Thursday, February 28, 2008

How Does One Reconcile With God?

Someone drew my attention to a television clip that’s been the subject of a good bit of blogosphere chat in recent days. The clip is from the NBC series “ER”. I used to be a faithful viewer of the show but haven’t seen it in a couple of years now. It features a patient dying with cancer that wants and needs a clear answer about how to reconcile with God when one is separated from God by sin.

The clip provoked some reflections that I share below.

I appreciate the patient’s urgency to get an answer to what I believe is life’s most important question. Obviously the patient is urgent because he understands that he is dying and doesn’t have much time to get this figured out. The reality for all of us is that we’re dying and we don’t have much time. Truly there is urgency for all of us to figure out reconciliation.

I wasn’t sure if the woman in the clip was a counselor, chaplain or social worker but in any case she did a great job of articulating the non-biblical, new age, psychobabble that is prevalent in U.S. culture today. If there is a personal God and not just some “energy” or “force” out there, then it makes sense that God has personal and relational means by which we relate to Him. We don’t get to rationalize and make the rules about how we relate to God any more than I get to make up the rules of what is acceptable to my wife, children or friends. Persons have preferences and if I want to relate to them well I respond to their preferences and they to mine.

God’s preference is holiness. Having relationship with God requires that I do so with holiness. A Christian chaplain would have told the patient that none of us is holy and we all deserve separation from God and condemnation by God. But, because God loves us He has offered forgiveness for our sins and reconciliation in our relationship by placing His condemnation on a substitute in our place. The substitute is Jesus Christ.

This season of Lent and Easter is a time when Christians all over the world reflect on God’s tremendous gift to us in Jesus Christ. His atoning death and victorious resurrection IS our only hope. All the other “paths” to God have been fabricated by men and in the end will disappoint.

Truly Christians have examined the evidence of the other faiths and paths and have chosen to bet their lives on Jesus Christ as the way, the truth and the life. Where have you landed on life’s most important question?

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Work of Preparation

Yesterday and today I’m involved in some continuing education. Specifically I’m learning how to preach with one of my mentors with whom I spent a week at Oxford two years ago. When I’ve mentioned to others that I’m spending a couple of days learning how to preach I always hear the quip, “Don’t you think that you’ve learned how to do that by now?”

Yes, I’ve been a teacher of the Bible and Christian faith for several years. Yes, there is a good bit that I know about it. No, I’m not an expert and there is still so much to learn. As I finished yesterday there were three reflections that occurred to me.

One, I am so blessed that I have the privilege of preaching and teaching God’s Word and God’s ways. Let me repeat, I’m not an expert about any of it but I am an intentional lifetime learner about it all. It is humbling to see how far I still have to go. By God’s grace I’m still on the journey.

Two, I love to learn. It hasn’t always been that way. Learning used to be a pain but now it is a joy. I’m really not sure how that happened but I’m glad that it did. I do wish it had happened back in the years when I was pursuing degrees. Oh well.

Three, the power of mentoring is a marvel. Joel Gregory is the presenter at my two day seminar. He is a seminary professor, author and former pastor. He is a scholar, a brilliant communicator, a powerful teacher and a recovering sinner. Dr. Gregory at one time was senior pastor of one of the largest churches in America and at about the three year mark imploded his life. He lost his marriage and left the ministry and at one point sold cemetery plots door to door. He has been as high as one can get in the ecclesiastical world and has been about as low as one can fall. Today he is a humble servant of God who is a picture of the redeeming work of God. I’m a grateful recipient of his influence.

“Father, use my life, the highs and lows, to draw others to relationship with Christ and abundant living.”

Friday, February 22, 2008

A la carte, 2/22/2008

Just got back from a four day vacation and have a pile of stuff on the desk and in the inbox. What should I do first? Naturally I’m blogging a few thoughts :)

In my last post I commented on the internal struggle that I was having concerning the nice (ie: luxurious) conditions I was experiencing in Palm Springs. First, I had a strong impression from God to shut my mouth and not ruin things for my wife. Mission accomplished. Second, after grappling with the issue for about a day and a half it seemed as if God was telling me to keep my heart soft toward the many who are deprived and in desperate situations (and I did some praying) but to enjoy a good gift that was being given to me. I mostly got there.

On Wednesday I’m out driving in my rented convertible in near 80 degree temperatures in short sleeves on my way to the Aerial Tramway (pictured). It was one of the few “touristy” things that my wife and I did. However, we didn’t do our homework because we didn’t realize that we would ascend to over 8,500 feet above sea level and be in the snow. As my wife was walking through the snow in sandals and I in my short sleeves I was reminded how quickly change can hit people for which they are not prepared. It served to keep my heart soft toward those I regularly seek to support and encourage through various scenarios for which they were caught unprepared.

Intellect vs. Experience
I knew that I had significant fatigue in my life and that I needed a vacation but there is a difference in knowing something intellectually and experientially. While sitting by the pool relaxing and reading I’d suddenly find myself incapable of keeping my eyes open and so I’d fall into a nap. While watching TV or reading in my room I’d suddenly feel like I had to go to bed at 10:00 p.m. I usually stay up ‘till midnight. The change of pace and geography (ie: getting away from my normal life) showed me how much I needed rest. I’ve got several friends that “know” that they need to be connecting with God in some way but the experiential piece is still missing and so they don’t fully get it yet.

Principles Don’t Change
Principles are like natural laws. The law of gravity doesn’t change even if I choose to ignore it. I will fall and hurt myself if I don’t heed the law of gravity. The principle of balance is similar. Through the years God has directed me in to patterns of living that bring balance and therefore health into my life. From September until this week I have not heeded some of the things that God has prompted me to place in my life for balance, like leisure reading. My typical week demands that I read and study a significant amount. In fact, a few months ago I did a time study over a 3 week period for the sake of serving on a ministry discussion panel. I discovered that I usually read and study about 20 hours a week. As a result I edged out my leisure reading with a weak promise that I’d get back to it after the next “whatever” got accomplished. My leisure reading over the past few days was a means by which God refreshed me in deep ways.

It’s Friday and Sunday’s coming. Let’s prepare to meet with God and His people in worship gatherings this weekend.

Monday, February 18, 2008

How Well Do You Rest?

November and December are busy months in the life of ministry and ministers. I hit January pretty fatigued and along with the historic building campaign Meadowbrook is conducting my youngest son was getting married.

With wisdom my wife saw that my life was going to need a break and without really consulting with me a few months ago she booked us some time away. She worked it out for us to fly to Palm Springs at no cost and stay in a vacation resort for 4 days and 3 nights at 1/3 the cost. When we arrived Sunday night and moved to the car rental counter we discovered they were out of the economy cars that we had reserved. So, they gave us a cool convertible at the same cost.

Today we drove around Palm Springs in 78 degree sunshine with the top down. We sat for hours by the side of a pool and talked, napped and read. At one point I was having something to eat and drink by the pool and was suddenly hit with a wave emotion. At the same time I felt gratitude for the opportunity to take some vacation and I felt some grief over the larger part of the world that will never stay in such a nice place, eat whatever they want or drive around in a new car.

I was humbled at the fresh realization that I haven’t done anything to deserve all the blessings I enjoy on a daily basis. There are many others who live with greater discipline, more sacrifice, better servanthood and a higher level of consecration to God than I. Yet they will not enjoy most of the temporal blessings I’ve already experienced in this world.

I don’t have any profound insights or theological gems to share. I just have a conflicted heart that is struggling to enjoy his blessings and not ruin a wonderful getaway for his wife. I’ll continue to pray and pay attention to what God may be doing in me and around me and perhaps I’ll have more to share later in the week.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

"Definitely, Maybe", Romantic Comedy & Tragedy

Today is Valentine’s Day and I took my wife out for dinner and a movie. Overall it was a nice evening and I enjoyed getting to spend time with my wife.

Having become a fan of child actress Abigail Breslin she wanted to see “Definitely, Maybe”. It’s not my type of movie but it is Valentine’s Day.

The movie is centered on a husband/dad (Ryan Reynolds) who is in process of divorcing a wife/mom (Elisabeth Banks) and their daughter (Breslin) trying to figure out why her parents can’t stay together. Dad’s typical response to his daughter’s persistent questions with “It’s complicated” no longer is sufficient so he decides to tell her “the story”.

The story chronicles his miserable attempts to have and maintain meaningful relationships with women that he’s dated through the years. I thought it tragic for a dad to be telling his “sexcapades” to his daughter of about 10 years of age.

However, I was downright grieved at the story of his ups and downs with the various women of his life. What grieved me is that it was not an outrageous and unbelievable depiction. Increasingly I’m seeing such scenarios played out where men and women drink too much, have sex too quickly and have no internal compass to bring any wise guidance whatsoever. The story was totally devoid of any reference to God.

While at dinner my wife and I encountered an old friend that we haven’t seen for years. Our friend lost her marriage a few years ago and was tonight trying to find her blind date in the bar of the restaurant. There are better ways.

Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not critical of those mired in messy relational experiences. I’m grieved. There are many reasons to have a relationship with God. Having God’s guidance and wisdom in finding a life mate or even having meaningful friendships is one huge reason.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

The Hand of God at Union University

This past week saw several tornadoes cut across the Mid-South of our country. My wife and I have all of our family living in Memphis and thankfully all are well. We also went to college in nearby Jackson, Tennessee at Union University. The small Christian liberal arts college had some of the worst tornado damage of any place around.

I’ve been excited to follow the developments of my alma mater through the years. Currently the school has the best and most published faculty in her history. Her contribution to preparing Christian men and women to serve God in business, medicine, education or ministry will only be known once we’re all in heaven but I can tell you it is substantial and far reaching. The past 10 years have seen unprecedented growth in developing the campus with several new classic academic buildings and new dormitories. Most of it was destroyed this past week (see the video below).

Such devastation often leads us to turn to God and ask “Why did this happen?” That question is probably there among the students and faculty but all I’ve heard in various media reports this week is, “God has been good. Not one life was lost.” That expression of faith does not surprise me. It also is genuine and not what they think a watching world wants them to say.

Union is a unique place. Union is the place where God met with me as an 18 year old student and changed the entire trajectory of my life. The foundation of my faith and my ministry were forged there. After my seminary training I returned to Union for a couple of years and served as Campus Minister. As a staff member I then had the privilege of watching God work in the lives of students from a different perspective.

The early cost estimates on the damage is over $50 million! Union will rebuild. There will be a lot of work to do. They hope to resume classes later in the month. I invite you to join me in praying for God’s blessings upon them.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

What's so "Super" About Tuesday?

We’re in the season of presidential primary elections. These primaries are held in each state in order to select delegates that will attend their party’s national convention. At the upcoming national conventions for Democrats and Republicans, each will officially nominate their candidate for president.

Today 24 states are holding their primaries which are the largest number of primaries to be held on one single day, thus the tag, Super Tuesday. The results of today’s primaries significantly impacts the presidential race if not determines it.

Today is a “super Tuesday” for me for another reason. Today is Shrove Tuesday. Shrove is an old English word meaning “to repent”. It is the Tuesday that precedes Ash Wednesday which launches the season of Lent. Shrove Tuesday is better known by the French Mardi Gras.

Dating back to the 4th century, Lent is the season of 40 days that precedes Easter and the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Therefore Lent is a time for Christ followers to seriously pay attention to the state of their heart and relationship with God. Shrove Tuesday is a day to prepare for the Lenten season.

In other words, we usually don’t stumble into profound engagements with God. Usually we must be intentional and proactive in engaging God. Lent is intended to be days of intentionally engaging God whereby God is invited to point out areas of needed change in my character and conduct. As a means of worshiping God I respond to God’s promptings with repentance (stopping one way of living and starting another). The goal is to celebrate Easter with renewed commitment to God and honoring God with progress in my sanctification (being made like Him).

Will I participate in Lent or not? Shrove Tuesday is an intentional day of making that kind of decision. Today is a day where I invite God to tell/show me how He wants me to spend the next 40 days and then I make a commitment to follow through on the plan.

You say, “I’ve never heard of all of this. Everything I’ve ever seen about Mardi Gras is partying that is marked by drunkenness and wild behavior.” I know. The world has a way of taking the “holy days” and making them “holidays” that often have little resemblance to the original and true meaning. Thus we have Santa Claus, reindeer, elves and heavy indebtedness for gift giving during Christ’s mass (Christmas).

Join me and thousands of other Christ followers around the world in making today “super” (significant and important).

If you’re wanting to know more about Shrove Tuesday, Ash Wednesday, Lent and Easter then you may find the links below helpful--
Christianity Today
CRI Voice
Ken Collins
Scripture Readings for Lent

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Two Become One on 2/1

Friday my son Jon married his bride Valerie. What a memorable occasion. It was their desire that their wedding not only be an occasion to witness their vows but for God to be worshiped. The church was nearly full and it seemed that all sang with a whole heart “In Christ Alone”. Truly it was one of the most powerful moments of the entire night.

Jon and Valerie wrote their own vows and they beautifully recognized the place of God in their relationship while expressing lifetime commitment to one another. Afterward a few people asked me for a copy of the vows.

I had flashbacks of the times during Jon’s childhood where I prayed for him and prayed for his future wife and children. God has wonderfully answered that prayer with Valerie being both a godly and beautiful (inside and out) woman. I couldn’t be any happier for them both.

One friend pointed out to me that our recognition of God making their two lives into one took place on 2/1 (February 1). What a special mystery it is that God can create a unique “oneness” in a marriage without losing the individuality of each partner. It is a picture of the oneness we can enjoy with Christ.