Friday, December 30, 2011

"She's going to a ballgame!"


As Mississippi State heads into its BCS bowl appearance today, I'm remembering something from a couple of days ago...

For Christmas someone gave my 3-year-old daughter a sticker book of dolls & their accessories. She asked me to play it with her. So, we sit down on the floor together & she points out the doll or accessory she wants & I peel it off the page for her so she can create the doll she wants on another sheet of paper.

{...brief aside: I completely botched the first doll I tried to peel off. It was tearing in 4 places, so I finally said, "Let's let your mom get that one for you; I'm going to get this one." And having learned how to do it, I peeled this one off perfectly. The 3-year-old: "Daddy, I think Jesus is helping you with that one!"...}

But anyway... I peel off the doll & she applies it to her sheet of paper. Then I peel off the tights that she points out. Then the dress. Then the socks. Then the shoes. Then the hair bow. This little doll is coming together very well, and all color-coordinated too - right down to the underwear she started out in.

Then, there's this other accessory in the same color. It looks like a small triangle with a stick rising up from the middle of it. It's supposed to be a profile view of a purse in the one-dimensional world of sticker dolls.

But she points to it & I dutifully peel it off & hand it to her. She puts it in the doll's hand.

I ask my daughter what that is... & she says... "She's going to a ballgame!"

Meaning... in her mind... it was a COWBELL!







Thursday, December 29, 2011

Emory & Emily Ellis!


Psalm 126
Restore Our Fortunes, O LORD
A Song of Ascents.

1 When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dream.
2 Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then they said among the nations,
“The LORD has done great things for them.”
3 The LORD has done great things for us;
we are glad.

4 Restore our fortunes, O LORD,
like streams in the Negeb!
5 Those who sow in tears
shall reap with shouts of joy!
6 He who goes out weeping,
bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
bringing his sheaves with him.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

living in relationships; working in partnerships

A friend of mine -- also a pastor -- just resigned from his position at his church. It was a rough situation with some sad moments in the tale. Pastors often resign too quickly, but sometimes a pastoral resignation is appropriate -- and this seems to be one of those times.

In announcing his resignation, my friend wrote a good, healthy letter to his church family. One paragraph in particular struck me...

"It would be easy to leave our church right now. Things are difficult and it is not easy to persevere through difficulties; it is not attractive to come to a church that is having difficulties. But churches [that] are working through difficulties... are the true churches of Christ... If we do not have problems then we are either not dealing with reality or God has been exceptionally gracious. Problems are normal."

There's a profound truth there that applies not only to churches, but to marriages... to families... to friendships... to working partnerships... to nations... basically to all communities -- no matter how large, no matter how small -- that our God has called together in this fallen, sin-sick world.

It's so easy to leave, to bolt, to run away, to ditch, to flee... it's so difficult to persevere in the midst of the long trial, or the sudden heartbreaking disappointment. Cynicism is easy. Hope is hard. Sullenness & sulkiness come quickly to the weak children of Adam. Love with backbone is sometimes a rare thing, even among the redeemed children of Christ.

Is this now why the writer to the Hebrews steeled his readers with these words in the midst of their difficulties?

"Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. For,

'Yet a little while,
and the coming one will come and will not delay;
but my righteous one shall live by faith,
and if he shrinks back,
my soul has no pleasure in him.'

But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls."

All relationships & all working partnerships in this world will eventually face low points. But as my friend wrote above, that's normal. And in God's mysterious providence, it's even ultimately for our good. He is committed to purifying & refining us, regardless of the cost -- to us or to him.

"Remember, you are never more like God than when you are living in relationships with God's people and working in partnerships for the re-creation and redemption of God's world." ~Ray Bakke


Monday, December 26, 2011

George Grant on Children in Worship


I love what Pastor George Grant has to say about children in worship in the paragraphs below. This is pretty much exactly my theology... & philosophy... & even methodology.

After worshipping with us at Parish the first few times, people will often comment on how delightful, among many other things, are the sights and sounds of our "lively family atmosphere" and our wiggling, squirming, and murmuring children. These are the sights and sounds of life. These are the sights and sound of the past meeting the future. And these are the sights and sounds of authentic community and covenantal worship. Indeed, these are what Charles Spurgeon once called, "the sweet sights and sounds of a holy hubbub."


At Parish we want to be very careful never to smother out that "holy hubbub." That necessarily means that we very much want our children in the midst of us during worship. We want them to learn to worship by watching their parents, siblings, friends, and covenant family members worship.


Sometimes that may mean that things will get just a little distracting. Sometimes it may mean that a mom or a dad (or perhaps a grandmom or uncle or sister or next door neighbor) will have to slip out the back and into the foyer for a little "time out". But, this is what life in the Kingdom should look and sound like.


So, we are happy to embrace our children in our services--even as we are sensitive to and considerate of all those around us. We will encourage families to worship together--whenever possible and practical. We want to graciously, invitingly, and purposefully help our covenant children to learn of the beauty, goodness, and truth of the Gospel as they approach the throne of grace with all the rest of us in the Body of Christ.


So, bring on the "wiggling, squirming, and murmuring."

Douglas Wilson on Christopher Hitchens' death

Pastor Douglas Wilson had some interesting reflections on the life & death of Christopher Hitchens, his erstwhile debating partner.

Click here to read them.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht!


If you're in Decatur on Christmas Eve at 6:30 pm, I hope you'll join us for DPC's Candlelight Christmas Eve service. After six Christmas readings (read by various members of the church family) & six Christmas songs, I'll briefly tell one of the greatest stories in all of world history illustrating how God's drawing near to us in Jesus brings peace out of conflict.

"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased," as the angels heralded to the shepherds. Peace, indeed.

The service will climax in the lighting of the candles & the singing of Silent Night, Holy Night. But we'll sing the first stanza in the original German. Why? Well... come hear the story.

This isn't the story I'm going to tell, but it's pretty amazing too. Enjoy this brief summary of how Silent Night came to be written:

The Christmas Eve of 1818 was at hand. Pastor Joseph Mohr of St. Nicholas Church in Oberndorf, Austria decided that he needed a carol for the Christmas Eve service. He surmised the little poem he had written two years earlier while serving another church might work. Perhaps this poem could be set to music?

Pastor Mohr hurried off to see his friend, Franz Xaver Gruber, who was a schoolteacher and also served as the church's organist and choir master. In a few short hours Franz came up with the hauntingly beautiful melody that is so loved and revered to this day. At the request of Joseph, who had a special love for guitar, Franz composed the music for guitar accompaniment. Just a few short hours later, Franz stood with his friend the pastor, Joseph, in front of the altar in St. Nicholas church and introduced "Stille Nacht" to the congregation!

Silent night! Holy night!
All is calm, all is bright
round yon virgin mother and child.
Holy infant, so tender and mild,
sleep in heavenly peace,
sleep in heavenly peace.

Silent night! Holy night!
Shepherds quake at the sight!
Glories stream from heaven afar,
heavenly hosts sing alleluia;
Christ, the Savior, is born!
Christ, the Savior, is born!

Silent night! Holy night!
Son of God, love's pure light
radiant beams from the holy face
with the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord, at thy birth,
Jesus, Lord at thy birth.

Silent night! Holy night!
Wondrous star, lend thy light;
with the angels let us sing
alleluia to our King;
Christ, the Savior, is born!
Christ, the Savior, is born!


Saturday, December 17, 2011

Chuck Colson on N.T. Wright on the "Echoes of a Voice" that are all around us...

Signposts to God

Socrates in the City

by Chuck Colson

In the quest for divine truth, how do we know when we've found it? Are there markers along the way to guide us — a kind of spiritual GPS?

British bishop N. T. Wright says there are such markers; he calls them “Echoes of a Voice.” He says, “I'm talking about voices that I believe virtually all human beings, in virtually all cultures, listen for and know, but are puzzled by.”

Wright shared his views at a New York City gathering called Socrates in the City — arranged by my friend and colleague Eric Metaxas, author of the amazing biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Metaxas put the Socrates in the City meetings together to help sophisticated New Yorkers think about the bigger questions of life. I’ve spoken there twice, and they’re great.

Referring to C. S. Lewis, Bishop Wright says the first “echo of a voice” has to do with an understanding of justice. Even the youngest child is aware of this — which is why, if you spend any time on a playground, you'll hear cries of “That's not fair!”

Adults have this same awareness; we make endless efforts to create justice around the world, but tragically, in a fallen world, we so often fail.

The second “echo” has to do with spirituality. Go into a bookstore, Wright says, and you'll find a “spirituality” section that covers everything from New Age teachings to Buddhism.

These books represent the haunting “sense that there are more dimensions to life that what you can put in a test tube or a bank balance ... So this, too,” he notes, “is like an echo of a voice, a voice that is calling us to a different dimension of human life. We all know — unless we shut our ears to this voice — that we were made for multidimensional human living.”

The third echo has to do with relationships. We sense that we are made for one another, and yet, we constantly mess up these relationships, both on a personal and international level. We all sense that living in chaos, relationally speaking, is not the way things are supposed to be.

The fourth echo is beauty. But Wright says there is “a haunting quality to [beauty], as though it's not just complete in itself.” This phenomenon is, he says, “a signpost to a larger truth that is just around the corner, just out of sight. We can't grip it, can't get our hands on it. It's as though we're hearing the echo of a voice, and we'd love to hear whose that voice is and what story it's telling.”

It's impossible to run an experiment and “prove” the existence of God. But when we are discussing with unbelievers the question of whether God exists, what we can do is bring up those “echoes of a voice,” or signposts. After all, these are universal human experiences, Wright says, “which at least raise a puzzle, ask a question, and force us to confront issues” — issues that point to the existence of a holy God. I’ve devoted several chapters to these human yearnings in my book The Good Life.

In order to reach a larger audience with messages like this, Eric Metaxas has put together some of the best of the Socrates in the City talks in a book titled, appropriately enough, Socrates in the City. It features talks by Peter Kreeft, Sir John Polkinghorne, Alister McGrath, Os Guiness, and others, including mine.

I highly recommend it as a Christmas gift, especially for unsaved friends. You can order it at our bookstore at BreakPoint.org, and you can also order my book, The Good Life.

It will help you identify the mysterious daily markers of life for what they are: cosmic signposts to the living God.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Greatest Thing You'll Ever Do



After an opening illustration about a confusing jumble of a jigsaw puzzle -- in which you have no edge pieces to provide borders & boundaries... oh, and someone's thrown in similar-looking pieces from a different puzzle that just won't fit this puzzle no matter how hard you try to force them... and by the way you have no picture on the box cover to go by, etc. -- this is what Tim Kimmell says about parenting in the first few pages of his book Grace Based Parenting:

"I have just described the job of raising children. You labor for many years to put the right pieces all together, but when your children grow up, they often don't resemble what you thought you were creating. Even with the disappointments, however, raising children is still the greatest thing you'll ever do. It's greater than any milestone you can hit in your career. It dwarfs any fame you may receive for your ideas or your inventions. You've been handed a piece of history in advance -- a gracious gift you send to a time you will not see -- and you play the biggest role in how that history will ultimately be recorded. That's why, in spite of the challenges, you need to have a plan for parenting that works."

I love this puzzle. May all who attempt this puzzle pray daily for the grace and wisdom, courage and honesty, mercy and truth, humor and hope, freedom and godliness, compassion and conviction, tenderness and strength, repentance and faith, humility and sacrifice to embrace the confusing jumble with sheer joy!



Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Glory of the Gospel, Part VIII: Implications

This is the last in a series of posts in which we examined what "salvation" looks like in the various religions and/or thought systems of the world.

Click HERE for Part VII, which will give you a quick summary of what we learned from Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Islam & atheism... & how the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ differs from them all.

There are some massive implications of this kind of study...

  • Only Jesus comes into this world to save us. He enters into this world as both God and man, living the life we should have lived (perfect obedience to the Father) and dying the death we should have died (under God's curse for sin). Thus he alone gets us out of the pit.

  • All the other systems have this in common: YOU are the person responsible for getting yourself out of the pit... YOU are the person responsible for salvation. Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Islam, atheism -- they are all forms of self-help, self-salvation, self-rescue. With Christianity, the person who does the work of salvation is Not You. It is Jesus. Not you. That's a huge and evident contrast. Who rescues you?

  • In all the other religions, the pressure for "right practice" is upon your shoulders. If you get it all right all the time, you might get out of the pit. If not, you won't. Everything is staked on your thoughts, your beliefs, your actions, your obedience, your record. The pressure on you is enormous. In the gospel, the pressure is all on Jesus, completely on Jesus. You are rescued by his thoughts, his beliefs, his actions, his obedience, and his record.

  • Here's a huge difference... In all there other religions, this is the order of events: You perform (obey, think, do, etc.) and THEN you might get out of the pit. It's always your obedience that is leveraging your acceptance, your salvation. In the gospel it's just the opposite: Jesus performs. He delivers. He gets you out of the pit. THEN you obey. You don't obey in order to be rescued; you obey out of love, because he has rescued you. Your obedience doesn't leverage a thing. It's merely a response of genuine gratitude, because of what Jesus has done.

  • That last point makes a universe of difference in how you live. IF you are thinking right & doing right & obeying right & doing all things right IN ORDER TO HELP YOURSELF... then, for whom are you doing what you're doing? You're doing it for you. To help and to love and to serve you.

  • But with Christianity, you're already rescued. You're already delivered. You've already been brought out of the pit. And now when you "do right" -- give to the poor, sacrificially love someone else, welcome the marginalized, fix the injustice -- you're not doing it for you. You're doing it for God. And for other people. In the gospel you've already been saved. So now you're not giving to you. You're giving to others.

  • Therefore... Christianity is the only religion that can set us free from bondage to self. Only the gospel can break us out of being self-centered and make us God-centered and others-centered. Yes, it's just that radically different.

Remember what that former cynic of Christianity once wrote. This man was once dead-set on destroying the Christian faith. He was even guilty of executing Christians!

But one day he met the Lord Christ. He became a follower of Jesus. And later, in a letter to some friends, he wrote this:

"For while we were still weak (that is -- in the pit with the snake -- according to the terms of our illustration), at the right time Christ died for the ungodly (that is, the snake was not just outside of us, but also INSIDE of us). For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5.6-8)


Let that sink in.



Saturday, December 3, 2011

"Penn Gillette gets a gift of a Bible"

Fascinating comments by the celebrity magician Penn Gillette (who's also an atheist) from a few years ago.

Click here.

Summary: "I’ve always said, you know, that I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize. I don’t respect that at all. If you believe that there’s a heaven and hell, and people could be going to hell, or not getting eternal life or whatever, and you think that, well it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially akward…How much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that? If I believed beyond a shadow of a doubt that a truck was coming at you and you didn’t believe it, and that truck was bearing down on you, there’s a certain point where I tackle you. And this is more important than that."

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Chuck Colson on Community... & the Church

The Individual and the Internet
The Quest for Community

by Chuck Colson

Man was made to live in community. In Genesis 2, we're told it's not good for man to be alone. And in a classical world the worst punishment was to be banished from society, because you had no meaning once you were.

Our founders in America created a country that respected individual rights and liberties, but always in the context of the people. And the people united in communities and associations, which secured individual rights from an otherwise all-powerful government.

So you had a balance. And in the context of those communities, we prospered like no other nation on earth. Tocqeuville when he came to America praised the civic virtue of Americans -- their collective self-reliance in building hospitals, schools, churches, etc. But in recent times, not only in America but throughout the Western World, "individual autonomy," the code word of modern liberalism, has become ascendant outside the context of community. And not surprisingly, as radical individualism grew, the power of government grew as well, especially in the 20th Century.

Here's why.

Robert Nisbet argued in his 1953 book, The Quest for Community, that radical individualism caused communities to break down. Family, church, clubs, groups, associations, that came between the individual and the state, all weakened in the face of this desire for individual autonomy. So it's no wonder we've witnessed an explosive growth in government over the last fifty years. But as face-to-face communities decline, people are flocking to virtual, online communities. Many see these as "communities for a new generation."

A recent conference revisited Nisbet's ideas in light of online communities. The results were not encouraging.

Christine Rosen, senior editor of The New Atlantis, noted that in a face-to-face community, I come as I am. In virtual communities I come as the image I want to project. The resulting interaction is too tame to be called community. Instead, as Wheaton College professor Read Schuchardt added, we end up with narcissistic groups of false selves.

Rosen acknowledged that in the online world we may have more friends than we could have in face-to-face community. But the quality of those friendships is so poor that sociologists have coined the phrase “migratory friendships” to describe digital friends who have lots of information about each other, but don’t actually know each other.

The hard work of genuine community has been outsourced, she said, to technology -- so we become the product of our technology, shaping our image to meet the demands of the market.

Well, what are we to make of this? Virtual communities cannot replace real, face-to-face communities. They can't perform the function of providing meaning and fellowship in the same way. And they certainly can't serve as intermediate structures between the individual and an all-powerful government. Virtual community is really no substitute for the real thing.

For the sake of our well being and freedom as men and women created not to be alone, it is so vital now that the church be a catalyst for rebuilding real communities in a very real way.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Best. Family. Christmas. Movie. Ever.


Highly recommended! We'll be quoting it for days... again...



"He must be a South Pole elf."

"I'm a cotton-headed ninnymuggins!"

"I think you're really beautiful and I feel really warm when I'm around you and my tongue swells up... So... do you wanna eat food?"

"Why are you smiling like that?" ... "I just like to smile! Smiling's my favorite." ... "Make work your favorite. That's your new favorite."

"I want to make shoes!"

"He's an angry elf."

"You did it! Congratulations! World's best cup of coffee! Great job, everybody! It's great to be here."

"You sit on a throne of lies!"

"This, is the North Pole." ... "No it isn't." ... "Yes it is." ... "No it isn't." ... "Yes it is!" ... "No it's not. Where's the snow?"

"Watch out, the yellow ones don't stop."

Friday, November 25, 2011

Night of Prayer for the Persecuted Church




In Hebrews 13.1, the church is given this command: "Let brotherly love continue."

In the next verse this command meets its first concrete application: hospitality.

In verse three it meets its second concrete application: "Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body."

A few weeks ago DPC gathered on a Lord's Day evening to enter into a Night of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. Why would we do that in our day? Many people don't realize or think about it, but THIS is The Age of Martyrs. Not back when the Romans used Christians as lion food, but now. More Christians were killed for their faith in the 20th Century than in the previous 19 Christian centuries combined.

Do yourself a favor. Make a donation to The Voice of the Martyrs. And with that donation request that they send you their magazine. Get yourself informed. Pray. Remember those who are in prison. Remember those who are mistreated. Remember that you also (if you are a believer) are in the same body.

Consider this short piece that Suzanne Eller wrote in 2001...



"It is inconceivable to think someone would kill in a house of worship," Janet Reno said after seven people were fatally shot by 47-year-old Larry Gene Ashbrook at Wedgwood Baptist Church in Forth Worth, Texas. Think again, Janet.

More Christians have been killed for their faith in the 20th century than have been martyred in the total history of Christianity. As you sit in a comfortable pew and worship this beautiful Sunday morning, there are Christian men, women, and children in sixty countries around the world who are imprisoned, tortured, and sold into slavery for the same privilege.

In the last six months, more than 25 evangelical pastors have been killed and up to 300 churches destroyed in Colombia. In January of this year, Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two sons Philip and Timothy were brutally murdered. In Sudan, Christians are sold into slavery. In Sri Lanka, churches are
burned and pastors fear for their lives.

A few months ago, members of Voice of the Martyrs, founded by Richard Wurmbrand, who was imprisoned for fourteen years for his participation in the Romanian underground church, traveled to Sudan, Vietnam, and Indonesia to film testimonies. Their first interview was with a group of young boys whose village had been attacked by Islamic soldiers. The elderly and infants were killed on the spot. Twenty-seven children, 14 boys and 13 girls, were taken to a military camp about 9 miles from their village. That evening, the boy's hands and feet were tied behind their backs and they were ordered to deny Christ. Each refused. Burning coals were piled on the ground in front of the boys. As they refused to deny their faith, they were held over the burning embers. Still, they refused to deny their faith. The older boys escaped that night and were placed in a refugee camp. The younger boys died. No one knows what happened to the girls. These boys lifted their dirty shirts and showed the terrible scars on their stomachs

Another Sudanese Christian named Alex stopped the crew and begged for a Bible. He had been praying for two years to receive a Bible. He shared that in his village, there was one Bible for 200 believers. A difficult concept for American Christians who own several Bibles, which might be carelessly tossed under the bed or lie unread on the shelf. ...





Thursday, November 24, 2011

Giving of Thanks

I am thankful for such an experience in this life that literally everywhere I lay my hand I am touching a blessing from God.

I am thankful for a wise and wonderful and beautiful wife whom I do not deserve.

I am thankful for three sons and two daughters who -- by the grace of God -- are following Christ with the sincerity of a child-like faith and yet with the joyfully confident aspirations of a maturing faith.

I am thankful for a loving broader family, of whom we have the pleasure of spending this Thanksgiving holiday with many.

I am thankful for the amazing church that it is my honor and privilege to pastor in Decatur, Alabama.

I am thankful for true and steadfast friends who look past my faults with the eyes of kindness and goodness.

I am thankful for the gift of health and strength in which I can enjoy this delightful world that is constantly singing the glory of its Maker.

I am thankful for the gospel / good news of my King's triumph over sin and death, in which I am not treated as my sins deserve. Rather, I am treated as a beloved son of God for all eternity, world without end.

I am thankful for the forgiveness of my sins in this life and for the hope of a world in which pure, undiluted righteousness dwells in the next life.

I am thankful for the awesome mystery and beautiful simplicity of the Triune God -- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit -- who has revealed Himself to us all in world and Word and wonder.

I am thankful that as I trust this God I can know that even the trials of this life are intended for my ultimate good (James 1.2-4).

I am thankful for godly teachers whom God has gifted to reliably point us to Him. Enjoy this little quote from C.S. Lewis' book Mere Christianity...


"If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing. If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage. I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and help others do the same."

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Calvary's View

Recently we had a wonderfully-gifted man in the congregation (an ordained pastor in our denomination, currently ministering through Hospice) preach a sermon that dealt with many of the profound mysteries of the faith.

One of the newer members of the church family was so moved by the sermon & the thoughts it spurred on in her that she went home and wrote a poem that was born of those reflections. I asked her if I could post it here...


CALVARY’S VIEW
by
Christine Rowlette

dedicated to my daughter, eleanna

Unable to hold up His head any longer
He slowly drops His chin, allowing tired shoulders to slump.
A cry of agony escapes with precious breath.
The weight of His body tearing hands and feet once more.

Blood trickles down His forehead – into compassionate eyes.
The sting stirs Him to once more lift His face to Heaven.
Warm liquid streaming down cold cheeks onto His neck
brings a faint smile to His taut face.
Dry lips crack once more.
Blinking to clear His eyes, His vision pans across the disbelieving crowd
all of whom now stand, as this “King of the Jews”
gives each face an enduring, piercing look.

As I gaze on the multitude, I behold unparalleled events.

With mystery and wonder, His strength seems renewed.
His breathing less labored
His expression speaks compassion, shouts mercy, and proclaims grace.
Tenderness flows from His eyes into theirs
and after His gaze, their faces are luminous
their conduct transformed.

I stand amazed
I stand still
Silent
I hide in the shadows
hoping not to capture His vision.

Focusing again on the happenings around me
my eyes lock on one small group of people gathered near Him.
Why has He overlooked them?
He has not even given them notice,
yet they seem to be the most subdued
pierced to the very core of their being
hearts mourning earnestly, but quietly.

Others stand jeering, mocking, laughing
Despising this man, who, by others beside Him
has been declared innocent of any wrong.

Why then such love?
Why such impassioned venom?

Inexplicable conflict
A clashing blend of harmony
Integrated contrast
A choral arrangement for one
The orchestra plays on.

One final look to the group huddled near.
Mother?
Did I hear Him say ‘Mother’?
Seconds seem like hours
Then again, hours were but minutes.

Remember this.
Remember this.
I stare at the silhouette before me
etching the scene in my mind
Repeating over and over again
Never forget Calvary’s view
Never forget Calvary’s view

Suddenly I find myself drawn…
driven to survey His face.
Closer…come closer.
Forgetting all others,
oblivious to all
His eyes meet mine

Weary, yet firm. Exhausted, yet steadfast.
His face absorbs me.
His pain softens me.

Unspoken words ring out
YOU ARE MY JOY

Three final words
‘It is finished’
all is complete.
finally, over too soon.

Dark and dreary, gloom permeates the air
A moonless, starless, sunless sky
Wind whirls, thunder rolls, rain falls

Unexpressed emotions now cripple me

Deafening silence
Tears flow, hearts break
A roaring peace settles.


LET US FIX OUR EYES ON JESUS,
THE AUTHOR AND PERFECTER OF OUR FAITH,
WHO FOR THE JOY SET BEFORE HIM
ENDURED THE CROSS, SCORNING IT’S SHAME
AND SAT DOWN AT THE RIGHT HAND
OF THE THRONE OF GOD.
HEBREWS 12:2 NIV

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Lifecycle of Pastors, by Thom Rainer

Someone just pointed me to this brief study on The Lifecycle of Pastors by Thom Rainer. Some good thoughts here. I think pastoral cycles are just one of the ways that God is always bringing development and maturity to his church... sometimes that's fun for the pastor & everyone else, sometimes it's not... but it's always good if we're all keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus.


Almost twenty years ago, I began to note that the tenure of a pastor often follows a predictable pattern. Now, almost two decades later, I still see many of the same patterns, though I have refined the categories and time spans a bit.

I fully understand that these categories are not definitive, and there will certainly be exceptions to the rule. Nevertheless, I offer this lifecycle as a guide that I hope will prove useful to both pastors and congregations alike.

Honeymoon: Years 0 to 1

The new pastor is perceived to be the answer to all the needs and the problems of the church. He is often viewed as a hero because he is not his predecessor. Though some of his faults begin to show during this period, he is often given a pass. Expectations are high that he will be molded into the image that each congregant would like to have.

Crisis: Years 1 to 3

It is now apparent that the pastor is fully human. He has not lived up to the precise expectations of many of the members. This phase includes a number of conflicts and struggles. Indeed it is the most common time that pastors choose to leave the church or they are force terminated. This single epoch of a pastoral tenure contributes more to short tenures than any other time.

Realignment: Years 3 to 5

The number of crises begins to abate, though they do not disappear altogether. It is at this time that more and more new members come under the tenure of the new pastor. Some of the dissidents have left the church or the community. There is a realignment of loyalty and expectations of the pastor. Thus he is able to lead more effectively, and began to see some more productive years as pastor of the church.

Growth: Years 5 to 10

Not all pastors have productive and joyous ministries in this period, but many do. It is not unusual for the congregation to begin to appreciate the pastor more and to follow his leadership with greater enthusiasm. Many of the battles have already been fought; and many of the conflicts have been resolved. The pastor and the entire congregation are ready to move forward in more productive ministry for the glory of God.

Mystery: Years 10 and Beyond

There are relatively few pastors and congregations that continue their relationships beyond a period of one decade. Thus any perspective I have of long-term pastorates is inconclusive and limited. I am confident, however, that if we see more and more pastors entering their tenth year of ministry and beyond, we will see more productive and fruitful ministries in local churches across the nation.

The Quest Continues

The topic of pastoral tenure fascinates me. I see significant correlation between ministry effectiveness and longer pastoral tenure, though there are certainly exceptions to the rule. I do hope that we will do a more comprehensive and objective study of this important issue in the future.



Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Welcome Sophie-Paige!

Welcome to Sophie-Paige, who was born yesterday morning around 8:25 am! She weighed 5 pounds, 14 ounces, and she was measured at 18 inches. I just visited her, and she's beautiful! In the picture to the left she's being loved on by her big brother Jack.

"Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward."
~Psalm 127.3

Gardiner Spring -- a Presbyterian pastor who died in 1873 -- once said this about these little images of God:

"The poorest, the weakest, the simplest child, is born for immortality. This value outweighs the entire material universe, no matter how small a mark this child makes on it. The tiniest infant owns a deathless intellect, and is as immortal as the Father of spirits. No one can tell what this child will become."

We're glad to meet you, Sophie-Paige!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Presby Dunking Booths

DPC hosted a great Fall Festival a couple of weeks ago. It was awesome! Thanks to everyone who helped put it together. It was a wonderful night with the neighbors.

But I do not thank those who threw balls at the "dunking booth." That water was COLD.

More pics from the Fall Festival may be forthcoming... if I can get them.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Chuck Colson on Crime-Fighting Fathers

Courageous Fatherhood
by Chuck Colson

These men fight crime, maintain justice, and protect the most vulnerable in society. No, they don’t patrol the streets in squad cars or wear uniforms or badges (at least not the majority). But their job isn’t all that different from the job of law enforcement.

I’m talking about fathers and the roles they’re called to fulfill. The comparison is the theme of a new movie from Sherwood Pictures, the makers of Fireproof and Facing the Giants – actually a Baptist church doing a great job getting these kinds of films into popular culture.

It’s called Courageous, getting a real buzz in the Christian world deservedly, but what really strikes me about it is the lesson it teaches about something I’ve been working on for 35 years: those with the most power to prevent crime are dads.

The film is about four cops in Albany, Georgia, who do what cops do best: they deal on a daily basis with carjackings, gang violence, drug-running and shootings. They put on their badges, protect and serve. It takes courage, and they uphold their duty no matter what.

But when it comes time to head home, these same men find themselves lacking as fathers. Two have lost touch with their teenage children, one is divorced and hardly sees his son, and the other secretly abandoned his pregnant girlfriend after college.

These men don’t seem to notice their failures until tragedy strikes one of them. Realizing how little time they truly have with their children, these fathers decide to set it straight: They pledge to embrace the principles of biblical fatherhood, and live as courageously at home as they do at work.

The producers emphasize the connection between the failure of the fathers and crime. In a particularly chilling scene, a young man, as part of his initiation into the gang, allows his fellow members to beat him senseless before hugging them and calling them “family.”

“If fathers just did what they were supposed to do,” says one of the cops, “half the junk we face on the streets wouldn’t exist.”

Right! For 35 years working in the prisons, I’ve come to realize that the standard liberal theories about what causes crime — poverty, racism, environment — they’re dead wrong.

Our prison systems are full of people who never had the example of a courageous father — or any father at all. Over 70 percent of long-term prison inmates come from broken homes, and young men raised in fatherless households are at least twice as likely to be incarcerated as those from intact families.

One of the biggest reasons why I started BreakPoint 20 years ago was to sound the alarm to the culture. Worldview matters, as families break down, prisons fill up. As my colleague Shane Morris points out in his review of Courageous on our website, biblical fatherhood deals with crime at its source.

In the movie, this teaching takes the form of twelve commitments within a Resolution for fathers. You can read them by clicking on today’s commentary at BreakPoint.org. Then, I hope you’ll go see Courageous, and — if you’re a father — sign the Resolution within own your family.

Take it from someone who has witnessed the destruction of failed fathers for over three decades: You’ve got a duty to your children. And you can change the course of their lives and society.

And if you haven’t been the father you’ve wanted to be, it’s not too late to start. Sign that Resolution today and change your ways.

Friday, October 28, 2011

St. Louis Cardinals...

YES!

GAME SEVEN...

"Good pitching will always stop good hitting and vice-versa."

~Casey Stengel

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Glory of the Gospel, Part VII: Christ the Lord.


Remember the scene? Allow me to quote from Part I of this series (which can be read in its entirety to clicking HERE):

Please imagine that life is like a 16-foot deep, 16-foot across, round, slimy-walled PIT. You are in it, and you can't get out of it.

You're in way over your head, in a situation in which you can get little help, and over which you have little control.

But to make matters worse... inside that pit, there's also an 8-foot cobra. He's coiled and ready to strike.

Let's say that that cobra represents all the injustice, death, crime, suffering, poverty, pain, disease, war, & wrong-doing in this world. It represents everything that is wrong -- both in your personal life and in the world in general.

And here's what we're going to do: We're going to escort a representative from each of the world's major religions right up to the edge of that pit. That representative will see you in the pit and offer you his religion's version of "salvation."

End of Quote.

In Part II we heard from a representative of Hinduism. He talked to us about illusion.

In Part III we heard from a representative of Buddhism. He spoke to us about our desire.

In Part IV we heard from a representative of Confucianism. He offered us good counsel.

In Part V we heard from a representative of Islam. He demanded radical obedience of us.

In Part VI we heard from a representative of atheism. He pointed us toward education and hard work.

Notice that one thing they all have in common is that everyone has stayed up on the edge of the pit. They've just leaned over & called down their version of salvation to us.


Now let's bring in Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ.


He comes to the pit. He looks down and sees you. He sees the snake. He puts on human skin. In Christian theology we call this the incarnation. And then he JUMPS INTO THE PIT.

We barely understand who he is or what he's doing. But he grabs us and begins to push us up out of the pit.

The whole time he's doing this, we're firing a bunch of questions at him: "Who are you? Why are you doing this? I'm not even sure I believe in you!"

And then that snake -- which represents all that is wrong with this world -- rares back and sinks its fangs into his side. The venom is released.

We see him wince in agony as he pushes us all the way out of the pit... and then collapses -- poisoned and dead -- on the slimy, muddy bottom of the pit.

... to be continued ...






Tuesday, October 25, 2011

no longer two but one

On Saturday DPC had the joy of witnessing a wedding! Congratulations to Zach & Sophie!

As a reflection on the wonderful gift of marriage, consider these words from Mike Mason's book The Mystery of Marriage:

"Marriage is the closest bond that is possible between two human beings. That, at least, was the original idea behind it. It was to be something unique, without parallel or precedent. In the sheer sweep and radical abandon of its commitment, it was to transcend every other form of human union on earth, every other covenant that could possibly be made between two people. Friendship, parent-child, master-pupil -- marriage would surpass all these other bonds in a whole constellation of remarkable ways, including equality of the partners, permanent commitment, cohabitation, sexual relations, and the spontaneous creation of blood ties through simple spoken promises.

As it was originally designed, marriage was a union to end all unions, the very last word, and the first, in human intimacy. Socially, legally, physically, emotionally, every which way, there is just no other means of getting closer to another human being, and never has been, than in marriage.

Such extraordinary closeness is bought at a cost, and the cost is nothing more or less than one's own self. No one has ever been married without being shocked at the enormity of this price and at the monstrous inconvenience of this thing called intimacy which suddenly invades their life.

At the wedding a bride and groom may have gone through the motions of the candle-lighting ceremony, each blowing out their own flame and lighting one central candle in place of the two, but the touching simplicity of this ritual has little in common with the actual day-to-day pressures involved as two persons are merged into one. It is a different matter when the flame that must be extinguished is no lambent flicker of a candle, but the blistering inferno of self-will and independence.

There is really nothing else like this lifelong cauterization of the ego that must take place in marriage. All of life is, in one way or another, humbling. But there is nothing like the experience of being humbled by another person, and by the same person day in and day out. It can be exhausting, unnerving, infuriating, disintegrating. There is no suffering like the suffering involved in being close to another person. But neither is there any joy nor any real comfort at all outside of intimacy, outside the joy and the comfort that are wrung out like wine from the crush and ferment of two lives being pressed together.

What happens to a couple when they fall in love, when they pitch headlong into this winepress of intimacy, is not simply that they are swept off their feet: more than that, it is the very ground they are standing on, the whole world and ground of their own separate selves, that is swept away.

A person in love cannot help becoming, in some sense, a new person. After all, even to stand for five minutes beside a stranger in a supermarket line-up, without exchanging one word, is to be drawn irresistibly, uncomfortably, enigmatically into the dizzying vortex of another human life. It is to be subtly swayed, held, hypnotized, transfixed -- moved and influenced in a myriad of ways, subliminal and seldom analyzed, but nonetheless potent.

But marriage takes this same imponderable magnetism and raises it to an infinite power. The very next step in human closeness, beyond marriage would be just to scrap the original man and woman and create one new human being out of the two.

But this is exactly what happens (both in symbol and in actuality) in the birth of a child! Eventually the parents die, leaving the child a living sign of the unthinkable extremity of union which took place between two distinct lives. The two became one: 'Has not the Lord made them one? In flesh and spirit they are his. And why one? Because he was seeking godly offspring.' (Malachi 2.15)."


Monday, October 24, 2011

Most Valuable Parishioners

We'd like to announce that Mary Frances E. & Katie E. have been selected as the MVP's for October, 2011.

Thanks to everyone else who participated. There's always November.

And a very special thank you to Mary Frances & Katie! The cini minis were cinfully delicious!

Y'all are awesome!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Park Far, Sit Near!

A couple of posts below I made mention of how we need more modern-day Deborahs in the church today. One "Deborah" whom I've always enjoyed whenever I've read her (which hasn't been nearly enough) is Nancy Wilson.

Below is a post that she recently put up on her blog. My good wife sent it to me, knowing that I would appreciate it...

Thoughts on the Front Row

I have sat in the front row of church now for many years, in all the different locations our church has met in, including a body shop back in the early years. (In those days the men had to move the cars, hose down the floors, and set up the folding chairs!) Lately I have been reflecting on the front row, with some practical and some symbolic thoughts about it.

First of all, in secular events, front row seats are prized. Think about concerts and sporting events: the front row seats are the most coveted seats. But at church, many people shy away from the front row. Now I’m not talking about a conference with a big-name speaker up in front. At that kind of event, the front rows are taken. I’m talking about church. (And I suppose, if a worship service is conducted like a concert or spectator sport, the front rows might be crowded.) But how often do most folks shy away from sitting in the front row Sunday morning? And why do they do that? What’s the difference between a rock concert and a worship service? A whole lot, that’s what.

Now from a human level, when you are the speaker, it’s difficult to speak over three or four empty rows. One of the duties of the speaker is to overcome the rhetorical distance so he or she can connect with the audience. But at church, the saints are not an audience; they are worshipers. But if the minister has to preach over a few empty rows, it is more of a challenge than if he has a crowded front row.

The front row is the most vulnerable spot in church. Not only are you under the pastor’s eye, but the rest of the congregation can watch you from the back. It’s much more comfortable in an obscure back row seat. The front row can make you feel like you are exposed. At a concert or a football game, this is not the case. Worship is when we meet with the living God, so it’s tempting to draw back.

But let’s look at this from a spiritual or symbolic angle. When we sit in the front row, we are crowding in to meet with God, eager to be near Him, hungry for His word. Consider these verses:

“Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (James 4:8).

“It is good for me to draw near to God. I have put my trust in the Lord God, that I may declare all thy works” (Psalm 73:28).

“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:13).

When we sit in the front row (or rows), we are drawing near to God. We are near the pulpit and near the table, eager to receive the Word, hungry for the bread and the wine. We are drawing near to God so He will draw near to us.

An empty front row suggests fear. Or apathy. It could also come from a false sense of politeness: Who am I to sit in the front row? But we are invited to come, so we should crowd in!

Of course we could sit in the front row for all the wrong reasons, and we could sit in the back for all the right reasons. But my point is this: feeling vulnerable isn’t bad. Draw near to God. Sit near the pulpit. Crowd in. Be eager to be fed.

We worship with our bodies: “Present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God which is your reasonable service” (Romans 12:1). We worship with our bodies, and this certainly includes where we put them. This implies a glad surrender, a sweet resignation to God.

You may feel vulnerable, exposed, in the front row. But if you are there for the right reason, you are most protected, sheltered under His wing as you draw near to Him. And certainly, if you are in the back for good reason, you can draw near just as well, and you should. Wherever we sit, we should be crowding in, eager for His blessing and hungry for His food.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Chuck Colson on the Family Dinner

Fighting for Family Dinners
It's Good for Your Kids!

by Chuck Colson

The dangers facing young people today are many: premarital sex, drug abuse, suicide, and dropping out among them. And if you listen to the “experts,” there are no easy answers for protecting our kids. And of course they are right. But saying there are no easy answers is entirely different from saying there are noanswers.

I believe there is something moms and dads, aunts and uncles, grandmothers and grandfathers can do and start doing it tonight — that’s right — tonight — to make a real difference in the lives of our young people. It’s time to reclaim the family dinner.

I’m not saying this out of some kind of nostalgia for Ozzie and Harriet and the supposedly golden age of the 1950s. Families had problems back then, too. But I think a lot of families back then knew something many of us have forgotten: That it’s good to sit down together for a meal.

The dinner table is not only where we share good food and drink. It is also where we share our values, what happened to us during the day — the good, the bad, and the ugly. It’s where we ask questions and learn from each other. In a relaxed atmosphere we can talk about our faith. The dinner table can be a great refuge from life’s hard knocks and stresses.

That’s not just my opinion. The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University finds that teens who have dinner with their parents three or fewer times per week are four times more likely to smoke, twice as likely to drink, two-and-a-half times more likely to smoke marijuana, and four times as likely to say they will use drugs in the future as those who eat dinner five to seven times a week with their parents.

These findings mirror the National Longitudinal Study on Adolescent Health, which is the largest longitudinal study ever done on adolescents. This study has some amazing statistics. Of twelve to fourteen year olds who don’t experience family dinners at least five days a week, 14 percent report drinking more than once a month. That’s kids twelve to fourteen. But for those who have family dinners, it’s cut to 7 percent!

Also, 27 percent of twelve to fourteen year olds who don’t have regular family dinners say they think about suicide, compared with only 8 percent of those who do eat with their families. Among seventeen to nineteen year olds, 68 percent without the influence of family dinners have had sex, versus 49 percent of those who have had family dinners.

I could go on and on, but you get the idea. Family dinners are vital — not just for food but for bonding and learning.

Now you’ll say: “Okay, having dinner with my kids is a good idea, but we’re just too busy.” Friend, believe me, I understand. In many homes, both parents work and have little time to cook food, let alone go to the supermarket and shop for it, and then clean up. And let’s face it: Our kids are just as busy as we are.

And look, I understand, instituting a welcoming and relaxing culture in the kitchen or dining room can seem daunting. Family dinners take planning, cooperation, and work. Your kids might protest at the new routine — at least at first. That’s okay. They will likely come to love it.

Get started, and see what works for you. But don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Twice a week is better than none.

And I bet you’ll find being together as satisfying as a steak dinner with mashed potatoes and gravy. Bon appetit!