Friday, April 29, 2011

Royal Weddings, Presidents in Disasters, and the Incarnation

As I sit down to write this, my heart is still heavy for my fellow Southerners that have lost so much in tornadoes this week. Mock us all you want for not knowing how to drive in snow, but these storms? Those are a fact of life for us. It's not if a Southerner's life is affected by a tornado. It's not even when. It's how many and  how close?  The roof portion we lost in Mississippi back in 2008 is nothing compared to the property loss, much less life lost this week.

On to the task at hand: a real blog post. To look at current events today, there are three big things happening, and I'm going to take a look at two of them right here.

First of all, there is now a new Duchess of Cambridge in Her Majesty's United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. His Royal Highness William, Prince of Wale, wed Catherine Middleton. Theoretically, Prince William, son of Prince Charles and the late Lady Diana, is second in line for the throne, but the aforementioned Prince Charles would do well to give the throne a pass straight on to his son. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge will then be the parents of the future monarch of England. All the best to them, may they honor the vows they took in Westminster Abbey today and be examples to their generation.

There's a huge amount of press here in America over the wedding, and it is obviously a big deal in the United Kingdom. Some people think it's silly, while others are enamored of it. A look at my Twitter stream shows dislike for the coverage, but my Facebook news feed is more balanced. In all, though, it seems many Americans still have to sound off on the wedding, whether they like it or not.

Then, there's this news: in the wake of the devastation in Alabama, President Obama is on his way to the disaster area. Early this week, Governor Beebe of Arkansas went to the harder hit parts of Arkansas. Why is the President going to Alabama? He's not going to help clean up. In fact, if his predecessor, President Clinton, is any indication, he'll be in the way. When President Clinton visited Arkadelphia, Arkansas, after the F4 tornado that hit us there, the report was that emergency workers were blocked from the disaster area so the President could see it. Similar complaints emerged from when President Bush visited New Orleans post-Katrina.

Yet there were many complaints when President Bush did not hurriedly rush to New Orleans after Katrina. There were complaints back in 2009 when Kentucky saw weather disasters and President Obama did not visit them.

The British Monarchy has been, for the past several years, derided as silly and wasteful, yet millions tuned in for the wedding. Americans that can't get up and get to work on time were up early this morning to watch it. The news coverage of the wedding has bumped the President's birth certificate, the sheer disaster in the South, and the utter wreck that is the American economy.

Why do we care?

We care about Royal Weddings because it makes the great and lofty ones look normal. Many of us have wedding dreams or memories, and to see that the "Duke and Duchess of Cambridge" also had to walk that path makes them more of William and Kate than anything else. It's humanizing.

We want our Presidents and Governors to see the disasters. Why? It's not that they'll experience what we're going through. President Obama isn't going to live in a shelter for a few days or live at home with no power for a week. The roads will be cleared for him, and the bottled water will be properly chilled. President Bush was derided, though, for just looking at the damage out an airplane window. They're really just tourists in the damage, but we want them there. On the ground, in the midst of it.


Because down inside of us, there is a need to know that the "great ones" of this world see what life is for normal people. A royal wedding shows us that the House of Windsor is not so different from the House of Hibbard, and it gives us a glimpse into the ways that the royal life is different from our own. For example, my wedding was simpler, faster, and much more relaxed. Yet I can see into their lives through it.

There is a need to feel like our problems are big enough to be an interruption. We hear that the President is the "most powerful person" in the world (which isn't really true, or at least shouldn't be), but we know he had other things on his schedule for today. (Ironically, he was supposed to be receiving the Auburn University football team and he's now headed to the University of Alabama.) We like to know that we're that important, at least in a disaster.

All this brings me to these conclusions:

1.) We are social creatures. We need to know that we're not alone.

2.) We are even social-structure creatures. We seem to have an intrinsic recognition that there are people "above" us. (Think we're any different in America? Why so much coverage of celebrities? They're our royalty. You're no different from Royal Wedding Watchers, you just have a different watch.)

3.) This tells me that we are made to crave those things. We exist with a gap that needs to know that we are not alone and that we are not ignored from above.

The Lord God Almighty knows we are this way. It's a common thread of human experience, and He made provision for it.

It's called the Incarnation. Yet He didn't just give us a few wedding pictures or gaze at the devastation from above. He dwelt in the midst of it. He lived without the electricity, He came to our weddings.

And, in the end, He got his hands dirty to fix our disaster. All the relief workers scattered, and alone He died on the Cross for us. All the security guards fell down, and He rose from the grave.

Our fascination with Royals, our need for the President to stop by, all point us to something: we are made to look beyond ourselves. Let these minor things point you to what is greater:

"And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us." –John 1:14

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

BookTuesday: Time with God for Fathers

As we approach Mother's Day and Father's Day, there will be a nice list of books marketed as gift books for those occasions. Ann recently review Time with God for Mothers, and I've got Time with God for Fathers.

As a gift book, this is short. On its own, that's not good or bad. The buyer should be aware of it, though. This is not a long, in-depth devotional like My Utmost for His Highest or On This Day in Christian History. The author intended short, and short is what you get.

The devotionals are good, though they are not incredibly deep or moving if the reader is used to a daily devotional. However, for someone getting started in the practice of a daily time, this is a good entry point.

The content is generic enough to be of value to anyone claiming the Christian faith. You'll not find any devotions extolling denominational specifics. There are also none highlighting any non-Biblical people. The sole focus here is on fathers and Scripture.

The weakness here is obvious: if you're not a father, this book just isn't for you. You can probably glean from it, but that wouldn't be worth the effort.

For the limited, targeted audience, this book is ok. For the wider world, there's just not enough here to be worth the time. It is, however, a targeted book, so it's not a shortfall of the author.

Here's what the book looks like:

Time With God For Fathers

I received a free copy of this book from BookSneeze in exchange for an honest review.


Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter Sermons

Early AM Sermon Audio

AM Sermon Audio

Being Sunday People in a Saturday World

John 19:31-42: Read it all:

“Then the Jews, because it was the day of preparation, so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. So the soldiers came, and broke the legs of the first man and of the other who was crucified with Him; but coming to Jesus, when they saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs. But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out. And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you also may believe. For these things came to pass to fulfill the Scripture, “Not a bone of Him shall be broken.” And again another Scripture says, “They shall look on Him whom they pierced.” After these things Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but a secret one for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate granted permission. So he came and took away His body. Nicodemus, who had first come to Him by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds weight. So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen wrappings with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. Now in the place where He was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. Therefore because of the Jewish day of preparation, since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there. ” (John 19:31–42, NASB95)

What we find here is an incomplete story. We find Jesus on the Cross. He's dead.

And the Pharisees want to get rid of Him the rest of the way.  Why?

They want their Saturday back. They don't want the interruption.

They need their habits, their regular activities....

People use Saturdays for all sorts of things. Some use Saturday to catch up on work from the week. Some use it for home maintenance. Some use it to catch up on homework, others for rest, and others use it to party and celebrate.

Yet when we take a look through Ecclesiastes, we see some things:

Ecclesiastes 1:17 reminds us that spending all our effort on knowledge is futile---

Ecclesiastes 2:10 reminds us that the pleasures are futile

Ecclesiastes 2:23 shows us the labor is futile.

This is the world we live in: there are all these things that we chase after. We live our lives for Saturday.

Even many of us within the church chase these things. We spend our time working hard for the Saturday things of this world.

Yet that chasing leaves us with Saturday feelings----a feeling of inadequacy, a feeling of coming up short.

A feeling of dread and frustration.

This is what Saturday really feels like.

We long for it to be so much more. But, in the end, Saturday doesn't last.

The good news is this----the good news is what happens on Sunday.

When we turn to Sunday, we find a better day:

“But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb bringing the spices which they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men suddenly stood near them in dazzling clothing; and as the women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living One among the dead? “He is not here, but He has risen. Remember how He spoke to you while He was still in Galilee, saying that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.” And they remembered His words, and returned from the tomb and reported all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. ” (Luke 24:1–9, NASB95)

We no longer have to seek life among the dead

We no longer have to find our lives among the dead habits of before----

All of those things which were vanity, they become our service to the Lord God, to His Glory->

"whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. ” (1 Corinthians 10:31, NASB95)

That is our great joy this Easter and every Easter----that we no longer strive for vanity and futility, but that by the power of the Cross and the glory of the Resurrection, we live, every day, in glorious Sundays.


The wrath of God and the judgment of the day of the Lord cannot be a trifling matter. How emphatically are we told in Scripture, that it is "a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." Upon such a subject we cannot afford to trifle.
Besides, the mystery of Calvary indicates to us that sin must deserve at God's hand a terrible penalty. Did Jesus suffer so bitterly to save men, and will not the unsaved endure bitterness indeed? Must the eternal and holy Son of God, upon whom sin was only an imputed thing—must he bleed and die, and offer up his life, with his soul exceedingly heavy even unto death—and is the world to come a thing about which men can afford to sport or idly dream?---CHSpurgeon

While the Cross is central to our faith as Christians, the Resurrection  is actually the hinge pin of our faith

“and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is vain, your faith also is vain. ” (1 Corinthians 15:14, NASB95)

What difference does it make for us to serve a Risen Savior? Why would our faith be different than if he were just a man?

If we served a man, we should count his death as our example, and so would seek death in service to him. The greatest we could do would be to emulate him: die at the hands of the wicked, opening not our mouths....

Yet we are commanded to be living sacrifices: Romans 12:1-2 “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. ” (Romans 12:1–2, NASB95)

If we served a man, we would constrained to follow laws to please God---“Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin. ” (Romans 7:25, NASB95)

Rather, we are free to live in Him: ““I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.” ” (Galatians 2:20–21, NASB95)

If we served a mere man, we would be trapped in the sin we have earned: Romans 6:23

Yet the free gift has been bought, paid for, and given. It is finished---John 19:30

So we must: (Not options: "It is our duty and our privilege to exhaust our lives for Jesus. We are not to be living specimens of men in fine preservation, but living sacrifices, whose lot is to be consumed." CHSpurgeon

Become, ourselves, the children of God -> John 1:12 “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, ” (John 1:12, NASB95)

Take our cross and follow Him -> Matthew 10:37-39: ““He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. “And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. “He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it. ” (Matthew 10:37–39, NASB95)

Go through our lives making disciples ->“And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” ” (Matthew 28:18–20, NASB95)


His work to provide grace is finished, though His Spirit still draws, His Word still speaks. The remainder is this: how will you reply?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Consider yourself warned

Last night, the name of the small town I live in was mentioned on the 2 of the broadcast TV stations in Little Rock. While this sounds like we have arrived into fame, it was actually this:

"Looks like that rotation is headed toward….Almyra."

That rotation? Well, that's the radar echo in a cloud that makes the weatherman think a tornado is either there or soon to be there. It's not a happy thing.

At that point, we decided to go ahead and get the kids up, move them to our bedroom, and watch to see what happened. Before that, just Ann and I were up and watching radar screens. Well, watching the internet posts of radar screens. We don't have our own weather radar though that would be awesome!

It's a debate for us how to respond to the storm warnings. We've both been here in the South for a long time, and we're kind of dull towards certain weather words because of it. "Tornado watch" and "Severe Thunderstorm Watch" are two of them. Why? They happen all the time. Seriously.

Here in East Arkansas, for example, we are either in high fire danger because it's too dry or under a tornado watch. I don't have documentation for that, but it seems true.

Even swapping Warning in for Watch doesn't get us as excited as it used to. There was a time that the weather people issued a warning only when there was visible evidence of a tornado. That required storm spotters and also delayed such things to the last minute. With technology improvements, now they can issue a warning based on radar and give people much more time to know a tornado is near them.

Except that system still warns entire counties. Arkansas County is over 1000 square miles (Rhode Island is a little over 1500 square miles). That's a lot of territory, and if there's a tornado moving in some parts of the county, it could still be clear in other parts! And yes, that happens. Not as much in this county because it's so flat, but there are counties in Arkansas where that's normal.

In truth, we don't really get excited about the storm systems until we hear Almyra from the weatherman. Or see for ourselves via BlackBerry, internet, or getting really close to the TV. It's just so normal for there to be storms around us, even destructive, killer storms, that we sleep through them.

What strikes me about this attitude towards the amazing power of wind and rain is that we so often have it about life. We see the destruction all around us, but we don't really take the threat to us seriously.

It's the refrain of the addict: sure, other people that do this have a problem, but I'm under control. It's not going to destroy me.

It's the refrain of those embarrassed to seek help: I know that depression is a real problem, but it's not a problem I have. That's a problem he has, she has, they have, maybe even you have, but it's not my problem.

It's the refrain of the lonely: true, no man is an island---but I'm strong and I'm fine.

It's the refrain of many of us: that rule may apply to life in general, but I'll find a loophole.

That watch, cautioning me to be careful of temptation, it's not that critical. That warning? That I'm detaching from the world and headed into the darkness of depression? That's just broad information.

We are often so proud, so certain that the problems are "over there" or "down there" that until it calls our name specifically, we take no precautions. We take no actions.

Consider yourself warned, though: the danger is real. The risk is there. It will call your name.

Are you prepared?

What can you do?

Have a safe place. Have safe people. Have a trustworthy God to call out to when the world breaks down.

Monday, April 18, 2011

BookTuesday: Max on Life

Just like last week, BookTuesday is making a special Monday appearance. Thomas Nelson Publishers has a good April going, with last week's release of Andy Andrews' The Final Summit and then this week's special release. What is this week's?

It is the latest book from Max Lucado, Max on Life. Here's a picture of the cover and the expected link:

Max On Life: Answers and Insights to Your Most Important Questions

This book is a departure from the typical Max Lucado fare. If you've typically read Max Lucado, you've seen him illustrate the 23rd Psalm, the story of the Crucifixion, and the return of Christ. He typically writes inspirational stories to illuminate specific passages of Scripture, and he does it well. The departure here is that Max on Life is a collection of answers to letters and questions. 

In total, there are 172 questions with one to two page answers for each of them. Lucado reports these as real questions that have been posed to him. By summarizing the letters and conversations, these become anonymous for the reader. 

Which serves two purposes quite well. The first is protecting the privacy of the writers. More than that, though, it allows the reader to find themselves in any question. There are some questions that may not apply now, but they might someday.

Is there anything lacking here? This book is like a public view of personal correspondence. While Lucado presents varied Scriptural stories, he doesn't answer them with a sermon or outline, and not often with a direct Scripture quote. This isn't bad, because Lucado still handles the issues from a Scriptural viewpoint. However, chapter and verse aren’t frequently present.

This is precisely what this book is intended for, though: a presentation of a God-centered viewpoint on the diverse questions people have. Questions that don’t really have a direct verse answer but need a good one.

I found this to be practical and helpful read.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Sermons: Palm Sunday

Morning Audio Link

Evening Audio Link


Morning Sermon:

What's happening?

I. It's time to enter Jerusalem:

     A. First important point: Coming in from outside the city

     B. Second important point: Riding on a donkey:

          1. Sign of peaceful entry

          2. Fulfillment of Zechariah 9 prophecy

II. The crowds:

     A. Shouting "Hosanna"

     B. Incorrect identification---"This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth in Galilee"

III. This is how the same crowd turns a deaf ear (at best) to "Crucify!" in less than a week: (Note: there are changes, certainly, as much of the Sunday crowd is also coming into Jerusalem, and it seems the crowd on Friday is assembled within the city. However, where did those people go? The Passover is that day. They’re around there somewhere.)

How we identify Jesus matters

1. There is a constant pressure to redefine Jesus:

     On CNN's website just this past week someone tried to redefine Jesus as not knowing or acknowledging the Old Testament

     There's the effort to paint Him as anything but God

2. We must take care to define Him as He is:

Not merely a prophet: while there have been many prophets who speak the words of God, He is not one of them.

Not merely a teacher: we cannot reduce Him to just a teacher

CS Lewis -> Liar, lunatic, or Lord argument

If we do not recognize Him as Lord, there's no point in shouting "Hosanna"

We must move from Crucify to Hosanna!


What is acceptable in the Temple?

Well, we don't live with a Temple these days, do we?

How does this apply, then?

1. What does it take to be accepted by God?

     Not our riches nor trading our riches for more 'acceptable' ones

     Not our own sacrifices

2. It takes:

     Faith like a child

     Coming in our weaknesses

     Coming in prayer

We will have to decide:

1. What do you think is bringing you before God?

2. Are you willing to come honestly?

3. Are you willing to let others come?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The wheat and the tares

We're growing a garden this year in the Hibbard family. We've planted corn, carrots, cantaloupe, broccoli, and tomatoes. Right now, as I look at the garden, I see lots of little green sprouts coming up.

Sounds good, right?

Well, about half of those green sprouts are grass. Some of those sprouts are weeds. A few of them really are the plants we want to grow.

I'm just not sure which ones.

This has shed a whole new light Matthew 13:24-30 for me. This parable teaches about a field sown with both good and bad seed, and how the field owner allowed both types to grow until harvest.

I'm not going to allow both types to grow all the way until harvest, but I do have to let them grow a little while longer. At least some of them I'll have to. Here's the breakdown:

1. There are some sprouts that are obviously grass. I can tell this by the root runners to the grass outside of the garden. Those are coming up right now.

2. There are some sprouts that will show themselves pretty soon: there's two leaves coming off a center-stalk and that's not corn, I don't think. Those come up in another week or two.

3. There are dead leaves. Those can go now too.

4. There are some sprouts that are likely the plants I planted, but they may not bear fruit. Those stay until it's obvious they're not producing.

5. Then there are the sprouts that will produce good fruit. I'll know those in the end.


This illustrates a great many ideas in the Christian life for me.

First of all, and most often applied, this symbolizes various people that we find claiming Christianity. The biggest deal here?  We aren't fully capable of making that evaluation. Sometimes, it's obvious at the beginning: that guy who want the church to sacrifice cats, "just in case," he's a dead leaf.

The other thing about people is that the Master is capable of changing them from dead leaves into viable sprouts. After all, had I been a part of First Baptist, Damascus, during Acts 8, I would have planned to skip church the day Saul came to town. However, by Acts 12, I would have moved heaven and earth to get there. So, we have to be very careful when it comes to people. Limiting their influence is appropriate, but limiting their access to the Gospel and the fellowship of believers might go too far.

The other way this applies, I think, is the choices we make as believers. There are some choices we make that are easy to see which ones are good and which are bad. We shouldn't take the obvious grass choices. We should definitely toss the dead leaf choices from our lives.

Yet there are others that we may have to wait and see what's good and what's bad. It will take some time to develop that information. As soon as you see it, though, you act on it. As soon as I can tell that it's a weed and not a corn plant, it's gone.

I can, however, give you two ways to shortcut the process:

1.) Book learning: I have a book about gardening. I'm going to try and compare pictures with plants, and that will help.

2.) Outside help: I live in farm country. I've got a corn farmer who can show me what's corn and what's not. There are others who have gardened and I can rely on their wisdom and experience.

You do see where this is going?

You don't?

1.)In life, there is first of all the Book: the Bible. This will help you with nearly everything. Then there are other books that help illuminate Biblical principles and values. Those help too, insofar as they don't counter the truth but bring application for it.

2.) There are people with wisdom. Seek them, time after time, to provide guidance. Experience is the best teacher, and there are people that have already learned from experience, so don't re-experience what you don't have to!



Monday, April 11, 2011

BookTuesday: The Final Summit

Yes, it’s Monday. Occasionally, in exchange for a free book, I have to write a review with a due date. This is one of those cases. The date? Today, April 11. So, BookTuesday on Monday.

What is the book? This book is Andy Andrews’ newest book: The Final Summit. Here’s the Amazon link:

The Final Summit: A Quest to Find the One Principle That Will Save Humanity

Here are a few things this book is not about:

  1. Quitting mountain climbing. It’s not that kind of summit.
  2. Crystal-clear theology. Let’s clear that up right quick: This book is a fictional story, not a theological treatise. You should never base your theology on fiction. Ever. Fiction illustrates principles and can teach principles, but take the principles from fact.
  3. It’s not about a feather, no matter what the cover art seems to show.

Ready to move on?

Good. This book is about:

History. Andrews is at his best when taking historical facts and weaving them into points that the reader can apply right now. He did this for The Traveler’s Gift, The Lost Choice, The Heart Mender, and The Butterfly Effect. Yes, those are most of his books. (No, that’s not an affiliate link, so go buy the books straight from the source.) The Final Summit is no exception. He has woven the lives of Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, and others into a captivating tale.

As someone who read and enjoyed The Traveler’s Gift, I was pleased that this was the continuation of the life of David Ponder, the only fictional person to feature heavily in both books. We find in The Final Summit that Ponder has reached nearly the end of his life, and is reflecting on it, when a different crisis hits.

He, among dozens of others, are summoned to answer the question “What must humanity do to restore the path to true civilization?” They have 6 chances to get the answer right, and they have a time limit.

Oh, and it’s just two words.

Combining wit, wisdom, and inspiration, Andy Andrews takes us through the questions, wrong answers, nearly right answers, to what he thinks is most important.

Personally, I agree with his conclusion. You need to read the book to know what it is, but even as theologically conservative as I am, as passionate as I am that God is sovereign in the affairs of men, the universe, and elves (H/T J.R.R. Tolkien), Andy’s hit this one straight on.

This is well worth your time to read.

Want more info?

Check out a brief video interview with Andy on Michael Hyatt’s blog. Follow the instructions, and you might even get a free book from it!

Also, click over to Ann Hibbard’s blog and read her review today as well. She’s never read The Traveler’s Gift, so she’ll bring the perspective of first meeting David Ponder at The Final Summit. Plus, she’s a better writer than I am anyway :)

Get this book. Give this book to graduates, students, preachers, teachers, and horse thieves. We could all use it.


Sunday, April 10, 2011

Sermons: April 10

Morning Audio Link here

Evening Audio Link here

A couple of quick notes:

Sunday morning, the audio is a little different. Why? Well, I left my recorder at home, so I captured the audio via Blackberry. And you know how Blackberries get sometimes: frozen.

We observed the Lord’s Supper, so the overall service ran differently. Also, picture this: in front of the table with the elements of the Lord’s Supper, there’s a table stacked pell-mell with books. Lots of books. Got the picture?


Also, there’s not a written outline for the evening service. Why? Because I haven’t written one. Sometimes, I just don’t. This is one of those times.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Here's to Yuri

I nearly missed an important anniversary this weekend. No, mine's in December. Rather, this weekend has been the 50th anniversary of the first man to enter space and return. Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin launched into space in 1961, causing a panic in the United States and a rush to the moon for us.

I was reading the AP article about the original mission and noticed this exchange which I thought worthwhile:

On the eve of the flight, Gagarin and his backup, German Titov, went to bed early and were awakened at 5:30 a.m. Gagarin was joking, his pulse was an exemplary 64 beats a minute and it remained the same after he took his seat in the Vostok.

Before boarding, Gagarin saw Korolyov looking haggard after a sleepless night. "Don't you worry, Sergei Pavlovich, he told the chief designer, "everything will be just fine."

"It was he who was comforting me!" Korolyov would marvel later. He thought of Gagarin as a son, and Gagarin carried Korolyov's picture in his wallet.

Here Gagarin is taking all the risks: there are doubts about what weightlessness will do to his body; doubts about the landing options; doubts about re-entry; doubts about surviving the vacuum of space. All of those would only matter if the launch vehicle worked!

Yet, here is a man, calm, facing those doubts, and looking at another man giving him encouragement. The danger was faced by Gagarin. Had Korolyov made any mistakes in the design, would it have cost him his life? (KGB conspiracy theories aside, ok?) No—the life risk was Gagarin's. It was Gagarin who wrote his wife a farewell letter, Gagarin who had to consider his daughters growing up fatherless in the Motherland.

He comes to the launch pad and speaks comfort. He may never come back and he knows it. Except that he's made his peace with it, well enough to pass good words to another.

What about us? We have our struggles, our scared moments. Where do we stand?

Are we so intimidated by the potential for failure that we don't even go the launchpad? Do we sit quietly, thankful that there are others to take the risks? Or are we willing to step forward and act?

And when we act, can we do so with such commitment to going forward that we inspire the ones that watch? While the full study would take more time than I have, do you doubt that Korolyov worked better from the success of Gagarin?

A final thought---I can tell you the first satellite the Russians launched: Sputnik. The Americans launched Explorer. The Americans launched Alan Shephard in Freedom 7, and orbited John Glenn in Friendship 7. I would have to look up the name of Gagarin's spacecraft. I just don't know. The space lore I've loved for many years just remembers his name: Yuri Gagarin.

Our actions define us, and can define the world we live in. Our actions definitely leave a long shadow across the following generations. What are you leaving?

Friday, April 8, 2011

I don’t live….well, anywhere

A little less than a year ago, Ann and I moved to Almyra, Arkansas. It’s great town with some very wonderful people in it. Moving here, we’ve really only had one major problem. Care to know what it is?

Our address doesn’t exist.


There are some underlying components of this:

1. There’s only about 300 people in town. So, the Post Office doesn’t deliver to the main part of town. Everybody gets a PO Box.

2. In Google Maps, and apparently their underlying source, “Eleventh” Street is spelled as “Elevth” Street. This also confuses such wizard-like objects as GPS receivers.

3. Many companies use the address verification database provided by the Postal Service.

So, what has happened?

Well, we upgraded our cell phones, but they couldn’t send them to us. Why? Our address isn’t real and AT&T won’t ship to a PO Box. Never mind that UPS knows where we are and has no problems with it.

FedEx Express can find us, but FedEx Ground couldn’t even find the street. There have been problems with bank documents, utilities, and even voter registration.

So, while I have a home, a PO Box, and an office address (which, by the way, also doesn’t exist), according to the map-makers of the world, I don’t live anywhere.

What does that mean?

Well, I could try and make a spiritual point of this, refer you to Hebrews 11:8-10, and talk about not being to fixed to this earth.

However, let’s pass on that one for the day. We may pick that point up later. Instead, let’s look at something else:

What’s your source of information? Is it a reliable source?

Are you certain? What is the supporting evidence for your trust?

Consider that the next time the next big thing comes along…


And if you need directions to my house, drop me an email.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Milk: it does not the Body good

“Concerning him we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. ” (Hebrews 5:11–12, NASB95)

This morning, reading through Hebrews, I hit this verse. The first thought was the normal one: there were immature people being addressed in this passage, and we have immature Christians in churches, and they need to get mature.

Except that, well, one of the absolute worst things you can do with the Word of God is look at the Word and then not look at yourself. We do much damage to others when we don’t look in the mirror first.

As I looked at this a second time, I began wondering: where am I in terms of having solid food? Am I really past needing milk?

Not that a little bit from time to time isn’t a necessity. We’re all helped by remembering the basics of the Gospel: Christ died for sinners and I am one. That we need each other, and just the overall need for time spent in the Word.

However, there’s more to the Christian walk than the surface of those actions. Let’s not confuse this, though, with pure academia. While there are likely no Christians that wouldn’t benefit from knowing more: clearer understandings of history, theology, language.

It’s the practical things that we need to dig deeper on. How does the Word apply? What are we doing with the knowledge? It’s not simply for us to expand our knowledge, it’s for practical, life-changing application.

How am I taking the Word into my life? How are we doing it in our churches?

Are we delving deeply into theology without internalizing the truth? Without doing anything to put into practice what we’re putting in our brains?

Along the way, a lot of us have internalized the mistaken idea that our minds, souls, wills, bodies, and whatever else are separable. That we can (and even should) learn things that don’t lead to action. That cannot be. If we are truly growing in Christ, our actions will follow our heart.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

BookTuesday: Heaven Revealed

Today's BookTuesday selection comes, freely given and freely reviewed, from Moody Publishers. This book, and a copy to be given away to a reader of either my blog or Ann's, were provided in exchange for the review.

What is this book? It's from Paul Enns, and the title is Heaven Revealed. Which you knew from the title of the post-right? Right. Here's a picture with a link to Amazon, in case you'd like to buy this book:

Heaven Revealed: What Is It Like? What Will We Do? . . . And 11 Other Things You've Wondered About

Now, to the question of whether or not you should buy this book. I'll admit that my first reaction to the book's title was wrong. Right now, the publishing world seems to be awash with books about going to heaven and coming back. These books border somewhere between entertaining but questionable to outright nonsense. (Click here to read someone else's review of one of them---I'll be reading that particular book later this month.)

However, Paul Enns is not claiming to be reporting what heaven was like when he dropped in once. He knows people that are there, and he even knows a couple that have seen some things of heaven, and even one who has been there. This book is his effort to help us understand what the people that are there are most likely experiencing, and what those who have seen it said.

Who does he reference that has seen it?

One's name is Isaiah, another's name is John. The one who has been there? His name is Jesus (from Nazareth, thus answering the classic question "Does anything good come from Nazareth?" with a resounding "The only Good does.")

This book is Paul Enns' viewpoint on the Scriptures that discuss what eternity looks like. He works through various passages in the Old and New Testaments, using them to illuminate eternity.

A side note is needed here: he makes clear that his interest is in addressing eternity for believers in Jesus Christ. I found no effort to discuss the end result for unbelievers. This book is not a counterpoint to Rob Bell's Love Wins.

Enns is careful with Scripture, and works to explain his views alongside his personal longings. The book echoes with his longing to be there, to be with her, and to be with Christ. He works through the various questions of heaven: What will we be like? What will we do? Will we know each other?

His answers come through in very comforting language. He sees assurance that we will know each other. That we will not spend all our time sitting on clouds and strumming harps, that we will be useful, fulfilled, and worshipful in all our ways. He traces some of the historical answers to these questions, including referencing the long-running question: "How old will we seem?" (read the book, pg: 131)

In all of this, this book remains one man's understanding of Scripture. While he is, as I said, careful with the text, it's possible that he's not completely accurate.

What of it if he isn't? If he's made errors in his picture of heaven, it's only because heaven will be better. This book will, at the very least, challenge you to rethink heaven, to picture it a little differently than cartoons show it.

All of that will be a good thing.


FREE BOOK: Leave a comment either here or at Ann's website, and we'll give away at least one, and maybe two, copies of this book. All comments need to be posted by Sunday, April 10th. Commenting in all places increases your odds of winning….

Monday, April 4, 2011

Sermons: April 3 2011

Morning Audio Link Here

Evening Audio Link Here

Note: Due to changes in servers, older sermons, especially pre-January 2011 will probably not link properly. If you really want to hear those, shoot me a message and I can email them to you.~~Doug

Morning Outline:

Matthew 25:1-13

The Bridegroom as Christ--

What is the story here?

It's a story of preparedness. Of readiness. That's the main point, certainly, that we ought to keep oil on hand for our lamps.

Yet let's dig into this parable, let's consider what's going on here.

First, a few identifications. Parables are meant to make a point. The people and events are generally meant to symbolize a larger group.

So, to the text: The Bridegroom is the Lord Jesus Christ. It's typically hard to find a parable in the New Testament that the King or the Groom or the Chief isn't there to point you to Jesus. Even if the king in the parable is wicked, he's there to point you to the not-ever-wicked King Jesus.

So we see that the Bridegroom has asked these 10 young women to join him for the celebration of his wedding. Who are these 10 a picture of?

They're a picture of the church. They are a picture of those who claim allegiance to Christ----

But there's a problem. What's the problem?

The first problem is the delay of the bridegroom. We all know people who are never on time----those for whom 6 means 6:30, but this is an inexplicable delay. There's the expectation that he would have been there sooner, but he's not there yet.

The second problem is the unpreparedness of the 5 "foolish" bridesmaids--(the word here is young woman/virgin/bridesmaid: unmarried young women were expected to be pure---it's an assumption. A safe one then, would be a better world if it was still a safe one)

The final problem, though, is the neglect of the 5 "prudent" bridesmaids. Here are 5 that are prepared for a delay. 5 that expect the delay. They've brought supplies.

Yet what have they not done?

They haven't said a word to the other five. Let's picture this. Torch in one hand. Jar of oil in the other hand. They look, see their compatriots with a torch in one hand....and what in the other? Nothing?

Yet one of them thinks to herself "I  don't want to be rude"

Another thinks of the hypocrisy that she once forgot her oil, and it would be just hypocritical to point out someone else's faults that are just like hers in the past.

Yet another knows what will happen---at least one of those girls won't know where to go buy oil, and she'll have go, walk her to the shop and spend her time and effort making up for someone else's shortcomings.

Then there's the fourth one. She noticed. She knew, but she wasn't about to say anything. After all, it's not her fault these other five were unable to do the simplest things. That one would need spare oil, well, that should have been obvious.

The fifth, well, she didn't notice. She was there because of her love for the bridegroom and family. Whatever someone else was doing or not doing, she couldn't tell.

Whatever their excuses, the truth is that all ten gathered together, sat, waited, and were there long enough to slumber.

Then the shout comes----the celebration, the fellowship with the bridegroom.

Five bridesmaids get in. Five are left out.

What I want us to consider today is where we stand before the Bridegroom....who are we?

1. Are we bridesmaids? Now, gentlemen, it's a parable: just as we have no man-problems with being part of the "bride of Christ", have no difficulty putting yourself as a bridesmaid....this is a question that you must answer for yourself, but when the Bridegroom makes his invitations, have you responded? {Salvation}

2. Are we foolish? Have we brought our preparation? What is the preparation? {Being a disciple}

     1. A steady supply of what we need: the Word, the Spirit, the Fellowship of Believers---

     2. Do you know you need those things?

     3. If you don't---why not? Are you among the bridesmaids?

3. Are we prudent but selfish? {Making Disciples}

     1. Are you aware that it is your job to make disciples?

     Really: Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. Matthew 28:19-20

     2. What excuses do you make for not making disciples?

          1. Ignorance?

          2. Selfishness?

          3. Fear?

4. What are we? What is our church about?

     This is what the church is for: that we would make disciples of the nations.  We must not assume that just because a person has walked an aisle and still shows up in church that they are a disciple of Christ---they may not know what they need to be doing! We must, as God's people, work to teach---

By life, by example...

By words, by lessons....

By all that we do----


Evening Outline:

s we look at this passage tonight, here are some of the things I think we should consider:

  • The Master:
    1. The Master is fantastically wealthy: he entrusts 3 slaves with 8 talents. 1 Talent runs to about 6000 days' wages. If you put that into current American minimum wage: $372,000 per talent. $2.976 million.
    2. To put it another way: He gave to one servant 5 brand new John Deere STS 9770 with Premier Cab and Rice Header, to another 2 of those, and the last got 1.
    3. There are things left unsaid here, but it's a safe assumption that the Master knew what his servants were capable of, because he entrusted "according to his ability"
    4. The Master is not present---however, it's to be expected that he wasn't uninformed of what was happening, either.
  • The slaves:
    1. Left to handle business
    2. Were going to remain slaves whatever happens
    3. The reward is joy, joy shared with the Master and fellow faithful slaves
  • The results:
    1. For those who tried---amazing results
    2. For those who didn't----no results.
    3. For those who tried---the joy of their master
    4. For those who didn't----no joy.
  • The "us"-> What are we doing with what God has given us?
    • Time?
    • Talents, skills, abilities, gifts?
    • Treasures?
    • Tries?
    • Thoughts?

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Blog Preview

I would apologize for my lack of content lately, but instead I'll just go ahead and issue everyone refunds on your March subscription payments. Then, I'll make sure April is really worth the money. Actually, nobody has complained or even really noticed that I didn't blog most of March. I'm not sure if there's been a gaping hole in your lives that you just couldn't bring yourself to talk about or if you were just being gracious. Whatever the case may be, thanks for coming back.

Just as an aside, though, does anyone else get a little aggravated when people go to heavy duty complaining about things like Gmail, Twitter, or Facebook not doing exactly what you want them to do? It's one thing when say, FedEx, doesn't even bother to try to deliver your package: you paid for that service, they should deliver. What did you pay Twitter? Facebook? Not a dime---so take a deep breath and read a book when they go down. Make a <gasp> phone call…

I thought I'd give you a quick look into the coming days:

First of all, BookTuesday will return with a strong month. We've got Heaven Revealed by Paul Enns, The Treasure Principle from Randy Alcorn, Time with God for Fathers by (well, I'm not sure, it's at the office), and nearly most exciting: Max on Life by Max Lucado. Most months, this book would top my list for the month. However, Andy Andrews has a new book coming out on April 12, The Final Summit. This one tops my list of exciting books for the month.

Monday sermon links will continue, and this month those sermons will come from Matthew's recording of the Passion Week of Christ.

Beyond that, now that the house saga is actually, apparently, behind us, I'm hoping to be able to breathe enough to produce some daily thoughts. I've also got school to work on, but I'm hoping to be a little more out put oriented than I have been.

Life moments that are rolling along that will bring some blog thoughts include the tree planting and garden planting. Then there's politics, which I've avoided for a little while, but I'm about ready to say a few things. I'm waiting to see what kind of nonsense the Arkansas Legislature does with state Congressional Districts.

Now, dear reader, a question for you: what type of content do you want to see from me? I will find something to say, certainly, but are there subjects you'd like to see? Matters better left unsaid?

Yes, a blog is primarily monologue, but what type of monologue do you want to hear?

Saturday, April 2, 2011

The House Saga

I'm back into a blog habit, but I'm coming back with a bit of wordiness, so if you're busy, skip this. Seriously, it's long.

I want to give an update on our house saga. To do that, let's give you the background: a little over four years ago, we lived in an apartment. We were in Mid-America Seminary Student Housing. We had moved there in 2002, and had been in housing for 4 years. I had been in and out of school due to finances and some other frustrations over those years, but the vacancy ratio in housing encouraged the school to just let us stay put.

However, MABTS was relocating and building new housing in the process. For the first time, student housing would be within walking distance of the school, and this was (and is) a great thing! The school, though, sold the existing apartment complex. The low rent was going to go to a market-value rent. Which was going to be about $900, according to the management that said "they still weren't sure." So, with Ann pregnant, me working two jobs, we went house hunting.

At the time, she had a job she liked, I had a job I loathed, and I had the opportunity to preach. I was hopeful to get back to school somehow, and we expected we'd be in the Memphis area for several more years. So, we bought a foreclosed upon house in Horn Lake, Mississippi. We had one picked out, but while Ann was having Steven, someone else bought it. We found a different one that was an almost identical floor plan, but actually in better shape, and the same price.

So, since the payments were going to be less than the $900/month rent, Horn Lake schools weren't bad, and Mississippi homeschool regulations were something we could deal with, we bought the house. Closed on it, September 15, 2006. We now had a first mortgage for 80% of the house price, a second for 20% of the house price, and an additional cash loan we took out for supplies to fix up, clean up, and make the house home. Steven was 36 days old, and for the next two weeks his mommy and daddy were obsessed with cleaning, painting, flooring, and moving. By September 30, we were in the house. Angie's third birthday got celebrated in there somewhere, with a seriously stressed family.

We painted. We put in laminate floors in one room. We planted trees that spring, filled in the giant divot in the backyard where previous owners had left a blow-up pool for too long. We priced fencing and didn't do it, though we planned to.

Yet life changes. Within two years, actually 22 months, we moved from the house to Monticello, Arkansas, where we rented a house. This came from a necessary job change, which is a whole different blog post. We were unable to sell the house, but instead rented it to some friends who hoped to get their credit improved enough to buy it. Since they were going to buy it, we told them to paint and treat the house as their own.

We set the rent at just enough to cover our expenses, and told them that if those expenses (mortgage, 2nd mortgage, insurance and taxes) went up, we'd have to raise the rent. We all expected that it would take about 12 months for them to buy it.

Then the housing and credit markets went, well, splat. That would be the highly technical term for it---splat. Like so many eggs dropped off the roof. They weren't able to buy in 12 months. The insurance and taxes doubled on the house, retroactive to the first day it was a rental, so the escrow account went negative, and our house payment went up by $200. So, we raised the rent. We tried to sell the house, but with renters in it, it wouldn't sell. Plus, we were trying to get enough to pay it off and the loan we had taken to improve it.

No good.

Another year later, and the house payment went up again, because the taxes and insurance went up, again. Apparently, even though housing values were plummeting for normal people, the government was valuing the house higher and the "replacement cost" of the house was going up---the insurance for the house valued it at $60,000 more than we paid for it. Apparently, unemployed construction workers are expensive to employ.

So, rent went up again. Renters, recognizing that they were in a bad spot, moved out. See, the credit market issue had them on a treadmill: one application, they were denied because they needed a credit score of 650. Six months later, they had a 650 and needed a 680. Then it was 720. As it was, they were not going to get there, and they didn't want to keep paying rent on the house---at the rent we had reached, they could rent an apartment with some amenities, like pools and playgrounds.

We were then faced with putting the house on the market. And with not having any income to help cover the house payment. So, we went into scrimp and save mode, but the job change that put us in Almyra, Arkansas, as good as it was, did not put us where we had a spare $1000 a month in income. Who does? However, a very gracious church family helped us with the first month, there were some other circumstances that got us through the second, but the house was still not even being looked at.

I couldn't get it rented for enough to pay the payments, much less provide for the need to maintain it for renters.

So, I called the mortgage company and asked what my options were. The first mortgage described a process that sounded as fun as a dental drilling that would enable us to sell it for less than we owed, called a short sale. I told them we'd think about it and talk to the second mortgage company.

The second mortgage short sale process sounded like having a tooth extracted without anesthesia and through your ear. So, Ann and I just didn't want to do it. Then a very generous person offered to no-interest loan us the money to make house payments while we tried to sell the house. So, we thought we'd cut the price on the house to just enough to pay what we owe and then figure out how to pay closing costs beyond that.

Meanwhile, the church family had graciously helped us paint the house inside and out, it looks great. Well, except one interior wall that I just couldn't get straight, and the floors have never looked good. Even the one I had put laminate down, well, I know how to do laminate better now---but that was rough.

That was December. On my birthday, I get a call from the realtor that "I think I'm going to sell this house today!" Naturally, this was almost the best news I could have gotten. Until she told me the price the house was being advertised at: $25,000 too low to pay it off. I asked why, and was told that the first mortgage company had told her to lower it for short sale purposes.

Except we never really approved of having it short-saled. In fact, since the house payments were covered, we kind of hoped to sell it full price. And I knew that the second mortgage company was going to be a beast to deal with on short-sale paperwork.

However, once a house has had its listing price cut down, the truth is that it's not going to sell for $25,000 higher. Not when that's a 20% increase. So, reluctantly, we started doing the paperwork.

To say it was a frustration would be an understatement. We filled out pages upon pages, cried and yelled, and proceeded. The whole situation felt hopeless. More than once, I came within 1 digit on the phone of just calling the mortgage company and telling them to foreclose it and be done.

Finally, after an excruciating 2 months of paperwork, we had the approvals. We used up the balance of our income tax refund to fund what little we could to make second mortgage company happy enough to refinance what we owed them, and were able to close on the house last week.

The final toll was that the first mortgage company "wrote off" the balance we still owed after closing. They held our most recent mortgage payment because they wouldn't approve a short-sale unless we were delinquent. They never told us this, we were never delinquent, but they forced us into delinquency. The goal being to make sure our credit was punished, because after the write-off, counting the fees they charged us for that one 'late' payment, interest, points paid at closing, they have only profited $16,000 in four years. Plus the tax credit under TARP/HAMP/Fannie/Freddie whatever, which was about $2000.

The second mortgage wrote off nothing, but instead modified our loan so that we can keep paying them off. Fortunately, the interest rate is better than I expected, and a lot better than cash advancing a credit card to pay it off.

The long-term implications on this? I don't know. I have no idea if we'll be able to buy a house in the next 7 years. I don't even know if I'll be able to get a car loan soon.

I do know what we've seen: mortgage companies have bizarre rules and will strangely help someone 3 months late but not someone that calls and says "I'm not late yet, but I'm out of options." That real estate is a mess and that needing taxpayer bailouts may have forced mortgage companies to be more helpful but they're certainly not friendly, nice, or compassionate. Our real estate agent went above and beyond even as what she was getting 3% of kept shrinking, so that was a positive.

We've seen how gracious our church family is, and how good God is to provide. We tried very hard to ask people to pray and also make clear we weren't asking them to pay. Folks were still more helpful than would be considered reasonable. We are truly indebted beyond what we can pay back, even after we repay the payment help. There has been such evidence of grace and help, just with the prayers and encouragement around here, that we knew we weren't alone in this. We had some dark moments from it. Not every joke about burning the place down was really a joke.

It's over now. We're very grateful that we live in a house owned by the church---while it keeps us from having a long-term equity plan, it's exactly what we need. We now have some clarity of where we sit financially, and while it's not Dave Ramsey-approved, it's progress.

We stopped by the house after closing on it. Ann hadn't seen it since the church men had helped me paint the outside. It was an emotional moment---we sat there and wept a little for the dreams that died when we left that house, and wept a little more for the love that had gone into making it as beautiful as it is now. Hopefully the new owners will enjoy the house.

Us? We got to come home and be with the people that love us enough that they helped us when they didn't have to. And we get to love them back and look forward to as many years together as they can stand.


Sermon from May 19 2024

 Good morning! Yesterday we talked about Simon Magus. Didn't actually hit on the sin of simony, because we don't really see it that ...