Me with my lovely wife, Kathy:

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Preach the Word--No, Really, Preach the WORD:



Let me say upfront that this is pretty much a shoptalk piece.  I am writing with my fellow preachers in mind.

At our Easter service 2014, I did something that I have never done before.  I presented a sermon that
consisted entirely of scripture.  I figure it is something like seven-tenths of one percent of the whole Bible.  I did it from memory.  (imprefectly, but mostly.)
Toward the end of last year, my son sent me a link to a video of a message delivered by Ronnie Smith.  As you'll see if you peruse the site, Smith died not long after delivering this message.  He died while sharing the Good News.  (http://www.historyofredemption.org/, click on "watch the sermon.")  The sermon Smith delivered is composed entirely of scripture.  You will hear as you get into the message, that it is much more than a dry recitation.  It is a passionate presentation of the History of Redemption.  My son, Chris, challenged me and a couple other of his preacher-buddies to do this for Easter.  I realized that memorizing that much scripture would take a lot of work--at least for me--so I thought about it for a while.  I decided that if I did this I wouldn't just take Smith's assembly of Bible passages (though there is nothing wrong with his collection, in fact I used as a source for much of mine) but would use my own script.  Previous reading of scripture had shown me that the New Living Translation, because of its conversational tone, works well for this kind of thing, so, I decided, if did this, I would use it for the base of the presentation. I fairly early on realized that if something like this was going to work, there was no easy way.  It couldn't be read--whether from paper, or teleprompter (I don't have one, anyhow.)  It had to be memorized--and memorized to the point that as one is sharing it that he wouldn't have to think about it.  He could use his mind to focus on delivery.  I finally came to the conclusion that this was something I should do.  As I got into it I found myself asking, "Why have I not done this before?"

Over the years I have heard of other preachers who have presented similar sermons.  I heard about one preacher who memorized the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5-7, and delivered it.  I've not heard it, but I've heard that a friend of mine has a Christmas message that includes large quantities of the Bible he has memorized.  The closest I had ever come to doing anything like this was reading fairly large portions of scripture--the Book of James, most of 1 John, or the Sermon on the Mount.

Early in 2014 I decided I was going to do this.  At first I thought I would divide the message into several sections and present the pieces spread over several months, as a ramp up to the Easter message, which would be all the pieces put together.  I never really decided  to not do that.  It just didn't happen.  I put the script together and started working on it.  After I had the script assembled, I read it and recorded it.  I and a couple of others listened to it.  This led to some tweaking.  It seems like memorizing is such a very personal thing, so I won't say anything about how I memorized the material.  I'll simply say it did take a lot of work.  I'd guess I invested at least one-hundred-fifty hours, spread out over two months, in memorizing the text.  I still didn't get to the word-perfect point where I wanted to be.   If you listen to the sermon, you will hear my homiletic tires hit the gravel on the shoulder of the road numerous times.

This is really the main point of this post:  I recommend that other preachers do this.  At least once in your career, present a message that isn't just based on God's Word, but is God's Word.

Here are some of my reasons for making this recommendation:

  • In a sense it is putting our labor where our mouth is.  We talk about the power, perspicacity, sufficiency, and absolute necessity of the Bible.  OK, preach the Word.
  • I was personally moved by this presentation, so much so that had there been a freak storm on Easter Sunday, and I never had the opportunity to present this message, I would still would be glad I had done this.  The congregation heard this message once.  I "heard" it at least a hundred times, and I never grew tired or bored with it.
  • I became convinced at a deeper level of the unity, and grand sweep of scripture.  The symmetry, and the driving themes of the Book came through to me.
  • As I shared the sermon on Easter Sunday, I was struck with the power of Scripture to impact lives.  I am not opposed to preaching, in the usual sense of the word.  In fact I am a fan of the medium, but if I think that God, and God's Word, are unintelligible, unless I explain Him or it, I am simply being arrogant.  Just scripture, if the presenter gets out of the way sufficiently to allow the pathos, as well as the logos of the Bible to come through (and this is one reason the text has to be memorized to the point so one becomes comfortable with it), will impact people.  God did not give His Word only for PHDs.
Probably by this point you already see some dangers.  Here are some I tried to guard against.
  • I absotively, posolutely did not want to crash and burn.  Some of my practice sessions produced the human equivalent of a locked up computer.  I came to a point where if you had asked me, "Howard, what is your name?"  I couldn't have answered.  Obviously, I didn't want the people who came to the Easter service at CBC to go home and say, "Wow, that was really something.  I don't think I've ever seen somebody crash that spectacularly."  So, I decided early on I wasn't going to do this without a net.  If you watch the sermon, you can see a large monitor in front of me.  A colleague--a trusted one--displayed the text of the sermon for me.  Mostly I didn't use it, but--call me a coward if you want--I was very reassured that it was there.
  • I wanted this to be about Word of God, and the God of the Word, not this poor preacher.  I've already said that this was a lot of work, and quite unusual, so it was unavoidable that this presentation would attract some attention to itself and to me.  My constant prayer, though, was, and is, that this would be to the glory of the Word, not the presenter of the Word.  And here is one of the oddities.  It seemed to me, if that were going to take place, that I had to do this in a non-stumbling manner.  I didn't want folk to say, "We could see that he worked really hard at that, but he got through.  Bless his heart."  I tried to do well, so people wouldn't notice that I did well.  I had a couple of months to work on this inner antinomy.  I suppose you could add this to the list of benefits, above.  It is good to work hard and do something with as much excellence as one can, so as to present it as an offering to the Lord.  I figure this was something that Bezalel and Aholiab had to work through.
  • This one has more to do with preparing the script than the presentation.  I found it hard to edit out portions of scripture.  This is the Word of God.  Who am I to say that this word or this sentence, etc. should be cut.  Yet, in trying to tell God's Story in about thirty minutes I had to edit out some over seventy hours of material.  Not only did I select certain portions of scripture--effectively editing out the rest.  I chopped out words, phrases, sentences, and paragraphs from those passages.  If you read through the scripture I listed in the handout it will take you considerably longer than half an hour.  In my editing I really tried not be cute and especially to not be deceptive.  Whenever possible, I looked for briefer accounts of the same event given elsewhere in the Bible.  Stephen, in his sermon in Acts, helped me out several times.  The exercise forced me to apply 2 Timothy 2:15.
Bottom line:  At this point I'm planning to do this again.  I want to review this message--possibly tweak it some--enough so I can use it again sometime, without completely relearning it.  I'm thinking about some other similar projects.  Like my son, who go this started for me--thanks, Chris--I challenge you.  Preach the Word.  at least once in your life.

Website for the Hisotry of Redemption:  http://www.historyofredemption.org/  (click on "watch the sermon")
My Easter Sermon, God's Story in His Own Words: 
http://www.truthcasting.com/player.aspx#showSermon=94101

The handout containing the list of scripture used: http://covingtonbiblechurch.com/images/handout.pdf

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Morning After Easter, Some Personal Reflections:

It is a lazy morning the day after Easter.  The start of a project awaits for later in the day.  Right now, after sleeping in this morning, I'm sitting here hoping Kathy gets up first so she can bring me another cup of coffee.  It's not so much that I'm tired.  I'm just enjoying doing nothing for a bit.
I would not for a moment compare our Easter Sunday to anyone else's--and I hope this will in no way lead you to do so--but we had a great Easter Sunday at Covington Bible Church, where I have been privileged to invest my life.  Many factors lead to my conclusion; probably some of them so personal that they won't make sense to anyone else.  Still, I think, there are some objective (share-able) reasons I can say yesterday was great day at my church.

  • It seemed like people got it.  The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, after His death for our sin is at the very heart of Bible truth.  It merits some excitement.  It deserves our best effort.  It is worth celebrating.  In his marvelous text of Theology, the Letter to the Ephesians, the Apostle Paul connects the power of the Resurrection, with our new life after our "dead-in-trespasses-and sin" past (here).  In his extended treatise on the Resurrection, Paul says that if the Resurrection of Christ is not a reality "we are of all men most to be pitied" (here).
    It was a great day at Covington Bible Church because from those who mowed the grass, to those who shared music, to those who invited a friend, to those who showed up even though their old bones ache, to those who set up extra chairs praying for that chair's occupant as they put it in place, my sisters and brothers in Christ said, "The tomb is empty.  Jesus is alive!  I can be saved in Him.  That is worth celebrating."
  • There was a refreshing unity of spirit.  I mentioned some of the kinds of contributions that were made to make our Easter service the highly encouraging time that it was, so I won't repeat myself.  Instead I'll tell you a brief anecdote.  One of my preacher-buddies told me last week that he had run into a member of CBC.  She is not an upfront person.  She is the kind of person about whom you might ask, "Was ___ there?"  and to answer you have to think hard.  Anyhow, my friend reported this lady's excitement about the upcoming Easter service.  Part of her excitement was the part she was playing in our big day.  She was pumped that her church was celebrating her Lord's victory over death, and she was looking forward to having a part in that celebration.  I saw and heard that in many lives.
    The fact that the chairs in the Worship-Center were mended, and the flower beds mulched was very important, but the reality that the hearts of those who spread mulch, shined floors, sewed upholstery, and a score of other projects were turned to the Lord in worship was of eternal significance.  
  • There was clear evidence of God's blessing.
    We had prayed for over a particular number to be with us Sunday.  Like the man who carried an umbrella when he met with drought-stricken farmers to pray for rain, we prepared for God to answer.  He did.  I know that some of the folk whose hands I shook were there because God had worked in their lives.  The closing of the service indicated that God was at work in hearts.  I was personally aware of God making me able.  I'm thankful that He allowed me to share His Story.  I hope this blog post is indication that He was/is at work in my heart.  Yesterday was one more part of a long-term restoration that has been going on in my life.  Thank You, Lord, and thanks to my church family.
  • We saw the Resurrection, not only as an isolated event--powerful and wonderful though it may be.  Because yesterday's message led us, literally from "In the beginning," to the final "Amen," we were able to see that the Resurrection is the key to a great cosmic struggle that really is no struggle at all.  God's plan unfolds in some very dark ways.  That darkness is at its blackest during those three hours on the cross and three days in the tomb.  The Resurrection shows there never was any question.  There has never been a time when God has lost control of His world. The victory of Christ over death shows that, and it shows me he can handle what is going on in my life.
I have a horribly unspiritual measurement device that I sometimes use to judge how we are doing as a church (Yes, I know it's not about me.  Please note this is not my only evaluation criteria.), I ask, "Did I have fun?"  I agree with John Piper--my joy (Dare I say "fun"?) and God's glory are related.  It was great to be at Covington Bible Church yesterday.

The way our recording system works, or doesn't work, music doesn't turn out very out very well when we record our services, so the only thing you will find here is yesterday's message.  It was a privilege to share it with my church family and their guests.  If it ministers to you, it will be further reason for me to be thankful.
 

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

World Vision, A Survey:

I have not had any close alliance with World Vision, so there is a lot I don't know about them.  I see their ads and, from time to time, read reports of their work around the world, and was glad they were relieving suffering, and providing opportunities for those in our world who are in great need.  That they do this work in the name of Christ is commendable.

The announcement that World Vision in the United States is open to employing those who profess faith in Christ, who agree to WV's basic statement of faith, and who are also legally in a homosexual marriage, hit the Christian--especially--the Evangelical community like a plane-load of sacked up rice.

Maybe Richard Stearns simply wanted to get his message out before everyone else did it for him, but if he thought that his news release announcing WV's policy change would control the spin, he certainly misjudged.  Pretty much everybody that is anybody in the Evangelical world, and beyond, has weighed in on the subject.  My purpose here is not to rehash the matter in my own words.  More capable, not to mention quicker, writers and commentators have already explored WV's announcement.  I figure it is worth the time it takes to think through the issues involved, because it is likely that there will be other similar announcements from other ministries.  Those of who labor in relative obscurity have to make up our minds.  This is the issue of the day.  What follows is a brief list of some online comments and reactions, with brief descriptions and comments from me.  Hopefully what this will do is pull some material together so you can make better use of your time.
You are welcome.  :)

Richard Stearns's announcement:
Stearns's apologetic is that he and WV are seeking unity.  There is much I could say, I'll leave it at, "He didn't convince me."

Here is a brief critique of the WV decision, by Jim Denison.

John Piper makes the point that WV's decision "trivializes perdition — and therefore, the cross — and  . . . sets a trajectory for the demise of true compassion for the poor."
A friend of mine, who doesn't have national prominence, but who should, Norm Dietsch, commented on Piper's piece:  "As to the World Vision pres. argument that the issue divides churches and families, I wonder if he has heard that even the humble Jesus had a word to say about division.. Luke 12: 49-53.  We, too, care about the homosexual community-enough to stand for the truth of Scripture and to bring the good news of redemption and reconciliation for all sinners, and we recognize we are no better, but in need of the same redemption and reconciliation."

Al Mohler makes the same point John Piper makes and also warns about the slippery slope on which WV, and any other organizations who adopt similar policies now find themselves. ". . . moral revolutions are marked by events that signal major turning points in social transformation. Yesterday, [the day of the WV announcement], will be remembered as one of those days."
Warning: In spite of what some would tell us, some slopes truly are slippery, and some slick spots really are slanted.

Mark Tooley sees the bottom of the hill.  He simply declares "WORLD VISION GOES LIBERAL.  And of course it doesn't think it has.  Tooley's prediction or statement of fait accompli is not without evidence.  He refers to fairly recent history and quotes from some other conservative Evangelicals who agree.

Maybe I'm being too harsh.  I really like the man.  But I found Franklin Graham's announcement a bit self-serving.  I don't disagree with what he says, it just kinda sounded like he was saying "OK all you righteous people who are rightly offended at what World Vision did, the line to give money through a good organization forms right here."  As I say, maybe I'm being judgmental, and I continue to support Samaritan's Purse efforts but read on . . .

Matthew Lee Anderson helps us wrestle with some practical issues.  What happens when organizational problems intersect with human needs?  I'm not one of them, but thousands of Christians are involved in supporting a child through WV.  Should they just stop.  In a well-reasoned article, MLA offers some alternatives.

My list is clearly lacking a defense, other than Stearns's own, of WV's action.  If I find one, or if you point one out to me, I'll include it in the next post.


Before we go, let's make sure we remember, all over the world there are people, most of them children, in desperate need.  Whatever we conclude about WV's new HR policy, let's not forget them.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Did Calvin Really Say . . .?

As both of you, who regularly read this blog, know, I have been thinking intermittently about cessationism over the past few months.  If  you scroll down you will spot some of these posts.  I have used my air-dyne time to listen to several of the Strange Fire messages.  Joni Tada is awesome, but I digress.  I just listened to (I can still feel my heart pumping) a message by Steve Lawson, Calvin's Critique of Charismatic Calvinists. http://www.gty.org/resources/sermons/TM13-4/calvins-critique-of-charismatic-calvinists-steve-lawson
You will find  audio, video, and transcript of the message there.

I know some of you will quote a paraphrase of words once spoken about Jesus, "Can any good thing come out of GTY, or the Strange Fire Conference.  If that is the case with you, probably it would be best for our friendship if you just quit reading now.  Really, the purpose of this post is not to argue yay or nay about this message, or even cessationism or continuationism.  I'd be glad to discuss that on another occassion.  I am interested in some help.  My knowledge of Calvin is very rudimentary.  In this message Lawson quotes from Calvin, and summarizes him extensively.  Perhaps those of you who know the Theologian from Geneva well could help me out.  Is Lawson giving a fair representation of Calvin's teaching on this matter?  If he isn't perhaps you would be good enough to point me in the right direction in Calvin's works.

Blessings on you, and thinks for reading, and even more thanks if you  respond.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

A side issue from Sunday's message:

This might be of interest to others of you, but I post it here as a supplement to Sunday's (2/23/14) message from John 2.

Sunday, February 23's, message is not about alcohol.  However the sermon does come from a passage that is very controversial in regard to the Christian and alcohol.  For that reason, I am reprinting some notes that I handed out as supplements to those messages.

Perhaps our tech team still has recordings of these messages.  It appears that they were preached before we started posting messages online.

The Christian Alcohol, Avoiding the Vortex
Part 1 of a 3 part series:
Over the past six months or so, together with some other leaders in CBC, I have identified some social/cultural problems that are highly problematic not only out there, but that have invaded the homes of people who claim to know the Lord as Savior.  Lord willing I’ll be addressing these concerns over the next year, or so.  I don’t, yet, know precisely how, but I want to respond to your questions.  Please give them to me in writing, or by email.
As is often the case, there is a great deal more information in this note sheet than we will consider this morning.  Some of it touches on the next two messages; the rest is for you to consider on your own, or in conversation with others.

Passages about alcohol:  Genesis 9:18-24, 19:30-38, 1 Kings 20:16 >>, Daniel 5, Proverbs 3:10, 4:17, 9:2, 9:5, 20:1, 21,17, 23:19-21&29-35, 31:4&6, Isaiah 5:11, 28:7-8, John 2:1-12, 
1 Corinthians 5:11, 6:9-10, Galatians 5:19-23, 1 Timothy 5:23, 1 Peter 4:3 

What some other Christian leaders Bible scholars, and witnesses from history have said about alcohol that ought to be of interest to us:
John MacArthur:
We must be clear that drinking or not drinking is not in itself a mark, and certainly not a measure, of spirituality. Spirituality is determined by what we are inside, of which what we do on the outside is but a manifestation.
Many reasons are given for drinking, one of the most common of which is the desire to be happy, or at least to forget a sorrow or problem. The desire for genuine happiness is both God–given and God–fulfilled. In Ecclesiastes we are told there is “a time to laugh” (3:4) and in Proverbs that “a joyful heart is good medicine” (17:22). David proclaimed that in the Lord’s “presence is fulness of joy” (Ps. 16:11). Jesus began each beatitude with the promise of blessedness, or happiness, for those who come to the Lord in the Lord’s way (Matt. 5:3–11). The apostle John wrote his first letter not only to teach and admonish fellow believers but that his own joy might “be made complete” (1:4). Paul twice counseled the Philippian Christians to “rejoice in the Lord” (3:1; 4:4). At Jesus’ birth the angel announced to the shepherds, “Do not be afraid; for behold 1 bring you good news of a great joy which shall be for all the people” (Luke 2:10). God wants all men to be happy and joyful, and one of the great blessings of the gospel is the unmatched joy that Christ brings to the heart of every person who trusts in Him.
The problem with drinking in order to be happy is not the motive but the means. It brings only artificial happiness at best and is counterproductive to spiritual sensitivity. It is a temporary escape that often leads to even worse problems than the ones that prompted the drinking in the first place. Intoxication is never a remedy for the cares of life, but it has few equals in its ability to multiply them.
After pointing out the part that drunkenness had in some of the popular pagan religions, MacArthur goes on to point out,
In Ephesians 5:18, Paul was therefore not simply making a moral but also a theological contrast. He was not only speaking of the moral and social evils of drunkenness, but of the spiritually perverted use of drunkenness as a means of worship. Christians are not to seek religious fulfillment through such pagan means as getting drunk with wine, but are to find their spiritual fulfillment and enjoyment by being “filled with the Spirit.” The believer has no need for the artificial, counterfeit, degrading, destructive, and idolatrous ways of the world. He has God’s own Spirit indwelling him, the Spirit whose great desire is to give believers the fullest benefits and enjoyment of their high position as children of God.
The InterVarsity Commentary adds:
Many people in the ancient world believed that drunkenness could produce a sort of inspiration or possession by Dionysus, god of wine. Dionysus’s most active worshipers yielded control of themselves to him and performed sexual acts or acts full of sexual symbolism (often to the distaste of conservative Romans). Here Paul may contrast this behavior with inspiration by God’s Spirit. People did not think of Dionysus every time someone became drunk, however; drunkenness was more commonly associated simply with loss of self-control. It was standard practice in both the late-night banquets of the rich and the taverns of the poor.

Mnesitheus of Athens, 4th c. BC 
The gods have revealed wine to mortals, to be the greatest blessing for those who use it aright, but for those who use it without measure, the reverse. For it gives food to them that take it and strength in mind and body. In medicine it is most beneficial; it can be mixed with liquid and drugs and it brings aid to the wounded. In daily intercourse, to those who mix and drink it moderately, it gives good cheer; but if you overstep the bounds, it brings violence. Mix it half and half, and you get madness; unmixed, bodily collapse.

MacArthur, J. (1996, c1986). Ephesians. Includes indexes. (230-234). Chicago: Moody Press. 
Keener, C. S., & InterVarsity Press. (1993). The IVP Bible background commentary : New Testament (Eph 5:18). Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press.


Avoiding the Vortex
Part 2 of a 3 part series:
Part of the message this morning will no doubt sound like I am working against myself.  I think, and actually hope, it is clear from last week’s message that if I had my druthers, when it comes to alcohol, I would just say no.  Part of what I will point out in this morning’s message is that the Bible does not give a prohibition against any consumption of alcohol. 
Other students of scripture that I respect greatly have come to a different conclusion.  They believe that the Bible teaches complete abstinence in relation to alcohol.  I confess, I am tempted to go along with them.  Why don’t I just say the Bible commands no alcohol consumption?

·         My goal is to be submissive to the word of God.  Just like you, I don’t have the prerogative of choosing what to submit to.  I need to be submissive not only in regard to my lifestyle choices, but in regard to my teaching and preaching.
·         While distorting the word of God to make it appear to say what I want it to (even for a good purpose) may appear to bring a good result for a time, but in the final analysis this dilution of the Word of God—mixing “Thus saith the Lord,” with “Howard says,” produces a bad result.
·         I am aware that God knows more than me.  Who am I to question the Lord’s standards?  (Look at the end of Romans 11.)


The following tables are used with the permission of the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board. They illustrate the effects of alcohol consumption on blood alcohol levels and driving skills. These data should be used only as a general reference for the effects of alcohol because body weight and other variables may influence the results. Also, some states define the limit of legal intoxication at a lower blood alcohol level (0.08%).




 (Neuroscience For Kids  Alcohol and the Brain , http://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/alco.html)

WINE AND STRONG DRINK.
I. In the Old Testament
Among a considerable number of synonyms used in the OT the most common are yayin (usually translated ‘wine’) and šēār (usually translated ‘strong drink’). These terms are frequently used together, and they are employed irrespective of whether the writer is commending wine and strong drink as desirable or warning against its dangers. A third word, tı̂rôš, sometimes translated ‘new’ or ‘sweet wine’, has often been regarded as unfermented and therefore unintoxicating wine, but an example such as Ho. 4:11, together with the usage of the Talmud, makes clear that it is capable of being used in a bad sense equally with the others. Furthermore, while there are examples of the grapes being pressed into a cup and presumably used at once (Gn. 40:11), it is significant that the term ‘wine’ is never applied to the resultant juice.
The term ‘new wine’ does not indicate wine which has not fermented, for in fact the process of fermentation sets in very rapidly, and unfermented wine could not be available many months after the harvest (Acts 2:13). It represents rather wine made from the first drippings of the juice before the winepress was trodden. As such it would be particularly potent and would come immediately to mind as a probable explanation of what seemed to be a drunken state. Modern custom in Palestine, among a people who are traditionally conservative as far as religious feasts are concerned, also suggests that the wine used was fermented. It may be said, therefore, that the Bible in employing various synonyms makes no consistent distinction between them.
Wood, D. R. W., Wood, D. R. W., & Marshall, I. H. (1996, c1982, c1962). New Bible Dictionary. Includes index. (electronic ed. of 3rd ed.) (1242). Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press.



We have already looked at the question:  Are the alcoholic beverages the Bible speaks of the same as those available today?
Here are 7 more questions for you to discuss and think about before next week’s message. 


1.       Is drinking necessary? 
2.       Is it the best choice?
3.       Is it habit forming?
4.       Is it potentially destructive?
5.       Is it possible that it will create difficulties for other Christians?
6.       Will it hinder my ability to be a clear witness for the Good News?
7.       Is it right?
(Don’t forget that I would like to hear, and attempt to answer your questions.  Get them to me in writing, or by email.)

The Christian and Alcohol, #3
This is the last in this series of messages. 
I have told you that I want to respond to your questions.  This is not only a means for us to learn more together, but a means of accountability for me.  With issues like the-use-of-alcohol the temptation to simply wax eloquent about my own conclusions is great.  My goal is to teach God’s word.  The knowledge that well intentioned, but pointed, questions might be coming helps keep me honest.  My intention right now is to answer these questions in writing, via handouts & my blog.
Teen Drinking:
Time has kept me from dealing with a great many points that I would have liked to have pursued.  One of those points has to do with underage drinking.  Here we are dealing not only with the issues I have raised in this series, but with developmental and legal matters as well.  Recent studies about brain development in teens and young adults, confirms what those who work with teens know intuitively.  Young minds are a work in progress.  We cannot assume that they are ready to make mature decisions.  Here is a summary of information about legality, teens & alcohol.
Virginia's Alcohol Beverage Control Act contains laws governing possession, use and consumption of alcoholic beverages. Pertinent laws are summarized below:
  • It is illegal for anyone under age 21 to purchase, posses, or consume any alcoholic beverage.
  • It is illegal for any person to sell alcoholic beverages to persons under the age of 21 years.
  • It is illegal for any persons to purchase or provide alcohol beverages for another when, at the time of the purchase, he/she knows or has reason to know that the person for whom the alcohol is purchased is under 21 years of age.
  • It is illegal for any underage person to use a forged or otherwise deceptive driver's license to obtain beer or other alcoholic beverage.
(The law in WV is essentially the same.)

As citizens of heaven and earthly jurisdictions we are commanded to obey the law of the land, Rom. 13.  
Give me Liberty and give me life!
A good bit of today’s message revolves around Christian Liberty.
Scriptures on C.L.:  Rom. 14, 1 Cor. 9-10, Gal. 5.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

One of my gripes--there aren't many--about life in Covington VA is that it doesn't do winter right.  December - February, here, is generally, mostly kinda-cold, with a few snowfalls that almost immediately turn into slush and then vanish.  Within a hundred miles of here you can find real winter, but here not so much.
It's not that I even particularly like winter.  I'm not fond of shoveling.  I have one of the few two-wheel, as in non-four-wheel, drive trucks in town, and bad knees made me give up skiing fifteen years ago.  I guess I just don't like compromise, even in the climate.  Winter should be cold.  Summer ought to be hot.
I stepped out of the house this morning and heard a sound that took me back to my childhood in the
suburbs of Chicago.  The snow squeaked when my foot compressed it.  My cheeks tingled.  I was able to sweep the feathery snow as easily as I could sawdust from a shop floor.  Even though it was fairly late in the morning the scene was noticeably quiet.  I was glad I had my real cold weather hat on--an ugly fake fur thing that I inherited from my late father.  It has lasted so long because I hardly ever use it.  It is hardly ever that cold.
I'm not foolish or calloused enough to not recognize the hardship this weather brings to many.  There are those who have to work out in it.  (Again, I think of my childhood and my Dad, looking like an adult version of the kid in A Christmas Story, leaving for an all-nighter in the railroad yard at the steel mill where he worked.  He was mostly outside on those frigid nights.)  I know that moms--especially moms who juggle career and home are about at their wits end.  For some buying fuel for warmth is hard, or impossible.  Still, though it has been mainly through a window from my warm house, I have enjoyed this arctic blast, which for me is a blast from the past.

  • I'm reminded of God's power.
  • I am very thankful for the blessing of home.
  • When it is this cold, I can't forget just how puny I really am.
  • I am aware that my very existence on this hostile globe is dependent on God's mercy and goodness.
I hear it's warming up tomorrow, going to get above freezing.  School administrators, moms with cabin-fever, and utility workers will breathe a sigh of relief.  I'll not begrudge anyone the warmth.  But for now, I figure it's going to be cold anyhow; I might as well enjoy it.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

I don't want to settle for my life turning out to be an ashtray.

Over at one of my other blogs, http://sttaspots.blogspot.com/, I posted some thoughts about the direction our lives take, and what we end up in the end.
Since the four posts there are really a unit, I'm posting all four of them in the right order, here.

But, What Is It?

"It's an ashtray."  
Back in the day it used to be common for children to give their parents gifts related to smoking.  Many ceramic or metal-shop projects ended up being
 gifted as ashtrays.  Making a vase tall and slender, with thin walls, takes a whole lot more skill than making a short, squat, thick, kind of saucer-ish thing.  That dent in the rim of a roundish piece of metal, that was once destined to become a cup, looks a lot like a place to park a cigarette.  There comes a time when increased work isn't adding to its cup-ish-ness, or vase-like quality.  At some point the answer to the question,
"What is it?"
became,
"It's an ashtray."
That wasn't what I wanted it to be.  It's not  what I want, but it has to be something, so . . .
Solomon observed that "Time and Chance happens to all."  I would add to the mix, skill, talent, planning, diligence, and/or lack of all the above.  From time to time I work with wood.  Sometimes a  project gets modified because of a previously unseen blemish in the wood.  
"Why did you make that that way?"
"Because a worm bored into a tree fifty years ago."
Improv-comics, moms, politicians, and football coaches all need that if-life-gives-you-lemons-make-lemonade skill.  If you let those adaptive concepts get out of hand, however, you end up--well--messed up.  We might praise a twelve-year-old for somewhat salvaging a project-gone-bad.  The C- for the "ashtray" is better than a 0 for a no-show.  When a life, or an important institution morphs into the human equivalent of a waste container for tobacco ash it is tragic.
I don't want to stand before the Lord and say about what I've done with my life, "I guess, Lord, it turned out to be an ashtray."
We aren't done yet.  Stay tuned.


"What made you decide that you would make an ashtray in ceramics class?"
"Really, I never did decide.  I just looked at the thing, and it looked more like an ashtray than anything else, so. . . ."
To one degree or another, virtually every hobby project has an element of that kind of imposed parameter about it  It's hard to make a long project with short lumber.  Sometimes the color it gets painted is determined by what was left from the last remodel.

Setting out to make a bench six feet long, but ending up with one five feet, nine inches, because you had this lovely piece of oak just short of six feet is likely a good use of resources.  Ending up with one six inches tall--not so much.  Adapting is a virtue.  Settling for that which clearly isn't what it should be, or won't do what it ought to do, is unsettling, to say the least.  Striking the appropriate balance requires, among other things, holding to some unalterable core values, and having a clear view of reality. 

Over the years, building my greatest project--my life--I have messed up in both directions.
On occasions I have gotten hung up on minutiae. Important thingswent undone, essentials were ignored, but I paid close attention to some stupid detail that a year later--maybe ten minutes later--didn't matter at all.
At other times I have let my impatience, or desire to please others, or failure to plan, or (fill in the blank) talk me out of some absolutely essential element.  I settled when I should have insisted and persisted.

If you get the idea that I struggle some between those two extremes, I'd say you've got it about right.  I've still got some more ideas on the matter, but how about we finish up by doing something I ought to do a whole a lot more, praying.

Lord, I need to know the difference between what is essential, and that which doesn't matter.  I know that understanding Your word is essential, so help me to learn it better and obey it more thoroughly.  Lord, don't let my life turn out to be something it never should have become.  Amen

We aren't done yet.  Stay tuned.


I'm pretty sure it's too soon to quit.

A long time ago I built a set of shelves for my living room.  There was a window in the middle of a wall.  One shelf unit on the left, another on the right.  The lower part of the units was deeper than the upper portion.  So about thirty inches off the floor there was a ledge.  I built the left unit and put it in place and was pretty pleased.  I started in on the unit on the right.  When I set it in place, I could immediately see that something was wrong.  That ledge part of the unit looked like it was about a foot higher than the one on the left.  Really it was 3/4 of an inch, but it stood out like it was much more.
I very much wanted to be done.  I remember laying down in the floor, staring at the obvious error, and trying to come up with a good reason why I didn't have to fix it.  All my reasons to leave it alone were short-sighted.  Consideration of how long these shelves were going to be a part of the main room in my house finally won the argument.  Back to the shop. . . .

When trying to find that sweet spot between settling for that which just won't do, and adapting to that which is beyond my control, that distinction between short and long term is something to remember.  Wisdom counsels us to never sacrifice the eternal on the altar of the temporary.  (I heard that somewhere.)  Yet, how often for the sake of temporary convenience, or short-term comfort do we settle--forfeiting long-term gains?
Maybe it makes sense, the night before that art project is due to declare it an ashtray and turn it in for a D.  It makes no sense to treat my life that way.  If you are still breathing God's air, it's too early to quit.

We aren't done yet.  Stay tuned.  (There is much that is out of my control, but nothing is outside the reach of God.  Lord willing, tomorrow.)

It's STTA.



Generally speaking each STTA is a stand alone.  This one, however is the last of a series of four.  You might want to go hereand read the last three STTAs, start with 1/14 and work back to yesterday.  

"Aiming at nothing," and "Mission Creep," are ways of describing people or organizations who have no, or have lost their, direction.  "Rigid," "Inflexible," or "Suffering from hardening of the categories," describes others, on the other end of the spectrum, who fail to adapt to changing conditions. How do we maintain a balance between being flexible but lacking in core convictions, and being rigid about things concerning which we ought to flex?  I've been especially concerned about the end result of a life.  It's possible to be so blown by the wind that the end will reveal a result determined by external, often impersonal, and sometimes hostile, forces.
Speaking to the Ephesians the Apostle Paul said, that mature Christians would not be, "tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine."  (Ephesians 4:14)  Yet an examination of the great Apostle's ministry indicates a remarkable flexibility.  See 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 for an example. 
It is absolutely clear that Paul wanted to be effective, but above that he was committed to being faithful.  I need to make obedience to God the number one objective of my life.  Of course, in order to do that I have to understand the commands.  That is a life-long project.  As I live a life of obedience, I run into a lot of forces that would toss me here and there, and carry me about.  It may be to appropriate to adapt.  In fact there are times when obedience demands that I flex.  The Pharisees were not wrong because they kept the rules.  They erred because they kept too many rules, sometimes being blinded to essential, by an undue focus on peripheral matters.
I should try to be effective, relevant, engaging, and useful, but I should never be any of those things if it means I must be disobedient to God.  
There are a lot of things I face that I don't understand and
can't control, but God does, so I must trust Him.
So, after four days of musing, I find myself back in SundaySchool.  Mrs. Marsceau is holding up the flash cards to a song, "Trust and Obey, for their's not other way to be happy in Jesus, but to Trust and Obey.

It's STTA.