Friday, February 27, 2009

Remarks for Friday, February 27, 2009

It's Friday, But Sunday's Coming

I'm arriving toward the end of Searching For God Knows What. This week Donald Miller told me in his book there is a reason Job was one of the earlier books of the Old Testament. God wanted to communicate to the world that life is hard, and life brings pain. However, the cure for the pain of life is not found in an explanation. Instead, God's solution to pain is Himself.

I like that interpretation. God's priority is not to offer us a formula for pain, an understanding of pain, nor a philosophy of pain. What greater gift can he offer other than Himself? As Miller writes, "God presents life, as it is, without escape, with only Himself to cling to."

I have found this to be true for myself and for many people. My temptation as a preacher is to explain the reason for painful experience.

Just last Wednesday night, at our church fellowship meal, I had a man stop me and reference something I had preached on Sunday morning. It concerned the fact that in Philippians one, the apostle Paul felt pleased God could use his pain for the kingdom. This man in our church, a beloved individual, was asking in effect -- are you telling me that we should look at our pain as something positive?

I answered his question the best I could, but this reminded me, yet again, of my temptation to feel responsible for explaining God's actions so that someone will not be mad at Him. God could very well be content with an individual's anger, because in his wisdom, he understands that anger will lead to a close relationship with God. On the other hand, my answers may not lead an individual to a close relationship with God. It is hard to develop a close, personal relationship with information.

While I certainly want to convey information, my prayer is that I can help facilitate a close relationship between God and those of us in the Shiloh family.

How would you like to be married to this guy?!
I'm starting to wonder if I suffer from OCD.

My poor wife. Talking about the patience of Job.

Last August, my brother-in-law, David Denman, graciously loaned me his combination DVD/VCR. It's the kind you can transfer your videotapes to DVDs. Well, I have an immense videotape collection. My dad bought our first video player and camera back in 1980. He taped quite a few ballgames and TV shows and movies. He also filmed a number of videos of our family.

I took over these tasks after he died in 1983. I took 30 years of my dad's 16mm home movies and transferred them to videotapes. Through the years, I'm sure I've recorded plenty of things that would be of no interest to anyone else. But, I've also recorded some historical things as well. Moreover, I have had the good fortune to record some of the most famous sports events in the ESPN age. So, after almost 30 years of this, I have a collection of videotapes that number in the hundreds.

Each videotape is numbered. All of these are cataloged on my computer.

Now, as you might know, all companies have ceased manufacturing VCRs. Thanks to David, I have a chance to salvage all the years of memories and history.

Since August, I have taken advantage of every spare moment to transfer the material on these videotapes to DVDs. When all is well, I can get about four hours of videotape material to a DVD. Recording occurs in real time. That means that, unlike downloading a song from iTunes, every second on a VCR tape takes one second to transfer to a DVD. This project has been time-consuming. Did I mention that I have hundreds of videotapes?

Enter my brilliant solution. What do you do when you have thousands of hours of video to transfer to DVD? Make time your friend. That leads me to night time, more specifically, the hours when Mark and Judy Edge are asleep.

Somewhere along the way I had a brainstorm. Why not begin transferring the material from a videotape to a DVD the moment before I go to bed? While I lie in restful slumber, the DVD and VCR can be doing the work for me. And when I awake, I've got a DVD, are you ready, with fresh material on it. It would be as if I downloaded a song from iTunes in just a few seconds.

Putting my plan into practice proved more daunting than I had originally conceived. When the videotape would reach the end, you would hear a loud click. Normally, this would not prove distracting. However, at three or four in the morning, the sound can prove disconcerting. If that sound would not wake you up, the next one would. The tape would rewind, and very loudly. Have you ever stood near railroad tracks when a train begins rolling and picks up speed? You know how that clickety-clack gets faster and faster? At four in the morning, a video tape rewinding sounds like the clickety-clack of a train--on steroids. Finally, when the tape has completely rewound, there is another loud click. It is probably not unlike the clicking sound of a criminal entering our bedroom and firing a gun that does not have a bullet in his chamber.

Believe it or not, my lovely wife would wake up to these sounds. And since she is an early riser, she would sometimes have trouble going back to sleep.

Upon further review, I solved this problem. At least I thought I did. Here was my solution. Sometimes, I awake during the night and have to use the, how do I say this? Sometimes I awake during the night needing to use "the facilities." What I could do, would be this. I would start the recording process and then hop into bed. During the night, when I would have to get up and, "use the facilities," I would go to the VCR and press stop. This would cause all recording activity to cease. And, while I would not be able to record the entire four hours available, I would still be able to get something onto the DVD and thus redeem my sleep time.


Unfortunately, a new obstacle arose. Actually, I am quite proud of this. Although I am a man who has clearly entered middle age, I can now document it a fact that I do not have to get up out of bed every night and "use the facilities." The bad news concerning my discovery was there were some nights when Judy would have her dreams interrupted by the harsh sounds of fast-moving trains and criminals firing their guns without bullets.

This is going to take some negotiation. The good news is this is not as bad as what I did during our second year of marriage. To get more things done, I decided to imitate Leonardo da Vinci. Da Vinci was a genius who slept 15 minutes every four hours -- and that was it. Judy did not mind it so much during the day. However, it did bother her at night when she would hear my alarm go off every four hours.

That experiment lasted two weeks before I finally stopped. To be honest, Judy did not nag me, so it wasn't her fault. Instead, I found myself exhausted and falling asleep at all the wrong times. Have you ever studied the Bible with someone and fell asleep in the middle of the sentence--your own sentence?

(Years later, someone told me that there is a very famous episode of Seinfeld where Kramer does exactly the same thing. I am not a Seinfeld fan, but I have been looking for this episode. I truly understand what Kramer was going through.)

What's next for my nocturnal hours? I must confess, I have not found a better solution. Unless! Unless, I pick those nights when I know that Judy and I will only sleep for six hours, and the video tape would begin to rewind precisely the second that our alarm clocks are set to go off...

Is This the Future?
Before you judge me a reprobate for reading Rolling Stone, let me tell you about an article I read in it a couple weeks ago. The title was "When Man and Machine Merge." It concerns an interview with a man named Ray Kurzweil. According to Rolling Stone, Kurzweil "has established himself as one of the world's most prolific and influential inventors." Some of his inventions include creating the first program that enabled computers to read text -- which led to the scanning technology has blesses our world today. Because of his work in the field of artificial intelligence, Kurzweil is a member of the Inventors Hall of Fame and has received honors from three presidents of the United States, including the National Metal of Technology.

What makes good 'ol Ray interesting to me is this. According to this article, Kurzweil predicts that by 2045, computers will surpass human beings in intelligence. Can you say 2001: a Space Odyssey? But that's not all. He also says that the universe itself will become conscious. The corker though is this. Kurzweil believes we're making such progress with medical technology that, in his lifetime, we will be able to bring the dead back to life. This will not be done through traditional resurrection. Rather, it will be done through the work of nanobots who will extract DNA from the gravesite of the dead one. The nanobot will then take this DNA and match it with memories from a loved one's brain and--voila! You will have the dead brought back to life.

Keep in mind, this is not a chapter out of Tom Swift. This is someone that some people take very seriously. (I need to be fair here. Rolling Stone is merely reporting this information. Rolling Stone is not necessarily endorsing these ideas.)

Behind all of these schemes lies the desire for eternal life. Kurzweil takes 150 pills a day, hoping to someday achieve immortality. He is also transferring his entire videotape collection to DVDs.

Nah. I made that last one up, but he really does take 150 pills a day and he does so to help him achieve immortality.

Rather than condemning Ray Kurzweil, perhaps we should thank him. What he has done is position into the public marketplace of ideas the concept that many people yearn for--eternal life. He may not have a biblical answer, but he expresses a desire that scripture readily concedes is instilled within the heart of Man.

I cannot help but be impressed by the fact Kurzweil is willing to risk ridicule in order to pursue his faith. May I do the same.

Interesting Websites
A few weeks ago, our youth minister, Tim Henderson, showed me a blog, of which I have not heard. It is called "Indexed" and it is found at

The blogster is Jessica Hagy. My understanding is she arises in the morning, brews a cup of coffee, grabs an index card, and draws whatever inspires her. Typically she communicates her ideas with a diagram and a few words of orientation.

Evidently, her unique style has captured an audience. Amazon, among others, is selling a book of her creations called, appropriately enough, Indexed.

Hmm. Maybe I can start putting diagrams on napkins . . .

August Rush
My wife, two oldest daughters, and I saw the movie "August Rush" Saturday night. If you are looking for a movie to see this weekend, go to your local Redbox or Blockbuster and rent it. While it didn't change our lives, it was an engrossing story about music, children, parents, love, and reconciliation. Several well-known actors and actresses (such as Robin Williams) form an ensemble cast, who clearly emphasize the story rather than themselves. Start watching and you won't want to stop.

Have a great weekend!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Mark's Remarks for Friday, February 20, 2009

It's Friday, But Sunday's Coming

Pain. I hate it. I hate discomfort. I take allergy medicine daily, yet my allergies occasionally flare up. Nothing debilitating, simply uncomfortable. Still, if I'm not careful, I moan and groan and feel sorry for myself. And we're only talking about agitation, much less pain.

I fortunately have experienced very little pain compared to other people. What little I have experienced, though, I have noticed how much God has done with it in terms of spiritual formation. I wish I was conditioned to grow spiritually during prosperity. Regrettably, I typically grow the most during adversity or crisis. I have found many, if not most, people to be the same way.

If economic indicators and the media are to be believed, this year we are going to have a lot of people hurting. Because of this, I think more unchurched people will be open to the Gospel than have been in years. Unfortunately, many Christians will probably be sucked into the vortex of this economic tornado as well.

What if we could become proactive and prepare ourselves for the possibility of pain? And then, being prepared, what if we could build a bridge with our pain that connects us to the heart of our unchurched friends?

I recently completed reading the novel The Shack by William P. Young. If you are not familiar with the story, it is about a man who grew up abused. As an adult, he discovered his child was murdered by an abuser. What ensued was a spiritual journey that he experienced while confronting his pain.

The author's concluding chapter intrigues me as much as the story did.
Young tells how he drew upon his abused childhood in writing this story. The novel so connected with people, that literally enough copies could not be printed or published to keep up with the demand. Here was the case of a man taking his pain and allowing it to bless the lives of other people.

We have a couple in our church who, several years ago, experienced a miscarriage. The tragedy hurt them deeply. They had choices. They could have buried the pain and ignored it. They could have blamed God. What they chose to do was to draw from this experience to minister to other couples who suffer miscarriages.

To many of us, this seems strange. Paul looked upon his suffering in prison, and the slander that other preachers inflicted upon him while communicating the Gospel, with an attitude of great joy. To him the greater goal was preaching the good news.

What if we could truly reach that point? What if we could truly internalize the idea that any pain that we suffer can advance the Gospel? And what if we could reach the depth of spirituality where our attitude is: nothing gives us greater joy than to see the Gospel communicated to people?


A few weeks ago, I wrote on my blog that I had joined Facebook. This morning, a couple of people mentioned at a staff meeting that they had read an article saying that the younger people are now looking for an alternative to Facebook. I know what happened. Word got out that I had finally joined, and the universal agreement of the young was, "Great! There goes the neighborhood."

My cover is so many baby boomers are joining Facebook that it is driving out the younger people. But I don't know.

Like a Rolling Stone

I'm finally receiving my issues of Rolling Stone again. I have been reading the biweekly magazine for the past few months. I like to say it is my version of studying a scouting report on the people of the world.

There is a reason why is it significant that I'm getting my issues. That is because for several weeks, they ceased coming. I must admit that I got quite irritated. I called Rolling Stone and they said they had been sending them all and for me to check with the post office. I did just that.

First, I went to the post office on Broadway Street, which is near downtown Tyler. This is the branch that default delivers the mail to our church office, which is where I was having the magazine delivered. I arrived on a Tuesday afternoon about 4: 45. I waited in line for 15 minutes. Finally, I realized that I was not going to be able to pick up my daughter from basketball practice if I stayed any longer. So I left without talking to anyone.

The following day I arrived again expecting to receive some answers. Silly me! After waiting in line 15 or 20 minutes, they kindly informed me that I needed to go to an obscure site on the south part of town. I drove and arrived about 20 minutes later, following the directions that I had been given. It included passing the mall, driving past the stores of a shopping center, circling around those stores, and parking by a loading dock. After parking, I was to go to an unmarked door, which was locked, and ring a bell. For a moment, I thought I was participating in a movie about the Mafia.

Finally, a very nice man came out, who was indeed an employee of the post office. I explained to him my story and even showed him an issue of Rolling Stone. Another employee came out to investigate. Finally, they shared with me the dead honest truth.

It seems that the regular postman had become ill and was out for a while. Substitute workers were delivering our mail to the office. Evidently, these substitutes each made a moral judgment. When they looked at the copy of Rolling Stone, addressed to me, with the mailing address of our church building, they concluded that there is no way an employee of a church would subscribe to this magazine. So they kept the issues and return them to the post office.

I admit, this was news that I did not really want to hear, but I did appreciate their honesty. I laughed and told them, "Well, I'm glad it was not Playboy Magazine that I subscribed to. Else I would've never seen it!" They did not laugh. I think they wondered if I was being serious.

At any rate, most of the missing issues were sitting at that weigh station, while they're trying to figure out what to do with them. And now I have been receiving them again at our church office.

Let this be a lesson to you. Figuring out what the world is up to is pretty hard to do sometimes.

Interesting Videos on YouTube

My old college roommate and current blogger extraordinaire, Tim Archer, told me recently about a phenomenon on YouTube. It was a short video produced by a team from the Southern Hills Church of Christ in Abilene Texas. It's called "Stethoscope." It only last a couple minutes and I'm not going to recount it for you, when you could watch the whole thing in about the same time you can read my description.

What is fascinating to me is this video has been viewed almost three million times. While we can be virtually certain that this does not mean that three million people saw the video, neither do I think that it was two people watching the video 1.5 million times apiece. A lot of people all over the world have watched this work of art created for a spiritual purpose.

I'm struck, yet again, by the fact we have never had an opportunity to affect so many people in the world for so little cost. I hope more creative Christians will post their videos on YouTube. I would especially love to see a team of gifted people from our congregation do so.

Hats off to my old college church -- Southern Hills.

A Good Read

I had a chance to read Mark Buchanan's book The Rest Of God last week. I was reading it in preparation for a sermon that I was doing that included a passage on the Sabbath. I think you would like the book. McKinnon is not one of these guys that drives around with the bumper sticker on the back of his car that says "Jesus went to church on Saturday." He understands how difficult it is to live in the 21st century world and pondered the principle of the Sabbath. He views the Sabbath as not just an attitude, but also an orientation. I was under the impression the book was more conceptual, but it is instead very practical. Still, Buchanan uses many illustrations, and I think it would be a fast read for most people. A number of illustrations were done so well that I noted them in the back of my copy. The following paragraphs are my summary of one of these illustrations. It is about the grandmother of Mark Buchanan's wife:

Grandmother lived in a beautiful area in British Columbia in a small town called Enderby. A lot of people were known to have moved to the rivers and creeks around that town because of the rumor that gold was present. Grandma never bought into that rumor.

One day, she made a major decision concerning her backyard. There was a large boulder in her garden and it was too big to move. So she decided to polish the stone. Her logic was that since she could not get rid of it, she might as well make it beautiful. So she took sandpaper and began to polish that stone.

As she was sanding, she noticed a thin sifting of gold colored dust gathering on the stone. She pressed the tip of her finger into the dust. She pulled up her finger, and her heart began the race. It wasn't just dust, it was gold dust. She sanded the big rock harder. The more she sanded, the more gold that appeared. Now she was sanding the rock with everything she had. And the gold began to accumulate rapidly.

By now grandma had caught the disease. She understood why all those people had given up everything to come to Enderby and look for gold. She had the fever now -- gold fever. Grandma sat down to rest. She knew she was going to be rich.

While she was resting, she wiped her brow. Then she noticed something was wrong with her wedding ring. The top part was normal, but the underside, the part that nestled in the crease where her finger joined her palm, wasn't normal. The band was as thin as the end of a cheese slicer wire. It looked like a filament. Then she realized what had happened. She had nearly sanded her wedding ring off. All that gold she had seen inside that boulder were merely filings. It was the remnants of her precious wedding ring. She was reducing her treasure to dust. It was all fools gold.

If we are not careful, we do the same thing. Not with our wedding rings. But we can squander treasures in the pursuit of dust. It is so easy to pass up the treasure, in order to pursue the dust. The dust is called "hurry." Hurry is the great enemy of the Sabbath.

Friendship with God can be lost in a hurry.

Fair and Balanced

You have read previously that I have enjoyed reading the book Searching for God Knows What. Can I share with you something that I have read from that book with which I disagree? In his chapter on morality, Donald Miller tries to make the point that most Christians who are conservative, overemphasize abortion and underemphasize other equally important issues such as social justice, and helping the poor.

I respectfully disagree. In conservative Christianity, and I'm using the term broadly, I see a tremendous emphasis on serving the poor and oppressed. Rick Warren has become famous now for his and his wife's call to minister to the poor of Africa, especially to those who are suffering from AIDS. Other Christian groups such as Samaritans' Purse have become well known for their ministry to the poor. I personally know a number of Christians who have traveled to New Orleans to minister to people there, who had been victimized by hurricane Katrina.

And when it comes to social justice, Chuck Colson has been recognized by Queen Elizabeth herself for his leadership with Prison Fellowship in ministering to prisoners all over the world. It was Christians who were among the first to call the world's attention to the devastating civil war in Sudan. Christians have been very active in seeking to shut down the sexual slave trade in Asia.

All of this is good. I support all of this. However, as I have written before, what could be more tied to the cause of justice than the protection of life?

You know when you think about it, we human beings are part of a very exclusive club. What could be more discriminating than to tell a human life not to enter into our world?

Have you ever wanted to join a fraternity or sorority or a social club and not get voted in? How did that make you feel? Rejected? Angry? Left out?

For good reason, we are angered when we hear that someone is barred from joining a country club because of his or her ethnicity, gender, or culture. What does it say about us as people when we, who are alive and functioning outside of the womb, say to a human life, "No, you cannot enter into our world." No matter how small the child, if the clock has started running, she will be ultimately joining us in our world. She will be joining us--unless, the consequences of a fallen world strike her with disease or accident, or, unless we who have progressed past the womb vote no.

Do we need to be strategic? Yes. Do we need to be winsome? When at all possible, yes. Is the Christian community speaking out too much on abortion? That would be a goal hard to accomplish.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Remarks for Friday, February 13, 2009

Jury Duty

I was summoned to jury duty this week. It was only my third time. The first time occurred when I was living in Brownsville. I was sent home after a couple of hours because the case was settled before going to trial. The second time was last September hear in Tyler. I was sent home about 4:30 in the afternoon. They selected 12 jurors and I did not make the cut. This week, I made it.

The trial was for a case of aggravated robbery. I must admit that I have seen enough movies and television shows to have had a skewed view of real life in the courtroom.

First off, I had no idea that virtually everyone would have trouble staying awake. The only two that I did not catch sleeping were the lead prosecuting attorney and the defense attorney. I must confess that even I dozed off occasionally. Never have I drunk so much coffee, drunk so many Cokes, and consumed so much sugar in all my life in order to stay awake. I developed two or three pimples on my face for crying out loud. I felt like a teenager! Great. I've got the bald head of an old man and the pimply face of a teenager. I'm the anti-Hannah Montana -- I've got the worst of both worlds!

Mercifully, deliberations began yesterday (Thursday) afternoon at about 3:45. Shiloh's John Parker was elected the Presiding Officer by his fellow jurors, and he did a very good job. John brought good humor to the jury and I enjoyed serving with him.

It took us about an hour to convict the defendant. For a while, one juror could not vote guilty because some questions he had about a witness's identification. Although, he did not look like Henry Fonda, I must confess that I had an eerie feeling of, "I've seen this movie, and I know how it turns out." Fortunately, after some calm deliberation he agreed with the rest of us. We voted guilty and the judge will sentence the defendant in April.

After the trial, someone from the D. A.'s office told us that the defendant had been arrested for 41 robberies across the state. He's already gotten 40 years in Henderson County. Yes, just like John Wayne and Clint Eastwood, we have assured that justice is served!

"Take Me Home, Country Road"

Occasionally I will hear someone describe an experience that takes them back to their childhood. For me, it has been a hobby that I began two years ago.

On this date two years ago, I became aware of a website that was selling the original broadcasts of ballgames from the 50s, 60s, 70s, and later. Since then, I've come across another site that I exclusively go to because of the price and service. Now, I typically request for my birthday, Christmas, or Father's Day ballgames from my childhood. I enjoy watching them while I exercise. Also, my younger children enjoy lying down on the bed and watching these ballgames with me.

These games are the original network broadcasts, and many of them have the original commercials. I've got baseball games, college football games, NFL games, NBA games, NCAA basketball games, and NHL hockey games. I've got Monday Night Football Games with Faultless Frank, Humble Howard, and Dandy Don Meredith. I've got regular programming ranging from the CBS broadcast of the Apollo 11 spaceflight to the moon to the complete Tonight Show episode where Tiny Tim marries Miss Vicky. (That was one that I always heard about but my parents did not let me stay up late enough to watch!)

Some people can hear a song and it takes them back to a specific time of their youth. Some people can smell a smell and it reminds them of a specific individual from their past. When I lie down and watch these ballgames, I am taken back to those exact moments when I was watching them with my daddy as a boy.

Let me provide you with an example. I recently purchased in 1971 Major League Baseball All-Star game. Curt Gowdy and Tony Kubek were broadcasting the game for NBC. Joe Garagiola was selling cars for Chrysler. I was taken back to the den in our house on 200 Martha Drive in Winnsboro, Texas. I was sitting on the couch close to my dad, who was reclining in his easy chair. I could close my eyes and hear the sounds that were exactly the same as that evening back in July, 1971. Richard Nixon was president. The Cowboys were getting ready to go to Training Camp and try to win the Super Bowl (they had lost back in January to Baltimore.) I was transported in time. I was there.

My father's no longer with us. I appreciate how neat it is that my imagination can take me back to a time when he is, almost, there.

P. S. If you are interested in finding out what all is available, e-mail me and I'll be glad to send you the e-mail address to see a list of all of the games and programs. And no, don't worry, I am not being compensated for this endorsement!

The Misfits

Ever been to the circus? I've seen all sorts of circuses in my lifetime. Some were as incredible as the Barnum and Bailey Circus. Some were the proverbial small-town circuses, where you feel pity for the performers as you imagine the type of lives they lead.

It was those small-town circuses. I was thinking of when I read a chapter this week in Donald Miller's book Searching For God Knows What. Miller talks about a book he read describing circus life in America between World War I and World War II. As you might imagine, there were characters galore in the story: women with beards, and men who swallowed swords, a man with hands like crab pincers….

To make a living, they began to perform in small town and small city theaters. Crowds attended consisting of women and children who were either frightened or repelled by what they saw, while the men were delighted to prove how brave they were. Yet, a regional debate was sparked as some sought to end the shows. These critics felt their town or city were exploiting the deformed.

Meanwhile, the performers themselves wished to continue. They asked a good question, "Who wants to hire a bearded lady? Who wants to hire a man with crab pincers for hands?" The answer was, of course, no one.

As they traveled to the small towns and cities of this country, these misfits shaped a community. Interestingly enough, within this community formed a clear hierarchy. At the top was a man with three legs. His gift was concealing the third leg until the strategic moment that would bring the most astonishment or terror to the women and children. Once at a theater in New York, the three legged man approached the audience too closely. He accidentally touched a woman in the crowd. Her husband became unglued and, in a fit of chivalry, attacked the three legged man.

You might think this would have insulted the three legged man. Far from it. When the newspapers wrote an account of the event, the story stirred the public so much in whatever town the show performed, crowds lined up for a quarter-mile just to be able to get in.

The carnival's PR man knew an opportunity when he saw one. He sent a statement to every city on the itinerary recounting the attack of the three legged man. Because of this, the three legged man's salary was doubled. Here is where trouble set in.

The other full performers became very angry when they heard of their fellow entertainer's increase in pay. This rancor revealed a schism. A problem that had been hidden became thrust out into the open. The problem was this. The man with three legs trumped the woman with the beard. The woman with the beard clearly was of more value than the man with lobster claws. And the judge and jury who appraised their value was the crowd.

As you might imagine, most of the performers were unhappy. As the bearded lady put it, "Not everybody is lucky enough to get born with three legs. It's not like he did anything to deserve that kind of blessing."

Upon reading Miller's reflection on the story, I could not help but think of the absurdity of it all. What happens when you're a member of a group of misfits? What happens when the standard for success is contingent upon your "misfittedness?" That is to say, the more odd you are, the more approval you receive. What would happen if I were called to "perform" in a carnival of freaks? I suspect that the audience would be let down. I would be boring compared to the man with lobster claws for hands or the bearded lady. No wonder the bearded lady became envious of the three legged man--he had become a sort of rock star basking in the acclaim of the crowd.

When the abnormal becomes your world, when the abnormal becomes your community, if you are not careful, it is easy to seek the approval of the abnormal. Then, it is easy to become frustrated with God over being normal.

Allow me to put Miller's point into translation. The Fall has made all of us abnormal performers, and we are performing for the wrong audience. Each of us have been blessed in various ways. Some of us are physically attractive, some of us are blessed with financial resources, some of us are athletic, some of us are smart, and all of us are tempted to get the crowd to clap for us. We want the crowd's approval. As Miller says, "... there is nothing wrong with being beautiful or being athletic or being smart, but those are some of the pleasures of life, not life's redemption."

God wants to rescue us and restore our normality. Rather than allow him to do so, often we look to the crowd that is our culture for rescue. What makes things worse is our culture is becoming even more coarse. It rewards the freakish. So if you're a woman, who is attractive, the crowd is cheering for you to pull off more clothes and reveal more of yourself. It's hard to resist, because you find yourself in a community of misfits, who are already doing so.

If you are a guy, the crowd is cheering for you to pull away from any commitment of marriage or fatherhood. It's hard to resist, because you find yourself in a community of misfits, who are already doing so.

If you work and receive compensation, the crowd is cheering for you to spend more money than you make and to demonstrate this through possessions. It's hard to resist, because you find yourself in a community of misfits, who are already doing so.

Most of us hear just enough cheering to seduce us into a spiritual striptease, hoping it will gain us more applause. It's hard to resist, because we find ourselves in a community of misfits, who are already doing so.

In effect, Jesus says to us, "This carnival is leading you nowhere. Your view of life has become warped. In your falleness, you have come to believe that what is abnormal is normal. It's not normal. Let me rescue you from this. Allow me and those who surround me in heaven to be your audience. You no longer have to play to the crowd who calls for freaks."

Let me share with you a passage out of Galatians 5: 19-21 that Donald Miller shared with me. It is from THE MESSAGE, and when I read it in the context of Miller's chapter, I got goose bumps:

19People's desires make them give in to immoral ways, filthy thoughts, and shameful deeds. 20They worship idols, practice witchcraft, hate others, and are hard to get along with. People become jealous, angry, and selfish. They not only argue and cause trouble, but they are 21envious. They get drunk, carry on at wild parties, and do other evil things as well. I told you before, and I am telling you again: No one who does these things will share in the blessings of God's kingdom.

Miller concludes by asking that we consider how life would be were we to fully comprehend that God loves us. What if we understood truly that our glory comes from God? What if we recognized that people of this world are fallen and do not recognize what is truly beautiful or ugly, what is good or bad? And what if we no longer sought their applause, but rather God's?

Then, we could love our spouse and not expect him or her to rescue us. Then we could be slow to anger because we understand our rescue is not at stake. Then, we could be wise with our use of money because we would realize it cannot purchase us self-esteem or give good feelings. Then, we could love people without regard to their position in the community of misfits, because our empowerment comes from God and his love. Then, we could love people without regard for their response to us, because God's love is sufficient in and of itself.

If we could truly grasp this, what a beautiful world it would truly be.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Remarks for Friday, February 6, 2009

It's Friday, but Sunday's Coming

Normally, I'll write something here that has to do with my sermon on Sunday morning. However, for this post, I want to write something concerning Sunday night. Our church has small groups available on Sunday nights. Most meet in homes. I encourage folks to participate in these groups. However, we do have an assembly on Sunday evenings at 6 PM at our building. Here I offer a sermon that is more meaty, one more designed for the person who is looking to study scripture from an analytical and intellectual perspective. It would probably be fair to say this is more of a teaching sermon than a proclamation sermon.

Currently on Sunday nights, I am leading us in a study on the tabernacle from Exodus. This week I came across a reference in a commentary that inspired me greatly. It is from Exodus, Saved for God's Glory by Philip Graham Ryken. Ryken calls attention to Zechariah 3 where the prophet was shown the high priest Joshua standing before the angel of the Lord. It was not unusual for the high priest to stand before God; he did so once a year on the Day of Atonement.

In Zechariah's account, there was a problem. The high priest was supposed to wear the white tunic represented his righteousness, but Joshua was wearing filthy clothes. The word Zechariah uses for "filthy" cannot be properly translated in polite circles. It is the word for human excrement, and accurately translated it is not a nice one.

What an image! Zachariah offers us an illustration that depicts our sinfulness before God. We are tempted often to downplay it, but God would not allow Zachariah to do so. God desired for us, his people, to see and smell our sin.

Satan was standing at Joshua's right side, the text says, to accuse Joshua. According to Exodus 28, Joshua violated God's holiness by entering into his presence dressed as he was. This act merited death.

Even worse, Joshua represented the people, and they were covered with filth, too. Since Joshua was guilty, they were guilty. If Joshua was dead, then they were dead. In this vision, humanity was lost.

However, Zachariah records that the Lord rebuked Satan. The angel of the Lord ordered the attendants of God to remove the high priest's filthy clothes. Turning to Joshua, the angel said, "See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put rich garments on you." The attendants then clothed him.

Finally, Zechariah said, "Put a clean turban on his head." Zachariah did this for a purpose. He knew from Exodus 28:38, the words "Holy to the Lord" were written upon the turban. When a clean turban was put on the head of a high priest, it signified that God had removed the sin of the high priest, and, therefore, the sin of the people. Zechariah knew what he was asking, and he received it. God had made the people holy.

I love this account because it anticipates the ministry of Christ. Jesus, the great high Priest, according to Hebrews, stands before God to remove the sins of the people. Because of his work, we can stand in the presence of the Lord holy, acceptable, and pleasing in God's sight.
I have not appreciated the work of Zechariah in the past. Now passages such as these give me chills.

An ode to my wife

My two younger children have the flu this week and are home from school. I spent some time during the days and nights attending to them. Thursday morning I was staying home with them so that my wife, Judy, could teach at her school. The little ones were doing better, and then Judy came home mid-morning with the flu and went straight to bed. She has been there ever since.

I don't know about your household, but my wife is the hub of our household. When she's down, it is like a car and a blowout. Judy is paying a high price to make me greatly appreciate her, but I do most assuredly.

Parents! Parents! Parents!

I am amazed at how poorly so many parents are raising their children these days. Just last week, my son Timothy's kindergarten teacher, Michelle Pardue, told me that Timothy and a girl at school like each other very much. As a matter of fact, Timothy liked her so much that the teachers caught him kissing her on the cheek last Friday. The girl did nothing.

I am shocked that her parents have not taught her better. When I was Timothy's age and in kindergarten, I picked up Lisa Walters in my arms and kissed her. Lisa's parents had taught her well. She did the honorable thing. Lisa Walters slapped me. I never kissed Lisa Walters again. And while Lisa and I dated and went steady, on and off, throughout kindergarten through third grade, I never kissed Lisa again.

I ache for my son because he likes a girl whose parents are not as outstanding as Lisa's. And, of course, I had to step into the middle of this situation so that my boy can remain in school. What I have recommended to him was the old Camp Deer Run rule, grab a stick and hold one end, and let the girl hold the other end. We'll see if that works.

Postscript--Maybe Timothy does not have the flu, maybe he has mononucleosis: "kissing disease"!

Favorite Book on CD of the week

Recently I began listening again to the book First Man by James R. Hansen. I had read it before, but it was so good I wanted to hear it again. The book is about the life of the Neil Armstrong, the first man to step foot on the moon. Hanson does a good job fleshing out the personality of Armstrong. Part of that personality consisted of a man who was and is very quiet by nature.

One of the interesting aspects of Armstrong's life that this book reveals is the tender heart that he had for his daughter, Karen. She died as a child of a brain tumor. The event shattered Armstrong emotionally, and he never fully recovered.

Several years later, after the successful Apollo 11 spaceflight, the mission's astronauts toured the world. While in London England, crowds mobbed the astronauts. At a barrier which separated the astronauts from the people, a little girl found herself pressed against the obstruction. Frightened, she began to cry. Armstrong picked up the girl, hugged her, soothed her emotions with kind words, and kissed her. An enterprising photographer snapped the picture and newspapers around the world ran it.

The press noted that this intimacy was out of character for Armstrong and were puzzled by this display. Hansen writes that it was no coincidence. The girl was the age of Armstrong's daughter when Karen had passed away.

Boredom Ally

This little tidbit may fail to interest you, but it does me. Several weeks ago, I saw a show on the History Channel that discussed quantum physics. I was reminded of that program this week when I read that Albert Einstein resisted the move toward quantum physics that reached full bloom during the 1920s. The irony here is that his earlier work jumpstarted physics to make the move away from Newtonian physics.

During this era, Niels Bohr was a major player in the quantum physics movement. He and Einstein forged a relationship that was personally close but scientifically distant. Einstein would struggle for the rest of his life with quantum physics, mainly due to the emphasis that quantum mechanics placed on random chance. It was in the context of Einstein's debate with Bohr that he'd made his famous statement that God would not play dice. To which Bohr replied, "Stop telling God what to do!"

What fascinates me is how this area of science faces some of the same tensions that theology does, but on a different playing field. As Walter Isaacson has noted, with Einstein, "[R]elativity may have seemed like a radical idea, but at least it preserved rigid cause-and-effect rules." The randomness of quantum physics eliminates the "cause" in Einstein's eyes.

In theology, the tension lies between two poles. On the one hand, you have scholars accentuating the direct involvement of God in this world. On the other hand, you have theologians emphasizing God's distance from his creation.

This tension, which can never be resolved in our lives, plays itself out in many areas. Even people who are not Christians are asking many of the same questions that we ask because of their intuitive yearning for God. When I read of Einstein and Bohr debating, I hear Einstein saying that God must be at work in our world. I hear Bohr saying, "Where is God?"

Virtually every I day, I hear the rank and file members of the human race say the same.