December 28, 2008

Warning -- Soapbox; Does the Truth need our help?

I grow irritated when believers distort the truth to create an emotional response in the hearer/reader. There are several Christian organizations that throw shots at people by taking a statement out of context or presenting only part of the truth. Sometimes, they use a provocative headline and hide the truth deep in the article so that only the patient or the persistant will find it. I'll give you an example. Here is a link to an article posted by One News Now, an arm of the American Family Association. Read the entire article and then ask yourself, "what does the writer want me to feel/think after reading his article? What truth has been presented here?" (Please go read the article before you read on, it's not long).

Now in the article, you are told what Rick Warren said, and he is quoted in some paragraphs. They do mention a video statement by Rick Warren on the Saddleback website, but do not post the link. However, I went to the website and watched the video statement. I encourage you to do so as well. Then I want you to compare the article and the video statement. Are the two saying the same thing? Does article accurately reflect what was truly said on the video statement, or have parts been deleted or rearranged to get you to think something else? Here's the link to the video statement: Saddleback Family News and Views - 12/22/2008.

I'd love to hear your take on this, perhaps I'm just being touchy. But at the moment, I am really perturbed. We have truth on our side. I do not believe God is glorified when we misrepresent the truth to get our point across.

December 26, 2008

Twas the day after Christmas - Southern style

Okay, this is probably not the way most folks spent the day after Christmas. But my son has wanted to do some target shooting with the AR-15 ever since we purchased it. So today we went to a friend's house and targeted some boards and some trees.

Look out!

December 25, 2008

Another Christmas Carol

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

The reason Jesus came to earth

This is a different sort of video than you might expect on Christmas Day. This video is from a Christian evangelistic television show that is broadcast in countries with a large number of Muslims. The intent of the show is to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to these people who are living in the dark.

In this video clip a Muslim woman calls in from the UK to say that she has been convinced of the truth of the gospel but is afraid to convert to Christianity because under sharia law her husband could divorce her and take her children away because of her conversion.

This is the reason that Jesus Christ came on the day that we celebrate today. Jesus came to walk among us, to tell us the good news that we may be assured that we will spend eternity in heaven—not by persecuting those who oppose us and not by doing acts of humiliation or by punishing our own bodies or by any other personal works, but by proclaiming the truth that Jesus is the Christ, the eternal Son of God, that he died to pay the penalty for our sins, and by repenting of those sins and throwing ourselves on his mercy.

Thank you, God, for sending Jesus to save his people from their sins.

Merry Christmas. Peace on earth to men of good will.

December 24, 2008

Christmas Canon - Trans Siberian Orchestra

Merry Christmas. May you come to know the child whose birth we celebrate today.

Born in a manger, yet Unstoppable

The baby whose birth we celebrate tomorrow is unstoppable—even today.

Twas the Night Before Christmas

Last minute gift idea - defecating dolls

I admit that I am not much of a doll man. But I just don't get what has been called "this season's hot ticket gift item," dolls that simulate bowel movements. I know, it's gross. I thought so too. But this one just had to go on my blog.

My home town paper, The Washington Post, reported this past Monday on the doll Baby Alive Learns to Potty. According to the report, this doll comes with imitation food that the child is supposed to feed to the doll. Then, as long as the doll doesn't have a boo-boo before making it to the toilet, when the child places this doll on her little plastic pink toilet and presses her bracelet the doll says, "Sniff sniff, I made a stinky," and leaves an ejected ex-food product in the toilet.

I said "if the doll doesn't have a boo-boo" because apparently that may happen since a warning comes with the doll that the imitation excrement may stain certain surfaces.

G.I. Joe seems so mundane by comparison.

Another of this Christmas season's dolls has a magical toilet. When the "Little Mommy Real Loving Baby Gotta Go Doll" is placed on her toilet, "a magnet triggers a presto, change-o in the plastic bowl: 'The "water" in the toilet disappears, with the expected "potty waste" appearing in its place."

This is just sick. Or at least, it would make me sick. I'm glad I have a son and only have to teach him how to clean guns and skin a badger. Boys are so much less messy.

December 23, 2008

Merry Christmas (with love?)

It can't be a good thing when the news report quotes the homeowner as saying:

"This is an example of how you should not use a cutting torch to thaw out frozen water pipes or anything else. When you have wood framing, it will cause a fire."

Read "Man using cutting torch to thaw ice accidentally sets house on fire" from the Massachusetts newspaper South Coast Today.

Silent Night - Mannheim Steamroller

With Christmas lights

With the story of Christ's birth

December 22, 2008

Twelve Voices of Christmas - audio drama

Are you wondering what to do to bring the Christmas story to life for your family this year? I never seem to come up with good ideas and often let these golden opportunities slip past. Then I determine to be prepared next year so we can spend time as a family, gathered around the Word, worshiping Emmanuel—God with us, born as a baby, wrapped in swaddling clothes, and laid in a manger.

But then a year goes by. I realize that it's now December 22nd and I have not yet prepared anything devotional for Christmas this year.

Enter my friend Mary Fuller who brought The Twelve Voices of Christmas to my attention. These audio dramas are well done and will bring a fresh and biblical perspective to your celebration of Christmas.

Thank you, Mary. Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Almighty God for sending your son to be born of a virgin so he could save his people from their sins.

Hallelujah! Emmanuel!

Trained by constant practice

Hebrews 5:11-14
About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.

I have often sought the Lord's help in an area that I recognize as deficient in my life—wisdom. I have followed the admonition of James 1:5, which says If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But I was taught as a child that pulling a single verse out of its context and trying to press that verse to use can be dangerous. I guess I didn't follow my father's advice on that one.

So this morning as I read the Bible I was struck with the passage called out in the box above. Paul is addressing folks who are gathering together around the Word of God. But they "have become dull of hearing" and now "need someone to teach [them] again the basic principles of the oracles of God."

But Paul explains what we all need to do to strengthen our understanding and our discernment, which I believe is the deficiency I have at times recognized in myself. Paul says, "solid food is for the mature." He then defines the mature people in this way: those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.

I have read this passage many times, but today that description jumped out at me. What is required here is the exercising of our muscles. If we allow our discernment muscles to atrophy, even those of us who have shown good discernment in the past may lose our ability to discern right from wrong. We must train our discernment muscles through constant practice. This is a characteristic of maturity.

Perhaps here is a New Year's resolution for me to consider. But I think I need to resolve to do this immediately.

Christmas in Dixie - Alabama

Blog Header - December 22, 2008

Today's blog header is a photo of our house. I took this picture last year when we finished decorating the house. The red tree on the left side of the photo is actually in our enclosed porch. We always get a real tree for the living room. We love the smell of the tree and it just seems more like Christmas when we put up the real tree. The porch tree is an artificial tree that Kim used as a Christmas portrait prop a few years ago.

This year's living room tree is much smaller than the one in this photo because Grandma and Grandpa Gelina will be visiting us this Christmas. We usually get large white pine trees and they fill half the room with their beautiful, soft branches. This year we went for a compact fir tree in order to maintain some of the "living room" in the living room. It's so much better to have family in the house than a large tree.

Merry Christmas.

December 20, 2008

Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol"

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Party Four

December 19, 2008

Not my fault

When in doubt, blame someone else.

That seems to be the motto of many people these days. We just don't like to shoulder the blame or take the responsibility for the things we have done.

Here's a story of a man who hit his wife six times as they passed through U.S. customs at the San Francisco airport, causing facial injury. He (and his wife) are now blaming United Airlines for serving the man too much alcohol, which they say caused his violent behavior.

According to the lawsuit this couple has filed: United's conduct was egregious because it knew or should have known that over-serving a passenger alcohol on an international flight would have negative consequences. [United's] conduct was deliberate, reckless, intentional and done with disregard for plaintiffs and all passengers.

Tennesee Christmas - Amy Grant

December 18, 2008

A zeal for God, but not according to knowledge

The subject of Christian liberty and legalism has come up often at this blog. After having discussed it at some length, I took a reprieve from the topic. But then it came up again recently in the comment threads on a couple of recent posts. And this morning as I read Romans 10, I was struck with another discussion of the topic of legalism, or man-made religious requirements.

In Romans 10:1-4 Paul is continuing a discussion of who actually constitutes God's people. He emphasizes that it is not genetic or biological heritage that makes a person one of God's chosen people (as was thought by the Jews of Paul's day) but faith that places a person in the family of God.

Romans 10:1-4
Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.

As Paul describes these religious Jews he says that they have a "zeal for God, but not according to knowledge." These are not folks who think they are lost. They are looking at their works and thinking that they will be seen as dedicated God-people. And they likely will be seen in that way by others. But our concern must be how God sees us and not how others see us.

Paul describes these misinformed folks as being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking to establish their own. They are living disciplined lives that the world can easily see as being disciplined—but they are living according to their own rules. And they are doing this, according to Paul, because they don't know or understand the righteousness that comes from God. And because they do not know or understand God's righteousness, they did not submit to God's righteousness.

What a terrible thing! This is why there will be people at the final judgment who are cast into hell with the words on God's lips, "depart from me I never knew you." These are people who will argue, "when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?" (Matthew 25:44). These folks truly believe that they are God's people. They believe that their actions prove their salvation. But they are seeking to establish their own [righteousness] and they are not submitting to God's righteousness.

So how do we submit to God's righteousness rather than living by our own rules? How do we know when we are following extra-biblical standards of righteousness rather than our own man-made religious standards?

Paul goes on to say that Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. We need to spread the gospel to others—the good news that Christ died to pay the penalty for the sins of all those who believe. We need to call folks to repentance and to faith in the death and resurrection of Christ. We need to preach the gospel, exposit the Word, focus our attention on Christ—because we believe.

If we're focused on doing the deeds that we have been given—the good works for which we were created—we are not likely to have a desire to create our own man-made standards of righteousness.

People aren't confused by the gospel, they're confused by us. Jesus is the only way to God, but we are not the only way to Jesus.

This world doesn't need my tie, my hoodie, my denomination, or my translation of the Bible. They just need Jesus.

We can be passionate about what we believe, but we can't strap ourselves to the gospel because we're slowing it down. Jesus is going to save the world, but maybe the best thing we can do is just get out of the way.

What This World Needs, Casting Crowns

Strange Way to Save the World - 4 Him

December 17, 2008

Slipping and Stumbling

This time of year is always difficult for my diet control. It's hard enough being a compulsive eater, but when all that good stuff is around, ooooh, how do you say no? How do you limit portion size? How in the world can you control your blood sugar?

I go through a typical cycle—get off my meal plan and eat carelessly, feel guilty, eat to soothe the feelings of guilt, get stressed, eat to settle get the picture, right? Sometimes it's really hard to pull myself back up "on the wagon."

Psalm 37:23,24
The steps of a man are established by the LORD, And He delights in his way.
When he falls, he will not be hurled headlong, Because the LORD is the One who holds his hand.

Well, this morning I think I've been reminded again that there is a hand extended from that wagon that is STILL HOLDING ON. If I will just quit struggling and cling to that hand, I'll be pulled up out of the mud and back on the wagon. The problem is, I'm trying to pull myself up. I really have to release myself and quit struggling so I can be lifted up!! I guess I get the mental picture of myself as an angry, kicking toddler. It's a lot easier to pick up a child who is surrendered than one that is still flailing.

Even when we stumble, we won't fall headlong. That is so comforting. I stumble FREQUENTLY. I think the lesson I'm learning is that I need to stop struggling to get up. I need to rest in His arms and let Him lift me up. Then, when I'm there, in His arms, I need to quit struggling to get down and get a new grip on the world and its pleasures. I hope that someday I will be satisfied with the good things He offers rather than the fleeting treasures of this world.

Here are a few other comforting verses about our constant stumbling:

Psalms 40:2 – He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.
Psalms 66:9 – he has preserved our lives and kept our feet from slipping.
Psalm 145:14 – The Lord upholds all those who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down.

On This Very Christmas Night - Trans Siberian Orchestra

December 16, 2008

Baby Isabella

Congratulations Joe & Abigail!!!

Our dear friends Joe & Abigail were married 9 months and two weeks ago. Today Abigail gave birth to their first child, Isabella. Before we knew the baby had arrived, just this morning Kim and I were discussing what an amazing couple Joe and Abigail are. They shine in every way possible.

But they outdid themselves this time. This baby is as gorgeous as can be and Abigail looked great too, although she may not be too pleased that this photo of her is on my blog.

In fact, Joe looked pretty good too, considering what he had been through.

We love this couple and are very excited about their new addition.

Keeping Christ in mind

Colossians 1:9-14
We have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

As I read my bible this morning I came across this letter from the apostle Paul to the Colossian believers. It struck me that this is the way we should pray for each other. And this is the way we should address each other—encouraging our friends to persist in their dedication to Christ.

I'm not going to wait until January 1 to make the resolution to think in this manner. Imagine how different our world would look if Christians were to "walk in a manner worthy of the Lord," and if we were to "increase in the knowledge of God" and "bearing fruit in our good works," remembering that "he has transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son" who died to redeem us and to garner the forgiveness of our sins."

I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas

December 15, 2008

It's called Christmas! (with a capitol "C")

Just 10 more days!

Blog Header - December 15, 2008

Today's blog header is a photo of downtown Lynchburg, Virginia, that I took last December. Lynchburg is a wonderful city with a small hometown feel. And Christmas is a wonderful time to walk the streets of Lynchburg and enjoy the Christmas decorations and the friendly faces of the other Lynchburg residents who are out for a stroll around their beautiful little city.

It's a bit colder this year than last, so hopefully I can get some pictures of a decorated downtown Lynchburg with some snow on the ground. If so, I'll share those with you immediately.

December 14, 2008

Congratulations Tim and Melissa

When we first met Tim and Melissa more than two years ago they were dating. So we've always thought of them as a couple. But yesterday they made that official in the sight of God and many witnesses. It's always good to see this evidence of growth and maturity in the church. And it's always good for us older married folks to be reminded of the nature of marriage and the fact that God has laid out exactly what marriage is and why he established it.

The last two weddings of young people from our church have included something that I think is really great—a presentation of the gospel and a call for folks to come to Christ. It seems very natural since we are all gathered to focus on how the wedding ceremony, and the marriage itself, symbolizes Christ's relationship to his Church.

I also enjoy taking pictures at weddings when I am not the official photographer. I've always loved taking pictures of people—candid shots more than posed. And at weddings the people are happy and dressed in their best. Many of the women take special care with their hair. Many of the men pull out their fanciest suits and ties. Everyone just looks great. It's a great place to take candid pictures.

So, of course, that is what I did. I took a few photos of the people in the pews before the prelude started. Then, since I was playing bass for some of the songs, Kim took the camera up to the balcony to get an unobstructed view of the ceremony. She used my camera on one side of the balcony and David took photos with Kim's pocket camera from the other side of the balcony.

Our good friend Joe McKinley sang and played guitar during the ceremony. You may remember Joe's wedding from March of this year [posts from the McKinley wedding]. Joe and Abigail were married in South Carolina, but soon moved back to Lynchburg to the general rejoicing of the people in our church. They are an amazing couple and have made a tremendous impact on our church. Abigail was sitting in the balcony with us during the wedding ceremony, somewhat uncomfortable as she is very pregnant right now. In fact, her due date is the day after tomorrow.

They've been very tight-lipped about the whole thing. No one knows if it's a boy or girl or even what names they prefer. We're all very excited.

So congratulations are due to Tim and Melissa and to their families, a veritable sea of witnesses on their own. Congratulations are due to Melissa's younger sister who recently became engaged to be married (to our pastor's assistant). And very soon congratulations will be due to Joe and Abigail. And today is the Lord's Day. It is a time of celebration and thanksgiving.

Praise God, from whom all blessings flow.

December 13, 2008

The heavens declare the glory of God

The moon is closer to earth than it has been for 15 years. Last night as I walked to the church for a wedding rehearsal, I noticed that the moon looked incredibly large as it hung low against the mountains. After the rehearsal, I grabbed my camera and took this picture.

Here's an article about the moon's position.

The Heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
—Psalm 19:1

Amazing photography

I love photography and I love new and unusual experiences. This site combines the two. The Whale Hunt is a photographic expedition under conditions that I can't even imagine, revealing a part of our world that few of us have ever seen. And, as is the case all over the world, there is a unique beauty to this incredibly cold portion of the world.

I have to agree with Mary—I'm glad I live in the south, where we get excited by a couple of flurries because it's so very uncommon for us to get snow at all. But these photos are amazing.

The Whale Hunt is covered photojournalistically with a photo every five minutes (including sleeping times). Check it out.

December 12, 2008

I had to borrow this one from a custom car/motorcycle shop, but I just had to include at least one Christmas song from my favorite group of all time: Lynyrd Skynyrd.

December 11, 2008

White Christmas - jazz guitar

Christmas present recommendations

My family is a family of all out, unrepentant book freaks. My wife and I are voracious readers and although my son doesn't particularly like to read himself, he loves for us to read to him and he loves getting new books—which, of course, we will read to him.

And it extends: My sister and my mother used to have summertime contests to see who would read the most books during our summer breaks from school. My father's pastoral library covered three walls of his church office and another couple of walls at home were packed floor to ceiling with books on theology, philosophy, art, history, music, and more.

So I'm always looking for good books to give as gifts. And the folks at Sharper Iron have presented a perfect list for those friends of yours who are book freaks (especially if they are astute theologians).

Check out the recommended books here.

December 10, 2008

I want my daddy home for Christmas

Christmas - the saltiest holiday

I love Christmas. I love the lights. I love the music. I love the way people seem to get a little bit happier (merrier?). I love the story that almighty God sent his divine son to become a man and walk among us—Emmanuel, God with us.

But something else that I love about Christmas is that it is the holiday that impacts unbelievers in a way that makes them confess Christ with their mouths. And they do it unintentionally. Yes, an intentional confession of Christ would be preferred.

Isaiah 45:22–24
Turn to Me and be saved, all the ends of the earth. For I am God, and there is no other. By Myself I have sworn; Truth has gone from My mouth, a word that will not be revoked: Every knee will bow to Me, every tongue will swear allegiance. It will be said to Me: Only in the LORD is righteousness and strength.” All who are incensed against Him will come to Him and be put to shame.

But I enjoy watching those who show an anti-Christian bias the rest of the year (and even during this time of the year) saying such things as "Emmanuel" or "Noel" or "Christmas." I enjoy hearing them sing "O Little Town of Bethlehem" or "Mary's Little Boy Child" or "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring." It's fun to watch someone such as James Taylor struggle with the words of "Go Tell It On the Mountain," trying to remove the word "Christ" from the song, but not quite being able to do so (see the video below). I chuckle as Sarah McLachlan sings "a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, let's hope it's a good one without any fear." Although I don't like the musical styling, I enjoy hearing Christina Aguilera singing "have yourself a merry little Christmas - make the yuletide gay, from now on your troubles will be miles away." Of course, those of us who know the truth of Christmas know that troubles are miles away because Jesus Christ, that baby in the manger that we're all singing about, will ultimately be victorious.

Matthew 5:13
“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt should lose its taste, how can it be made salty? It’s no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled on by men.

It makes me think about the concept of believers being the "salt of the earth." If we are the salt of the earth, our flavor should be tasted. But it seems, at least in America, that the impact of true Christianity is not tasted much at all anymore. Although the anti-Christ forces are trying very hard to remove Christ from this holiday, his presence is still felt—strongly. It's a great thing to see. And we need to be prepared to take advantage of society's openness to the story of Christ during this season. When we hear the word Emmanuel on the mouths of those who do not believe, we need to explain the uniqueness of our religion—that God came to live with us and to die for us so that we may live forever with him.

It's the most wonderful time of the year.

Go Tell It On the Mountain - James Taylor

December 09, 2008

12 Days of Christmas (sort of) A Capella

HT: Through the Veil, Rev. E. Scott Hart

Another reason to love Lynchburg - Point of Honor

Sunday afternoon we went with our friends Joe and Abigail to visit Point of Honor, a wonderful historic Lynchburg home that was built in 1818. This home is now owned by the Lynchburg Museum Society and they have restored it to its 1818 decor. They host an open house around Christmastime each year. When Abigail told us that she and Joe were going to the open house, we jumped at the chance to enjoy an outing with our friends and to see Point of Honor at Christmastime.

Joe & Abigail on the Point of Honor porch

Although we have been to the beautiful home before, this was the first time that we got to see the inside of the house. The tour guides were filled with interesting anecdotes and historical facts. They had a dinner table spread with food made from circa 1818 recipes—of the types of food that those living in the early nineteenth century would have offered during their "12th Night" Christmas parties.

In one of the parlor rooms, three musicians sang Christmas carols and played a variety of period instruments, including hammered dulcimer, recorders (normal, alto, and tenor), wooden flutes, modern flutes, guitars, and harps. They were quite good and extended delightful hospitality to those of us who were visiting. They even changed their planned repertoire when I asked if I could hear the tenor recorder.

The harpist plays in the carriage house

In the carriage house, they offered homemade cookies, hot chocolate, and hot spiced cider—all made from early 19th century recipes and all delicious. A harpist played classical music in the corner of the room for those who were warming up with the hot drinks. And a few heartier souls gathered outside around the firepit that was burning for those who were willing to brave the rare below freezing temperatures. Well, rare for Central Virginia, that is. But it made it seem a bit more like Christmas—especially because some of Saturday's snow remained on the ground.

David enjoyed the outdoor kitchen where they had an interesting display of some of the foods that would have been cooked in the kitchen. David asked the tour guide if he could volunteer to eat the food they had cooked since the open house was almost over and there wouldn't be any more people coming through. They told him that health code forbids offering food to the visitors but that those who work for the Museum Society sometimes eat the foods that they cook after the events are over. So now David wants to get a job with the Lynchburg Museum Society. It's always interesting to find out what interests people in the jobs they have. Apparently, the benefit that speaks the most to David is the food that his employer has to offer—and all the much better if he can help cook it over an open hearth.

We have noticed that Lynchburg is proud of its heritage and is committed to maintaining her historical sites and traditions. They do a great job of educating the people who live here (or those who visit). We have attended many of the events the city hosts to help remember its historical heritage. They're a lot of fun and the more we learn of Lynchburg the more grateful we are to God that he saw fit to move us here.

December 08, 2008

Who is on the Lord's Side?

Yesterday, Pastor Stephen preached from Revelation 12 and did a brief overview of the doctrine of Satan. He stated that Satan has two primary goals:

  • to disrupt God's purposes
  • to discredit believers before God

I spent a lot of time thinking on the phrase from verse 10: "the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, he who accuses them before our God day and night."

Pastor spoke of Satan in his role as accuser—a master prosecutor bringing evidence before a Holy God to convict believers before Him. We give him ammunition 24/7. The things he speaks to the Father are truth. But we have an advocate who raises His nail-scarred hands and says, "paid in full." Although Satan continually accuses us, he has no voice with God!! In Rev. 12:10, there is rejoicing because no longer will God even allow Satan in heaven to accuse, but he is cast down to earth and begins a relentless pursuit of God's chosen nation, Israel, which lasts for three and a half years.

This provoked another thought in me, one that required action on my part. First, I looked up the word, "accuser" in the NT. It is the greek word (kathgorevw) meaning "to accuse, to make an accusation before a judge." It is used 21 times in the NT. In nearly every instance, the word is used of accusations against Jesus or the apostles. But there is one verse that uses it differently: Romans 2:15. It reads, ..."they show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness therewith, and their thoughts one with another accusing or else excusing [them])." In this verse, the conscience does the accusing. But in every other instance it is the enemy bringing accusation against God's people or God's Son.

Romans 8:33-35

Who will bring a charge against God's elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?

Psalm 103:8-14

The LORD is compassionate and gracious, Slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness. He will not always strive [with us,] Nor will He keep [His anger] forever. He has not dealt with us according to our sins, Nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, So great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him. As far as the east is from the west, So far has He removed our transgressions from us. Just as a father has compassion on [his] children, So the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him. For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are [but] dust.

Next, I asked myself this question: "So when I accuse or charge other believers with punishable offenses, who am I most like?" That made me dig in a little deeper to see how God looks at the believer. I found several biblical references seen in the callout to the right (not exhaustive here, but representative) characterizing God's attitude toward His people.

The apostle Paul directs us in our attitude toward one another in Colossians 3:12-14 So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.

That nearly settles it, doesn't it? But wait, we have doctrinal issues that need attention, don't we? I mean, what of those who do this or don't do that? Hadn't we ought to make it clear how wrong they are? Sorry, our dear Paul put the brakes on that one, too, in Romans 14:

Accept Christians who are weak in faith, and don't argue with them about what they think is right or wrong. For instance, one person believes it is all right to eat anything. But another believer who has a sensitive conscience will eat only vegetables. Those who think it is all right to eat anything must not look down on those who won't. And those who won't eat certain foods must not condemn those who do, for God has accepted them. Who are you to condemn God's servants? They are responsible to the Lord, so let him tell them whether they are right or wrong. The Lord's power will help them do as they should.

In the same way, some think one day is more holy than another day, while others think every day is alike. Each person should have a personal conviction about this matter. Those who have a special day for worshiping the Lord are trying to honor him. Those who eat all kinds of food do so to honor the Lord, since they give thanks to God before eating. And those who won't eat everything also want to please the Lord and give thanks to God. For we are not our own masters when we live or when we die. While we live, we live to please the Lord. And when we die, we go to be with the Lord. So in life and in death, we belong to the Lord. Christ died and rose again for this very purpose, so that he might be Lord of those who are alive and of those who have died.

So why do you condemn another Christian? Why do you look down on another Christian? Remember, each of us will stand personally before the judgment seat of God. For the Scriptures say,

"'As surely as I live,' says the Lord, 'every knee will bow to me and every tongue will confess allegiance to God.'"

Yes, each of us will have to give a personal account to God.

So don't condemn each other anymore. Decide instead to live in such a way that you will not put an obstacle in another Christian's path. I know and am perfectly sure on the authority of the Lord Jesus that no food, in and of itself, is wrong to eat. But if someone believes it is wrong, then for that person it is wrong. And if another Christian is distressed by what you eat, you are not acting in love if you eat it. Don't let your eating ruin someone for whom Christ died. Then you will not be condemned for doing something you know is all right. For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. If you serve Christ with this attitude, you will please God. And other people will approve of you, too. So then, let us aim for harmony in the church and try to build each other up.

Don't tear apart the work of God over what you eat. Remember, there is nothing wrong with these things in themselves. But it is wrong to eat anything if it makes another person stumble. Don't eat meat or drink wine or do anything else if it might cause another Christian to stumble. You may have the faith to believe that there is nothing wrong with what you are doing, but keep it between yourself and God. Blessed are those who do not condemn themselves by doing something they know is all right. But if people have doubts about whether they should eat something, they shouldn't eat it. They would be condemned for not acting in faith before God. If you do anything you believe is not right, you are sinning.

New Living Translation

So, with a resounding "OUCH!" I have to make a commitment to change my attitude—even at home my husband. (yoo hoo, wives, we are NOT the Holy Spirit, but a helper!!) The scriptures are pretty clear that the only condemnation I need make is of the things that God convinces me ought not be in MY life. There may be an opportunity to humbly point out biblical error to another believer, but if it resorts to pouncing on them with my Study Bible marked up like a porcupine with sticky flags on my favorite "thou shalt not" verses, I'd better step back a bit. Romans 14 says that God is able to give them the power to do as they should!!

So I ask, "Who is on the Lord's Side?" Will we join the enemy, the accuser of the brethren, or will we join with the One who laid down His life for His friends?

Finally, a favorite quote which humorously sums up the struggle of unity in the church—"To live above with saints we love, Oh, that will be glory!! But to live below with saints we know—Now that's another story!" (Russell Camp).

Christmas music from The Carpenters

I love Christmas music—all kinds of Christmas music. In fact, my 30 gigabyte MP3 player has about 10 gigs of Christmas music on it.

So to help us all get into the spirit of Christmas, I'm going to begin posting videos of Christmas music every few days until Christmas

Merry Christmas!

Blog Header - December 8, 2008

Today's header photo is a picture from Disneyworld's MGM Studios. We visited my parents in Florida a few years ago at Christmastime and then spent a day at MGM Studios. The Christmas decorations were amazing and inspiring. And yes, they were Christmas decorations—not "holiday" decorations. The decorations included one of the most beautiful manger scenes I have ever seen. And there were many lights strung across the pathways that had been arranged so they read "Merry Christmas." It was great to see.

December 05, 2008

Return 2 Zero

When our family went to Disneyworld for vacation last year, we stayed at Disney's Caribbean Beach Resort and went to one of the four parks (The Magic Kingdom, MGM Studios, Animal Kingdom, and Epcot) and one of the two water parks (Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach) every day for eight straight days. It was an absolute delight and we found that Disney is not exaggerating when they say that Disneyland is the "happiest place on earth."

Disney's staff is so amazing and talented that they can take you off-guard. Street sweepers and photographers and ticket takers seem to be every bit as much a part of the overall show as the actors in the various stage performances. But when we were at MGM Studios one day, we decided to go to see Beauty and the Beast Live. It's a fantastic performance and a great break from the heat if you happen to be there in the summertime, as we were.

But my favorite part of the show was before the show started, when a few people who appeared to be simple staff members doing final sound checks prior to the show ...

Well, I'll let you see for yourself:

Their name is "Return 2 Zero." We now have two of their CDs and a few other MP3s on our MP3 players. They're simply fantastic. I've always loved acapella music, but these guys are just the best.

Here's another set of clips of them performing at MGM Studios "Beauty and the Best Live" at Disneyworld. You must make a point of seeing them the next time you're at Disneyworld. You'll love it.

Blog Header - December 5, 2008

Today's blog header is a photo of the trees and bushes across the street from our house. I love the interplay of the red "burning bush" leaves against the evergreen trees that grow just behind them. Over time, these bushes have melded into what appears to be one bush with a green top and a fiery red bottom. Simply gorgeous.

God is so creative! What a wonderful world he has made for us to live in.

Need for speed

This video shows two F-16s doing a low fly-by in Afghanistan. The first one is moving at a pretty quick clip, but the second one...

You gotta see it for yourself:

And another one:

December 03, 2008

Christmas Bell

I am God's child (John 1:12)
I am Christ's friend (John 15:15)
I am united with the Lord (1 Cor. 6:17)
I am bought with a price (1 Cor 6:19-20)
I am a saint (set apart for God). (Eph. 1:1)
I am a personal witness of Christ. (Acts 1:8)
I am the salt & light of the earth (Matt 5:13-14)
I am a member of the body of Christ (1 Cor 12:27)
I am free forever from condemnation ( Rom. 8: 1-2)
I am a citizen of Heaven. I am significant (Phil 3:20)
I am free from any charge against me (Rom. 8:31 -34)
I am a minister of reconciliation for God (2 Cor 5:17-21)
I have access to God through the Holy Spirit (Eph.. 2:18)
I am seated with Christ in the heavenly realms (Eph. 2:6)
I cannot be separated from the love of God (Rom 8:35-39)
I am established, anointed, sealed by God (2 Cor 1:21-22)
I am assured all things work together for good (Rom.. 8:28)
I have been chosen and appointed to bear fruit (John 15:16)
I may approach God with freedom and confidence (Eph. 3: 12)
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Phil. 4:13)
I am the branch of the true vine, a channel of His life (John 15: 1-5)
I am God's temple (1 Cor. 3: 16). I am complete in Christ (Col. 2: 10)
I am hidden with Christ in God ( Col. 3:3). I have been justified (Romans 5:1)
I am God's co-worker (1 Cor. 3:9; 2 Cor 6:1). I am God's workmanship (Eph. 2:10)
I am confident that the good works God has begun in me will be perfected. (Phil. 1: 5)
I am redeemed and forgiven (Col 1:14).  I have been adopted as God's child (Eph 1:5)

I belong to God
Do you?

December 02, 2008

I wish I had...

I wish I had a better voice with which to sing His praise.
   I wish I had more perfect words with which to preach His ways.
I wish I had more talents with which to serve my King.
   If I had more to offer, why, I'd do anything!!

But wait, He has not asked me in all things to excel,
   Yet in each task He gives me, He asks that I do well.
So whatever task I'm given, I'll do it heartily;
   For this I know, He only asks my very best from me.

He's asked for me to be content, not want what I don't own.
   He never will forsake me, He'll not leave me alone.
With Him right there beside me, how could I ask for more?
   He's all that matters—I will say, "I wish I had" no more!

Mary Fuller

The great equalizer

A desire for supremacy is rooted deep within our sinful natures. We tend to look for every little indication that we are better than others. It should come as no surprise to us, considering our penchant for sin, that God's way is just the opposite. As Paul explained to the believers at Ephesus: "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast" (Eph 2:8-9). It is all of God, so we cannot say that we are better than other people—even when the "other people" are nonbelievers. As the saying goes, "There, but for the grace of God, go I."

1 Corinthians 12:12-13
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

But it doesn't stop at salvation, leaving us vying for power and distinction within the Church. This morning I was reading in 1 Corinthians 12 and was reminded that whatever our "position" or "title" in the local church, we are equal in Christ. As the passage to the right so clearly illustrates, it doesn't matter if we were Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—we are all equal in Christ.

The greater context of this passage explains that we all have different duties in our local assembly that God has prepared us to fulfill for the betterment and edification of the other believers. Each of these duties is necessary, even though some duties appear to come with greater honor and recognition than other duties.

Chapter 14 encourages us to contribute our personal gifts to the local assembly with the intention of edifying the saints. "When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up (1 Cor. 14:26). And if we are looking to this purpose, rather than vying for power or feeling hurt because we are not receiving the honor that another seems to be receiving, the local church will run like a well-oiled machine. The passage ends with the encouragement: "But all things should be done decently and in order" (1 Cor. 14:40). And this encouragement is given in the context of prophecy, saying that no more than two or three people should prophecy at once and that they should have interpreters. So Paul is saying that even if someone has received a word from God for the assembly, he is not to push this on others, but he is to wait for his turn."

I know that I often want to push my own agenda, thinking that I have something tremendous to offer to the people of God. But God has gifted each of us and we must do things decently and in order. Our turn will come at the right time for the edification of the congregation.

Songs of the Lukewarm Church

  • Blest Be The Tie That Doesn't Cramp My Style
  • Pillow of Ages, Fluffed for Me
  • I Surrender Some
  • I'm Fairly Certain That My Redeemer Lives
  • Sit Up, Sit Up For Jesus
  • Take My Life and Let Me Be
  • What An Acquaintance We Have In Jesus
  • Where He Leads Me, I Will Consider Following
  • He's Quite a Bit To Me
  • Oh, How I Like Jesus
  • Fill My Spoon, Lord
  • It Is My Secret What God Can Do

Way of the Master

December 01, 2008

The Half-Blood Prince

Okay, I know I'm a nerd. But I simply cannot wait for this movie!!!!!

Known for its objections

Example 1:  My college, Baptist Bible College and Seminary of Clark Summit, Pa., had an outstanding raison d'ĂȘtre. As proclaimed in BBC's hymn, the school is there to train young people in the task of "Holding Fast the Faithful Word."

Example 2:  When Martin Luther was called to the Diet of Worms, he proffered his defense by proclamation of the truths he saw in scripture. His closing argument was concluded with:

Unless I am convinced of error by the testimony of Scripture or ... by manifest reasoning, I stand convinced by the Scriptures to which I have appealed, and my conscience is taken captive by God's word, I cannot and will not recant anything, for to act against our conscience is neither safe for us, nor open to us.

Example 3:  Aaron Tippin sang a song titled, You've Got to Stand for Something Or You'll Fall for Anything.

Great heroes of history have always stood for something. Of course, their stands positioned them against the stands of others, but typically the great heroes of the past have stood for something, not against something.

Unfortunately, our society has fallen to the other side of this equation and the fall seems to increase with greater velocity each passing day. We now take pride in standing against things rather than for things. It seems easier, apparently, to demonize and marginalize our opponents rather than to argue the scriptural basis that prompts us to a different position on the issue.

The Southern Baptist Convention, after making a solid conservative comeback from the jaws of liberalism, has taken on a new enemy to oppose—Calvinism. But as the years have passed, the anti-Calvinists have had great difficulty in defending their position from scripture. So they have turned to demonizing and marginalizing the perceived enemy—those who believe in the sovereign God of scripture.

At the outstanding blog Grace and Truth to You, Wade Burleson has posted an article that deals with this sad state of affairs. From Wade's post:

I told a few people privately ... that if people didn't start drawing a line in the sand over attempts to narrow and constrict the doctrinal parameters of Southern Baptist cooperation, then we would eventually get to the place that Calvinists would be told they are no longer welcome in the SBC....

Bottom line, I knew that if a line in the sand was not drawn at some point, those who hold to Calvinism would be targeted next. Three years later, that which I feared has come upon us....

It is my prayer that the ability to cooperate with Southern Baptists who disagree on doctrinal issues didn't die with him. We cannot let the spirit and temperament that demands doctrinal conformity prevail in the SBC. I would much rather build bridges of understanding with those who disagree with me than allow those who disagree with me declare that people on the other side of them are not "orthodox" Southern Baptists and should be removed.

I cannot, I will not, be silent about the need for cooperation among Southern Baptists. Cooperation in the midst of doctrinal diversity is the fabric of who we are as Southern Baptists. It is, if you will, true Southern Baptist identity.

May God grant mercy and grace to the Evangelicals in America. May he moves us back to defending and proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ rather than finding myriad things to oppose.

The answer to "Why?"

I think the most difficult part of my "recovery" from my difficult childhood was dealing with the issue of the Sovereignty of God. If God truly loved me, why didn't he spare me from the ugly things? He was the "Good" Shepherd, wasn't He? Yet the Scriptures are very plain in declaring God's sovereignty [check out some of Rich's entries on Calvinism and God's Sovereignty]. Nothing escapes God's eye, nothing surprises Him. I recall spending several hours one day on my bicycle outside my childhood home, trying desparately to remember any good thing that had happened in there. As I mentally walked through each room, I only saw the trauma. Now that I'm older, I understand that my brain was "purging" the repressed memories. Still, it was a very sad day for me.

As I went off to Bible college, I took several theology courses. I devoured the survey courses on the Old and New Testaments. I eagerly "sparred" with my classmates about those biblical issues like election, the perfect will of God, and the meaning of God's foreknowledge. But it wasn't digging into Scripture that solved the issue of my past, but rather several experiences that God used to demonstrate the truths of His Word.

One particular instance stands out in my mind.

I had a very good friend in college, and for reasons too lengthy to deal with here, we hadn't spoken or written in some time. I was concerned that a disagreement had separated us. She was too good a friend to just let her slip away. I went to the lake on campus and poured out my heart to the Lord. I wrote in my journal that day:

"I'm not asking You to change the circumstances, but to change me. I'm not asking that You fill the hole in my heart with another friend, but to mend it and fill it up with YOU."

Feeling a little refreshed, but still heavy in heart from my loss, I walked back to my dorm by way of the mailroom. I checked my mailbox, and of course, as you've guessed, in it was a letter from my friend. Seeing the return address sent a surge of hope through me. But it was far more beautiful than mere correspondence. My dear friend wrote, "I saw this the other day, and it made me think of you." What followed was a poem called, "What is a Friend?" It was a tribute to my faithfulness to her in the good times and bad; my understanding of the contradictions in her and in our relationship; my unconditional love for her.

A flood of tears fell from my eyes in thankfulness to God. But it wasn't just thankfulness for the restoration of our friendship, which, by the way, has lasted over twenty five years, but also because God allowed me to suffer just long enough for me to surrender my will to His. I was ready to release the earthly relationship because I truly wanted what God wanted in my life. The sorrow that I felt softened my heart. I had said goodbye to far too many people already in my life—this one just seemed to hurt more because she was such a valuable person. Yet the event helped me to know that whatever God wanted in my earthly life was secondary to the fact that He wanted my heart.

As I reflected on this, I realized that a great deal of the hurt in my youth brought me to dependence on God. It also taught me no one is "too far gone" for the gospel. It also has given me a unique connection to some young people I am blessed to know. I know from Bible stories like Joseph and Moses, that the circumstances in our lives uniquely fit us for service.

Romans 8:29
For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren.

There is one verse that sums up my satisfaction in God's Sovereignty. It is Romans 8:29 (in the callout box to the right). God's design in my suffering is to make me like His Son. This one truth is all I need to make sense of the struggles I've faced. What else could I want than to be more like Jesus?