For it is by grace you have been saved...

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Q is for Questions

Life is full of them.  If you’ve ever had kids, you know how many there can be.  And there are all kinds of things that make you wonder.  Here are a few, all of which I’ve wondered about, but none of which are original with me:

If you ate pasta and antipasta, would you still be hungry?

How does a thermos know if the drink should be hot or cold?

How does the guy who drives the snowplow get to work in the mornings?

Why do they put Braille on the drive through bank machines?

How come there aren't B batteries?

Is a metaphor like a simile?

How do I set my laser printer on stun?

Why didn't Noah swat those two mosquitoes?

Why is it that bullets ricochet off of Superman's chest, but he ducks when the gun is thrown at him?

If it's true that we are here to help others, then what exactly are the OTHERS here for?     

If a man says something in the woods and there are no women there, is he still wrong?     

If it's tourist season, why can't we shoot them?     

Why are they called buildings, when they're already finished?     Shouldn't they be called builts?

Why do croutons come in airtight packages? It's just stale bread to begin with.

Why do we say something is out of whack?  What is a whack?

Why don't tomb, comb, and bomb sound alike?

If a lawyer and an IRS agent were both drowning, and you could only save one of them, would you go to lunch or read the paper?

If practice makes perfect, and nobody's perfect, why practice?

If all the world is a stage, where does the audience sit?

What if the Hokey Pokey IS what its all about?

When an agnostic dies, does he go to the "great perhaps?"

Can atheists get insurance for acts of God?

Since the last few have a more spiritual ring to it, maybe we should get serious and think about spiritual things.  Today is that day on the calendar between Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday.  It’s that day when Jesus was still lying in the tomb.  Don’t you think the disciples were full of questions?  Had they misread things?  Had they missed something?  Were they wrong to trust Jesus?  What were they going to do now?  I’m sure they were filled with questions.

But then came the Resurrection.  Oh what an answer!  Life is still full of questions.  I have lots of them.  Serious ones, not just the fun stuff printed here.  And while I may never get some of them answered fully in this life (or in the next, really) I do know that ultimately Jesus is the Answer!  As long as I have Him, everything else is secondary.

I may never be able to comprehend God’s eternal existence.  I may never understand the science of creation ex nihilo.  I may never figure out how Jesus could be fully God and fully human at the same time.  I may never I may never know why He chose to save a rebel like me.  But I know He was, is, and will be my Savior.  And that’s answer enough.  

Friday, April 18, 2014

P is for Pastor

I remember as a teenager, within a year or so of coming to know Christ, I felt a strong sense of calling to serve Him.  I didn’t know what that meant.  I didn’t know exactly how it would work out.  But I knew I was to give myself fully to Him.

I remember how I told the church I was part of.  I shared with them this sense of call, and I was given the opportunity to speak on Sunday night.  I told them, very emphatically, that I wasn’t sure what God wanted me to do but I knew it wasn’t to be a pastor.  I would be willing to do a lot of things, but I just knew I would never be a preacher.

And I was good to my word for the next several years.  In that time I would be a youth minister, I would be a Sunday school teacher, I would serve in a homeless ministry, I would work in Christian radio, I would lead worship, I would do lots of things.  But I wasn’t a pastor.

In fact, I went to seminary after college, still resolute in my “anti-calling.”  I graduated seminary and went to an Indian Reservation in North Dakota.  But I wasn’t a preacher, a pastor; I was a missionary.  After a couple of years there, and adding in some church planting work, I noticed something.  I was getting up every Sunday morning and delivering messages from God’s Word.  I was preaching.  Oh, my goodness, I was a pastor.

Now, years later, I often look back on that and wonder if God took me all the way to North Dakota just to convince me that His will was indeed for me to be a pastor, just so He could bring me back here to Missouri to do what He wanted me to do.  I don’t now for sure.

But I do know this.  My identity, as I see it, is this.  First, I am a child of God.  Then I am a husband.  Then I am a father.  And then I am a pastor.  And I couldn’t be happier. 

Even though this is the one thing I said I would never do.  Even though being a pastor is full of challenges and frustrations and irritations and struggles.  Even though the world looks down at this calling, and even many in the church have come to do the same. 

Still, I can’t think of anything I’d rather do that serve my church as its pastor and spend my time preaching the Word of God.  What an amazing privilege.  What an awe-inspiring responsibility.  What a gift.  Thank you, Lord, for letting me be a pastor. 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

O is for Omni

Omni is that little Latin word meaning "all".  In theology, God is often described in terms of the omni’s:  Omnipotent, Omniscient, Omnipresent.  He is All Powerful, All Knowing, All Present.  Omni also has the idea of “everywhere.”  Power everywhere, knowing everywhere, present everywhere.

We’re used to seeing those omni words associated with God.  But it’s always omni plus something.  I would suggest that God is simply Omni.  He is all.  He is everything.  1 Corinthians 15:58 speaks of God as all in all.  He is supreme.  He is sovereign.  He is everything.  And He should be everything to me; my all in all; my all sufficient treasure; my all fulfilling joy; my all.  He is Omni.

Jesus exhibits the original A-Z challenge.  He declares Himself to be the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the A to Z.  He is everything.  So this is an A-Z within an A-Z.  To remind myself how God is all, how Christ is beginning to end, here’s an A-Z describing God:

He is Awesome, Amazing
He is Beautiful, Best
He is Creator, Compassionate
He is Divine, Delightful
He is Estimable, Everlasting
He is Faithful, Forgiving, Fantastic
He is Glorious, Great, Gracious
He is Holy, Honorable
He is Immortal, Immovable
He is Just, Justifier
He is Kind, King
He is Love, Lovely
He is Majestic, Mediator
He is Near, Noble
He is Opulent, Overwhelming
He is Priceless, Preeminent, Perfect
He is Quality, Quintessential
He is Righteous, Radiant, Rock
He is Savior, Sovereign
He is True, Transcendent
He is Unending, Ubiquitous
He is Valiant, Virtuous
He is Wondrous, Wise
He is eXcellent, eXtraordinary (yeah, I had to cheat on those)
He is Yahweh
He is Zealous for His own glory!

What a joy to spend time meditating on all that God is for this post.  He is all.  He is omni.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

N is for NASCAR

Oh, come on.  Don't tell me you didn't see this one coming.  My NASCAR addiction/obsession has calmed down quite a bit in recent years, mostly due to cancelling our satellite and thus limiting my exposure.  But I still love stock car racing.

And to any doubters, don't knock it until you've tried it.  I grew up in St. Louis where everything was baseball, football, hockey.  Pretty much in that order.  And while we had our share of dirt tracks in the area, (including the world famous I-55 Pevely Raceway associated with equally famous co-owner/promoter and NASCAR driver Ken Schrader), racing was still not on my radar growing up. 

In fact, not for a long time.  I used to even make fun of the rednecks who were into that racin' stuff.  It wasn't until my oldest son was about 9 or so and started talking about race cars that I decided to sit down and watch a race with him.  And I was hooked.  I tried to say it was just because it was something I could sit and enjoy with my son.  But when my obsession far outweighed his interest, it was pretty obvious. 

A lot of folks don't "get" racing.  Former NFL quarterback Donavan McNabb made headlines not that long ago by suggesting that drivers are not really athletes.  6 time cup champ Jimmie Johnson gave a good response.  But the discussion continues.  Many still see NASCAR as a southern, redneck thing. 

That image was prevalent for years, and quite honestly true for years.  One driver started changing that.  Jeff Gordon came onto the scene and was not a good 'ol southern boy, but a chic young talent (at the time) who roared in and starting winning.  (And he currently leads the points standings, even without a win I might add). Slowly, NASCAR started becoming a bit more mainstream.  

And from a theological standpoint, some may not see many redeeming qualities.  I remember having a doctoral seminar with Dr. Don Whitney, now at Southern Seminary.  When he saw me wearing a NASCAR jersey he told me that NASCAR was the epitome of everything he was trying to get people away from.  As a professor of Spiritual Disciplines, focusing on meditation and such, he told me NASCAR represents the things that are killing us:  noise, crowds, hurry, going in circles.  He was just joking (sort of) but making a spiritual point as well.  We do need to get away from those four things.  Except for a couple hours once a week, that is.  Then, it's time for "Gentleman, start your engines!" 

Actually, I've found a lot of good theological/life lessons in racing.  From teamwork ideas, to the reality of grace.  One year, during an all star race, it started raining right after the start and a couple cars slid in the rain and wrecked.  My 24 team was one of them.  But since it was the rain's fault, and since it was an all-star thing, they let those teams make repairs and re-enter the race.  The 24 went on to win.  So, did he win because he was the best that night, or because NASCAR allowed him back into the thing to begin with?  Good picture of grace, I thought.  He only won because of bending the rules to let him in.  (Ironically, after writing this I found an article on the Lifeway pastor's blog that uses a NASCAR illustration to start it off.  Guess I'm not so far out there after all!)

But anyway, redneck or not, meditation promoting or not, I love racing.  I love the speed.  I love the bumping and spinning.  I love the steam coming out of the hoods, and sometimes out of the driver's helmets.  Maybe it's just my little compromise with my baser self (kind of like my wife's love of bull riding).  But I love racing.  In fact, my trip to the Bristol night race is still one of my life's highlights.  (Thanks again, Brother Ron!)  Great stuff. 

So give it a shot, if you haven't.  You might just like it. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

M is for Mocha

Ok, so maybe I'm cheating a bit.  I gave coffee and honorable mention on "C" day during the A-Z challenge.  But I wanted to say a little more about this magical elixir of life, so I'll do it under the heading of that blissful combination of coffee and chocolate: mocha. 

This isn't even the first time I've mentioned coffee in this space.  In fact you can read about it here, and here, and here, and here.  I even did a post tying in my favorite beverage with my favorite theologian; which is here.  So maybe I've said enough about it already.  Or maybe not. 

I started drinking coffee out of necessity.  I did the sign-on shift at our college radio station for awhile, and for a college kid to be up and on the air with any sense of coherence at all required large amounts of coffee.  In recent years, I've even become somewhat of a coffee snob.  Not like some of my friends.  I'm not like those who see coffee tasting like wine tasting and have hundreds of dollars wrapped up in various coffee making tools/machines at home. 

But I have discovered a few blends that I prefer over others (Danger Monkey and Mahogany being my favorites).  I've discovered that I like to buy the beans and grind them for each small pot I make in the morning.  I've thought about trying to roast my own, but haven't gotten brave enough yet.  So, while I still will drink just about anything served to me, and do it happily, I have come to prefer certain things.

And when it's not just a plain cup of joe, I have to admit a certain fondness for the subject of this post.  In fact, not just a mocha.  To be specific, I often crave a Dark Chocolate Raspberry Mocha from Caribou Coffee.  If I can't get that, I'll go for a Scary Berry Mocha from the Mudhouse in Springfield.  But Caribou is the best.  Caribou beats Starbucks and all the rest, hands down.  That doesn't mean I won't settle for Starbucks, or Mudhouse, or any number of other coffee joints which happen to be near.  

And speaking of near, here's my little gripe.  I don't have any decent coffee shops near me.  I have to drive into Springfield, a good 45 minutes away.  Can you feel my pain?  Anyway, maybe it's God's way of making sure I don't blow the family budget on mochas!

So, though it's technically about coffee in general and not specifically about mochas, here's a favorite little ditty about this rich, life giving brew. (Warning: you may have to have a few cups to really appreciate it!)

Monday, April 14, 2014

L is for Lewis

There is perhaps no single writer who has had more influence on both the Church and on the Culture than Clive Staples Lewis.  Perhaps best known for his Chronicles of Narnia series of books (which of course recently became a series of movies), he was the author of many, many other books.  He wrote poetry, he wrote theological treatises, he wrote books on education and literature and philosophy.  Lewis was truly a remarkable man. 

Born into a moderately religious family, "Jack" became an atheist in his teen years, only to rediscover his Christian heritage in later life.  He was very much an "intellectual" Christian, famously coming to Christ in part through philosophical and theological discussions with fellow Oxford professor J. R. R. Tolkien.  Of course, Lewis' friendship with Tolkien had other influences on both men.  It was from that friendship that the world was given both Narnia and Middle Earth.  Not a bad outcome to say the least. 

The first Lewis book I read I swore would be my last.  I read the Screwtape Letters and was so "freaked out" by Lewis' insight into the minds of demons and how they work (as well as what seemed to be insight into my own heart!) that I didn't think I'd ever really want to read him again.  But I later picked up Mere Christianity (originally a series of radio broadcasts) and Lewis quickly became a favorite. 

Later, a trip into Narnia cemented Lewis' place in my heart and mind.  Our family even took an 8 month trip through the Narnia books during our family worship time each night, along with a wonderful companion devotional.  Now, I have a family full of Lewis lovers, all knowing the truth that while Aslan is good, he's not safe; what a great portrait of our good and holy God. 

While not entirely orthodox in all his views, and while his solid Anglican leanings would put him at odds with what we would call Evangelicalism on many matters, Lewis is still a huge influence in the Church.  John Piper has said that Lewis' enduring influence is due to his "unwavering commitment to what is True and Real and Valuable, as opposed to what is trendy or fashionable or current."  A pretty good assessment.  

For a little more on Lewis, check out these two lists from the Gospel Coalition blog.  One on 9 Things You Should Know About C. S. Lewis.  The other on 9 Things You Should Know About the Chronicles of Narnia.

I'd love to share a few favorite Lewis quotes, but as I said about Packer's book in my last post, I don't think I could narrow it down.  One of my favorite books is a 600 plus tome called The Quotable Lewis.  When just your quotes and excerpts fill an encyclopedic volume like that, it's obvious you had a lot of good things to say.

So let me just end with this quote, written in a book on 16th Century English Literature.  Lewis writes "Even posthumous fame depends largely on accident."  That may be true in many cases.  But in the case of C. S. Lewis, it's no accident at all. 

Saturday, April 12, 2014

K is for "Knowing God"

As we saw on Day 2 of this A-Z Challenge, I am a lover of books.  All kinds of books.  And over the years I've read lots and lots of 'em; some good, some bad, some in between.  But every once in awhile there is a book that stays with you.  J. I. Packer's Knowing God is one of those books. 

Written in 1973, this book has remained a constant best seller ever since.  It's sold millions of copies, been translated into dozens of languages, used over and over in churches and Bible studies all over the world.  And with good reason.  This is a life changing kind of book.

Now, I know other people say that about this or that latest best seller.  Often, those so-called "life changers" are just fads and flash-in-the-pan kinds of things.  They soon fade away, mostly because they were built on weak and worthless foundations, bad theology, etc.  Knowing God is different.  It is built on sound, biblical teaching, and far from being fad-ish, addresses the most basic concepts of all: God.

Obviously, Scripture itself is the sole source of information about God.  Packer doesn't claim, like so many modern books, that he has some sort of new revelation, been to heaven and back, etc.  He simply arranges the teaching of Scripture about who God is and who we are and how we can know Him into a nice little package that opens our eyes to the splendor and majesty of God, and the joy of knowing Him. 

Just read the back cover to see the kind of influence this book has had: D. James Kennedy, R. C. Sproul, Michael Card, and even Billy Graham all speak of the powerful influence of Packer's work.  But don't take their word for it, or even mine.  You should read it for yourself. 

Over the years I've taught literally dozens of classes based on this book.  I've had more than one copy, and the current copy I had made into a spiral bound edition for easier access and teaching.  It's full of notes and highlights and additional pages of notes used for teaching classes, etc.  

Packer focuses on the glory and majesty and sovereignty and beauty of our God.  He doesn't shy away from His wrath and Justice and Jealous nature; but puts those together in the light of His Wisdom and Truth and Love and Grace.  He highlights the nature of salvation and adoption in ways that makes you fall in love with God all over again.  After reading the first time, I came to see God as so much bigger and grander and more beautiful and more terrifying and more wonderful than ever before.

I thought I would include a few quotes from the book for this post.  But as I went through and looked at all those highlighted and noted pages, I couldn't find just one or two that I thought captured the whole thing.  More accurately, I couldn't narrow it down to just one or two.  I don't think there is a single page in my current copy that doesn't have underlines and notes.  Folks, it's just that good of a book. 

So if you've never read Packer's Knowing God, go out and get it today.  Being a continuing best seller I can guarantee you won't have trouble finding it: at the bookstore, online, Kindle format, etc.  Again, nothing stands even close to God's Word and the words of men should never be held in the same esteem.  But when it comes to the words of men, I don't think they get any better than this book. 

Friday, April 11, 2014

J is for Jazz

I love all sorts of music.  I just mentioned my fondness for old hymns a couple days ago, and I'll focus on my passion for Christian Rock in a future A-Z post.  In the middle of all that eclectic musical taste is a little thing we call Jazz. 

I mentioned starting out as a music major in college.  Thank my high school jazz band for that.  While I loved the other bands in school, jazz band was my absolute favorite. 
Yep, that's me in front with the funky hair and tinted glasses blowin' on my sax.  My senior year I even won the Louis Armstrong Jazz Award.  Here's another pic of me doin' a little soloin' (sorry for all the apostrophe ending words.  When talkin' about jazz, you gotta be loose, man.)
Anyway, my career as a musician never got off the ground.  Primarily because after one semester in college my voice teacher and my piano teacher strongly suggested I consider a different major.  But despite the personal setbacks, my love for jazz has never waned, along with cousins like blues, big band, etc.

Here's a couple of my favorites, from various sources and genres.  Have fun.

First, my favorite tenor player: 

Next, a classic from one of my favorite musicians, period:

Then there is perhaps the greatest guitar player who ever lived:

And finally, a Christian big band with an awesome sax duel: 

That's just a smattering.  As you can see, I just love music in general.  And there's more to come...

Thursday, April 10, 2014

I is for Inconceivable!

You know the line from Princess Bride.  The evil mastermind Vizzini continues to utter that word when confronted with various aspects of the pursuit by the Man in Black (not Johnny Cash, FYI).  After the half dozenth time he calls something clearly happening "inconceivable," his partner in crime, the Spanish fencing Master Inigo Montoya famously says, "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."  And such is birthed the source of endless internet memes. 

But for this post, I thought I'd have a little fun just mentioning a few things I would call "inconceivable."  From the fun to the frightening, these are a few things I find hard to believe; and in some cases, head shaking amazement.  Things like:

Grace!  The subject of two days ago, I still find it unbelievable that God would grant me such a gift.

Cheryl staying with me 25 years! Also the subject of a previous post, I am still amazed at the enormous gift God gave me in that woman.  To think she could bear with me all these years.... 

My daughter graduation Magna Cum Laude from college. Not that inconceivable, really, since she's a smart kid.  But she is my daughter, and that does make this less likely!  Actually, I just wanted an excuse to brag.And while we're on the subject of college....

Colleges offering Zombie Apocalypse Survival CoursesRead it for yourself

The Reformation reduced to text messages.  Thanks to Stephen Altrogge for pointing this one out. 

Church Staff Cage Fights.  I've seen some cantankerous folks in church, but none I'd really want to put a beat-down on in a cage fight.  And these people take this seriously. It's not a joke.  Really. Read it yourself.

Variety of Accents in the British Isles.  I always think of British as British.  Irish and Scottish added in, that's three accents.  Wrong.

And seriously, this one is just inconceivable in so many ways, and yet it's actually happening.  I'll let this one speak for itself: 

What is this world coming to?  Well, as the aforementioned Mr. Altrogge points out, it's coming to exactly what Jesus said it would.  This isn't inconceivable at all, but merely the truth of what is. 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

H is for Hymnals

I'm not even sure how it all started, this passion for antique hymnals.  I can't look back and remember my first purchase.  Seems like I've had them as long as I can remember.  The "background" of my blog demonstrates how much I love them, since it's a picture of part of my collection.  Here's another.
I started out as a music major in college.  Music has always been a passion, and once I came to know the grace of God in Christ, church music in particular has been an interest.  Over the years I've compiled over 250 old hymnals, dating as far back as 1831.

Some of my favorites include that 1831 edition, Village Hymns For Social Worship by Asahel Nettleton,  which has a rich history.  I'm also fond of my 1847 edition of The Psalmist, which was compiled by a group of Baptist leaders including several of the founders of our Southern Baptist Convention.  The fun part is that there is a page in the front with the signatures of those men, several of whom I consider "heroes" of the faith. 

I'm also quite fond of an 1875 publication called Brightest and Best for the Sunday School.  Compiled by hymnary legends Robert Lowry and W. Howard Doane, this happens to be the first publication to contain Fanny Crosby's "To God Be the Glory", one of my favorite all time hymns.  

I could literally spend hours talking/typing about these things; about the rich history of songs within the church; about the wide variety of those songs; about the "battles" that have been fought (just like today) over old vs. new; about the lessons these old books have taught me about the expansive and expressive nature of worship.  I think everyone would benefit from getting a little perspective on these things.  

Most of us are pretty narrow minded when it comes to church music, thinking only in terms of what I like, what I heard growing up, etc.  It's good to remember that there have been more songs written for worship in the church than any one person could ever even know, from every generation, from every language, from ever part of the world.  We ought to look at the bigger picture. 

And that's what these books help me do; look at the big picture. These books are more than just a hobby.  They remind me of the amazing heritage of the church, and every time I look at them, every time I pick up one of these books, it connects me to just one small piece of that heritage.  What a gift.