Archive | December, 2012

2012

30 Dec

What’s in a year? There are few years for which if you name it, I can recap the year right away. Some years are benchmark years, which for one reason or another, I can recall an event or two. I have a feeling that this will be one of those years for our church. This has been a huge year for Orlando Grace. I’m not sure all the things that you remember about this year, but I will name a few landmarks for me this year.

This was the year where I was officially welcomed into membership. As the first act at a church, I now believe membership is more important than I believed as a new Christian. January continued with changes to our leadership team. This was especially important to me, as my assigned elder, Will Powell, was recognized as someone through whom God was working as an elder.

2012 is a 53 Sunday year! While those who make the budget and get to do scheduling may like or dislike the extra week, it is always nice to think that we got a little extra time together. This year we learned that we were able to see Greg stay with us for another year! At the same time, we learned that Evan and Katie would not be staying with us. We produced our three-year “rotation” for our adult education.

Of course the event that will largely be remembered is the opening of the new facility. There were numerous things that accompany that like a first wedding, a first funeral, our first time helping park cars for an event at the catholic church across the street, first party, first picnic, first Sunday School, er, Equipping Hour, class, and the list could go on. But in this year of firsts, I love the fact that we are continuing with the things that defined us before the new building.

We took nominations for new church officers. We’ve had some 40-50 people join our church. We are continuing to assist other churches who are finding themselves in crisis. We are keeping solid theology as a pillar of the church. We are basically staying committed to everything and are not using the “new building” as an excuse to become stagnant.

Many of us came into the year with huge expectations and many of us had wonderful years, while some had horrendous years, but more than anything, we all recognize that 2012 is just a year. Most of our lives will not be defined by what we do in a single year, but rather defined by the accumulation of years that create patterns in our lives. And, with that, I cannot wait to see what God has in store in 2013!

Christmas!

25 Dec

Christmas comes this time each year! I don’t believe it is frequent enough. Not just because there are a lot of cool things you can do at Christmas, or because Christmas is a great time to party, but also because the story of Christmas never gets old.

I have a Christmas speech that I give each year at Christmas breakfast, and I use a 25-page manuscript. I am constantly tweaking this document that will certainly end up over 100 pages when I am done. Each year, I accent a certain part of the document, as the Christmas story is really just the focal point of all of Scripture, beginning with the first chapter where we were create in God’s image.

Many people would say that the middle of a document is where you find the meat of that document. Certainly opening your Bible to the middle and landing on Psalm 8, where it talks about how we were created just a little lower than God. We were once again re-asserted as the rulers or dominion-holders of creation!

As great of a position as that is and as much dignity as it gives us, we are reminded frequently in our every day lives (at least I am) of the fact that we live in a cursed world. There is pain, suffering, tragedy, difficulty in cultivating, rampant depravity, anti-God sentiment, and people generally living godless lives. There are people who in just the last couple weeks have shot defenseless school children, shot those who protect us in shooting firefighters, or try to burn down a veterinarian office. Not to mention the slaughter of the unborn or recently born that occurs every day in America and China, to name a few.

The fact is that in order to overcome this curse, we needed someone to defeat it. That someone came in the person of baby Jesus in a stable a little over 2000 years ago. His life ended with him having conquered over a defeated death and a sting-less grave! While the curse has been defeated, we still look forward to the Consummation, where Christ will complete his “mop-up” work!

We sing about this great day in the great “Christmas” song Joy to World. When the “earth receives her King,” and “No more let sins and sorrows grow, Nor thorns infest the ground; He comes to make His blessings flow Far as the curse is found“! The wonder of the great gift that we needed befuddles me to this day. Why Christ would come to die for my sin when I was still a rebel to His will, awes and amazes me. The Christmas celebration is celebrating the genesis of this gift.

While I need to recognize this all the time, I am thankful for the reminder of Christmas! I am thankful that Christmas is here. And I am sorry that beginning tomorrow, the world will return to its “normal” life and Christ becomes an afterthought for most. So, yeah, I wish Christmas was celebrated all year. But, O What a wonderful thing to celebrate!

All Mine to Give

22 Dec

Last Christmas I bought a four pack of movies at Sam’s. Last year, I detailed how and why I got the set of movies and then reviewed one of them. It is certainly a set of movies that had fallen beneath my radar and, seemingly, are not well known to the other people who exist.

My first thought process is how certain movies are more successful than others, even when the lesser-known movie is dramatically superior. For example, many have probably heard of the movie, Ace Ventura. Yet, I believe a far greater detective-based comedy, which was released around the same time, is Undercover Blues. In fact, of the many people I have shown the latter movie, the results aren’t even close. We all agree that Undercover Blues is a superior movie in just about every way.

Clearly, money can be the primary factor, as the more money put behind a movie, the better it tends to do. But sometimes these decisions defy logic. What causes people to spend so much money on such a terrible movie or to not spend money on a real good movie? I bring up this thought process, because of a discussion with my wife about watching one of the movies on the aforementioned four pack of movies.

SPOILER ALERT!

The movie is All Mine to Give. Kelly can not understand why anyone would create a movie that is so sad. The premise of the movie is that a couple of newlyweds travel across the Atlantic Ocean to begin a life here in America. After some initial difficulty, they get a group of friends to help them build their house, and after a couple of difficult jobs, the husband settles on one that seems to be beneficial.

Then, the couple begin to have children, and it seems to be a lovely story. After they had their sixth child, the story advances several years. It seems like a wonderful family, and then one of the children gets sick with a deadly disease of which I have never heard. Apparently, kissing his quarantined son goodbye was the death kiss of the father (though the son makes a recovery).

When the mother is then forced into work and the thirteen year old eldest son becomes a man (ie, working and paying for familial needs, while taking care of the younger siblings while at home), the story could stabilize there. But no! We then watch the family go through the tragedy of the matriarch dying. It is from that point, from whence the title cometh. The oldest child, who is about 13, is given the responsibility of giving away his siblings one-by-one and the highlight of the movie, where he rebuffs a women for whom his parents did not care from getting the youngest.

I do not know from which place in a human spirit this movie could come. I don’t know what it is that makes this kind of sadness appealing to watch. But I know that Old Yeller is also a sad movie that made it big. And honestly, I am not sure why such a sad movie would be created. The question I really have is why my eight-year-old son, Jacob likes the movie so much.

At any rate, if you are a sucker for tearjerkers, you should go see this movie. You can probably borrow it from me, but just know that I think it is impossible to not cry at some point in this movie. It does show children growing up before we would like them to, difficult decisions made, and a weird movie to ever be classified as a Christmas movie. But it is a sad story!

The Reason for the Season!

21 Dec

Even the largest pessimist around is, at this point, likely to concede that the Mayan calendar is not an accurate end of the world prognostication. I would assume that is not likely a surprise to most of us, but it is amazing how much our culture is willing to look at things other than the True Source of Knowledge for knowledge. Disregarding the similarities to y2k for now, where we put our faith in computer technology now disposable as thirteen years old, I think the core issue is the same as it always is—we put our faith in something other than God.

As we are in the season of Advent and looking to Christmas, I see the exact same tendency here. Culturally, it’s easy to see that people want to give a lot of dap to a mythical, cheery, fat guy (I’m generally all for giving credit to phat guys). They want to invent myths about magical reindeer and snowmen. They want to create stories that do not, at their core, point back to Christ.

Some of us will now point to our holiday liturgy and its noted absence of these worldly foci. However, we are quite competent at taking God’s glory on our own, without the aid of these cultural icons. For many, particularly those who are (or those who have) kids, the focus is often on presents or a tree or planned events or familial one-upmanship. There are so many idols that this holiday can generate that I feel bad naming some, as I have naturally skipped many others.

While there certainly is nothing wrong with any of these things on their own, and many can use these things to point to Christ, most of us do not. Most of us are content to find some socially compatible method of celebrating where we can give a little lip-service to The Baby coming without really worrying about the true reason that it actually happened.

My music leader and pastor, Greg, has been leading us in a song with some frequency lately that has a chorus which asserts, “All I have is Christ. Jesus is my life!” Anything that takes away that focus from Christ is an idol and just because someone else is able to use it to point to Christ does not mean it is naturally something that we should do.

I believe we must be super-intentional about what we do. Realizing that everything we do can be an opportunity to do something that points to Christ in one way or another, to give way to things that point elsewhere is misuse of, or bad stewardship over, our resources.

So as we celebrate this holiday, let us not be like the culture that seeks to discredit the only One to whom credit should be given. Let us be characterized as those who seek to do all we can to point people back to The Baby born all those years ago. Even more so than that, let us tell why He came.

He came that our sins may be covered, as we were caught in the clutches of sin. He came to live a perfect life, then to pay the penalty reserved for us. Now, we have the Gift that He offers, and imputes to us His own righteousness. And, thankfully, He is no longer angry with me. Hopefully during this season, we will call out more with whom He can be no longer angry.

Life Before This Century was Rough

13 Dec

I took a shower this morning. Shocking as it may be, it occurred. As exciting as it is, the fact that I went from filthy to clean in less than thirty minutes was not the most impactful thing that happened to me during the daily ritual.

You see, as a person coming to grips with technology, I have begun using my cell phone as the alarm clock. While the elimination of the previously universally-accepted nine minute standard for the snooze function is disheartening, the convenience and ease have made that one issue very overcomable. This morning was no different.

As I have heard complaints about the length of my showers as far back as 2001, I usually leave my cell phone on the counter to give me a reminder every five minutes (the five minute snooze is ridiculous, but until the old alarm clock makers manufacture a cell phone, we’re stuck with what they have) that five more minutes of time has snuck away and I need to continue aiming for a quick completion. Today, however, my placement on the counter must have been slightly different than normal. I only know this because the behavior of the phone itself was a little different.

The vibration of the phone somehow caused the phone to slide a little bit, which then caused the phone to somehow catapult off the counter. As the sound jostled Kelly from her activities, she ran in and found my phone was now, much like Herbie in the Original Love Bug (check the last ten seconds of the clip for video proof), split into two yet sorta functioning. The odd thing is you can still hear the phone ring, make calls, and receive texts. Without a screen, however, I cannot read anything or see who made the call or converse with the person who did call.

So, I am now in a position of not being able to communicate with someone by cell phone. I am amazed at how much this little device has overtaken my life. I dropped my kids off at school, then drove to work. In that 30 minutes or so, there were at least five times where I felt the need to contact someone and began to do so, before realizing afresh that I could not.

At the same time, I feel as if I have let technology advance in some ways without me. Largely because I live my life within five feet of a computer, I have not gotten internet on my phone. This anecdote aside, I don’t want internet on my phone. Of course, that is one of the maddening things about the situation. As I am looking online for potential replacements, they do not want to allow me to get a phone without internet capability.

Internet wouldn’t be so bad, except then they charge you additional amounts each month. Since I don’t need the internet, I don’t want to pay for it! Of course, I will eventually have to give in and will, I guess, be forced to pay extra each month for that which I feel I don’t need. I suspect, however, that there will come a day in ten years, when I will bemoan the fact that my internet enabled phone just isn’t up to snuff.

At any rate, if you are trying to get a hold of me and cannot, the reason is I don’t have a phone. If you’ve texted or left a message, I may never get it. And I am experiencing life circa 1999 (I know many of you got cell phones before that, but I was behind the times), where I don’t know how people functioned. With life this difficult, maybe I should rethink this whole showering thing!

Ends Justifying Means

11 Dec

Did you make the correct decision? I must admit there are few questions I hear that I believe are more difficult to answer with regularity than this one. When you believe that ends-based correctness determination does not work, you are required to evaluate other things to determine if it was the correct decision.

For example, believing fervently in Romans 8:28, I necessarily believe that everything will in fact work together for my ultimate good, and that even those things which were intended with terrible intentions will be able to be redeemed. I am also readily aware of my own depravity and that I am, in fact, prone to sin, even after I accept the gift of God.

Because of this, it is never acceptable to me to determine if the correct decision was made based only on how it works. I do frequently watch sports, and while the argument is more acceptable there, there are certainly times where the totality of the situation is not addressed by that answer. Many times the answer you would get from that analysis is the incorrect answer.

In short, I almost always take the view that the ends do not justify the means, as it seems that often the morals behind the end which you are trying to achieve are frequently undermined by the immorality of the actions taken unto that end. Therefore, things are not always as they appear; it is sometimes a matter of perception.

This is also even more evident when you begin with doing something for someone else. If the reaction is proper, we may be tempted to say that we have a de facto justification. I think we all know situations where a parent, for example, has given their child too much rope. Similarly, we might be tempted to say that a decision was incorrect, merely because it didn’t work out the way we wanted.

It is in that situation that I have found myself recently. A few people have questioned whether or not I should have done it. While I understand their questioning and I am readily aware that with hindsight, things might have been different, I also know that those arguments alone will never convince me whether or not I made the proper decision.

I guess I believe that it is not just the ends that are laid out for me, but that the means to those ends are also appointed. This is vitally important, and is something I feel is too often attacked in culture. If the ends were all that mattered, wouldn’t doctor assisted suicide be a more favorable option? If ends based decision making were all that mattered, an uncaught criminal would be OK.

No, I am persuaded that the means to get to a decision are vitally important, and that sometimes an unfavorable conclusion to a line of logic or action is the correct way to go. While our eyes may only see results, we should be prepared to comprehend that sometimes results are deceiving. Sometimes we may never see the guy who is completely unprepared and unethical get a negative result, but that can never justify it.

Ours is not to set the results of the independent action, and for that, I am exceedingly grateful. I have enough trouble making sure my family is reasonably prepared, that determining the ends of everyone else’s actions would not only be unfruitful, but also usurping God’s authority. So, the next time we try to use the results as a reason to change the process, think about the fact that is not an acceptable way to make decisions.

Prayer

7 Dec

As I sat through the great class that Chuck Mitchell and Will Powell are teaching on Discipleship, I became intrigued by the discussion on prayer. Prayer is the easiest thing in the world at which to become proficient, and yet possibly the most difficult subject in the world to master. My preschool-aged children are experts, and yet the closer I get to God in my walk, the more inadequate I feel in the area.

Biblical prayer should be a part of discipleship, and it’s easy to see why. The mature Christian is one whose life is devoted to prayer. I’ve heard it said that while some men try to promote themselves in town square, the man of God can be found on his knees in private. The Bible describes Daniel as someone who was known for his prayer life. Jesus, himself, was given to prayer. He taught us how to pray, exemplified good prayer, and valued its very existence.

Part of this discipleship involves helping encourage others to pray. We do this by encouraging planned prayer. We encourage the setting aside of time to pray. We encourage people to honestly report to God their frustration and inability to think of things for which to pray. As I grow older, I understand more and more the allegory of our Heavenly Father. You see, when my children come and tell me even the ways they are disappointed with me, I know that there is maturity and depth in the relationship. When they petition me with reverence, I can grow the relationship no matter the answer. To paraphrase Matthew, If I (being evil) know how to improve my relationship with my children, how much more can my Father in Heaven improve His relationship with us.

We often make excuses for why we can’t pray. We’ll claim to be too busy or too ashamed. We’ll say we’re too spiritually dry, God doesn’t answer our prayers, or we’re too ashamed to pray. While I believe, as was pointed out by a student in the aforementioned class, that these are all just ways of saying that we are not reverencing God the way we should and we are falling back into the natural man‘s way of thinking. Keeping each other accountable by praying with one another and keeping ourselves accountable by maintaining a record of our requests and answers are ways to make sure we stay the course.

I’ve given a run at dissecting prayer before and I believe there is great value in it, but I believe the most important thing to remember is that prayer is intended for the glory of God. Prayer is one of the primary ways that we can be changed. I love it when John Piper says that we pray because we are homesick. We are in our temporary home—a cursed world. We long to be with our Savior. The way to communicate with Him is through prayer.

So let me be one to encourage you that we should be a praying people. I pray that our God and Father Himself, and our Lord Jesus, make us increase and abound in love for one another and for all, so that He may make our hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints! (Even if we don’t feel like it).