Thursday, October 09, 2014

 

Responsible Christian Freedom: August 10 Sermon

http://www.gospelcc.org/sermons/2424/

About a month ago I was asked to preach on 1 Corinthians 10 at my church, Gospel Community Church.  Our pastor, Andrew, has been doing a series on 1 Corinthians called "Healthy Christian, Healthy Church."  The link above will take you to the audio for this sermon (while there you can search for the rest of the series if you'd like).  Below are my notes for the sermon.  I hope they are a blessing to you! 


Responsible Christian Freedom (or, With Great Freedom comes Great Responsibility)
1 Corinthians 10:23-11:1

Intro: The culture of the USA loves the idea of "freedom."  We've even kind of made an idol out of the idea.  Technically speaking though, freedom is neither good nor evil, it really depends on what we do with it.  Using freedom responsibly is a good thing, while abusing freedom for selfish ends can be bad.  The book of 1 Corinthians has a few things to say about freedom.  Here is an overview of some of them:  Our passage today has some similarities with chapter 6 (same basic quote in v. 12 as found in this chapter) where Paul talks about lawsuits, freedom, and sexuality.  The overall idea of chapter 6 is to avoid joining the things of God with the things of the world.  Then chapter 7 speaks of a godly approach to marriage by discussing the freedom to marry or not to marry.  Chapter 8 covers Christian freedom in the context of meats sacrificed to idols (As Pastor Andrew stated: “With great freedom comes great responsibility”).  In chapter 9, Paul addresses the “rights” or “freedoms” of an apostle (here Paul also mentions his example of laying down his “rights” to serve others—Paul built relational bridges and minimized walls for the sake of the gospel).  The first part of chapter 10 then is a warning against spiritual complacency and compromise (Remember last week?  Complacency + Compromise = Consequences). Some quotes from Pastor Andrew on this section include the following:  1) “A healthy Christian is a cautious Christian”; 2) “Seemingly innocent decisions may have a devastating impact.” In the last part of chapter 10, Paul addresses the issue of how to live out our Christian freedom in a responsible manner. He returns to the idea of “With great freedom comes great responsibility" in this section.  

Coming off the heels of a discussion concerning the Lord’s Supper/Communion in contrast to the ritual eating of meat sacrificed to idols in the pagan temples, Paul uses the idea of “meat sacrificed to idols” to round out his discussion of Christian freedom. Just as eating in a pagan temple involves a “communion” or “agreement” with demons, so eating the Lord’s Supper (bread and wine) involves a “communion” or “agreement” with the crucifixion and resurrection of our Lord. In other words, there is a corporate and public aspect of faith as well as some communal implications of behavior in a public setting. Now, in the last section of ch. 10, Paul returns to the idea of being careful about how our behavior affects others. He does this in the context of a private meal or in the context of table fellowship at home.  (Read 1 Corinthians 10:33-11:1)

Turning to the “private” or “personal” relationships we all have, Paul outlines for us four principles of living out the idea that “With Great Freedom comes Great Responsibility.”

Principle 1 (10:23-24): Christian freedom has exceptionsChristian freedom cannot be selfish. Everything is permissible BUT: Paul seems to be quoting the Corinthians here. Some of the “mature” Christians had an idea that due to the freedom gained in Christ, they are pretty much allowed to do anything! Note that Paul is not disagreeing with them, but the exceptions he offers are important. Everything is NOT helpful, and everything does NOT build others up.  So in evaluating whether or not to engage in an activity or use an item, we should ask ourselves, “Will this create a lifetime of unity with God and His people? Is this the kind of thing that would be a good foundation to build on, or will this bring brokenness, disunity, disappointment, and disqualification from the race of faith?” We must live as though the good of others is more important than our own (cf. Phil 2; 2 Cor. 5). Jesus is a great example.  Becoming a poor Jewish boy, getting roughed up by Roman soldiers, and then hung on a cross was not what we would consider a pleasant experience!  But Jesus' life was not centered around making himself feel good (with meeting "his needs"), rather he suffered because he wanted to bring well-being to others. He did this by taking what we deserved for our sin and instead of judgment offering fellowship with God through his own sacrifice.

So, Paul reminds us that "With great freedom comes great responsibility!" We cannot expect to live the life of Christian freedom if we continue to live selfishly. When we place confidence in self, we are bound to fall. When we place confidence in Christ, we have a chance to stand and be free. Selfishness and arrogance lead to death, humility and service lead to life. Paul calls us to be free in seeking the good of the other person over our own selfishness

Principle 2 (10:25-27): Be relational, reach out to others with the same grace God has shown us. Accept others as they are, and let God make the change. In this section Paul essentially says that if you find yourself in a social setting with unbelievers, eat and enjoy whatever they put before you. No interrogation is needed, just eat what they offer and thank God for the good food. The principle is this: When dealing with unbelievers, don’t try to fix them. Don’t put up walls to the relationship, but build a relational bridge that allows the opportunity to tell them the gospel. Live the love of Christ and it will be easier to share it (cf. 2 Cor 5—love invigorates us—it gives life and the power to love others, it makes us representatives or ambassadors for God). 

Remember, "With great freedom comes great responsibility." We cannot expect to draw non-Christians to God if we don’t know any. We must be relational, we must serve them as Christ served us. Paul calls us to be free in seeking to share the grace of God with those who do not know him yet.

Principle 3 (10:28-30): We are free, but we must put others first. We are free, but we should NOT be selfish (see principle 1). Be careful that your liberty doesn’t become a trap or an offense.  Be discerning in your relationships with others. Remember, it may be permissible, but that doesn’t mean it is helpful or edifying. After telling the Corinthians that they can eat whatever an unbeliever places before them (“Everything is permissible”), Paul now offers an exception (“But not everything is helpful or builds up”).  The context here may refer to both believers and unbelievers, but the point is the same. Accept people as they are without interrogation. If they offer information, work with it and act with discretion (“A healthy Christian is a cautious Christian”). 

If someone invites you for a meal, don’t ask where the meat came from. If they tell you, “This meat is dedicated to a god other than Jesus,” then politely refuse to eat it. If they volunteer this information, then there is an issue. Be careful, don’t let your liberty become a trap or become an offense. Christian freedom requires us to make wise choices based on the situation in which we find ourselves or based on the needs of those around us.  As stated earlier, we must look out for the good of others.  Avoid living carelessly or flaunting your liberty (e.g., alcohol) without regards for how it may affect others. You can do the right thing and still cause hurt. Being “right” is not the issue, being “righteous” is. To be “righteous” means to act like Jesus. 

"With great freedom comes great responsibility!" If we are made free in Christ then we have much more to consider than our personal happiness, fulfillment, or freedom. Just because we have a right to do something that does not mean that we should do it. Sometimes the greatest freedom is expressed by not exercising it (cf. Phil 2:5-11). We are free to serve, but to serve requires us to put our personal “freedoms” or “expectations” aside so as to meet the needs of others. To lay down your life for a friend is a good thing, to be willing to do it for an enemy is a “God” thing (Ephesians 4). We are free, but we must put others first

Principle 4 (10:31-11:1): Live so that others can know God through you. That kind of freedom brings glory to God. 

What does it mean to do all things for God’s “glory”? “Glory” in the Bible has beauty and danger. God's glory can bless you, but it can also wreck your life.  “Glory” is honor. 

In creation, Adam and Eve were clothed with God’s glory (Psalm 2), but when they sinned they exchanged that glory for leaves and ultimately for animal skins (cf. Romans 1). Remember Moses and the burning bush, cleft of the rock, and his experience “glory”? The Jews (freshly rescued from Egypt) saw that glory on Mt. Sinai when God gave Moses the Law. It was frightening, weighty, overwhelming. They didn’t want to get too close. 

Oswald Chambers:  "We have a tendency to look for wonder in our experience, and we mistake heroic actions for real heroes.  It's one thing to go through a crisis grandly, yet quite another to go through every day glorifying God when there is no witness, no limelight, and no one paying even the remotest attention to us. . . . The true test of a saint's life is not success but faithfulness on the human level of life. We tend to set up success in Christian work as our purpose, but our purpose should be to display the glory of God in human life, to live a life 'hidden with Christ in God' in our everyday human conditions (Colossians 3:3). Our human relationships are the very conditions in which the ideal life of God should be exhibited. . . . Beware of posing as a profound person--God became a baby."

When Solomon built a temple for God, God's glory showed up and was so heavy that the people couldn’t even move to worship. They were overwhelmed. In Ezekiel, this “glory” of God is seen leaving the temple. In John’s Gospel, the “glory” of God is revealed in Jesus’ life but more specifically in his death and resurrection. John 12:22ff refers to an event when Gentiles came looking for Jesus. Jesus says, “Now is the hour for the Son of Man to be glorified.” He then predicts his own death and resurrection and the fruit of those events. He also encourages his followers to participate in God’s glory by laying down their lives to be like him.  

Jesus’ humility is God’s greatest glory (Phil 2). If we want to glorify God in all we do, then we must learn to walk in humility as Christ walked in humility. If we intend to bring people to salvation, we cannot get them there by pride or arrogance. We will always be judged by others, so we ought to avoid unnecessary offenses that would cause them to judge us unfavorably.  The offense of the cross is enough, we shouldn’t compound it by having bad breath.  Col 3:17 “And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” 

“Become un-spectacular/give no offense/do not cause anyone to stumble” (v.32) The word picture is of someone trying to get a look at God, but they can’t see God because you keep stepping in front of their line of sight so that it is blocked by your presence.  Sometimes we need to get out of the way. The path of humility is the path of life. The love of Christ obligates us (and ought to compel us) to be humble servants to bring God’s life to others (2 Cor 5).  Paul says that his goal is to see people “saved,” or to see them brought into a proper relationship with God through Jesus. He further invites them to imitate his life as he imitates Jesus’ life. 

Can we say the same thing as Paul? Are we living so that others can know God through us? Would we want others to imitate us?  Again, Paul reminds us that in order to do this we must put the needs of others first, and there is no greater need than salvation. "With great freedom comes great responsibility!" We are free to live humbly. We are free to seek the salvation of others. Not only are we free, we are obligated to do so.
 
So, what do we do with these principles?  Recognize that people DO pay attention to your life and example. Whether or not you know it, they are watching you to see if you live what you believe. The stakes are high. People will believe what they see way before they will believe what we say. 

First then, make an effort this week to notice people. Notice the people who seem overwhelmed, angry, distant, sad, or those who look wounded. You can’t serve them if you can’t see them. Pay attention. Listen. Love. Serve. 

Second, work on serving others. Be considerate. Put others before yourself. Hold the door for someone.  Help someone unload their car. Let someone go ahead of you in line.  Be considerate of the person behind you in a line, or the person waiting for your parking space, or the person walking behind you. Treat those who wait on your table with respect, tip them well. Listen carefully to the person who is sharing their story. Weep with those who weep, rejoice with those who rejoice. Maybe there is an act of kindness you’ve been putting off. Just do it. Serve those who simply cannot pay you back! Be willing to be inconvenienced so that someone else can be served! 

Third, ask God to make you alert to the needs of others. Develop the habit of asking, “How might this decision or action have an impact on others?”

Fourth, be bold in living out and talking about your salvation. Don’t be shy. Your story of what God has done matters. God saved you, and he may use your story to bring life to someone else. Be bold! 
Christ has set us free to be his representatives, his ambassadors. Christ has set us free from the chains of sin. He has set us free to enjoy his life to the fullest.  He has set us free to represent Him in a sinful and lonely world.  We must make sure that we are using our freedom for good rather than evil.
"With great freedom comes great responsibility!" 

Live free, serve others, be imitators of Christ.  

Live your Christian freedom responsibly! 

Thanks for reading!  

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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

 

Some Random Quotes . . .

“There is no expedient to which a man will not go to avoid the labor of thinking.” Thomas Edison

"I think that if it had been a religion that first maintained the notion that all the matter in the entire universe had once been contained in an area smaller than the point of a pin, scientists probably would have laughed at the idea." Marilyn vos Savant, The Guinness Book of World Records Hall of Fame holder of the Highest IQ at 230. Parade, February 4, 1996, p. 7.

"Beware of ideas others come up with for rescuing you from the river, especially if they involve dropping a heavy stone right on you." Eeyore

“There's right and there's wrong. You gotta do one or the other. You do the one and you're living. You do the other and you may be walking around but you’re dead as a beaver hat.” John Wayne, as Davey Crockett in the movie, The Alamo.

Thanks for reading! 

Monday, August 11, 2014

 

Don't Shoot the Wounded: Our Role in Accountability (Galatians 6:1-10)

About 4 years ago I was leading an Adult Bible Community at Thomas Road Baptist Church.  Some of the members of that group wanted to start accountability relationships, so I presented the following lesson to them.  I think the material here is relevant to many of us today.  How do we respond to others?  How do we keep each other accountable?  Paul discusses these issues within the context of the church in Galatia with whom he was familiar.  He offers this material to a group of people dealing with a variety of issues in their fellowship.  In a nutshell, he says that relationship is prior to accountability.  Without relationship, accountability will most likely not happen.  At any rate, the outline follows the passage (quoted from the Holman Christian Standard):

Galatians 6:1-10 "Brothers, if someone is caught in any wrongdoing, you who are spiritual should restore such a person with a gentle spirit, watching out for yourselves so you won't be tempted also.  Carry one another's burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.  For if anyone considers himself to be something when he is nothing, he is deceiving himself.  But each person should examine his own work, and then he will have a reason for boasting in himself alone, and not in respect to someone else.  For each person will have to carry his own load.  The one who is taught the message must share his goods with the teacher.  Don't be deceived: God is not mocked. For whatever a man sows he will also reap, because the one who sows to his flesh will reap corruption from the flesh, but the one who sows to the Spirit will reap eternal life from the Spirit.  So we must not get tired of doing good, for we will reap at the proper time if we don't give up.  Therefore, as we have opportunity, we must work for the good of all, especially for those who belong to the household of faith."

Don’t Shoot the Wounded
Our Role in Accountability

Galatians 6:1-10

Introduction
False accusations and a wounding
Loss of fellowship and misunderstanding

The Story of Chuck Girard
a. Conversion
b. Contemporary Christian musician
c. Late 70s
d. Leaving the music business
e. A bout with alcoholism
The Song: "Don’t Shoot the Wounded"

Galatians 6:1-5, 9-10
Our role in accountability
1. Passionate involvement
2. Radical hospitality
3. Extravagant Generosity
4. Intentional Discipleship
5. Risk-Taking Service

Galatians 6:1
1. Accountability is being Passionately Involved in each other’s lives

Caught in a Trap (James 5:19-20)
a. Note that this is a “brother”—accountability works best where relationship exists
b. We are family
c. Note that this sibling is “caught”
This is not a perceived sin
There are no “gotchas” in the body of Christ
Don't Shoot the Wounded: develop a relationship with them to restore them 

2. Accountability requires us to practice a Radical Hospitality

Spirit of Gentleness (Ephesians 4:25-32)
a. Accountability works best where love exists
b. This restoration should not be done with a harsh attitude
c. Accountability requires a level of trust and grace

Watch Out! (2 Cor. 2:7-8; 2 Thess. 3:14-15)
a. Accountability works best when we are paying as much attention to our own failures as to those of others, we must have an intentional discipleship for ourselves
b. Remember that you are most likely to see problems where you struggle the most

Don’t Shoot the Wounded
They need healing and help: Accountability should lead to restoration
Someday you may be one

Galatians 6:2
3. Accountability requires an Extravagant Generosity

Bearing Burdens and the Law of Christ (Romans 15:1-2; John 13:34-35; 15:12-14)
a. Accountability works best when we build up instead of tear down (Hebrews 12:12-16): We must be ready to strengthen others and to help them in their weakness instead of looking for opportunities to make ourselves look better in light of the failures of others
b. Bearing burdens requires effort on our part. We may actually have to lift and carry. It is not passive.

What is the Law of Christ?
a. The Law of Christ is Life (Romans 8:2)
b. The Law of Christ is Love (John 13:34-35; 15:12-14)
c. Accountability works best when love is present (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)
Love is patient, transparent, does not try to belittle another
Love is willing to be wronged rather than to do harm

Don’t Shoot the Wounded
Love Requires that we deal with the problem and not ignore it
Accountability should lead to restoration, not death

Galatians 6:3-5
4. Accountability requires an Intentional Discipleship in our own lives

Humility or Pride? (James 1:25; Phil. 2:3-4)
a. Accountability works best when we operate with a realization of our own sinfulness instead of a perception of our own superiority
b. We must learn to put the sincere needs of others ahead of our own needs
c. We must not presume sin, but neither should we ignore it
d. If sin is clear in our hearts, we must confess
e. If sin is clear in others, we must confront BUT with love

Bearing Burdens, Part 2
a. Accountability works best when we are brutally honest about ourselves and to ourselves
b. Before Christ we are responsible primarily for our own actions, not the actions of others
c. I am responsible to God for what I do, not for what others do (Speck and log)

Don’t Shoot the Wounded
Seek to offer the help you want when you are injured

Galatians 6:9-10
5. Accountability involves a Risk-Taking Attitude of Service

Don’t Lose Heart, Don’t Grow Weary, Don’t Give in
a. Perseverance counts in helping others
b. The end result is worth the effort (Hebrews 12:12-16): Sanctification
c. Satan doesn’t give up, neither should we!

Do Good, Not harm

Take advantage of opportunities
a. Do not go looking for “bad situations,” but look for a chance to do good
b. Keep an eye out for things you can do to bless others

Don’t shoot the wounded
Do no harm
Do as God has done for you

Now What?
What does accountability look like?
First, choose partners wisely
Pray and wait
Don’t rush into this relationship
Keep the group small, no more than 3 or 4

Second, meet regularly
Set a date and keep it

Third, practice transparency
Tell the truth about your own struggles
Be honest

Fourth, keep confidences

Fifth, practice hospitality and acceptance

Don’t shoot the wounded, love them back to health


Thanks for reading!

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Wednesday, July 02, 2014

 

Happy Birthday USA! A Fourth of July Repost

I posted most of this a couple of years ago.  I decided to add some things, but I thought this was a nice way to celebrate July 4. I hope you enjoy it!

Well, the USA is celebrating yet another birthday, and although some people think that the brightness has worn off this "city on a hill," I'm not ready to read her obituary yet. I went back into the archives to find some quotes for you today. The first one comes from John Wayne.  In the movie "The Alamo," Duke plays Davey Crockett, leader to the Tennessee volunteers. At one point in the movie he gives a speech about the USA and the idea of a "republic." Here is the excerpt I liked the best:


"Republic. I like the sound of the word. It means people can live free, talk free, go or come, buy or sell, be drunk or sober, however they choose. Some words give you a feeling. Republic is one of those words that makes me tight in the throat - the same tightness a man gets when his baby takes his first step or his first baby shaves and makes his first sound as a man. Some words can give you a feeling that makes your heart warm. Republic is one of those words."

Finally, I wanted to share some song lyrics with you all.  Johnny Cash was a singer/songwriter whose music I heard a lot growing up.  I think my dad had every Cash album ever made!  At any rate, Johnny Cash has a song that I think is appropriate for this day.  It is entitled "Ragged Old Flag," and here are the words:


I walked through a county courthouse square,
On a park bench an old man was sitting there.
I said, "Your old courthouse is kinda run down."
He said, "Naw, it'll do for our little town."
I said, "Your flagpole has leaned a little bit,
And that's a Ragged Old Flag you got hanging on it."


He said, "Have a seat", and I sat down.
"Is this the first time you've been to our little town?"
I said, "I think it is." He said, "I don't like to brag,
But we're kinda proud of that Ragged Old Flag.


"You see, we got a little hole in that flag there
When Washington took it across the Delaware.
And it got powder-burned the night Francis Scott Key
Sat watching it writing 'Oh Say Can You See.'
And it got a bad rip in New Orleans
With Packingham and Jackson tuggin' at its seams.


"And it almost fell at the Alamo
Beside the Texas flag, but she waved on through.
She got cut with a sword at Chancellorsville,
And she got cut again at Shiloh Hill.
There was Robert E. Lee, Beauregard, and Bragg,
And the south wind blew hard on that Ragged Old Flag.


"On Flanders Field in World War I
She got a big hole from a Bertha gun.
She turned blood red in World War II.
She hung limp and low by the time it was through.
She was in Korea and Vietnam.
She went where she was sent by her Uncle Sam.


"She waved from our ships upon the briny foam,
And now they've about quit waving her back here at home.
In her own good land she's been abused--
She's been burned, dishonored, denied, and refused.


"And the government for which she stands
Is scandalized throughout the land.
And she's getting threadbare and wearing thin,
But she's in good shape for the shape she's in.
'Cause she's been through the fire before,
And I believe she can take a whole lot more.


"So we raise her up every morning,
Take her down every night.
We don't let her touch the ground,
And we fold her up right.
On second thought I do like to brag,
'Cause I'm mighty proud of that Ragged Old Flag."

I close these verses with a poem from Ralph Waldo Emerson, "A Nation's Strength." 

What makes a nation’s pillars high
And its foundations strong?
What makes it mighty to defy
The foes that round it throng?

It is not gold. Its kingdoms grand
Go down in battle shock;
Its shafts are laid on sinking sand,
Not on abiding rock.

Is it the sword? Ask the red dust
Of empires passed away;
The blood has turned their stones to rust,
Their glory to decay.

And is it pride? Ah, that bright crown
Has seemed to nations sweet;
But God has struck its luster down
In ashes at his feet.

Not gold but only men can make
A people great and strong;
Men who for truth and honor’s sake
Stand fast and suffer long.

Brave men who work while others sleep,
Who dare while others fly...
They build a nation’s pillars deep
And lift them to the sky.
On this fourth of July, as you give thanks for the freedoms and opportunities God has given you in this land, please remember to pray for those who defend our way of life and for the families of those whose loved ones paid the ultimate price so that we can enjoy our great republic. Remember, it may be a cliche, but it is still true:  "Freedom isn't free."

Happy Birthday, USA!

Thanks for reading!

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Friday, June 13, 2014

 

My Annual Fathers' Day Post in Honor of my Dad

With Fathers' Day coming up Sunday, I couldn't think of any better way to honor my Dad than to repost something I wrote some years ago.  You see, my Dad passed away in 2004, just before I had the privilege of coming to work for Liberty University.  You see, it was always my Dad's dream that I would get to go to Liberty, but you would not believe how excited he was to know that I would be teaching there!

My Dad was quite a man, and almost everyone who ever met him loved him.  He could tell some of the funniest stories, but most of all he kept us connected to the history of his family.  To be honest, I miss him, and I would love an opportunity just to hear his stories all over again. Some of you never knew him, and I am genuinely sorry. He enriched the lives of so many with his infectious smile and easy generosity. I feel so much poorer without him, but I know heaven is richer. I love you, Dad.

I first wrote this in 2005, but it speaks volumes about my memories of my dad, Bobbie Eugene Percer, Sr. My dad was a hero to me in many ways, and I am terribly sorry that I never told him that to his face. At his funeral in 2004, literally hundreds of people stood in line for hours to tell us of the way my dad had blessed them. I heard stories of dad witnessing to people and leading them to the Lord, stories of dad giving money or clothes or time or work in order to help someone else find a better path in life, stories of my dad going out of his way to help others, etc. It humbled me. I had no idea how "big" a man my father was, how much of a blessing he was to many people. My dad left some mighty big shoes, and I hope I can be half the man he was. With that in mind, here is the first thing I wrote about my dad way back in 2005.

With Father's day coming up this weekend, I wanted to share some thoughts about my Father. You see, my father passed away in August 2004, and for many reasons thoughts of him have been central in my mind recently. I’m afraid I’m losing him.

Let me explain.

My dad wasn’t very active the last few years of life. Due to his own lack of proper care for his physical body and a host of problems with illness, the primary memory my children have of their grandfather is dad sitting in a big lounger watching TV and occasionally waking up long enough to tease them.

My children did not get to know my dad. Oh, my dad was never the most active guy in the world (I think I know where my own lack of activity comes from!), but he didn’t sit around a lot as I remember it. Dad coached baseball, football, basketball, if it had “ball” in the title, he learned it, played it, and probably coached it. My dad cared about folks that no one else wanted. He loved kids, especially his own. I once saw my dad kick a field goal from the 45 yard line (that’s a 55 yard kick, if you didn’t know!). I was in high school then, so dad was probably in his mid-40s. He could kick the ball further than the place kicker on our team.

I remember looking for dad’s vehicle to pull up at the football practice field. I don’t know if he knew that I saw him, but I looked for him to show up so I could perform for him. Dad didn’t get real excited about sports (that was mom’s job!), but you could tell when he was enjoying something. He had this infectious grin and mischievous smile that would literally light up his face. I heard that for almost 10 years after my younger brother graduated high school, dad would make his way to the practice field and sit in his car and watch the players go through their paces. For me, his watching was a comforting presence that reminded me that he was there if I needed him. Oh, I’ll admit that I didn’t “need” him as much as he would like, but it made me feel real good to know dad was there.

I miss him.

Sometimes in my work here, I think that dad is sitting in heaven, in his heavenly lounger, watching his boy perform. Oh, I’m not blindsiding running backs and quarterbacks any more, but I can’t help but think that dad is silently cheering for me. He sits there, intently studying me as I pace a classroom or teach a class or grade a paper. When I make a particularly brilliant play, he smiles that smile. Even when I don’t do so well, dad looks approvingly on his boy. I can see him, sitting there, a big glass of sweet tea on the table, a smile in his eyes, and joy in his heart. I want to make him proud, and I think he knows that.

My last words to my dad face-to-face were spoken around Easter of 2004. I don’t remember everything we discussed, but I remember putting my arm around his shoulders and looking into that face. His eyes were a bit dimmed by old age and strokes. But somewhere in those eyes I saw the place kicker kicking a field goal from the 45 yard line. I remember saying this to him, “Dad, I love you. I’ll see you later.” At his funeral in August 2004, the pastor asked me to pray at the grave site (actually, my mother asked me to do it). As I walked away from dad’s coffin, I touched the lid and said, “I love you, dad, see you later.”

I miss him, but thank God I will see him later. If your father is alive, call him up. Tell him you appreciate him and love him. Memories are great, but I’d love to have my dad here to hug again. He’s much better off, but I need his smile. Dad, I love you. See you later!

Thanks for reading!

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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

 

The Great American Novel: A Song by Larry Norman

Tonight as I have been hanging out with my family, I have had a song running through my head.  The song is by Larry Norman, something of a pioneer in Christian music.  Norman wasn't afraid to take on controversial topics in his songs, and in many ways he was a bold man.  I dearly loved his music, and I own several of his albums on actual vinyl records.  In some ways Larry Norman (along with DeGarmo and Key, Petra, Keith Green, Randy Stonehill, and others) wrote the background music to my Christian life as a young man.  Nonetheless, there was one song that sticks with me.  That song is entitled "The Great American Novel."  Here are the lyrics:

i was born and raised an orphan
in a land that once was free
in a land that poured its love out on the moon
and i grew up in the shadows
of your silos filled with grain
but you never helped to fill my empty spoon

and when i was ten you murdered law
with courtroom politics
and you learned to make a lie sound just like truth
but i know you better now
and i don't fall for all your tricks
and you've lost the one advantage of my youth

you kill a black man at midnight
just for talking to your daughter
then you make his wife your mistress
and you leave her without water
and the sheet you wear upon your face
is the sheet your children sleep on
at every meal you say a prayer
you don't believe but still you keep on

and your money says in God we trust
but it's against the law to pray in school
you say we beat the russians to the moon
and i say you starved your children to do it

you are far across the ocean
but the war is not your own
and while you're winning theirs
you're gonna lose the one at home
do you really think the only way
to bring about the peace
is to sacrifice your children
and kill all your enemies

the politicians all make speeches
while the news men all take note
and they exaggerate the issues
as they shove them down our throats
is it really up to them
whether this country sinks or floats
well i wonder who would lead us
if none of us would vote

well my phone is tapped and my lips are chapped
from whispering through the fence
you know every move i make
or is that just coincidence
well you try to make my way of life
a little less like jail
if i promise to make tapes and slides
and send them through the mail

and your money says in God we trust
but it's against the law to pray in school
you say we beat the russians to the moon
and i say you starved your children to do it
you say all men are equal all men are brothers
then why are the rich more equal than others
don't ask me for the answer i've only got one
that a man leaves his darkness when he follows the Son
Although the issues he addresses in this song are predominantly issues of the 60s and 70s, the song still has a lot of relevance for today.  How often do we (as Christians, or even as Americans) think of our own needs first, putting our needs before the needs and suffering of others?  As Norman sings, our silos are full of grain, but we don't make a move to fill another person's empty spoon.  As Christians, we are called to feed the hungry, and yet so often we fail to do so (or we write a check or expect the government to do it because "we pay taxes").  Love for others should require us to consider the concerns of others as more important than our own (see Philippians 3). 

And that is only ONE issue Norman addresses.  He addresses corrupt politics, racism, war, and a multitude of other issues, many of which still linger in our society. 

I can almost see him, looking a bit prophetic in his long hair and faded jeans, singing his words of truth into my soul.  I remember seeing him in concert, and I remember wondering how he was able to read my heart and address my concerns so clearly.

I was young, I was idealistic.  And Larry Norman fed my soul things it needed to hear.  I needed to be reminded that the kingdom of God is more important than presidential elections.  I needed to be reminded that how I treat my neighbor says a lot more about my faith in God than how often I read my Bible.  I needed to be reminded that how I spend my money shows my real concerns and my true convictions.  I needed to be reminded that what I think of God often says more about me than it does about God. 

I needed someone like Larry Norman to remind me--Christianity isn't necessarily a panacea for the world's problems.  It is a relationship with a living Lord who invades our lives with His amazing kindness and expects us to spread that love to others.  Christianity should be an ongoing journey into the Light, into the Truth, and a continuous connection and growing into the image of the One who made me and who laid down His life to save mine. 

I needed to be reminded that Christianity isn't simply about creeds, belief systems, or doctrinal statements.  It is action.  God loved, and He acted.  How can we who follow Him expect to do anything less?  If we love as He loves, we will (indeed, we MUST) act. 

Larry Norman wasn't perfect, but he was a good reminder for me at just the right time.  God used Norman to shore up my conscience, to remind me that in all my gaining of knowledge I needed to also gain wisdom to live life as God intended.  In some of his music, Norman shared that wisdom.

As he reminds us in the song above:  "you say all men are equal all men are brothers/then why are the rich more equal than others/don't ask me for the answer i've only got one/that a man leaves his darkness when he follows the Son." 

How are we doing?  Are we walking out of darkness into God's great Light?  Are we moving in God's direction?  Where else can we go, Jesus alone holds the Words of Life . . .

Thanks, Larry Norman, for sticking in my head.  May your tribe increase!

Thanks for reading! 

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Friday, May 23, 2014

 

Memorial Day, by Edgar Guest: My Annual Post

This weekend we celebrate Memorial Day here in the United States.  It is a day we take time to remember those who have given their lives in defense of our country.  It is also a day when we take time to thank those who currently serve in our military.  Some time back I began a tradition of honoring this day with a poem by Edgar Guest. Let me know what you think!

The finest tribute we can pay
Unto our hero dead to-day,
Is not a rose wreath, white and red,
In memory of the blood they shed;
It is to stand beside each mound,
Each couch of consecrated ground,
And pledge ourselves as warriors true
Unto the work they died to do.

Into God's valleys where they lie
At rest, beneath the open sky,
Triumphant now o'er every foe,
As living tributes let us go.
No wreath of rose or immortelles
Or spoken word or tolling bells
Will do to-day, unless we give
Our pledge that liberty shall live.

Our hearts must be the roses red
We place above our hero dead;
To-day beside their graves we must
Renew allegiance to their trust;
Must bare our heads and humbly say
We hold the Flag as dear as they,
And stand, as once they stood, to die
To keep the Stars and Stripes on high.

The finest tribute we can pay
Unto our hero dead to-day
Is not of speech or roses red,
But living, throbbing hearts instead,
That shall renew the pledge they sealed
With death upon the battlefield:
That freedom's flag shall bear no stain
And free men wear no tyrant's chain.

Thanks for reading! And thanks to all military who served or currently serve to protect our freedoms! May God bless you and your families.

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