Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Dogs are smart?

I'm not a "pet person", but I have no problem with people who want to keep animals-who were created to roam and hunt vast geographic areas-penned up in 1/5 acre suburban home lots- hey, it's America! Nothing wrong with the wet mutt smell, I suppose. I'm not in to sharing my bed with a big ole' 120 pound, shedding, slobbering dog, but to each his own, right? Nothing wrong with Rover chewing up the furniture and other valuables in your home, if that's what you're into.

However, I have to draw line somewhere. When a person insists their dog is smart, that's where I get my biggest laugh. Check out the genius above.

I'm gonna' get some comments on this one...

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Ulrich Zwingli's Secret to Reformation- Exposition of the Word

It is easy for a pastor to succumb to the spirit of the age as it relates to preaching. The masses cry out for "relevant" (short, humorous, "how to" oriented, topical, devoid of controversy, non condemning, Dr. Phil-type etc.) sermons. The acceptance of such preaching indicates the relative unhealthiness of the Church in our generation. Ironically, the lack of biblical, expositional preaching further adds to the acceptance of the lesser form here noted. There is a sort of chicken/egg scenario when analyzing how we have come to such a point.

I am not as concerned with how we got to this point as I am with being sure there is a solid reformation in this area. Biblically speaking, reformation and revival was always fueled by the rediscovery and exposition of God's Word (and by connection, a right view and practice of the sacraments). The most vivid example of this occurred with Josiah, the young king of Judah. At age 18, Josiah commanded workers to clean up the temple. During this effort, workers found God's Word and brought it to Josiah.

Then Shaphan the secretary told the king, "Hilkiah the priest has given me a book." And Shaphan read it before the king. When the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his clothes. And the king commanded Hilkiah the priest, and Ahikam the son of Shaphan, and Achbor the son of Micaiah, and Shaphan the secretary, and Asaiah the king's servant, saying,"Go, inquire of the LORD for me, and for the people, and for all Judah, concerning the words of this book that has been found. For great is the wrath of the LORD that is kindled against us, because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us." 2 Kings 22:9-13

This marked the beginning of a new era of reform in Israel. I would humbly submit we are in a similar predicament today. The state of preaching today has rendered a similar effect to hiding God's Word. This should cause the thoughtful Christian to react like Josiah and tear his or her clothes in grief and protest.

The Reformation was a golden age of rediscovery. Not only was the Word of God rediscovered, it was preached with new zeal and accuracy. Why would we think God's Word needs our crafty assistance? The Word of God, with it's full authority, has always been the fuel for the fire of reformation and revival. The Reformers were very simple in their practice and strategy- preach the Word of God! I love what Philip Schaff says in describing the great Swiss Reformer, Ulrich Zwingli's approach to preaching:

Zwingli began his duties in Zurich on his thirty-sixth birthday by a sermon on the genealogy of Christ, and announced that on the next day he would begin a series of expository discourses on the first Gospel. From Matthew he proceeded to the Acts, the Pauline and general epistles; so that in four years he completed the exposition of the whole New Testament except Revelation.

His sermons, as far as published, are characterized by spiritual sobriety and manly solidity. They were plain, practical, and impressive, and more ethical than doctrinal. He made it his chief object to preach Christ from the fountain and to insert the pure Christ into the hearts. He would preach nothing but what he could prove from the Scriptures, as the only rule of Christian Faith and practice.

This is a reformatory idea; for the aim of the Reformation was to reopen the fountain of the New Testament to the whole people, and to renew the life of the Church by the power of the primitive gospel. By his method of preaching on entire books he could give his congregation a more complete idea of the life of Christ and the way of salvation than by confining himself to detached sections. He did not at first attack the Roman Church, but only the sins of the human heart; he refuted errors by the statement of truth.


Monday, January 29, 2007

The Ten Commandments and the Chevy Big Block Engine

Once a month, as part of our worship liturgy, we recite the Ten Commandments as a congregation. The Ten Commandments reflect God's character. They have never ceased to be binding on God's people. Adherence to the Ten Commandments is not a means of salvation, but rather evidence that we are in fact God's people. Further, the Ten Commandments give us great guidance and direction in life. Following them will bring blessings.

The Lord Jesus never does away with the Ten Commandments, rather, He models them perfectly and gives us a clearer understanding of them. When our Lord said, "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another" (John 13:34), He wasn't somehow replacing the Ten Commandments. Instead, He was giving clarity to their core meaning. The last six of the Ten Commandments give direction on our duty toward fellow human beings. If you want to know how to love someone, start by not hating, stealing, lying, etc. Jesus perfectly complements and even enhances our understanding the ancient Decalogue with His example and teaching.

One of the great inventions and contributions to mankind, right up there with the light bulb, telephone, television, and computers, has to be the big block internal combustion engine. Chevy introduced the 454 big block engine just over 30 years ago. Never before could a street legal engine turn out 500 horse power in it’s stock form, from the factory! The engine was versatile, it was put in everything from Corvettes to Suburbans. Chevy still makes that engine today. It has added features like fuel injection and various emissions devices, but the base engine is still the good ole’ 454, the greatest, coolest, meanest, manliest big block engine ever made. You see, there was no need to invent a new engine. There was no need to make any internal changes to that engine. That engine was solid and faithful when it was built and it remains solid and faithful today. Sure, the new 454’s look new- and many of the exteriors are, but the internal engine is still the same. This is also so for the Ten Commandments. They needed no changes, They reflect the eternal character of God. Jesus gives “new” commandments in that he gives a new depth of meaning to old, faithful truths. He says- “You have heard it said- thou shalt not murder…I say unto you, if you hate your brother you have already committed murder in your heart”. Jesus doesn’t do away with the Commandments, but rather gives a new depth of meaning to them.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

AJ Defeats Ganon to Conquer The Legend of Zelda!

Every day I thank God for my sons. They enrich my life beyond words. Sure, they also try me in manifold ways, but this day, my oldest son AJ has inspired me by his epic defeat of the mighty Ganon.

Over a year ago I bought a used and battered Nintendo 64 video game unit (circa 1996) and 10 games for $62 bucks. My boys are young (AJ is 7, Nico is 5, and Jordan is 4) so they wouldn't know how "old school" Nintendo 64 is. I bought the unit for them to play things like Mario, Space Invaders, sports games, and other kid-friendly games. One game that came with the unit was called "The Legend of Zelda". It turns out, it is considered one of the classic video game series of the last 20+ years. The version we had was the first of the 3-D generation graphics.

Very simply, for those of you who are ignorant of the video game world: The Legend of Zelda series features a boy named Link, as the central playable character and hero. Link is called upon to rescue Princess Zelda, after whom the series is named. The main bad guy in the series is a powerful creature known as Ganon, sometimes appearing as Ganondorf . The action occurs in the land of Hyrule and involves a fantasiacal relic known as the Triforce, a set of three magically bound golden triangles of great power. Sparing further details, you have to navigate all sorts of cool forests, giant animal stomachs, and castles, defeat various "bosses", and eventually, after months of play (as you advance through the various "levels" you can save your game and pick up where you left off at a later time), you reach the final epic battle with Ganondorf and Ganon. AJ got to that final battle a couple of weeks ago and just today called me at church, where I am working on my sermon and Sunday school lesson, to tell me, "Dad, I beat the game". That's very cool.

One might rightly wonder, "what's the big deal"? I just think it's cool the way he persevered and went after a goal that was difficult. Further, on the way to beating the game, it was neat how older teenagers and some college students (thanks Mallory !) cheered and mentored him on whenever he got to a spot he didn't think he could navigate or advance past. Each Sunday, several of the teens would ask him how he was doing. For a 7 year old boy, that feels awesome.

Sure, in the bigger scheme of things Zelda isn't all that important. What's important is how it provided an opportunity for him to strive after something, have fun, interact with others about his saga, entertain his brothers, and allow me to encourage him and brag about him when he got the job done. What a blessing our children are! Praise the Lord!

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Amazing Grace- The Movie

On February 23 the world will have the chance to see one of the best movies in recent times.

I attended a private screening of "Amazing Grace" tonight, a movie about the life of William Wilberforce. Wilberforce was a man endowed with enormous talent, great political influence, a heart of compassion, and devotion to Jesus Christ. Wilberforce was used by God, along with a team of faithful laborers, to bring an end to the scourge of human slave trade in England. His interactions with Thomas Jefferson on the matter of abolition certainly had influence in bringing human slave trade and slavery to an end in the United States also. Wilberforce's story needed to be told in a fresh, relevant way. This movie does just that. Wilberforce was a man who lived out his Christianity in many visible, transformational ways. The matter of bringing an end to the sins of man stealing, oppression, and cruelty to human beings was Wilberforce's driving passion for most of his adult life. Christ was honored by his righteous indignation against slavery and his courage to act when so many others would not. Wilberforce's legacy continues to bless the whole world and should be a particular example to those who are Christians.

I commend Bristol Bay Production company for taking on this project. The script is absolutely brilliant, the dialogue engaging, and the acting is splendid. Both my wife and I commented to each other concerning the lack of even one poor scene. While the film is heavy on dialogue, it is all very meaningful and gripping. The only negative I would site has to do with the lack of focus on the particulars of Wilberforce's theology (you might expect me to say that!). Wilberforce was mentored by former slave trader turned Puritan pastor, John Newton (the author of Amazing Grace, the hymn). This fact was clearly shown in wonderful scenes between the two men, however, there could have been more explanation regarding Wilberforce's particular theological convictions and how they served to propel his mission to see an end to slavery (I contend he was living out a reformed world and life view). Having said that, I can't think of another negative thing about the movie. I hope everybody sees this movie and cannot recommend it more highly. Check out the Amazing Grace movie website for an overview of the film and go see it when it comes out February 23 (200 years, to the day, after the British Parliament voted to abolish slave trade in England and her colonies).

William Wilberforce is a man who was owned by Christ. His particular area of giftedness was in the arena of politics. He struggled with deciding over a career in politics or entering the pastoral ministry. John Newton, among other people, told him to do what he was gifted to do, but do it for Christ. He is an example of how Christians can be used of God to transform their culture for Christ.

The Ultimate Building Project

At Redeemer, we have been through four different building projects, now we are in the midst of the fifth and more complicated one. After a five year long planning and design process, our new sanctuary is on the way to being completed by late Summer. I'm no engineer or construction expert, but having witnessed four of our construction projects, I can testify the building process is unpredictable and pretty stressful at times. Designs have to be submitted to the city, permits have to be granted, alterations made to the original blueprints, funds to raise, and multiple bills to be paid. There is also the small matter of actually erecting the building. Pouring basement walls for the foundation, building upon that foundation, and finishing the structure.

The Apostle Peter describes the Church of God with construction imagery:

As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. - 1 Peter 2:4-5

The Church of Jesus Christ is described as a building. The forming of the Church is a supernatural work of God Himself- the master builder. This passage, among others, refers to the very hand of God taking sinful, fallen, people and turning them in to this spiritual building. I need to be constantly reminded:

God is building a spiritual house (the Church) for the purpose of bringing glory to himself.

My desire to see our church and other churches grow cannot be for any other reason than the advancement of the glory of God on the earth. This is our purpose. This is our chief end. God is building His church so that we might offer spiritual sacrifices to Him through Christ.

What Peter says next gives me further confidence:

Therefore it is also contained in the Scripture, “Behold, I lay in Zion A chief cornerstone, elect, precious, And he who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame.” Therefore, to you who believe, He is precious; but to those who are disobedient, “The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone,” - Peter 2:6-7

In order to begin the construction of any stable building in antiquity, one would start by laying the cornerstone. To make something line up right, to make something square, you would have to depend on the precision and strength of the cornerstone. Stones were hewn and carved by skilled craftsmen. Exacting detail was used in the making of each building stone. Still, even with all this attention, no two stones were exactly right. They were not poured in to a mold so they often differed in size and weight. This was acceptable for the building stones, but the cornerstone demanded more attention. The best of the stone smiths would be assigned the task of honing the cornerstone. It had to be perfectly square and just the right size.

Peter paints the picture of God, the master craftsman, laying the cornerstone which will dictate the rest of the building process. Of course, to our joy, that cornerstone is Jesus Christ.

Building projects can be intimidating, stressful, and a bit worrisome. One building project that is surely different is the Church. God is doing it. Christ is directing it. God is building the ultimate building- a tribute to Himself! We are being built in to it through Christ. the project will not fail.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. -1 Peter 2:8-10

Monday, January 22, 2007

The Devil Made Me Do it?

It is reasonably common for Christians to blame the devil when a personal trial occurs, a corporate conflict arises, or some other "bad" thing happens. You will hear believer's say, "Satan is attacking me", or "The devil is trying to divide us." What are we to make of such claims? How often should we think the devil made me do it?

The bible is clear on this much- Satan is real and he prowls around seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8). Satan, on the creature level, is responsible for tempting Adam and Eve to sin (Genesis 3). That one act in the Garden of Eden has left a legacy of sin we deal with every second. That sin, in essence, created additional enemies- the world (made up of individual sinners), the flesh (our own fallen nature), and the Devil (the personal being who "got it all started" and continues to prowl). When a trial, hardship, or conflict occurs, shouldn't we consider how a sinful world and our fallen flesh contribute to the situation? Yet, often enough, we jump to thinking- the devil is behind this, by which we mean the Devil is somehow personally and immediately involved in our situation. Maybe, but then again, maybe not.

Make no mistake, Lucifer is a serious heavyweight. A.W. Tozer was right when he said, "the devil is a better theologian than any of us ." He is an angelic being who has had thousands of years, at least, to observe human activity, God and His workings. His experience coupled with his angelic intellect make him far craftier than any one or several of us fallen, relatively inexperienced, human beings. The recent "spiritual warfare" movement and it's common insistence that an individual believer should personally confront Satan or one of his demons is foolish if not downright dangerous. If the devil or one of his demons actually attacks you, call upon Christ, don't try to go toe to toe with the Devil- you'll get squashed.

Satan has more names than anyone else in Scripture. His multiple titles display his many approaches in attacking the Church of Christ. He is called Abaddon, the adversary, the angel of the bottomless pit, Apollyon, Beelzebub, Belial, The god of this age, a murderer, the prince of demons, the prince of the power of the air, ruler of darkness, ruler of this world, the serpent of old, the wicked one, the father of lies, an angel of light, Lucifer, the Devil, and of course, Satan, which means accuser.

Despite all this, in trying to assess the devil's personal involvement in our various situations, let us not forget Satan's key weaknesses. First, Satan is not omniscient like God. He does not know everything. There is no indication he can read a human beings mind. He can observe behavior and is very knowledgeable and cunning, but he doesn't know it all. Second, Satan is not omnipotent like God. He cannot do whatever he wishes to do (he had to seek God's permission to assail Job). Ultimately and mysteriously, the devil is under God's sovereign control and is even a tool of the Almighty to exact His purposes. I don't claim to understand this completely, only that Scripture is clear about the absolute sovereignty of God, therefore, even Satan is included. Thirdly, Satan is not omnipresent like God. He cannot be everywhere at once. As an angelic being I assume he can travel fast, but not fast enough to be personally oppressing a world leader in one hemisphere while tempting a televangelist somewhere else. His lack of omnipresence seriously lowers the possibility that he has spent much personal time oppressing me or my church. I can certainly see one of his thousands (if not more) of demons assailing various human beings, but the devil himself behind all the claims that are so commonly heard? I doubt it. Frankly, I'd be shocked to learn the devil has ever spent any personal time on me. His demons? Perhaps, but still not overly likely.

The devil has left his mark for sure. His legacy of sin assails us every day (the world and the flesh). I only ponder these things aloud so that we might be challenged to analyze all of our enemies when searching for why this or that happens. If the Devil were completely annihilated, I would still have to contend with his legacy in my life- my sinful flesh and this sinful world. Also, let's not make the devil's supposed involvement in a personal trial or corporate conflict an excuse for not repenting of sin we have committed. I wonder if the devil is amused by the amount of credit he gets?

Saturday, January 20, 2007

The Perfect Sacrifice

We celebrate the Lord's Supper each Sunday at Redeemer. Two weeks ago, as I invited God's Covenant people to Christ's Table, I was struck anew with the absolute sufficiency of Christ's sacrifice for the forgiveness of my (our) sins. In particular, Hebrews 10 came to mind and the stark difference between Christ's one-time sacrifice of Himself and the sacrificial ministry of the priests in the Old Testament-

And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God... Hebrews 10:11-12

I worked for a time as a doorman at a high-rise in downtown Chicago. Next to my building was another high-rise with luxury apartments. There was an older gentleman who was the elevator operator in that building. He had been doing the job for almost 20 years when I met him. Every day, he stood there taking people to whatever floor they requested. The monotony! The sameness, the dullness, the repetitiveness, what boredom! He was standing constantly, his work never ended. He never really relaxed with constant high traffic of people coming and going during the hours he worked.

The priests had to stand to make daily sacrifices. Standing daily is a vivid picture of a work that is never, ever done. Restlessness describes the work of a priest who had "sacrifice duty". The Levitical priest could not rest. He stood, and repeated the bloody work daily, constantly.

Jesus Christ on the other hand, according to Hebrews 10:12-

But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God...

What a difference! The complete perfection and sufficiency of the offering Christ gave nullified any need for more sacrifices! He offered Himself once- no need to do so daily- once was enough. In further comparison with the priests of old, instead of standing in a constant posture of incompletion- He sat down at the right hand of God. The ultimate picture of rest and satisfaction- to be seated next to His Father. Finally- a return to His pre-incarnate place next to His Father- only now after the glorious work of Redemption! The One with the Name above every name!

When we partake of the Lord's Supper, it is not another sacrifice or Christ somehow sacrificing Himself again. Instead, the Lord's Supper, among other things (WCF, Chapter 29) is a celebration of the finished, sufficient, victorious, sacrifice Jesus provided for the complete remission of all my (our) sins.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Tribute to My Uncle Chris and Those who have fought for Me

Above is a picture of the Florence American Cemetery in Italy. My Uncle Christopher is buried there along with 4,402 other soldiers who lost their lives liberating Italy from the Nazi's in World War II. Did you know there are American cemeteries for our war dead in France, Belgium, England, Panama, Italy, Luxembourg, Mexico, and Tunisia? There may be more I am not aware of (check out the American Battle Monuments site). The Florence cemetery, where my uncle is buried, is one of the smaller "monuments" to American war dead.

In a strange twist of fate, my grandparents, Cataldo and Sarafina, left Sicily in 1915 for a better life in America only to lose one of their sons back in Italy in 1944.

They chose to have Christopher buried in Florence. No family members had the ability to visit his resting place until my father and I travelled there in 2005, sixty-one years after my nineteen year old uncle died. It was a special and sacred time as Dad and I knelt at the cross of my uncle, as the first of kin representatives of the Felich family, to have a moment of tribute to my uncle and all those other fallen soldiers buried there and around the world. For me, it was also a time of reflection on the providence of God. Even the chaos of war is under the powerful hand of God and His mysterious workings. How radically different our world would be if the Allies had not defeated the Nazi war machine in World War II.

My visit to that hallowed site gave me a new appreciation for the sacrifices given so that I could live in a country like the United States. During the years 1910-1955 there was hardly a family in the United States that did not give one of their sons or daughters to the cause of freedom.

I know there is serious tension in our country over our current war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Honestly, as I analyze the wars we have been part of since World War II, I am not sure I see a compelling justification for our involvement except, maybe, for the first Gulf War in 1991. Hindsight is 20/20. The past is what it is, as they say. I am no expert on such things.

My focus today, thinking back to my trip with Dad to the Florence American Cemetery, is thanking those who are currently serving in the military and defending us. There are several in my church who have fought in the Middle East on my (your) behalf. Some of them will be serving second or third tours soon.

I want these people to know how much I personally appreciate what they are doing.

The debates about whether we should be in Iraq or anywhere else ought not cloud our appreciation and support for those people who are serving in those places right now. They are taking their place in the long heritage of courageous freedom fighters who, by the grace of God, have made our country a great place to live. I will admittedly spend lots of time calling our attention to the spiritual decadence that currently plagues our country, however, for today, take a moment and pray for our troops and their families. Because of them, we have the chance to debate, reflect, and blog on such things.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

President Obama?

Today, the freshman senator from Illinois, Barack Obama, declared his intention to run for the presidency of the United States in 2008. I believe he will win.

He promises to bring new order to the politics of Washington. He promises to promote cooperation across party lines. His lack of time in Washington actually serves in his favor as he doesn't come off as tainted and hindered by the politics of Washington (like John McCain does). Despite not having one notable national achievement legislatively, all sorts of people are casting their lots with him already. Oprah endorses him. Warren Buffett endorses him. Even Rick Warren (of "The Purpose Driven Life" fame) speaks very favorably of him.

He is good looking, intelligent, very articulate, and diplomatic. Couple these attributes with the current widespread displeasure with Washington politics and the White House, Obama is striking perfect timing for a successful run in 2008. Unless a candidate emerges, with similar attributes, he will win. Condoleeza Rice has potential to challenge him, but after her, the pickings are slim. She has stated very adamantly that she will not run for president.

Obviously I am disappointed by the very real potential of an Obama presidency. His viability as a candidate is a disappointment on several levels. First, his personal views and actions regarding important moral issues are troubling. As a state legislator Obama actively worked to preserve availability of abortion in all nine months of pregnancy. He opposed parental notification. He opposed any and all bans on partial birth abortion. According to columnist and fellow MBI graduate, Kevin McCullough, "in his run for the U.S. Senate Obama even asked his wife to pen a letter to Illinois voters that reassured them of his commitment to fighting for the right to abort children in the womb. Barack Obama has long supported the advance of the radical homosexual activist lobby in their pursuit to destroy traditional marriage. He supported the creation of "special rights" for people who engage in homosexuality for the sole purpose of putting them at the front of the line on issues of employment, housing, and litigation. He has also solidly backed the advancement of all "hate crimes" legislation, which ultimately may be used to silence clergy who believe according to their own convictions that homosexual behavior is wrong and preach so from biblical texts. Barack Obama has a perfect voting record against the defense of marriage." Second, the shortcomings and failings of the current administration have helped promote a candidate like Obama. Thirdly, the viability of Obama's candidacy highlights the failure of God's people to influence this culture for Christ in this country. Has the Church become so ineffective in America that society is willing to elect a person with such ungodly views on the most basic issues of life? I'm afraid so.

Perhaps this is another (wasn't 1992 enough?) wake up call for the Church.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Missing the "Love Apple" sauce!

Before you are two of the most common foods in the American diet- mac n cheese and scrambled eggs.

Can you see what makes them appear so unappealing? Is it obvious to you what is missing?


The Lord gave us the mighty tomato (quite possibly the "fruit" of the Genesis 3 account) to be used in so many glorious ways- pasta and pizza sauces, chili, salsa, fried green, in salads, sun-dried, to be thrown when rotten, etc. Perhaps the greatest use of the tomato comes in the form of my favorite condiment- Ketchup.

In my research I have discovered seventeenth century Dutch and British seamen brought back a salty pickled fish sauce called 'ketsiap' from China. In this version, it was more related to soy or oyster sauce than the sweet, vinegary substance we call ketchup today. Variations in both the name and the ingredients quickly developed. British alternatives included mushrooms, anchovies, oysters, and walnuts. In 1690 the word 'catchup' appeared in print in reference to this sauce, and in 1711 'ketchup'. At the beginning of the 1800's, The first tomato ketchup recipe was published by American James Mease, which he often referred to as 'love apple' ketchup. The rest is history.

Think of life without ketchup! How would we enjoy mac n cheese and scrambled eggs to their fullest? Praise the Lord for the "Love Apple"!

Friday, January 12, 2007

Materialism isn't a new problem, just ask Chrysostom

I personally wrestle with the materialism of our day. I find a pull in my own heart to want more or covet things. The sin of discontentment is ever assailing me. I know this is a struggle for the members of my church and believe it is a temptation common to most members of Christ’s Church in our privileged country.

Our country has long been blessed with prosperity not known in the world at large. One hundred forty years ago President Lincoln, in a proclamation of national humility (can you imagine?), said-
We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven. We have been preserved, these many years, in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth, and power as no other nation has ever grown”.
Even with the cyclical trends of our economy, the United States has continued to grow in the realm of material prosperity. The temptation for us, members of the American church in particular, is to fall in love with “stuff” and lose our first love, the Lord Jesus. We can be lured to stop relying on our God, who owns everything and has made us, His redeemed, to be stewards (see link to Crown ministries for excellent teaching on biblical stewardship). I think about this subject quite a bit as it is a constant tug in my own heart and affections as it is in the lives of the people I help to shepherd.

Church History reveals materialism to be a timeless struggle for God’s people. I found it interesting that a key theme John Chrysostom (347-407 AD) preached concerning was the problem of materialism, especially among Christians. There was an unholy alliance between Church and state in John’s day so as Bishop of Constantinople he openly criticized the rampant materialism in both realms. I am not sure if materialism has reached the level John witnessed, however, words from two of his sermons certainly seem to continue in relevance-

How think you that you obey Christ’s commandments, when you spend your time collecting interest, piling up loans, buying slaves like livestock, and merging business with business? …And that is not all. Upon all this you heap injustice, taking possession of lands and houses, and multiplying poverty and hunger.

The gold bit on your horse, the gold circlet on the wrist of your slave, the gilding on your shoes, mean that you are robbing the orphan and starving the widow. When you have passed away, each passer-by who looks upon your great mansion will say, “how many years did it take to build that mansion; how may orphans were stripped; how many widows wronged; how many laborers deprived of their honest wages?” Even death itself will not deliver you from your accusers.

In the future I want to write on the excellent opportunities we have in light of the Lord’s great blessings to us, but for now, I’m still meditating on John Chrysostom’s penetrating words.
Did I mention he got exiled for preaching against materialism? Such preaching never has been popular.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Wile E. Coyote

Tonight I plan to hunt some pesky coyotes at a friend's farm with my good friend Nathan. Mark Twain provided a wonderful description of the old song dogs-

The coyote is a long, slim, sick and sorry-looking skeleton, with a gray wolfskin stretched over it, a tolerably bushy tail that forever sags down with a despairing expression of forsakenness and misery, a furtive and evil eye, and a long, sharp face, with slightly lifted lip and exposed teeth. He has a general slinking expression all over. The coyote is a living, breathing allegory of Want. He is always hungry. He is always poor, out of luck, and friendless. The meanest creatures despise him, and even the fleas would desert him for a velocipede. He is so spirtless and cowardly that even while his exposed teeth are pretending a threat, the rest of his face is apologizing for it. And he is so homely! -so scrawny, and ribby, and coarse-haired, and pitiful.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

What could have been?

When considering the career of George Herman Ruth, I’m staggered by his statistics. Besides being an all-star pitcher early in his career (89-46 record), he amassed 714 non-steroid driven home runs, a lifetime batting average of .342, and led his teams to 7 World Series titles. After the Red Sox sold him to the Yankees in 1919, Ruth single-handedly outhomered the entire Boston team in 10 of the next 12 seasons! His statistics are the focus of baseball enthusiasts when Ruth is often declared the greatest player of all time.
I will tell you what I can’t help focusing on- Ruth played 21 years and accumulated these kinds of stats despite poor discipline in most areas of life. What would Ruth’s numbers have been had he maintained even a basic level of personal discipline?
Ruth trained very little during the off-season (one notable exception- before the 1927 season he trained and dropped his weight to 212 pounds, he hit 60 home runs that year). During most seasons he spent too many all-nighters on the town. He was legendary for his abuse of alcohol. It was once stated by a teammate that the “great” Bambino could drink a bathtub full of beer and two bottles of Rye in one sitting. By all accounts his personal relationships were tattered and strained and his womanizing is well documented. To play for 21 seasons and generate such incredible numbers with this kind of lifestyle is amazing. It is also very sad. Again, what could the Sultan of Swat done with even a basic level of discipline? Home run hitting, I am told, is mostly about concentration for those gifted enough to hit a ball traveling 80-90 mph. Imagine what less alcohol (much less), a better diet, more sleep, a healthy social life, and a stable home life could have done for Ruth’s concentration. I’m not talking about rigorous off-season running, weight-lifting, hitting practice, and the like, just basic life disciplines exercised by a gifted athlete.
There is something analogous to this in our walk with the Lord. When I think of Ruth’s potential against his actual accomplishments, his lack of basic discipline makes me disappointed we didn’t get to see the performance of a healthy Ruth.

When I come to the end of my days, I hope my life is marked with a simple gratitude and love for Jesus. I honestly don’t think I’ll be disappointed if I don’t ascend do some “prestigious” ministry position or gain some kind of widespread recognition (we ministers have more sanctified ways of saying “fame”). I do think I’ll be disappointed if I haven’t been faithful in the “basic” things. I don’t wonder what Ruth would have been like had he trained like a modern world-class athlete, but rather- what would he have been like had he exercised some restraint in the various areas that he over-indulged? I just want to live my life in constant thankful reaction to the undeserved grace God has shown me in Christ. Such a demeanor then motivates me to spend time in God’s Word and with His people, etc.

“What could have been”? is one of the hardest questions to wrestle with.

Monday, January 8, 2007

Dead to Myself, Just like Reepicheep

My life is not my own. This was the attitude of Reepicheep in Prince Caspian as he was fiercely loyal to Caspian, but ultimately to Alsan, the King of Kings. This attitude of loyalty must be my attitude toward the Church, and ultimately, the King and Head of the Church, the Lord Jesus Christ. Reepicheep is one of my favorite characters in all of literature because of his loyalty to the King. Despite his lack of size, ability, and power, he zealously guards the honor of the King. He sees his honor as being united to the King. He sees his life only in relationship to the King. Reepicheep was dead to himself and alive to the King and service to him.

This kind of loyalty is my desire toward Christ, my King. This is what I want for myself and God's people. The words of Paul pierce me-

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. - Colossians 3:1-3

Paul isn't suggesting to be so heavenly minded that you are no earthly good, instead, the Apostle is bidding us to assess our affections to see if they have eternity in view. Paul is saying, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, to be sure that we evaluate all our thoughts and actions with Christ's eternal glory in mind. Very practically- why do I do the things I do? How are they contributing to the glory of God? What are my priorities in this short earthly life? Am I motivated to do things with eternal significance, or am I wasting a whole lot of time?

To seek things that are above and to set my mind on the same means to truly labor to evaluate and adjust my life now according to Christ and His eternal glory.

Life on earth is very short. Our time to serve the King in this unique way is limited. If my life is hidden with Christ in God, I want to spend every second with thoughts of God's eternal glory. I am so grateful to God that He would give me such eternally significant responsibilities- the spiritual oversight of my family and the shared oversight of one of His local Churches. Maybe this is the answer for all Christians? If you are struggling with knowing how to spend your time in an eternally significant way, why not assess how much effort and time you are spending in ministry to your family and in Christ's Church?

I have heard all sorts of regrets from dying people about having pursued things that won't last after they die. I've never heard one person regret time invested, for Christ's Glory, in their family or Church. What more tangible way can we be loyal to the King of Kings and His eternal glory?