SOME THINGS HAVE CHANGED

In a book published in 1985 that is new to me, the author declares “to note the obvious: some things have changed.” Yes, it is obvious; some things have changed. At the age of 66, and having recently moved from Southern California (after 32 years) to the Texas Panhandle, I’m well aware of much change in my life. And I am intrigued by this matter of change.

Change is inevitable. Yesterday I went to get my Texas driver’s license and had to fill out those four areas describing my appearance. My height, weight, and eye color are all still the same as my old license; but I changed my hair color from brown to gray. (I don’t mind my gray hair–at least I have hair!) Not only is change inevitable with our bodies and physical appearance, change is inevitable with almost anything and everything. We may not like it, but we cannot stop it.

A lot of change is good. Much of what we call progress is good change. In my life I have benefited, and hope to benefit in the future, from changes in the medical field. As Christians we want to change—we want to grow and be transformed into the kind of people the Lord has called us to be. Admittedly, the process of even good change can be uncomfortable, but we like the result.

Change often is good, but not everyone agrees whether certain changes are good or bad. Change that is progress to some is certainly not progress to others. Often a person’s perspective on whether social and cultural changes are good or bad is generational. I think it’s safe to say not all the changes are good, nor are they all bad.

I am most interested in changes in Christian theology and doctrine, understanding and interpreting the Bible, and living the Christian life. When I was in high school our youth group was split down the middle with regard to the question “Can Christians dance?” That may or may not be a question asked today, but I’ve always agreed with Tony Campolo’s answer: “Some can, some can’t.”

A couple of current high profile controversial issues in the larger Christian community, not necessarily related, are the role of women in ministry and the traditional view of sexuality and marriage. A variety of Christian leaders have changed their views on one or both while many have maintained longstanding positions.

I don’t think it is wrong for a Christian to change her or his mind about a particular issue, doctrine, or biblical interpretation. For years the magazine The Christian Century published a number of essays titled “How My Mind Has Changed.” And in 2010 a book titled How I Changed My Mind about Women in Leadership was published with multiple authors contributing.

I think there is value in the suggestion made by the author I quoted earlier that perhaps what we presently believe, as well as believed in the past, both need to be carefully rethought. Those two words “carefully rethought” get my attention. It seems to me a lot of changes are made that are not carefully rethought as well as some changes resisted without careful rethinking.

One thing we do know is that God does not change. Theologians call it the immutability of God. A.W. Tozer explains that means “He never differs from Himself.” Later he adds: “What peace it brings to the Christian’s heart to realize that our Heavenly Father never differs from Himself.” In his classic book Knowing God, J.I. Packer has a chapter entitled “God Unchanging.” In it he notes God’s life, character, truth, ways, purposes, and Son do not change. He summarizes, “This thought brings comfort as we enter into the perplexities of each day; amid all the changes and uncertainties of life, God and Christ remain the same.”

Some things have changed and things will continue to change. I gain comfort and peace from knowing God doesn’t. Don’t you?

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PRODUCING FRUIT

For the past couple of weeks I have been slowly working my way through a new book by Christopher Wright entitled Cultivating the Fruit of the Spirit. I’m not necessarily recommending it, but reading it has challenged me once again to give some thought to just how the fruit of the Spirit is produced in our lives.

To refresh your memory if needed, the Apostle Paul talks about the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22 and 23. He contrasts the nine qualities of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control with an undesirable list of “the acts of the flesh.”

While reading Wright’s book I watched a short video online by a pastor who suggested that telling believers the fruit of the Spirit is “character traits we should try to work on” is wrong. He emphasized “the fruit of the Spirit are [sic] the result of walking by the Spirit.”

In his introduction about the fruit of the Sprit, Wright declares “these are the qualities that God himself will produce in a person’s everyday, ordinary human life because the life of God himself is at work within them.” Later in the book, however, when discussing patience, Wright asserts “It is fruit, but at the same time we need to work at it. There is effort and struggle involved.” Those two statements seemed almost contradictory to me.

I then went to a commentary on Galatians by one of my favorite writers, John Stott, and read his observation that the fruit of the Spirit is “the natural produce that appears in the lives of Spirit-led Christians.” I then checked another commentator I like, and writing about love as fruit of the Spirit he noted it requires “deliberate effort” to never seek anything but the best for someone. These two statements also seemed somewhat contradictory.

How is the fruit of the Spirit produced in a believer’s life? Is it automatic? Does the Holy Spirit just make it happen? Or do we have a part to play? Do we have to put forth effort and work at it? We don’t completely understand how the Spirit produces His fruit in us, but it seems obvious we have a part to play.

I think the reality is, that in order to produce this “cluster of nine Christian graces” in our lives, we must cooperate with the Holy Spirit whom the Lord has given to live in us. Citing two phrases from the larger context of Galatians 5:16-26, Stott clarifies: “there is clearly a distinction between ‘being led by the Spirit’ and ‘walking by the Spirit’, for the former expression is passive and the latter is active. It is the Spirit who does the leading, but we who do the walking.”

We have a part in producing the fruit and the Holy Spirit has a part. The Spirit will not do it without our cooperation and we cannot do it without His help. I’d like to see more of this fruit produced in my life. How about you?

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A NEW HOUSE PRAYER

(Many readers know that in December Jan and I moved from Southern California to the Texas Panhandle to be closer to our two grandsons. On one of her visits in November Jan went house hunting and eventually decided we would buy a new house. The only problem was the new house was still to be built. They built the house in about three months and last Friday we closed. The truck with our belongings arrives today. This is the prayer I prayed last night.)

Heavenly Father,

As we move into this new house, our hearts are filled with gratitude for your blessings upon us. Occupying our own house marks the next step in the transition to this new chapter of our lives. What a transition it has been and will continue to be in the weeks and months ahead. You have been with us every step of the way and we pause to thank You as we take this next step. We also again thank You for the quick and easy sale of our house in Moreno Valley and for Rob’s outstanding work as our realtor. Having our son as our realtor was an extra blessing!

This will be the third new house You have allowed Jan and me to buy in our almost 43 years of marriage. We realize many never have the opportunity to buy a house at all, let alone a new one—and yet we have had the privilege of buying three! I am so grateful for and to Jan for taking the lead with everything in purchasing this house. (However, as You know, it only seems appropriate since I did it over 32 years ago when we moved from Philadelphia to California.)

Living with our daughter and two grandsons the last three months has been a wonderful experience. We will miss what we have enjoyed so much, but it’s time for us to have our own home. Having our own house, and being so close to them, will be the best of both worlds! We’ll probably visit more often than we should; and we look forward to regularly having the boys spend the night with us.

We ask You to watch over our possessions and us as the truck travels from California, things are moved in, and this house becomes our home. Help us both be patient (mostly me!) as we arrange our furniture, unpack the boxes, and set up the TV, computers, and other things I don’t understand.

Lord, we want our house and home to be a place of warmth, peace, and love—for us, our family when they visit, and guests we hope to welcome from time to time. We want to be good neighbors and servants to those in our development; and we want Your light to shine though us that others may see it and glorify You. Help us to be both wise in our witness and humble in our service.

Father, I certainly don’t know the future, but You do. This very well could be the last house we own. Not only do we thank you for our new home, and ask for Your blessing upon it and us, we also dedicate it to You. Like everything you have committed to our care, this house is also Yours. Help us we pray to enjoy it and take care of it. May it be a place where Your love is preeminent and Your name is always honored.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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I SAW IT

This past Sunday evening I went by myself to see the movie The Shack. For several days I had read a number of comments about it from a variety of writers—most of which were negative and critical. Having read the book a number of years ago, and leading a well-attended three week Wednesday evening study of it at church, I wanted to see what they had done with the book in a movie.

As a pastor for more than 45 years I have gone to see many movies with biblical and Christian related themes with the expectation I would be asked about them. I have recommended some like Son of God, God is Not Dead, and Risen. I have also panned others such as Noah and Gods and Kings. I have yet to see a movie along these lines with which I was completely satisfied.

My short response to The Shack is I am glad I saw it. I realize some will be disappointed by that, but I am neither recommending nor discouraging you see it or not. That is your decision.

The Shack (like God is Not Dead) is not about a biblical story or account, but about theology and the Christian life. And while it is a story, it is fiction. But as we all know, fiction can be powerful. My sense is that many will be touched, challenged, and encouraged by this story and film. I won’t tell the story, but will make a few observations about it.

The primary message of the movie is that God loves people. At one point God tells Mack “you have no idea how much I love you” and later affirms “you were created to be loved.” People need to “know what it’s like to feel truly loved.” The issue, however, that puts into question God’s love is “the problem of evil.” “Evil is real” and there is “no promise of a pain free life.” God tells Mack “when all you see is your pain you lose sight of me.” Part of God’s answer is “I can work incredible good out of tragedy, but that doesn’t mean I orchestrate it.” The challenge is that even when we do not understand, God wants us to trust Him.

The most creative aspect of the movie for me was the depiction of God as the Trinity. The Father is called “Papa” and is played by a black woman. Jesus is a non-white male and the Holy Spirit is an Asian female. The interaction among the three, as well as the dialogue with Mack, was interesting and imaginable to me. I especially appreciated the moments of humor.

At one point in the movie Jesus invites Mack to walk on the water with Him to the shore. Later Mack starts to walk back on the water ahead of Jesus and is unable to do so. Jesus tells him to wait, and then as they walk together notes “it is better when we do this together.”

As others have observed, The Shack has both some good and some bad points. And some of them are very subtle. I find that to be true with most of the biblical/Christian themed movies I see and books I read. Flawed as it is, The Shack challenged and encouraged my thinking about theology and the Christian life.

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ARE WE THERE YET?

Although the title question of this post is usually asked when traveling somewhere by car, it can also be asked in a variety of situations and circumstances. In early December I wrote about Jan’s and my move from Southern California to the Texas Panhandle under the title “A Bright Sadness.” She left a couple of weeks ahead of me and as I packed my car to drive from Moreno Valley to Texas I concluded my thoughts: “Right now my bright sadness is sadder than it is bright. Soon, however, the brightness will outshine the sadness.” After almost three months I’m asking myself, “Are we there yet?” The short answer is “Not yet, but we’re making progress.”

I have been overwhelmed by the welcome and warmth of so many of the people we have met. It seems like everyone we meet is cordial and interested in us. I’ve never been addressed as “honey” so often in my life. One lady two weeks ago actually called me “sugar.” I think the last person who called me that was my mom many years ago. When we walk the dogs we almost always see people we greet by name and who greet us by name. I joined Gold’s Gym and a racquetball league and the guys have all been friendly. I have yet to win a game, but after each match the guy who beat me has given me a free lesson!

I’ve played golf a few times and joined up with others a couple of times, but have not yet found any regulars with whom I can play. I hope to connect with a couple of the guys I play racquetball with and return the favor in golf they have shown me in racquetball. As so many told me ahead of time, the real drawback for golf here is the wind. I did join single players on two occasions and exchanged contact info with them. The one sent me an email saying I was “a hoot to play with.” The other, who is 79, told me to call him if I was willing to play with someone that old. I am and I will.

All the churches we have visited have welcomed us with open arms and we have officially become members at one. I am looking forward to the opportunity to preach in a couple of weeks as all the preaching pastors will be gone on a Mexico mission trip. I believe this church is going to be a great place for Jan and me to worship, serve, and fellowship.

I do have a gentleman I would call my best friend in Amarillo. And he truly is a gentleman. We connected over three years ago when Jan and I first started thinking about relocating to Amarillo. Over the course of those three years we stayed in touch and since arriving he has been a great help and friend to me. He is a man of faith, we are about the same age, and so far, he is the only person I have been able to beat in racquetball!

I am still exploring potential opportunities for part time work that will allow me to serve in ministry in some way, but nothing yet has solidified. I am not, however, discouraged.

The brightest aspect of our move, of course, has been the opportunity to live with our daughter and two grandsons and help take care of them.  Jan and I stayed home with the little guy (age 3) sick last Tuesday and I stayed home with the big guy (age 6) sick last Thursday. I have rug burns on both knees and elbows. We move into our own house in a couple of weeks, but we will stay deeply involved and closely connected with them.

We have transferred our cars and put Texas tags on them, but we cannot get Texas driver’s licenses until we have utility bills. We still grieve the passing of our cat, but our dog, Macy, is doing great playing with her new friend Leonard (Audrey’s dog). I am looking forward to a return to Southern California for a visit in late April or May.

I think people ask the question “Are we there yet?” because they have unrealistic expectations with regard to how long it will take to get to where they are going. And those unrealistic expectations result in impatience which makes the trip even more frustrating. It would probably be helpful if we tried to enjoy the trip itself. Jan and I have not fully arrived, but we are making good progress—and we will get there.

(If you have not read the post “A Bright Sadness” you can do so at https://bobmmink.com/2016/12/05/a-bright-sadness/ )

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