Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Remarks for Friday, December 26, 2008

It's Friday, but Sunday's coming
I hate to see friends experience pain, but I appreciate it when I see them willing to use their pain to help other people. Monday morning I received word that a friend of mine in our congregation lost his job. He is the second, upper-middle-class member who has lost a job in the last two weeks. I am delighted to say that both are using their pain for ministry. Both see God at work, in spite of adversity. It is this kind of spirit that can grow a church. I do not wish anyone to lose his job. However, if all of us can maintain the mentality of allowing God to use our pain for the glory of the kingdom, much good can be accomplished.

Closing out Texas Stadium -- and I am there!
It always helps to have friends who are in China. Last week I received a call from Gigi Womble. She and her husband, Brian, had been friends of ours for years. Brian has a job that takes him to China several times a year. It just so happened that he was going to be in China when the Dallas Cowboys played their final game in Texas Stadium. It would also be the last football game ever played in Texas Stadium. So Brian graciously offered me his ticket and the ticket of his son who was attending a state championship game. My oldest daughter and I traveled to Irving for the ballgame.
Jerry Jones marked the occasion in style. Dozens of former cowboy from their history were present. The Wombles have great seats and I found myself within a few feet of guys like Bob Lilly, Tony Dorsett, Michael Irvin, Emmitt Smith, and the hero from my childhood (and in all honesty, my hero even unto this day) Roger Staubach. The game was an exciting game and was marred only by a lousy ending. In the final minutes, the Ravens ripped off two runs of over 70 yards to destroy the Cowboy comeback.
After the game, longtime cowboy announcer, Brad Sham, emceed a ceremony that was both joyful and sad. It began with Hank Williams, Jr. standing on the cowboy star at midfield shouting out, "Are you ready for some football?" The other fans and I were thrilled and excited, waiting for him to sing his Monday night football anthem, but he left midfield for the bench. I don't know if ESPN has a copyright of the song, but it was a let down when he left the field.
Great moments in Texas Stadium were marked as members of each decade of cowboy history walked onto the field through the victory line formed by the Dallas cowboy cheerleaders. At the conclusion of the ceremony, the giant screen displayed a clip of Dandy Don Meredith singing "turn out the lights" from an old episode of Monday night football. And then they turned off the lights of Texas Stadium, except for a very few. It was, in a lot of ways, a sad moment, and some my friends were teary-eyed. My oldest daughter, Haleigh, was with me. Even though she is only 15, the ceremony made her feel quite emotional.
Everything finished after midnight. Haleigh and I did not get home until 3:30. Even though I had to preach the following morning and had to get up about 6:15, I felt energized all day. When you receive grace, you're always inspired to share the good news. A big shout-out to Brian and Gigi, thanks for the grace.

Traveling to the In-Laws
I am about to embark on a short trip to see various members of my wife's family. I always enjoy being with them, and I look forward to relaxing with them, their families and Judy and the kids.
Happy Holidays!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Mark's Remarks 12/19/08

Remarks for Friday, December 19, 2008

It's Friday, but Sunday's coming

"Can a Christian borrow money?" That was the question of discussion Wednesday night in the Bible class that I teach on Proverbs. My opinion was that Proverbs, while it does not say that borrowing money is a sin, still discourages it. I think probably most of my class agrees. Yet, in an economy that depends so much on borrowing money, especially with regard to new businesses, I must admit that I struggle with what I hope for our nation. Would we be better off if no one borrowed money and everybody paid as they went along? Individually, yes. As a nation, probably not. And so we enter into a Christmas season where there is much uncertainty.
I feel such happiness personally in this holiday season. I am so thankful for the blessings my family and I enjoy. I feel like our church is and a great place. Yet, one of the members of our congregation, whom I think has done a marvelous job at his work, lost his job two weeks ago. I think about him and his family and how they feel during this holiday season. I'm sure if I were in his place, I would be tempted to feel much anxiety, pain, and maybe even fear. How do you balance an optimistic spirit with a compassion and empathy for those who are feeling pain? I think these will be challenges for all of us in the next 12 months.
This Sunday, I'm hoping to encourage my congregation by reminding them that the gospel is not just the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. The gospel also includes Jesus' life. And when Jesus came to this world, he was embracing creation. He was giving God's stamp of approval that the world as God made it was good. Our sin and falleness are bad, but creation is good.
Being a Christian means that we can participate in the life of Jesus and be God's partners in redeeming a broken world. Part and parcel of this redemption opportunity is the chance to minister to those who have lost jobs. Moreover, somehow, some way, if we can encourage them to connect to Christ in their pain, I think we will have achieved something great.

2009--How It Affects My Preaching
This may sound radical, but what I am thinking about doing is including a psalm of lament or crying out to God in some of our Sunday assemblies when I preach on Philippians in the spring. Consider for example the first few verses of Psalm seven:

1 O LORD my God, I take refuge in you; save and deliver me from all who pursue me,
2 or they will tear me like a lion and rip me to pieces with no one to rescue me.
3 O LORD my God, if I have done this and there is guilt on my hands-
4 if I have done evil to him who is at peace with me or without cause have robbed my foe-
5 then let my enemy pursue and overtake me; let him trample my life to the ground and make me sleep in the dust. Selah
6 Arise, O LORD, in your anger; rise up against the rage of my enemies. Awake, my God; decree justice.

As I wrote last week, I do want to create a positive atmosphere of hope in God, especially in the worship assembly. However, for this atmosphere to be created, I believe we must be authentic with the experience some of our members will be undergoing. Hence, I am thinking that psalms of lament and crying out to God will, in a biblical and spiritual way, give voice to the suffering of some of our people. And they will be able to worship God with integrity.

Theological Reflections and Movies
We have a Christian school that meets on our church campus. It is called East Texas Christian Academy. I have the privilege of teaching a senior Bible class each semester. This semester, I taught a course on the letters of Pau and 21st century culture. One of the things I wished to achieve was to teach these kids how to practice theological reflection. The goal was to teach the students the seven theological categories: God, Jesus, Holy Spirit, sin, salvation, the church, and eschatology (the study of the last things). I then desired to teach them how to take books, songs, TV series, and movies and teach them how to theologically reflect upon these things. One way of doing this was to use the seven theological categories as a grid for evaluation.
At the end of the year, the students divide themselves into teams in order to theologically reflect upon for their final projects. I was delighted with what they came up with. For example, one group selected the movie THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. They considered Yoda to be a figure of Christ. Luke was expecting a strong and powerful Jedi Master in A teacher, but what he found was a humble servant who is not the picture of his imagination. Hence he struggled accepting this being. Viewed in this light, THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK has new meaning for me.
Many in Hollywood, perhaps most, and do not believe in the Bible or take it seriously. However, they do have a Bible--their art. You cannot not be spiritual. When I look upon Hollywood's product through the lens of the seven theological categories, I am often impressed and even moved by this spiritual yearning and instinctive insight that Hollywood demonstrates.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Mark's Remarks 121208-- 2009 and Preaching

Remarks for Friday, December 12, 2008

It's Friday, but Sunday's coming
I love this time of year. There are a lot of parties and activities to attend, nevertheless, it is still a fun time. This Sunday our church will have its annual Christmas party, where we really try to reach out to people and share food, share fellowship, share gifts, share fun, and most importantly of all, share Jesus.

2009--How It Affects My Preaching
Anybody out there heard word of a coming economic disaster? I have too, over and over again. Preaching to this climate, I'm aware of two traps to avoid. One is to downplay the seriousness of the situation. The other trap is to participate in the creation of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Navigating the middle is a challenge.
There is one positive I see for 2009. I believe for this congregation, 2009 will be a tremendous opportunity for evangelism, especially for the middle class and upper class people. The reason is simple. Those in the lower economic classes always face economic issues, and I feel that we at Shiloh are doing a good job of reaching out to these folks. However, we have found it a real challenge to reach those who are enjoying their prosperity, and I do not believe this is unusual. If a husband and wife have good jobs, a decent marriage, 2.2 kids, and a good Ford Taurus, they usually do not feel there is much else they need. It is only in crisis that they'll awake to the possibility that something is missing in their lives.
As for those in our church, who will be losing their jobs, I anticipate aching for them. Yet, I have typically found that those who experience pain get through their crisis better if they feel there is some meaning to their pain. If I can help members who lose their jobs or experience hardship and economic crisis believe that these events will give them previously unknown opportunities to reach out to others who are in similar situations, I can be helpful to their lives.
My elders have already asked me to preach a series on stewardship in January. I will honor that request and use that forum this opportunity to sow seeds. In February, I plan to begin a series on the book of Philippians. In Philippians, Paul is obviously suffering. He is imprisoned, and evidently there are preachers who are slandering him. Still, he finds great joy in the fact that the gospel is being proclaimed through his hardship. In chapter 2, he explains his source for inspiration. Jesus is the epitome of one who considers the needs of others over his own needs. Ultimately, Paul, armed with this attitude, will be able to experience great joy and contentment. Using this book as a template, I hope I can be an effective instrument of God to allow His Word to instruct our people how to cultivate the mind of Christ. In doing so, I hope to be able to inspire our folks to feel great joy and contentment no matter what the circumstances and to be willingly disposed to be instruments for God. 2009 may be our greatest year yet in the kingdom.

Choosing Life--Tim Tebow and Family
Last night my wife and I caught a portion of the College Football Awards on ESPN. Tim Tebow, quarterback of the University of Florida, won an award presented by the Disney Company for his humanitarian efforts. What is significant about this is that Tim Tebow was last year's Heisman Trophy winner and this year's Maxwell trophy winner. And perhaps tomorrow night he will win the Heisman Trophy for the second time. Clearly a number of people consider him to be either the best player in college football or one of the best. Yet, here he was winning an award for his good works. ESPN did a story on Tebow traveling to the Philippines on spring break to minister to orphans. Tebow's parents are missionaries in Asia. Tebow's faith in Jesus came through. And the media treated this with great respect.
After the story was run, ESPN correspondent Lee Corso asked Tim Tebow's mother when she knew that she had a special son. She said that she thought back to her fourth month of pregnancy when doctors told her to abort her child to save her life. She and her husband rejected their advice. In doing so, she chose to believe that if their child lived, God would have a special plan for his life. What a testimony to life over abortion!
When Corso completed his interview, he said to Tebow's parents, "I think our country's future is in wonderful hands because of men like Tim Tebow. I congratulate you both on raising such a wonderful human being."
I've got to admit, I want Colt McCoy to win the Heisman Trophy. He, too, is a wonderful human being and outstanding Christian example. But, if Tim Tebow wins, I won't be quite so cranky.

Friday, December 5, 2008

It's Friday, but Sunday's coming

Mark's Remarks for Friday, December 5, 2008

It's Friday, but Sunday's coming

This is the start of what I hope is a conversation. I am going to throw out my ideas, passions, and opinions on things that I find interesting. I welcome your feedback. As a matter of fact, your feedback could very well help me formulate a new understanding, that happened earlier this year with the subject of science and creation. A conversation was begun with someone who disagreed with me and, in time, I came to agree with this individual. Now, onward to a thought.

Barak Obama's Election

Basically one month has passed since our presidential election. That has given me a few weeks to process something that I told my congregation the first Sunday after the election. Nothing has occurred since then that has changed my mind.
On election night, I heard a lot of commentators interpreting what happened. I listened to their interviews with the people of this country, and I watched the pictures they broadcasted of people all over the world watching the election results.
Many Christians had been praying about this election. We had been praying that God would work and that God's will would be done. I believe that we must assume that our prayers were answered. And as part of God's answer, we witnessed an intersection between our culture and the church.
One of the things that I noticed on election night was this: in many of these larger cities, particularly outside the Bible Belt, I saw the faces of many of the people who had voted for Barak Obama. Did you catch how many of them were black and white and different colors, how many of them looked up at the huge screens set up in places like Broadway in New York City, or those who were at the rally in Chicago. I was looking at these faces and they showed awe and wonder and almost a messianic zeal.
One of the things that I am seeing in these cities in the younger generations, and on many of the college campuses, is this, a deep desire for racial reconciliation--a loving society of many cultures. They hunger for it. And that's understandable considering that many come from families where they have been neglected, or did not feel loved. They want to transcend that abyss. That abyss of neglect does cut across racial and economic lines. Some of these neglected kids have grown up in rich families, some of them in poor families. Many are from African-American families, but there are also a significant number from Hispanic and Anglo families as well. They cannot control their past, but they can have an impact on the future. What greater goal or ideal to have than racial reconciliation?
Here is where I think we, in the church, can help. ? A desire to see races reconcile and have relationships with each other is a desire that God has. Politics and government can be a great instrument of God to achieve racial reconciliation and to improve the relationships of people. But it is not the primary instrument that God has chosen, nor is it the United Nations, nor was it the League of Nations. Any expectation that earthly entities of peace will achieve this purpose is doomed to failure.
There was a time in history when people came together and unified themselves outside of relating to God. They built a tower, God saw the destructive nature of what would happen with their unity, and he gave them different languages and divided them. He knew the destruction that could come from a unified man outside of God.
Yet there is one area of hope where God has chosen to work to unify people. Paul writes about this group in Ephesians 2. It is the Church. The Church holds up the cross of Christ and calls for people to come together at the cross. God tears down the walls of racial separation and cultural separation and brings about unity through Christ. You can hold up Christ above a culture and Christ will not let the people down. People will become disillusioned with us, but people will never become disillusioned with the real Jesus.
Now, some of our members here have told me, "I don't hear many college students and young people talk about racial reconciliation in Tyler." And they are right. But I think "that" day is coming. And if we, as a church, can lead the way, we'll be ahead of the wave, and this will give us great opportunity to reach many people for Jesus.
This spring our church is going to enter into a study in First Corinthians in the sermon time, as well as, in our Bible classes. We will emphasize unity based upon Christ, his love, and his cross. And in the fall of 2009, I'm thinking we are going to hold up Christ as the hope for true relationship to reconciliation.
President -- elect Obama has many wonderful qualities. But I have been around politics and government long enough to know that if you hold up human beings to an idealized state, your illusion will ultimately become "dissed", and nothing is harder to deal with than disillusionment. For those who idealize President -- elect Obama, I stand ready to present to them Jesus.