Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Seasons

I took a brief walk a few minutes ago. It is a beautiful day. Perfect weather for late Spring. A question occurred to me as I walked.

It is well-known that modern Americans (and Westerners in general) are fighting levels of depression unknown in previous generations. Could it be that the lack of seasons in our lives contributes to this? Now, you may be tempted to ask, “What do you mean ‘lack of seasons’? Don’t we have four seasons, just like we always did?”

No, I do not think that we do have four seasons, just like we always did. Our houses are kept at about 68 to 72 degrees, year-round. We still have snow in this part of the world, but with our cars, plows, and snow blowers, winter is no longer the battle it was. It gets hot in the summer, yes, but we retreat indoors, turn on the air conditioning, get ice from our freezers and are soon quite comfortable. Food comes from the supermarket, not from the garden. They cycle of seedtime and harvest has been broken for most of us. From the point of view or our ancestors, we no longer have yearly seasons.

Emotionally, we tend to reject the seasons of life. Children are forced to face grownup decisions too soon; they react by then acting like children once they become legally adult. We often see grandmothers dressed like schoolgirls, and hear grandfathers talking like teens.

Could it be that the lack of seasons in our lives contributes to our instability, uncertainty, to many of the social and emotional problems of this generation? I am not going to claim to know the answer. Somehow, I think just asking the question might be enough.

Friday, May 31, 2019

The Everlasting Future

Rudyard Kipling was not, and did not claim to be, a Christian. But occasionally he said things that Christians cannot help but admire. Here is one such gem.

“And since he cannot spend nor use aright
The little time here given him in trust,
But wasteth it in weary undelight
Of foolish toil and trouble, strife and lust,
He naturally clamours to inherit The Everlasting Future"

We are saved by grace, not works (Eph 2:1-9). We are saved by what Christ has done for us, not by what we are doing. But we were created for good works (Eph 2:10); and are commanded to use our time wisely (Eph 5:15-16). How are we doing? Is it reasonable of us to expect an everlasting future when we waste so much of the time given to us here?

If we have given our children watermelon and found that they waste it by throwing it at one another, what will we do when they later cry for something cool to eat? Will we waste more watermelon on them? Why would God grant eternal life on those who have wasted the limited life that he has given them? Only because of his grace. Only because of his grace. Only because of his grace.

None of us will enter glory having perfectly used our time down here; but could we not get into a little better practice? Could we not spend a bit less time on “weary undelight of foolish toil and trouble, strife and lust” and more time in “working heartily as for the Lord and not as for men” (Col 3:23)?

Friday, April 26, 2019

The Ikea Effect

A recent BBC article spoke of “the Ikea effect.” To sum the article up, people value things more if they put some effort into the items. In fact, research seems to indicate that many people will pay more for furniture they must assemble than for a similar item already assembled. That into which we put little or no effort will normally be dissatisfying to us. That into which we have put significant effort, we will value.

It is also true that, when we put significant effort into something, other people are more interested in it.
Last Thursday a man named Dean Oliver came by my office. I had not seen Dean in forty-four years. As we talked the clock on my desk chimed the hour, which led to a question and to a walk across to the house so that Dean could see the first clock that I ever built. He was not interested in seeing a clock purchased at Walmart, but something I had worked on with my own hands interested him.

How valuable is the church to you? How interested are your friends in knowing about the church? There may not be a simple and direct correlation, but the answer to those two questions will relate closely to the question of how much effort we put into the church.

Araunah the Jebusite offered to give King David a piece of land, and some animals for sacrifice, but David replied, “I will not offer burnt offerings to the LORD my God that cost me nothing” (2 Sam 24:24). What are we offering to the Lord? Do we have any “sweat equity” in the church? If we are not satisfied with the church, could it be because we have put little effort into it?

Friday, April 19, 2019

A New Home

In the summer of 1968 my family moved. It was the first of many moves I would experience in life. For the first eleven years of my life, home had been in the little frame house with the big yard. Now it would be the big brick house with the very small yard. It took some time to get used to the new place. Since we moved again five years later; I cannot say that I ever felt completely at home in the brick house. In the last 43 years, Chery and I have lived in 16 different houses (in five U.S. states and five other countries). It is not always easy to feel at home. In some of these places we never did feel at home.

I mention this for a simple, practical and spiritual reason. The church is called the household or family of God (Gal 6:10; Eph 2:19; 1 Tim 3:15; 1 Pet 4:17). Some people who have been in the church for a long time feel that it really is. But for some, when they first come to Christ, it takes a while to feel at home with the church. For some, the world has been their home, their biological family has been their family, and they do not feel comfortable with their new brothers and sisters in Christ. Remember, it takes time to feel at home.

Those who have been in the church a long time, and who feel at home here, must learn to reach out to newcomers and try to help them feel at home. I think that we do a pretty good job of that at Flanders Road, but let’s stay alert for anyone who seems to not feel at home. Let’s try to help them.

Those who are new to the congregation must realize that it may take some time to feel at home. Do not be unreasonable in your expectations. The new brick house seemed strange to me after all my previous life had been spent in the little frame house. But mom and dad, grandma and grandpa were there, so I tried to think of it as home. [Some days I wished that we had left my brother and sisters behind at the old house – but that is another story for another time.]

The church is God’s household. Because he accepts people by grace, we have members in this family who are far from perfect. Sometimes we might get on one another’s nerves a little, but out of respect for our heavenly Father, we learn to get along. For the most part we enjoy one another’s company. Little by little we begin to feel at home; and that is good. The Father’s plan is for us to be together forever; so it is good if we learn to think of the church as our family, our real home.

“For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother” (Matthew 12:50, ESV).

Friday, April 12, 2019

"And That's The Way It Is"

I grew up watching the CBS Evening News. We knew not to trust what Walter Cronkite said. We noticed, even back then, intentional warping of the facts. For example, my dad noticed that they cut his uncle’s house out of the film footage when they ran a story about Four-States, West Virginia. A successful miner did not fit their storyline, so they cut his house out and showed only the houses owned by drunks. But we liked to hear Cronkite talk. Maybe I should not say it, but the truth is the way that man lit his pipe at the end of every program was almost a work of art.

While we applauded Cronkite’s abilities, we did not feel obligated to tune in every evening. If the lawn needed to be mowed, or there was a ball game to attend, we would miss his broadcasts. He was a good talker, but not that good. We could miss his show without much regret.

I thought of that recently. Someone praised my morning sermon, but did not bother to come in the evening. My morning sermon was good, but not that good. This does not really surprise me. I do not claim to be as good at talking as Walter Cronkite (nor am I much good at lighting a pipe). So obviously, those who come to hear someone talk, or who come because they like acapella singing, will feel no obligation to come back again on Sunday night. That makes sense if, and only if, the purpose of our assembling is to sing and to hear a professional speaker.

If on the other hand, the purpose of our assembling is to honor a Lord to whom we are infinitely indebted … I will leave it to you to finish that sentence.

It hurts me deeply when someone praises my sermons but wilfully misses our assemblies. It does not hurt me because I think their praise insincere. It hurts me because I feel certain that they have missed the whole point. It is not about me; it is about the Lord. If you are out there doing something that honors him more than being in our assembly would honor him, then by all means do it. But when someone praises a sermon, and then stays home to watch a ballgame, the sermon is being treated as the main show, and the Savior is being treated as a sidelight.

Friday, April 5, 2019

The Sound of Silence

Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” (Psalm 46:10, ESV)

A recent New York Times article noted that, “We live in a culture obsessed with personal productivity. .... We worship at the altar of hustle and boast about being busy.” But busy is not always productive, nor is it often peaceful.

Christians are not immune to the busyness fad that is sweeping our world. We too can be guilty of overloading our life and even our worship with busy-work. Of course we are to be hard workers, diligent workers (Col 3:23-24). But we are also supposed to be meditative, thoughtful people who are not always busy. Sometimes we need to be still.

I believe firmly in the value of daily Bible reading. But what is the value of reading the Bible if we never take the time to meditate on what it says and to consider how it might apply in our lives?

I believe in the need for Christians to serve others. But what message are we sending to others if we are so busy serving that we seem never to have time to savor the beauty and blessings of creation?

Yes, we are to be busy in the Lord’s work, but there are also times to be silent (Psalm 62; Eccl 3:7). I love to be in the Lord’s presence singing his praises; but there are times to sit silently before him (Hab 2:20). Of course our delight in the instruction of the Lord will cause us to tell others about it; but it will first cause us to meditate on that word (Psalm 1:1-2).

We should not always be busy. We definitely should not always be in the midst of noise. We need to balance our busyness with the sound of silence; we need to seek quiet moments and to use quiet moments to listen to our Lord.

Friday, March 29, 2019

No Bananas in Africa?

For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Corinthians 1:25, ESV).

Do not get me wrong. I have the utmost respect for real research and experts who are really experts. But a lot of people in our nation today are claiming to be experts regarding things they know nothing about, and claiming to be able to change what God settled long ago.

Last Sunday was the birthday of one of our grandsons, so naturally we phoned to sing “Happy Birthday.” While talking with him, he told us of a recent encounter with an “expert.”

The family was on vacation in Florida and had toured one of those places where children are supposed to be able to learn about nature. They were in the part of the exhibit supposedly devoted to African fauna and flora. The guide asked, “Tell me something that grows in Africa.” Jacob spoke up and said, “Bananas.” The guide, so sweetly and condescendingly said, “I’m sorry, but bananas do not grow in Africa.”
Well, I am sorry to contradict, but we had bananas growing right outside our house for years. Here was someone posing as an expert on Africa, and she had probably never even been to Africa.

So it goes. Someone is put in a position of seeming authority and they pronounce their opinion as if it is proven fact. In many cases, they may know little, if anything, about the subjects on which they pontificate.

Today (Tuesday, 26 March, 2019) it was announced that Duke University will pay a fine of $112 million dollars because several medical research projects supposedly carried out at Duke never really happened. The “results” were announced and used to sway public opinion and government decisions, but it was all fake.

So, next time someone claims that research has proven something that contradicts the teaching of scripture, just reply “pork fat” or “bananas” or “Duke.”

As I said, I have the utmost respect for real research. But real research does not contradict God. Figures don’t lie; but boy are the liars figuring!