Monday, June 28, 2010

Divine Detergent

Guilt. How do you get rid of it?

Ever heard of the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza in modern Mexico? I have heard described, in detail, what the men there did long ago for their guilt. Many would take big, long spines off of a plant, and pierce their sex organs and tongues.  After all, those were the sources of their greatest sins. They believed they must suffer pain and expel blood, and hopefully this method would atone for their sins. Ouch!

Remember the Shiites in Iraq a few years ago? The news media transmitted pictures of pilgrims whipping themselves in rituals designed to address their guilt.

Some people, who call themselves Christians, believe if they attend church on Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night will have a chance to have their guilt removed.

Religion and philosophy typically address two basic questions:
Why are we here?
What can we do about our guilt?

I find the way the Bible addresses guilt interesting. Years ago, biblical scholar Leon Morris noted that the word “blood” was found 460 times in the Bible: 362 in the Old Testament and 98 in the New Testament.

My count has revealed, in the book of Leviticus, in the NIV, the word occurs 65 times. In chapter 17 alone, it appears 13 times. What gives? Why so much emphasis on blood?

I think there are several reasons. However, in chapter 17, dealing with how you kill animals for sacrifices or for food, you find a nugget of knowledge. In verse 11, the Lord says, “11 For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one's life.”

That sentence packs a lot of religious teaching and symbolism. The writer of Hebrews plays off that verse when he writes, “In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Heb. 9:22).
Early on, God, through word and visual aids, taught Man: for you to live something must die. Go back to Genesis three. Adam and Eve sin, and what did they try to do? Cover themselves with leaves, the products of their own efforts. But it wasn’t good enough. God provided them with the skins of animals. Innocent blood was shed. For Adam and Eve to live, something had to die. Blood had to be shed.

Thus, begins a pattern throughout scripture. In the Old Testament, it was found in sacrifices such as the burnt offering, the sin offering, the guilt offering, the fellowship offering, the Day of Atonement, and even the Passover. As the renowned Levitical scholar Jacob Milgrom wrote, “Blood is the ritual detergent.”

Under the New Covenant, you had a change. Instead of—for you to live, something must die—it became: for you to live, someone must die. The Son of God shed his life’s sustaining liquid on the cross. His blood marked an eternal difference.

By His blood:

1. We are justified. As an old preacher once said, justified means “just as if I'd never sinned.” By the blood of Jesus, that is how we can stand before God—guilt free. Romans 5:9, says, “Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him!”

2. We are redeemed. Paul wrote, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace” (Eph. 1:7). Do we know what the word “redeemed” means? It means bought back. Jesus uses a form of the word when he said, “the Son of Man came to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28). This evokes memories of the sacrifices in Leviticus, where you became aware that your spiritual life was held hostage by death and sin. You paid a ransom, but not in money, rather in blood. In Leviticus, a person was saved by God's grace and blood of goat, but this POINTED toward the blood of Jesus.

We sing a song called "Redeemed how I love to proclaim it." It reminds me of how Paul Lee Tan illustrates the meaning of redemption. He writes that A. J. Gordon was a preacher, who met a young boy carrying a old cage. The cage held some wild birds.
Gordon inquired, “Son, where did you get those birds?”
The boy replied, “I trapped them out in the field.”
What are you going to do with them?”
“I’m going to play with them, and then I guess I’ll just feed them to an old cat we have at home.”
Gordon offered to buy them, and the boy exclaimed, “Mister, you don’t want them, they’re just little old wild birds and can’t sing very well.”
Gordon replied, “I’ll give you $2 for the cage and the birds.”
“Okay, it’s a deal, but you’re making a bad bargain.”
The transaction completed, the boy went away happy with his money. Meanwhile, the following Sunday, Gordon “took the empty cage into the pulpit and used it to illustrate his sermon about Christ’s coming to seek and to save the lost—paying for them with His own precious blood. ‘That boy told me the birds were not songsters,’ said Gordon, ‘but when I released them and they winged their way heavenward, it seemed to me they were singing, ‘Redeemed, redeemed, redeemed!’”
“You and I have been held captive to sin, but Christ has purchased our pardon and set us at liberty. When a person has this life-changing experience, he will want to sing, “Redeemed, Redeemed, Redeemed!”

To Be Continued…

Five Things I Think I Think (with a nod to Peter King for this idea)

1. World Cup Fever—Catch it! I am sorry the U. S. lost to Ghana. And I feel bad for my friends from Mexico. However, now I am free to root for Argentina. I still have my World Cup jersey from 1994. I can tell you now, if Argentina wins this thing—the Argentine’s will commission Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber to write a new musical—MARADONA. Later, Madonna will star in a movie version, which the Argentines will not appreciate.

2. I took my kids to see THE KARATE KID Saturday. Actually, it was kind of funny. We were supposed to go to a wedding at 3. The movie started at noon.
            At 2:00, we are sitting in the theater and I’m thinking to myself, “This movie is nowhere close to being over.” I googled on my iPhone the movie, and discovered it lasted 2:20”. Now I am thinking, when did the movie begin?
            Movies today are like extra time added on to the end of those World Cup soccer games—you never know how much time has been added. In the cinema, you never know how much time has been added because of the previews. Nevertheless, I paid $31.75 for us to watch this movie—we’re seeing the ending, or we are waiting until the movie comes out on free TV.
            Finally, at 2:33, the movie ends. Now we are rushing to the pick-up. Haleigh calls Judy, on the phone, because we’ve got to go home to change clothes. The issue is: if we drive home and change, we may not make it back to the wedding. Judy suggests we just meet her at my office. She’ll bring all five changes of clothes.
            I drop the kids off at my office and go park. I had given Haleigh my key to open the doors. After parking, I knock on the office complex door, and my daughter, Abby, comes out of my office to open it. As I walk in our complex, I hear my office door close.
            “Abby,” I ask. “Where is the key to my office?”
            “Inside your office,” she replies.
            Not good. The kids had failed to unlock my office door, and none of the kids are inside. Now we are in a time crunch, and we are locked out of my office! Fortunately, I see one of our staff members, Charles Smith, walking across the church parking lot. I flag him down and he opens my office and saves the day.
            Judy drops our clothes by at 2:53 P.M. We change our clothes in six minutes and make it to the wedding at 3:00. Crazy. Crazy. Crazy.

3. Incidentally, I really liked THE KARATE KID. It had some mysterious, Chinese remedies I wasn’t thrilled about, as well as a couple of other things I disagreed with, but overall, I enjoyed the movie and liked the message for my kids.

4. Rare military/political statement here: I hope General Petraeus turns out to be the right man for Afghanistan. I think he could prove to be. I don’t care who you are; you cannot say the things General McChrystal said about your Commander-in-Chief and his administration and expect to keep your job. Especially when the journalist following you around is from ROLLING STONE! One of the reasons Harry Truman is so highly thought of today is because he had the courage to sack McArthur. Besides all of that, you’ve got the passages such as Rom 13 and Eph. 6 where, Paul reminds Christians to show their bosses respect.

5. Texas Rangers—who are you? Winning 13 out of the last 14 is pretty good. Save some, though, for the good teams.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Let Me Share My Dad

Last year for Father’s Day, I reprinted, in my weekly blog, a letter my dad wrote to me when I was in college. It was very well received—one of my more well-read posts. Consequently, I thought this year I would do the same.

To provide some context, this letter was written to me on October 27, 1979. It was my first year at Abilene Christian University. I was playing, or maybe I should accurately say trying to play college football at the time.

In early October, my roommate contracted a case of mononucleosis. I became fearful that I would get it as well—convinced that if I did, it would set my chances of playing football back. (From this vantage point over thirty years later, I now realize that, with my talent, BREATHING would have set me chances back.)

With that in mind, daddy started his letter like this:

Dear Mark:
            Was good to hear from you last night though I detected some anxiety on your part that I didn’t like. Remember what the Apostle Paul said. “Be anxious in nothing etc”. That is easier said than done however so I want to tell you a few secrets.

He did. He went on to write a three page, single-spaced letter. He admonished me on the importance of self-discipline and the organization of one’s time and life. He also reminded me that adversity was inevitable in life.

With that as context, I want to pass along to you the last page of his letter. The letter was informal, so I have edited the punctuation a little to convey to you what he communicated to me.

Daddy’s long gone; he died in 1983. However, I had him for my first twenty-two years of life, and he was a wonderful father. So if you're sitting there as one who did not have such a father, let me share with you mine.

            Mark… [T]his is the fun of the challenge. You can see how hard it is, and, if you do what I tell you or something similar, you will get it down. When you do, it will appear very easy for you and then you start to feeling good about being able to handle so many things well. Next year you will see freshmen going through the same things that you have gone through. Maybe you can then help some of them then because you will be becoming an old pro at time management.

It is said that: Maturity in a leader is the ability to deal with people of widely differing opinion, temperament, and taste without allowing these differences to interfere with the effectiveness of work or the warmth of human acceptance.

I want you to think of Gregg’s feelings also when you are talking in front of him. [Context: In my anxiety about football, I was whining on the phone about possibly getting mono from my roommate—in my roommate’s presence.] Talking about catching mono from him could not make him feel any better. Do your part toward making life easier for him regardless of how you think he treats you. Don’t be selfish toward him—that is don’t try to treat him as he treats you, if that happens to be unlike [the way] you would like for him to treat you. I don’t have any idea what your relationship is like, but I would imagine it gets trying sometimes. Living that close to someone usually does. It is not who is right, but what is right, that is of importance.

Eddie Rickenbacker once said: “To contrive is nothing! To construct is something! To produce is everything!” Charlie Brower said, “Never trust a man who is Dr. Jekyll to those above him and Mr. Hyde to those under him.”

In closing, continue to take care of yourself, but don’t worry too much as that is the worst thing that you could do. And think about the moral to this story:
Ever notice… that when your arms are filled with packages, the sign on the door says, “pull.”

Sigh—relax—enjoy yourself—be kind—

Love, Dad and all

Five Things I Think I Think (with a nod to Peter King for this idea)

1. I got the seven games I was pulling for in the Boston-LA NBA Championship Series. During game 7, I realized I was pulling for Boston to win. Why? I don’t like either Boston or LA. Cmon Mavs!

2. I’m telling you, summer will be over before you know it. I’ll miss it.

3. I have been pleasantly surprised by the play of the U. S. during the World Cup. They might actually advance to the second round.

4. I always love Father’s Day. I like the attention from my family. My gift is getting to watch the U. S. Open—at least until it is time to go preach.

5. Is there any better musical movie theme than that of BATMAN BEGINS? It seethes with drama, and the music subtly makes you aware of the lurking danger of bats.

Monday, June 14, 2010


“WHILE waiting for an elevator at the Fair Oaks Mall near her home in Virginia recently, Janice Im, who works in early-childhood development, witnessed a troubling incident between a young boy and his mother.

“The boy, who Ms. Im estimates was about 2 1/2 years old, made repeated attempts to talk to his mother, but she wouldn’t look up from her BlackBerry. ‘He’s like: ‘Mama? Mama? Mama?’’Ms. Im recalled. ‘And then he starts tapping her leg. And she goes: ‘Just wait a second. Just wait a second.’ ’
Finally, he was so frustrated, Ms. Im said, that ‘he goes, ‘Ahhh!’ and tries to bite her leg.’”
Julie Scelfo penned these words for an article last week in the NEW YORK TIMES. The article raises some interesting concerns for me.
You’ve probably heard of WWJD-What Would Jesus Do?
Maybe it’s time to ask a more specific question: WWJD—WHSP? What would Jesus do with His smart phone?
Last November, our family purchased our first cell phone family plan. Judy, our two oldest children, and I all purchased cell phones.
My motives for purchasing were multiple including family communication and ministry to our church. My inspiration came from research I did last year, which revealed to me the plethora of uses a good smart phone could offer. Moreover, the research fully convinced me that younger generations prefer communication by texts instead of email or phone.
Sometimes, your research is off. In this case, the only poor spot in my research’s performance was, it completely undersold the extent to which I would grow to use and depend upon my iPhone. I have made my iPhone my laptop computer. (My laptop computer has become my office computer.)
I use my phone for social networking, texting, personal finance, Bible reading, devotional reading, newspaper reading, magazine reading, pleasure reading (I have both the Barnes and Noble and the Kindle Apps), emailing, dictation, listening to songs, listening to digital books, and, oh, yeah, an occasional phone call.
Evidently, I am not alone. Recent research divulged the startling statistic that people now use their smart phones less for phone calls than for other reasons.
It is for these reasons this article entitled “The Risks of Parenting While Plugged In” has grabbed my attention. I know how easy it is to grab your phone in a spare moment and become totally absorbed by what you are doing.
Recently, MIT completed a five-year study investigating how parental use of technology affects children and young adults. The report found that many children felt hurt, jealous of their parent’s cell phone, and in competition with it for their parents’ attention.
Don’t laugh. Here is one example. Scelfo writes about Laura Scott Wade, who is the director of ethics for a national medical organization in Chicago. Recently, her son, who is three, Lincoln, lost patience with his mother’s repeated promises to get off the computer or cell phone. He now sets the timer on the microwave. Ms. Wade affirms, “… when it dings he’ll say, ‘Come on,’ and he’ll say, ‘Don’t bring your phone.’”
Our society began, a few years ago, the serious discussion of “should people use their cell phones while they drive.” Part of the debate was pondering the question, “What will our kids do with their driving after observing our example?”
Now it is time we put another antenna in the air. After growing up watching us, what will our children do with their smart phones outside of the motor vehicle?
Technology, like any gift, must be used well. It must be utilized; it is an instrument.
Technology, like any gift, can be squandered by little use. However, it can also become an idol through too much use.
Ultimately, the decision is ours.
Five Things I Think I Think (with a nod to Peter King for this idea)

1. Now, in light of what I just wrote, here is the antithesis. Seth Godin is a good observer of popular business culture. This is from his blog last week: “I saw a two-year old kid (in diapers, in a stroller), using an iPod Touch today. Not just looking at it, but browsing menus and interacting. This is a revolution, guys.”

2. This suggestion comes from friend Adrian Woods: Texas, Oklahoma, and Texas A & M join the Southeastern Conference, which promptly secedes from the BCS. They are all the best teams; they can decide the National Championship amongst themselves. Brilliant!

3. My World Cup pick? Brazil.

4. Just bought and started reading the book OPEN LEADERSHIP. It deals with the subject of leadership as impacted by social networking. It’s been really good so far; I look forward to reading more.

5. My blog is going out a little late today because I had the honor of officiating the funeral of Helen Donaldson—the mother of a childhood/high school friend named David Donaldson. She was a remarkable example of how to face life’s tragedies. Cancer and complications from surgery finally ended her life early Friday morning. Blessings on her family.

Monday, June 7, 2010

What Would a Communion Meal Look Like?

What would a communion meal look like?

If you have been following this blog, you may agree with me that the preponderance of Scripture supports the idea of having a meal of communion within the Lord's Supper. You may also be asking yourself, “What would that look like?” “How could a church pull this off?”

Admittedly, this would be difficult. Frankly, a meal within the Communion and Worship Service might be best carried out in the context of a small church. One church I could see experiencing this communion and fellowship would be a church I know that has been engaging and dynamic ministry for years. 

For the past 14 years, they have been sending buses out into the town and bringing in children of all ages. They do so every Wednesday night at 5:30. They feed these children a meal, followed by Bible classes offered at 7 PM.

The meal is free. It is available to everyone in the community. Volunteers prepare the meal and clean up.

This church takes the ministry of Jesus very seriously. They practice what theologians call incarnational ministry. That means the people of their town see Jesus in the skin of these members. 

Although this is a small town, their ministry corresponds more to inner-city ministry. There is a high percentage of minorities, particularly Hispanic, and many of these children come from broken homes of low socio-economic income brackets.

It is safe to say that for some of these children, that week’s best meal, and the most love they receive, will occur simultaneously on Wednesday evenings.

I believe this church would have the opportunity to impact its are with the rich teaching that is found in Scripture concerning sustenance from God, spiritual forgiveness, hospitality, fellowship, and worship. To them I would suggest: why not practice the Lord's Supper as the church of the first century practiced it? Look to the roots of the Old Testament. Remember the Meal of Shalom, the Passover Meal, and the Burnt Offering, and the Sin Offering, and the Cross.

Move the Wednesday night meal to Sunday. Place it in the context of your worship service. Move your worship service from the church auditorium into the fellowship hall. Bring in the children.

Everybody gets their plates of food and drink and sits down and eats. Everyone sings and fellowships together.

Tell all the air that this meal is being offered to the community because Christ lives within you. Tell everyone that you're worshiping God because your sins has been forgiven, and because of that, God is in your presence.

Tell them you have brought them in and offered them hospitality of the Lord because the Lord offered you hospitality first. You're simply offering to them what God offered to you. Proclaim the gospel. Proclaim God’s Word. Read it aloud.

Pray prayers, and at some point in the assembly that alternates between formal proclamation in informal conversation, bring in the unleavened bread and the fruit of the vine and present it to the members of the church and to anyone else who considers himself worthy to participate.

Take time in meditation and prayer and silence to reflect upon Christ and his sacrifice. If you do this week after week, you will inextricably link your ministry with the cross. And I predict the byproduct will be many more people responding to Christ and conversion.

This is but one example of impacting a local work with a communion meal as practiced in scripture. What about your locale?

Five Things I Think I Think (with a nod to Peter King for this idea)

1. It is nice to see so many pay tribute to John Wooden. He was a great man as well as a marvelous coach. He published his last book at age 99. The book was on mentoring and was very good. I hope to publish my first book before I am 99. The most amazing thing about Wooden is that I am not so sure he was more relevant his last week of life than he was a coach thirty-five years ago.

2. If I remember correctly, Wooden served as a deacon at his church for several years in Santa Monica.

3. I saw my first 3-D movie the other day with my son. I spent the first half of the show watching the special effects instead of paying attention to the plot.

4. Recently, I discovered the collateral damage of having parents ask you to tell them what you want when they die. My wife’s folks recently sent all of their kids a list of their possessions asking them to identify what they desired upon their passing. My own mother did this a few years ago.
            Last week, our youngest daughter, Annie, who is 8, said to me, “Daddy, when you die, can I have your treadmill?”
            I asked her, “Do you know something I don’t?”
            “No,” she replied. “I just figure you’ll be dead by the time I get to be Haleigh’s age (a senior in high school.)
            She may be right!

5. Congratulations to you, Timothy Edge. Your baseball team won the East Tyler league championship.