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Friday, March 31, 2006

Handling Fear

Recently watching the National Geographic Channel, I caught an episode on the science of Roller Coasters. “A car moves on a set of rails.” Doesn’t sound like much, right? Throw in things like “height” and “speed” and “force” and “inertia”, even “timing” and you have heart-throbbing, white-knuckled fear. Grown men scream like 11 year-old girls when all these things are put together.

Then there are the 11-year olds who go home after a day at the amusement park and will not go to sleep unless the hall light is on . . .

Fear is a strange thing.

One student said during finals week, “We have nothing to fear but ‘F’ itself.”

G.K. Chesterton describes how fear is often related to perception. “For a man walking down a lane at night can see the conspicuous fact that as long as nature keeps to her own course, she has no power with us at all. As long as a tree is a tree, it is a top-heavy monster with a hundred arms, a thousand tongues, and only one leg. But so long as a tree is a tree, it does not frighten us at all. It begins to be something alien, to be something strange, only when it looks like ourselves. When a tree really looks like a man our knees knock under us. And when the whole universe looks like a man we fall on our faces.”[i]

What scares you? Let’s find out. Rank the following items in terms of how fearful they are to you (1 is “terrifying”; 10 is “no big deal”). [ii]


_____ having to stand and speak to a large gathering
_____ discovering that you have a terminal disease
_____ becoming paralyzed or handicapped
_____ being called by God to do something very difficult (for example, be a missionary overseas)
_____ experiencing financial devastation
_____ dying
_____ failing in your career
_____ losing a loved one
_____ having unbelieving or wayward children
_____ having to face a certain phobia (for example, fear of heights, fear of flying, fear of water, etc.)

John MacArthur asks, “Why do we become so frantic when facing scary situations and so prone to take matters into our own hands rather than trust God?[iii]

That’s a great question. And the answer goes something like, “well, it’s just quicker if I take care of it;” or, “God is just so far removed. He doesn’t really understand.” But what if we were facing our worst fear? What would we do? Prayer and crying out to God would be the knee-jerk reaction, wouldn’t it? That’s why more actually cry out to God on the roller-coaster than when the kid gets into bed without the hall-light on. There are just so many things beyond control and all one can do is go along with the forces at work (I don’t mean that in a New Age sense).

Take it another step further. Let’s say your boss comes in and says, “Why haven’t you checked your messages? What have you been doing?”

Do you lie, make excuses? How do you respond to fear?

Reading 1 Samuel 21-23 we remember that God had rejected Saul and intended to make David king of Israel. Saul was not ready to give up the crown and began this downward journey of hate toward David, even trying to kill him every chance possible. All David did was kill Goliath and play music well. But he was also anointed king. We already saw the faith David had in God’s preservation against his enemies. Would he cave in?

1 Samuel 21, David shows up in Nob and goes to Ahimelech, the priest. Ahimelech looks around and says, “Why are you alone and no one with you?” David responds with something like, “I’m on a secret spy mission for God and country . . . shhhhhhhhh. What’s for supper?”Somewhere nearby was a servant of Saul who saw David talking to Ahimelech. He runs and tells Saul where David is and, well, long story short, all the priests at Nob were killed for harboring David and for providing him arms (they gave him Goliath’s sword).

David runs to Achish, king of Gath (Goliath’s sword at his side) and pretends like he is crazy. Two things to note: First, David is running out of fear away from fear to another fear, and he is certainly running from enemy to enemy. Saul tried so hard to keep distance between himself and the Philistines that Gath is the last place Saul would go after David and David knew this. Second, I have a strong belief that when David was pretending to be mad, he was singing Psalm 34. This is why his Philistine enemies could look at the Goliath-sworded fool and say, ““[Is] this not David the king of the land? Did they not sing of him to one another in dances, saying: ‘Saul has slain his thousands, And David his ten thousands’?” One thing we don’t see in the English is that Psalm 34 is an acrostic; that is, every line in Hebrew begins with each consecutive letter of the Hebrew alephbet (alphabet). He was singing his A, B, C’s! This is why they thought he was looney!

I think there is a fine line between two things David did. On the one hand, he feared the king of Gath and thought that the best way to stay alive was to be a slobbering idiot. On the other hand, Psalm 34 identifies this to be a “Psalm of David when he feigned madness. . . “ The result is that while David began to react in fear and take matters into his own hands, he did not cave in, but demonstrated faith in God’s preserving him.

Psalm 63 is another song David probably wrote while running from Saul. We don’t know exactly when in his flight he wrote this, but David is without doubt demonstrating faith in God. He makes some very determined and intentional statements—nothing half-hearted: “I will seek You”; “I have looked for You”; “my lips shall praise You”; “I will bless you/lift up my hands”; “my soul shall be satisfied”; ”my mouth shall praise You”; ”I will remember/meditate”; “I will rejoice” ;”my soul follows You”; “the king shall rejoice.”

Oh, and don’t forget. David knew he was spotted in Nob by that servant of Saul, because David wrote a song just for him: Psalm 52. You might say he prayed a prayer with the Edomite in mind.

Where was Jonathan in all this, David’s best friend and son of Saul? 1 Samuel 23:16-18, “Then Jonathan, Saul’s son, arose and went to David in the woods and strengthened his hand in God. And he said to him, ‘Do not fear, for the hand of Saul my father shall not find you. You shall be king over Israel, and I shall be next to you. Even my father Saul knows that.’ So the two of them made a covenant before the Lord. And David stayed in the woods, and Jonathan went to his own house.”

These passages gives us a look at David, a man of fear and David, a man of faith. When he feared, he stumbled. When he faithed, he recovered his steps and pressed on. In a striking way scripture is certain to give us the full picture of the most weak moments of humanity and the strongest moments of weak humanity depending on God. We cannot rightly say that humanity was strong at all.

So, what do we do? Somehow we need to ensure our responses are more like Psalm 63 than a slobbering idiot. Somehow we need to develop a game-plan to react in faith than simply saving our skin.

Directions for Handling Fear:[iv]

1. Believers need not be slaves to fear.

(Rom. 8:15. For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.”

2 Tim. 1:7. For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.)

2. You need not be afraid if God is your helper. (Heb. 13:5–6. Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we may boldly say: “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?”[Deut. 31:6; Ps. 118:6–7].)

3. The Lord is the believer’s light; he need not fear. (Ps. 27:1. The Lord is my light and my salvation; Whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; Of whom shall I be afraid?)

4. Trust in God casts out fear. (Ps. 56:10–11. In God (I will praise His word), In the Lord (I will praise His word), In God I have put my trust; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?)

5. Do not fear those who can kill the body. (Matt. 10:28. “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”)

6. Don’t be afraid; God cares for sparrows, and he will surely care for you. (Matt. 10:29–30. “Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.”)

7. Perfect love drives out fear. (1 John 4:18. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.)

************
[i] Chesterton, G.K. “Heretics” http://www.ccel.org/ccel/chesterton/heretics.txt
[ii]MacArthur, John. 1 Samuel: How One Godly Man Changed a Nation. MacArthur Bible studies, Page 85. Nashville, TN: W Publishing Group, 2000.
[iii]MacArthur, Ibid.
[iv]Kruis, John, G. Quick Scripture Reference for Counseling. Includes index. electronic ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1997, c1994.

Witness Report #2

Wednesday night I stopped by the Church fellowship to see if anyone wanted to go with me to witness, or at least to tag alongside as a prayer-partner. I tapped one fellow who ssid he would "think about it" but woukd stay at the church and pray after his long day at work. I gave him a hard time about it and after rounding up no takers, proceeded to make my way toward the University of South Carolina.

The sun was going down and I got some nice pics of some area churches along the way.

I saw few people coming and going across the street and just could not wait to get down there and start witnessing. As it goes with downtowns, at some point a street must be crossed. So I pulled up to the crosswalk and waited patiently for the light to change and the signal to change from "walk" to "don't walk."

The light changed, mine didn't.
The light changed again, mine didn't.
The light changed again, mine didn't.
The light changed again, mine didn't.

I stood there for an embarrassing long period of time. Being a good Christian and law-abiding citizen. Yes. One who uses the Ten Commandments in witnessing must not break the law. He must wait for his light to change.

I imagined myself talking with a guy: "Ever told a lie, steal something, commit adultery?" And he looks at me and says, "ever cross against the light?"

Looking up ahead, I saw my foot-traffic had dissapated, and since I was bringing the message of forgiveness of sin, I took the first available moment and crossed.

More people did show up on the sidewalk, but many of them were young women and since I was by myself, thought it best not to approach. Walking on down the sidewalk, I saw more people, but noticed that if they weren't talking on cell-phones, the I-pods were plugged in. How does one share Christ to people who tune everything out? I'll interrupt them later.

Making my way between two buildings, I came upon "The Horse-shoe", a historical marker of sorts. People scattered everywhere. Some in small groups--maybe a place to draw a crowd for preaching?

I realized the tracts I was holding spoke to a more general crowd. This was a University! I pulled out my I.Q. Test tract-cards and began walking.

I met Christa and asked her if she had a moment to take a quick I.Q. Test.


She was stumped and guessed, "I dunno. A soul?" We laughed at the attempted answer. We had a bigger laugh over the answer. I asked if she coukd answer another question and she complied. "Woukd you consider yourself to be a good person?"

"I guess," she shrugged.

"Good enough to go to heaven?" I asked.

"I guess," she shrugged again.

After taking her through the Ten Commandments, she admitted two facts. First, she realized specific sin in her life. Suddenly, eyes wide with realization, she said softly, "but Jesus paid the price for my sin, didn't He? That's what I believe." She was right, and perhaps never understood the full implications of what this all meant to her. We talked briefly of what repentance meant and assurance, and away she went full of newfound joy.

A few minutes later I saw a young man come put of a building with books under his arm . . . perhaps just getting out of class. I held out an I.Q. Test to him.

[Note to self: don't reach blindly into the pile. Know which card you are getting.]

He worked the problem and made his guess. Wrong answer. Try again.

This upset him, so he tried again and was bothered by his own different answer!

And when I told him the answer, he got mad! I tried to walk him through it again, and he jsut would not accept the right answer. I probably should have stopped there and thanked him for his time, encourage him to read the tract and move on . . . But could'nt.

I asked him if he thought he was a good person. “Yeah.”

I asked him if he was good enough to go to heaven. He looked at me confused.

I asked him if he had ever told a lie. More confused. “Yeah . . .”

“And what does that make you?” I pressed.

“A liar.” He did not like that.

I asked him if he ever stole anything . . . long pause, “No.” He knew where I was going with this.

I said, “C’mon. You just told me you were a liar. You expect me to believe you’ve never taken anything that didn’t belong to you?”

He just stared at me.

I asked him if he had ever used the Lord’s Name in vain, to which he quickly answered, “Yeah.”

I asked him if he had ever looked at a woman with lust and committed adultery. He looked at me like, “You gotta be kidding!” “Yeah.”

I said, “So you are telling me you are a lying, adulterous blasphemer? If God were to judge you by the Ten Commandments, would you be innocent or guilty?”

“Guilty,” he said with a softer-than-usual voice.

“Would you go to heaven or hell?”

With new-found ire, he responded, “I don’t believe in hell. Besides, your logic is faulty because you said, “The LORD said” and all that about lust. You can’t trust the Bible. It is man-made and full of errors.” You could just hear the period slam into position in his sentence.

I thought/prayed for a moment.

“I hear what you are saying,” I said. “Which part of the Bible contains errors? What are they, exactly?”

He stammered for a moment. “It’s just wrong. Look, I grew up in church, I heard all this before and it’s just not true.”

I talked for a moment about the affirmation the Bible has received over time and history and said, “It doesn’t change the fact that someday you will stand in judgment before God and will have to pay the price for your sins. You say you don’t believe in hell, but that doesn’t change the fact that it does not exist. Does that concern you?” I told him that Jesus died on the cross to pay the price for his sins and that he needed to repent and be saved from both sin and hell.

“Yeah . . . I guess. Whatever. But I just don’t believe it. What about walking on the water? How do you prove that archeologically?” He stabbed.

Woah. Good one! All I could say was, “well, you can’t. That’s why it’s called ‘a miracle.’”

He actually smiled. “Look, I gotta go eat.” And started to walk away.

I thanked him for talking with me, encouraged him to read the tract and invited him to church.

I felt quite drained after that and made my way off-campus. Down the street about two blocks I saw my friend from church I had invited to come along. He said he was just walking around waiting for his kids to get out of church. I told him I thought he was concerned about me and wanted to see where I was. He admitted he thought he would try to find me while he was out.

We made our way back to church and he committed to go with me every week, to listen and pray as he did not feel confident to witness.

We crossed with the light.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Handling Explosions

A good number of years ago I was in a music competition along with a friend of mine. We were to play a cello duet and were competing for the top spot in our district. Ironically, my friend and I were always in competition against each other in Orchestra for first chair—but now we had this unique opportunity to actually work together in competition.

We entered the room with our instruments, greeted the judges, placed our stands, sat down, arranged our music and waited for the signal to begin. Our music was not memorized (this competition did not demand it) and was originally printed on individual sheets. My friend and I had decided early on to tape our music together into a booklet so we would not have any “accidents” during performance (one of us would actually have to shuffle the music while still playing).

I don’t remember at which point it happened, but it happened. For some reason, as we were both playing the piece, the competition fully underway, friend and me sawing away on our cellos, one of us reached up to flip the page and the music just exploded off the stand. It’s like someone had loaded a spring packed under our music because it just shot off the stand and the pages (all neatly taped together) cascaded to the floor.

We stumbled, faltered, the judges all looked up, friend and I looked at each other . . . and took up right where we left off. Good thing we had played the piece enough to memorize it. I don’t remember what our score was. I don’t even remember how we placed in the competition. The only report we could give was “it just exploded off the stand . . .”

Another musically related incident, our Orchestra placed First in the State of Texas (Remember the Alamo!) and we were selected to premier an Orchestral Suite on the campus of Baylor University. We were in our tuxes, ladies in gowns, decked to the hilt for this premier. I had first chair that quarter, my friend second. Halfway through the warm-up backstage, my bow decided to fall apart. The tip separated from the bow and horsehair flew everywhere, somehow managing to get tangled up in the strings. It was so bad we had to cut it out with scissors (it was an intense suite).

The problem lie primarily in the fact that I only brought one bow and my friend was gladly volunteering to fill in first chair as I (obviously) could not play and had to sit out the entire performance. Like that was about to happen! Some Baylor student with a very loud bowtie sprinted to his dorm and brought a bow for me to use. Chair secured, performance saved.

These are not the biggest trials I ever faced. I could easily have faced some real explosions when I worked at an Oil Recycling plant around all those solvents and goodies with folk who just didn’t know when to put cigarette butts out. Or gotten my head blown off by a guy who used to work in the underground mines and didn’t watch the fact that when the gauge says “full”, it’s time to shut off the pump (you can always squeeze just a little more compressed gas into a cylinder before the safety blows, don’t you know).

When I review all the stuff I have been through, thought those highlights would be the most entertaining. The point of the reflection is that, no matter what the trial or circumstance in life that brings, there is always a moving-on. Something else eventually happens that takes one the next step in life. 9 ½ times out of 10 there will be a trial at the next step, but there is always a moving on. Or there should be, at least.

Having a brass safety cap blowing by your head at the speed of a bullet (and through the wall into the next room) is right up there with “almost getting killed.” Nearly having a generator/welder dropped on your head is another. So is working with people who light open flames around barrels of solvent. Then there are times when I actually contributed to my own “almost” demise: overdosing on drugs was one. Being in a car accident without a seat-belt and nearly going off into a ravine is another high on my list. Once things like that happen, you just don’t look forward to doing it again. But generally speaking, one’s walk with God suddenly changes. You start talking to Him more and getting interested in the things that interest Him more. Got uses these cattle prods to get you back on track.

We could, of course, talk about other neat things like, “our most embarrassing moments” and “most stupid things ever said”, or “the longest I’ve ever had to wait for something.” But it would be better to get right to the heart of my thoughts here.

David had been anointed king. Problem was, there was this guy on the throne who likes to throw things at him and liked to hunt him down so as to kill him. I don’t know about you, but if someone actually tries to kill me, I can’t see myself hanging around him too much. Not only was David waiting for the throne, but he was trying to do it while still alive . . . and for some reason, he keeps going back to sit in the presence of the very person who tries to kill him! God made it clear that David was His man for the job . . . but didn’t say how easy the wait was going to be. I know the miner guy who worked with me was not out to kill me (he was my Sunday School teacher, for crying out loud!) but there were times where distance really makes the heart grow fonder.

1 Samuel 18-20 show us a great contrast in people. Saul is on a steady downward slope. David rids Saul of his worse enemy (the Philistine, Goliath) and takes him into his home. When the people begin giving David more laud than Saul, he is suddenly displeased with David, then becomes angry and suspicious. Could it be that David is after his precious throne?


Saul hurls spears at David, tries to put him into battle that the Philistines would kill him, sends people out to hunt him down and bring him back dead. I mean, what was Saul thinking? This kid just put down a 9 foot 9 inch dude with a stone . . . hello! Saul just could not succeed. Saul totally missed it: David mentioned to Goliath that it was the LORD who would give victory. Saul even said that David would fight the LORD’s battles. But Saul missed the part where the enemy is the LORD’s problem. This is why David could get away. He just slipped in and slipped out. God protected His man in very special ways.

Check this out: Saul sends servants to go fetch David from his own bed and bring him back dead. His wife Michal helps him escape and sets up a decoy for the men to find. David does something interesting during this event and we don’t actually find what he did mentioned here. He was inspired through this near-death experience to write (of all things) a song! Look at Psalm 59. This is a song written for the choir director and is to be played to the tune of “Do not Destroy” (I think that is much like the tunes, “No Open Flames” and “Slippery when Wet”). Here is a song plainly written when Saul sent men and they watched the house in order to kill him. He was inspired to write and sing this song to the LORD of the armies! This psalm reveals some very specific things:
  • David calls his enemies: “those who rise up”; “workers of iniquity”; “bloodthirsty men”; “they lie in wait”; “dogs”; belching-swords [my wording]; sinful, prideful, cursed liars; wanderers; not satisfied.
  • David calls God: Deliverer; Defender; Saviour; Helper; LORD God of Hosts [armies]; God of Israel; laugher, derider; Strength; God of mercy; Revealer; Scatterer; Shield; Consumer; Ruler; Powerful.
  • David calls himself [implied]: in need of deliverance, defense; righteous; without fault; patient; weak; desirous; truthful; joyful; seeking peace.

Here is David, anointed king of Israel, waiting for the throne and running for his life. I can’t adequately put into words how David must have felt because there is such a tension. To say “gee, life must have been hard” is too trite. What does one say to David, “Hang in there?” Rather, we need to pull up alongside and listen closely to what David would say to us (see Psalm 59).

Think about what Jesus said:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me.
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you
.”[1]

Did Jesus really mean it? Do these principles really work out? I am certain that if you listened (and not too hard) you would have heard the echo of Psalm 59 in His words. Paul took Jesus pretty seriously. Look at what he had to say [bold emphasis mine]:

For, I think, God has exhibited us apostles last of all, as men condemned to death; because we have become a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men. We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are prudent in Christ; we are weak, but you are strong; you are distinguished, but we are without honor. To this present hour we are both hungry and thirsty, and are poorly clothed, and are roughly treated, and are homeless; and we toil, working with our own hands; when we are reviled, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure; when we are slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become as the scum of the world, the dregs of all things, even until now. I do not write these things to shame you, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For if you were to have countless tutors in Christ, yet you would not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. Therefore I exhort you, be imitators of me.” [2]

And,

“Are they servants of Christ?—I speak as if insane—I more so; in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches. Who is weak without my being weak? Who is led into sin without my intense concern? If I have to boast, I will boast of what pertains to my weakness. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, He who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying. In Damascus the ethnarch under Aretas the king was guarding the city of the Damascenes in order to seize me, and I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall, and so escaped his hands.”[3]

Application:

What we need to watch out for is the temptation to get so wrapped up in what is happening to us that we find ourselves in two minds concerning God’s faithfulness. On the one hand, we know and understand and believe that God is in control; on the other hand, we think we know a better way this can be done and have animosity toward God concerning what is happening to us. Simply put, this is called “doubt.”

In the fashion of Richard Baxter and Jonathan Edwards, here are some Directs for Handling Explosions: [4]

  1. Recognize that He is indeed in control and He is working all things together for good to those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28);
  2. DON’T worry. Jesus instructs us not to worry about tomorrow; about food, clothing, etc. (Matt. 6:25–34).
  3. Take one day at a time, and don’t borrow trouble. (Matt. 6:34. “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”)
  4. Pray. (Phil. 4:6–7. “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”)
  5. Cast all your anxiety on the Lord. (1 Peter 5:6–7. "Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.")
  6. Trust/Delight/Rest in the LORD. (Ps. 37:3-5, 7 "Trust in the Lord, and do good; Dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness. Delight yourself also in the Lord, And He shall give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord, Trust also in Him, And He shall bring it to pass. . . .Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him; Do not fret because of him who prospers in his way, Because of the man who brings wicked schemes to pass.")
  7. Don’t allow anxiety to weigh you down.
    (Prov. 12:25. "Anxiety in the heart of man causes depression, But a good word makes it glad."
    Prov. 14:30. "A sound heart is life to the body, But envy is rottenness to the bones."
    Prov. 17:22. "A merry heart does good, like medicine, But a broken spirit dries the bones.")
  8. Identify who God has placed around you (like David’s Michal and Jonathan) to help you through your stuff. Who has God given you to lean on?

************

[1]New American Standard Bible : 1995 Update, Mt 5:2. LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995.
[2]New American Standard Bible : 1995 Update, 1 Co 4:9. LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995.
[3]New American Standard Bible : 1995 Update, 2 Co 11:23. LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995.
[4]Kruis, John, G. Quick Scripture Reference for Counseling. Includes index. electronic ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1997, c1994.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Rise to power

Check out this list of actual predictions that proved to be astonishingly bad[1]:

Drill for oil? You mean drill into the ground to try and find oil? You’re crazy.” (Drillers who Edwin L. Drake tried to enlist to his project to drill for oil in 1859.)

Stocks have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau.” (Irving Fisher, Professor of Economics, Yale University, 1929.)

Everything that can be invented has been invented.” (Charles H. Duell, Commissioner, U.S. Office of Patents, 1899.)

Louis Pasteur’s theory of germs is ridiculous fiction.” (Pierre Pachet, Professor of Physiology at Toulouse, 1872)

I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.” (Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943)

Who … wants to hear actors talk?” (H.M. Warner, Warner Brothers, 1927)

We don’t like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out.” (Decca Recording Co. rejecting the Beatles, 1962)

Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible.” (Lord Kelvin, president, Royal Society, 1895)

Crazy, huh? Whoda thunk?

What changes in your life would you never have predicted?

Lessee . . . I never would have predicted that when I installed the skylight in my apartment that the people upstairs would be mad at me (just kidding . . .).

At one point I thought I was going to graduate with a Double Major in Choir and Orchestra and become a composer, maybe the next John Williams. Perhaps conduct the Houston Philharmonic or Boston Pops. Have lots of money, a home conservatory with a large library, leather chairs, a smoking jacket and slippers . . .

Hey, I’m not laughing at you . . .

Ironically, I never would have predicted that I would ever stop listening to the greatest and most influential band of all time:


I never would have predicted I would have half the experiences I’ve had.

I would never have predicted that God would save me and put me where I am today. I never would have predicted I’d be living where I am, doing what I am doing. This is so far off the radar-screen I can’t even pretend to know what ‘s coming next.

A few years ago I was interviewing for a position in a denomination and that dreaded question came, “what do you see yourself doing in 3 year, 5 years, 10 years?” My interviewers (good Christian leaders) got upset because I could not answer. It made no sense to try to dream up something because I had (and still have) no clue. The only thing I could give them was James 4:13-15, “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.’ Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.’” I just could not boast in arrogance and convince myself or them that I knew what I would be doing. They didn’t like my answer, incidentally.

I wonder what David wanted to be when he grew up . . . Do you think he ever wanted to be king? If they played sports at all I don’t think David was high on the first-pick list . . . maybe after the lion and bear, but probably not before.

1 Samuel 16 God tells Samuel to go anoint someone else as king. Samuel’s reaction is interesting as he has just gotten all over Saul’s case for dropping the ball so many times with God. Now here is Samuel questioning God! “Go anoint someone else? You gotta be kidding! Saul will kill (I mean, really) me!” God tells Samuel to take a heifer and go to the house of Jesse to find the king God has selected.

Freeze-frame. Picture Samuel walking down the road with a heifer.

Why would a priest bring a heifer to go king-hunting? I think we have a clue when we go back and look at which sacrifices require a heifer. The Peace Offering is the only one that allows either a male or female from the herd. It can be offered as a Thanksgiving offering as well along with unleavened cakes. Particularly, this offering can be eaten over a few days by the one offering it and any guests. When the elders of the city saw Samuel coming down the road with a heifer, they ask him, “Do you come in peace?”(16:4). Samuel affirms this and invites Jesse and family to the sacrifice.

I think Samuel was looking for someone at peace with God. Saul clearly was not. The future king of Israel was not so much one who would bring peace, but one who was at peace. God had to teach Samuel a lesson that in the midst of the uproar, there was still His purpose at work, He still had His eye open for one who would love Him and obey His commandments. God was looking for one who would glorify the LORD and not himself. God also had to teach Samuel that outward appearances mean nothing, God looks at the heart. Saul was one who was interesting in keeping up appearances. But who better fit to calm a disturbed flock than a shepherd? God saw that and Samuel had to learn it.

David had certain qualities about him that point to his integrity and give us a glimpse as to what kind of leader he would be. First, “the Spirit of the LORD came upon him mightily.” This was the same language used of Samson, even Saul. Second, was strong. Like Samson, the Spirit of the LORD enabled him to do incredible acts with lions, bear and giants. Third, he knew he had to keep the interest of God before his own. The war-time situation was bad, but all David knew was the LORD of hosts, the leader of the armies of heaven was greater than that stinky Philistine. Fourth, I think David was observant. He knew how to oversee, but also how to survey and make decisions. He had discernment. Fifth, he knew how to delegate. It seems that wherever David went, he was able to tap someone on the shoulder to carry on while he took up another task. Sixth, he knew how to obey. Like it or not, David still did what Saul asked and the LORD preserved him in every case.

Saul’s descent is immediate. Once, “the spirit of the LORD came upon him mightily” (1 Sam. 10:6, 10). Now the spirit left him and came upon David. Saul’s descent is also marked publicly through the people’s response to David’s victory over the Philistines. Saul becomes idolatrous (exalting himself and all his concerns over God), he will later practice sorcery, and he is full of enmity, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, full of disputes, factions, envy. David, on the other hand, is one evidencing true love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness (even to Saul), and self-control.

Psalm 27 could have been written by David during these early years. In it he expresses the rock-solid element of faith: the presence of the LORD. These words could have been on his mind as he approached Goliath, or certainly in retrospect as he began his flight from Saul. This expression is not so much an imprecation against his enemies; moreso, these words express deep trust, deep faith.

Clearly, there is little surprise to see David selected to be king. He had no idea it was coming, but in retrospect, we can see along with David how God was preparing him. When I look back on my life and see all I have been through, I could not have predicted where I am now and the things I am doing; however, in retrospect, it makes perfect sense. I can see how He prepared me . . . and I can also see that God has more preparation to do in me for the next step, whatever that is.

Is the issue “how do I face Goliath-sized problems;” or, “how has God in His sovereignty prepared me for what I am facing today? How do I rule as a king and priest in His kingdom today?”

**********
[1]MacArthur, John. 1 Samuel : How One Godly Man Changed a Nation. MacArthur Bible studies, Page 61. Nashville, TN: W Publishing Group, 2000.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Stopped sinning yet?

That’s kinda like that question, “stopped beating your wife yet?” [Well, have you?]

Ever look closely at the third commandment? Do you know what it is? “You shall not take the name of the LORD you God in vain, for the LORD will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain.”

The use of language and the abuse of God’s name is only a small part of what the commandment is about. A deeper understanding would be found in this example: if I worked at McDonalds, I am expected to wear the uniform that represents my association and role within that organization. This means I should not appear behind the counter at Burger King in my McDonald’s uniform. I would be taking the name of McDonald’s in vain.

Another example would be that of marriage. When a man and woman marry, she takes his name upon herself, thus being identified in union with that man. If she misrepresents him, she is taking that name in vain.

Ambassadorship is another concept that models this well. An ambassador represents the highest authority between governments, though the ambassador is not the authority himself. He merely represents his country and everything about it. To simply abuse or misrepresent is to take all he represents, the name in effect, in vain.

When one becomes a Christian, he is taking the name of God upon himself. He is God’s representative, wearing His name, under His banner of Love, wearing the clean clothes of His righteousness underneath His armor. Misrepresenting God is strongly not encouraged.

1 Samuel 13-15 contains a strong example of this very commandment being carried out. Saul is God’s representative, not merely the fist king of Israel, but also one of the last judges. People are breaking out of the cycle of doing what is right in their own eyes, so to that end, the judge-ship is working; however, the Philistine problem still remains. Deliverance from that oppression is one of the acts of the judges, climaxed in Samson, completed in David.

We read Saul was 40 when he began his reign and remained king until the age of 72 (1 Sam. 13:1). But how well did he represent God? Take it further: what does God expect of those who wear His name, represent Him? First we must consider what God is: Holy. Second, we must consider what God expects of believers: holiness. He is the standard of being. Interestingly, no other attribute serves as the standard. The scripture does not “Be omnipotent because God is omnipotent” or “be transcendent because God is transcendent”. These things are impossible because these are attributes He does not share. “it is written, ‘Be Holy because I am Holy.” (Lev. 11:44ff; 19:2; 20:7; 1 Pe 1:15-16).

But what happens when the believer lives in a tolerant society? What does the Christian do when he is surrounded with foundationless or shallow morals and is able to pick and choose which standards he will live by? Is partial obedience permissible? Is it even possible? Possible, YES; Permissible, NO. As I’ve said a long time ago: man does the impossible.

When one tolerates sin, does he downplay righteousness or unrighteousness? The bottom line is found in the first phrase: he tolerates what God cannot. Since God is Holy, he is uplifting that which cannot exist in God’s presence. He is breaking the first commandment, “You shall have no other god before Me.” He is breaking the second commandment, “You shall not make for yourself an idol”. He is breaking the third commandment, “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.” When one downplays righteousness I personally wonder if the person is really saved. If he is saved, he would exalt righteousness. To play with the standard is to flirt with disaster.

The people of God should uphold the high standard of purity and faithfulness. Saul found himself standing in the middle: God on one side, the people on the other. Two kinds of people, namely: friends and enemies. While the Philistines were pressing in on one side, God’s chosen people had to be ruled on the other. Saul felt he had an image to uphold and overstepped the righteousness of God. Samuel, on the other hand, kept Saul’s feet to the fire. While it seemed that Samuel was always one step behind Saul, Samuel was actually after what God was after: a man after God’s heart. Each time Saul moved, Samuel was there to point out the wrong move. Saul would make a decision for man and country and Samuel was there with, “But God . . .”

Take for example Saul’s rationale for offering the sacrifice and not wait for Samuel (1 Sam 13). Saul’s reasons were:

  • The people are scattering from me;
  • You did not come within the appointed period of days;
  • Philistines are gathered at Michmash.

Saul’s reasons were an exercise in blame-shifting. His actions were inexcuseable, nor understandable because they were self-serving, not God-serving. He says, “I says to myself, ‘The Philistines are coming and I don’t have God’s favor yet!’ so I overstepped what I knew to be right and took matters into my own hands.”

Samuel’s response was perfect: “You have acted foolishly: you have not kept the commandment of the LORD your God.”

Did Saul love God? I am sure he did. But he did not strive to keep His commandments.

Jonathan, on the other hand, is worth consideration here. Saul could not quite get the upper hand against the Philistines. On one hand, Jonathan stands in comparison with his father with that streak of hardheadedness; On the other hand, in contrast to his father, Jonathan was stubborn to do what was right. His father was stubborn to do as he wished. We read of the fact that the Philistines outlawed blacksmithing, so no sword was found Israel. Was Saul a pushover? To a degree, I think so. But, 13:22 makes it plain that Saul and Jonathan had swords while the people did not. I imagine Saul’s sword was more symbolic of his office, yet still a real sword. Jonathan actually used his. This is why he was able to win victory over the Philistines. While his dad sat under the pomegranate tree, the red juice running off his elbows, Jonathan was out harvesting heads, blood dripping from his sword.

I like Spurgeon’s words here: “We are engaged in a great war with the Philistines of evil. Every weapon within our reach must be used. Preaching, teaching, praying, giving, all must be brought into action, and talents which have been thought too mean for service must now be employed. . . . most of our tools need sharpening, so make the Philistines sharpen our weapons.” Simply put, we have no reason to lay down our arms at the feet of evil and leave them there!

Here’s a question to consider: would Saul be a good candidate for overseer according to 1 Timothy 3:1-13? Would you vote Saul into office? If not, then why on earth did God choose this guy to be king? Before you get all worked up, consider Solomon, a not-much-nicer guy for the office—but there was one thing Solomon got that Saul didn’t. Wisdom.


Here’s another question: is the Holy Standard an impossible attainment? Does anyone really meet the qualifications of 1 Timothy 3:1-13? The answer to both is, “yes.”

God chose Saul because God chose Saul. Saul did not turn out to be the man that kept the standard—it’s that wonderful tension of Sovereignty vs. Free Will—we won’t understand it but it is all worked out in the mind of God. They key feature here is to note that at one point in his life, Saul obeyed the commandments of God and was filled with the Holy Spirit. The day he stopped obeying was the day he overstepped God’s commands and lived by his own rules. The spirit that stayed with him was one of trouble and unrest.

What happened to the awe and respect God deserves? It gets covered, but it cannot cover completely. Unrighteousness gets elevated and tries to eclipse the brightness of God’s righteousness. Think about it. The moon is a tiny thing in relation to the sun. The only reason the moon is able to cover the sun is because of the angle of perception—the moon can never cover the sun. When the eclipse happens, the entirety of the sun is not blocked out—it’s rays still shoot out over the moon’s horizon. It’s like that little game we used to play as kids: you look across the room at the teacher and hold your fingers up in front of your eye until the fingertips “squeeze” the teachers head. You really can’t do it, but the off perception makes it seem so.

The character of God never changes and remains the standard. This is why His dealing with the Amalekites was not harsh—God had HIS reason for dealing with them in that way. God was using Israel as His instrument to pour out wrath on the Amalekites. Saul was basically standing up and saw profit in extending a little “grace.” The Amalekites were unchanged (those that survived) and Saul was worsened by trying to alter the standard.

How much sin is tolerable in our lives? How much should we allow to remain?

What should we do about our brothers and sisters who hang onto sin? We DO something about it, so . . .

Stopped taking God’s name in vain yet?

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Witnessing Report

I was downtown again while the kids were in their organization activities. I thought I would broaden my survey a bit, so I crossed the street and walked away from the church toward Main Street.

At the corner of Main and Hampton I talked to Tony. Tony was down on his luck. He admitted to having a roof over his head and food to eat, he just wanted money. The more he talked, the more he surveyed me, noticing that I was carrying tracts. Then his language changed and he began to express trust that the Master "up there" was taking care of him.

I asked Him, "Who is the Master?"

"God."

"Do you know God?" I asked.

"Yes." he admitted.

"How did you come to know God?"

"I just know him since I was a boy," he said, smiling broadly. After further prodding, he proclaimed he had never broken the Ten Commandments and all was well between him and God. I asked him, "Ever told a lie?"

Pause. "No."

"Really, not even a little one?"

"No." He smile began to disappear.

"Ever taken anything that didn’t belong to you?" Pause.

"No."

"Ok," I said, "Jesus said that if you look at a woman with lust you've committed adultery. Have you ever done that?"

Looking up the street Tony said, "I don't even know what a woman look like." I asked, "Are you gay?"

He just looked up the street, knowing he was not going to get any money from me and things were getting uncomfortable. He fidgeted and mumbled something about needing to get going.

I held out a gospel tract, "Did you get one of these? It's a gospel tract." He took it and got going.

I walked on down the street toward the State House when I met Orie. Orie was on his way to work when I stopped him. "Did you get one of these? It's a gospel tract."

A large smile revealed a few teeth, but the smile was bright and he seemed full of joy. "Praise the LORD!" he said.

"Do you know the LORD?" I asked?

"I sure do! Been a follower of my Savior Jesus Christ for many years now. Go to the church-house all the time!"

"What did Jesus save you from, my friend?" I asked?

"From my sin!" He said. Wow! Right to the point!

We talked for a few more minutes and he seemed to have a good grasp of the gospel, so we eventually parted ways. I passed out a few more tracts to people (I don't stop "people on a mission," you know, people determined to get somewhere or people with their hands full).

One block from the State House I had been mindful of a tall fellow following me. I ducked what I thought was a storefront and realized I was in the portico of a small TV studio. Looking in (keeping an eye on the guy slowly approaching from behind), I realized I was standing at the place the South Carolina State Lottery drawings are held. What a springboard for witnessing! The guy was almost where I was, so I turned and said, "So what do you think of this lottery stuff?" We talked and laughed for a while and I said something to the effect that money does not last forever. He agreed. I held out a tract. "Did you get one of these? It's a gospel tract." He looked at it for a second, then took it.

"Are you a preacher?" he asked. "Yes."

"Why don't you go down to the Gospel Mission and preach there?"

"There are enough preachers down there. Besides, if I was there, I could not talk to you here. Mind if I ask you a question?"

"Sure" he said. "Ever told a lie?" He hung his head and smiled, blushing, "yeah." "What does that make you.”

“A sinner.”

“Yeah, but more precisely. What is a person called who tells a lie? If I told a lie I would be called a . . .”

“Liar,” he said.

“Ever stolen anything?” I went on.

“Yeah,” hanging his head again . . .

“What does that make you?” I prodded.

“A thief.”

I went on through a few more commandments, then said, “so your telling me you are a lying, thieving, adulterous blasphemer.”

And before I could go any further, he said these beautiful words, “But Jesus saved me from all that! I ain’t goin to hell! He saved me from my sin!”

“Praise the LORD!” was all I could exclaim. We laughed and celebrated for a few minutes, then parted ways. I invited him to church.

I later saw Tony coming up the street and when he realized he was walking toward me, quickly crossed the street and watched me from behind a bush.

Please continue to pray for a team to be raised up to share the good news of Jesus Christ on the streets of Columbia.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

thinking about: 2 Timothy 3:16-17

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”

I know why many people don’t like the Bible. One reason many people don’t like the Bible is because they did not write it. Folks like to be in control, everything in reach and in order. See, the Bible has this strange quality of hovering outside time and above history. Oh, some people have tried to re-write it. Because they did not write it, the Bible never has spoken anything but the truth and in order to get the upper-hand, men over throughout history have tried to supercede it with their own writings. Then they learn a new way to dislike it because the Bible has this “contemporary” quality to it—it sort of hangs out there beyond history and outside time. It’s source is eternal, therefore its words are eternal.

Another reason why many don’t like the Bible is because it teaches. The Bible “says.” It is not a collection of difficult text to be solved and interpreted; rather, it is divine speech to be received, addressing the mind, the heart, character and conduct indicating what is not simply what we do but how we are with the author as it’s standard. When the Bible teaches, it is not simply performing the task of imparting information; rather, it is setting the pattern for thought and action.

Have you noticed the trend in restaurants? So many are now “self-serve.” They just put it all out there and you get to build your own. Ce Ce’s Pizza is just a pizza-lovers delight. Just take what you like. Chinese food has now drifted from the traditional service to the buffet. Ryan’s (now Fire Mountain) is a smorgasbord of American delight. No matter where you go, you can always have a salad.
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All fine and good eating, but this does not work with the Bible. Spiritual poverty exists because people like the salad bar, picking out the teaching they are comfortable with and ignoring the rest. Taking the salad bar approach to scripture is to tell the author that you know better, that what he is offering is not good enough. This is how prejudices are justified and personal consolation is nurtured into a stunted spiritual life. Martin Luther reminds us, “The authority of scripture is greater than the comprehension of the whole of man’s reason.”

When the Bible teaches, evil is disturbed, deception is exposed, truth is imparted, strength is offered.

The Bible is offensive because it doesn’t say, “You fail.” It says, “Here’s how you fail.” The Bible is fact that operates on the heart and life, bypassing the intellect and goes straight to the conscience. Addressing the person at the borders of his existence, the scriptures show how unlike God one really is.

The Bible contains this thing called “law” that says, “God is perfect and you can do absolutely nothing to meet that same standard.” Law shuts the mouth up. If we have told a lie, we are liars. If we have stolen, we are thieves. If we have taken God’s name on ourselves and have misrepresented Him, we have taken His name in vain. If we have looked at a woman (or man) with lust in our hearts, we have committed adultery. Right there are four of ten commands broken. We are worthy of hell. Revelation 21:8 says that all one has to be is a coward or an unbeliever to go to hell, not to mention the other things already listed. This is the reproof of the Bible! Look, if I’ve stepped on your toes with this, I apologize deeply because I was aiming for the heart!

If we have it in our mind that our God too loves to send anyone to hell, there is another commandment broken, making a false God and worshipping it. John Piper has written an excellent little letter called, "How to Respond to Horrifying Sayings of Jesus." In it, he reminds us of the authority with which Christ speaks. He also produces for us one passage that should make one think twice about how they think of God: "in Luke 19:14, Jesus describes the citizens’ relationship to the nobleman like this: 'His citizens hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to reign over us.’' Then at the end of the parable Jesus says in Luke 19:27, 'As for these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slaughter them before me.' This is horrifying. Jesus says that people who do not want his absolute authority over them will be slaughtered before his eyes. What should our hearts and minds do with this kind of talk in the mouth and heart of our Lord?"

The wonderful thing that many people don’t realize is that while they get offended, they forget that the Bible also corrects. It teaches, it reproves (shows where we fail) and it corrects. The Bible shows us what we should be doing!

The first fact the Bible shows us is not that we are sinners, per se, but exactly what we have done to sin. The second fact the Bible shows us is that we can be delivered from the power of sin through the finished work of Christ Jesus on the cross. After that, we learn that once we accept Him by faith, we are set apart! Sanctified!

F.D. Maurice (1805-1872) wrote in his book The Prayer-Book and the Lord’s Prayer, “’The Bible,’ we are told sometime, ‘gives us such a beautiful picture of what we should be.’ Nonsense! It gives us no picture at all. It reveals to us a fact: it tells us exactly what we really are; it says, This is the form in which God created you, to which He has restored you; this is the work which the eternal Son, the God of Truth and Love, is continually carrying on within you.”

Another way to look at this comes through a testimony of Dr. John MacArthur. He tells the story that he had one year to finish his doctorate and was approached by an advisor who told him that he had too much Bible and not enough philosophy. His response: “I know the truth and I’m not going to spend the next three years learning error.” When the Bible reveals error in its truth, it does not leave one alone to wallow in revealed error. It points the way to truth and shows how to carry it out! Once one is taught, once one is reproved, one is corrected!

See, it takes God to understand man. God has written this book a handbook to go along with us, an instruction book to accompany that which He designed (after all, who understands what is made best than it’s designer). It tells what to do when things go wrong. This is why the Bible teaches, reproves, corrects and trains in righteousness! We need to get the Walter Cronkite attitude: That’s the way it is!
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Religion means one gets to stay as he or she is and gain “Heaven” (or something like it) and “God” too. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 say that we must change, God is the standard of change and is the way of change and the goal of change. As a result, we are able to do perform ethically.

So there are two ways to study the Bible: with your mind made up, or to let it make up your mind.

Friday, March 24, 2006

The Silver Moon

"The Silver Moon" don't look like much, but it shore is good! This small "mom 'n pop" restaurant is just off the exit. Just take I-20 toward Florence, and get off at exit 68. You'll be starin' right at it.

The sign on the building says, "Big Daddy's", but the sign on the street is "The Silver Moon." Does'nt matter 'cause folks call it what they call it--"good."

The reg'lars sit where they sit, just like in church--each have their place, sometimes. It's busy, just not full. Some traveler will occasionally walk through the door, pause and suck in their breath as they decide to stay out of just being polite. I've heard a stranger once remark, "now this is the REAL thing" after spending a few minutes. And you know what? It really IS the real thing.

Old Lizard's Thicket menu signs hang on the old Waffle House walls. If you didn't see Today's Special written in marker on a piece of posterboard when you came in, you'll find the yellow tri-fold photocopy menu wedged between the napkin-holder and the window . . . maybe.

Fresh soda cans line a small shelf behind the counter displaying the cold drinks available today. Coffee? Might be reg'lar, might not--better ask, someone may know. Either way the pot hasn't been washed for a while . . . at least the outside . . but whatever it is tastes great, stays hot, and is never burned.

Miss Mary (she's no taller than a half drink a'water) greets each customer with a bright smile, revealing a few missing bottom teeth. She will try real hard to keep your coffee cup full.

Fred is the rarely smiling big guy with eyebrows that always seem to stay raised. Fred cooks with his right hand, the left resting above his head on the griddle's stainless steel fan cowel. Now and again he turns to talk with customers or watch the TV in the corner.

Patrice is a high school student, niece to Aunt Mary and Uncle Fred. Patrice works on weekends. She tries hard to provide professional service, taking orders without a pad. She repeats back what you tell her, once for every person at the table, "stack" memorizing each order (I guess "pancaking" would be a better descriptor). Fred has already heard the order from the grill and has probably already started cooking by the time Patrice gets to him to relay what she's memorized, Miss Mary within ear-shot, smiling. Patrice presents each plate as it comes from the kitchen with, "does this look like what you ordered?"

Folks come because they know the food is good. Forget Waffle House or IHOP. The omelets can't be beat. The pancakes and waffles are as big as saddle blankets. The biscuits (when they have them) have just enough lard not to need no butter. The burgers are hand-pressed and look like something out of a magazine. Know what's good?

Order yourself a couple a' eggs, hash browns, bacon and toast with a cup a' coffee. Even better, get Fred to whip you up an omlet with cheese and sausage.

Good stuff, Maynard!

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Hitting the streets . . . again

18 or 19 years ago my former youth pastor, Chip, approached me about going down on the streets of our town, Gallup, New Mexico to share the good news of Jesus with any and all who would listen. One thing that confirmed I had to participate was the day I was standing by the door of my workplace and instead of seeing customers walk in to do business, I saw them drop straight throught the floor into flames. Another event that confirmed I had to join Chip was when my wife and I were the librarians at our church. One night I discovered a box full of tracts in the bottom of a closet in the library. When I opened it, I did not think, "oh, let's see. Save or toss?" nor did I think, "oh, a box full of tracts!" I was quite surprised by my own reaction. "This is how many people who have not yet heard." For the next year, we did not have to purchase a single piece of literature for our street team.

Our team worked the streets of our town, never having more than three on the team consistently. The town used to be known as “Drunk-town USA” because the liquor industry was so strong there. People came from hundreds of miles to spend the weekend drinking as liquor was outlawed on the reservations. Each weekend the population of Gallup doubled. The police had two fleets of vehicles: cruisers and vans. The vans were to pick up drunks.

Consider this: when we began our ministry team, the liquor stores had drive-thru pick-up windows.

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Alcohol sales eventually became disallowed on Sunday, but another problem developed. The folks who came into town on weekends had to get their drunk on somehow, so the supermarkets experienced extremely high sales of mouthwash and hairspray . . .

We hit the streets. After much time in prayer, we started hanging out on the sidewalk outside the Commercial Bar. Three of us. Two bouncers came out on our first night when they saw we had no intention of being customers. They talked to our friend Jack. Chip and myself had our hands full giving tracks to anyone, sober or not, sharing the gospel with anyone who could comprehend. At the end of the evening Jack was leading the two bouncers in prayer . . .

The owner of the bar did not like us too much (we never saw the bouncers again) and he started giving away free drinks to anyone who would bring him our tracts. We prayed God would shut him down. Week after week we visited the Commercial, the Round-up and dozens of other bars. When cold weather came, we brought blankets and jackets with us as people would just pass out and sometimes die of hypothermia.

Little did we know that when the Police came and picked up drunks for protective custody, our tracts were going into the police station. We met few other Christians down there sharing Christ and discovered there was a concerted effort to see people on the streets, those who came into town from the reservations, saved and area Churches had the same burden we did.

A year and a half later, God made it clear I had to go to Bible College. My wife and I left with our two baby girls and went to Bible College in 1990. I heard later that the Mayor of Galleup had become a Christian and was making some changes.

A couple of years ago I had the opportunity to go back home for a visit. Know what I saw? Clean streets, hardly a soul to be seen. The Commercial Bar had been destroyed and made into a parking lot, like a modern day Tyre and Sidon. The Roundup and another bar had been converted into churches. The liquor industry was still strong, but I don't remember any drive-thru liquor windows.

Since I moved in 1989, I've not had a clear witnessing opportunity that I can remember . . . Until last night. I admit I got so wrapped up in school and ministry and family I shut myself off from these witnessing opportunities. I now work in a Seminary and surround myself with Christian community--I've insulated myself from the world for the sake of ministry and academics.

God has been working on my heart the past few weeks about all this and yesterday afternoon God made it perfectly clear that I had an hour-and-a-half on Wednesdays and the same amount of time on Sunday set aside for the purpose of witnessing. God made it clear to me I had to do something when I went to church. By the way, guess where our church is located? Right in downtown Columbia. A few blocks from the State House.

About 4:30 in afternoon I was convinced I had to do this. There was nothing to pray about . . . God already said it was ok. I spent and hour and a half walking the block downtown last night(you can witness and preach in any place “America”, but not on private property . . . but what if it is your church? Heh?) Before I left I picked up 50 tracts and stopped by the fellowship hall to see if anyone wanted to go with me. Some of my Sunday school class was eating dinner . . . I think I scared them. They didn’t come.

As I went out, I prayed and actually made a few contacts. One guy I spoke with gave a most interesting reaction. He came toward me on the sidewalk and I asked him, “Hey there. Did you get one of these? It’s a gospel tract.”

He looked at it. “Sure.”

“Got a minute I can ask you some questions?”

“I guess.” He said.

“Would you consider yourself to be a good person?” And I began to witness.

When I got to the part about, “If you died in your sin, would you go to heaven or hell?” his eyes got really wide and he said, “Oh my gosh!” and took off running!

I've had my life threatened, been yelled at, shoved around, insulted. I've seen people crumble when they were "caught backsliding". I've seen people pray and be delivered--but I've never seen anyone run!

14 tracts were distributed and there were three clear gospel presentations with no repentances. I don't believe in "decisions" anymore as they foster more backsliding and false conversions (had they ever slid forward to begin with?)

I know I sound like I am tooting my own horn here but that is not my intent. I am excited. Very excited. I am excited about what God is going to do. I am exciting that God confronted me with my own complacency and changed my heart and opened my eyes to the obvious opportunities I have missed.

Here’s what I would like to ask of you--Please pray for:

1. A committed team be raised to share the gospel right on our own sidewalks in Columbia, South Carolina. The weather is getting nice, time change cometh and that means more people will be out there;

2. Protection as we move through downtown as God leads;

3. Clear gospel presentations and for people to repent;

4. John 4 to be reproduced here in Columbia as it did in Gallup, New Mexico.

5. Please pray for my daughter and her friends because, you know what? When I talk with her again and if I ever see her friends again, I’m gonna ask them about their soul.

So, let me ask you . . . would you consider yourself to be a good person? Good enough to go to heaven . . . ?

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Getting Back

I think I am finally getting back into the swing of things. Getting caught up nicely. Rest is still much needed as allergies are keeping me just above the dragging stage, but at least I'm not flat on my back.

Classes are going again. Southern Baptist Heritage was really good last night as we discussed Biblical Authority. Confessions and Creeds are next week. Yay! Al Mohler's blog on the subject of Biblical Authority today was a day late for class, but timely nevertheless (I feel like he's reading over my shoulder sometimes--his publications when I taught Ethics were right in step in a weird kind of way).

Sunday School class had a great turnout last week. I need to get back into an exegetical study, but we are covering some good topics and I will let those peter out first. We are looking at Anger right now (thanks, Wayne Mack!).

Work is down to a dull roar now that I have all my websites done (through 2009!) and correspondences are caught up. Registrations are coming in for Summer Studies, so things are picking up in that department.

Family is still adjusting to the move plus "the incident" with our oldest daughter. She has decided to stay away from home in an attempt to "prove herself." I still get down about it a bit, but at least we know where she is and she is safe. I just pray that God would open her eyes to many things.

Now that most things are unpacked around the house I have one flower bed planted and the sprouts are already poking through. I have five rows planted in the vegetable garden and have so much more yet to do there. I plan to have another flower bed planted by the weekend (I don't give my wife flowers. She gets GARDENS!). Hopefully I will have another bed ready for vegetables too . . . might sneak some into the flowers . . . radishes make great cultivators!

Monday, March 20, 2006

Back to simple.

This has been a very stressful month. Transitions through all the changes have been very slow, or I am running out of steam . . . or perhaps both. Right now I am staying about 2 days behind on everything and way over budget. Am considering further changes that will certainly lighten the load and keep focused. I keep thinking of those great historical figures who said things like, "all we had was a Bible, Pilgrim's Progress and Foxe's Book of Martyrs." Remember when Phil Johnson had to cut back? I am considering changes that would reduce many things down that drastically.

The sermon yesterday on Isaiah 40:38-31 was timely.

I've been meditating on Zechariah 3 and God is working on me and my role as the leader of my family.

William Plumer wrote in "Vital Godliness: A Treatise on Experimental and Practical Piety" (1864), "The daily business of a Christian is to . . . resist the devil, deny himself, overcome the world, crucify the flesh with its affections and lusts, imitate Christ, walk with God."

Got to get back to "simple" and what is most important.

Friday, March 17, 2006

thinking about: what's in it?

Someone once said that a preacher should to be ready to preach at the drop of a hat and be on the second point before it hits the ground. Well, I don't have a hat, so please be satisified with this thought from Spurgeon:


"WHEN we were in Venice we purchased a few curiosities, and finding them burdensome, we thought of sending them home by one of the English vessels lying in the Canal. We went out in a gondola with our box, and having asked for the captain of one of the vessels, we put to him the question, "Will you take a box for us to London, and what is the charge?" His reply was very ready, "I can't say till I know what's in it, for I don't want to get into trouble." A very common sense answer indeed; we admired its caution and honesty.

What a pity that men do not exercise as much care in spiritual matters, as to what they will receive or reject."

Read the rest here.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Double Helix Nebula?

I've not done this for a while, but check this out.

We heard from my daughter today. She is well, but please continue to pray . . .

Still scratching our heads.

I think it was four, maybe five years ago we were visiting family in Tennessee. We out-of-towners were staying at a nice hotel in town. Our oldest son was in his grand-parents room so there were only six of us in our room.

I remember suddenly waking up one night and realizing the bed of youngest daughter was empty. She would have been only five or six then. We found her down the hall, asleep behind a tree near the elevator. She had somehow in her sleep-walk managed to walk right by our bed, undo three locks and wander down the hall.

I never heard a blamed thing.

And every time we travel with the kids, my wife moves furniture in front of the hotel door.

The latest turn is that my prodigal daughter has alienated her friends and has now ditched them as well. For some reason she has decided to leave her friends and, well, rest assured that we know where she is: physically, safe; spiritually, prayed for.

What does a parent do but review everything, looking and asking, "where did I go wrong that my child feels they have to do things like this?" We just can't figure it out. I think it has more to do with sibling rivalry than anything else. I've actually made conscious efforts to belay this among children and in my own parenting; nevertheless, it still happens, right? But sometimes, sibling rivalry can be fed by others, even the church. "Why can't you be more like your sister?"

My oldest son asked the right question the other day: "what do we do if and when she comes back home?" I reminded him of that story Jesus told of the Prodigal Son. Making him tell me the story was good for both of us. When he finished, I said, "that's how she will be received."

But one thought will not go away, and further questions of my own develop. "What happened the next day and the next week, and the following month around that house Jesus spoke of?"

What did they say to each other?
How did they work through their stuff?
What kind of counseling would they have received?
Biblical counsel would have looked like . . . what in that day?
There was only one nouthetic Rabbi right now. What would have been Jesus' counsel to them from scripture?

What would Jesus say to the Prodigal?
What would Jesus say to the brother?
What would Jesus say to the father and the mother?
What instructions would the servants receive?

I know the context of the passage and I know the point of the story; however, if situations like ours drive folks to look at passages Luke 15 for hope, then how do we carry it through to resolution. The story ends with the point Jesus makes . . . or does it?

I actually think I have an idea about what He would say . . . I'll let you know.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Yesterday

The morning started off worse than an old Beatles album. Yesterday, before I could wake up, fall out of bed and drag a comb across my head, I discovered that she'd already left home. There I was, minding my own business, sleeping, when I was instantly awake--just sat straight up . . . Awake. I thought that only happened in the movies. I looked at the clock, 5:20 a.m., went out to see if my daughter ever locked the back door (she was outside at midnight on her cell phone . . . "be right in, daddy!" she said). I was asleep even before I got in bed at quarter after midnight . . .
Now, I was standing there looking at the unlocked back door. Oh well. She probably forgot. My three girls share a room right across from the bathroom . . . I looked on them on my way to "check the plumbing" and noticed my oldest daughter's comforter and pillows were gone, clothes strewn everywhere. Top bunk empty . . .
No 'Lisa.
I look in the lower bunk where two sisters lay sleeping. . .
No 'Lisa.
I checked her oldest brother's room . . .
No 'Lisa.
I checked her little brother's room . . .
No 'Lisa.
I checked my room . . .
No 'Lisa.
I checked the couch . . .
No 'Lisa.
I checked outside . . .
No 'Lisa.

Thus began my morning.

By this time my wife woke and I asked her if she knew where our 18 year-old was . . . And thus began her morning.

A call on the cell-phone . . . She is an hour away at her "friend's" house. She ran away. She is 18, you know. Doesn't matter she is 12 weeks away from finishing High School. She is with her "friend." She has walked out on her job, responsibilities, etc. to go and make a life for herself.

The scariest thing about all this is that I know exactly what she is thinking, how she is thinking and why she is thinking it. Been there, done that.
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[I'm the idiot stoner with the shirt. The beauty with the "Mother's Against Drunk Driving" shirt would become (and remain to be) my wife. ]

For some reason, I can’t get mad about it. All I can do is pray and carry on with life. My wife is the same way. Of course, I did move about 1000 pounds of food yesterday in the food bank we manage. And I did strip an 8’ x 10’ plot of ground and start turning it for a garden . . . all by hand. My wife says that instead of salty tears coming through my eyes, I cried with my body. Perhaps I did.

I don’t get it. She wants to walk away from a free college education just twelve weeks before the end of her High School career so she can “live her life”. When I told her not to touch the hot stove, she didn’t. When I told her to look both ways across the street and hold my hand, she did. When I put the dangers out of reach and told her what would be harmful, she listened. When I read the Bible, she heard. She went to AWANA. She has been involved in ministry. She is a smart girl, great with kids, lots of leadership potential.

Her siblings are treating this like a death. They cried most of the day: “Oh, here is ‘Lisa’s shirt. Here is her room.” Etc. What do you say when they ask if she is coming home? “Not right now” is my answer.

Last night we ate a small dinner and goofed around some. Then one of the kids suggested we go to The Point (a scenic overlook on campus) and pray. The moon was almost full and everything was bright, so we loaded up the dog and went to The Point. They played and screamed and ran around in the dark for about an hour. Finally, we gathered in the gazebo and prayed for ‘Lisa and talked about “if we were still 7 in the family, or are we six?”; “what if she doesn’t come back can I have her stuff?”; “Is she going to go to church?” and other stuff like that. The best one was, “is this God’s will?” Of course it is. How else is someone going to learn? God is teaching us all something right now, not just her. Everyone was satisfied, so we left.

Working up a hunger after playing following that small supper we went to Food Lion, got some pizza, went home and watched Buster Keaton at midnight.

Life goes on. Differently, but on it goes. I can't do much without thinking of her. Praying for her. Wondering about the state of her soul and the souls of those who she is with. I'm not mad, can't get mad. All I can do is pray that none die without being confronted with the burden of sin and the grace of God.

Proverbs 13:15.

What do I do? I have responsibilities to fulfill and my daughter is "out there." I have to administer and she is "out there." I have to teach and she is "out there." My wife and she worked at the same place . . . she is distraught because her daugher is "out there." I still have four children who are not ready for their sister to be "out there."

That's all I can say right now.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

I'm back . . . I think . . .

I've really missed being here. I was also glad to have a break from “the routine”--God used a good portion of my time away to remind me of the most important things--time away from the technologies (TV or computers, etc) have been refreshing.

Rather than my simply report the events of our move, I was going to actually set this up like a Mad-Lib game because, 1) there were times this last week when I had no words to describe what was occurring, so filling in the blanks would have captured the spirit; and, 2) I was on drugs when I came up with the whole mad-lib idea (the reason will be clear later).

What began as a fiasco ended as an unequivocal quivering monstrosity of cock-eyed flum-dummery (either that, or "insert adjective here"). We had planned on completing our move in 2 days, but instead, finished 4 days later at 11:30 p.m.

The place we were moving was the House of Entropy--pre-existing problems experienced by the owners (as former tenants) worsened as we could not get proper repairs made after we had moved in almost three years previous. At some point, each one in our family has gotten sick and most of us stayed sick in our three years there. We were not aware how serious the problems were that caused our sickness until deeper into our move out--three rooms of the house were invaded by Black Mold, a process that began long before we arrived. We were forced to inspect every inch of everything we had looking for mold. About half of our furniture had to be destroyed, so every item had to be inspected piece by piece, inch by inch. Leslie and I still scratch our heads because even places that had just been cleaned were growing mold. It was unstoppable. Our move was providentially timed. Ironically, the things we had in storage remained untouched.

Late Tuesday afternoon during the move, I was met at the new house by two Jehovah's Witnesses from the local Kingdom Hall--we will here refer to them as "Reader" and "Partner". As I saw them, I was greatly impressed not to talk to them about anything, but just read the Bible. As “reader” began his presentation , I interrupted him by pointing to his Bible and asked him to please read to me some scripture. He gladly agreed. I asked (to Partner's chagrin) that he read from John's gospel.

Most people don't know this, but JW's consider Bible reading on an individual basis to be sin as one would be tempted to interpret for himself ("no prophecy of scripture is of one's own interpretation" and "make no idols"). JW's only read texts they are told to read by the Watchtower Society, and they do it as a group to avoid private interpretation, using Watchtower publications to explain what is read. Because we were a "group" they could read, but because I am considered to be a child of Satan and not part of the Kingdom, this caused them a problem. The point I was going to make was they had no argument with me, but placed a stumbling block before them with whom they had to do.

As each verse was read by Reader, Partner got more and more irritated. Each time Reader ended a verse, he tried to interpret--I just asked him to keep reading (after all, I did not want him to sin). Partner tried to bring in other subjects and other texts. I would ask, "Is this from the same passage he is reading from?" and he would get quiet. After about ten minutes, Reader had only read the first ten verses--not having read straight through a passage before was a challenge.

Curiosity got the best of them.

"Don't you have a Bible?" They asked.

"Yes, but I don't have it with me." I explained I was in the process of moving--they made no suggestion to help, much less leave, as most people would do if you suggest loading or unloading.

"Why do you want us to read you the Bible?" they asked.

"Because,” I replied, “I've not heard the reading of God's Word today [referring to the fact I'd not had devotions]; and there is no better way to learn about God and His Kingdom than reading the Bible."

They agreed. The partner pulled out a Watchtower Tract and pointed to quoted passage that underscored their agenda. I told him I did not know what that [tract] was, please read the passage from the Bible. Reader took the tract from me (!) and Partner, quite upset, found the passage and read it. "Great," I said, "let's read the whole chapter for context."

Reader began to comply, but Partner was greatly disturbed, huffing, “there are much better things to do than stand here and read the Bible.”

I said, "Fine. Come back when I am here and we will take up reading the Bible together right where we left off. Bring as many friends as you wish, as long as we only read the Bible."

They agreed. We will see. You will please pray.

My wife only got one day off from work during the move, and my daughter had none so I had to take Leslie and my daughter to work each day. Wednesday we got the truck and moved all the big stuff. I quickly was reminded of the blessing of living in an older house: those things which are near impossible to get through a mobile home door have no issues with older home doorways. Thanks to my friend and the kids, we got the truck loaded and unloaded in record time. The truck rental guy gave me extended time at no charge--real blessing there!

I got really sick late Thursday and almost went to Doctor's Care on Friday. I went to the Chiropractor instead and his laying on of hands provided the relief I needed to get done. The mold in our former house was unnatural and my allergies really took a beating. Those chapters of Leviticus concerning leprous clothes and houses crossed my mind frequently.

After eating a late lunch on Saturday, I spent the rest of the evening with my wife on a spontaneous date in the Emergency Room because I developed a sudden food allergy. At some point in my sudden after-lunch two-hour nap, my tongue had swollen ("swole-up", for my Texan breth'rn) and I was not really aware anything was wrong until I tried to speak, discovering quickly how drunk I sounded—and that I could not breathe. I was incoherent, my hands puffed up so much I could not even pick up a pen. Friends, I strongly do not recommend Benadryl by IV, ok? Ice water would feel much better. Inject a little Salumedrol (sp?) and you have one no little narcotic effect. I feel like a heathen.

The last couple of days, I have been battling bronchitis and other asthma-related issues. It will be another week or so before I get back into the full swing of things again.

So, we are all moved in. The kids are like, "I feel like I live at the Hampton Suites!" The dog is happy to have new trees. The turtle doesn’t know what to think, or he simply doesn't care.

Next week I hope to have ground turned for flower and vegetable gardens. A bit of a late start, but given the circumstances, we'll be just fine.

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