Thursday, December 24, 2009

Many fantasies surround Christmas. And how we love them. Not because they compete with the Mystery of the Incarnation, but because they suggest it! The fantasies of Christmas bespeak God's goodness, His power, His omnipresence, His humor, His other-worldness, His Company of Servants, His creativity, His community and warmth and His Uniqueness! I love Christmas, I admit it. Always have. Not all do of course, but I do. Tonight, it is late on Christmas Eve. I sit in the living room, watching the Christmas tree, the electric candles still lit in the windows. All have gone to bed, exhausted--I wait up a while. I pray, and talk to God about it all, giving thanks every third sentence. He is good. And I love anything which reminds me of that truth.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Something tells me we're going to have to become a whole lot smarter about evangelism. Today, even the word has become "dirty." All too easily, "evangelism" is understood to mean we think we're better than non-Christians, we need to somehow hoodwink them into joining our church, we want their money or we are mind-control freaks. We need to find new, less predictable ways to share the good news of Jesus Christ. I don't believe evangelism means making converts. I believe the Holy Spirit does that. I think evangelism is sharing the good news of Christ, seeing who inquires and then who responds, and following them up. We know there are some out there in any significant number of people, who will likely come to faith in Christ once presented with the claims of Christ. So, we wait, pray, and watch who comes to faith! Then, our job is to disciple, teach, model, mentor, coach, nurture, encourage and give doctrine to the new people who stay aboard. The world is hip to us any more though. They wait for our predictable, even cliché'd methods and vocabulary. Now they seem "on" to "seeker services" too. We need to find ways to get in close, share about Christ, and get out before they think its about us. It isn't about them coming along with us, joining our church, identifying with us or even making a decision for Christ in our presence. If the Spirit is working, they will find Jesus just fine. We can be there to love them and build them up, but it isn't about us. Its about them, and Him. They have the need, we have the "News," our Savior has the means.

Friday, November 13, 2009

I was thinking about all the things the Pilgrims didn't have to think about, as they "set up shop" in Plimouth (sic) in late 1620 and 1621: Kleenex, toothpaste, toothbrushes, rechargeable batteries going dead, TP, paper towels, vacuum cleaner bags, cell phone rechargers, lipstick, deoderant, anti-perspirant, cologne, after shave, razor blades, disposable razors, $8000 caskets, CDs, cassettes, baby wipes (or pretty much any kind of "wipes"), aluminum foil, Little Debbie wrappers, gift bags, bows for Christmas presents (they didn't celebrate Christmas--too secular), condoms, birth control pills, running out of Ibuprofen or Advil or Tylenol, ear buds, XBox(es?), PS3s, cigarrettes, empty cigarrette lighters, Coke cans, Coke bottles, Coke bottle caps, Fix-a-Flat cans, discarded straws, Big Mac boxes, tires, Axe cans, body wash, hand lotion, mp3 player and docking stations, iPods, iTunes, iPhones, iMan, Dunkin Donuts bags (o wait, I think there was a DD on Fort Hill when they arrived,) Poland Springs bottles, Budweiser cans (unless there were a few lying around on the deck of the Mayflower,) flash drives, Daytimer inserts, Bic pens, Odor Eaters, Odor Eater shoe inserts, Nike boxes, used Amazon mailing bags, super market plastic bags, Purell bottles and supermarket rotisserie chicken containers. So, I take it from this that they had it easier than we do.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

I was thinking about music today. When I was young, music was everything. Each of my friends--every one--had his or her own musical configuration. We identified ourselves by such a configuration. We shared some favorite groups, but then diverged from each other on others. My friend Jeff and I both loved Beatles, but he had no use for my Moody Blues and I had no use for his Grateful Dead. We knew all the vagueries and subtleties of any group or singer. We spent $200 on a turntable cartidge and cited all the specs for it, against those of our friend's unit. For those of us who played guitar or drums (are there other instruments?) we enjoyed rough imitations of the great ones' tunes. Music was a passion. It was the fuel for our generation. I would go to concert after concert like religious pilgrimages.

Now, I listen still to music often, but have grown much more focused. I mostly listen to 60s musicians still. Christian music holds an attraction, but there I have become very picky. I do not know the Christian "hit parade" singers any more, since 1995 or so. I find much popular Christian music over-produced and commercialistic. We used to have the phrase "sold out." That would apply now, I think. Becoming a star seems to be the aspiration of many song-writers. Gone are the days of Sparrow Records and Keith Green.

I wonder how music will be in 50 years? What little of today's sounds I hear are more often annoying than pleasant. Surely they are not inspirational. I embarrassed myself last week by accidentally discovering a song recorded by a re-united Byrds in 1990, and liked it a lot, only to find out it has been recorded by numerous "pop" artists and is considered trite, even to the point of making the Top Worst 50 Songs of all time. Sheesh. And I just heard it for the first time.

In heaven I fantasize music to be always fresh, always innovative, never boring and never shallow. The right balance of beauty and movement. Until I get there... back to the Airplane.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The work of shepherding souls, is not unlike shepherding sheep. First, the shepherd does not necessarily own the sheep. Second, the sheep can become food for wolves if the shepherd becomes distracted. Third, sheep get sick easily and die. The shepherd grieves a loss from illness. Fourth, sheep know the shepherd's voice and trust it. Fifth, the sheep need green pastures in which to feed. Sixth, all the sheep are not identical; some have unique features. Seventh, sheep may bite on each other sometimes. Its to be expected.

Today, I shepherded lots of different kinds of sheep--college kids, twentysomethings, an older lady, a bunch of breakfast guys, talking about Glocks and Rugers, a worker-sheep who gives her every ounce of energy, a middle-age fellow seeking to know if he can rebuild a spiritual walk with the Lord after a quarter century of drifting. I am weary with the care of the sheep. But I am so expendable. Another shepherd could be easily found, so I do not overestimate my own importance. The bottom-line is, I love shepherding. I hope the Lord Jesus allows me to do this until the last week or so of my life.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Faith is trusting God, even though we can't see Him. And even if we could--the Israelites could see His workings with great drama and yet they still needed faith. I need it every day, even though I have the Bible and am surrounded by many believers, all of whom also have faith.

What am I trusting God for today? There are the resident, baseline things like a) if I die tonight I have faith He will take me to heaven b) the Gospel is applicable for all people, all of the time. c) His providence and care are there for me--He will never break a promise to me. But what active issues and challenges am I consciously trusting God about? Of this I should take regular inventory. There should be a number of things that are engaging my day-to-day trust in Him, and which I am frequently asking Him about. Daily faith is more than passive. It is active. It is a turning-over-to-Him intentionally, of things I would rather try to handle (or worry about) myself. A person of great faith, I think, is a person who is actively, deliberately taking God at His word. "Ok God, you have said it, now do it." This of course, assumes I am accurately interpreting His promises, and not stealing promises made to Israel or the early church and appropriating them to myself just because I like reading them. But there are a great many promises in the New Testament which ARE intended for all believers. These are precious, and the things that energize my faith. What of THOSE am I actively trusting Him for?

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Quiet. My Dad used to sit out on the patio at night in the summer. He just sat, and smoked. I would know he was there in the dark by the ember of his cigarette. He would just sit, and think. He liked the quiet of the a summer night. Occasionally, he would sit out there all night. This is strange, because when he was raging he was very much heard all over our part of the neighborhood. When enraged, he was a terror. But when quiet, he really liked the quiet. I don't get much quiet these days. I am too busy. And there isn't anywhere I go where it is quiet. I detest being alone, too, which precludes much quiet. But I see its value. Daughter Susanna says she likes the concept at least, of the Quaker quiet time. They sit in quiet until someone stands up and starts ranting about something political. But if no one is ranting, it is quiet and she likes that. When I get quiet, there is a ringing in my ears. And a ringing in my spirit--I think that is why I have always liked C.S. Lewis' Woods Between the Worlds in the Chronicles of Narnia. I think it was exceedingly still there. Some quiet in my spirit, and stillness, would be nice...

Friday, September 11, 2009

It occurs to me, while watching the September 11th film tonight, that there are, in this life, many bad ways to die. But there are a very few good ways to die. Therefore, when we see someone die a good way--we can give much thanks for them and for their families. It is a convaluted way to give thanks, but a thing in which there is much grace...the older lady who died sitting in her favorite chair with her Bible in her lap, in her living room before church...the fellow who simply slips into the arms of the Lord in his sleep...perhaps there are a few others. Thanks be to the Lord when a person dies in grace and mercy. It is rare.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

I figured out why I'm depressed. I secretly wish for several stupid things. Here they are:
a. I wish that a whole bunch of people that I really like in this place who do NOT go to the church with which I am affiliated, did. Or maybe ever more deeply stupid, there are about 4 little other churches which I just wish would say to me, "We've been praying about it and we think we're just supposed to come be with you from now on. Don't worry about the details, we'll work all those out."
b. I wish I could know what I know now, and be like 30 again.
c. I wish my girls lived here. And wanted to.
d. I wish I knew the Lord Jesus was returning like, in 1 year.
e. I wish Dallas Seminary would call me up and say, "Yo, we want you to come teach part-time." Adjunct Instructor in Coolness.
f. I wish in my next doctor's visit he would say, "Oh Neil, I want you to take this neat, non-addicitive, no-side-effects, sample pill which will make you lose 80 pounds while eating anything you want."
g. I wish my Dad would appear to me from heaven, young, full of Christ, and tell me some stuff.
h. I wish UMassDartmouth would invite me on to their faculty. I would promise to be good.

None of those are true. So that's why I'm kind of depressed, I figured out...

Monday, September 07, 2009

I remain terribly interested, vitally concerned and emotionally tied to the plight of the 20Somethings as regards evangelical Christianity. Others can never compel, cajole or convince a group to be receptive to Christ, as He is. (I seem to be thinking in triples today.) But we can pray and always be hungry for dialog with a generation that seems to NOT buy the evangelical "package." For example, I found the suggestion interesting in a recent CT article, that the 20Something block does not by and large "buy" evangelical eschatology. Too much commercialization and focus on sensational things has made them skeptical. I can understand that. The writer of the article, in a frenzy to distance himself from "e.e." confused the books and the movies, referring to the movie, The Late Great Planet Earth, which to my knowledge has never been made into a movie (though I wouldn't be surprised if I learned it HAD been made into a video game!) Finally, the suggestion is made that the older evangelicals (which I am afraid now seems to include me) have somehow failed to really communicate the core of the faith. Thus, lesser, more hollow forms of the faith are not wearing well or even being adopted by spiritually minded 20Somethings in general.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Now, I'm not feeling sorry for myself when I say this. Really, I'm not. But I became aware again how quickly we become irrelevant to each other. This probably makes little difference to most people, but to preachers and pastors, who trade on relevance, quick perception about culture and speaking into the culture, getting irrelevant is scary.

I viewed pictures on Facebook of a woman who used to be in our church. How very Central we pastors imagine our churches to be. But then the people move on, develop great lives, experience happiness and many new things all without our participation. Perhaps viewing FB pix of people who have moved on isn't a good idea. But it stimulated thinking about how relevance is relative! Today I may be profoundly relevant to someone; tomorrow I will likely become a memory, and then...irrelevant. Now this is a grief if I maintain an insistence on always remaining relevant with everyone I meet. Yes, Yes, no one can do that. But we imagine we can... And truly, we cannot. So I suppose the solution is to accept passing relevance, and try to always be creating NEW relevance with new people around me. Praying faithfully and intelligently for various people, keeps me relevant too, a little bit.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

So often I see people entranced with someone's "niceness" that they make theological decisions about their correctness based on liking that person. This is preposterous. I am all for being nice. And friendly. And a good listener. And funny, even. But theological rightness or wrongness has little to do with nicencess. We need to develop a filter for gullibility. The apostles warned against the tactics of "niceness."

Sunday, August 16, 2009

I think theological issues--true ones--come up fairly infrequently these days on the local church scene. At least, they do not come up so often around the church where I am part. Theology of baptism, the Lord's Table, salvation, sanctification, polity are pretty set in place. Conflagrations about election, glossalalia, what millenialism?, head-coverings or clergy-Or-not, just do not occur these days. I wonder what theological matters await us in the future? The next generation knows very little theology, I fear.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

A thousand pardons, but I ask again, what is an evangelical? And more importantly, can a person be saved and somehow, for some reason or set of reasons, NOT be an evangelical actually? Aren't being saved and being an evangelical the same thing? Doesn't becoming saved MAKE a person an automatic evangelical? The reason I ask, is that I have been encountering people who a) seem to possess a knowledge and trust and confidence in Jesus Christ for their salvation, b) seem to at least appreciate the Bible if not daily reading it, c) seem to generate some sense of "fruit" in their character and daily decisions. And yet they either 1) do not know about evangelicalism or 2) do not like evangelicalism, or some aspect thereof or 3) are so basic-minded that they are not aware/interested in ANY "ism." So can a person like that be a regenerate disciple of Jesus Christ?

Monday, June 29, 2009

On Saturday, I felt an emotion that occurs in me only rarely: awe. We were at the Quonset Point Rhode Island Air Show. An F-22 took off in front of us, shot straight up in a giant roar that made my ribcage vibrate. It came to a complete stop in mid-air. I said, "Oh no!" I feared it would fall. And it was beautiful at the same time. And tears came down my face. I looked around, and thousands of fellow-observers were all looking up, jaws open. The volume, the total focus, the incredible sight, the fear, the joy. This is "awe." And it didn't take but a couple of moments, in the midst of this rare feeling, that I remembered John on the isle of Patmos, as he viewed the Risen King Jesus. He fell as a dead man. Awe. I'm not sure I'm looking for more of this emotion. But it was incredible. It emotionally took me to a great place to imagine the feeling of seeing the Lord Jesus. It will be awe then too, only far more.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Call me crazy. I fantasize about going back in time, enabled by the Lord somehow and doing it within some divine mission, but having conversations with various people--or at least watching them play out history. (I love time-travel movies and always have.) For instance, I think about going back to my home town (Annandale, VA) which lay in the path of several early Civil War battles. I would go to the place where my own neighborhood would someday lay. (I could easily find it.) I would stand in those woods or that field and watch the Union army retreat down the road nearby after defeats at First and Second Manassas.

I imagine showing up in front of my Dad (like the end of the film Field of Dreams) while he exits Buchenwald concentration camp, April 1945. I can imagine his state of shock, as a first-liberator. I would identify myself as his son, to be born seven years in the future. I would lift his spirits, tell him there was much to live for, that the war was nearly over (though he would have known that.) I would tell him of his grand-daughters--four decades in the future.

I often wonder what it would be like to be given a couple of days in Judea when Jesus was hang out in Capernaum just after Peter's mother-in-law was ill. Or to be in Ephesus when Paul visited. (Archaelology appeals to people like me for these dreamy reasons.)

I would love to walk beside Martin Luther as he makes his way back to Saxony after the Diet of Worms. I wonder what he would be muttering to himself. And as I appeared (and of course the Lord would enable me to speak in 16th century German) I would encourage him that although things so often seem dark, in God's gracious providence his efforts would bear much fruit.

Call me crazy, I know.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

If Christians didn't have the following words to use, when would it be?
  • Premillenialist, Amillenialist, Postmillenialist
  • Calvinist, Arminian, Amyraldian
  • Episcopalian, Pentecostal, Emergent, Baptist, Congregationalist, Plymouth Brethren, Church of the Brethren, Gathering of the Brethren...
  • Bi-partite or Tri-partite
  • Paedobaptist, Presbyterian, Reformed
  • Infralapsarian, Supralapsarian
  • Blended, Traditional, Contemporary
  • Missional or Body-life committed
  • Partial to Full Cessationist
  • Autocratic, Presbyterian, Democratic

The year would be 64 A.D.

Monday, June 08, 2009

In 2059
will there be?
  • Calvinists?
  • Premillenialists?
  • Charismatics?
  • Presbyterians?
  • Plymouth Brethren?
  • adherents of the Lord's Day?
  • people who believe marriage is by definition between a man and a woman?
  • pro-life people?
  • inerrantists?
  • people who listen to and like sermons?
  • churches with worship-dedicated sanctuaries?
  • the Lord's Table?
  • baptism by immersion?
  • only white churches?
  • only black churches?
  • hymn singing?
  • offering plates?

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Back in the Day
When I became a Christian in 1972 certain names were significant in the Christian arena. Representative were names such as Hal Lindsey, Francis Schaeffer and Elisabeth Eliot. Lindsey's The Late Great Planet Earth, Schaeffer's many books/conferences/L'Abri centers, and Eliot's testimony and books provided drive, thought and fun to evangelicalism. That was 37 years ago. Today Elisabeth is still alive but pretty quiet, Hal Lindsey has moved to the realm of the fringe and Francis Schaeffer has been with the Lord since 1984. Few mention any of them any more. And yet they were "prophetic" and popular in '72.

Who will be "prophetic" for the Church in the second decade of this century? Why will they be important? What lasting value will they have for the kingdom? I have no doubt some will rise in significance. God will raise up people who can speak, act and animate the movement of the Gospel. He is dependent on no specific person's fleeting popularity but He DOES give demonstratation of the Gospel, solid doctrine and individual experiences with Him and acts done by His people, which genuinely testify of His power and love. Most of the people in our church probably have little to no knowledge of Schaeffer, Eliot or Lindsey. The new names will be different. God's continual use of earthen vessels--changing from generation to generation--shows forth His determination to finish the work of this dispensation.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Ministry should be this way:
We study the Bible, discuss it graciously, held in awe at the concept of the Word of God--therefore we are always respectful of each other's talk about it.
We pray with and for each other a great deal. Those times focus on prayer, and little else.
We make friends among each other, but never allow a clique or closed feeling to develop. We forgive each other when we are offended or disappointed. We never abandon each other.
We always, always look for opportunities to talk about Jesus with people a) don't appear to know Him yet, b) are willing and open to talking about Him. We also give blessings to people freely, in the hope of winning a few more chances to talk about Jesus.

That's pretty much it. The rest of the time we shut up.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Pardon my re-posting this one...

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

I am wondering how age changes our theology? Or does it? Take me, for instance. Since I came to know Christ I have been a Calvinist, premillenialist, soft-cessationist, believer's baptism, presbyterian-government, complementarian kind of guy. ALl of that was in place in my head by the end of 1972. Since then--two theological degrees, 37 years, four states, three churches and two daughters grown up later, all of that is still in place. I have seen no reason--though I have listened carefully--to change any of those core descriptions of my theology. This means that either a) I am pig-headed, b) I was trained well and in a balanced fashion early, c) my nature resists change in core-thinking, d) I remain unconvinced of the alternative systems of theology enough to alter mine. Does theology change with age? Of maybe it changes with circumstances which sometimes, coincides with aging. If I become old and sick and alone, will I abandon my Calvinism? If Israel gets pushed into the sea by the Arabs, will I decide amillenialism is more reasonable? If I come down with a mental illness, will I suddenly become charismatic? Does aging automatically induce change in theological convictions?

Coolness is a thing that can be lost very easily. As in, instantaneously. For example. Saul was cool until the instant when the girls started singing their song that demoted him from Main Cool Guy to #2 Cool Guy (based on the number of deaths he caused, ironically.) 1st Samuel 18:9 And Saul looked at David with suspicion from that day on. Bang. Coolness gone--just like that. The point is: the amount of genuine coolness is directly proportional to the inverse of how much we can keep a lid on feeling threatened. Get threatened, and start focusing hatred... No longer cool.

I am not suggesting however that coolness only relates to relationships between people. Coolness can be a solitary thing, too. Many cool songs flow out of some insight derived by the songwriter when he or she was alone. For instance

(SITTIN' ON) THE DOCK OF THE BAY- written by Otis Redding and Steve Cropper- lyrics as recorded by Otis Redding December 7, 1967, just threedays before his death in a plane crash outside Madison, Wisconsin- #1 for 4 weeks in 1968

Sittin' in the mornin' sunI'll be sittin' when the evenin' comeWatching the ships roll inAnd then I watch 'em roll away again, yeahI'm sittin' on the dock of the bayWatching the tide roll awayOoo, I'm just sittin' on the dock of the bayWastin' timeI left my home in GeorgiaHeaded for the 'Frisco bay'Cause I've had nothing to live forAnd look like nothin's gonna come my waySo I'm just gonna sit on the dock of the bayWatching the tide roll awayOoo, I'm sittin' on the dock of the bayWastin' timeLook like nothing's gonna changeEverything still remains the sameI can't do what ten people tell me to doSo I guess I'll remain the same, yesSittin' here resting my bonesAnd this loneliness won't leave me aloneIt's two thousand miles I roamedJust to make this dock my homeNow, I'm just gonna sit at the dock of the bayWatching the tide roll awayOooo-wee, sittin' on the dock of the bayWastin' time

Now that is a cool song. Solitary. Classic. I imagine Otis was alone. (I imagine Steve provided music support).

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Coolness (Part 1)
Definition: a thing which is very relevant, interesting and unpredictable. Can relate to hats, songs, vehicles, one-liners and single words.
Automatically cool things: Harley Davidson motorcycles, Fender guitars, Beatle vinyl, Bible-on-phone, Hebrew, P-51s (any version.)

Coolness cannot be created. It is either there or it isn't. It cannot be transferred, since according to the above definition it must be unpredictable. However, a thing which is cool, can be adapted slightly for duplication.

Christian things which are cool: Going to Israel and bringing back something which was not purchased; Isaiah 65:1,2; Anything written by John Owen; Any Keith Green song off the No Compromise album; early Maranatha! Music vinyl; giving that is completely unknown; Puritan writings; most Larry Norman songs; any Bible verse in Apache.

Friday, May 15, 2009

It keeps happening over and over again. I read about Jesus in the Gospels, and I break. He breaks me. I imagine, fantasize, transport myself to Israel, walking around with Him. (I've been there...where He was!) He looks right through me. He knows my heart and my every thought. I can't get away with anything. It's annoying! But His reaction to me isn't much like how I react to people. He understands. He gets it. In fact there isn't anything He doesn't get. He never goes, "run that by Me again??" And He isn't fooled by any stealth I may try. He goes, "uh huh." And for all my failings, I never seem to use up His love and patience. I imagine being along with the disciples, and getting perterbed with their lack of vision, self-importance, fear, and I very quickly realize what a great candidate I would be to join them. And yet, He hasn't sent me away yet. In fact, He seems to have laid a commission on me. On me, personally. I feel it. Its weight bears down sometimes. And I get broken all over again... Broken on the Rock.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Pardon my making a big deal out of this, but as I was walking across campus today it began to downpour. And right over my head a huge clap of lightning accompanied a streak of blinding lightning. I hustled to my truck. And my first and instantaneous thought was, how quickly and instantaneously I can be called home. Death can be HERE and NOW. Even at my age we tend to think of death as distant, remote, and unreal. How very real it can become. The lightning, according to the rule of thumb I learned as a child--it is as far away from you in miles, as the number of seconds before you hear the thunder--flashed and the thunder slam-banged at the same second. I was scared. And I thought about it for the next ten minutes. Call me impressionable, but it drove me to prayer. I thanked the Lord that I was not struck. I asked His immediate forgiveness for all my sins of today. I imagined how I would write this up on this blog.

Monday, May 11, 2009

On Communicating
I do e-mail a lot. I also now "text" quite a bit. I write my mind on three blogs--this being one. I watch AIM for the occasional incoming instant message there. I watch Facebook message for more frequent messages there. I prepare a sermon and prreach it twice each week. I meet with people over coffee frequently and chat. I pray, both out loud and silently. Once in a while I send someone a card and write a note inside. I comment on other people's Facebook, MySpace, Xanga and personal web sites. I am a communications-junkie (commie for short, I guess.) I always understand when someone tells me they "don't do internet: or "have no use for instant messaging." But I have lots of use for all these means of communicating. I want to know what people are thinking, and how they feel. I am interested in the process of thinkiing that evidences itself via all these communications channels. No, I do have a life, and a blessed one thank you.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Sometimes I'm not a very spiritual guy. Trust me. And that even though I am a professional spiritual guy. I cannot believe the things my brains can think sometimes. But today I got caught up in a spiritual 15 minutes. It is National Day of Prayer, and 15 people gathered for about 15 minutes of prayer at the bell tower in the middle of the U.Mass. Dartmouth campus. Many walked by and simply ignored us. I remember that Jesus warned NOT to be like the hypocrites who love to pray out in public for the acclaim of men for they have their reward. So I'm always a little nervous about public "prayer events." But today it was good; it was real. Among the 15 who gathered to pray for our nation, our state and our university, were three from India--a husband and wife who each prayed an impassioned prayer that humbled me; two local residents, four undergrads (one from China), three faculty members, two staff members, and two representatives from The Navigators who came to check out our campus. And myself. I led the gathering but Ifelt dwarfed by the prayers of my brothers and sisters. I have come to love this gathering. I don't mind if passers-by see us because I always hope God might draw someone to us in inquiry. I seek no acclaim for it is little enough that we do, and did I mention how unspiritual I feel some days? I am not worthy, ever, EVER, to call out to God as His redeemed child and actually expect Him to answer, to listen, to care. Ever. So, that He does, amazes me, whether I am with anyone or not. And whether it is public, or not. Mmore prayer--that's what we need. That's what our dissolving nation needs.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

One of the reasons I believe the Lord gives us pets, is to teach us some lessons that are clear and easy to get. Like with our dog... He loves us unconditionally. He always loves us. He never varies in his excitement to see us, his contentment just to be near us, his taking whatever Morsels of Crunch we offer. MacArthur loves to be taken for a walk, the simplest gesture of kindness towards him. Each time it is like I am doing some awesom thing for him! He also puts up with Misty and Fatty, though they both look down at him. He lets them harass him with great patience, and sometimes offers play when they want it. He is very accommodating.

They are also so utterly dependent on us. One of my Great Fears is to imagine what would happen to Them, if something happened to my wife and I simultaneously and they were trapped in the house (and in his case, his crate) with no one coming home to let them out, feed them, love them.... *shudders* Their dependence is a lesson on how the Lord must look at us. Pity and care. It is no accident that Jesus used the metaphor of shepherding so poignantly.

When our last dog (Spurgeon) died three years ago, I felt like I was going to die. I had never felt that kind of pity and grief before. His suffering and helplessness, with no complaint at all--just looking up at us... "Momma? Daddy? I hurt so bad..." brings tears to my eyes even now, three years later. Surely there is a lesson there in how the Lord feels for us. Surely I can learn from those unexpected symapthies I felt to transfer them to the flock which I shepherd?

Monday, April 27, 2009

I'm wondering how the apostles would deal with the subject of "a day off?" Would Paul play golf? Would Bartholemew go to a library and then take a nap and then mow the grass? Would Peter go fishing? (Probably not.) Can we imagine any of the apostles actually doing nothing for a full 24 hours? Or since they were now New Testament guys, would they be completely freed up from any vestiges of Sabbatharianism, in which most of them grew up? I can imagine Paul, when he was not in jail, sipping a cappacino in a sidewalk café, reading one of his scrolls. For an hour or so. But did the apostles each take a full 24 hours off each week? I have never heard anyone speak or speculate about this. Perhaps because none of the apostles say too much about it, and in Acts, Luke says nothing that would evidence such a practice. If we could bring one of them down into Today, what would they do with our hyper-connectivity, our all-the-time being in communication? Would they get sucked into it or would they shut off their cell phones, turn off their computers and stay away from radio, TV, iPod etc. for a full day each week. Hey--I really wanna know!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Today I preached on The Call of God. Big deal, eh? It is when you consider the theological idea of what I preached. First, I did a thorough study of how the Bible uses the word "call" and how it is used with respect to God. It was striking. In the Old Testament the idea is limited almost exclusively to Isaiah but there it is frequent. In the New Testament, Paul, Peter and Jude speak of a God who has called His people out of darkness into light. There is nothing "participatory" in the calling itself. It is the act of God. Most of the people listening to me today were attentive. None objected, and a few new Christians were like, "Well duh." I remember feeling that way as a new Christian. It appears to me that a person more often would need to be taught not to believe in the sovereign call of God than they would naturally object. The recipient of God's grace seems to get it pretty plainly. God woke me up. A.W. Tozer's classic book The Pursuit of God begins with this sentence: "Christian theology teaches the doctrine of prevenient grace, which briefly stated means this, that before a man can seek God, God must first have sought the man." Amen, A.W. Let's have a root beer!

Friday, April 24, 2009

What if I suggested that sometimes we content ourselves with a low-level of sin? What if I said I am comfortable with small dosages or imbibings of sin. As long as it doesn't get out of control... What if I said I don't really want to become a monitor of every sin in my brother, that his heart indulges and I also don't want to BE monitored for every sin by someone, and call it "accountability." Isn't it OK to indulge small amounts of sin, like a tolerable level of toxin or bacteria and so long as I keep my spiritual "immune" system functioning against MAJOR pathologies by reading my Bible, praying, somewhat accessing good sermons and Christian music, remaining civil and pleasant with my brethren in Christ, going to church most of the time and maintaining a certain mid-level RPM rate in my Christian life? (That was one question.) What if I am happy enough keeping some heat in my Christian life and just not growing cold? I don't have the energy to get too intense with my Christian friendships. I am weary of hen-pecking my own life with guilt and The Law. I want to live and let live. Wouldn't it be OK with Jonathan Edwards or Charles Spurgeon or Elisabeth Eliot for me to just be content with a slow, reasonable, not-crazy pace in my Christian life?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

I have been watching "Fringe" at my daughter's suggestion. It is a fascinating and well done show. There are many interesting ideas played with. But I cannot help but evaluate, toy with and imagine each idea from a biblical world view. I am a little surprised that few of the ideas (mostly paranormal but scientifically explicable) do not offend my sense of cosmology or God's sovereignty. Just because we don't know everything, even with Bible in hand, doesn't mean that things which might or can happen are inherently evil. So screenplay writers who imagine phenonena outside of our knowledge actually stimulate my thinking and from there, I drift into fantasy about how the Lord Himself would explain these things to me. And I think He would. For instance, an episode about a boy found living beneath the city who does not talk but who is an empath gets me imagining about if this is how angels are? Sin has limited human capability, there is no doubt. Without sin, would the senses and even unknown abilities be free to feel and "see" more fully? I dunno. Just thinking...

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The 7th commandment states, "You shall not commit adultery." I would have thought that most people would at least intellectually agree with the goodness of that prohibition. Until today. Today I had a chance to be a guest lecturer on campus in a 300 level philosophy class on the Hebrew Bible. I was illustrating the "feel" of biblical inspiration for the canonical books, using the 10 Commandments from Exodus in the suggestion that "most people" (I said) would probably believe the appropriateness and the wisdom of that commandment. So I asked the 17 students there today, how many of them thought that the commandment was good and true? Six students agreed--five women and one man. I was surprised more would not at least in principle, agree. My O my how we have evolved...

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Again, thoughts to my Dad. Today is the 64th anniversary of the liberation of Buchenwald concentration camp near Weimar, Germany, into which my Dad walked as one of the first liberators. He told me the SS had evancuated about 30 min. before they arrived. If someone could have told him he would live another 49 years exactly (yesterday was the 15th anniversary of his death), how would he have reacted? No man knows the years that are given to him. On that evening before Buchenwald, which would mark my Dad I believe, he could not have known that he would survive another month of combat (he narrowly escaped death in Aachen), view the inside of Hitler's bunker in Berlin, be exempted from transfer to the Pacific theatre by Hiroshima, come home, marry his beloved Jo, work for the Army for the rest of his career in Washington D.C., have a son, retire to watch the President go down (Watergate--Dad spent his first year of retirement glued to the television for the hearings), move to St. Petersburg where he lived as a young teen for a year, and die of kidney failure in that town in 1997? He was given a good life, while those in Buchenwald were deprived of it.

Friday, April 10, 2009

So I was in the coffee shop yesterday, with my laptop and working on my Easter sermon. These two women come in and sit at the table next to mine. They seem very plainly to me to be sisters, and they have a little girl with them. The two women were very striking. And I could not help but watch them for the 20 minutes they were there (I accomplished little on my sermon in those minutes.) The little girl did not resemble--to my eye--either of the women. Each of them appeared to be 40ish. Each had long, fluffy and very huge blonde hair. I wouldn't say either woman was pretty, but each possessed the same kind of fierce beauty. One had a neck brace on. But each had a very, very tired and old look in their eyes. As they had their refreshments, I noticed each hovered over the little girl (who was maybe 8 or 9) very closely. At one point one of the women took the girl to the bathroom, and hugged her close leaving and returning to the table. I was fascinated at this threesome. The thing that fascinated me, was how they generated in my mind the desire to know their story. I wrote several imaginary scripts, none of which were very happy. Then, it occurred to me to just pray for them. After 20 minutes, off they went, in a huge black SUV. O how our minds can write stories about people. I guess I am a natural people-watcher. They never cease to interest me... and I always imagine what it would be like to talk about my Savior with them.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

So I've been in "negotiations" with a very nationally known Name to come to our church to speak some time. He is so known that I would never have even imagined the possibility of him coming to Dartmouth to speak in his area of expertise. Did I mention he is Known, man, Known. Last week I heard from his scheduler that a price of $5000 would be needed, as it turns out, for him to come. Plus expenses. My reactions to this were somewhat scrambled. While I understand, I guess, that Known Names like this tend to "Get" that kind of honorarium--he's in the big leagues. And while I understand that Known Names like his "need" big honoraria (cool word, eh?) because they fund their ministry organizations by their income, I guess. And while I understood that it was a long shot anyway, still I was kind of stunned. Five G's, whoa. So while I could probably pull it off if my life depended on it--it does not--I just couldn't bring myself into betrayal of my own sense of New Testament servanthood to play the game. So I have graciously declined further negotiations, unless at some point (and I'm not sure I have the energy for this) we can "put ogether" a coalition of local churches who want to put up 5 G's on the expectation that this Name would make that much different in people's lives for a weekend of speaking. I felt better about it all today, when after my sharing about this in my area pastors' group (which includes Not One Known Name--but which DOES include several hard-working, long-suffering, enduring and biblically articulate men--some of which hold earned doctorates) one of them said to me--"Neil, I think you should call him up and ask him what HE would be willing to pay you, for the privilege of coming and speaking the truth in a dark place (See this week's Newsweek article by John Meecham.) I laughed and the confusion in my emotions cleared. God bless my brothers.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

I am wondering how age changes our theology? Or does it? Take me, for instance. Since I came to know Christ I have been a Calvinist, premillenialist, soft-cessationist, believer's baptism, presbyterian-government, complementarian kind of guy. ALl of that was in place in my head by the end of 1972. Since then--two theological degrees, 37 years, four states, three churches and two daughters grown up later, all of that is still in place. I have seen no reason--though I have listened carefully--to change any of those core descriptions of my theology. This means that either a) I am pig-headed, b) I was trained well and in a balanced fashion early, c) my nature resists change in core-thinking, d) I remain unconvinced of the alternative systems of theology enough to alter mine. Does theology change with age? Of maybe it changes with circumstances which sometimes, coincides with aging. If I become old and sick and alone, will I abandon my Calvinism? If Israel gets pushed into the sea by the Arabs, will I decide amillenialism is more reasonable? If I come down with a mental illness, will I suddenly become charismatic? Does aging automatically induce change in theological convictions?

Friday, April 03, 2009

Such a joy, when the good news was presented so elegantly by two older Christians, in a memorial service before about 50 university people. All heard the hope of the gospel in the going-home of Myja Parviainen tragically on January 23rd in a terrible auto accident. But as her two pastors shared the hope belongs to all who embrace Christ, I was full of joy. The most senior university administrators were all there, and I was so humbled as a bystander as the family's pastors gently and capably but plainly explained why this family is sad but by no means in despair.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

When a man says to his wife, or a wife says to her husband, "I don't love you any more" it is a crushing thing to hear. And I understand I think, the vacuum of feeling that has become current. Or even loathing for that person. And if we give into that pit, we will be spiritually ruined, I believe. So when we come to feel that way, tragically, about our spouse, and we admit it, then I think comes the Lord's voice to us, "So what?" Since when is loving based on feelings, at the most important and day-to-day level? Why do my decisions and major choices depend on how I feel? Jesus loved us when we were QUITE unlovely. He DID what love compelled Him to do. I never recover from that. I never graduate from that. I must always, always, remember that and insist to myself that my own decisions and choices are constrained by what He has done for me. And if I have covenanted with someone to be faithful to them and to love them, it shall be so. Until I breathe my last. It must be so. As it is said in Fireproof, for many "for better or for worse" really only means "for better."

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Last day of March. That means it will look like Spring here soon. I wonder if there are seasons of any kind in heaven. Maybe there are none. Maybe there are more than four. Maybe every season is new and fresh and different. One school of interpretation views a millenial Temple, which would imply memorial sacrifices and thus, some kind of seasonal cycle. I cannot imagine animal sacrifices, since Messiah has made the supreme sacrifice once and for all. But I can imagine joyful celebrations, always recovering the joy of redemption and expectation. Even so, come quickly Lord Jesus.

Friday, March 27, 2009

I wonder if Christians in other areas work to connect people in their churches together? It seems to me we can be so "turf" conscious, and believe me, there's nothing I take harder than a person in our church saying, "I want to worship over in that church now." Nonetheless, we work and have worked for years to connect a family of like-minded churches together in a region with few large evangelical ministries. In Dallas in January I attended a class in a church facility which houses 18,000 church members in four locations. So very different from where I have ministered now for 26 years. I appreciate the pastors, leaders, members and distinct opportunities that each of the sister churches possess. I stopped wishing we could all be in one church about 15 years ago. No, each church ministers to more than their people would minister to if enveloped in a larger ministry. A smaller church needs every resource more vitally. And each testimony shared and evidence of Christian growth is more precious when seen in a humbler context. My fellow pastors are far different from me and from each other. But there is a mutuality and togetherness that we feel. One is very "missional" and another is kind of Pentecostal. Another is a simpler minded man who just loves those who need to be loved. Yet another is very musical. And I am perceived somehow, in my own uniqueness too. And as I like to say, "they haven't thrown me out yet."

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

We are really enjoying The Truth Project, from Del Tackett and Focus on the Family. The premise of the series is that Christians in great numbers do not really possess a comprehensive and consistent world view. So, the series deals with areas such as science, labor, history, etc. in the attempt to demonstrate that a comprehensive world view engages God's truth in every area of life and knowledge. Our class is very diverse and we are all enjoying this video series. Some are beginning to wonder how they can use the series in their own small groups in the future. I hope that bears fruit.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Baptism. This is a thing I received almost no instruction on or dialogue about in seminary. Strange. Because baptism is the coming-together of several areas of theology. The Reformers wrote a lot about it. With baptism, we have the touching of soteriology, anthropology, ecclesiology and pneumatology. A normal application of the Great Commission compels us to see this as a command for the church, for church leaders and for all believers in Christ. There is an urgency in the New Testament accounts. There is no evidence of delay being taught or accommodated. But there also seems to be a strange lack of didactic teaching about it. We are left to hammer out our own theology of baptism, and thus, the widely divergent views on the subject. But for the lack of conversation about it in my seminary days, it has been a major event in my whole ministry experience. And the central question is, what IS it? I believe it is a personal identification. I do not believe it includes any membership implications into the body of Christ. (I received a letter the week after I was baptized in 1953 at eight months old--welcoming me into the body of Christ.) I think pastors and church leaders should have a regular and lively discussion on this topic far more often than we do, which seems to be never. We seem far more interested in talking about worship, and politics, and women in ministry. Baptism comes up often--at least in our circles. We require it for church membership. We teach it as an "ordinance," a commanded ceremony. We level it with the ordinance of the Lord's Supper, and we love to read about the accounts of baptism in the Book of Acts. I wish I had some people to talk about it with, on an extended basis.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Theology is to ministry as mathematics is to engineering. To study math you need a math book (or a bunch), a computer (I presume), some pads and pencils and a good instructor. In enginnering you need far more: a product or concept, raw materials, mathematics, physics, electrical theory, marketing, testing and evaluation, maintenance and improvement, materials handling and storage, probably an office and staff, maybe a labratory, etc.

In theology you need a Bible, some knowledge of original languages, a theological library and a small community with whom to "do" theology. In ministry you need far more: a target focus or ministry field, a calling, spiritual gifts, theological training, a working knowledge of the Bible, hermeneutics, church history, a basic library of books and/or software, communications resources (e-mail, an adequate ability to write, a computer), a working knowledge of psychology and sociology, a team on which to work, accountability, commitment and integrity, a prayer base, stick-to-it-iveness (determination,) thick skin, a personal sense of security, mental health, significant social skills, a home base of operations (some location), some equipment, faith and a love for the people in the ministry field.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

I wonder what God thinks about our worship each week. I think I am too obsessive about it, but still I wonder. I enjoy the process, but become easily distracted based on whether I think people are approving or not. And I still become distracted by who is not with us on any given week. Today our music was good, my message was based on 2 Cor.5:17 and I related to when I first learned that verse in the TMS, summer of '72 with the Navs. Sunday School was OK--first part of the first "tour" in the Truth Project. Lots of first time visitors at our church; after-worship luncheon was rowdy and enjoyed by about 20. So why am I so restless these days after a good day?

Saturday, March 21, 2009

I read an article that suggests that Evangelicalism will collapse within a generation. Funny. Seems like it just got started! I may, however, agree with this dark prediction. Or, is it dark? Are we part of just another "Ism?" I like to think of myself as part of a world-wide conspiracy. That is old. That is secret half the time. That is unstoppable. And that has Jesus Christ the Risen King as its head. I dunno. Does that qualify as an "Ism?"