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

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Z is for Zero

Zero. As in...

...the number of the number of original ideas I've had.

...the number of turkey I've shot this season.

...the number of books I've published.

...the number of  days I can survive without coffee.

...the number of Stanley Cups in St. Louis (ouch, this one is still fresh).

...the number of times I've been skydiving (and this will never change!).

...the number of times I've been asked to speak at a major convention (and this will also never change).

...the number of CDs I own by Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga, and Taylor Swift combined (and I know this will never, ever change!!!)

On a more serious note.  Zero is...

...the number of things I've done to deserve the wife I have.

...the number of Fathering Awards I'll win, but I hope my kids will keep loving me anyway.

...the number of worthwhile things I have to offer God. Nothing.  Zilch.  Nada.  Praise God for Grace!

And most of all, zero is for...

...the number of days left in this A-Z challenge. 

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Y is for Yield

This is a hard one for me.  Because I have a hard time yielding.  In anything!  Put me in my car and I suddenly lose all patience.  I know the rules of the road and I know what those other…people…are supposed to be doing, so do it right.  I’m not giving in.  (Yeah, I’m a jerk)

In life as well, I have a hard time giving in.  I have an over developed sense of right and wrong sometimes.  Not that I’m perfect, that I never do anything wrong, etc.  I know I mess up all the time.  Still doesn’t seem to change the fact that things are very black and white to me, and when other folks are in the wrong, I don’t want to back off much. 

Actually, I do back off.  While I hate to yield, I hate confrontation as well, so I let ‘em go more often than not.  Others sometimes see this as humility on my part (I’ve been told), but the truth is inside I’m steaming.  Because I hate to yield.   And yet isn’t this the very thing God requires of us?

The Christian life is all about yielding.  We yield to His will and His glory in all things.  All our own wants and desires are set aside, and we seek our King in everything.

We are to yield to one another, not thinking too highly of self, not putting our own “rights” out front; but rather seeking the good of others, putting their needs first.

The greatest must become a servant.  Leading comes from yielding.

Pray for me, that I would learn the meaning of this word and make it a reality in my life. 

Monday, April 28, 2014

X is for χρόνος

I know this is cheating.  It’s a Greek word, and the Greek X actually makes a “Ch/K” sound.  But have you seen the words in English that start with X?  Seriously.  There are more of them than I realized, but the vast majority are technical and scientific terms that when I looked up the definitions, I then had to look up the definitions of the words in the definitions to try and understand what they were talking about!

Anyway: χρόνος is the Greek word for “time.” It's pronounced "Chronos" which is were we get "chronology" and so on.  And I chose to post about time because it's about time I posted about time.  Seriously, time is a fascinating thing. And a powerful one.

In the well known encounter between Bilbo Baggins and the mysterious Gollum in Tolkien's "The Hobbit", the two get into a game of riddles.  And one point Gollum asks a really tough one and and he gets excited thinking he may have won the game (and then he gets to eat Bilbo, but anway...) The riddle goes like this:
‘This thing all things devours:
Birds, beasts, trees, flowers;
Gnaws iron, bites steel;
Grinds hard stones to meal;
Slays kings, ruins towns,
And beats high mountain down.’
Bilbo is trying desperately to think of the answer, going through all the big, bad giants and monsters he can think of, but he can't guess it.  As Gollum presses him for an answer, Bilbo cries out "I need more time" realizing then that "time" is indeed the answer. A powerful thing.  And yet a simple one.

And a fascinating one. Every second is the same as the last, every minute the same, every day comes and goes with the same length of time.  And yet we perceive those things very differntly.  Sometimes time seems to "drag" (like when reading this blog) while other times it seems to "fly."  But it really does neither. It just is.  Steady progression.  One minute into the next. In the words of  the Steve Miller Band: "Time keeps on slippin', slippin', slippin' Into the future." 

Of course, that's unless you have the privilege of doing a little time travel. That has been the issue of countless speculations and novels and essays and TV shows and movies.  The ability to leave this progression of time and enter the timeline at some other designated point. And whether such a trip would have any affect on said time lines.  It all gets a little fuzzy, even for the experts.
One of the better known quotes from Doctor Who is during a fan favorite episode called "Blink" when the 10th Doctor is trying to explain time travel to a novice. He says:  "People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but actually from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint - it's more like a big ball of wibbly wobbly... timey wimey... stuff."  That's right, a Time Lord, the chief expert on time in the universe, can only come up with wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff. 

Anyway, the one true expert on time is the One who invented it.  God is the One who put it into motion, who rules supremely over every moment of it, and is working faithfully to bring it all to the exact point He determined from the beginning to bring it. 

God has set a day for the return of Christ, the day when all things will be made new, the day when His Kingdom will be established and His rightful reign recognized and resumed.  And it will happen in the perfect time.  And then the people of God, those for whom Christ came and died, will take up residence with Him for all eternity.  A place where "χρόνος" as we know it will cease to exist.  Eternity: now there's a concept that will blow your mind. 

Saturday, April 26, 2014

W is for Weldon

Family.  What a blessing.  I'm grateful not only for my wife and children, my "immediate" family, but also for my folks, my brother, my grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, etc.  Family is a reminder of "connectedness."  None of us are in this alone.

It's been nice for my folks because in the last few years they discovered that we were the descendents of a "lost" line of Weldons.  The Weldon family in South Carolina has been meeting for a family reunion for years.  But for the longest time, they were unable to find one branch of the family tree that headed west.  But now, they found us.  Yeah.

Mom has been doing a lot of research about family in the last couple years.  Two of the more interesting things have to do with one relative on her side, James McGuire, who I've mentioned before.  And since he's not really a Weldon at all, I'll just mention that you can go here to read about him.  The other intriguing thing has to do with a Weldon ancestor. 

Gabriel Wheldon (the "h" was later dropped) was a great, great, great, (something or other) great grandfather.  He came from England to America early in the 17th century, but that's about the only detail that can be pinned down.  Not because we don't have information.  But because we have conflicting information. 

In one story, Gabriel was an early settler in the Plymouth colony.  They say he was a "dissenter" or "non-conformist" escaping England for religious freedom.  Records indicate he left a great deal of his limited wealth to the church in his will.  All in all, a great sounding guy. 

The other story has Gabriel coming to Massachusetts a bit later.  And far from being the religious pilgrim, this story says that Gabe and his brother jumped ship to escape punishment for some crime.  They ended up living with the natives of the area, and Gabriel supposedly even married a niece of Chief Massasoit.  There are lots of interesting tales about this "Indian Princess" side of the story. 

The problem is that our family tree goes back to a certain point and then dead ends with Gabriel.  And we can't figure which.  The records seem to point to both.  So whether this is two versions of one man's life, or we are getting two different men confused, we can't say for sure.  Interesting, none-the-less.  (If you're really interested here is a lengthy article about Gabriel, with both sides of the story, though claiming the second is pure fantasy)

Other than that, we've discovered a family crest that would have belonged to Gabriel's ancestors, which is pretty fun as well.  We've talked about family crests and things at our house, but decided that we should make up our own with the family motto: "God is Good to the Stupid" (long story in there.  Not enough time or space for now).

Anyway, family is truly a blessing.  None of us are perfect, but we're still family.  And it reminds me that while family in general is a reminder of our "connectedness," there is a greater connection and a greater family still: the family of God.  Those who God saves by His grace are also adopted as sons and daughters.  He brings us into His family and loves us as if we were His Only Son.  

So while family is important, and I love the Weldon clan; while family history is fascinating, and I think we should all do a little research to see where we come from; in the end, belonging to the family of God is the real blessing.  Having brothers and sisters in Christ all over the world; being associated with millions who have gone before; tracing our lineage back through time to the apostles and prophets; that's even more important and fascinating.  So to all the Weldons out there, and all the rest of you, here's to family. 

Friday, April 25, 2014

V is for Vacation

Ah, vacation.  What a word.  What a concept. Thinking of things God never needs and man always needs, we often think of grace, help, air, etc. But that list should also include vacations.  God certainly never needs one.  We're told He will "neither slumber nor sleep."  God never needs to "recharge his batteries."  Oh, but we do.  We need a good night's sleep, and from time to time, we all need a vacation. 

I'm not talking about the big cruise, or European excursion, or whatever.  Personally I don't ever see being able to pay for something like that, and if I did go I'd be so stressed out about how much it cost, I'd never get any relaxing done.  

No, I'm talking about a simple "getting away from it all."  Take some time off.  Let life slow down.  God knew we needed that time off, so He built in one day in seven as an "off" day.  But even then, we need more time away than just that once in awhile.

Charles Spurgeon (you remember him from "S" day, right?) once wrote that "It is a bad policy to forego the regular vacation. There is no more saving in it than there would be in the fisherman’s continuing to fish with a rent net, because he could not afford time to sit down and mend it."  He was speaking specifically to pastors, going so far as to say that "Congregations are most unwise who would grudge their pastor the time and the means to enjoy a thorough change, and a season of complete relaxation."  (Not that I include that in hopes that someone from my church might read this;  really; I'm serious).  But what's true of pastor's is true of all of us.  We need to take a break now and then.

I know that falls on deaf ears for a lot of folks.  We think that taking time off is a sin.  But research has shown time and again that regular vacations are good for our health, help with stress levels, actually can improve our productivity on the job, and do wonders for our family life.  So take some time off. 

And along those lines, even when we can't "get away from it all", we ought to take time on a regular basis to away from most of it and spend some quality time with God.  This isn't the two week out of town vacation, this is just a few hours on a regular basis to get alone and "draw near to God."  Spurgeon calls it a "devotional vacation."

In a sermon about drawing near to God, he said: "Fellowship with God is good for you, O seek it now; draw near to God at once! I would suggest to each believer the propriety of trying to get between now and the next Sabbath, a special season alone. Strain after a devotional vacation. Surely if you can spare time for holidays and recreations, you can clear a space for special drawing near to God."

If we can spare time for one, and we should, we can clear space for the other.  So strain after vacations.  And especially strain after a devotional vacation. 

Thursday, April 24, 2014

U is for Under-appreciated

While I do have a vast number of talents to offer the world which are under-appreciated, that's not what I'm talking about here.  I'm not even talking about me at all.  When it comes to being under-appreciated, I don't think anyone gets higher on the list than Pastor's Wives.

Now, I know I've already posted about my own dear wife.  And while it would take far more than even this additional post to share all the wonderful things that she brings to the table, this isn't just about her.  Although, being married to a pastor's wife has given me close quarters to do some observation on the subject.  And my conclusion is: Pastor's Wives are highly under-appreciated. 

Much, if not most, of what they do is unseen and unrecognized.  Sure, some pastor's wives hold publicly visible positions in the church.  And people do often give her kudos for doing those things.  VBS Director, Sunday School Teacher, ministry leader, etc.  In many churches, she's expected to be the piano player, too (I have to admit that my wife failed at this requirement; but I love her anyway). But those kinds of jobs are done by lots of folks who are not pastor's wives as well.  And quite frankly, many of those folks need to be appreciate more, too. 

On top of that, and this I can only address from my own experience, my wife is my biggest supporter and encourager in my life. As I said in the post about her earlier, "she lifts me up when life beats me down, even when life might have been right in doing so."  She listens to all my heartaches and struggles in ministry, and while some of those things might be weighing her own heart down, she still tries to encourage me.  Any good that has come from my ministry comes as a result of God's grace and my wife's ministry to me. 

And then consider the life of a pastor's wife.  Most people go to church and listen to the pastor teach and it's probably something new and different for the most part.  The pastor's wife has to listen to her husband, the guy she lives with all week, often the same things she's heard before, maybe even heard that week as the pastor "bounces ideas off her head."  (I put that in quotes so hopefully people will realize that I don't actually bounce real things off my poor wife's noggin).  

Most people can leave the sermon behind after Sunday if they so choose.  The pastor's wife has to go home with the preacher and offer that encouragement and support, even when the sermon was a clunker.  

Most people go to their pastor with their problems, needs, questions, etc.?  Where does the pastor's wife go?  Sure, she can and should go to her husband.  But what if he is the problem?!  Just kidding.  I hope.  Anyway, I know there are times when she would like to talk with someone about things, get a fresh perspective, etc.  But it's tough on a pastor's wife. 

Then think about the grief she endures by having to hear people criticize and complain about her husband.  You and I know that when it comes to stuff like that, talk about me all you want, but leave my family alone.  Imagine how the pastor's wife feels, then.  People running down her husband's preaching, or complaining about this or that thing he didn't do, when she knows that she and her family have already done without so much of her husband's time because of other ministry thing he is doing. It always seems to be open season on Pastors without ever considering the impact that has on their wives.

And on top of that, many ministry families struggle financially.  Years of labor in small churches, or in mission settings where income is bare minimum, or even in churches who quite frankly don't care for their pastor's as they should.  The pastor's wife is tasked with raising a family in that setting, expected to make them all "look nice" and so on. 

I know that every situation is different.  Expectations from church to church are different.  Pastor's and their wives' giftedness are different.  I probably left out a lot of other things. And in some churches, there are those who do go out of their way to offer encouragement to the pastor's wife.  But still, by and large, the pastor's wife is one of the most under-appreciated people on the planet.

So, let me just encourage you to stop and thank God for your pastor's wife.  And then, you may want to actually go and thank her as well. Take her to lunch.  Buy her a gift card to her favorite store (no, my wife has no idea I'm writing this! She'd kill me, which is another thing about pastor's wives: they rarely if ever ask for anything. But give it to her anyway).  Let her know her ministry to the church and especially to her husband are greatly appreciated.  Above all, pray for her.

And if you are a pastor's wife, let me just be the first to say: Thank You.  You are truly a gift from God to His church and to His servants.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

T is for Tolkien

As I work my way through this A-Z challenge, if "L" was for Lewis, the "T" has to be for Tolkien.  Those two just go together.  Not just in the minds of fans, but in life as well.  As you know, it was J.R.R.Tolkien in part whom God used to bring C. S. Lewis to faith in Christ.

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, was an amazing man.  He was a writer and poet, a university professor, and a lover of languages.  Most people know Tolkien through his works like The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  Thanks to modern movie making, even the less than literate have a working knowledge of the worlds Tolkien created. 

What many overlook is that these stories were created in large part to house the languages Tolkien was inventing.  He created an entire world, with its own mythology and history, very detailed genealogies, etc.  The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings were just glimpses into the history of Middle Earth.  They aren't just fantasy stories, but epic histories of numerous races.  When Tolkien quotes some Elf or Dwarf, those words on the page are not just random words.  They are complete thoughts based on proper grammars of those races, with histories behind the words and phrases used.  It's heady stuff!

Furthermore, Tolkien himself put much more thought into the very idea of what "fantasy" is and why he was invovled in the writing of it.  In a well known quote, Tolkien said, “Fantasy is escapist, and that is its glory. If a soldier is imprisioned by the enemy, don't we consider it his duty to escape?. . .If we value the freedom of mind and soul, if we're partisans of liberty, then it's our plain duty to escape, and to take as many people with us as we can!”

But what I enjoy most about these stories is that while Lewis' Narnia can be seen as a more obvious "allegory" in some ways (even though Lewis hated that term for his stories), Tolkien's work is more drenched in the depths of good and evil in the human heart.  Sure we can see Frodo carrying the ring to save the world as a Christ-like figure; but it's not nearly a one-to-one correlation as Lewis' Aslan.  (in fact, some would suggest the Samwise is the true burden bearer). Yet it's still there.  It requires more thought, more introspection.  But it's there.  I like that.

I said that our whole family read through Narnia together.  I've also required Tolkien.  I recently started reading through The Hobbit with our youngest.  There are so many rich lessons about life, love, God, salvation, etc. in these stories.  I think everyone ought to have to read them; before you see the movies!  But that's another story altogether. 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

S is for Spurgeon

There may be some who find my following a post on rock music with a post on Spurgeon both strange and offensive.  What can I say?  I'm a man of eclectic tastes.  But apart from Jesus and Paul, my life and ministry have not been more influenced by any one person that Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  (It should be obvious by the fact that my blog ID picture is a caricature of me in a famous Spurgeon pose)

I know I'm not alone in this.  Hundreds, even thousands, have been affected by the life and ministry of the Prince of Preachers.  God used him in such amazing ways.  While there have been many useful vessels down through the years, perhaps none have had more wide ranging influence that Spurgeon. 

Born on June 19, 1834 in Essex, England, Charles Spurgeon never had a formal theological education.  And yet, by the age of 21 he was the most popular and influential preacher in London.  Thousands would come to hear him proclaim the Gospel.  But unlike many of today's "popular" preachers, for Spurgeon it was never about fame and acclaim.  It was always about Christ.  Always about faithfulness to the Scripture.  So much so that he was eventually at odds with many of his contemporaries because of their accommodation to contemporary culture rather than faithfulness to Christ.  The Downgrade Controversy near the end of his ministry, in the minds of many, was a direct cause of his later health issues and even his death. 

All throughout his ministry, Spurgeon was keen on proclaiming the Truth, the whole Truth, and nothing but the Truth.  If folks didn't like it, then so be it.  And the soundness of the Truth Spurgeon proclaimed is evidenced by how widely he is read and respected even today.  Not many in the church have never heard the name.  (In my church, if they haven't heard they haven't listened considering how often I quote him!).  Full copies of his sermons were published during his ministry, and the collected volumes of those sermons are still widely popular today.  In addition, Spurgeon was a prolific writer, and most of his works are, again, still available and still popular. 

Interestingly, Spurgeon was a "Calvinist."  With all that's going on these days about the "New Calvinism" and other issues related to Reformed Theology, so many folks think it's something new.  Not only is Reformed thought merely a systematic statement of biblical truth, rediscovered during the Protestant Reformation, it was at the heart of Spurgeon's life and ministry.  He called himself a Calvinistic Baptist, while at the same time emphasizing that our identity is not in labels, but in Christ.  But to Spurgeon, to preach Christ was to preach what men call "Calvinism."

Lest you doubt me, Spurgeon wrote "A Defense of Calvinism" in which he states plainly: "I have my own Private opinion that there is no such thing as preaching Christ and Him crucified, unless we preach what nowadays is called Calvinism. It is a nickname to call it Calvinism; Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else."  Doesn't get more plain than that.

But of course, Spurgeon wasn't just about theological debates. In fact, one of the "knocks" against him during his lifetime was how "common" he made everything. Though in many respects a theological giant, he wasn't about academics per se. He was about proclaiming the Gospel.  He loved to preach the Word of God and literally gave his life to that endeavor.  His passion for the Word of God is legendary, and any and all preachers would do well to read and emulate Spurgeon in this.

I could go on and on about how God has used this man and his writings and sermons in my life.  I have to be careful, quite honestly, not to put 'ol Charles to high on a pedestal.  Which is why it was nice that one time I was reading a sermon of his and I actually found something I disagreed with Spurgeon about.  I thought, "wow, he can be wrong after all."  (It's a joke, people).  

But if you want to read more, go on over to the Spurgeon Archive and browse around. Read the nice biography posted there. Read some sermons.    Or go pick up a copy of Iain Murray's wonderful book: The Forgotten Spurgeon.  But if you haven't read anything by or about the man, then it really is your loss.  Thank God for faithful servants like C. H. Spurgeon.   

Monday, April 21, 2014

R is for Rock n Roll

I know that may seem odd on a "preacher's blog."  Sorry.  Can't help it.  Not being raised in a Christian home, I grew up listening to Styx and Kansas and Journey and AC/DC and dare I say it, KISS.  When I came to know Christ, I thought I would have to give up any form of rock music.  I was given those classic old books on how Rock n Roll is of the devil, etc.

Then I heard Petra.  And everything changed.  I heard a group of guys who loved Christ and desperately wanted to tell others about Him.  I read an interview with founding member/song writer/lead guitarist Bob Hartman where he made the analogy of going to a foreign mission field and learning the local language to share the Gospel.  He said that the mission field they were called to was American youth, and their language was Rock n Roll.  I know, have a field day with it, but there it is.

I then discovered Whiteheart and Degarmo & Key and Resurrection Band and a host of others.  People who played the music I liked, and packed it full of praise and Gospel truth and a Biblical worldview.  Not that all Christian Rock groups were perfectly sound in their theology.  Not that any of them were (or are) perfect.  But they loved Christ and wanted others to know Him.

In college I started working at our college radio station. By the way, radio was my second choice for "R".  If I wasn't a pastor, this would have been my second career choice. I spent several years as an announcer (DJ) at four radio stations in three states for supplemental income while in school and on the mission field. Most of those were Christian music stations.  Which brings me back to the original subject. 

While in college I discovered Steve Taylor and Daniel Amos and some other ground breaking artists.  I even rediscovered my love for the louder side of things with folks like Stryper and Barren Cross and White Cross and others. (I thought about finding links for all these groups mentioned here, but I really do have a day job, and anyone who really cares can google it for themselves).

Over the years I've fought the battle with those who still say Rock Music is of the devil.   I still love the "response" songs that cropped up like Larry Norman's "Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music?"  and the Russ Ballard song made popular by Petra, "God Gave Rock n Roll to You." (a version of that song was actually popularized by the aforementioned KISS; go figure).  I got tired of that fight and just ignore those folks now. You listen to what you like, I'll listen to what I like.(I won't even go into Christian Rap, which would have been another good "R" word.  I love Flame and Lecrae and Shai Linne and others.  Go ahead...hate me).

Today I love a wide range of things from Newsboys (older better than newer) and Audio Adrenaline and Nine Lashes, to the rougher Skillet and Thousand Foot Krutch and We as Human.  I'm leaving out so many good groups.  Even some of the "old" guys are still around/coming back.  Stryper and Daniel Amos have both released albums in the last year or so that are among my favorite all time.

My kids are Christian music freaks as well.  We love going to concerts together.  We don't all like the same bands, but there are some bands we all like.  Not all are as "Christian" as others.  My take is, it doesn't always have to be cheerleader stuff or pure evangelistic zeal.  It's ok for Christians to enjoy entertaining music, and I prefer for my entertainment to at least be Christian-friendly and from a Biblical worldview.  This isn't the most thoughtful treatise on the subject, but hey, I'm just bloggin'.

I know not everyone agrees on this subject.  Mostly because it is indeed subjective.  It's more about what you like, what you grew up with, etc. Music is an emotional issue, because it affects our emotions so much.  I've cried during a good symphony and even at a good Christian Rock show.  Music has that effect.  But different music affects different people differently.  Me?  I love a variety.  I've already posted in this series about Jazz and about my love of antique hymnals.  But in the end, I really like me some Rock n Roll.   So, if you can take it, enjoy a little 80s rendition of the Larry Norman classic from Geoff Moore and the Distance.

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 graduating 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.