Friday, October 28, 2011

St. Louis Cardinals...



"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!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Missions Right Here at Home

DPC had its first Local Missions Conference this last weekend, with Jim Hatch speaking on "Missions Right Here at Home." It was good to be reminded of and challenged with the glorious, vigorous, gracious mission of our God and the call that has been extended to each follower of Christ to engage this world on behalf of God's mission.

I especially appreciated Jim's emphasis on the need for stronger, deeper relationships with the people whom we seek to serve in the unthinkable grace of the gospel.

A couple of loosely-quoted Hatchisms: There are no real relationships with people until they've been in your home or you've been in their home. ... The solution [to the challenges of multi-cultural ministry] is not finding some "magic" person/pastor. The solution is breaking through your own fear. The solution is deeper relationships. ... For multi-cultural ministry to work, friendships must go deeper, everything will have to take longer, and you're going to have to endure the loss and sacrifice of some of your preferences.

We ended yesterday's worship service with a benediction that Richard Halverson wrote and used throughout his ministry. Halverson was the Chaplain of the U.S. Senate for years. Before that he was the Sr. Pastor of Fourth Presbyterian Church in Bethesda, Maryland.

He was once asked the following question: "Pastor Halverson, what was the most significant thing you did at Fourth Presbyterian Church that brought vitality and spiritual strength to that congregation?”

Halverson seemed to be embarrassed by the question at first. But eventually he began to answer. What would the answer be, one might wonder? His awesome preaching? His great church staff? Some incredible church program?

No. He said: "I think it was my benediction.”

Halverson always ended the worship service with these words to his congregation: "Wherever you go, God is sending you, wherever you are, God has put you there; He has a purpose in your being there. Christ who indwells you has something He wants to do through you where you are. Believe this and go in His grace and love and power."

These words are a powerful reminder. God has put you where you are. And you are called to courageously engage this world -- in the place where your sovereign God has called you -- on behalf of His mission.

"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

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Glory of the Gospel, Part VI: Atheism?

To understand this post, you're going to need to start reading at the beginning:

The fifth representative we bring to the edge of the pit is the atheist. It may sound strange to include him in this survey of "religions," but there is a definite system of "belief" at work in the person who says "I do not believe in a god."

This is the person who looks at all manner of theistic belief and says, "We ought to grow up. There simply is not sufficient evidence to say that there is, in fact, a divine being. We need to be honest with this, even if we don't like it. We need to be unflinchingly scholarly and clear-headed and willing to be clear and consistent with this fact: There is only one sin, and that is to call anything else a sin!"

(parenthetical note: There is absolutely no such thing as a "consistent" atheist in this regard, but that is still what he would have to say.)

So, the representative of atheism comes to the pit and says, "My friend! By incredible social, economic, educational, and personal sacrifice and giving, we may be able to get you out of that pit. ... IF we cause the right laws to be installed and IF we practice the right things in private and in public... maybe... just maybe... we can get you out."

(parenthetically again: This is a little odd. If you believe you came from nothing and if you believe that you are going to nothing, then why is there this undeniable and inescapable pressure to make something of life in between the nothings? Why is there this interest in getting out of suffering and pain? Why? If everything comes from nothing and everything is going to nothing, why - and how - would you bother yourself with something like morality in between? It has no basis in anything. But again - there is no such thing as a consistent atheist.)

So. What have we heard from all of these representatives?

Illusion. Desire. Good counsel. Radical Obedience. And now: "Education and hard work might get you out."

Ready for something different?

... to be continued ...

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Needed: More Deborahs

Several ladies from DPC recently attended our denomination's Women's Ministry Conference in Atlanta, and from all reports it was very encouraging.

Check out the list of seminar titles:

Teens & Relationships: Is Real Friendship Even Possible in a VIRTUAL World?... A Godly Woman’s Adornment... A Beautiful Faith: The Role of Art and Culture in the Covenant Community... Give Them Grace: Dazzling Your Kids with the Love of Jesus... Declare His Glory to the Nations... Looking Backward from Campus Ministry: What Helps Children?... Breath-Taking Decisions: End of Life Challenges: Difficult Questions, Humble Answers... Perils and Promises: Bio-ethical Challenges for Christians in the 21st Century... Womanhood Redeemed... Marriage and God's Grace: How God Uses Marriage to Conform us into the Likeness of Christ... Gospel Unity, Cultural Diversity - The Changing Faces of the PCA; Living the Out the Implications of the Gospel in a Multi-cultural Community... Redeeming Manhood from a Fallen World... Graceful transitions in Parenting

And along with engaging seminars, the conference also featured some outstanding speakers (Nancy Guthrie, Brian Habig) and great concerts (Kevin Twit & Indelible Grace, Laura Story).

In the midst of this self-absorbed culture of ours, may the Lord be pleased to raise up a new generation of Deborahs - strong, wise, godly, selfless spiritual mothers in Israel (Judges 5.7). We stand in great need of more of them!

One of my favorite Deborahs in history is Dorothy Sayers. If you haven't read her, you can start correcting that deficiency right now with the quote below, in which she's commenting on the mystery and wonder of Christ and his gospel:

"Possibly we might prefer not to take this tale too seriously—there are disquieting points about it. Here we had a man of divine character walking and talking among us—and what did we find to do with him? The common people, indeed, 'heard him gladly'; but our leading authorities in church and state considered that he talked too much and uttered too many disconcerting truths. So we bribed one of his friends to hand him over quietly to the police, and we tried him on a rather vague charge of creating a disturbance, and had him publicly flogged and hanged on the common gallows, 'thanking God we were rid of a knave.' All this was not very creditable to us, even if he was (as many people thought and think) only a harmless, crazy preacher. But if the Church is right about him, it was more discreditable still, for the man we hanged was God Almighty. So that is the outline of the official story—the tale of the time when God was the underdog and got beaten, when he submitted to the conditions he had laid down and became a man like the men he had made, and the men he had made broke him and killed him. This is the dogma we find so dull—this terrifying drama of which God is the victim and hero.

If this is dull, then what, in Heaven’s name, is worthy to be called exciting? The people who hanged Christ never, to do them justice, accused him of being a bore—on the contrary, they thought him too dynamic to be safe. It has been left for later generations to muffle up that shattering personality and surround him with an atmosphere of tedium. We have very efficiently pared the claws of the Lion of Judah, certified him 'meek and mild,' and recommended him as a fitting household pet for pale curates and pious old ladies. To those who knew him, however, he in no way suggests a milk-and-water person; they objected to him as a dangerous firebrand.

True, he was tender to the unfortunate, patient with honest inquirers, and humble before heaven; but he insulted respectable clergymen by calling them hypocrites. He referred to King Herod as 'that fox'; he went to parties in disreputable company and was looked upon as a 'gluttonous man and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners'; he assaulted indignant tradesmen and threw them and their belongings out of the temple; he drove a coach-and-horses through a number of sacrosanct and hoary regulations; he cured diseases by any means that came handy with a shocking casualness in the matter of other people’s pigs and property; he showed no proper deference for wealth or social position; when confronted with neat dialectical traps, he displayed a paradoxical humor that affronted serious-minded people, and he retorted by asking disagreeably searching questions that could not be answered by rule of thumb.

He was emphatically not a dull man in his human lifetime, and if he was God, there can be nothing dull about God either. But he had 'a daily beauty in his life that made us ugly,' and officialdom felt that the established order of things would be more secure without him. So they did away with God in the name of peace and quietness."

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Glory of the Gospel, Part V: Islam?

This is Part 5 of a series of posts exploring how the different faith systems of this world differ from one another and how all of them together differ from the gospel.

To understand where we are & what we've covered & what we're doing, you'll need to read Part I... Part II... Part III... & Part IV.

Now we're bring a representative from a fourth major religious system up to the mouth of the pit: Islam.

In 570 AD, Mohammed was born. He was born to a tribe that ruled over Mecca.

In 610 AD (when he was 40 years old), Mohammed was in a cave on a mountain. In that cave he began to receive "revelations." These revelations were later compiled into a collection of recitations known as The Qur'an.

By 630 AD this man had successfully unified HUGE numbers of previously warring tribes -- some 360 tribes! He actually brought about a great amount of peace in the middle east during his day.

But today there are three wings of Islam: the Sunni, the Shiites, & the Sushi. And actually there are other sects inside each of those three broad categories.

Now -- in contrast to what we've heard others say -- Islam teaches that the pit is real and the snake is real. And as the representative of Islam looks down upon you, in that pit, with the snake poised to sink his venomous fangs in you, he says this:

"My friend! You are radically obligated to submit yourself (~the very word "Islam" means "Submit!"~) to the Five Pillars of Islam! They are these: Correct Recitation of the Correct Creed/Belief, Correct Prayer (which must be performed five times a day), Correct Fasting, Correct Giving of Alms, and Correct Pilgrimage!"

And there are a lot of specifics our Islamic friend would need to tell you about each of the Pillars. But the broad point is that if you do all those things, you can learn to live in a pit with a snake.

So far we've had four representatives from four major religions come and offer their help to us. One spoke to us about illusion, another about desire, another gave us good counsel, and this last one demanded radical obedience in five respects.

... to be continued ...

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Colonel on the Drums Playing Wipeout

Related to the post about Oktoberfest (below), you really need to see the Colonel on the drums playing wipeout.

Click here.

Stu, are you seeing this?


Fun... Feasting... Music... Dancing... German Culture... Wonderful People... The Very Word Bratwurst... The Festhalle... Family-Friendly Events... Seeing your Son Win the Alphorn Contest...

What's an alphorn, you ask? It's that incredibly long horn that the farmer is using to call his cattle in this awesome picture to the left.

You see the man dancing in the picture above? That's Col. Johann Gottfried Cullman. He and several other German immigrants settled in Cullman, Alabama in 1873. For many years after that, it was the German language you would hear in the shops and churches when you visited Cullman. It's a cultural influence that can still be seen here and there throughout the city.

The Colonel graciously invited my available kids & me to be his guests at the Oktoberfest Feast last night, and it was delicious!

Sadly, one of my boys fell ill after dinner ... some people just can't handle their Oktoberfest ... so we had to leave early. But we'll be back next year! It was great.

And thanks to Larry R. for introducing me to Col. Cullman! If you take a close look at the picture above, you may see Larry as well.

100 Great Things About Living in Alabama:

#47... The Cullman Oktoberfest