THINKING BACK

Our church’s senior pastor covered the opening verses of Paul’s letter to the Philippians in our summer series this past weekend and prompted me to do some thinking back with one of his suggested applications.

In the greeting to what many call his “favorite church” Paul writes in verse 3, “I thank my God every time I remember you” (NIV). Another rendering “Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God” (NLT). Underscoring Paul’s example, our pastor encouraged us to “remember the people who have given you joyful memories.”

Last night and today I have spent some time thinking back with joy about the many people who impacted me in terms of my Christian life and over 45 years of vocational ministry. There’s no way I can remember and list all of them, but I would like to list several whom God used to make a significant impact upon me.

Charles Carter, a young minister of a small church who welcomed my brother and me and baptized us into Christ.

John Russell, our first and only youth minister at that same church until I graduated from high school. No one has had a greater impact on me than John.

Most of the elders at Forest Dale Church of Christ during my junior high and senior high years; and Harvey Bream who was a member at our church and later president of Cincinnati Christian University.

Royce Cheeseman and Paul Lowry, elders at Northeast Christian Church in Columbus, Ohio, where I served as a youth minister intern the summer of 1970.

Jim Irby, minister, and the elders of Bridgetown Church of Christ in Cincinnati, Ohio, where I served for almost five years as youth minister.

Jim Smith and Jack Cottrell, professors at Cincinnati Christian Seminary.

Charly Williams, Jerry Finnie, and Jim Tyler who served as elders during my nine years as minister of Delaware Valley Church of Christ in the Philadelphia area, and Hugh Thomson who was a great friend and father figure to me.

Bruce Metzger, who was Professor of New Testament at Princeton Theological Seminary and one of the smartest and kindest teachers I ever sat under.

Floyd Strater, Ralph Dornette, LeRoy Lawson, Ben Merold, Larry Winger, and Joe Grana – all area leaders in Southern California who welcomed me and encouraged me during my 30 years there.

Max Whiteman, Don Funkhouser, Greg Miller, Joe Anderson, Joe Bunker, Greg Flannery, Dave Hahn and other Vision Planning Team Members and elders who served in leadership with me during my 30 years at Discovery Christian Church.

As I continue to think back I know others will come to mind, but this list is a good beginning point of those who made a difference in my life and ministry and whom I remember today with great joy and gratitude.

As I review this list I am aware that I have not included any women. It isn’t because I don’t remember any women with joy or that I am a chauvinist. My life and ministry would not have been as joyful, productive, and enriched as it has been without the support of and care from many wonderful Christian women who made a difference in my life. I thank God for them, the men I have listed, and many others God has used to bless my life.

Following Paul’s example, and taking our pastor’s challenge, as I think about these and remember them with joy I thank God. Maybe this will encourage you to do some reflecting as well.

Feel free to leave a comment below and/or share this post on Facebook or other social media.

 

 

 

Advertisements

IT HURTS!

If you’re reading this post I’m confident you have experienced and endured pain many times. I’m in one of those times myself this week and thought it might be therapeutic for me to write about it.

Pain has many faces with multiple levels resulting from a variety of causes. Our first thought when we think about pain is physical pain, but as common as it is, physical pain is not the only kind of pain or always the most hurtful.

In addition to physical pain, there is also emotional pain. And while there are other kinds of emotional pain, today I’m thinking about the emotional pain that accompanies grief. The basic definition of grief is “deep sorrow, especially caused by someone’s death.” I’m confident all of us have grieved the death of someone we loved and cared about.

The pain I am dealing with this week is not due to the passing of someone, but the death of our dog, Macy. In the same way that readers have grieved the loss of someone they love, most readers have also grieved the loss of a beloved pet.

A couple of quotes from an article I read Monday evening after Jan took her to the vet to be put to sleep helped me accept the deep pain I felt and the tears I shed. This observation was certainly true of Macy: “For many of us, a pet is not ‘just a dog’ or ‘just a cat,’ but rather a beloved member of our family, bringing companionship, fun, and joy to our lives.” And then the author described my response to our loss, “Most of us share an intense love and bond with our animal companions, so it’s natural to feel devastated by feelings of grief and sadness when a cherished pet dies.”

I didn’t need the advice of another writer, but appreciated the thought, “you should never feel guilty or ashamed about grieving for an animal friend.” A third writer’s insight is not especially encouraging, but may prove to be helpful: “The grieving process happens only gradually. It can’t be forced or hurried—and there is no “normal” timetable for grieving.”

This post may seem odd as the description of my blog is “Considering the Christian Life, the Bible, and the Church.” The death of a loved pet is not necessarily about the Bible or the Church; but it is part of the Christian life. I needed to write this and I hope you got something from it. Macy was a cherished part of our family the last 11 years and it hurts that she is gone.

Feel free to leave a comment below and/or share this post on Facebook or other social media.

 

THE PILGRIM’S PROGRESS: A BOOK REPORT

I’m not exactly sure what grade I was in when I wrote my first book report, but I know it was in grade school. After that we wrote book reports in junior high as well as in high school. Although we did a lot of reading in college and graduate school, and sometimes we wrote about what we read, they were not called book reports.

Until a couple of weeks ago I had never read John Bunyan’s classic The Pilgrim’s Progress. Leading up to Easter this past year I received emails almost daily about Revelation Media’s movie of the story. I wanted to see it, but it was only shown on two days – Thursday and Saturday before Easter and I couldn’t go either day.

Interested because of all the promotions about the movie, I thought about getting the book and reading it. My interest was confirmed when I visited a bookstore in town that was going out of business and I found The Pilgrim’s Progress marked down 60%. I couldn’t pass up such a deal so I bought it (at such a discount I knew it had to be God’s will!); and I’m glad I did.

Here’s a short book review of The Pilgrim’s Progress.

The flap on the cover on my copy reports that “John Bunyan was a seventeenth-century Baptist preacher and writer. He became imprisoned for his Christian beliefs, and it was at that time he began work on The Pilgrim’s Progress.” He wrote the book in 1688 and it “is an allegory on the Christian life.”

The framework of the book is the account of a storyteller’s dream he had of a Christian’s journey to the Celestial City. Reflecting the time in which it was written, there are sentences that seem awkward that I needed to read a couple of times to get the meaning.

The storyteller’s report of his dream is filled with designations and titles that enhance the “allegory on the Christian life.” In addition to Christian, other characters include Evangelist, Obstinate, Pliable, Mr. Worldly Wiseman, Patience, Apollyon, Faithful, Talkative, Hopeful, Ignorance, and Little-faith. In addition to the Celestial City, other places are the Slough of Dispond [sic], Vanity Fair, Graceless, Honesty, Giant Despair, and Doubting Castle.

Readers familiar with the Bible will note lots of references and allusions to verses and passages in the Bible. But readers do not have to know the Bible to engage the story. The flap on my copy notes the book “is regarded by many as one of the most significant religious works ever written.”

If this report sparks your interest I hope you will get and read the book. I think you will not only enjoy it, but also be challenged and encouraged. I think Revelation Media’s film will be available in the future. Having read the book, I look forward to seeing the movie.

Feel free to leave a comment below and/or share this post on Facebook or other social media.

 

 

TROUBLED?

Christians sometimes are surprised when they face and deal with difficulties, setbacks, and roadblocks. And part of the reason they are surprised is because they think being a follower of Jesus should protect and insulate them from such things.

The Bible, however, does not promise that committing to live the Christian life guarantees constant smooth sailing. Not only does the Bible not make such a claim, it clearly teaches otherwise.

The clearest teaching, and perhaps best known, about this comes from Jesus himself. In what is called Jesus’ Farewell Discourse, in John 16:33 Jesus tells his followers “In this world you will have trouble” (NIV). Another translation (NLB) expands the idea of trouble with “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows.”

Having made my initial decision to be a Christian at the age 12 in 1963, I certainly have not lived a trouble-free life with no trials and sorrows. And I’m confident that neither has any other believer who is reading this reflection.

What got me to thinking about this was the encouragement of Psalm 62:8 that a couple of authors cited in a book I recently finished (Untangling Emotions by J. Alasdair Groves and Winston T. Smith, p. 102). Here’s Psalm 62:8, “Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge” (NIV).

Note and consider the three points of the verse. First, it calls us to trust God. And then because we trust him, we are to pour out our hearts to him. Finally, the Psalmist tells us why we should trust God and pour out our hearts to him – because he is our refuge.

Taken by this verse, I checked some other renderings and thought The Contemporary English Version expanded on parts 2 and 3: “always tell him each one of your concerns. God is our place of safety.”

I’m drawn to and encouraged by the instruction of Psalm 62:8. I want to trust the Lord and pour out my heart to him telling him all of my concerns; and I want to do that because he is my refuge and a place of safety.

There is much more to prayer than just what Psalm 62:8 teaches us; but because we all will be troubled at times, I don’t think we should ignore or fail to put into practice what this verse teaches us. Do you?

Feel free to leave a comment below and/or share this post on Facebook or other social media.

photo credit: eshao5721 <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/165868022@N02/47220399102″>Anelito</a&gt; via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a

THE OTHER BEATITUDES

Most people with some knowledge of the Bible are familiar with what are called The Beatitudes. The Beatitudes are the opening statements of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5 in which he lists some of the qualities and attitudes he wants his followers to cultivate and exhibit. They are called beatitudes because Jesus affirms that those who have such qualities are “blessed.”

But what does it mean to be “blessed?” In his book about the beatitudes, Max Lucado suggests it means that from heaven God applauds those with these attitudes and actions. I like to think of this usage of “blessed” as God’s favor on and congratulations to such people.

While they are the best known, Jesus’ beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount are not the only promises of being “blessed” in the Bible. What I was reminded of last week, and find especially interesting, is that there are seven beatitudes in the book of Revelation in which people are promised they are “blessed.”

There is a lot in the book of Revelation I don’t understand, and I certainly don’t understand as much as I would like about the beatitudes in the book. But I am challenged, encouraged, and affirmed by them.

You may want to go to your own Bible and read them in context, but here are the verses:

Revelation 1:3, “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it.”

Revelation 14:13, “Then I heard a voice from heaven say, ‘Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on’.”

Revelation 16:15, “Look, I come like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake and remains clothed, so as not to go naked and be shamefully exposed.”

Revelation 19:9. “Then the angel said to me, ‘Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!’ And he added, ‘These are the true words of God’.”

Revelation 20:6, “Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years.”

Revelation 22:7, “Look, I am coming soon! Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy written in this scroll.”

Revelation 22:14, “Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city.”

Revelation’s beatitudes are not easy to understand, but they are statements of God’s favor on certain people. If you’re like me, you too want to be one of those people. I encourage you to reflect on these verses as well as go back and read and reflect on Jesus’ beatitudes in Matthew 5:3-12.

Feel free to leave a comment below and/or share this post on Facebook or other social media.

The End Times, The Book of Revelation, And Jesus’ Second Coming

This week I am wrapping up my Amarillo High School New Testament Bible Class and we have spent the last few days on the Book of Revelation. In order to give a meaningful and helpful overview I had to revisit several of my books and notes on this important and controversial last book of the Bible.

Apart from my favorite commentaries on Revelation, the reading I did that had the greatest impact upon me was a Christianity Today article from February of 1987. That article is more than 32 years old and is still as relevant today as it was then!

It was written by Kenneth S. Kantzer, a biblical scholar and editor of Christianity Today at the time. Three things he wrote in that two page article convicted, challenged, and encouraged me about the subject of the title of this post.

He began the tenth paragraph of his editorial with this observation: “Too often . . . Christians have allowed eschatology to divide them.” Of course, he was right then, and what he wrote then is still true today. Discussions about the end times, the book of Revelation, and Jesus’ second coming divide Christians today.

Too many of us are over confident and rigid about our understanding, interpretation, and position when it comes to the Bible’s teaching about these things. I admit I used to be one of those. I still believe what I teach about eschatology, but after all these years of reading, learning, and teaching I am less arrogant and overbearing when I discuss the end times, the book of Revelation, and Jesus’ second coming.

In going through my file of papers on the book of Revelation it was the title of Kantzer’s article that got my attention and then his closing point that most encouraged and challenged me. The title of the article is quite simple: “Agreement Is Not Required.” I only wish he had added one word and made it “Total Agreement Is Not Required.”

In the final part of the article, entitled “A plea for unity,” Kantzer suggests the greatest strength of all the different millennial views “is their common allegiance to Jesus Christ as the Lord of history.” Then he continues, “God has a goal for this planet as well as for individuals. Human life is neither aimless nor determined by evil powers that can destroy us. God is sovereign. History has meaning. And God is working through it to achieve the goals from which he has never deviated.” I hope all Christians can agree on these powerful affirmations regardless of their specific positions, interpretations, and understandings of Jesus’ Second Coming, the Book of Revelation, and the End Times.

Continue to read about, study, and discuss these important subjects; and do so with commitment, humility, respect, and grace.

Feel free to leave a comment below and/or share this post on Facebook or other social media.

photo credit: Robert Couse-Baker <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/29233640@N07/30235532796″>this is the end</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

HOW ARE “WE” DOING?

As the title of this post suggests, I want to ask readers and myself a question. And the way I am using the first person plural pronoun is not “the royal we.” The royal we is usage of the plural by royalty (usually the king or queen) to refer to one person. My usage of “we” refers to all of us.

Last night in preparing for my high school Bible class I read through the New Testament letter of I Peter. And as many times as I have read it before, I never noticed that each of the five chapters has a similar instruction and challenge for fellow believers in the church. The more I have thought about these verses, it seems to me they are pertinent not just with fellow believers in the church, but to a variety of groups both in the church and beyond.

Here are the verses:

I Peter 1:22, “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart.”

I Peter 2:17b, “Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers.”

I Peter 3:8, “Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.”

I Peter 4:8, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.”

I Peter 5:5b, “All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another.”

Those are some powerful notes of challenge and instruction, aren’t they? Not only that, wouldn’t you agree they should not be limited to Christians and church members?

I not only want to treat my fellow church members like this; I also want to treat my extended family, my non-church going friends, the guys with whom I play golf, and lots of other people in my life. I hope as well that they too would treat me likewise.

Here’s why I think these five verses from the five chapters of I Peter raised the question in my mind, “How are we doing?” In general, I don’t think we are doing as well as we should be doing. Too many times I observe what appears to me as a lack of proper respect. Rather than clothing ourselves with humility and being humble, we are arrogant. And I note occasions where love does not cover wrongs, but grudges are held.

The question is “How are we doing?” and we includes me. I can do better, and my sense is so could everyone who reads this. I’m going to use my reading of I Peter last night, and noting the instruction and challenge, to be more intentional about putting it into practice. Perhaps you will join me?

Feel free to leave a comment below and/or share this post on Facebook or other social media.