Friday, January 30, 2009

Remarks for Friday, January 30, 2009

It's Friday, but Sunday's Coming

This Sunday I am talking with my congregation about what God desires for us to do with the riches in which He blesses us. I happened to pull out a sermon tape that an old friend of mine named Rick Atchley preached ten or fifteen years ago. It was from a sermon series on grace. In that sermon, Rick happened to mention that the word grace appears more in Second Corinthians 8 and 9 then any other two chapter section in the Bible. Now this is the Greek word that he is talking about, so I pulled out my Concordance to the Greek Testament and I looked it up for myself. You know what? With regard to the New Testament, I think he is right.

In these two chapters Paul is talking about offering money. It is striking how the backdrop, the spiritual current, that is driving the giving that Paul is calling for here is the grace of God and its motivation to us. Even though we are in difficult economic times, for the past few months I cannot get out of my mind how much I and so many others are richly blessed. Since most American families earn more than 96% of the people in the world, how does God want us to use these riches? Guys like Jim Hackney and Andy Stanley have been asking questions like this. I want to ask them too.

What follows are some thoughts that I have been processing with respect to my own life. I think it describes in some ways the human experience.

Money and Balance

God blesses us with money. With that money we can purchase items that make us feel good. Believe it or not, there is a realm of balance where this is pleasing to God. For example, I would feel bad to live in a ramshackle shelter and experience a night like the other night. The temperature was in the 20s, and it was raining a cold rain. I would not feel good living in a house that would expose me to those elements. To spend money on shelter that keeps me warm and protected from the outside elements makes me feel good. And God does not call me to abandon that.

To buy clothes that keep me warm, makes me feel good. That is a perfectly appropriate use of my money.

I suffer from allergies. When I do not try to medicate this condition, I feel bad. My nose runs. I get sinus infections. I feel miserable. To use my money to purchase medicine, makes my allergies feel better and makes me feel good. That is perfectly within the will of God.

To use my money to provide shelter, clothing, and healthcare, are examples of appropriate use of money. And let's be honest, if I provide all these things for me and my family, they will contribute to our having good feelings.

The problem comes in from the extremes. There are poles on either side of this healthy balance. It is unhealthy, spiritually, to say my family should not have proper shelter and should suffer in the elements. It is unhealthy to say my family should not be clothed properly. It is unhealthy to say that I should not provide my family healthy food to eat. It is unhealthy to say I should not use my money to provide my family proper health care.

Even in the time of the New Testament, there were men and women known as ascetics. They lived near this pole. They thought it was God's will for them to use money in these ways, so they chose to suffer by denying themselves the basic needs of life. I think Paul was addressing people like this in Colossians 2: 16-23.

On the other hand, at the opposite pole, we find the people who say fulfilling the basic needs of life is not enough. They wish to use their money to purchase more. But understand, deep down, they are not seeking to buy more items, they are seeking to purchase more good feelings. For example: buying a new vase for the house. A vase is an inanimate object. I cannot emit signals of any kind. It cannot project emotions. Yet, one who purchases a vase is purchasing a symbol. That vase represents a currency that he or she thinks will supply good feelings. Granted, the process is intuitive. Yet, on a subconscious level, a person buys things to feel good.

Purchases become currency. People can mistakenly believe their riches, the income which is above the amount they need to live on, can be used to purchase the good feelings they perceive to be lacking in their lives.

This view is unhealthy. It can spiral into a vicious cycle downward. A person makes enough to have his needs met, yet he wants more. Therefore, he uses his extra income to purchase items he perceives will give him good feelings. Ultimately, he finds these items unfulfilling, so he buys more, and becomes like a drug addict that needs just one more fix to be satisfied. This desire for more becomes an addiction.

God does not bless people with more money than they need to live on so they can use it to pimp good feelings. God has a higher expectation. God desires to see people use their riches to bless others like he has blessed them.

God yearns for people to understand the deepest need they have cannot be met through income. It can only be met through the gracious provision of God through his son, Jesus Christ. There is no way we can ever return the favor, literally return the grace. Therefore, we seek to be sources of grace for others. The byproduct of this lifestyle is often feelings of contentment and pleasure, when we seek to honor God with a life of service and giving to others including the use of our income to bless others.

This is a healthy way of living higher lives. It's sort of like the movie PAY IT FORWARD. In that movie, a child developed a project in school that culminated in a cause: when someone does you a big favor, don't pay it back... Pay It Forward. That is exactly the way we look at God. There is no way we can pay God back. What we do is pay it forward to someone else.

The world has passed me by!

I talked with my old college roommate, and Argentina teammate, Tim Archer, this morning. He's now a biggie with Herald of Truth. He told me about all of our college friends who are on Facebook. He told me about how they swap information and stay in contact.

He told me about all of these underground blog communities that are going on. He also told me how people from various parts of the country or even the world, people who have never met, who have posted blogs, communicate with each other.

It is now official -- I am ignorant! Moreover, not only have I been blissfully unaware of these activities, I don't even own a cell phone. I feel like the Joe Paterno of preachers. I still don't want to own a cell phone. However, I will put to rest of that stuff to deep prayer.

Favorite book on CD of the week

I love listening to Books on Tapes or Books on CDs. Yesterday I drove to Dallas and back and had a chance to listen to part of the book The Know-It-All; One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World. It is a written by A. J. Jacobs who has authored articles for several magazines and was a writer for Entertainment Magazine for several years. The gist of the book is about how Jacobs made a decision a few years ago to read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica, and the book is hilarious. Jacobs has a tremendous wit at and I found myself sometimes laughing out loud in the car. I would heartily recommend the book. However, in the interest of full disclosure, I would encourage you to not listen to the book in the company of others. The Encyclopedia Britannica is like the Bible-- it deals with all subjects regarding the human race. And just like you would best not hear portions of the Bible read aloud in the presence of others (see the Song of Solomon); likewise, there are subjects in the Encyclopedia Britannica that are best heard alone.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Mark's Remarks for Friday, January, 23, 2009

It's Friday, but Sunday's Coming

Have you ever tried to see how long you can hold your breath? You shut your mouth, you quit breathing, you hold on for a long time, and then, when it seems that you are about to burst at the seams, you expel the air in your lungs and you gasp for more. Then you take a deep breath and try it again. This time, you see how much longer you can hold it.

I've been struck this week at how trying to live a life like God, is like holding your breath. God is a giver. I am by nature a taker. And it seems like when I try to focus on God, and really offer myself for the sake of others just like he does, I can do it for a while, and then my fallenness takes over and it feels like I'm about to burst at the seams. I then do something selfish and self-centered. I release the spiritual air and inhale the selfish, but the only thing to do is try again. This time, I see if I can be like God just a little bit longer than I was last time.

It is fun and even heartening to look at God's provision for us. It is just so hard to imitate him.
The Inauguration

I love politics and history. I have to be careful, in such a politically charged age, to not play favorites. Still, I enjoyed observing what is going on in our government. I join former President Bush in appreciating the fact that we have elected a black man to serve in our nation's highest office. I hope this will spur more people on to reach their potential, as well as serve as a tool of God to improve relationships between races and cultures.

Having said this, I could not help but be amused at the gaffe that occurred when Chief Justice Roberts administered the presidential oath. Here you have two of the smartest people on the planet, and both of them fumble on this occasion that symbolically is so important.

I have been fortunate enough to have learned many things through the years performing weddings. Should I ever be called to administer the presidential oath, here are two things I will do:

1. Write out everything. I am normally not a manuscript guy, but I write out all wedding vows, phrases of instruction, and even the names of the bride and groom. Memory is a disloyal follower, and he threatens to abandon you at any time. Not only have I heard preachers stumbling over wedding vows, I have even heard of them forgetting the names of the bride and groom, even when they were good friends.

2. Shorten the phrases of the vows. Typically, it is good to pause every few words and let the other person repeat. For example, "I, Tom, [pause], take you, Teresa, [pause]…"
I noticed that the chief justice and the new president did a do-over on Wednesday night. That, in itself, is fascinating considering that constitutionally, President Obama became president at noon on Tuesday, regardless of whether or not he took the oath. Still, in a litigious society, not to mention a society that places a great deal of importance upon symbols, it is notable that they felt compelled to perform the ceremony again.

After all has been said and done, I love the human factor here. Even the best and the brightest make mistakes on important occasions. It's okay. The American flag still flies, and civilization survives.

The Most Dangerous Place in America

What is the location of the most dangerous place in America? Is it the inner city? That's a good guess. A lot of people die there. But that is not the most dangerous place.
Is it a drug infested neighborhood? Certainly danger runs amok there, but that is not the most dangerous place.

Upon initial investigation, you would not think that the most dangerous place in America would be a beautiful place. You would think that because it promises warmth, shelter, and food it would be a safe place to dwell. But that is where you would be wrong. Out of every five that enter into the most dangerous place in America, only four leave alive.

Think about that. What if an airline crashed and killed all its passengers, one out of every five flights? What if one of the big three automakers manufactured a car that crashed and killed one out of every five passengers? Don't you think the media would be letting us know about these odds? Don't you think Congress would have hearings investigating these deaths?

In 2005, 4,958,500 children entered into the most dangerous place in America. 820,151 did not make it out alive. The most dangerous place in America--is the womb of a woman.*

* In 2005 (the most recent figures available), the Center for Disease Control and Prevention recorded 4,138,349 births (Source: Center for Disease Control and Prevention-- and 820,151 legal abortions (Source: Center for Disease Control and Prevention-

Friday, January 16, 2009

Remarks for Friday, January 16, 2008

It's Friday, but Sunday's Coming
I'm starting a new series this Sunday morning on stewardship. I have no idea where this image came from, but I thought about bungee jumping. When I see the children of Israel walking around in the wilderness and receiving word from God through Moses calling for a special offering for the tabernacle, I cannot help but think about the emotions that I would feel were I in their place. Hopefully, I would have some plunder from the Egyptians like many other Hebrews had. So here I am with this block of gold, or silver, and I've been thinking that I could use it for seed money to begin a new business or start up a new farm in this risky Promise Land that we will be entering. Now I find out that God could definitely use it. Argh! I have no doubt that God would be honored by the offering, yet that seed money would sure come in handy.
In Scripture, taking a leap of faith is often like bungee jumping. You'll see people diving headfirst and initially, the action is exhilarating. Then the people start seeing the pavement rushed quickly toward their faces. And right when their faces are going to hit the pavement, God picks them back up and rescues them from certain disaster. The experience is incredible, yet God's people have to think about it before investing in the adventure again.
I believe it is still like this today. God calls us to take leaps of faith with our time, our resources, and our talents and gifts. That is why I'm calling this series, "Spiritual Bungee Jumping."

A Profound thought from Another Source
In what seems like a weekly event, I want to draw attention to something I read this week in Donald Miller's Searching for God Knows What. Miller writes that were an alien to visit our planet, he would report back to his planet and tell the authorities, the thing that defines human beings is, they are constantly comparing themselves to one another. This drives then to become obsessed with the kind of clothes other people wear, and the kind of cars other people drive, the kind of ways other people speak, the kind of neighborhood other people live in.
The more we remove God from our lives, the more we allow other people's view of these things to determine our view. Our lifestyle, attitudes, and behavior are basically determined by a jury of our peers.
Miller says that without a doubt, we are people who are wired so that someone outside of us tells us who we are. The challenge is accepting by faith that this someone best be God. And the way he tells us primarily is through his Word.

Popular Science
Francis S. Collins wrote a book a couple of months ago called The Language of God. You may remember Collins as the head of the Human Genome Project. This book is Collin's apologetic where he seeks to harmonize faith in God and science. Collins talks about his conversion to Christianity and his walk with God. However, what interested me was the fact Collins believes God created the world through a process of evolution. Careful. Collins is not a proponent of a godless universe, but he does believe strongly in evolution as used by God and explains his reasons. I do not believe in making one's interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2 a test for fellowship. I know there are plenty of people who are Christians who believe God created the world through an evolutionary process. Collins' book helps me understand how they think.
As for me, I am somewhat in the middle. Not being a scientist, I am not forced to align myself with a scientific theory. As a student of Scripture, I definitely believe that the Bible is open for interpretation, especially regarding this subject. For those who consider East Texas to be the backwoods of education, you might be surprised to know that I was raised in an environment and a church that was open-minded when it comes to the creation of the world.
Instinctively, the members did not want to box themselves into either extreme. On the one hand, I remember a Sunday school teacher quoting to us from Second Peter 3:8, "But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day." She said who knew how long God took to create the world or what process he used to do so.
On the other hand, I remember a different teacher in Bible class questioning how much we can know about the formation of the world based upon simple observation, especially when all parties agreed that we were many years removed from the process. I think Copernicus affirmed this a few hundred years ago, when he noted that all previous observations of the world were incorrect-- the Earth revolved around the sun rather than the sun revolved around the Earth. The teacher's point was science is an evolving process (no pun intended.) Who knows what the scientists of tomorrow will discover?
So, today, I find myself being careful about marrying a position. Science is not God; science can be wrong. Medical science killed more presidents than assassins. (Examples include the case of the doctors, who bled Washington to death after he caught a cold. Garfield was killed by well-intentioned doctors, who thought they had to remove a bullet from his body. In attempting to capture the projectile, they gave Garfield an infection that killed him.)
Religion can also be wrong. Who can forget that Galileo was condemned by the Church for his discoveries?
We have become comfortable in the church with sophisticated biblical interpretation. No one in Christianity accuses a meteorologist of being atheist because he describes the arrival of snow via a storm system. Even those of us in Christianity who believe that God sends snow do not believe he did so by reaching into his storehouse and sprinkling it on the world (Job 38:22). We know that Job expressed truth about God in chapter 38 using poetry. All of us are comfortable with the unromantic realities of meteorological science.
What Collins is doing is something I would like to see more people attempted to do: find the intersection between science and religion. If we can achieve this, not only will our minds benefit, but our souls will as well.

Movie Review
I had a chance to see the movie Flywheel during the Christmas holidays. It's made by the same people in the Baptist Church in Georgia who made Facing the Giants. I actually liked Flywheel better. It was made for $20,000, so the quality of the production is not high. Still, I think the story is much more realistic than Facing the Giants.
In Flywheel, you have a used car salesman who is not living a life of integrity. What is worse, he's portraying himself as a faithful Christian. But his coworkers and family can see the disparity in his life. Many people are hurt by this supposedly Christian businessman.
An old Triumph that needs a new flywheel serves as the metaphor in the movie. A wise mechanic tells the car-lot owner that people are like cars. They need flywheels that are stable and function well. Of course, what the mechanic means is that everyone needs to have Jesus at the center of his or her life.
Ultimately, the used car salesman rededicates his life to Jesus. God rescues him in many ways, including allowing him to face consequences for his actions. The movie does not end with the main character becoming a millionaire, but his life is definitely better, a product of his "flywheel."
I am showing this movie on Wednesday nights in my Bible class on Proverbs. I show it in 10 to 15 minute increments to allow us to have time for Bible study and then illustration through the movie. I think the filmmakers have done a good job illustrating the themes of Proverbs. I would highly recommend this movie.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Remarks for Friday, January 9, 2009

Remarks for Friday, January 9, 2009

It's Friday, but Sunday's coming

This Saturday morning our church is having a seminar on how to minister to children with special needs. I am proud of our elders for being willing to host this event. In our limited ministry to children with autism, mental retardation, and other special needs, I am aware of how much we need to learn as a church. I'm also mindful of the number of parents Tyler must hold who do not meet with God's people because they fill limited by a child with special needs. Who knows the good that we can accomplish, were we to become more equipped in this area.
For my part in our Sunday morning service, I plan to withdraw from the story of Elijah and the widow and I Kings 17. God, for sure, uses Elijah to go unto her and to minister to her and her son. However, the widow also ministers to Elijah by sharing with him what God gives her. I believe that it is the same way when we seek to serve children with special needs. Surely God can use us to bless them. Yet, I am very aware of how often they in turn bless us.
A Profound thought from Another Source
I read something interesting again this week from Donald Miller's book Searching for God Knows What. He was discussing the story of God creating Adam and Eve, and he pointed out that, more than likely, God created a number of years after Eve. According to Miller, there are between 10 million and 100 million different species of animals in the world. Now, we don't know for sure how many were available in the garden. But even if you severely reduced the amount of species, they're still had to be a whole bunch--perhaps in the thousands or even millions. Adam named all of them. This was a very lonely task, which probably took him years and maybe even decades.
Here is the point. God did not see Adam's loneliness and immediately seek to assuage it. Rather, even in paradise, God allowed Adam to experience the discipline of being without another close relationship with someone compatible with him--the discipline of loneliness.
This has tremendous ramifications. It knocks a hole in the mentality of God wants me to be happy all the time. It also makes me appreciate the discipline of being alone. In Adam's case, God was using a long time to prepare Adam for the beauty of the relationship that he would experience with Eve. I am sure God still uses times of aloneness today.
I must confess to you that I rarely think about my wife, Judy, dying before I die. The reason is simple. I want to block out that possibility from my mind. The thought has always brought me great fear. I cannot even imagine the pain and loneliness I would feel were Judy to die before me. I have often joked with her, with a serious message underneath, that I want to die first. However, in light of this interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2, I hope I can cultivate a trust in God that would allow me to accept the discipline of aloneness were I called to experience that on down that road.

PBS and Napoleon
I've been showing our girls the PBS special on Napoleon that I recorded a few years ago. It is good history and David McCullough does a masterful job narrating. Naturally, I was concerned about how I could encourage my girls to watch this program. All I had to do was show them the first five minutes and they were hooked. In this sequence, there is a stirring music as McCullough teases the listeners with tidbits of information concerning Napoleon's coronation. After that, and the girls were sold.
I do have a question though. I have been looking on the Internet, especially You Tube, for the source of this beautiful music. It sounds like an operatic choir singing a crescendo in the course along the lines of "Viva! Viva!" followed by Italian or Latin phrases. If anybody knows the title of this piece, I would appreciate you e-mailing it to me.

Florida versus Oklahoma
Yes I saw the game last night. I thought it was one of the best championship games of all time. I was pulling for Oklahoma to win because I thought it would make Texas look better, but that is the way things go. Tim Tebow was amazing as usual. I must confess though, while I truly admire Tebow for his Christian character, I don't have a great deal of affection for him. I respect him and I hold him up as an example, but he is not one of my favorite players. Maybe it's because I see him as a threat to Colt McCoy.
Incidentally, I love the game that Texas played Monday night against Ohio State. I believe that McCoy was every bit as phenomenal as Tebow was. I also hope that this will motivate McCoy and the rest of the Longhorns next football season.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Remarks for Friday, January 2, 2003

It's Friday, but Sunday's Coming
I spent last Sunday with my wife's family in Cleburne. I really enjoyed myself worshiping at the Westhill congregation. I find myself rejuvenated when I take a Sunday off. That is good, because now January is shaping up as a busy month for my preaching. This Sunday I will preach what I call my "Here I Raise my Ebenezer" sermon. In case you are not familiar with the story, in I Samuel chapter seven, the writer tells about the Lord coming to the Israelites aid and defeating the army of the Philistines. To commemorate the occasion, Samuel set up a stone to remind the Israelites of when God helped him. Ebenezer means, "stone of help."
Metaphorically, this Sunday we will raise up a stone commemorating how far we have come in 2008 with God's help. I always try to make this a positive sermon and give people encouragement, while finishing up with a challenge for all of us to serve the Lord faithfully in the coming year.

A Profound thought from Another Source
Students in my class at ETCA, as well as members of my church, are familiar with me referencing the name of Donald Miller. He is the one who wrote Blue Like Jazz, which has been so popular with the younger set. Another book that he wrote was called Searching for God Knows What. This is a book on spirituality, and in it, Miller really speaks to me.
One of the things that Miller points out is how we are constantly tempted to reject God or leave him out of our lives. In doing so, we find something is missing and so we seek something else to make us feel special or important or valued.
One example that Miller gives is his realization that he was not cut out for basketball or soccer or tennis, he learned how to play the guitar. But then he became very bored because he realized that what he really wanted was not to play the guitar, but to be a rock star.
To compensate for our lack of relationship with God, we often seek to achieve in some way that causes our peers, or those who we consider to be important, to give us their endorsement. When God leads our picture, we grasp to find meaning in our lives.
Miller's thoughts really resonated with me. I think about how much better my life would be were I to allow God to be the premier fulfiller of my relational needs. And, what if his opinion about my life was the one that I most valued? I think I would have much more self-confidence, much more humility, much less selfish ambition, and much more peace.

A Science Kick
After I finished my doctorate last May, I began to assess what to do next. One of the things I had become aware of was my lack of knowledge in science. Between my boredom with science in high school and college, and then later on, my specialization in biblical text in theology, I became aware of how I needed to have a much better grounding in science. Consequently, over the past few months, I purchased a number of books concerning this subject. Most of them were written on the popular level, because that's what I need in order to understand what the author is saying. I'm telling you, I am way behind.
Fortunately, I have read some books that have really communicated to me. Recently, I began reading Einstein by Walter Isaacson. I've only read about a hundred pages or so, but so far it has been a very good read. What I have been doing is listening to the book read aloud on CD, and then going along and highlighting the written text later. This has been good form. While Isaacson writes in a very understandable way, I find the concepts of physics so complicated that even when they are explained in a simple way, I need to spend time processing the information.
I'll keep you posted.

The Dallas Cowboys
What can I say? This reminds me of the late 1960s when the Cowboys would constantly lose to Cleveland in the playoffs. All of this talent and nothing to show for it. I personally think the greatest problem will only be changed by death. Jerry Jones is a great owner with one exception -- he needs to fire his general manager and he refuses to do so. Until Jerry Jones, the owner, fires Jerry Jones, the general manager, Cowboy fans will always be frustrated.
Now, I am holding out hope that Texas Tech and UT will win their ballgames. Who knows? Maybe the Big 12 can have three teams in the top five, and perhaps, even Oklahoma could win the BCS national championship, while Texas wins the AP national championship. It never hurts to dream!