (Luke 4:16-21 ESV)

And he said to them, "O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!  Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?"  And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.  (Luke 24:25-27 ESV)
From Jesus' opening proclamation in Nazareth at the beginning of his ministry to his post-resurrection teaching, Jesus reveals that he himself is the fulfillment of all the Old Testament hopes and promises. 
 
Sometimes when we do sermons people ask, well, what's the application?  (Meaning, what two or three practical things should I be doing?)  I think the point here is-- before we get practical we must get personal: Jesus himself is the application!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

the dry rot of boredom

I like Fred Smith's advice on how to live life.  Here he writes on dealing with boredom.

Boredom is the dry rot of our souls. It is a sure sign of poor self-management.   It comes when we feel what we’re doing isn’t worth the time, isn’t interesting, or isn’t challenging enough.  Boredom can be the result of living too efficiently and less effectively.  When our life becomes a series of habits and routines, our creative juices dry up.

Oftentimes I hear my grandchildren say, “I’m bored.”  My response is always the question, “So, what are you going to do about it?”  We must learn early on that the cure for boredom is our responsibility, not the job for others. We live in an entertainment culture.  We too quickly cry “foul” if the TV screen goes blank for a few seconds.

A prolonged stay in boredom allows us to fall into pseudo-sophistication, grow melancholy, or adapt a lifestyle of ennui.  If we stay there too long, we lose the ability to pull ourselves out of the quagmire by our emotional bootstraps.

Here are three steps I recommend for the release from the bondage of boredom:

1) Break up the repetitions of life.  Sometimes the simplest change will help because it activates our engagement and takes us out of the “life on autopilot” thinking.  When I was speaking constantly and I found a talk becoming rote and routine --- bordering on boring---- I rearranged the points to increase my interest and concentration.  Routine is necessary for efficiency, but that cannot be the highest priority. Effective living requires more juice.

2) Add something good to your life.  Start a new activity, take up a new hobby, see old things in new ways, open up new friendships, or do something special for someone each day.  As my body becomes less cooperative, I have to think of mental activities.  When I could still get “out and about” I thought about enrolling in courses, signing up for a foreign film series, attending musical or athletic events.  But most importantly, do good for yourself and others.  Remember:  the more bored you are, the less energy you will have to begin the process, but just start.  And the more interested you are, the more interesting you will become - to yourself and those around you.

3) Take something out of your life.  We all have junk that needs to go…things we needlessly carry around.  The first on my list is the sedentary life.  Wasted calories are another good candidate for jettisoning.

Understanding the difference between rest, relaxation, and goofing off can be helpful in this exercise.  Do an audit of your lifestyle and ditch the stuff that drags you down.  Make room for the good.  I fondly remember Naples, Italy, on New Year’s Eve .  Traditionally, the citizens stand in the window and hurl all unneeded items to the ground ---- rather a shocking experience .  But a tremendous illustration.  That’ll preach.

This week think about:  1) What should I sell in my mental garage sale? 2) How can I do intentional good? 3) When do I find myself fighting boredom?

Words of Wisdom:  “Boredom is the dry rot of our soul.”

Wisdom from the Word: “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all of your might.” (Ecclesiastes 9:10a  NET Bible)
 
  

Monday, November 8, 2010

Some quotes old and new

On the topic of seeing Christ -- that faith is a miraculous work of God, and that we should be seeking to see more of Christ's glory: 
 

Simon Peter replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven."   (Matthew 16:16-17 ESV)
 

"Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world."  (John 17:24 ESV)



Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art.
Thou my best Thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.

Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise,
Thou mine Inheritance, now and always:
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart,
High King of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art.

(Dallan Forgaill, 8th Century)


“One of the greatest privileges of believers, both in this world and unto eternity, consists in their beholding the glory of Christ. This, therefore, Christ desires for them in this solemn intercession [John 17:24], as the complement of all his other requests in their behalf: ‘That they may behold my glory’… ‘that they may see, view, behold, or contemplate my glory.’  This glorious privilege is not only for the heavenly state, but also for believers living in this world.” (John Owen, Meditation on the Glory of Christ, 1684)

"There is such a thing as a spiritual and divine light immediately imparted to the soul by God, of a different nature from any that is obtained by natural means...  it may be thus described: a true sense of the divine excellency [beauty] of the things revealed in the word of God, and a conviction of the truth and reality of them."  (Jonathan Edwards, "A Divine and Supernatural Light", 1734)



If at any time you fall into doubts about the state of your soul, in dark and dull frames of mind, it is proper to review your past experience. But do not consume too much time and strength in this way. Rather, apply yourself with all your might to an earnest pursuit after renewed experience, new light and new lively acts of faith and love. One new discovery of the glory of Christ's face will do more toward scattering clouds of darkness in one minute, than examining the best past experiences through a whole year.  (Written by Jonathan Edwards to Deborah Hatheway of Connecticut, 18, who came to Christ during the first Great Awakening.)


I once was lost, but now I'm found
Was blind, but now I see
'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear
And grace my fears relieved
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed
My chains are gone
I've been set free
  


(John Newton, "Amazing Grace", 1779)

Then I saw Your face
One glimpse of Your face, it's a whole new game
Then I saw Your face, and I was changed forever
Yours forever now

Change, rearranged 'cause I couldn't maintain
The heart it took to even stay in the game
One look in Your eyes even I realized
A fellow like me had been put down to size
To be built up in a better way, Your way
Yahweh ain't about to fade
Bombastic, ain't no way to mask it
I saw Your face, and my old way's blasted
I'm Yours forever now
 

(TobyMac, "Changed Forever", 2010)


And now look at us all out of Eden,
Wearing designer fig leaves by Louis Vuitton
Make-believing
But God sees through my foolish pride,
And how I'm weak like Adam, another victim of Lucifer's lies
But then, in steps Jesus...

They said you came for the lame,
I'm the lamest
I made a mess, but you say you'll erase it,
I'll take it...
They say you came for the lame,
I'm the lamest
I broke my life, but you say you'll replace it,
I'll take it.  


(Lecrae, "Just Like You", 2010)

Thursday, November 4, 2010

postmodern power plays

“Without education we are in a horrible and deadly danger of taking educated people seriously.” 

So said G. K. Chesterton, who is one of the most quotable writers in history, though I think C. S. Lewis still holds first place in that category.

I finished reading an excellent quote on education by Chesterton here. This struck me as so relevant that it could have been written this week on our own campus.  

Many liberal arts professors today would tell me that my own view of truth is absolute, dogmatic, and ultimately leads to domination.  Instead, any "truth" should be seen as subjective and relative. Absolute truth claims only serve to subjugate others -- all truth claims, then, are power plays.

Except their own, they think.

I hear often from Christian students how their views are frequently belittled and berated by teachers who would otherwise say truth is relative.  So even the postmodern professor ends up being exclusive, domineering, and power-playing.  They simply do not see the contradiction.

All teaching, according to Chesterton, is based upon some dogma, whether classical or postmodern.  The notion of authority always lies at the base of any truth claims in the classroom.  He saw his clearly in 1910...


"The truth is, that there is nothing in common at all between these
teachers, except that they teach. In short, the only thing they share is
the one thing they profess to dislike; the general idea of authority. It is
quaint that people talk of separating dogma from education. Dogma is
actually the only thing that cannot be separated from education. It is education. A teacher who is not dogmatic is simply a teacher who is not teaching."  (G. K. Chesterton, from What’s Wrong with the World, 1910.  Italics added.)

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

"move it, brotha"

Fred Smith on motivation. This applies to work, marriage, ministry or child-rearing...

Many people think of motivation as a quick, easy blast ---- a shot to the solar plexus to spur action.  Not in my book.  I hear a lot about the time Knute Rockne stayed out of the Notre Dame locker room at half time until the very last second.  He then poked his head in the door and yelled, “Let’s go, girls!”  Of course this story is famous because the Fighting Irish went on to victory.  Somehow, I think this bleeds over into manipulation rather than motivation.

What is the difference?

1. Motivation is the process whereby a mutual interest is developed between two people.  This is usually recognized by both as they work together for success.  Motivation involves a long-term healthy drive in a psychologically friendly atmosphere where people are developed, not used.  There are common goals and positive outcomes.

2. Manipulation is the process used by one who gets others to do what he wants through the unhealthy use of fear, tricks, or devious plans.  Manipulation is often thought of as a fast way to achieve results.  However effective the short term is, it is a management strategy with a short life.  Performance by trickery is quickly recognized by others.

The word motivation can be replaced by the word “thirst” when we truly understand the process.  The motivator should identify the thirst in another and find ways to satisfy it.  I like to think of motivation as a fertilizer, as well.  Fertilizer doesn’t create the natural growth process --- it enhances it.  Motivation should enable another to do a better job at what they are already wanting to do.

Creating a cause big enough to involve others is highly motivational.  People will belong and even make sacrifices for something with meaning – something larger than themselves.  We want to belong; we want to contribute; we want to make a difference.  But, we want to do it because it satisfies our thirst, not because we were conned into it.  Motivators grow people; manipulators grow old.

 

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Sheaffer Imperial desk pen

This desk set I received from my father-in-law.  It's a Sheaffer Imperial fountain pen with white onyx (or marble) base and monogrammed brass plate.  Steel inlaid nib, a very smooth fine.  1960s.



 

Monday, November 1, 2010

mortification

Here's the last portion of my review on Dr. John Hannah's notes on spiritual growth:

10. Mortification: How is the believer to put to death the deeds of the flesh?

      “To be Spiritually Minded is Life and Peace”(Rom. 8:6).
      “Watch and Pray that You Enter not into Temptation” (Matt. 26:41).

We began our study of the spiritual life stating that there are three important ingredients with numerous ramifications: Know your God, Know yourself, and know your situation. Vivification is about the first of these; Mortification is about the latter of these.

a)    Some General Reflections on Sin in our lives.

1) Most people are bothered by the symptoms and consequences of sin, not its causes.

2) Sin is not resolved by avoidance and neglect, nor inadequate, unfruitful remedies.

3) Sin is most often revealed in its fruitful state (i.e., “death” as personal wastefulness), not in its inceptive or casual stage.

4) Sin is rooted in our fallen natures (i.e., disruptive characteristics), but manifested in our social relationships.

5) Sin works in us in subtle and insidious ways. We must become students of ourselves to know how and when we are most liable to it.

b) Specific Principles for the Mortification of Sin; or, what are some helpful things to do when “sin crouches at the door” of your life.

1) Consider the dangerous consequences of sin (guilt of sin, loss of peace and strength, grieving the spirit, wounding of Christ).

2) Load the consciousness with the guilt of sin (consider God’s infinite patience and forbearance).

3) Consider the state of one’s self at all times in total depravity and thoughts of one’s vileness. A common characteristic of the circumstance of sin in our lives is that contemplated action is seen as having good potential and this will improve us. Remind yourself that sin never pays long-term positive dividends.

4) Trace the particular manifestation of sin to its root.

The Meaning: The cause of poor behavior is often hidden. Another way to say it is this: that which bothers us is often a fruit of a deeper cause. To make progress we must search out the underlying causes and deal with them:

“Resolved, whenever I do any conspicuously evil action, to trace it back, till I come to the original cause; and then both carefully endeavor to do so no more, and to fight and pray with all my might against the original of it”. – Jonathan Edwards

“I have concluded to endeavor to work myself into duties by searching and tracing back all the real reasons why I do them not, and narrowly searching out all the subtle subterfuges of my thoughts and answering them to the utmost of my power, that I may know what are the very first originals of my defect, as with respect to want of repentance, love to God, loathing of myself – to do this sometimes in sermons”. – Jonathan Edwards

The Illustration: Add to the forest image another; it is “the river and the canoe” metaphor. When you discover a “tree” in your forest, do not merely deal with it. If you can, try to figure out what triggers this course of action. Imagine the “river “ to be your life; the “canoe” the means for searching out your life. Get into your “canoe” and paddle up the “river” of your life and deal with the problem at the deepest cause you can discover. Problems are normally brought to our attention in the fruitful stage, not the causative stage. To root out a problem is to attack the root, not the fruit.

     •    This is no easy task. It requires hard reflection and honesty.

     •    There are things hidden deep in your mind that you have purposefully hidden to avoid the pain of it. Reflection over time will generally make these known. This is where a skilled counselor can help. When things got hidden in our memory bank as children, we have adopted a non-confrontative approach to dealing with things. That is often all a child can do; however, to employ the same mechanisms as an adult leads to greater problems in handling social relationships.

5) Do not hurry to gain relief for your sin. Think about it before you shrug, delight yourself in your forgiveness, and go your way.

6) Act quickly against the first temptations toward a sin. Learn by self-study how and when you are susceptible to solicitations. Deal with them immediately; do not delight in them though we all have a natural tendency to do so.

7) Allow God to speak peace rather than assuming you have it. A lot of lessons are missed in hurry. Do not claim a verse and claim more than you should have.


c)  Be attentive to temptation. Learn the circumstances of solicitation. Solicitation is not evil inherently; it is the signal of the approach of what can turn into evil.

To quote a line from Calvin Coolidge, a former president: “The Lord gave us two ends- one to sit on and the other to think with.  Success depends upon which one we use the most.”

d)  Ask yourself what you have learned from your failure. Say to yourself, “How did this happen to me? … What were the circumstances the accompanied this in the first place?”


“Resolved, after afflictions, to inquire, what I am the better for them, what good I have got by them, and what I might have got by them.” —Jonathan Edwards

e)    Because complexity complicates and simplicity simplifies, take on only one or two trees at a time. Too many “trees” leads to frustration and defeat; too many “canoes” rides in the “river” of your life makes for frustration.

1) As an individual pick a “tree” and work on it. Search out its root, learn the circumstances of its troubling present, fight against it with prayer and Bible reading, good company, and resolve.

2) Pick a tree as a couple and work on it together. Discuss it, find out how it got started in the first place, search for ways to minimalize its impact, and hold each other accountable.

3) At work pick a tree that needs addressing.


11. Conclusion and summary: Vivification and Mortification.
a)      The right weapons in the mental struggle with sin.  Though there are things we can do in our walk with the Lord, it seems to me that it can be summarized in the title of the hymn, “Trust and Obey”. We must fill our minds with good things in order to act correctly before the Lord.  Correct doctrine leads to correct behavior; incorrect doctrine leads to license.

1)    Whole-hearted trust
2)    Faith
3)    Obedience
4)    The presence of right thoughts; a recognition of some basic truths:

    •    God’s sovereignty
    •    The effects of sin
    •    The love and kindness of God
    •    The wonder of Calvary

b)    The reality of indwelling sin.  Thoughts from a fellow “tree” cutter and “canoer”.

1) Progress in spiritual things comes from two realizations: the realization that God has  made provision (“if you by means of the Spirit…”) and that we must cooperate with Him in the endeavor (“ if you…).

2) It is a life-long process; there are no short cuts; it is hard work to talk to yourself.

3) It is the path to a contented life; the struggle with sin is a good one for all of us.

               “Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence.
               Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent.
               Genius will not: unrewarded genius is almost a proverb.
               Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts…” (Calvin Coolidge)

c) A life motto:  “Resolved, never to give over, nor in the least to slacken my fight with my corruptions, however unsuccessful I may be.” —Jonathan Edwards

d) Final thought. 
“The road to success is not straight
There is a curve called failure…
A loop called confusion…
Speed bumps called friends…
Red lights called enemies…
You will have flats called jobs

But…

If you have a spare called determination…
An engine called perseverance…
Insurance called faith…
A driver called Jesus..
You will make it to the place called success!”  
(Unknown)