Thursday, November 22, 2007

What I'm Thankful For

We're spending Thanksgiving with Audrea's parents, Tom and Bev, in Nekoosa, Wisconsin, and having such a wonderful time! At our dinner this afternoon, we went around the table telling each other what we were thankful for. I started off by telling everyone that though I really want our house to sell, I'm actually thankful that it hasn't sold yet for many reasons. God has brought so many blessings our way since February. Blessings that are often disguised as difficult trials that shape and mold us, but blessings of grace indeed.

Then later we got around to Savannah. After she told us what she was thankful for, I was fighting the tears back and realized that I was also so very thankful for a wonderful daughter like her. Instead of me telling you what she said, I'm going to let her post it here herself:

I am thankful for that my parents have not divorced, and both of them have Jesus Christ as their Savior, and that I have two little sisters that have a great imagination and that I have a baby brother,and that my daddy loves me, Sabrina and Elayna,and of course baby William,And since he loves me he helps me to become a better Christian.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Everybody Hurts

Recently, listening to REM's new live CD brought back a lot of great memories with my dear friend Kenn Rudolph! Staying up all night, going to Taco Bell, singing "Shiny Happy People" along with Michael Stipe--life was so care free back then.

One of my favorite ballads of theirs is "Everybody Hurts" (from Automatic for the People--listen to it here) and is sung live on the CD. The band's frontman, Michael Stipe, often has deep insight into the human condition. On this particular song, the message of human hopelessness comes out loud and strong to me, though I really don't think that was his intention. He, along with the rest of the world, find their hopes in and draw their strength from things that may bring temporary relief, but typically are shortlived:

When the day is long and the night, the night is yours alone,
When you're sure you've had enough of this life, well hang on
Don't let yourself go,
'cause everybody cries and everybody hurts sometimes

Sometimes everything is wrong. Now it's time to sing along
When your day is night alone, (hold on, hold on)
If you feel like letting go, (hold on)
When you think you've had too much of this life, well hang on

'Cause everybody hurts. Take comfort in your friends
Everybody hurts. Don't throw your hand.
Oh, no. Don't throw your hand
If you feel like you're alone, no, no, no, you are not alone

If you're on your own in this life, the days and nights are long,
When you think you've had too much of this life to hang on

Well, everybody hurts sometimes,
Everybody cries. And everybody hurts sometimes
And everybody hurts sometimes. So, hold on, hold on
Hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on, hold on
Everybody hurts. You are not alone.

If misery breeds company, and I think it does, then what hope does Michael Stipe, and the rest of the world with him, when they say that when you feel like giving up hold on because your friends are there for you? This is the best the world has to offer (much better than turning to substances, activities, etc.)--to cling to your friends when life is hard. Yet this is only the best they can offer. Taking comfort in the fact alone that everybody hurts, is no hope at all. It is true that everybody hurts and knowing that your circumstance is not uncommon to man (1 Cor. 10:13) is a deep help yet the basis for encouragement in 1 Cor. 10:13 is not found in the fact that others have gone through it. The deep encouragement is from the faith given to them by God Himself through His grace which enabled them to persevere through the difficult depression. The faith is sourced in God Himself as the Ultimate Treasure. He is the Supreme Being who is the only person who is worth putting hope and trust in.

But what is the place of people in our lives, particularly, believers? I think the common thought in the evangelical church today (regardless of your particular denominational flavor, strictness or liberality) is that "fellowship" itself is simply doing things with each other, particularly, hanging out and/or eating. That is the very shallow view of fellowship. In that sense, those outside the Faith, experience the same thing. I think this is a great example of why in the church we must define "fellowship" much more clearly. In "Everybody Hurts" we see a glimpse of one aspect of fellowship (but obviously lacking the Foundation)--the fellowship of suffering, the common condition. However, in the Church fellowship is a multifaceted diamond with the core being the Cross.

While I would love to take the time, to delve into defining fellowship's many facets (and I probably will over time on this blog), a good place to start is what John Loftness has to say about it in the book, Why Small Groups. Take some time to read chapter 2 for free to get a better grasp of what I'm talking about.

Good Children's Bible Story Books

Dr. Al Mohler's blog today talks about two excellent children's books. The second one, The Big Picture Story Bible, I went through with the girls earlier this year after my best friend, Dr. Jeff Rich, recommended it to me. I am currently reading through the first one, The Jesus Storybook Bible, with the kids. Both are excellent and I highly recommend them. Of course, Mohler's recommendation holds a lot more weight!! But for a more personal reflection on the book, my friend Gretchen posted this summer and actually received feedback from the author, Sally Lloyd Jones.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Brandon's Memory

Dave Elias is a friend of mine from work who I've gotten to know over the last couple of years. The last year and a half has been an incredible journey of difficulty for them. Dave and his wife Kari had a little boy over a year ago born to them with a genetic issue called Zellweger's Syndrome. You can read his whole story on their website for him.

Last night on our local Fox station, they aired a story on Dave & Kari and another couple with a similar story. They are raising money presently to help dedicate a room at Faith's Lodge in memory of Brandon. The lodge is a place for families facing the serious illness or death of a child to retreat to for strength and encouragement.

This Saturday, we'll be taking the whole family to the fundraiser and showing our support for Dave & Kari. Take some time to view the Fox story, read about Brandon, and then consider helping them financially towards this memory of Brandon which would bless many other families in the future.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Worship Playlist Added

I've added a new sidebar item today--Sunday's Worship Songs. Clicking on this link will allow you to listen to the songs we will be singing in the coming Sunday at our church for our Gathered Worship time. The worship leader at our church, David Ward, does a fantastic job of bringing our hearts before the throne of God every Sunday. I know I have been blessed tremendously by getting a fresh glimpse of God's splendor Sunday after Sunday and getting the privilege of praising and worshipping alongside our brothers and sisters.

David runs a website you should check out sometime that is aimed at blending the rich history of Reformed hymnody with modern music:

The playlist on the sidebar uses Rhapsody. If you don't have a Rhapsody subscription, you can get one for free and it will give you 25 songs free per month.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Have Been Perfected, Are Being Perfected.

A friend posted the other day the following excellent question:

How do you handle it when you find yourself sinning in this area? I can relate very well to your words here and I tend to get very discouraged and guilt ridden with the anger I sense within myself...the unexpressed anger even...that I know is there but like you said, by the Grace of God He is keeping me from sinning against others and Him with. Do you ever get discouraged because of it? Is it hard for you as it is me, to believe the Gospel is for yourself in those moments and times where you fail?

This is a real question. This is the kind of question I wish people would just come out and ask. If you're a true believer, these are the kinds of questions you should be asking. This is the kind of transparency that we as believers should have with one another: Admitting to one another that we struggle with sin and that it is so pervasive throughout our inner being, that even when I feel outwardly I am growing in grace, inwardly I face a battle minute-by-minute.

I hope my statement "if you're a true believer" makes you wonder how I can get off saying that. Well, here's how: "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." (1 Jn 1:8) John is saying much here.

First, saying that we've got it together is a real crock. The implication is not hidden--we do sin. And telling ourselves we don't isn't getting us anywhere. In fact, it is further underscoring the fact that we are rebels against a Holy God and it is exalting myself above the God who made me and Who brings down the proud.

To do its worst, evil needs to look its best. Evil has to spend a lot on makeup. Hypocrites have to spend time polishing their act and polishing their image. "Hypocrisy is an homage that vice pays to virtue." Vices have to masquerade as virtues--lust as love, thinly veiled sadism as military discipline, envy as righteous indignation, domestic tyranny as parental concern. And this is so whether the masquerade takes the form of putting on an act or making up a cover story. Either way, deceivers learn how to present something falsely, and they exert themselves to make the presentation credible. From Not the Way It's Supposed to Be by Cornelius Plantinga Jr.

Second, John is not just stating a tautology: "if you lie, then the truth is not in you." I think John is saying something much deeper. Who is the Truth? Maybe this will ring a bell: "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life." If we are not able to say the same thing with our mouths that God says about us (i.e. confess), then the natural inference is that we have not believed in our hearts what God says about us--that we are sinners. Christ is not in us and we are not in Him if we cannot confess that we are sinners.

But John doesn't leave us to draw these inferences. He puts it more bluntly: "If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us." (1 Jn 1:10) We are calling God a liar and His Word ("in the beginning was the Word") is not in us.

It may sound like I'm not addressing the question my friend asked. But I am. I am not only saying that people who are unable to confess this way are unbelievers, but the enthymeme should have been obvious: those who are able to confess this way are likely believers. In fact, when I feel this way, to me, it is an assurance of salvation itself. God uses warnings like these in the Bible to persevere me in my faith.

So what do we do when we feel this way. I don't just stay and wallow in that. That's what Satan wants you to do. That old serpent doesn't have any new tricks in his bag. He tries to do what he did at the very beginning--that is, he wants you to not believe the Gospel: that God is good and true and righteous. But that is exactly what John wants the believer to know in his epistle to the believers. He wants them to know that, yes, you will still sin and that sin may be sins completely in the heart (but that's where they all start anyway). But he tells us what to do when we sin. He says that we must believe the Gospel. "But if anyone does sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world." (1 Jn 2:1b-2) John tells us what we must do when we know that we have sinned: "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (1 Jn 1:9)

So is it hard for you as it is me, to believe the Gospel is for yourself in those moments and times where you fail? It is hard in the sense that my pride wants me to think that I am so bad that the Gospel can't be enough. That's a lie. Sometimes it is hard in the sense that in my pride I want to think that I am not that bad. That's a horrible lie and I must flee from that because that is a huge warning sign (see above). It is hard in the sense that I am often overwhelmed at the fact that though I am justified completely, I have not been thoroughly sanctified. It is hard when I think about how this battle with sin will go on and on until Christ returns or calls me home. Inwardly we groan as the creation, longing for our ultimate redemption, longing to be saved from this. (Rom 8:22) Our ultimate reward is salvation and we long for it deeply through our very bones. But it is precisely in these moments that we must believe the Gospel. We must believe that:

When Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. (Hebrews 10:12-14)

Monday, November 05, 2007

The Golden Compass -- Not a Movie for the Kids

I wish I had more time to sit and write thought-provoking insights about so many things... one example would be this new movie coming out, The Golden Compass. But since others have written about it, I'll let the reader's mind engage the issues while reading the following articles:

Putting aside the strong desire to comment on several things I read in these, I will simply give you two good questions to ask yourself when attempting to distinguish "safe" fantasy from "dangerous" fantasy:

  1. Does the fiction cause the me to root for the good guys or the bad guys? If you find yourself cheering on the villains, you know that the plot itself is subversive.
  2. Similar question, but phrased slightly different: Can you actually distinguish who are the good guys and the bad guys? Satan does a masterful job in the Garden of Eden attempting to make God look like the bad guy and he still goes about today blurring the lines.

For a well articulated exploration of fantasy from a Christian worldview, read Dr. Kevin Bauder's 7-part series:

Okay, so I can't get by without asking one more question: If the author says his books are about killing God, is it logical at all to say that his books are not overtly anti-Christian? Ummm... maybe this question should go under the category of "What year was the Battle of 1812?"-questions!