Monday, November 26, 2007


My good friend, fellow pastor Mark Reon, played a joke on me the other day.

Several weeks ago he had asked me to fill his pulpit in his absence since he would be away attending a wedding anniversary celebration for his parents in another state.

On the appointed date I arrived early, greeted those coming in for worship, and joined in with everyone else in the musical part of the service. When I stood to preach, I made some lighthearted, teasing comments about Mark to his congregation in my introduction. All of a sudden, I noticed that everyone had started smiling, giggling, and looking beyond me on the platform. I turned and saw Mark, walking out on stage from a side door!

It was just like The Tonight Show or Maury Povich or one of those old This Is Your Life events. Mark was smiling and talking as he stepped forward toward me. He feigned shock that somebody else was preaching in his place. Meanwhile, the audience is laughing and applauding and enjoying every minute of this surprise. Mark had gotten back in town early and had decided to come on to church, not only to hear my message but to shock me and perhaps even get me flustered. He's such a kidder! Anyway, I reached over and hugged him, and he went and sat down in a pew and I continued on with the sermon. It all made for a very warm and happy evening.

I went home and reflected on that delightful experience and saw a beautiful connection with Advent, the season we begin to celebrate this Sunday.

These next 4 weeks of meditation and introspection and repentance remind us that at just the right moment Jesus showed up! He simply appeared. At a time and in a manner that the world least expected, Jesus was suddenly there. And His coming has brought incredible joy and light and grace to this planet. I'm so glad that we have these 30 days before us to revel again in the celebration of Christ's nativity.

Granted, we're not waiting for His birth, though that happening is what we talk about. It has already taken place, 2000 years ago. We are in expectancy now over His return. His Second Coming. His second Advent. It could occur at any moment. We should hope that when He makes His grand entrance He finds us busy for Him! I John 2:28 challenges us to live in such a way that we will not be embarrassed or ashamed when He appears. In James 5:9 there's an even more stark picture and warning: Jesus is at the door getting ready to walk out, as a judge preparing to convene in a courtroom. The idea is that He can hear, even now, what's being said and done in our churches and homes and private lives. That may call for some straightening up and adjustments in our conduct.

So Advent is not just a portion of time on a calendar or a religious ritual. It's about looking forward to a coming. Eagerly, as Hebrews 9:28 says. Unsure of exactly when it will take place, as Matthew 24:42 suggests.

Ok, Mark, you really did surprise me and momentarily catch me off guard the other night. But I was prepared to preach and was enjoying the interaction with your good folks and so was able to quickly pick up and continue. I so long for that to be true when the King of Kings and Lord of Lords suddenly steps out on those clouds one day!

Monday, November 19, 2007

News Wire

It's hard to believe but youngest son, Wes, graduates from Carson-Newman College in Tennessee on December 14. Vicki and I are so very proud of him. His finishing there is especially meaningful to Vicki because CNC is her alma mater. Ryan got his degree from Samford University in Birmingham where I attended before transferring and so his graduation had great significance for me. So I guess you could say we're a balanced family. At least when it comes to higher education, anyway. We look forward to trekking out to the Volunteer State for Wes' commencement in a few weeks.

I'm concerned about the release of the childrens' fantasy movie The Golden Compass on December 7. It's based on the first of a trilogy of books by an atheistic Britisher who despises Christianity and the Church. Using the genres of epic and fantasy, he attempts to discredit the authority and influence of the faith. He denounces the failures and mistakes and occasional injustices of the Church over the centuries. His portrayal of God is clearly heretical, and in fact, in the final book, God is killed off. Apparently he hopes that all 3 books will make it to the silver screen, so this first film will be milder in its approach, thus hooking innocent, naive boys and girls on dangerous falsehood. We need to warn parents. We also need to pray that the movie will bomb or that its influence will be muted. Further, we need to intensify our efforts to teach the truth about God and creation and all the other key doctrines. I'm not a book burner. I'm not for censorship. I do think we have to always be alert and on guard and vigilant when it comes to destructive error, however it's packaged. Each of us needs to be a well-trained apologist.

I'm excited about Christmas! I'm one of those people who doesn't mind starting all the decorating and seasonal music early. One of the classical stations on my Sirius satellite radio system began playing great Christmas music today and I'm really enjoying it. I especially like a lot of the British carols, and stuff by John Rutter. I want to get the most out of this magical season. It wouldn't bother me one bit if gift giving wasn't a part of this holiday. I delight in all the other facets of the celebration: family, get-togethers, colors, programs and pageants, decorations, and the music...especially the music. And the coming of Jesus inspires all of this.

I'm really bothered by the censure of Oklahoma pastor Wade Burleson by his fellow trustees on the Southern Baptist International Mission Board. And right here at Lottie Moon time, too. I admire Wade for his courage, his insight and vision, his gracious spirit, and his willingness to take a stand against the narrowing of possibilities for cooperation in SBC life. I can only hope that the negative, unkind, political action taken against him will either be reversed or lead to a groundswell of support for major changes in how our convention is led and how we do our work.