Thursday, May 28, 2015
Here are the three titles:
The Hawk and the Dove. This is the first book in the series, and introduces us to our main characters. We are introduced to the fourteenth-century world of the monastery and Father Peregrine. It’s a good read, and easily digested as a novel. One then comes back, though, and sees the beauty of the story of grace built in.
Book two, as you can see, is called The Wounds of God. This continues the saga of Father Peregrine and the monastery. This develops more of the background of the fourteenth century and provides additional insight into the challenges of days of religion mixed with state and every other aspect of life.
Book three is titled The Long Fall and deals with the after effects of Father Peregrine’s health failing him. One begins to see how grace and mercy interact with the changes that faltering health brings. This was a poignant read and one well worth the time.
For me, this batch of books was a pleasant diversion, showing beauty even in a chaotic world. I think they’re an excellent read for young or old.
Tuesday, May 26, 2015
It is somewhat appropriate that this sermon was focused on the Holy Spirit. One of my challenges in recent months has been remembering that I'm easily replaceable, but the Holy Spirit is not. As a pastor, I am both important AND disposable in the grand scheme of things.
Here's the sermon:
May 24, 2015 John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15 (audio link)
Friday, May 22, 2015
We’ve reached Memorial Day weekend for 2015. While Memorial Day has only been a holiday for about half the history of this country, looking back we’ve had men and women dying for our freedom for 240 years at this point. (Lexington and Concord were in April, 1775.)
What is Memorial Day about? It is, quite frankly, about the dead. Not about the living—those who served and returned are our focus on Veteran’s Day. Those who are serving are the focus of Armed Forces Day.
Today is about those who never returned. The genesis of Memorial Day truly connects to that, as it started with Decoration Day in the cemeteries of the war dead after the Civil War. The graves of both sides were respected (in most cases) and this gave rise to a day honoring those who died for the freedoms of this nation.
The resulting day has also become symbolic of many other things, but we should keep sight of this reality:
We are not free in this country by accident nor simply by luck. Neither are we free from future threats to our liberty.
We are free because men and women have given their lives to establish and defend that freedom. We are free because there are families, parents and spouses, children and grandchildren, who have lost their loved ones for us.
We owe a debt that we should remain very mindful of.
Thursday, May 21, 2015
First, James speaks of our need to "confess our sins to one another." For us to do this within the body of Christ, the Church, we need to address issues about confession.
- We need to be confession accepting. What does that mean? It means that we are willing to listen and a trustworthy receptacle for confessions. How do you respond when someone presents you with their struggles?
- Do you take it seriously? Just because it is not your load does not make it a lightweight issue. If we shame one another over sharing struggles and sins, then we are not really strengthening the family of faith through confession.
- That is NOT a call to gloss over sin, though. Sin is sin, and confession of sin together should involve spurring each other to repentance.
- Do you take confession in confidence? Barring what should be obvious--the need to report child abuse and the need to address imminent danger to human life--a confession shared with you should go no further. That includes the gossip-prayer request ring that too often operates in our churches. No, you don't need to tell others "how to pray" for someone else as they struggle with their sins. Keep your curiosity to yourself.
- This should not need repeated, but here: there are, or at least ought to be, two exceptions to your "keep it confident" viewpoint. The first is child abuse of all forms (physical, sexual, verbal). Report that according to your legal jurisdiction's requirements. Your first call is that number. ABSOLUTELY. And never to the accused to investigate it or warn them of it. The second is a little harder to give hard what-to-do, though 911 might be your best option. If there is an imminent threat to the life of another human being, you need to act. That includes reasonable threats of suicide.
- We need to be confession entrusting. That requires us to entrust ourselves to others. You might feel that you cannot confess to those immediately around you because of leadership issues--if there is any validity to that concern, you must find someone else to confess with, and it should run both directions. Do not expect others to trust their vulnerable issues with you if you won't share yours with them.
- As a side note, there are two major areas where we grow in our fellowship with one another:
- Working together. People who labor together for a common cause strengthen their bond. Find good things to do and do them as a church, as a family, as a group.
- Sharing weaknesses together. That also draws us together, as we see that we need each other. Rarely are we drawn together by group bragging, but cooperatively overcoming weakness brings us together.
- From our relationships with each other, we are better able to pray for each other.
- First, because our relationship with each other strengthens our relationship to God by being with his people. We are able to be honest.
- As we focus on the body growing together, we draw nearer to understand the purpose God has called us to.
Wednesday, May 20, 2015
You may recall that I review a book called The Traitor’s Heir. You may not. It’s here if you’re interested.
I commented in that review that I looked forward to finishing the series, as The Traitor’s Heir was the first book of a trilogy. Further, in knowing that she was writing a trilogy, author Anna Thayer did not feel a compulsion to wrap up any loose ends in concluding the first book. It just left you hanging…
And so I waited patiently for books two and three. These are titled The King’s Hand and The Broken Blade, respectively. Worth noting is that these books absolutely depend on each other. Think “trilogy” like Lord of the Rings, not Star Wars. You can catch up if you just jump into The Empire Strikes Back, but you’re dead lost if you start off on The Two Towers.
Likewise here, don’t start on The King’s Hand unless you want to take a fantasy series and make it a mystery as well. I will address the collection and not each volume. Why? Because if you enjoy the first, you’ll want to read the second, then the third.
First, a recap: our hero is Eamon Goodman of the River Realm. It is a place where there is magic and wonder, worthy of being created by someone who is a scholar of Tolkien and Lewis. The River Realm sees people with mystical powers and a ruler who fights against rebels out to see him fall.
The first book established who the good guys and bad guys are, and gave us the convincing picture of Eamon Goodman as a conflicted individual. He is sworn to the King but works for the Master—and that willingly!
The second book begins to show the consequences of divided loyalties and playing both ends against the middle. The third finalizes the situation, showing the character of the King, the results for Eamon and the Master, and who finds true love in it all.
Overall, the plot is not overly complicated. Thayer has given it enough twists that you cannot help but wonder if it will work out properly, but you know in the back of your mind it has to! There is never really a point that you believe any individual is safe from death, and figuring which batches of true love will turn out is not a simple task.
Further, the characters are multi-dimensional. While the bad guys are clearly the bad guys, there is more to them than just “evil for fun.” You don’t root for them, but you do see their perspective. I just don’t like them. They are bad guys, after all.
The good guys are good but flawed, very much like ordinary folks caught in the midst of crisis. Their plans are not perfect, the results not always as desired. It’s a world where good wins out over evil, but not without cost.
All in all, a great batch of reads. Thayer explains her world well and makes you glad to visit it. I gladly recommend the entire Knight of Eldaran series.
Tuesday, May 19, 2015
In practice, the Universal Church (all the redeemed of all the ages) has never seen a time without fiery ordeals. There have been seasons and locations of ease, like many years in the United States have been, but always there have been members of the family of faith who could not lightly hold their confession. As those seasons and locations of safety shift, it is worth asking ourselves the same question: Would you rather be blessed for being reviled for Christ, or be comfortable?
4:18 echoes Proverbs 11:31. And note that throughout, Peter is still more focused on encouraging and challenging the church to be like Jesus and fulfill His call than he is on helping them avoid trouble.
Monday, May 18, 2015
Morning Sermon: Luke 24/Acts 1 (direct audio link)
Evening Sermon: Revelation 4 (direct audio link)
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Tuesday, May 12, 2015
Study it, keep it with other Scripture, and honor the Lord above all else.
Monday, May 11, 2015
Good Monday! Here is yesterday’s sermon. Also note the information posted in “Moving.” I will be exploring how to make the technology fit with the needs in my new place of service.
John 15:12-17 was the morning message passage. The audio is here.
Sunday, May 10, 2015
If you are in the small town of Almyra and haven’t heard yet, either directly from us or through the grapevine, then you’ll learn it here like the wider world. We would like to have told everyone face-to-face, but there’s no chance we’d have gotten to everybody before the rumor mill got the word out. So, here is what we announced this morning in church:
After a substantial amount of prayerful consideration, I have accepted the responsibility of pastor for the East End Baptist Church. It has been a joyous opportunity these past years to serve Almyra Baptist Church as pastor, and our affection and appreciation for this body of believers is beyond measure.
We will continue here in Almyra through May 31 and then will have a blitz week of packing and moving to our new field of work. I would say more about this, but it would either sound self-serving or whiny—after all, this has been a process where anywhere along we could have said “no.”
Admittedly, my theology holds that this is a necessary action of obedience to the Lord Jesus Christ. And so there is a level at which there’s no “choice,” but it’s also been our decision to walk this road. It is emotional and compared to the easy path of not doing it, it’s hard.
Compared to choosing to pastor a church in Saudi Arabia or go on a mission trip with Eric off into the wilds of somewhere unmapped…well, there’s probably a hashtag for that.
We would like to ask for prayers:
1. For Almyra Baptist Church. We love these people, and they will be seeking a new pastor. I don’t have a say in that process, but I would ask that you pray they serve the Lord faithfully while they search, as they search, and after they’re done. They need a pastor that will help them organize for the growing future of Arkansas County. They’re great people that love Jesus and each other.
2. For East End Baptist Church. We look forward to our time together with this church, but they’re going to have to cope with a change in how things go on. They have had a good leader in their interim pastor, but now they’ve got to adjust to the new guy. And the things about me that seem endearing now? They might be annoying in 12 months.
3. For the Hibbards. We’re moving and as yet don’t know where to—we know the geographic area, but if we had to forward our mail tomorrow we wouldn’t have a place to send it. We need to sort that out.
That’s the update. I’m sorry from keeping it from you for so long, but now it’s all out there.
I will, hopefully, be more faithful to write even through the chaos of moving.
Friday, May 1, 2015
We were cleaning up the backyard today. After two months of it being swampland, it was time! One task tackled was weed-eating along the fence line. While I was power slashing a row of grass, I wondered why I was doing that instead of just spraying Round-up along the fence. After all, one of my yard work mottoes is “Never weed-eat what you can round-up!”
Round-up, for those who don’t know, is a broad spectrum herbicide. It kills plants. It kills grass, weeds, anything with leaves basically. It’s a lot easier to spray Round-up into the areas that you cannot get a mower than it is to cut it with a string trimmer.
The problem is, Round-Up works. It works indiscriminately. It will kill all the green stuff, whether you like it or not—a little drift, and that batch of strawberry plants are as dead as the weeds! So you have to be careful with it.
And then I started thinking—because I’m always on the lookout for things I can use to illustrate sermons. Here are a few observations:
1. Some issues in life should be Round-upped. Yes, that’s a word here. Some things you just need to kill off—nuke it from orbit, bounce the rubble, whatever term you need. This applies to sin around which there is no zone of safety or redemptive hope. Your clinging to racial prejudice or holding on to old bitterness? Scorch it. There’s nothing growing in the midst of that which is helpful. Kill it all.
2. Some issues in life should be weed-eated around. Something is growing there, like the grape vines in the midst of all sorts of weeds. You cannot spray it without harming the fruit that is growing, but you must fight back the weeds. This may be your workplace or other aspects of life that need monitoring: good fruit and good things can come from them, but care must be exercised.
How do we know which is which?
Careful discernment, informed by the Word of God. To Round-up broadly is to fall into the trap of legalism, scorching the very ground that may, perhaps, yield the fruit that God has you here to bring forth.
Yet if you let everything grow, you will allow too much effort into the weeds and grass. Too many of the good things will be hidden, and you will surround that good fruit with danger and uselessness. This is the trap on the other side—where we act as if there is no good thing commanded by God that we are to focus on.
How do we know?
Careful discernment packed with wisdom from the Word of God. We cannot put it off on to others, nor can it be left undone. We must patiently seek the Lord.
Interpreting the Prophetic Books by Gary V. Smith.
Interpreting the Prophetic Books is the next volume in the Kregel Exegetical Handbooks series. Prior volumes in this series have addressed the Psalms, the Pentateuch, and the Historical Books. There is also a series from Kregel Academic with a volume for the various divisions of the New Testament.
Weighing in at only 214 pages, this is not an in-depth look at the Prophets of the Old Testament. Instead, this cuts across the swath of the Latter Prophets as a whole, providing short introductions to each book and then placing them in context. The traditional (or conservative, if you like,) date and setting for each book are utilized. This does not bother me at all, but if you are looking for authorship and date discussions, you’ll need to look elsewhere.
The primary benefit of Smith’s work is found in tracing the primary themes of the prophets. He does this by explaining the differing sub-genres of prophecy first and providing examples. From there, he shows how each prophet fits, roughly, into the phase of Israelite history in which they spoke.
By providing additional historical information for the differing eras of the prophets, Smith provides the interpreter with helpful additional tools. Further, he finishes the work with suggestions about applying the Old Testament era prophetic writings into the modern age. This is approached with the goal of practical holiness and not a guess-the-future viewpoint. While Smith clearly accepts that some prophecy in the Old Testament awaits its fulfillment, he supports the view that we would do well to focus on how we obey now more than trying to figure out the gusts of the winds of tomorrow.
In all, a handy refresher book for the Old Testament Latter Prophets. If you are strong in Hebrew, you may want something that digs a little more into the original text, but if your Hebrew skills have atrophied, this is a great book while you work them back up.
Free book in exchange for the review
The Bible in Pop Culture by Kevin Harvey
I had high hopes for The Bible in Pop Culture. After all, finding hidden gems of Scriptural truth in some current media would be a great tool—plus it would provide some guidance about what to spend my personal media consumption budget on. And with some shows and songs truly falling into that “hidden gem” category, surely I’ve missed some and will find them here.
Unfortunately, I found the overall work uneven in regards to its goal. First, on the “pop culture” front, there are some difficulties. For example, while I love Joss Whedon’s Firefly (and the reference to Firefly in a description of this book is why I snagged it,) a show that failed after 13 episodes…in 2002...might not be truly part of “pop culture” over a decade later. True, there’s always a hardcore Browncoat fandom—but to count Firefly as current seems a bit off. As does using it to exemplify that Hollywood is willing to allow portrayal of not-fruitcake-Christians like Shepherd Book. He is, after all, one of (SPOILER!!!) people killed off in the movie. (Which, to vent a bit, was not unexpected—who does Hollywood kill? The compassionate Christian minister and the happily married guy, that’s who. Both of which are who I want to be, so I stay out of Hollywood. They want me dead.)
Further, the pages on Lost reflect the same “dated” feel for pop culture. How I Met Your Mother ended more recently, and Batman’s due for a reboot from the mentioned movie series—all of these push “pop culture” back a few years.
Additionally, the Bible portions run between the obvious and clichéd, like any form of self-sacrifice should remind us of Jesus, to the over-stretched, like Barney Stinson as a good role model for being an “encourager.” After a few of these stretches, I was having difficulty determining if the goal here was to show true Biblical value in Hollywood or just to justify certain shows and movies—after all, no matter how graphic the violence in The Matrix, at least we see the Christ-figure of Neo in his dying and rising. Add in the love interest of Trinity and it has to be holy, right?
This isn’t uncommon, though, for many of us as we wrestle with our media choices. I find myself looking for redemptive content in music that I know isn’t going to have it—and then using what little I find as a springboard for conversations. As I finished reading this, I was beginning to feel I was being to harsh. Yet I keep coming back to Harvey’s reference to pop culture containing “half the Bible” and the need for the “Jesus half” (p. 146-147 is its clearest statement). I cannot get past this concept—because one half is equal to another half. But there is no “half” of the Bible that is not about Jesus, and I am not persuaded that the smattering of Scriptural concepts, hidden and masked as they are, in pop culture are equal to the clear presentation of the Messiah that we find in Scripture.
Unfortunately, too much of the Bible that is in pop culture is just that: masked and hidden. Harvey has tried to take the mask off, but it is, to use another cultural reference, like freeing the man in the iron mask to discover…he is nowhere near healthy enough to take the stage as a leader, much less a king. Culture’s Bible is so diluted that there’s nothing left to see, despite Harvey’s best efforts to pull it out.
His work is admirable, but falls short in attaining the impossible. Some forms of art should perhaps be judged merely by their own merit, rather than attempting to impute righteousness where there is none. I wanted to like this. After all, FIREFLY! But I just can’t count it as a needed work.
Free book in exchange for the review.
Good morning! Here are the service from August 9th: Remember that the Morning Reflection videos are now at The Well Traveled Path
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