Saturday, January 30, 2010

Early Mornings

I'm sitting here in a recliner thinking of a Matchbox Twenty song…I believe it was titled "3 a.m."  Why? Because, for some reason, I'm awake.  At 3 a.m.  This is not my normal time to be awake.  Typically, I'm sound asleep right now, anticipating an alarm in about 2 hours that will start my day.

Instead, I'm in here by the fireplace, considering things.  What things?

1.  I'm wondering about the future of the church I lead.  Honestly.  It's not just doubts about the pastor, but questions in general about the future of the way we Americans do church.  It's very challenging to operate a church, especially a smaller one like ours.  It's actually not that we're that small, as we're truly just a little above average size for a Southern Baptist Church.  We're small compared to a few other churches in town, and we're small enough that sometimes things are hard to deal with.

Part of the challenge with church is that we American Christians don't see church as mandatory.  We may accept the idea that being a part of a fellowship of believers is required by Scripture, but we don't see being a part of a specific church as truly required by God.  In fact, while many people look at the decline in worker/employer loyalty as a major shift in American culture, that there's no long-term relationship there anymore, many pastors have long seen it.  Americans have been quick to adopt the consumer mentality to church, and it's one of the quicker changes people make.

Since church participation is seen as voluntary, it makes for quite a conundrum.  There are times when people honestly have issues with their church, and need to have those problems addressed.  There are times when people need to change what church they attend, either because of doctrine or practice.  Then there are times when people are just being lazy or selfish and don't come.

The difficulty for church leadership is sorting out what's going on in the church.  For example, if attendance is down, are we doing something wrong or is it just a season in several people's lives?  Add in that people will, for whatever reason, evade the question "Are you avoiding church for a reason?" like the plague, and it gets very challenging to know what in the world is going on.

Financial issues in church connect to the same thing.  People in many Baptist churches aren't required by the church to give, and give anonymously so that there is no telling who gave, who gave what, and who didn't give anything.  The problem there is that when people are upset, the first thing they do is stop giving to show they're mad.  Except that the people (usually parson, I mean person) they're mad at doesn't know they quit giving.  He only sees a drop in giving.  And it's impossible to tell from an overall drop in giving whether it's angry people or people that, because they work in the woods and it's so wet out there the ducks are buying umbrellas, have had major income drops and so give less.

Throw in that many people facing economic challenges are either embarrassed or stressed by those factors, and they start to withdraw, making it a spiral, and a downward one at that.  Meanwhile, ministry almost always involves the possibility of making someone upset.  The church's primary role is to be a group of believers glorifying God in their actions and behavior.  This results in seeing the lost saved and the saved grow.  However, it's not always easy to grow and it's not convenient to see the lost saved.  Truth is an essential element, and sometimes, we all know, the truth hurts.  Church is also not about us, but about Him, and that's sometimes offensive, even to Christians, because we desperately want it to be about us, where all of our needs and wants are met, and then we get mad, and quit coming….

So, you have both things weighing on a church body.  What can you do about it?

First of all, we need to face the fact that everybody cannot be made happy.  Happy is, for the most part, an individual choice to respond a certain way to circumstances.  You can choose to be happy that God has saved you and you're not going to hell.  Or you can choose to be unhappy that the Pastor brought up politics last week and you don't like his political leanings.  Which one really matters?

Second, we need to carefully consider the impact of our actions.  Church participation, really, isn't voluntary.  The New Testament knows nothing of Christians that are uninvolved in a local body of believers.  In truth, there's nothing of Christians that get miffed with one local body and bail out for another one or that go to the church in town with the best youth ministry.  It's believers that gather, learn, pray, and evangelize.  They live committed to one another and to the call of Christ.  They understand that if one of them is weak, the others will strengthen them.  They also understand that is their responsibility to be there to strengthen each other rather than act in a way that hurts their church family.  When we don't go and don't give, it hurts.  It hurts ourselves and our church.  It hurts our ability as Christians to reach the world for Christ.

Third, we ought to seek the best.  I'm naturally pessimistic.  I even have a mug and set of glasses that have a line on them at "half-empty."  (Really.)  However, pessimistic attitudes in church can kill it.  And stop thinking "I'm just being realistic" because that's a cover.  You're being pessimistic.  We're all well aware that a church can run out of people and money.  It doesn't have to be brought up or carried on your face.  Look back at the being happy comment.  Can you try a smile?  One that doesn't look forced?  Do you still believe that God has a purpose for the church you attend other than as a negative example for others?  I do.  God has a plan and a purpose, and it is positive.  Let's let our hearts be encouraged that God's grace is always sufficient, and that we, as individuals, will be obedient, which will build a church that's amazing.

Finally, we have to live like there is no hope for ourselves other than the Redeemer who has called us.  That we can cling to nothing but our obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ. That His provision must be our supply.

After all that, what else am I awake for?  I'm also:

2. Praying for the 2 couples I have scheduled to marry this year.  Our culture has taught young people marriage is disposable.  Our churches haven't always done well to counteract that, and I am determined that we will help these folks prepare well for what they're doing.

3.  I'm considering going on a shopping binge for my wife.  She deserves lots of stuff that I haven't been able to give her over the years.  However, I have to remember that "Available Credit Line" does not equal "money that can be spent freely."

4.  I'm wondering how I'll pay for the seminary education I'm applying for.  It's not excessively costly, but it isn't cheap either.

5.  Thinking about our church podcast and whether it's worth the trouble.  It here at the iTunes store or here for the RSS Feed.  Seriously wondering if anyone listens….or if it's working right.


That's about it.  I'm going to try and go back to bed now…



Friday, January 29, 2010

Famine in Egypt

I'm listening through the Bible again this year.  I'm following the ESV Chronological plan.  (Here's the link to Justin Taylor's blog with the links to all the podcasts and instructions.)  Something struck me as I was listening to it. 

I've often wondered how in the world the people of Egypt were able to store up enough food in the good 7 years to last the bad 7.  I realized as I listened, they didn't.  Take a look:

19 Why should we die before your eyes, both we and our land? Buy us and our land for food, and we with our land will be servants to Pharaoh. And give us seed that we may live and not die, and that the land may not be desolate.”

Genesis 47:19 (ESV)

and this:

24 And at the harvests you shall give a fifth to Pharaoh, and four fifths shall be your own, as seed for the field and as food for yourselves and your households, and as food for your little ones.”

Genesis 47:24 (ESV)

It wasn't that the famine eliminated all of the food, but rather that the famine reduced the agricultural production of Egypt (Canaan too).  The reduction was such that there was enough to eat for a time, but there wasn't enough to replant for the next year.  The land still provided, but the people had to consume all of it to survive.  It was from the stockpile that Joseph had made that the seed for the next year had to come.

What did this create? It allowed Pharaoh to take ownership of the private lands of Egypt.  Many people gave themselves to slavery to the King of the land.  It's likely that this was lived out not in a bitter slavery, but rather in an exchange of labor for the sake of the Pharaoh's projects.  It's more of a forced/mandatory labor, especially during the non-agricultural times.  Also established was a long-lasting taxation system.  It was a flat tax: 20% of the harvest. 

What is the warning here? First of all, there's a warning to prepare for disaster.  It is, however, sometimes impossible to be totally prepared.  You might try, but there are some things you can't be ready for.  Second, be cautious in how you accept help.  Do you wonder if any Egyptian farmer wondered, 20 years after the famine is over, whether or not he could have found a better way to handle the situation?  When he had to leave his family for a few months to handle his forced labor, when he was separating the produce of the land he worked 1 for Pharaoh, 4 for my family (and realize, out of the 4 had to come the seed to plant next year)? 

There's also a warning about how we help people.  Pharaoh, in truth, wanted his people kept alive, but he wasn't really interested in them.  He needed labor, food for his people, and an army.  Whether it came from sharecroppers or landowners didn't matter much to him.  In fact, the light of history shows that landowners tend to fight a little harder against government control they don't like, so Pharaoh's better off with the sharecroppers on land he owns.  When we help people, we need to consider their own best interests as well as our own.  It's ok to encourage people to either repay the help or to ask them to "pay it forward" to someone else in need, but don't get carried away.  The Egyptians would have more than paid back Pharaoh after 20% during the famine and another 20% for about 5 years afterward.  Don't help people just to strengthen your own power.

A thought when looking at this: why did the people have to go Pharaoh? Because he was the only centralized figure to go to.  Do you think that if small bands of farmers had gotten together and worked with just each other they might have saved their freedom? Saved their land and their lives?  I think so.  I think we see here why we need to be in relationships with each other that extend beyond our daily "hi, how are you?" "fine" normality.  We need to work on relying on each other.  And being reliable to each other.  If not, we'll someday face the same crisis the Egyptians faced.  And we'll lose the same things they did: freedom, future, and financial independence.




Note: this also one of the oldest known examples of "I'm from the government, and I'm here to help."  It was scary then, too.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The State of the Union

No, not the President's speech last night.  I didn't watch it.  Why not? If John Piper can present eternal truth in the excellent manner which he does every Sunday in under an hour, there's no reason to listen to the President politic for more than an hour.  Also, for those of you who think I'm just hating on President Obama, I never watched Presidents Bush (either one) or Clinton during the State of the Union.  Why? It's supposed to be a presentation to Congress about what the President has done for the country, what results he has gotten, and what are his plans for the current situation.  It's been nothing but political grandstanding for years when it is supposed to be about facts and realities.

Which comes to my point.  The state of the union I'm thinking about right now is the state of your marriage union.  Whether you have one now or intend to have one in the future, your marriage is something to stop and think about.  If you've got one, it's something to stop and talk about.

Many of us that are married know that.  We've been told that over and over again by experts that we need to occasionally take stock of where our marriage is, where it has been, and where it's going.  That part of the advice is sound.

The problem is, we've taken a page out of the Presidential playbook.  We've changed our need to address the state of our marriage into a political effort.  It's occasionally a self-promotional "look how awesome I've been" effort.  More often, it's like the typical Presidential State of the Union: here's what's wrong, and here are all the ways it's not my fault.  We then follow it up with good sounding, but vague, statements of intent.  Of course, those statements usually are conditional and often involve things that are completely beyond our ability to control.

I'd like to challenge you to something: sit down with your spouse and consider your marriage.  Not like a politician does, but openly and honestly.  What things are strengthening your relationship? What things are hampering it?  What specific things are you doing to strengthen your marriage?

Then, honestly, try and brainstorm 10 things that you will do that are measurable that will improve your marriage. They don't have to all be noticeable by the other person, just that you know you can  see if you have done them.  Then, take that list of 10 and reduce it to 5 items.  Ask your spouse to choose 1 they want you to commit to doing, and you pick 2 additional.  Do this together and then get back together in a few months to talk about it again.

If you're not married?  Consider asking someone you trust to give you guidance on things you can do now to strengthen the relationship you'll have then.  At the very least, read or listen to something to strengthen your marriage.  I'd read The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman (linked at the bottom to Amazon.  It's an affiliate link: if a million people by the book, I'll get a million dollars).  Passion and Purity by Elizabeth Elliot is a good one as well.  If you're in a relationship, talk through these issues with the person you're with.

Too often we allow our efforts in marriage to be like a politician's speech: rhetoric, defense, inaction.  Do you want real hope and change? It begins at home.  With you.



The Five Love Languages Gift Edition: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Revealing the Heart

I'm still reading through the book of Romans.  It's taking a long time, but I think I'm beginning to understand some of what's actually being taught through this book.  Today I was reading Romans 4:13-15, and I realized something.  Let's look at the text and see what's there:

13 For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. 14 For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. 15 For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.

Romans 4:13-15 (ESV)

(by the way: I use ESV inserted in blog posts these days because the Bible Verse Inserter plug-in for Live Writer is ESV-based.  I still prefer the NASB, personally, but I do like the ESV.)

Taking a look at verse 15, I was thinking about the statement "where there is no law there is no transgression" and wondering whether or not it would have been better, then, for there to be no law.  After all, if it's the law that makes transgression, then wouldn't it be better to have no law?

That's not what's really being said here, though.  Whether there is law or not, sin remains.  Consider this: we have seen various examples in recent years of things that we know to be wrong even though they were not illegal.  In my lifetime we've seen laws added against stalking.  I remember the first pushes to make DUIs a felony, or to at least make them a serious crime.  There was no law against complex market derivative investing.  It took a person's death to make people consider 'cyber-stalking' and its legality.

Looking back, law as interpreted by people has consistently held problems.  The first problem is self-centeredness.  Laws are typically made that suit the interests and desires of those who make laws.  That's where you get slavery laws, Jim Crow laws, and much of the law you see in Islamic nations that hold back women and non-Muslims.  The second problem is inadequacy.  No law actually changes people's hearts.  You can make discrimination illegal, but you can't change the hearts of racists. 

What do inadequate laws do, then?  They reveal the heart.  It's the same with the law which God gave to the people of Israel.  It wasn't so much about that if they could make all the festivals and sacrifices and never do what they ought not do, they'd be alright.  It was that the law and their efforts to meet it would reveal if their hearts were longing for God.  In national governance, the same is true.  The law reveals where our hearts are.  If a financial institution is honest, then disclosure laws reveal that heart (need an example? Whether their advice is really sound, I don't know, but the folks at Motley Fool have long been willing to disclose their personal biases, but do so lightheartedly. Other stock advisers, not so much).  Laws related to discrimination reveal the heart.

The same is said of God's laws: the heart is reveal by the instruction given.  If we are truly passionate to seek after God, then we will follow what He's given us.  What do we have? Not a lot, under the New Covenant: love Him, love one another, encourage one another by meeting together, spread His Word, live like you belong to His kingdom not the kingdoms of this world, look after widows and orphans, and be faithful to your marriage (whether you've got one yet or not).

That about sums it up.  Yet we sometimes chafe against these ideas, and it's not because they are hard to follow or even really need discussed. It's because our hearts are rebellious inside and we don't want to do it.

God provided laws so that we might see our sinfulness, which is there, down inside, whether we admit it or not.  The law helps that.  The great news is, though, that He didn't just provide a mirror to see who we are and then sit back and leave us in despair over the truth.

He gave us the opportunity to be forgiven those faults and to have that heart made new by the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  He allowed the one perfect heart to count for all who believe.

And that's really good news.


Proverbs 27 by Doug

Proverbs 27:1 (NLT) –>Keep your bragging restricted to what you have done, not what you will do.  See the case of many high profile young athletes and their non-existent professional athletic prowess.  Or businessman.  Or preachers.  Or, well, anybody.


Proverbs 27:2 (NLT) –>I'm just the most awesome person at this.  On a side though, learn to let others praise you.  There's a line at which it's not humility, it's insulting to your Maker and your encourager.


And when you take 1 and 2 together: don't boast about tomorrow, since it's out of your control, and don't praise your own yesterday, let somebody else do it!


Proverbs 27:5 (NLT) –>Wisely give this love, but give it! I see it too often, especially in church! Churches claim to love one another, but then keep things hidden, and I've heard one too many pastors express that the first time someone shared the complaints was at the business meeting to fire them.  Don't be cruel, but be open.


Proverbs 27:17 (NLT) –>Sharpens.  Not bludgeons.


Proverbs 27:21 (NLT) –>Write up a nice, long article about how amazing someone is and see what happens.  It's a challenge.  I was given what I thought was a very high complement this past week, and it was hard to keep it from going to my head.  It might yet make me a little more arrogant than it should.  I'm hoping it will just make me more confident.  We'll see.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Political Rantings

Well, I had a big long post written and realized all I was doing was complaining about politics.  A couple of quick thoughts instead:

1.  If corporations have rights, including free speech, why don't people?  As in, if a corporation can unlimitedly pour money into politics, why can't nonprofit organizations, including me?  Why don't high school valedictorians?  Why do people fuss about Tim Tebow's speech?

2.  If winning the Massachusetts Senate seat was a good thing for the Republican Party, if it's the beginning of a Republican resurgence, do they have a real plan? Yes, the pseudo-socialist agenda of Pelosi/Reed needs to go away.  However, the Saints aren't in the Superbowl simply because of defense.  Although it helped (tremendously) denying the Vikings the ability to score wasn't the only thing.  It took some positive motion.  What's the plan guys?

3.  H&R Block wants Congress to do more regulation of tax software and tax preparers.  H&R Block? Really? How about we either simplify the tax code (flat tax, anyone?) or eliminate it, go with a national consumption tax, and be done?  Or at least let Consumer Reports or some non-involved party push the regulation.  Besides, the last time I let H&R touch my taxes, they screwed them up. Not exactly the best example…and would you trust Ford to be the push for auto regulations? Wouldn't you expect they were out to help their business as much as anything?

4.  Does anyone think that Congress will actually ever listen to people again?  Unless we unemploy 434 Congressmen and 34 Senators this fall, the nonsense won't stop. (There's probably 1 worth keeping.)

5.  Book banning is back in the news, thanks to some knuckleheaded decisions by people that didn't do adequate research before proposing to ban specific books.  First observation: book banning is a lousy term.  Nobody banned a book.  They prohibited it in a certain forum, which is done on a daily basis in education.  You are required to read certain books.  You are, in some classes, given freedom to read your choice from a list of books.  Literature teachers and academic folks are constantly requiring you to read their preferences over your own.  That's just life.  Second: you make everyone who shares a portion of agreement with your viewpoint when you prohibit things like dictionaries look silly.  Stop it.

6.  Just a quick reminder: everyone's problems aren't the same.  There are times your psychological issues should be solved with the effort of the will.  There are other times when you need help.  Guess what? If someone expresses that some people should "get over it" don't be so hypersensitive that they have to be insulting you.  As a pastor I have recommended some people seek out medical-based care that included the possibility of *GASP* medication for their issues.  For others I've told them to build a bridge and get over it.  Mental and emotional issues are diverse and have diverse solutions, just like physical injuries.  Some pains need surgery, some need rest and Advil.

7.  I'm certain that the 25 million plus people out of work are glad Congress is digging into NCAA College Football Championships and NFL head injuries.  First of all: if the colleges feel bad about their system, let them change it.  Second, are we concerned that football impacts have deprived us of rocket scientists?  The recent revelation that the Florida State Football team had many players that read on a 2nd Grade level should allay those fears. (although the recent action in a Texas school system to not allow Brown Bear Brown Bear What Do You See? has many FSU and University of Texas players concerned they'll never know how it ended.)  Seriously.  We're fighting 2 wars,  (according to France, we're also conquering Haiti. I'm not sure why we'd want it) having massive unemployment, and not even the Treasury Secretary understands the tax code.  Can we fix a real problem?


Amazingly, that's the calm version of my ranting….



Monday, January 25, 2010

January 24 Sermon Outlines

Above is the audio player if you're interested in listening. Or subscribe through iTunes here.

Text: Matthew 4:1-11
Theme: Temptation
Date: January 24 2010
Location: CBC Monticello
I.Temptation comes to everyone!
1.It is the result of sin in the world, not just sin in our lives
2.Usually when we have freshly expressed our commitment to walk with Christ or intensified our efforts to obey
3.Usually when we are in a weakened state:
1.Rod Loy of First Assembly in N. Little Rock used the acronym HALT as a reminder:
2.These are the times that Temptation comes the strongest
II.Temptation thrives in shortcuts:
1.To Material things: the bread. Whether wants or needs
2.To glory and fame: Jumping off the temple
1.Also to test God//see if He really means what He says
3.To power: The Kingdoms
III.Knowledge of Scripture is the front line of defense to temptation
1.Remember, temptation comes to all of us
2.We must know the text: it is the foundation
3.We must also know the context
1.Note verse 6 and Satan's misuse of Scripture
2.We must know what the text is about, and understand the whole of Scripture---else we will come unbalanced and miss the point
IV.Temptation can derail us from what God intends us to do
V.Temptation will fall to the Word of God if we know the Word!
1.As followers of Christ
2.Guided by the Word
3.Empowered by the Spirit
VI.We do not have to fall to temptation: God has given us what we need to Follow Him and not fall to it.

Text: Philippians 2:1-2
Theme: Unity
Date: January 24 2010 PM
Location: CBC Monticello

I.Certain things are true:
1.Consolation of love
1.God's love
2.Love for each other
3.Console us in trying times (look back at 1:29-30)
2.Fellowship of the Spirit
1.Intimacy with God
2.Intimacy with each other
3.Affection and compassion
1.Active caring for one another
2.Suffering with each other
II.Certain things we need
1.Complete joy
2.Same mind
1.Not uniform
2.But using the same criteria for decisions
3.Same love
1.Love for Christ
2.Love for each other
3.Love for the lost
4.United spirit
1.Not angry
5.One Purpose
1.By spreading the Gospel
2.And living lives of faith

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Philippians 1:29-30

29 For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, 30 engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.

Philippians 1:29-30 (ESV)


Have you ever read a Scripture passage and tried to convince yourself it was a misprint?  Being someone that believes that the original texts of the Bible were completely correct in saying what God intended for them to say, I don't think there are mistakes in the Bible.  I do think that there could be textual transmission issues and certainly printing errors can exist.

So, when I encounter something in the text that I find incredibly odd, I start trying to find a way for it not to be accurate.  This is how I felt about Philippians 1:29-30.  Surely we can't be expected to see suffering as something granted to believers.  That has to be a mistake!

Then I have to dial back and recognize this fact: it's not a mistake or a misprint.  The truth is, there are parts of Scripture that are just, well, hard to take sometimes.  It's hard to accept, down inside, some of the hard commands of God.  For example, I don't much care for the idea that anger and murder really are equally sinful.  Actually, the idea that all sin is equally vile is hard for me.  I like to judge my own sin as either better or, sometimes, worse than other people's sin.

This certainly qualified for me, that if I suffer for the sake of obedience to the Gospel, that I should see that as something granted to me, not something that I would rather avoid!

I also, though, got to wondering on this: how do I suffer for the Gospel?

There are several ways of suffering for the Gospel.  Here's just a short list:

    1. Real anti-Christian persecution: This is where believers in China, Iran, North Korea, and many Muslim countries live.  Living for Jesus can be fatal, and is certainly met with blatant harassment from both country and culture.  The majority of America knows nothing like this, although pockets of our country are tilting in that direction.  Where? Well, in places where the dominant culture is strong enough to do whatever it wants.  However, this is not something we see here in the South.  Yet.
      1. Moreover, those who deal with this kind of persecution need our prayers and support.
      2. And we don't need to overstate our own problems. That Wal-Mart is open on Sunday isn't the same as being dragged away from your family and beaten for preaching. 
    2. Anti-Christian inconvenience: we're pretty much here in America and many parts of the "Western" world.  It's not impossible nor is it violently harassed to be a follower of Christ.  There are just moments it's not convenient.  Our culture has become so enmeshed with things that run counter to a Christian life that it becomes a bit hard to make it.
      1. Education is one place this comes out: Biblically, it is the responsibility of the Christian parent to disciple their children to follow Christ. To assist with that, the Christian church should help out or take up the slack.  It's just more convenient to let the government do it all.
      2. Employment is another major focus of this: how many of us as believers have held jobs where we, if we are honest with ourselves, were not fully capable of being obedient to Christ in our work? Where we either slightly shaded the truth, oppressed the poor, or failed to treat others as we should be treated? It's a challenge to find and work jobs that glorify God in all we do.  And it's a challenge to find and work jobs that help it be clear to those we disciple that following Christ comes first.
      3. The other inconvenience for Christians: the fruitcake sector that claims to believe the same way we do.  The ones that blame natural disasters on people rather than helping.  Seriously, help Haiti or New Orleans or Iran with their disaster first and condemn later.  Typically the people in rubble asking "Why?" don't want to talk about the answer yet.

The last way in which Christian suffer is, to me, the most unnecessary.  I think that when the Lord said we'd suffer, and that Paul was mainly talking about here, falls in the above categories.  Especially the real persecution.  It's hard to compare having trouble finding a job that's honest to being put in a forced labor camp (I'm still trying to double-check the statement's I've heard that many of the "Made in China" holiday items are made in forced labor camps).  What is this last way? Church oppression.  We make followers of Christ suffer in the very churches they should be growing in.  We hold back people from obedience, we put up barriers to growth, we attack folks for pushing us out of our comfort zones.  All in the name of protecting the church.  Persecution from the outside is both expected and understandable.  Why would we expect the sinful world to treat us nicely?  But inside the church, that's a whole different story…


Meanwhile, it's just not a good thing to look for loopholes in the text before accepting the truth of it.  You'll always be disappointed.  Wrestle with the truth, and then act on it!!



Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Book Review: Dug Down Deep by Joshua Harris

If you ever read my Disclosures!, you'll see that I review books for a couple of companies.  One of them is WaterBrook/Multnomah. What have I gotten from them this time?

imageDug Down Deep by Joshua Harris. 

A tendency cycles through the Christian church from time to time to de-emphasize doctrine and focus solely on some of the fluffier themes of Christianity.  Usually it's born out of a combination of many years of doctrinal conflict and a society that is successful in material issues.

I think we live in such a time.  I also think Dug Down Deep is a good book for this time.  Why?

  1. Joshua Harris has some name recognition for his earlier books related to dating and church membership.  I was in college when I Kissed Dating Goodbye came out and made Harris's name well known among my generation.  If most of the people that read Dating will read this one, the church will be much better off, and so will they.
  2. The book is well structured in terms of depth and practicality.  Harris does a good job of explaining why it is important to know the doctrines he presents.  He also does not get down into rabbit trails or esoteric issues.  He also avoids some of the more divisive issues in theology, providing a work that should be non-controversial.  It will, however, whet some people's appetites to chew into controversial issues.  This is good.
  3. Endorsements: the front cover carries an endorsement from Donald Miller, which will draw many emergent folks to this book.  On the back is an endorsement from J.I. Packer, which gives me hope there is real meat for all to find here.  A book that is endorsed by both of these men is hitting towards the middle ground quite well.
  4. Finally, any book that is able to seriously reference Jabba the Hutt as an explanatory image for doctrine and not seem goofy in the process, well, that's just lovely.  Really, that's not a sarcastic comment.  First, Harris is showing an ease in relating culture to theology and doctrine.  Second, I've been a Star Wars fan since I nearly wore out the original VHS release my parents bought. 


I'd put this book at 5 stars out of 5.  Very well worth your time.


Again….free book for the review.

Changing rules to win

For those of you that don't know it, today the Commonwealth of Massachusetts will elect a Senator to replace the late Senator Ted Kennedy.  They'll go to the polls up there and choose between State Senator Brown and State Attorney General Coakley.

What's interesting is how they got to this point in Massachusetts.  No, not Senator Kennedy's brain tumor and death.  Rather, why they're having an election to fill the Senate seat.  You may remember that when Illinois need to fill the seat President Obama had, the Governor appointed his replacement. (no comments for now.)  Each state has the authority to determine how to replace a departed Senator.  Most states allow the governor to appoint one.

Massachusetts doesn't do it that way.  They did do it that way, until 2004 when Massachusetts Senator John Kerry ran for President.  Then, Senator Kennedy saw danger that the governor might appoint someone from the governor's party, Elephant, rather than the Senator's party, Donkey.  So, at Kennedy and Kerry's recommendation, the state Legislature changed state laws to require the special election.  This was to help make sure that no Elephant party member would have a chance, since Donkeys are highly influential to the state.

Flash forward to 2009 as Senator Kennedy is about pass from this life to the next.  What is one of the things he gives his last weeks to try and accomplish? He tries to get Massachusetts to change back to governor-appointed replacements.  Kerry chimes in his agreement.  Why?  Because they're now both concerned about people in Massachusetts voting for Elephants and not Donkeys.

There are a couple of lessons here.  Let's consider:

1.  In the United States, we are founded on the concept that the people have the power that is then entrusted to the Government.  That Our Creator has endowed people with rights and that the government is run to protect those rights.  We should be concerned whenever Donkeys or Elephants, really whenever anyone attempts to shuffle the methods of governing in the interest of protecting a party or interest group.  If they are afraid of the people, that's good, but we cannot allow the government to insulate itself from the people.  The actions in Massachusetts to change the rules to try and secure a certain outcome are as dangerous as the actions in Illinois to seek individual profit from the use of authority.  Both undermine the foundation of liberty.

2.  In general, when you try to change the rules to win something, you'll end up losing.  We as people are pretty bad about that.  We like the rules for a while, and then we decide, no, I don't like those rules, and so we go to change them. 

Don't think so?  It's human nature.  Put most of us in the situation where we are weak, and we'll cry out for things to be "fair."  Then let us be the strong, and we'll say "oh, survival of the fittest."  We'll rail against welfare and then take enough tax credits to cover all our taxes and then some, take a refund that establishes a negative tax rate, and count ourselves happy.

We'll fuss about the people that don't come to church and yet complain, and say "you should be here if you want to complain." Then, someone makes a decision you don't like and "everything needs to be announced and decided by everyone!"

Then we do this to God.  Yes, we do.  We ask for things and expect God to deliver, because, after all, we're good enough.  We don't do major sins and aren't that bad.  We want Him to smite the people who annoy us and bother us, without consideration as to what effect we have on others.  We want to be accepted by God no matter what we've done, but we have a list of people that should not accepted no matter what they've done.

It just doesn't work that way.  In life, when you change rules to try and guarantee your way, it will often backfire.  Just ask Massachusetts AG Coakley.  This was supposed to be a cakewalk for her to the US Senate.  At best, it's even money right now.  There are no major polls, at this point, that show her with a commanding lead. Most show even, and a few show State Senator Brown leading.  I think that the attempts to control who makes the decision have impacted the outcome.  It would impact my response.

With God, it's even more important to note that He does not change His rules.  They're very simply spelled out, and they've been the same for a long, long time.  All humanity is in need of a Savior.  All have sinned, and fall short of His glory (Romans 3:23).  He'll never turn away those that come to Him (John 6:37).  Eternity? It's a gift, granted to us by Him (Romans 6:23) rather than something we earn.

Those rules apply to every last one of us.  They apply when we like the results and when we don't like the results.  You can't change them.  You can choose whether or not to live by them, but you can't choose whether or not they apply.

Thank You, Lord God, that grace is part of Your rule.

Proverbs 19 by Doug

Proverbs 19:1 (NLT) –>Is this why most politicians are rich? Because poor and honest go together, while foolish and dishonest go together? 

What do we often offer to trade for being rich?  How often do offer our honesty and wisdom?  STOP IT!


Proverbs 19:2 (NLT) –>Take note of this verse, my brethren in the Tea Party movement! My Glenn Beck-loving reader, it's not enough to be zealous, to have enthusiasm.  We need to know what's going on, and that means real evidence, not the conspiracy theory fill-in-the-blank. 


Proverbs 19:3 (NLT) –>Hmmm….


Proverbs 19:11 (NLT) –>I have my days that I show this verse to be true. Unfortunately, it's by not having good sense.  Learning to trust God to deal with the objects of my anger is challenging.


Proverbs 19:13 (NLT) –>Too many justify nagging by saying that at least the dripping will get fixed.  Put this in context---we're not talking dripping pipes! We're talking an unfixable drip.  And we're talking about a leak in a mud-brick style house that the drip will eventually erode and destroy.  Nagging destroys homes like leaks destroy houses. And go ahead and sub "spouse" for "wife" men.  We do it too.


Proverbs 19:15 (NLT) –>Wake up and get to work!!!


Proverbs 19:17 (NLT) –>There are those who need help, and it's a waste of effort to try and be 'repaid' for it.  Trust God to handle it if you need repaid.


Proverbs 19:18 (NLT) –>While there is hope….before their behavior patterns are set.  Ann's coaching a group of K-1 kids in basketball.  They all have their moments that show an unwillingness to listen and obey.  At 5 and 6! Discipline your children, expect them to listen and learn….because if you wait until they're old enough to 'reason' with, you're too late.


Proverbs 19:20-21 (NLT) –>Put these two together: get advice, instruction, wisdom.  Make a plan.  Then listen to God's answer and do His will, as His purpose will succeed!  Make your purpose His, and you'll do much better.


Proverbs 19:24 (NLT) –>And their laziness does not obligate others to feed them.  There are those who cannot, and those who will not.  Cannot need to be helped. Will not need to be forced to deal with the consequences.


Proverbs 19:27 (NLT) –>This assumes something that many falter at: that we started listening to instruction!!!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Sermon Audio Podcasts

Sometimes, the daily life of a pastor is filled with all sorts of exciting things.

Sometimes, it's not.

Today's a not-so-exciting day, as I have spent much of the day trying to find a way to make our worship service recordings useful. You see, we tape sermons Sunday mornings and Sunday nights. However, we lack both the extra tapes and duplication equipment to do more than just simply stockpile the cassette tapes. Also, since most people don't even realize we're taping, very few folks ask for tapes. And some people that want to listen don't have tape decks.

Long-term, the deacons and the sound committee are looking at ways to record and duplicate on CD. The first step of that will cost a little over $1,000, and will use our existing sound board and simply replace the tape recorder with a CD record. We'll also try to have the funds to purchase a CD duplicator that will make 5 copies at a time of the services. We'll see how the final costs look and present it to the church soon. Eventually, if we want quality recordings, we'll need to start considering a new sound system. Of course, given some of the odd behavior of the sound system, we're going to have to look at that anyway. It's not usually operator problems. It really is usually the equipment!

Meanwhile, I'm trying to take the cassette recordings and digital convert them. Then take that file, and stream it online. One effort is here on the actual church website. Another will work through iTunes and other RSS feed subscribers. If you have no idea what these are, this method isn't going to work very well for you. I'll try to find ways that are more user-friendly.

For iTunes: click this link: that will open iTunes and direct connect you to the Podcast in the iTunes store. Click subscribe. It is, indeed, that simple.

For other RSS subscribers: if you use a different format of RSS feed for audio, here's the feed link:

If you have any difficulties with these, let me know! I'll try the best I can to help. Just a note, though: all of this is being done through free services that have a limit to how much data we can move. Now, it's a lot of data! We can move 5 GB a month, and Sunday night's sermon was 20 MB, which means that sermon can be downloaded 1000 times! In all, we usually have 10-15 sermons, if we start recording Wednesday nights. So, once we get more than 75 downloads or so per sermon, we'll need to look at paying for what we're doing. Until then, thanks to FileDen for the space!  Don't let the limit scare you, but just realize that if you can't access, we may be maxed out, so email me and we'll check on it.  If we really hit that limit, we'll find a way to spend the $30-$50 a month to be unlimited.

Take a listen. Offer constructive help on the digital and audio issues. Thanks!


Sunday, January 17, 2010

Proverbs 17 by Doug

Proverbs 17:1 (NLT) –>Isn't that true! Peace, the presence of good relations, is enough to turn dry crusts into feasts!


Proverbs 17:3 (NLT) –>And it won't be a smooth test.  Fire melts and changes the form of silver and gold to demonstrate its purity.  God will not leave us as we are to show ours.


Proverbs 17:16 (NLT)->This includes if he's on an athletic scholarship.


Proverbs 17:21 (NLT) –>This is true, whether it's your own fault they rebelled or they just went astray.  However, there's no need to rub it in to these parents.  Their sorrow is enough on its own.


Proverbs 17:22 (NLT) –>This explains a great many "mysteries" of medicine.  Those with hope somehow seem more likely to recover from certain illnesses.  Some people are just sicker than others, because their hearts are sad.


Proverbs 17:26 (NLT) –>Yet we do it anyway.  What does that bode for our future?

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Proverbs 16 by Doug


Proverbs 16:2 (NLT)  –>The Lord knows our motives.  We sometimes don't even know, and it's hard for us to know the motives of others.  God knows why you do what you do, so be honest with him about it.


Proverbs 16:5 (NLT) –> I like the phrase "rest assured."  It speaks of leaving it alone so that God can handle it instead of us.  It's not my business to punish the proud.  God will.


Proverbs 16:11 (NLT) –>Are you sure you're getting away with those shady business deals?  Really sure?


Proverbs 16:17 (NLT) –>Away from evil.  Not into the midst of it.


Proverbs 16:22 (NLT) –>Discretion---sorely lacking in so many, but to know when to hold back is life-sustaining!!


Proverbs 16:27 (NLT) –> Don't hunt the trouble.  It'll be there soon enough.


Proverbs 16:31 (NLT) –>Gray hair is something we dye away in our culture.  What does that say about us?


Proverbs 16:33 (NLT) –>Life is in the hands of God.  Always.

The whole assembly


Joshua chapters 7 and 8 contain the story of the conquering of the city of Ai.  Interestingly, it's one of the few defeats recorded, and then there is success.

I won't focus on Aachan's sin and the fact that one family in sin can derail the whole assembly.  Instead, let's look at Joshua 8:1-2:

The Fall of Ai

8:1 And the Lord said to Joshua, “Do not fear and do not be dismayed. Take all the fighting men with you, and arise, go up to Ai. See, I have given into your hand the king of Ai, and his people, his city, and his land. 2 And you shall do to Ai and its king as you did to Jericho and its king. Only its spoil and its livestock you shall take as plunder for yourselves. Lay an ambush against the city, behind it.”

Joshua 8:1-2 (ESV)

Notice how the Lord commands that all the men go to battle.  If you look at chapter 7 you'll see that the people had originally tried to take the city with just a portion of the army:

3 And they returned to Joshua and said to him, “Do not have all the people go up, but let about two or three thousand men go up and attack Ai. Do not make the whole people toil up there, for they are few.” 4 So about 3,000 men went up there from the people. And they fled before the men of Ai,

Joshua 7:3-4 (ESV)

I think what I'm seeing here is that I have a tendency to look at the assembly, the church, and say "Well, I'll take whoever will follow and go." That's ok in some cases, but when people are left behind simply out of an unwillingness to do the work, there's going to be trouble.

I know that we cannot always get unanimous agreement before we proceed with the actions, ministries, and plans of the church body, but we cannot simply leave out large chunks of the people.  It's a recipe for failure.



Friday, January 15, 2010

Book Review: Rediscovering God in America

Before you read to far in this book review, know that I received the book from Booksneeze.  Well, I didn't, really.  I got it from the Thomas Nelson Book Review Bloggers program.  It's just been renamed Booksneeze, which is much easier to type.



Rediscovering God in America

Rediscovering God in America by Newt Gingrich, with appropriate credit to Callista Gingrich for the photography work.

What do I think of this book?  Well, I think it's really 2 separate works.  So, let's look at each work.

The first work is the combined photo layouts of memorials, architecture, and artwork around Washington D.C. and an explanation of the history and meaning of the symbolism behind them.  It's based on a walking tour of D.C., and covers some well-known buildings, like the Washington Monument and the Capitol, and some that I wouldn't have thought of, like the Roosevelt Memorial or the Reagan Building. 

Each stop is photographed, and various highlights also well photographed.  The history and explanations are well written.  I found it interesting to read the story behind the acquisition of Arlington Cemetery from the family of General Lee.  I am also glad to have the photographs and walkthrough of the US Capitol, now that security concerns prevent Americans from visiting their own Capitol building.

The other part of the book, the second work under the same cover and title, is the former Speaker's personal opinions on the current political and anti-Christian leanings.  These opinions are well stated.  I struggle with listening to someone who paid one of the largest ethics fines in Congressional history express frustration about our lack of national morality.  I also wonder where these expressions and sentiments were for the last 8 years.  For example, Speaker Gingrich expresses that the National World War Two Memorial, as the newest memorial, is also the most secular.  He's right, but the memorial is 5 years old at the time of writing!

Why was this book not written in 2006? While I find myself in agreement with many of the opinions expressed, they were just as true of the country and government then.  It seems too much like the former Speaker is trying to connect America's departure from our heritage as a Christian nation with his opposition to the current President.

This book had the potential to be a good explanation of the Christian heritage of America, to show how the very buildings of our government cry out that our heritage is in the Lord.  I think it would have been better had the weight of history been allowed to speak for itself, rather than having a currently politically active person use the information as an opportunity to advance his own opinions.

3 stars out of 5.  The photography and history rates 4. The Newt Gingrich political rhetoric gets a 2. Averages at 3.


Check out Booksneeze.  Check out my Disclosures!

On shared beliefs with morons


First of all, like any human being with feelings, I can't help but be saddened by what has happened in Haiti.  That so many lives can be lost in such short time is tragic.  That the government of Haiti has been in such chaos and turmoil for many years, thus diverting funds that could have made for safer buildings and better infrastructure that would have reduced the calamity is evidence of the unspeakable evil that permeates our world.  Think about it.  With all the complaints in the USA about the situation and response that was the Hurricane Katrina disaster, the death toll in Haiti is at least an order of magnitude bigger than Katrina.

And as a note: if you are able, skip a cheeseburger this week and give to help out.  Find a blood drive, pass on some money.  But give smartly: Red Cross Disaster relief, Samaritan's Purse, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, or the ABSC has a link to give.  Give through other organizations that you know! Disasters bring out the extremes in people---and some people are extremely wicked and will steal donations.  Give to a reputable organization. All of the above also will meet other disaster needs with overflow donations: if the situation in Haiti reaches a point that there is enough money or the money is being misused, they will be able to redirect to other disasters in other places, so you don't have to be concerned that you've given too much.

It's the best and worst that I want to address right now.  As always, when people start asking the question "Why do these things happen?" some people provide really bad answers.  We find ourselves cringing at the statements made by people that claim to have the beliefs we do.  The same thing happened after Katrina, 9/11, the tsunami in 2004, and many other disasters.  And then there are the inevitable complaints, rebuttals, denials, and disavowing of such statements.

We also have people that we share a majority of beliefs with, but then they say dumb things.  Really dumb ones.  Take those who are praying that President Obama dies or those that rejoice when abortionists are murdered for their murder of children. 

How do we handle such things?  Because, really, it's a hard road to navigate.  For example, I would agree that natural disasters happen because of sin.  Not, typically, any one person's or people group's sin, but because sin has corrupted this world.  Natural disasters are the normal forces of this world out of proportion: you need rain and wind, but not hurricanes.  Continental drift goes into sea-floor subduction and renewal of the earth's crust, but earthquakes are bad.  Yet it is not, at least typically, that God uses a massive calamity to bring judgment on a nation.

Why? Because Biblically, you're hard-pressed to make that point under the idea of the New Covenant through the blood of Jesus Christ.  It's about individual people brought together into the new holy nation under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, not about Haitians and Americans.  There are few disasters that strike only unrepentant humanity.

But about the people that will gladly lay blame and express their hatreds while claiming to agree with me: This is why I think we should all be much clearer and more definite about what we do and don't believe.  And be more careful who we associate with.  By extension, we should also learn to be more careful how we judge people by their groups.

For example, politically, there are some real useless human beings in the Republican Party.  Governor Mark Sanford comes to mind, and a few others.  While I think former Speaker Newt Gingrich has some good things to say, I also have difficulties with his ethics and various other things.  In all, while I agree generally with the wide group of Republicans, I can't simply choose to be happy with all Republicans.  Neither can I be unhappy with all Democrats, although it's much easier to do so.

Likewise with religious groups.  I personally have trouble separating Islamic fundamentalists that blow up buildings from Islam in general, but I would certainly like to separate whacky people like Pat Robertson and Wiley Drake from myself as a conservative Christian. 

What is to be done?  First and foremost: generally people have a visible role because it's given to them by the groups they claim to represent.  We Christians have given Pat Robertson a stage.  If we don't take it away, we have to live with him.  So, we must be much more cautious about creating superstars in our worlds.  When we hang the fate of our religious group, political group, or ideological movement on a small group of people, we're toast when they fail.

Second, we need to establish accountability as people rise through to lead us.  Pat Robertson gets to say what he wants because he answers to no one.  Sarah Palin can say what she wants because there is no one to question her.  As these people have risen, they should have been mandated to be part of groups to hold them accountable to the people they claim to speak for.

Finally, we need to disprove bad words with good action.  Note, that we don't disprove bad words with bad action.  That I think there are loose cannons on the political right doesn't mean that I will endorse bad ideas from the left just to prove they don't speak for me.  I will not participate in voodoo to prove I'm concerned for Haiti right now.  I will pray, I will scour our checkbook to see what we can give to help.

We cannot force people to shut up.  Freedom of speech includes the freedom to say offensive things, because you cannot entrust to others the authority to determine "offensive."  We can, however, live lives that show that people who talk this way and claim, for example, Christianity as their religion, don't fit with real, everyday Christians.  The problem isn't that Pat Robertson doesn't really speak for Christians (or for Christ).  Anybody could see that, if we as Christians would live and speak for Christ honestly.



Thursday, January 14, 2010


This morning I'm head over to the monthly meeting of the Drew County Minister's Association.  Or Ministry Alliance…or something like that.  We tend to just call it DCMA, and I know the DC is for Drew County.  The MA, I'm not so sure. 

What is a DCMA? It's a group of ministers from around Drew County.  It's not any one specific denomination, but has Baptists, Catholics, Presbyterians, and Assembly of God in it.  We do some basic things to help with the needs of transients in town, and put together a few community-wide worship services together.

Do we all agree?  Certainly not.  This forum cannot contain the various shades of theological disagreement.  First of all, our separate church groups have standing differences.  There are real divisions between Catholic, Baptist, Assembly, and Presbyterian understandings of Scripture.  If the Methodists had time to be involved, we'd disagree with them too!  A quick glance through the official documents of our churches will reveal those divides.

Second, we as people tend to disagree with each other.  We have varying degrees of political opinions, various personalities, and hold to certain doctrines that conflict with each other.

How do we cooperate, then?

Very carefully.  First of all, we find things that all of us do agree on.  Second, we identify the things that we are at impossible disagreement on.  Finally, we sometimes discuss the ideas in the middle.

We agree on coming together to express Thanksgiving and to celebrate the Resurrection.

We're hopelessly deadlocked on baptism and predestination.

We have a rousing discussion every now and then on literal interpretation of Scripture.

What makes this possible is a respect for each other, and, to be honest, a diehard belief that each one of is absolutely right.  I can discuss security of the believer with my Free Will Baptist friends because I know I'm right.  I don't have to get agitated or angry in debate because of my own certainty.  I'm trying to elaborate and demonstrate to him a truth.  Not my own commitment to that truth, since I know that's unwavering.

Likewise with any of the other issues we discuss.  I find our local Catholic Priest, Father Phillip, to be a committed man who seeks to lead his flock closer to obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ.  That his method leads them there through the Pope is something I'm not so sure about, but he's sure, and he can calmly explain to me why, and I can calmly discuss why not.  We respect each other's work, and we respect each other's right to be wrong in our eyes. 

These things make cooperation on peripheral issues, like transient aid, possible.  Why? We know what we're doing there doesn't hit the big issues, and when the big issues are in play, we all come back to our own churches.  We don't seek to use DCMA to unify our churches into one, rather to unify certain efforts into one.

It's not a bad model.  Does it always work? No.  Would it work if non-Christian groups were involved? Probably not.  At our core is the effort to obey the commands of Christ.  How would it work if we involved people that didn't believe the commands of Christ matter?

It actually works better that we're all pretty hard-headed folks about our own beliefs.  That sounds contradictory, but discussions are much more rational this way.  So, to my friends in the DCMA, let's keep it up.

To my Baptist friends around the world, especially us Southern Baptists: Can we take a lesson here?  Rather than worry about stomping out minor disagreements, can we trust each other a little more? Can we focus on the things we strongly agree on?  Like, perhaps…The Great Commission? The Great Commandment? The commands to look after widows and orphans in their distress?


Just a thought….


About Doug

A few comments about me, in case anyone's wondering:

1.  My name is Doug. Simple, right?  Seriously, this blog at, utilizes my name.  I'm not in any form of business that requires a creative name.

2.  I am happily married.  Seriously. Ann and I got married in 1998, and haven't regretted it since.  She's smarter than I am, and a better writer.  She's at  She's not the only Ann Hibbard, and you can check that out on her blog under the tab "The Other Ann Hibbard."

3.  I have children.  At least 3.  You will occasionally see them mentioned by name, but often I will blur them into anonymity.  I will tell stories about them, because they are part of my life and learning.

4.  I am currently a Baptist pastor, specifically in a Southern Baptist Church. This is what I think is my life's calling, at least at the moment.

5.  I have no idea if I will ever make money from blogging.  I'm not sure I want to, because if I start making money, I'll have to be consistent.  I'll think about it…

6.  If you have direct questions, ask them.  I'm not going to think of everything you want to know.

7.  I'm likely to, at various points in my blogging, be a student of varied educational institutions.  I'll try not to embarrass those places, and I'll ask you as a reader not to let them embarrass me.  My school choices are primarily about where I can graduate from an accredited institution, not finding a place to rubber stamp all I think, and I believe I should find places that challenge me.  So, don't assume I'm a model student.

8.  That's all I've got for now…

Monday, January 11, 2010

Lowered Expectations

Not to complain too much, but the central heat furnace at our house doesn't work quite right.  Yes, I am aware that there are people without central heat.  In the summer, there are people without air conditioning.  However, this house was built with a couple of assumptions.  One of those was that, this being South Arkansas, it wouldn't get that cold.  The other that, when it does get cold, the single source of heat as a forced air furnace would be enough for the whole house.

So, what's wrong with my furnace?  Well, Saturday night it just decided not to blow.  Forced air heat works by heating air in a chamber and forcing it out into the house.  The blower motor would not kick on.  So, while the temperature outside dropped into the teens, the temperature inside started the night at 65 and dropped down to 52 by 4 o'clock in the morning.  Ann and I did not sleep well that night.  We'd hear the furnace click, hear the gas burners engage, then something else would click about 30 seconds later and the burners would shut off.  The second click should have been the blower motor switch coming on. 

Well, 4 in the morning, I got up and decided to fight with it as best I could to get it going.  Note: I'm not a licensed technician for heat and air systems.  I'm not even an unlicensed wannabe technician for heat and air.  I'm bad with electrical and worse with mechanical, so this was not a job for me.  However, I discovered that I could take the front panels off, manually spin the blower a couple of turns, and then hold the safety override switch that shuts off the blower if the panel is off and cause it to start blowing.  Then, the burners would fire, since the thermostat was still calling for heat.  I quickly put the cover back on, since there's a warning there about combustible fumes and explosions, and the heater ran all morning to get the house back to 65.

Fast forward to Sunday night.  The heater started doing the same thing.  I thought: NO PROBLEM! I'll do what I did earlier, it'll run just fine.  Nope.  Didn't work.  I put my hand on the blower motor, and it was almost as hot as when I put my hand on the burner I thought was off in the kitchen one time.  The motor was a little overheated, apparently.  Well, to keep the gas burners from cycling so much and not burn natural gas for no reason, I turned the thermostat down to 60.  I thought the furnace probably wasn't going to work anyway, so I cranked it down and left it down.  Then I went to bed.

This morning, it was a challenge to get up, because I was so cold.  First thought? The furnace hasn't run all night, it's back to really chilly in here.  I went to the thermostat to see the temperature, and discovered, much to my surprise, that the temperature was….60 degrees.  Just like I set it to.  I punched the "run program" button to put the thermostat back on auto, and it hit its morning setting of 67, and the furnace immediately fired up and ran.  It's just cycled off from heating the house back to the comfortable temperature of 67 degrees.

What mistake did I make?  I allowed one incident of breakdown to cause me to lower my expectations of the furnace.  I thought that since it had failed me before, it was going to go ahead and fail me this time.  As such, I got exactly what I asked for the second time around.  Except what I asked for wasn't what I really needed or wanted.

Do we ever make that mistake with people?  The first mistake we make, and one that takes much more discussion, is when the same person that let us down before is the one we're dealing with again.  There's a lot to be said for forgiveness and second chances, but there is also a lengthy discussion of consequences, wisdom, and protection.  However, we're often much quicker to hold others to consequences than we are ourselves. 

The second mistake, and the one that we really need to watch for, is lowering our expectations of individual people because other people let us down.  To hold the shortcomings of one person against another really isn't a good plan.  Why? We end up getting exactly what we expect, and we don't expect enough.  This happens incredibly too often in churches.  Somewhere, a long time ago, one young person (and ask 5 people in a church for a definition of "young person."  You'll get 7 answers) dropped the ball on a project.  As such, now the church expects nothing from "young people." And they get it.  Somewhere, the men's ministry slipped up or the deacons failed or the pastor goofed up. Maybe the WMU or the ladies' fellowship made an error.  There was a time your association or convention or denomination revealed their shortcomings.  And now, you have no expectations that they'll ever be helpful again.

Guess what?  They won't be.  Because we'll get what we expect, and if we expect little, we'll get little.  Does raising our expectations have risk? Certainly.  But I also know how hard it was to get up this morning, since I had to do all the work of staying warm last night.  I know how tiring it can be to carry the whole load.  Am I going to be disappointed by people falling short? Absolutely.  Yet I will be more disappointed in myself when I get up in the morning of that day, and my Lord shows me all the ways my low expectations kept people from doing all they could for Him.



Sunday, January 10, 2010

Sermon Outline January 10 PM

This was the outline for the evening service tonight.  Why are we here?

Text: Philippians 1:21-24
Theme: Why am I here?
Date: 1/10/2010 PM
Location: CBC Monticello

21  For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22  But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. 23  But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; 24  yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake.

  1. There are certain questions that most people ask. One of these is the classic question of purpose: WHY AM I HERE?

  2. Other religions try to also explain the purpose of life

    1. Buddhism: life is suffering

    2. Hinduism: life is pointless, it's about a return to oneness with nothing

    3. Secularism, the state religion of America: life is an accidental inconvenience

  3. As Christians, we find the answer based on Scripture

    1. One of the main answers is found in the Westminster Catechism:

      1. What is the chief end of man?”

      2. The chief end of man is fear God and glorify Him forever.

    2. Another answer is found at the end of Ecclesiastes

      1. Now all has been heard, and here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.

    3. Recently it's also been explained with the summary “To know Him and make Him known” based on the Great Commandment and Great Commission.

  4. We should understand that our primary purpose is to glorify the one who created us. Yet for what purpose does He leave us here?

  5. That's actually the question Paul is struggling with here. He is expressing his own frustration that he cannot simply depart and be with Christ, that his life is not his own to live or to die, but rather he must remain

  6. He take his encouragement from knowing his remaining will be “fruitful labor”

  7. How are we living our lives?

    1. If we live for our own pleasures, we will not be satisfied

    2. even if our pleasure is where it should be, obedience to God

    3. See this in Paul here: he is living in obedience to Christ, but he'd rather be in the presence of God

    4. If we are living for the strengthening of others, however, we begin to see the purpose God has for leaving us here

    5. We are called to remain on this earth not for our glory or for our own growth

    6. We are here to strengthen others, to lead others to Christ and to a forward growing relationship with Him

Sermon Outline January 10 AM

Here's the Sunday Morning sermon outline.  The main question: Are you willing to celebrate Christmas by surrendering your kingdom for His?

Text: Matthew 2:16-23
Theme: Hating Christmas
Date: 1/10/2010 AM
Location: CBC Monticello

  1. Open: Not all people like Christmas.

    1. Some people don't like the stuff that goes along with the celebration of the holiday

    2. Other people just downright do not like Christmas:

      1. Scrooge: BAH! Humbug.

      2. The celebration of the birth of Christ

      3. The birth of Christ itself

  2. There were people in the actual Christmas story that didn't like Christmas:

    1. Some were apathetic:

      1. The people of Nazareth would have noticed Joseph and Mary return with a baby, but probably didn't make more of a fuss than they would over any other baby

      2. The Egyptians didn't notice the coming of Christ---other than a small group of refugees. Probably an inconvenience, but at least a more customers and taxpayers

    2. Some were downright hostile:

      1. Herod: This was his kingdom, and he wasn't interested in surrendering it

      2. The Jewish leadership: think about it: these guys are consulted to find out where the Messiah would be born, given indication there was reason to believe He had come. Yet, when the time comes that He needs protection from Herod, where is their protest and protection? Not there, is it? No.

        1. Sometimes doing nothing is just as evil as the actions you are allowing to happen

  3. To us, how do we respond now that Christmas has come?

    1. Are we willing to take notice?

    2. Christ came as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. We are to surrender our Kingdoms to Him.

    3. Christmas is more than just the celebration of the birth of a child, it is in fact the celebration of the breaking in of the Kingdom of God

Friday, January 8, 2010

Reminders of Lessons from Sports

After watching part of the BCS Title game last night between Alabama and Texas, I'm reminded of certain lessons from sports.  And I'm going to remind you of them:

1. You cannot build your team around 1 single individual.  It just doesn't work.  Don't believe?  When's the last time the Chicago Bulls were worth following? Even when you have talent of Jordan's caliber, you have to have a team!  For Texas to fall apart on both offense and defense over one player's injury shows that they were not prepared to play as a team, but rather were built as a star with a supporting cast.  And just as a note: had Ingram gotten hurt, Alabama would have shown itself to be just as troubled.  College athletics have, unfortunately, become too much about a school striving to launch a high-profile pro-athlete as playing a team sport.

So, the first lesson is leadership development and responsibility sharing, because that's what it takes to not be 1 person dependent.  In your church, are you doing this?  Far too many churches go to pieces when the pastor moves away.  Now, some pastors leave that shouldn't, but that's another post.  The church needs to be prepared for the possibility.  Companies do the same thing.  Why should a company pay tens of millions in bonuses to keep 1 person when they could spend that money to employ additional people and train them to carry the load?  It may seem like redundancy, but what about when that 1 crucial employee gets the swine flu?

2. This is a corollary to the other statement: it takes the whole team to win a game.  It takes offense, defense, special teams.  The opening of the game, Alabama screwed up on offense, special teams, and their defense looked porous.  I was afraid I would have to apologize for all the pro-SEC talk prior to the game, although my dislike of Nick Saban was getting happier by the error.  However, it takes all parts of the team to succeed.

In your church or business, are you developing your whole team?  Or are you neglecting your weaknesses and hoping no one notices?  Every year there are teams better in one category than the national title holder.  In baseball, someone's usually got a better hitter or better pitcher, in football there are better offenses and defenses.  The difference is that a defense that allows 30 points a game has to have an offense that scores 31 every time to win, and that's not as likely as you would want it.  If your sales side is great but you don't support your products, your business will falter.  If your outreach teams get people into church but your Sunday School teachers don't connect them, if your services are great but no one is coming, then your church will falter.  Develop all sides.

3. You have to play the whole game.  As Texas was flattening Alabama's offense on the first series, they had an energy and enthusiasm that was quite nearly infectious.  It was also annoying.  They spent a lot of energy dancing and celebrating, running around after plays.  Bama then put up 24 unanswered points in the first half, and went on to put up a total of 37.  What made part of that difference?  Look at the faces on the Alabama sideline and the Texas sideline.  Even after blowing the fake punt and muffing the kickoff, Alabama's team looked determined to keep fighting.  Texas, on the other hand, looked lost after McCoy's injury.  Each time they had something go wrong, they looked increasingly desperate. They then went on to lose the game.  The difference? I think the Tide knew they had all game to correct for errors.  It's true the hole gets too big to fill sometimes, but Texas is a good team and could have even made up the deficit after half-time.  They nearly did.

We too often give up early.  We don't always say so, but we do it anyway.  It may be that you start 'mailing it in' to work or quit supporting your church quite so enthusiastically.  Sure, you're still there, but you're not really all there.  You're beginning to settle and just go through the motions.  Or you've already got your heart set on the next big thing and don't want the risk (Note what happened in Arkansas' bowl appearance a few years ago when it seemed a pair of superstar running backs decided to leave college early but still had to play that game.)  You need to finish with the same intensity you started with, as best you can.  Sometimes you need a break, a rest.  That's what timeouts and half-times are for. 

The real challenge in sustaining the intensity in life is that, well, you don't know how long you've got.  How long will you be at that job?  How long will you be in this church? You have to bring all you have no matter how long you've been there or how long you'll be there.  Take the time-outs you need, take the intermission to catch up when necessary, but you can't stop.



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