Monday, January 30, 2012

Welcome, Lucy Josephine!

Is that not one of the greatest pictures you've ever seen?

Welcome to Lucy Josephine! "Lucy" means "light," & "Josephine" means "Yahweh adds another." As her parents wrote in an e-mail to the church: "We are very blessed to have another light in our family."

This little light was born at 7:29 this morning, is 19 and a half inches long, and weighs in at 7 pounds & 11 ounces.

It was surely upon an occasion somewhat like this that the Psalmist was inspired to pen the words to Psalm 127 & Psalm 128...

Unless the LORD builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the LORD watches over the city,
the watchman stays awake in vain.
It is in vain that you rise up early
and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives to his beloved sleep.
Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD,
the fruit of the womb a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior
are the children of one's youth.
Blessed is the man
who fills his quiver with them!
He shall not be put to shame
when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.
Blessed is everyone who fears the LORD,
who walks in his ways!
You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands;
you shall be blessed, and it shall be well with you.
Your wife will be like a fruitful vine
within your house;
your children will be like olive shoots
around your table.
Behold, thus shall the man be blessed
who fears the LORD.
The LORD bless you from Zion!
May you see the prosperity of Jerusalem
all the days of your life!
May you see your children's children!
Peace be upon Israel!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Common Ground Marriage Weekend

Common Ground Marriage Weekend
with Dr. Gordon Bals

February 3 & 4

Friday Night, February 3
6:30 - 7:15: What is your marriage metaphor?

7:30 - 8:30: Session 1: Unmasking Marital Division & Understanding the Path to Togetherness

Saturday Morning & Afternoon, February 4
9:00 - 9:30 Process the Evening Session

9:30 - 10:15 Session 2: The Calling of a Husband: Following God into Involvement with your Wife

10:15 - 10:30 Q & A

10:30 - 10:45 Break

10:45 - 11:30 Session 3: The Calling of a Wife: Following God into Awe-Inspired Cooperation with your Husband

11:30 - 1:00 Lunch -- participants will have the option of having lunch together at DPC for $5. Sign up for this lunch will be on Friday night.

1:00 - 1:15 Q & A

1:15 - 2:00 Session 4: The Fruit of Togetherness -- Mutually Enjoyable Sexual Intimacy

2:00 - 2:30 Q & A


Thursday, January 26, 2012

Redeem the Time, Part III

In earlier posts (click HERE for Part II) we were looking at this command from our God in Ephesians 5:

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.... Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.

A few more thoughts about this...

The version of the Bible that I'm quoting (the ESV) uses this translation: "make the best use of the time." And that works; that's fine. But it's an interpretive translation. The literal translation is "redeem the time." The verb Paul uses here is the same verb he uses, for example in Galatians 3.13 & 4.4&5... "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us... God sent forth his Son... to redeem those who were under the law."

The actual word Paul uses here is "redeem."

It means "to buy up, to ransom, to rescue from loss, to make the most of."

In Christ God has redeemed his people from unprofitable, foolish uselessness. He redeemed us from the judgment due to us for our sins.

And now we're called to be imitators of our God. Ephesians 5 lines out several ways we're called to imitate God...

And one of those ways is with regard to this thing called "time." God has created an instrument called time. He's entrusted so much of it to me and so much of it to you. And he's called us to redeem it from unprofitable, foolish uselessness.

... to be continued ...

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Invasion of God... without disguise.

The Bible speaks of a day when we will abruptly discover which side we have been on all along -- even if we've been deceiving ourselves & others in this life. This is a day when every knee shall bow and every tongue confess, either from awe-filled love & salvation... or from sudden, terror-filled realization and awareness.

“God will invade. But I wonder whether people who ask God to interfere openly and directly in our world quite realise what it will be like when He does. When that happens, it is the end of the world. When the author walks on to the stage the play is over. God is going to invade, all right: but what is the good of saying you are on His side then, when you see the whole natural universe melting away like a dream and something else - something it never entered your head to conceive - comes crashing in; something so beautiful to some of us and so terrible to others that none of us will have any choice left? For this time it will be God without disguise; something so overwhelming that it will strike either irresistible love or irresistible horror into every creature. It will be too late then to choose your side. There is no use saying you choose to lie down when it has become impossible to stand up. That will not be the time for choosing; it will be the time when we discover which side we really have chosen, whether we realised it before or not. Now, today, this moment, is our chance to choose the right side. God is holding back to give us that chance. It will not last for ever. We must take it or leave it.”

~ C.S. Lewis

Thursday, January 19, 2012

"When I was your age, television was called books!" ~ The Princess Bride

Below is a great article by Cherie Harder, the President of The Trinity Forum.

Salons & Subversion
Each election year typically brings renewed salvos in the ongoing culture wars, and there is little reason to think that 2012 will prove an exception. But in the midst of all the sound and fury that surrounds such battles, it can be easy to overlook less truculent, if no less effective, means of cultural engagement.

Historically, one of the most powerful instigators of cultural change has been the small discussion group. In France, it was the Salon – small groups who would meet together to talk, gossip, read and discuss. In 18th Century England, it was the Clapham Group, who helped usher Britain from one of the most violent, oppressive, and debauched societies in history into the Victorian era. Today, perhaps the closest equivalent – as well as a gentle yet potent means of pushing back against harmful cultural norms – is the book club.

There are several reasons why a reading group – as modest and homespun as it may seem – is a subversive countercultural effort.

First, the act of hosting or participating in a reading group pushes against the growing cultural tendency towards isolated electronic interaction. So great has our addiction to entertainment media become that the average American now spends more time with electronic media than at work. A recent Nielson survey showed that the average American spent almost 33 hours watching “traditional” TV, and another two hours and 20 minutes watching “time-shifted” TV, almost four hours per week on the internet, and another half hour watching internet video. Crowded out from our lives by our reliance on TV and the internet are socializing and reading.

A reading group gently but firmly bucks this trend. It offers actual and personal interaction, rather than virtual. It is essentially interactive, rather than isolated. And it necessarily involves the practice of hospitality – of opening one’s home to others, preparing food, and breaking bread (or just drinking wine) together. By its nature, a reading group forms community, and knits together the participants into a network. And as sociologist James Davison Hunter has argued in his brilliant work To Change the World, “the key actor in history is not the individual genius but rather the network… and the more ‘dense’ the network – that is, the more active and interactive the network – the more influential it could be.”

Second, reading and discussion groups undermine the growing cultural tendency towards perpetual distraction. Recent Nielson reports indicate that the average American teenager sends or receives 3,339 text messages each month – or more than six per waking hour. Even for less tech-addled adults, the majority of one’s waking hours, whether in work and leisure, are generally spent multi-tasking, and juggling calls, texts, and emails. In contrast, a reading group demands focused attention and discussion. Participants focus on one thing at a time, generally speak one at a time, and are given space to reflect, contemplate and analyze.

This is not insignificant. There is growing evidence that the way we think about things affects the way we think – that submerging ourselves in distraction eventually leaves us not only unwilling, but unable to focus. The art, architecture, literature, entertainment, and public policies of a society unable to reflect, contemplate, or focus will look quite different from one that can.

Third, a reading group implicitly pushes back against a popular entertainment culture awash in triviality, and saturated in violence. If ratings wars drive the television and movie industries to attempt to grab eyeballs with an ever-increasing barrage of slayings, stabbings, sex scenes, and car chases, reading leaves the mind’s eye unassaulted and imagination free to envision the possibilities. It encourages the reader to focus not on the sensational, but to discern and appreciate what is best – most true, insightful, and compelling – in a story.

And in contrast to the well-documented impact of entertainment violence in desensitizing viewers to real-life tragedy, reading and discussing literature both requires and engenders empathy. As author Azar Nafisi beautifully put it in Reading Lolita in Tehran, a novel “is the sensual experience of another world. If you don’t enter that world, hold your breath with the characters and become involved in their destiny, you won’t be able to empathize, and empathy is at the heart of a novel."

As modest as a reading group may seem, it can accomplish great purposes: by resisting the cultural tide pulling us towards isolation, distraction, and triviality, it also cultivates acts and attitudes of proactive cultural engagement. It requires the extension of hospitality, the discipline of sustained attention, the cultivation of discernment and empathy, and the practice of reflection.

No wonder so many revolutions were started in salons.

Some ideas I let go of a while back are starting to come back to life...

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

New Sermon Series Starting This Lord's Day

Decatur Presbyterian Church
invites you to a series of studies in
Matthew 26, 27, & 28.

- the final week of the life of Christ -

"My Time is at Hand."
(Matthew 26.18)

Sunday Mornings, 10:45 am

"Regardless of what anyone may personally think or believe about him, Jesus of Nazareth has been the dominant figure in the history of Western Culture for almost twenty centuries. If it were possible, with some sort of super-magnet, to pull up out of that history every scrap of metal bearing at least a trace of his name, how much would be left? It is from his birth that most of the human race dates its calendars, it is by his Name that millions curse and in his Name that millions pray."

~Jaroslav Pelikan, Jesus Through the Centuries

"What did God do?.... He selected one particular people and spent several
centuries hammering into their heads the sort of God he was... Those people were the Jews and the Old Testament gives an account of the hammering process. Then comes the real shock. Among these Jews there suddenly turns up a man who goes about talking as if he was God. He claims to forgive sins. He says he has always existed. He says he is coming to judge the world at the end of time....

"I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about him: 'I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept his claim to be God.' That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic - on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg - or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon; or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to."

~C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Monday, January 16, 2012

"For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me."

While defending the woman who anointed him with the costly ointment, and calling it a "beautiful thing," Jesus said, "For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me." (Some of those nearby had criticized the woman: "This could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor!") The account is in Matthew 26.6-13.

I use to read this and think that poverty really is a perpetual, unsolvable problem. Jesus says so right here. The poor will always be with us.

But in my study this morning, I realized afresh that that's a bit of a cynical interpretation to walk away with. Jesus is actually quoting Moses in Deuteronomy 15:11:
"For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’"
What was Moses' (and thereby God's - for in the Scriptures Moses is speaking for God) stance on poverty? Three things might be said:

  • Just a few verses earlier in Deuteronomy 15 (verses 4, 5, & 6), we read,
    "But there will be no poor among you; for the LORD will bless you in the land that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance to possess—if only you will strictly obey the voice of the LORD your God, being careful to do all this commandment that I command you today. For the LORD your God will bless you, as he promised you, and you shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow, and you shall rule over many nations, but they shall not rule over you."
    This means that if we are faithful, poverty will cease to be the blight it is today. Sin causes or sustains poverty in a whole host of ways -- either our own individual sin (for example, substance abuse, a gambling addiction, or a failure to be diligent at our work) or our connection to the sins of others (the child of a father who abused substances, etc.). Or - and this is just as devastating - a sinful culture that creates social structures that themselves create poverty, make it difficult for people to find work, etc. But in general, the first thing Moses seems to say on the issue is that faithfulness to God would reduce poverty.

  • Moses goes on to say this in verses 7-10 of Deuteronomy 15,
    “If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be. Take care lest there be an unworthy thought in your heart and you say, ‘The seventh year, the year of release is near,’ and your eye look grudgingly on your poor brother, and you give him nothing, and he cry to the LORD against you, and you be guilty of sin. You shall give to him freely, and your heart shall not be grudging when you give to him, because for this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake."
    Moses'/God's/Jesus' position on poverty can hardly be one of "What's the use? It's a problem that defies all remedy." Godly generosity reduces poverty.

  • But... when studying what God's Law has to say about poverty (and how to minister to it), it's also important to understand this: handouts are not the first option. The first thing the Law of God recommends is forgivable loans (some of which are referred to in the passage quoted above). Next, the Loving Law of God urges that we give the poor some work to do. For example, Leviticus 23.22:
    "And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, nor shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the LORD your God."
All in all, looking into the context of Jesus' remark at his anointing is a good reminder that our God does not devalue the poor. Nor does he devalue our ministry to them. Just the opposite, in fact.

Poverty is not hopeless.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Tim Tebow

Tonight's Broncos / Patriots game could set new TV ratings records for a divisional round Saturday night primetime playoff game. In preparation for watching it, I recommend THIS ARTICLE (click here).

Though I'm sure Tebow would recommend that Rick believe in the Christ of Tim Tebow & not Tim Tebow himself, it's still a great article.


Thursday, January 12, 2012

About Your Face

Iron Men,

A more literal translation of our Iron Men verse (Proverbs 27.17, quoted at the bottom of this post) is "Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens the FACE (~or countenance~) of another."

Does your face / countenance... (personality?)... need some sharpening? Has it been rather dulled by this world?

I encourage ALL of you to attend one of the soon-to-be-starting Iron Men Small Group Bible Studies. We're actually studying the book of Proverbs together. Listen, there are details of my character & your character that may be small enough to "escape notice" when we're studying the thundering of the Law or the broadsides of the Prophets ... and yet, they matter. And they are decisive in what kind of life we end up living.

This is the arena of the Proverbs. What am I like to live with? To employ? How do I manage myself? My time? My affairs? What kind of habits am I developing? What would wisdom have to say to me about how I talk? What my aims are? What kind of friend I am? What kind of neighbor I am? What I do with my money? How I approach my God?

Proverbs gets inside our skin about all of those things & more & points us to the glory that is Christ & the "skill in living well" that is found by those who follow him with all their hearts. Get in a group! I am. They start next week!

Tuesday Morning - 6:30 am at 239 Johnston St. SE - Skip's office.

Tuesday Noon - 12:00 at 1323 Stratford Rd. SE - Kent's office.

Thursday Morning - 6:30 am at 1218 13th Ave. SE - George's office.

And there's also one meeting in Huntsville at ADTRAN - Greg's place of work. It meets on Wednesdays at 11:30 am.

Your face needs some sharpening. BRING A FRIEND! ALL ARE INVITED!

Iron Men of DPC

Forged by God; Sharpened by Brothers

Iron sharpens Iron, and one man sharpens another. ~ Proverbs 27.17

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Redeem the Time, Part II

In an earlier post (click HERE) we were considering our use of time, according to the command of the Living God in Ephesians 5:

"Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is."

Before dealing further with the command to make the best use of the time, let's take a look at Paul's motivating clause: "because the days are evil." What does that mean?

Well, let's think about the original context of the letter. What was life like in Ephesus for these Christians to whom Paul was writing?

Look at chapter 4, verse 17: "Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds." And then Paul goes on to describe Ephesian culture in the next two verses: "They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity."

And the description continues throughout the next several passages: there are deceitful desires, lying, stealing, corrupt talk, bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander, malice, sexual immorality, impurity, covetousness, filthiness, foolish talking, crude joking, idolatry, & unfruitful works of darkness which - Paul says - are too shameful even to speak of, and the list goes on & on...

The days were definitely evil.

But if you explore the history of Ephesus after Paul, you see that days were going to get even more evil. In less than 100 years from the time Paul wrote this letter, the Roman government would begin to persecute Christians in this city. Believers would be burnt alive, thrown to hungry lions, abused, and brutalized.

In the second chapter of the book of Revelation, the Lord writes a letter to the church of Ephesus. In it he commends the church for their good works, their perseverance, and for their stand against false teaching.

But then he goes on to say this...

"But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent."

But it seems as if this church did not heed the Lord's warning. It seems that they did not use the TIME that God gave them for repentance. During the 2nd Century their lampstand was removed. The Ephesian Church disappeared. It ceased to exist. And from what I understand, there hasn't been much of a Christian congregation there since.

They did not "redeem the time" -or- "make the best use of the time" - that the Lord gave them for repentance.

May we learn from their example.

Okay. The days are evil. The stakes are high. That's our motivating clause. But still... what does it mean to make the best use of our time?

... to be continued ...

Tuesday, January 10, 2012


So... for three football seasons I've been praying for heaven's blessings to fall upon the good people of Alabama in the congregation that I serve.

And in that time they've won three BCS National Championships.

Seems like I should maybe get a raise or something.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Something Unique about Christian Worship: The Songs of the Forgiven

Have you ever thought about how wonderful, yet how strange it is that we sing when we meet together as Christians to worship our God?

When else do you meet together with other people & break out in song? Hardly ever! Maybe we mumble through the national anthem with strangers at a ballgame, but it's just not the same. And no matter how many times I talk to my neighbor over the fence or over the lawn mower, we're never going to belt out a chorus together.

And yet, almost as soon as you walk into a Christian church, you find yourself singing.

Consider this quote from W.M. Clow:

"There is no forgiveness in this world, or in that which is to come, except through the cross of Christ. 'Through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins.' The religions of paganism scarcely knew the word. ... The great faiths of the Buddhist and the Mohammedan give no place either to the need or the grace of reconciliation. The clearest proof of this is the simplest. It lies in the hymns of Christian worship. A Buddhist temple never resounds with a cry of praise. Mohammedan worshippers never sing. Their prayers are, at the highest, prayers of submission and of request. They seldom reach the gladder note of thanksgiving. They are never jubilant with the songs of the forgiven."

But when the church of Jesus Christ comes together, it's impossible to keep them from singing. That's what the free gift of grace to the undeserving will do. It loosens your tongue, it gladdens your heart. You celebrate. You sing.

You sing the songs of the forgiven.

Redeem the Time.

Like most folks (I suppose), this is the time of year when I tend to start thinking about how I use my time. Another year of my life in this world has now officially become my past. How many more years will there be? How will I invest any future days, weeks, months, & years the Lord sees fit to give me?

Time is important to God. How we use our time is important to God -- it's a matter of Christian ethics, Christian morality, Christian wisdom. Just look at the 4th commandment. Or look at how we're taught to pray in Psalm 90.

Or look at Ephesians 5. It begins with this command:

"Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children."

But what does it mean to imitate God? How?

Well, one way (according to verses 15-17 of that same chapter) is in our use of time:

"Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is."

This passage is worth some thought.

First of all, notice one of the Bible's great contrasts staring us in the face again. One of the most basic & fundamental truths of life in this world is that you can spend your time walking as a fool or walking as a wise person.

Which path am I choosing? What's the basic direction of my life?

According to the last verse quoted above, being foolish can be defined as not understanding what the will of the Lord is. Being foolish is not seeing things in their true light; not rightly estimating what is important to God (or not making a right use of that estimation).

By contrast, the wise are those who do understand what the will of the Lord is, and they want to make a right use of that understanding. They want to live life the way God meant for it to be lived.

And according to verse 16, that involves thinking about how we use our time: "making the best use of the time"... or, as the older translations have it: "redeeming the time."

Here's where we stop for now: What we do with the time given us is a matter of wisdom or foolishness... understanding the Lord's will or (perhaps willfully) not understanding the Lord's will. A couple of more thoughts to follow...

... to be continued ...

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Majesty and Glory of Christmas!

My family and I were out of town for this event, but I hear wonderful things about The Majesty and Glory of Christmas -- the Christmas musical program that our DPC choirs put on.

Thank you choirs and thank you Stu!

"Break forth into singing, for the Lord has comforted his people;
he has redeemed his covenant children!"
~ from Isaiah 52 ~

Death Shall Be No More.

This is a sin-sick, death-weary world. Over the last few days I've been reminded of that again & again, as I speak to people in the midst of the kind of loss and grief and tears that only death brings.

Providentially a member of the church sent me a link to this song (click here) today, which is a bold declaration that our God has promised to deliver the souls of his people from death & their eyes from tears (Psalm 116.8) on that more glorious shore where he will wipe away every tear from our eyes and death will be no more (Revelation 21.4).

"And he who was seated on the throne said, 'Behold, I am making all things new.'" (Revelation 21.5)

Monday, January 2, 2012

Teaching Chivalry to Boys - "cheerfully and with a smile"

In some very profound ways, this is a difficult time to teach young boys what it means to grow into the manners of godly manhood -- part of which means being always ready and willing to lovingly sacrifice yourself for others, most notably women & children & the elderly. I'll take practical help wherever I can get it.

This is a great quote from the very first edition of the Boy Scout Handbook...

"The same thing that entered into the training of these men, knights, pioneers ... must enter into the training of the boy scouts of today. Just as they respected women and served them, so the tenderfoot and the scout must be polite and kind to women, not merely to well-dressed women, but to poorly dressed women; not merely to young women, but to old women: to women wherever they may be found -- wherever they may be. To these a scout must always be courteous and helpful. When a scout is walking with a lady or a child, he should always walk on the outside of the sidewalk, so that he can better protect them against the jostling crowds. This rule is only altered when crossing the street, when the scout should get between the lady and the traffic, so as to shield her from accident or mud. Also in meeting a woman or child, a scout, as a matter of course, should always make way for them even if he himself has to step off the sidewalk into the mud. When riding in a streetcar or train a scout should never allow a woman, an elderly person, or a child to stand, but will offer his seat; and when he does it he should do it cheerfully and with a smile."

~ Lord Baton-Powell, 1911 (pages 243,244)

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