Friday, December 30, 2011

New Year Resolutions

New Years is a traditional time to evaluate the year just coming to an end and to make resolutions for the coming year, typically things that I am wanting to start, or stop, doing.  But I have generally given up the habit of establishing resolutions for the new year; it just seems to be of little value in actually making any improvements in who I am, although there is definitely much room for improvement.  

But I do find value in one of the traditional images of New Years.  Although it comes in a variety of forms, the image of the old man and young child, representing the outgoing and incoming years does paint a good picture for me.
The old man represents a year that is worn out with all of the struggles of life while the young child is new and fresh and ready to face all that the new year will bring.  I find this image fits well with Paul's admonition to believers in Colossians 3:5-14.
Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. - Colossians 3:9-10 NIV
Here Paul instructs us, like changing clothes, to put off the old self and put on the new self.  The old set of clothes, like the old man in the image, is stained with the world and its association with it.  The clothes we are to remove include: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, greed, anger, rage, malice, slander, filthy language and lying.  All of these attributes of the 'old man', need to be removed because they have no place in the person God has called me to become.

Instead, I am to put on a new set of clothes, including: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, bearing with each other, forgiveness and love.  This 'new self' is one that will honor God in holiness, and should be my goal.  It is a choice that I am called to make; out with the old and in with the new.

How about it?  Will you put off the 'old man' in this new year and choose to be made anew?  To put the ways of this world behind you and be transformed by the renewing of your mind?

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Blessing of Fatherhood

I put my daughter on a plane today after an all too short visit.  That is an emotionally difficult thing to do, and doesn't seem to get easier because of repetition.  It seems just like yesterday that I was holding each of my new born children in the delivery room, a pair of events whose emotional impact has only been rivaled on the day I married their mother.  There have been lots of memories generated in the past 30 years in my life, but it seems like most of the significant ones have involved either my wife or children.

I look back at the years of watching my children grow with wonder and amazement.  Watching them transform from helpless infants to full grown adults has truly been something to see and experience.  While there are things I might wish to do differently, I am so grateful for the experience of being a father and for the privilege of being a part of their lives, in the past, the present, and into the future.

I am proud of them both that they have taken such responsibility for their lives, working hard and becoming productive members of society.  Both of them have invested a part of their lives in military service and have fought in our nations wars.  While the future ahead of them is uncertain, I am confident that they will be able to handle whatever comes their way.

My children no longer live at home, and function pretty much independently of their mother and I.  But they continue to be on our hearts and thoughts and the frequent subject of our prayers.  The song below expresses my heart's desire for them better than any other I have ever heard.

 

 If you have children at home, cherish the time you have with them and take seriously your responsibility to help them to blossom.  If your children are grown and gone, continue to be there for them and uplift them before the Father.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Good News of Great Joy!

And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city.


Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” 

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: 
       “Glory to God in the highest, 
      And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”
 



So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. Now when they had seen Him, they made widelyknown the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who heard itmarveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.  Luke 2:1-20 NKJV


Merry Christmas to all.  May the love of Christ fill your hearts today and into the coming year.

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Demand for A Sign

I am currently reading through the gospel of Matthew and last night came to the 16th chapter and the request by the Pharisees and Sadducees for Jesus to provide them with a sign from heaven.  This really struck a note because I can't tell you how many times I have heard folks make the same demand as a requirement for believing in Jesus or even in the existence of God.  I believe Jesus response to this demand should be helpful in knowing how to answer this question today if it is asked of you.


Jesus responds to this question by telling them that "A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a miraculous sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah."  Jesus first of all compliments those asking the question for being rational and intelligent people who demand evidence before believing.  Not!  Jesus actually identifies them as being wicked and adulterous, a people who are not looking for God, but rather looking to their own interests.  People who are asking for the sign, not because they are interested in believing, but as an excuse for not believing.


But Jesus does provide them with one sign that when fulfilled, should be proof enough; the sign of Jonah.  If you remember the story, Jonah flees from God and ends up being tossed overboard and swallowed by a great fish. Jonah is in the belly of the fish for three days before being spit up on the shore.  Jesus here is looking forward to his crucifixion and subsequent stay in the tomb for three days prior to his resurrection.  The sign of his resurrection should be enough to convince them, if they are willing to be convinced, otherwise nothing will.


As Jesus and his disciples go on from there he warns them to be on guard against the teachings of the Pharisees and Sadducees.  These are the same folks who had just demanded a miraculous sign from heaven, refusing to believe the signs already given.  These were the intellectuals of the Jewish people who made every attempt to steer the people away from God's Messiah and to themselves; people who thus were fighting against God.


There are many Pharisees and Sadducees in our world today, although they generally carry different titles.  Some of them carry the label of Christian, but are leading people away from the Christ of the New Testament and into more modern philosophies concerning Jesus.  And others may be atheists, leading us to worship the creation rather than the creator.  In whatever guise they come, remember Jesus admonition to be on your guard against them.


In John 20:30-31 John tells us:
Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
John has recorded seven 'signs' that should be sufficient for one to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, God's Son, and in believing to experience eternal life.  Additional signs are given in the other gospels, including the sign of the birth of a baby in Bethlehem 2015 years ago.  What will you do with them?  Will you reject them and demand a sign of your own?  Or will you accept them and find eternal life?


For those who have believed, remember Jesus words and guard against those who would seek to lead you away from simple faith in your Creator and in his son Jesus, leading you into the worship of self and denial of God.  This is not an admonition against rational thought and learning, but rather a warning to not abandon faith in the pursuit of rationality.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Crab Pot

Today was my wife's birthday, as well as the day my daughter came home for Christmas.  So to celebrate we went to the Crab Pot, along the Seattle water front, for lunch.  Sue had eaten at a similar place in New Orleans a few years ago and felt like the rest of us would enjoy the experience.

The Crab Pot's signature disk is a sea food combo; there are actually a variety of combos available.  Our order included Dungeness Crab, Snow Crab, Shrimp, Mussels, Steamer Clams, some kind of sausage, corn on the cob and chunks of red potatoes all boiled up together.  For the four of us they covered the table with butcher paper and dumped two big bowls of this out into a heap in front of us.  Along with the sea food you get a bib, a block and wooden hammer and a small fork, along with melted butter and cocktail sauce, and a roll of paper towels.

The food, assuming you like shellfish, was pretty good, although you do need to work at shelling the crab and shrimp, and I can't say I was overly fond of the sausage.  The service was great, the company was wonderful (it's always good to have the family all together), and overall it was an enjoyable experience.  And, after they discovered we had a birthday girl with us, the dessert was free.

If you are looking for something a little out of the ordinary, the Crab Pot may be just what you are looking for.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Isn't There Anyone Who Knows What Christmas Is All About?

Charlie Brown is struggling with all of the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season when in despair he utters "Isn't there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?"  And Linus leaps to the rescue with a recitation of the account of Jesus birth in the gospel of Luke, a part of which is below.  
"And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord." - Luke 2:10-11 KJV
Popular cartoons are not always a good source of theology, but in this case I believe Linus has nailed it.  Christmas is all about the coming of a savior, good tidings of great joy to all people.  The angels announcement, the visit of the shepherds and magi, the manger and stable are all secondary to the savior who was born.  Even the birth of a baby who was the center of all the hoopla is not as important as who that baby was and why he had come.  He was a savior, a deliverer.  He was Christ, God's anointed one.  And he was the Lord, one with power and authority, God.

My favorite passage about the coming of the savior is not in one of the gospel accounts.  Instead it is in Philippians 2:5-11
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
   Who, being in very nature God,
      did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
   but made himself nothing,
      taking the very nature of a servant,
      being made in human likeness.
   And being found in appearance as a man,
      he humbled himself
      and become obedient to death —
         even death on a cross!
   Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
      and gave him the name that is above every name,
   that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
      in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
   and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
      to the glory of God the Father.
At Christmas we generally remember Jesus being made in human likeness and being found in appearance as a man.  But before Jesus was made in human likeness he was in very nature God, having equality with God.  Jesus was fully God before he made himself nothing in becoming a human.  In becoming a human, Jesus did not give up his divinity, but he did become completely human with all the limitations inherent in that.
This baby that we picture in the manger was God.  But he was also a helpless infant totally dependent on his parents to supply his every need.  We think of the cross as a sacrifice.  But is not his incarnation a sacrifice as well?

Jesus as God is the first stop in the story of salvation, while his incarnation is the second.  The third stop in the story told here by Paul is one of death, Jesus becoming obedient to death on a cross.
Jesus, as a man, was obedient to the Father's plan for his life, a plan that took him to the cross.  The cross is why Jesus was born and everything is his life led up to this.  It is in his death that he became our savior, delivering us from destruction and into a relationship with our creator.

The final stop in this story is Jesus exultation.  Because of his willingness to go to the cross God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name.
At the manger the shepherds and magi knelt before him.  At the cross all believers bow before him.  But ultimately every knee will bow and every tongue will acknowledge he is Lord.  Jesus, that helpless infant in the manger, now sits enthroned in the highest place, the firstborn over all creation.

This Christmas, as you celebrate Jesus birth, let me encourage you also to kneel before your Savior and acknowledge him as Lord.  And in your celebration at the manger, don't forget the cross and the throne.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

2011 In Review, AKA the Christmas Letter

Well, as 2011 draws to a close it is time to do the annual, or bi-annual, Christmas letter; attempting to bore enthrall all of our friends and family with the hum drum exciting details of our past year.  I would dearly love to tell you enchanting tales of our mission trip to the Congo, the adoption of our new Ukrainian baby and our 3 week adventure in Australia and New Zealand, but alas I cannot.  Mostly because in reality our past year has been somewhat more modest.

Sue and I did make a week long cruise to Alaska with dear friends.  The trip was good and scenic and the food was good and abundant.  But the opportunity to visit with Randy and Tina was priceless.  It had been a long time and it was great to be able to spend the week with them.

We also faced Prostate Cancer early this year and elected to have a Radical Prostatectomy in mid February.  Ultimately everything went great, the cancer is gone and life is back to normal again.  It was an exciting adventure, but one I hope not to repeat any time soon.

Last year I began my journey along the Pacific Crest Trail with a 70 mile segment.  This past summer I got in the next 160 miles and am looking forward to about 300 miles next year.  Sue will be going along with the car to ensure that I survive the trip, meeting me periodically and making sure I stay fed and at least somewhat rested.  Plus we will get to see some of the off trail sights in the southern 2/3s of Oregon.

Full retirement has crept closer this year with a job change that has me working fewer hours and, best of all, from home.  Going 'to the office' in my PJ's is quite a trip.  The company keeps dangling office jobs with more hours in front of me, but so far I have been able to see the barb on the hook and resisted the temptation.

Sue and I continue to enjoy working with our local churches, traveling around most Sundays to visit one or the other.  Sue is still the Administrative Assistant for the association and keeps all the rest of us in line.

Sue ran her first half marathon this past summer, nearly 3 years to the day after a major broken leg that had to be surgically repaired.  She dislikes running but finds this beneficial to her rehabilitation effort.  Hopefully she will learn to love it at least a little bit in the future.  She is already preparing for her second half marathon this next June.

The kids are doing well.  One is out of the Army, living nearby, and in school now and the other is still in the Air Force, far far away, and globe trotting.  Look forward to having them both home this Christmas.

Sue's mom continues to live with us and is doing well.  She keeps a close eye out on all of the activity out the front window, putting puzzles together, crocheting, napping, etc.; her schedule is full.  She is still in good health and enjoys getting out as much as possible.

The Lord is good and we look forward to his hand in the coming year.
Have a wonderful Christmas and a blessed New Year.

Friday, December 9, 2011

What is a Christian?

So just what is a Christian?  Is it
  • a person who admires the ethical teaching of Jesus?
  • a person who has selected Christian on his census form?
  • an American?
  • a member of a Christian denomination?
  • a Roman Catholic?
  • a Southern Baptist?
  • a creationist?
  • a fundamentalist?
  • a person who believes that God exists, Jesus was his son and the Bible is true?
  • a person who believes that the resurrected Jesus is the Son of God and seeks to follow his teachings?
By no means are all of these definitions mutually exclusive.  I would have to pick 7 of them for myself.  But, in my opinion, not all of them can uniquely and adequately define what a Christian is.  For instance, I am a Southern Baptist.  But that is not really synonymous with Christian.  There are Southern Baptists who identify as such simply because that is what their parents are, or other social reasons, rather than because of any faith decision on their own part.

I have heard all of these used as definitions for Christian; so much so that I have begun to dislike the word.  It is used in so many ways that it has almost become meaningless, a label that nearly 1/3 of the earth's population apply to themselves.  You almost need to know the context and maybe the person to actually know what they mean.

Because of that I have struggled recently with just calling myself a Christian, although I certainly believe that I am and am not ashamed of the label nor what it means to me.  But more and more I have begun to use a different term for self identification: Christ follower.  I firmly believe that God calls us, not just to profess with our mouths that we believe in Jesus, but also to commit our lives to following him.  A Christ follower is one who:
  • will admire the ethical teachings of Jesus
  • will likely select Christian on their census form
  • may or may not be an American
  • will likely be a member of a Christian denomination
  • may or may not be Roman Catholic
  • may or may not be Southern Baptist
  • may or may not be a creationist
  • may or may not be a fundamentalist
  • will believe that God exists, that the resurrected Jesus is his son and may believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God
  • and, most importantly, will seek to follow Jesus and his teachings
Are you a fellow Christ follower?  If not, I would encourage you to take that step and become what God has created you to be.  The journey will not necessarily be an easy one, but it is a rewarding one.



Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Why I Don't Like Christmas

Actually that's not entirely true.  There are actually two things happening this time of year that are both labeled as Christmas.  One is a celebration of the coming of our Savior to begin his work of redemption; and  that is meaningful to me.  The other is an excuse to give a shot in the arm to the local economy as well as go further into debt; and I'm not overly fond of that 'Christmas'.

It is way too easy to allow the first to be lost in the hustle and bustle of the second.  I'm pretty sure there is no way to change the culture around me to give up on the secularized orgy of buying and selling at this time of year since it seems to be pretty deeply ingrained.  I mean, after all, we really do deserve to get a new car, be surrounded by diamonds and have unlimited data plans for our phones; don't we?

But just because the world around me is going crazy decorating, buying, wrapping, cooking, etc., does not mean that I have to get sucked into it as well.  Yes, I have put up a string of lights around the house, and will eventually put up a tree and wrap a few gifts.  But I want to try harder than ever this year to keep Christ in Christmas.

And for those of you who are offended when others won't say Merry Christmas and accuse them of taking Christ out of Christmas, may I encourage you to keep Christ in Christmas yourself.  Not just by saying that word, but by honoring him in the things you do this Christmas.  There are many ways to do this but I offer up a few thoughts here.

What is the highlight of your Christmas day?  Is it centered around a mountain of packages under a tree?  If so, I would encourage you to shift some of that focus to a baby born in Bethlehem some 2015 years ago.  And remember him, not just a newborn baby with shepherds, angels and wise men.  But remember him as God, come in the flesh, to live among us and to give his life for us.

Do you have a hard time knowing what to get for someone on your gift list?  If so, it may be that they really don't need anything and your money might be better spent providing food and shelter for the homeless, gifts for a poor family in your neighborhood, or goats for a family in Africa.  There are so many opportunities to give to those in need this time of year.  And you can usually do it in someone else's name, giving donation certificates to the folks on your shopping list rather than a gift that they may well not have any use for.

You might even take the time to get involved in a shelter or kitchen this year yourself, giving, not only of your money, but also of your time.  How better to honor the one who gave himself for us than to imitate him in giving ourselves to those who cannot repay us.

And spend time with your family.  Spend a little less time in the kitchen or watching football and spend some time with your husband, wife, children and others who are a special part of your life.  Go look at Christmas lights, attend Advent and candle light services, play games, or just sit and talk.  The memories of time spent together will last longer than the fudge, the game highlights or the unneeded gifts.

And remember what Christmas is all about.  And as for that other thing going on now: bah humbug!


Friday, December 2, 2011

The Importance of Right Beliefs

As a Christian, how important are 'right beliefs'?  Does it really matter what I believe so long as Jesus is my savior and I live a good life?  Are all beliefs equally important?  I have grappled with questions similar to these over the years as I have studied and come to grips with what I personally believe, and why.  For me, the answers to the above questions are, 'It depends', 'Yes', and 'No'.

The Importance of Right Beliefs
So just why are my beliefs important?  I believe there are a number of reasons for this including:

  • The truth is important.  What I believe is important because I want to believe what is true.  It is more important to me to have right beliefs than just popular beliefs.
  • My beliefs will shape how I view God.  Is he a loving God who cares about what happens to people, or is he a judgmental God who punishes sin, or is he indifferent to what goes on here?
  • My beliefs will also affect how I see myself serving God.  Is he satisfied with me living a good life, regularly going to church and contributing to the offering?  Or does he equipment me for service within his kingdom and expect me to be more actively involved?
  • My beliefs can also impact how I relate to others in the church.  Do we come together to be ministered to, in which case I am concerned what others can do for me.  Or do we come together to minister, in which case I am more concerned with what I can do for others.
  • And how I view the world around me will be affected by what I believe.  Are the folks in Somalia godless heathen deserving only judgment.  Or are they lost and in need or a savior.  Or are they hungry and in need of what we have to offer them.
In my mind, beliefs are critically important if they impact my relationship with God.  They are moderately important if they impact my relationship with other believers and my ability to work alongside them, or if they make a big impact on how I serve God.  They are not important if they do not impact my service for God in any appreciable way nor affect my fellowship with other believers.  It is worth noting here that not everyone will agree concerning where the division should be.  What I might view as relatively unimportant may be viewed as of utmost importance to someone else, and thus impacting my ability to serve alongside them.


Critically Important Beliefs
I do believe that there are some beliefs that are vital if one is to call himself (or herself) a Christian.  I tend toward looking at the emphasis the scriptures place on some beliefs to evaluate their importance.  For instance Hebrews 11:6 says that without faith it is impossible to please God and then tells us two things about faith: we must believe that God exists, and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.  So those would seem to be critically important beliefs.

In 1 John 4:2-3 John emphasizes the importance of acknowledging that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh.  Those who do are of God, while those who do not are not of God.  John makes it clear in this letter that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, that he is divine.  But here he also says he is a man; that he has come in the flesh.  Belief that Jesus is God as well as human is a critical belief according to John.

In 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 Paul identifies those beliefs that were of first importance, including the redemptive death of Jesus and his resurrection from the dead.  I find it hard to understand how one could claim to be a follower of Jesus who disputes that he died for them and rose to bring them new life.  These beliefs are critical according to Paul.

Christianity is based on belief
  • in the existence of God
  • that he has a future for those who seek him
  • that Jesus is God and man
  • that Jesus death was redemptive
  • that his resurrection brings new life.
If a person disputes one of these foundational beliefs, are they really Christians, at least in the Biblical sense?

Beliefs that are not important
On the other hand, what difference does it make where I stand concerning the rapture / tribulation / millennium kingdom?  For the first year of my Christian journey I was a pre-trib pre-millennialist, but after some serious study of the Bible instead of Hal Lindsey I became a post-trib pre-millenialist.  And I find that at some time in my life I have become an amillennialist.  While some will view me as moving further and further into heresy because of this, I have a hard time understanding what real difference it makes, other than in the position I take when discussing last things.  My faith in God is unchanged, the way I live my life is unchanged, and my hope for the future is unchanged.  Nor should this difference in belief affect my ability to worship and serve alongside of people with contrasting beliefs.  I would personally view what you believe about the rapture / tribulation / millennium kingdom as relatively unimportant.

How important is the reconciliation of Jesus genealogies in Matthew and Luke?  While I would like to know the truth about it, I can really think of little practical value that it would provide to me.  At this point it is an unknown to me, and I don't worry too much about it.  It is relatively unimportant.

Important but non-critical beliefs
But there is a middle ground here as well, beliefs that are important, but not necessarily critical to my claim to being a child of God.  Biblical inerrancy is an example of this.  Which side of this debate I stand on does not impact my salvation, so long as I hold to the critical beliefs.  But it can dramatically impact what I believe about a number of other things, such as the Genesis stories and the place of women in the church. And that can make it difficult to serve closely with others who have a different belief on some of these hot topic items.

Who is called to serve God, a selected few, or all believers?  While I do not believe your answer to this question will impact your salvation, it will affect your relationship to God.  If he has called all of us to serve and yet I am satisfied with delegating that service to a professional clergy, then I am not going to be looking for his leading in my life and for opportunities to serve him.  It is the difference between being a spectator and a participant in the kingdoms work.  This is an important belief because of the impact it will have on my life, my relationship to other believers, and, most importantly, my walk with God.  But this is not a critical belief because it does not affect my salvation.

Conclusion
I do believe that each of us is responsible to God for our beliefs.  It is important to know what you believe and why.  And it is important to seek the truth.  Prayerfully search the scriptures, trusting the Holy Spirit to guide you into truth.  Know and understand what your church teaches.  Don't be afraid to ask other people the what's and why's of their beliefs, but remember your own personal responsibility in the matter.  Focus most on those beliefs that are more important, that most impact your relationship with God and with your fellow believers.  Become rooted and grounded in the faith and resistant to every strange teaching that comes your way.  That is the path to maturity in your faith.