Friday, September 23, 2005

Building up the church?

Never thought about doing it this way. The First Church of Lego. See here for more.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Reading the Bible as a whole

Here's a great quote about how we need to read the Bible (or let the Bible read us) from J.I. Packer. Thanks to Milton Stanley at Transforming Sermons for sharing it (he gives credit to Mark Loughridge). It's definitely worth not only reading, but applying.

". . . we are not in the habit of treating it as a book - a unit - at all; we approach it simply as a collection of separate stories and sayings. We take it for granted that these items represent either moral advice or comfort for those in trouble. So we read the Bible in small doses, a few verses at a time. We do not go through individual books, let alone the two Testaments, as a single whole. We browse through the rich old Jacobean periods of the King James Version or the informalities of the New Living Translation, waiting for something to strike us. When the words bring a soothing thought or a pleasant picture, we believe the Bible has done its job. We have come to view the Bible not as a book, but as a collection of beautiful and suggestive snippets, and it is as such that we use it. The result is that, in the ordinary sense of 'read,' we never read the Bible at all. We take it for granted that we are handling Holy Writ in the truly religious way, but this use of it is in fact merely superstitious. It is, I grant, the way of natural religiosity. But it is not the way of true religion.

God does not intend Bible reading to function simply as a drug for fretful minds.

The reading of Scripture is intended to awaken our minds, not to send them to sleep. God asks us to approach Scripture as his Word - a message addressed to rational creatures, people with minds, a message we cannot expect to understand without thinking about it. . . .the Bible comes to us as the product of a single mind, the mind of God. It proves its unity over and over again by the amazing way it links together, one part throwing light on another part. So we should read it as a whole. And as we read, we are to ask: What is the plot of this book? What is its subject? What is it about? Unless we ask these questions, we will never see what it is saying to us about our lives.

When we reach this point, we shall find that God's message to us is more drastic and at the same time more heartening than any that human religiosity could conceive."
Often we treat the Bible as nothing more than a glorified "Daily Bread" that contains our inspirational thought or spiritual challenge for the day. Would that we would let the Bible be what it is and unleash the Spirit to use it to transform the core of who we are.


Friday, September 09, 2005

The Sadness of Joy...

I've often wondered why Jesus wept at Lazarus' tomb. I've heard many sermons on it and none of them have ever really settled the issue. Jesus, of all people, knew exactly what was going to happen. He even knew that through His death and resurrection that death would be defeated. Shouldn't this corpse walking out of a tomb been a moment of victory? Didn't Jesus realize that it would foreshadow His own resurrection? Shouldn't He have been filled with anticipation as people saw the power that God has over death? And yet there it is in black and white, the easiest Bible verse to memorize, "Jesus wept." (Jn. 11:35)

I think that I have a better understanding of this now. It happened last week as I presided over a funeral of our friend Janice. Janice went home to heaven at age 42, leaving behind 3 children: Ryan, 20, Rob, 19, and Heather, 18. Janice has fought cancer for the last 18 years. We have known her for the last 2 years, and her kids have spent time living with us while she was in the hospital. (More info on that here.)

I had worked hard on my comments for her funeral. Although it was sad to say goodbye (even temporarily) to someone so young, my hope was that the funeral could celebrate the end to her battle with cancer. A battle that was won by Jesus. In order to help keep that focus clear in the service, I wanted to end my comments by reading from I Corinthians 15:50-58 from "The Message".

50I need to emphasize, friends, that our natural, earthy lives don't in themselves lead us by their very nature into the kingdom of God. Their very "nature" is to die, so how could they "naturally" end up in the kingdom of Life?
51But let me tell you something wonderful, a mystery I'll probably never fully understand. We're not all going to die--but we are all going to be changed. 52You hear a blast to end all blasts from a trumpet, and in the time that you look up and blink your eyes--it's over. On signal from that trumpet from heaven, the dead will be up and out of their graves, beyond the reach of death, never to die again. At the same moment and in the same way, we'll all be changed. 53In the resurrection scheme of things, this has to happen: everything perishable taken off the shelves and replaced by the imperishable, this mortal replaced by the immortal. 54Then the saying will come true:

Death swallowed by triumphant Life!
55Who got the last word, oh, Death?
Oh, Death, who's afraid of you now?

56It was sin that made death so frightening and law-code guilt that gave sin its leverage, its destructive power. 57But now in a single victorious stroke of Life, all three--sin, guilt, death--are gone, the gift of our Master, Jesus Christ. Thank God!
58With all this going for us, my dear, dear friends, stand your ground. And don't hold back. Throw yourselves into the work of the Master, confident that nothing you do for him is a waste of time or effort.

That should bring people to the joyous point of remembering that death's hold on us is only temporary. The last word belongs to Jesus. Janice's battle is over. She has been victorious. And verse 58 tells us to throw ourselves into Christ's mission, knowing that He can complete all that He has set out to do. I envisioned reading the passage with power, confessing with confidence the joy that we have from Christ's defeat of death.

But what actually happened was that as I read I became so overwhelmed with sadness that I could barely finish the passage. And it was at that moment that I realized something. Sin, it's hold on us, and the ramifications it has for our lives is something so terrible that we should not gloat in our victory. Yes, Jesus has the last word, and in that we can have hope. But our rebellion against God has filled this world with such pain and misery that at times our joy has to be laced with sadness. That's part of living in a fallen world - a situation that will not be remedied until the Kingdom comes in all its fullness. Having a taste of what Jesus offers helps us to see the horrible reality of what the world has a little more clearly. Seeing what is to come brings us joy, but also overwhelms us with sadness for what is.

It's a bittersweet feeling that my friend Matt Auten has appropriately named "the stab". That sense of happy sadness or painful joy that reminds you of the celebration to come while showing you the desolation of the world all around you (and even in you).

So I think that's why Jesus wept. Yes, He knew the reality of the Kingdom of Heaven. He knew the power and promise of God. But that knowledge only made Him more susceptible to the pain of the death of Lazarus and the sadness of those who loved him. And by experiencing that He was able to transform it into resurrection joy. As we know the joy of God better it emotionally stretches us to higher heights. But the view from those heights constantly reminds us of the depth to which sin will carry us. Our call is to embrace the sadness and let God transform it in and through our lives.

So it's important to remember God's words through Paul...

Death swallowed by triumphant Life! Who got the last word, oh, Death? Oh, Death, who's afraid of you now? ... With all this going for us, my dear, dear friends, stand your ground. And don't hold back. Throw yourselves into the work of the Master, confident that nothing you do for him is a waste of time or effort.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Don't ya just love old George

Mildred, the church gossip, and self-appointed monitor of the church's morals, kept sticking her nose into other people's business. Several members did not approve of her extra curricular activities, but feared her enough to maintain their silence. She made a mistake, however, when she accused George, a new member, of being an alcoholic after she saw his old pickup parked in front of the town's only bar one afternoon. She emphatically told George and several others that everyone seeing it there would know what he was doing. George, a man of few words, stared at her for a moment and just turned and walked away. He didn't explain, defend, or deny. He said nothing. Later that evening, George quietly parked his pickup in front of Mildred's house...walked home....and left it there all night.

Sheer power

A picture of Katrina. There is power which we can't even begin to comprehend.

To Dunk or Sprinkle...?

John Piper and Bethlehem Baptist Church are taking a courageous stand as they seek to clarify what is necessary for church membership, especially in regards to baptism. It's a bold step and one that needs to be taken. Thanks to emergesque for the link.

"The central issue at stake is: How should we define the membership of the church? That is, what degree of biblical understanding and agreement should a person have in order to belong to a local church? Or to put it another way: Should the door to membership in the local church be roughly the same size as the door to the universal church? If so, what is the basic set of beliefs that a person should be willing to affirm - or at least not deny - in order to give good evidence that he is born again into the family of God and a follower of Christ? After more than three years of study and prayer and discussion of this issue, the Council of Elders believes that membership requirements at Bethlehem should move toward being roughly the same as the requirements for membership in the universal body of Christ. That is, we have come to the conclusion that it is seriously questionable to say to a person who gives good evidence of being a true Christian and who wants to join Bethlehem: you may not join. This conclusion raises problems of consistency for our present Constitution and By-Laws and our present church Affirmation of Faith and Church Covenant. These documents hold up some less than essential beliefs that must be affirmed in order to be a member at Bethlehem. Thus the door to membership at Bethlehem at the present time is significantly narrower than the door to membership in the universal body of Christ. The elders believe this should be changed because of how serious it is to exclude in principle any truly born-again lover of Christ from membership in the local church. The most obvious change this involves is allowing the possibility that a person may become a member who has not been baptized by immersion as a believer but who regards the baptismal ritual he received in infancy not as regenerating, but nevertheless (as with most Presbyterians) in such a way that it would violate his conscience to be baptized as a believer. The elders are proposing that under certain conditions such persons be admitted to full membership."

Read More

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Sorry for the silence...

Life has been very busy this week. Last fall we "semi-adopted" a couple of teenagers, Heather and Rob (See here). They lived with us for just over 5 months while their mom was in the hospital with cancer. They wormed their way into our hearts and will forever be a part of our family. This past Tuesday @ 11:05am their mom went on to heaven. It was a sad yet beautiful end to an 18+ year battle with cancer. So life has been busy. Please pray for Rob and Heather and their older brother Ryan. You can read more about the situation at my sister-in-law's blog here, here, and here.

By the way, everything my sister-in-law writes about my wife is true. She comes into her own when she is caring for others. She has a gift for organizing and serving that takes the load off people and makes them feel at home, loved, and secure. When I married her I never imagined how thankful I would be for her presence in my life. She is a gift to all who know her and an instrument of God in the lives of so many people. She's not a bad kisser either.

Thanks for your prayers. I'll post more as soon as I can get to it.