Posts Tagged ‘reflections’

Reblog: You Were Meant For This (a reflection for parents)

Originally posted 7 years ago and written sometime before that…still a good reminder, to myself.  Although my children are much older now, I still need to be reminded of this greater reality…


File under:  Things you were not told about parenting.  Children and privacy.  I never thought and was never told that children would completely change notions of privacy.  Essentially it becomes non-existent, especially during waking hours.  It is not an unusual occurrence to have our whole family, including the cat, in our tiny bathroom.  I suppose I should be encouraged that my children want to be in my presence, but everywhere, all the time?  No one told me…there actually are quite a few things that I was not prepared for when it comes to being a parent  (e.g. infants and toddlers do not observe daylight savings time; they wake up regardless of what the clock says).   Of course nothing prepares you for being a parent like being a parent.  Experience is a strong and unrelenting teacher.

All of this can be overwhelming, but I think it leads to a larger question.  Are our difficulties with our children rooted in a misunderstanding of who is for whom?  That is, are we meant for our children, or are our children meant for us.  Often times our behavior and our attitude would point to us thinking that children are really meant for us.  This may take several forms of course:  children may exist to fill an emotional need, to entertain us, to allow us a second chance at life or sports or school or whatever we lacked or failed at, or even just to stay quiet and out of the way.  Even in Hollywood, babies seem to be the new celebrity status symbol.  It is not wrong to want children, it is wrong to want them for the wrong reasons.  And it is wrong to treat them as objects or possessions when they are present.

Read the words of Walter Wangerin, Jr. in the introduction of his book Little Lamb who made thee? : A book about Children and Parents on this point:

Children do not exist to please us.  They are not for us at all.  Rather, we exist for them – to protect them now and to prepare them for the future.  Who is given unto whom?  Are we a gift to their elders?  No – not till children are grown and their elders are older indeed.  Then they are a gift of the fourth commandment, honoring hoary head which have begun to feel past honor.  But until then, it is we who are given, by God’s parental mercy, to the children!  And it is we who must give to the children – by lovely laughter, by laughter utterly free, and by the sheer joy from which such laughter springs – the lasting memory:  You are, you are, you are, my child, a marvelous work of God!

I am both surprised at times at the depth of my love for my children, but at other times I am surprised at the depth of desire for my own comfort.  I really shouldn’t be surprised at either I suppose, as one reflects the Father’s work in my life and the other that remaining sin and idolatry within my own heart.  At times I have my priorities straight, at others I have them reversed.  The prayer then has to be, that the Lord would help us to understand those times when we act as if our children should be doing something for us or even when may resent their presence and that He would change our hearts to reflect Wangerin’s statement above.

It seems to me that the blessing of being a grandparent is the ability to know without reservation, who is for who?  Most grandparents know, intrinsically, that they exist for their grandchildren and therefore delight in the opportunities to observe, include, be barged in on, etc…by their grandchildren.  The negative of this may lie in the tendency of grandparents to spoil their children – this goes to far to another other extreme.  That said, you have to love the unabashed love that most grandparents are willing show towards their grandchildren.

Another thing that changes when you become a parent is the way that you react to the sufferings of children, especially those who are of the same age as our children.  Our heartstrings can really be pulled when we see an infant or toddler suffering from ill health or from sins perpetrated upon them.  A newspaper article from the Raleigh based News & Observer does this to me with an article on May 9th, 2004 (“Mom grows with Grant”, written by Vicki Cheng).  Jamie Howard was living the life she always wanted to live, but that changed with the birth of her second child.  A few months into Grant’s life, it became clear that something wasn’t right.  It was later discovered that Grant suffered a stroke in utero, which has had a profound affect on his mental and physical development.  What struck me the most in the article, more than hardship of little Grant, were the words of his parents, maybe because I relate to their position as parents.  Matt Howard said:  “The purpose of his life could be to change us.  God chose us to be his parents.”  And Jamie wrote in a letter to Grant:  “You remind me to live for the day, and stop worrying about the future.  I wish that my love could heal you…There has never been a moment in your short life when I doubted your were meant to be my son.  Thank you for being patient with me, as I learn to be your mother.”   Those words bring tears to my eyes every time I read them.  I pray for you and for me that it would not take a tragedy or health difficulty for us to get our priorities straight – for us to recognize that we were meant for our children.

Letters to My Sheep: Early thoughts on reading the Bible in 90 Days

I told you on Sunday, well some of you, that I started a new Bible reading plan – reading the Bible in 90 Days.  I’m only 6 days in, but I am finding this both challenging and a blessing.  I had to read the Bible in that amount of time for a class while in Seminary and it was one of the best things I did in Seminary.  I have long desired to do it again.  I wanted to share with you some of the things that are helping me in this venture, with the desire to encourage you in your own Bible reading.  Here is what is helping me currently:

  • First, I was encouraged to see a friend from high school post about his own use of this Bible Reading Plan.  Too often we approach spiritual disciplines as solitary activities.  And while we are not reading together (he’s a day or so ahead of me), knowing that he is doing this plan is a tremendous encouragement.  That’s really what got me started again.  And another friend saw a post from me yesterday and is thinking about doing this plan, as well.   I plan on asking him if he has gotten started.  Who encourages you?  Who can you encourage?
  • Another big help to me is leveraging the use of technology.  I have been reading using the YouVersion Bible App on my iPad (a Christmas gift).  Using this app, I can choose between multiple translations, set reminders, and easily keep track of where I am and what I have read.  Through this service or others you can have daily readings emailed to you.  And on and on.  We have the unprecedented access to God’s Word and yet we may be the most undernourished generation of Christians.    How are you using technology to help you?  
  •  Speaking of translations, because I am reading large chunks of Scripture each day, I have decided to read The Message.  The Message is Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase and after I switched over from the ESV (an essentially literal translation), I am finding this helps the flow of reading greatly.  Part of that has to do with the occupational hazard of trying to parse every verse.  I don’t recommend paraphrases for close study, but for big picture reading, I think it fits the bill.   The point being, find what works for you and be willing to try new translations depending on your purpose for reading.
  • I am reading for the “big picture”.  I am trying to get a feel for themes, rather than trying to remember every detail.  For example, after reading Genesis over the course of five days, I was struck by the magnitude of God’s electing grace – his choice of Abraham & the patriarchs.  Genesis is full of sordid tales and lots of foolishness, and yet this is how God choose to start the nation of Israel and bless the world.  It certainly wasn’t because they were good or deserved anything.  And the same is true of me.  
  • I am not trying to read all at once (each day is the range of 10-15 chapters), but I am trying to read in several big chunks. 
  • Plans really help.  Without a plan, I am prone to entropy.  
  • Finally, I am not beating myself up if I don’t get everything done in one day.  The first several days I was actually behind, but then caught back up over the weekend.  I expect that will happen many more times.  

That leads me to some reminders for you, whatever your Bible reading plan or lack thereof:

  • My doing this doesn’t make God love me more.  I might love him more, but He won’t love me more – how could He when He has already given us His Son?
  • My doing this doesn’t make me more spiritual or a better Christian than you.  It might make me a better pastor, but it won’t advance me to a higher rank of saint. 
  • My doing this shouldn’t become a task for merely checking off boxes (something I get to on the app and that appeals to the “doer” in me) or slavishly holding myself to this schedule.  I hope I will complete it, but even if I were to stop tomorrow, I have already benefitted from getting into God’s Word. 

What are you doing to get into God’s Word?  Did you start a new reading plan?  Are you continuing one you started sometime in the past?   How can I help encourage you?

Church Reductionism

I was very happily reading this article on the innovative church and their new “free group chat translation tool” called  From the article: staff members recently rolled out, a free group chat translation tool that allows participants to communicate in real-time using up to 45 languages. Developed in-house as a Web-based Google app, isn’t just for members, but can be used by any business, church, mission group or individuals hoping to expand its message globally—or simply to communicate more effectively in such languages as Chinese, Arabic, Hebrew, Hindi and Spanish.

That sound cool, though I can’t think of an immediate application for myself.  Then I got to the very end of the article to read this, which really has nothing to do with the above new tool, but with streaming services on iphone or ipod:

“We are always looking for ways that we can leverage technology to reach people where they are at,” said Peter Thourson, New Hope’s interactive developer. “[Now] users across the globe will be able to continue to attend church regardless of where they are.”

It’s not the first sentence that is troublesome, but the second.  This would seem to reduce what the church is and is about to attendance at a worship service (whether in person or online).    Now, I believe that this is enough of a problem without new technology, but this certainly doesn’t help.  When we reduce church to this level, then we will lose our ability to carry out our comission.  We will lose our ability to establish authentic community in a fragmented world.  We will lose our ability to call people to live for something much greater than themselves.  I can see some application for the homebound and the ill, but so much more needs to be said.  Without accountability, we will do what pleases us and what makes us comfortable.  Church, without reducing it to only worship service attendance, will not always please us and should make us uncomfortable.

Thoughts?  Am I being too harsh or ungracious?

Bad Blogger!

I’m a bad blogger…

If you know us, you know the past few months have been interesting to say the least as we work on transitioning down to Huntsville, Alabama so that I can begin a new position (sr. pastor) at North Hills Church (PCA) in Meridianville, Alabama.  Here are some of the highlights and lowlights of the past month:

  • A disappointing near sale of our house over Easter weekend
  • A house hunting trip to AL
  • An amazing, even better than we could have imagined, sale of our house the weekend after Easter (we closed on May 1)
  • Getting a contract finalized on a house in Meridianville and all of the related phone calls, emails, etc… that have gone along with that.
  • Packing up our house…still working on that…
  • Packing up my office (27 boxes of books and notebooks)
  • Replacing the a/c on both of our cars
  • Lydia’s work computer dying, mine on the fritz (they couldn’t figure out what was wrong when I took it in recently…and the problems continue!)
  • Taking our cat to the vet and not being certain of his health (it didn’t look good for a day or two, but he’s better now).
  • Saying goodbye to our church family here at Calvary in Norfolk, VA – we had a farewell on May 3rd.  I preached that Sunday as well and did my last youth group meeting.  It was an incredibly encouraging and exhausting day.
  • Contemplating leaving a place that has really been home (we weren’t just passing through)  to us for the past five years.

I have probably forgotten a few things and intentionally left out some more personal matters that have been a part of the fabric of our lives recently.

Next up:

  • packing our worldly belongings on a trailer (this coming monday, May 18)
  • leaving town on Thursday, May 21 and traveling to Atlanta
  • Saturday, May 23 attending a high school youth group reunion
  • spending time with family
  • traveling to Huntsville on Tuesday and closing on our new home on Wednesday
  • starting work on June 1, installation service on June 7th.

Good to Great to Gone

This is a post I started to write, but got bogged down with life, so I am posting this in process…

A few years ago, Jim Collins book Good To Great (subtitle:  Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t) was a bestselling business book filled with many ideas that resonated with those in church leadership.  I loved this book and still think about many of the concepts that are presented therein as they relate to good leadership.  Some of the principles identified as making some companies great even resemble biblical characteristics (e.g. humility at the leadership level).

This book has been back on my mind the past few days with the closing of Circuit City.  Why?  Circuit City was identified in Good to Great as a great company.  But now it is good to great to gone (and for this I am very sad for another large round of people who have lost their jobs).  My point is not to criticize Collins, for indeed Circuit City was at one point a great company (especially by his rubric/litmus test to identify great companies).  We might even look further to see if they departed from the concepts that Collins identifies as indicative of a great company – something I won’t do here.

All of this takes me to  further questions.  What is greatness that lasts?  Can we be great in an enduring way?  And in keeping with content of this post – can our institutions be great?

December Books

These are the books that I completed reading in December.

  • In the Shadow of Memory by Floyd Skloot: This is one of those books that caught my attention while I was browsing through the library one day.  This book is a collection of essays telling Skloot’s story of living life after a virus had attacked his brain in 1988 and reads much like a memoir.  Skloot is a gifted writer, though he makes it clear that the work of the virus makes writing (and any number of routine tasks) anything but easy.  Skloot’s memory: of his history or the ability to remember what he was doing from one moment to the next – forms the backdrop for the questions that he asks of himself and about what it means to be human.  I really enjoyed reading this book and found it compelling, even if it stems from a very difficult past and present.  One thing really grabbed my attention:  “Chance is in charge.”  This conclusion of his life brought me great sadness, because it is not true.  Furthermore, Skloot does not really act like it is.  And yet, it is hard for some who have suffered greatly to not feel this way.
  • Whatever It TakesGeoffrey Canada’s Quest to Change Harlem and America by Paul Tough:  I was attracted to this book by an episode of This American Life.  Tough looks at Geoffrey Canada and the organization the Harlem Children’s Zone.  The book contains an interesting overview of various approaches to poverty that have been tried in the past and Canada’s approach to change Harlem.  Very good book.
  • Safe at Home by Richard Doster:  Richard Doster is the editor of ByFaith magazine (the official magazine of my denomination: Presbyterian Church in America).  This novel takes place in a generic southern town during the 1950’s and the plot centers around the integration of the local minor league baseball team.  Because it is hard for me to understand or imagine the kind of institutional racism (not to say it doesn’t still exist) that was present at this time, this was a very helpful book just from that point.  The story was also enjoyable, with characters that root for and empathize with.  My only complaint is that the story felt a little long and could have been brought to a conclusion sooner – though this may be in part due to my discomfort with the descriptions of racism and knowing that it wasn’t that long ago that “whites” were afraid to mix with “blacks”.
  • Meditating On the Word by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (-translated by David McI. Gracie):  The strength of this book is in Bonhoeffer’s encouragement to meditate upon God’s Word in the first portion of the book.  I had a harder time with the sermons which made up a large portion of the book – partially due to the style.  Still an encouragement me in my study and meditation of God’s Word.

Help My Unbelief – Year in Review

At  the 4 month mark of blogging, I posted my reflections on blogging (I started blogging in April)  At that time, I gave some stats on the blog and thought I would do the same here at the end of the year for the sake of  posterity (or something):

231 posts
4 pages
21 Categories
162 Tags
324 Approved Comments
480 Spam caught by Askimet
6321 total views/hits (coming from all over the world now)

And following the lead of Unashamed Workman (sort of), here are the top posts on this blog during the year (excluding the pages, which are actually receive the most visits):

  1. Movies As Sermon Illustrations? (88 views)  This is also the most commented upon post
  2. Quick Hitter:  College Football Helmet Quiz
  3. Don’t Eat the Raisin Cakes:  I think I get a lot of hits on this from people looking for the meaning of the Raisin Cakes in Hosea 3.  The ironic thing is that this post is more about studying Scripture than about the answer to that question.
  4. Reflections on the Dark Knight

Bonus:  Thou Shalt Text? has been getting a lot of traffic recently as it was linked on the Preaching Today Blog here (the last link on the page).

Reflections upon the Election

Here are a few random thoughts on the Election from the perspective of this Christian

  • First and foremost, Obama is our new president because the Lord has placed him in this position (Daniel 4:17,25,32; Proverbs 8:15; Romans 13:1-2 to name a few).  This does not mean that I  understand God’s purposes, but I do take comfort in Romans 8:28-30.
  • I voted for McCain, but I never placed my hopes in him.  I do not think the same can be said for scores of people who voted for Obama.  There will never be a Savior in the White House.  This is the danger of the change rhetoric and there has already been moves by Obama’s campaign to temper expectations.
  • Christians have a great opportunity to point others to the true Savior and King – this is always our calling and would be true still if McCain had been elected.  Mark Driscoll has a great blog post along these lines here.
  • I think we have a great system of government in general and I do think that it is a privilege to vote.  And as I write, I think of our military men and women who courageously guard our freedom and protect those rights (thank you!)
  • McCain’s concession speech was great – I thought he was incredibly gracious and struck the proper tone despite the obvious disappointment.  I do not think any Republican was going to win this election given the perfect storm of recent events.
  • I also found Obama’s speech to be powerful and eloquent.  This is certainly one of his strengths, but that doesn’t mean he will or won’t be a great president.
  • The “Yes We Can” refrain very clearly draws on the call & response that is typical of African-American churches.  It was part of the power of his speech.
  • It is interesting that Obama’s white heritage has been subsumed by the African heritage of his father.  I suppose he truly is an African-American.  On this note, I do think we can rejoice with those who rights have been trampled simply because of the color of their skin.  That said, this in no means ends racism and may make things worse in some corners.
  • If you didn’t catch my drift in the first point…I do not despair because of my strong belief and hope in the sovereignty of God.  This does not mean that I am not concerned, especially for the unborn.
  • We should pray for the Obama presidency (1 Timothy 2:1-3).
  • I am preaching on Romans 13:1-7, so a lot more of my thoughts on this topic are going to be honed through my preparation these next few day.

What are your thoughts the day after?

Ultimate Worship Leader?

As I was running an errand, I was listening to one of the Christian radio stations that we have in our area (yes, I do this form time to time).  I have a on-again, off-again relationship with “Christian radio”.  On one hand, sometimes I enjoy listening to some of the music, especially if it leads me to praise and reflect upon God.  On the other hand, sometimes the music is just bad and the lyrics can be insipid at best (in general, I think this has gotten better over the years).  Anyway, that’s another conversation.  So, this station is running a promotion:  Ultimate Worship Leader.  And what is the grand prize you ask:

For one Sunday morning service Michael W. Smith will come and lead worship at your church.

Doesn’t that sound fantastic!? Or, does that bother you a little bit?

It bothers me because it seems to trivialize and celebritize (I may have just made that word up) worship.  It bothers me because it is everything that is wrong with worship in evangelicalism:  we are looking for an experience (and don’t tell me that having a big-named Christian music artist lead worship at your church wouldn’t be an “experience” – by definition it is designed to be such).  We want to be in awe of our creation, rather than the Creator.  Finally, this places Smith in the position that God alone should be in:  the place of reverence and even excitement. (never mind what this says about the “average”/humble worship leader).  I think this is just a bad promotion all the way around.

And besides, Jesus is the Ultimate Worship Leader!

For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering.  For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one origin.  That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers, saying, ‘I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.'” (ESV)

Visions of a Post-Apocalyptic America

For some reason, I just finished reading two different books set in America after a cataclysmic event of some sort.  Both books were engaging and caused me to think about the world we live in and the future that I foresee.  First, my reflections on the books themselves, in the order I read them:

World Made By Hand by James Kunstler:  I was captured by the very first chapter of this book and honestly, the title caught my attention at the library.  I read this in about five days – pretty quick, given my more recent reading pace.  The story centers around the characters of a small upstate New York town trying to survive in post-apocalyptic America.  One of the strengths about the book is that the story does not focus on what has happened (that is, the cause of the apocalypse), but where the main characters are now and how they deal with an uncertain present and future.  Similarly, there is not a lot of politisizing on the cause of the destruction/apocalypse – which is only alluded to in the narrative.  I was concerned that we would get a rant or several about oil/global warming/overpopulation/radical religions/etc…somewhere in these pages.  Therein making the story a cautionary tale.  This is surprising especially given the authors others books, particularly his non-fiction work (although I have not read any of it).  In many ways, this absence, is why I found the story so compelling.  I was able to imagine the world that the characters inhabited and consider the reality of their day to day struggles.  Unfortunately, at the end of the book, I was left wondering what the point of the story was or even what the main thrust of the story-arc.  There was suspense, romance, redemption, etc…and religion/Christianity played a large role in the story, but there seemed to be several storylines that were presented and then dropped.  And then the book just kind of ends.  Still, I really enjoyed reading this book and found an engaging story, even without a larger story being told.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy:  I have been interested in reading this story after watching the Cohen Brothers adaptation of McCarthy’s No Country For Old MenThe Road also has been made into a movie with Viggo Mortenson playing the lead and will be released Thanksgving week.  In terms of writing and story-telling, McCarthy’s work is far superior.  As with World Made by Hand, something has happened, most likely a nuclear holocaust that results in a nuclear winter.  Again, there is no direct mention of the cause of this event or even any inkling of the reasons.  It is about a father and son on the road simply surviving day by day and the various things they encounter on their way headed south.  The landscape is bleak and sparse and the dialogue and writing reflect that, establishing the mood of the entire book.  A friend called it dark and sobering and he is right.  And yet, there was a light that shone forth from the charred landscape, depraved survivors, and a seemingly hopeless situation.  The father’s love for his son is nothing less than heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time.  In the coldness of nuclear winter is the warmth of this love that drives the story to its conclusion.

My reactions as a Christian to these books:

  • My faith causes (or should cause) me to look at the future without fear of what might happen or might become of us.  This does not mean that nuclear holocaust will not happer, nor worldwide economic collapse, but I have the promise of Romans 8 firmly implanted in my heart:
  • 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?
    36 As it is written,
    For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
    we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.
    37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
    38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers,
    39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

    These promises do not guarantee health & wealth or the absence of nuclear holocaust or whatever might come.  The above passage actually recognizes that there are some circumstances that we might face that might be described as quite bleak.  And so, as a Christian, I have to recognize the potentiality (not probability) of the visions presented in these books, even while hoping in the goodness of God’s will.  This is not something you would ever hear Joel Osteen say, as there is a huge difference between holding onto the promise of God to “never leave, nor forsake us” and the message that God wants you to prosper, period.  In this way, these books are closer to a truly Christian position than some who read the bible in parts and misrepresent the purposes of God.

  • Neither book painted a kind picture of “fallen” humanity.  Both stories contained truly depraved characters and actions (for this reason, these books may not be appropriate reading for all audiences.  As with any type of media, discernment must be exercised).  Either this does not comport with the prevailing notion of the universality of benign humanity or humanity is solely conditioned by its environment (e.g. desperate times call for desperate measures).  I do not know if this reflects “postmodernism”, whatever that means,  but it is not that far from the biblical notion of total depravity.
  • I found it intersting that in both stories, God is not “dead”.  He may not figure prominently at all times, questioned at others, but He is not written out of either story.
  • While I do not think that McCarthy intended to write a “Christian” novel, in many ways he has.  At one particular point when the father wonders if he could kill his son to save him from the horrors of what others could do to him, I thought of Abraham & Isaac, but primarily the Father who gave us His Son for us (Romans 8:32 – He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?).  The context and purpose are different, but the heart of love out of which the actions and thoughts of that father echo the Father’s love for sinful humanity.

Vacation: the good, the bad, & the ugly

We got back into town late last night from our two week vacation time of visiting family and friends.  It felt great to get away from things here, but it also feels great to be home again.  I think that is one of the biggest blessings of the time that we get to take off…feeling very happy to be home (that goes beyond just being happy to be in your own bed or your stuff).  Here is a rundown of some of our time away.

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A few early Olympics reflections

Like many of you, I have enjoyed watching some of the olympics, most especially the swimming competitions at this point.  Here are a few random thoughts/reflections

  • Last night’s 4 x 100 relay had to be one of the most exciting 3+ minutes of sporting competition that I have seen in some time.  Incredible finish!
  • Question:  Why is it necessary to have a group hug after every point scored in volleyball?
  • I notice a trend back to the early olympics tradition of not wearing any clothes while competing.
  • Early contender for best name:  Prapawadee Jaroenrattanatarakoon from Thailand who won a gold medal in women’s weightlifting, a “sport” I fail to understand.  Can you imagine filling out the scantron form with that name.

Nothing wrong with that?

Maybe you’ve seen this commercial from Discover – I actually laughed the first time I saw it.  While there is nothing wrong with a company promoting their product and services, the message at the center of this commercial really jumped out at me.  It starts out:  “We’re a nation of consumers…and there’s nothing wrong with that.”  And then were told the real problem is that we don’t have enough space to put all of our cool stuff! And that they can help.

So, here again, we are taught again that we deserve stuff, that life is found in the fulfillment of our wants, and that it is better to receive than give.  No, there’s nothing wrong with that.