Friday, June 26, 2009


*What a week this has been.

From the mysterious disappearance of South Carolina governor Mark Sanford and his explosive subsequent confession of an extramarital affair to the deaths of 3 major entertainment figures, Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett, and Michael Jackson, to the ongoing struggle in Iran, we've been pretty much glued to the TV and internet over the last several days trying to get all the details.

It's a little depressing. A lot more bad news than we'd like.

As Christians we need to attempt to put all this gloomy stuff in perspective in the light of God's Word. Some thoughts:
1. We live in a fallen world. There's so much that is good and beautiful and
wholesome in this universe that God made, but because of Adam's sin
(Genesis 3) we've been plunged into a downward spiral of evil, disease, decay,
and death. By His sacrifice on the Cross Jesus has started the restoration
process, but for now we find ourselves on a planet ravaged by sin and
destruction. Radically messed up.

2. We each have an appointment with death(Hebrews 9:27). Doesn't matter how
rich, famous, talented, or attractive you are, you will someday breathe your
last. Death is the great equalizer. You really don't get to choose the time and
circumstances of your departure from this world. Those 3 megastars had
their brief day in the sun and then the inevitable summons came. I sure hope
they were prepared to meet God. Eternity is forever.

3. Each of us is vulnerable to temptation and sin. Regardless of how
conservative or spiritual we are, or think we are, we can potentially stumble
or drift into some moral or ethical failure. Politicians and preachers are not
immune. Neither are you. 1 Corinthians 10:12 needs to be heeded. Before we
get too critical of Gov. Sanford, we ought to pause and remember that
without putting in place strong safeguards, we are just as prone to fall as he
was. Judah(Genesis 38) was highly condemnatory of Tamar's sexual sin
until his own indiscretion was revealed. Same thing with David in 2 Samuel
12 when Nathan told him a story that got his judgemental juices flowing big
time until his own heinous sin was exposed.

4. We need to be careful that we don't consume a steady diet of just negative
news each day(war, terrorism, child kidnappings,etc.). That's a sure
prescription for discouragement and even fear. It's important for us to also
reflect on the attributes of God. The glories of the Gospel. The wonders of
Christ. The prospect of our eternal destiny. Immerse yourself in scripture
and in fellowship with other believers. Think about good things(Philippians
4:8) such as lovely art, gorgeous music, beautiful scenery, and precious

*I'm loving the seasonal flowers I'm being given for my desk. Gardenias(Bensons, Lucy, and Dot Newton) and now a big, bright sunflower(Betty Deans). God's handiwork on display!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Sermon Redux

As so often happens, the point I most wanted to emphasize in a sermon got short shrift because time ran out Sunday.

I was preaching on fathering from Proverbs 4:1-9 about how Solomon attempted to pass on to his children the wisdom he had received from his own dad, King David. This wisdom was probably both practical and spiritual in nature, and Solomon wanted his kids to know how valuable it was and how crucial it would be to obtain it.

I attempted to say, from verses 8 and 9, that it is absolutely essential for us as parents to plant positive images in the minds of our children about Christianity and church and for us to paint pictures of success in their thinking about the future. I was talking about cultivating their spiritual imagination. About scripture-based visualization. Solomon used beautiful poetic imagery to do that. The Genesis patriarchs would accomplish that with their words in passing on a blessing to their sons.

Rather than transmitting to our kids by our statements and our actions that our faith is a drudgery and a duty, we need to speak and live before them the reality that knowing and walking with God is a joy and a privilege beyond measure. If they never hear us pray and never see us reading the Bible and only catch us bemoaning the negative stuff that sometimes happens at church it shouldn't surprise us that they possess no real desire for the Christian life or for congregational involvement.

Instead of belittling them or dashing their hopes or telling them that they'll never amount to much, we ought to be using our words to encourage our kids. To lift them. To inspire them toward great exploits. To cast mental pictures and visions of possibility for them if they will seek the Lord and His ways(Proverbs 3:5-6). Even in these dark days of economic distress and international tension we need to lay out for our children a positive view of the future that calls them to rise to the occasion and be leaders and shapers who will step up to the plate and interact with our crumbling culture and be a powerful influence for good. Jesus did that. He said we are to be salt and light in the midst of our pagan environment. He was both a realist and an optimist.

Solomon's passionate paternal counsel to his sons reminds us that we can't just leave our children to themselves and hope for the best. We must pass on to them critical life skills like etiquette and how to handle money and build quality relationships. We need to teach them how to make decisions and the steps to take to avoid temptations. We should model for them the value of hard work(not overwork, though) and the rewards of diligent study. Perhaps using Proverbs as our manual, we should instruct them in developing a godly character by practicing all the traits described there. Above all else, we must gradually lead them to understand that the most important thing in life is being connected to God through His Son, Jesus Christ. There can finally be no real fulfilment if we remain lost, dead in our sins, and unrelated to our Creator.

Our confidence in our kids will help build their self-confidence. Say what you will about Jacob's parenting skills(Genesis 37), he must have done something right with at least one of his sons, Joseph, in order to foster within him an inner picture of how his future would make a difference in the lives of others. With our love and attentiveness and wise counsel we can have that kind of formative impact on the destiny of the little ones God has entrusted to our care. By daring them to dream big dreams and by pointing out to them how to methodically take the preparatory steps to get there we can leave an incredible legacy. And by the way, grandparents can get in on this molding business, too. Solomon's tender reference in Proverbs 4 to his father proves that!

There are a lot of things we have to tell our children that they can't do. Let's be sure that we also instill in them an exhilirating sense of all the wonderful things they can do. Let's try to say "Yes!"even more often than we say "No!" to our boys and girls who, in a few years, will be running this world and need to be courageous and unafraid and willing to take some risks to bring about productive results.

Thursday, June 18, 2009


The other Sunday in a sermon I mentioned that studying the attributes of God is a very worthwhile endeavor.

As we examine God's characteristics, qualities, and perfections we get to know Him better and sense a stronger pull to be like Him. We also feel more secure and at peace in our spirits. Just thinking about God's goodness and wisdom and holiness and sovereignty and providence and love is enough to get us rejoicing. Then throw in His omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence. Don't forget His unchangeableness, either, or His eternalness and His invisibility and His independance. Wow. What a great God we worship and serve.

Our worship will be constricted if we have only a weak, inadequate understanding of God's nature. Our obedience to, and service for, Him will be anemic and lackluster unless we really hunger to know Him intellectually and experientially.

Courses in systematic theology in seminaries and Bible colleges devote a lot of attention to the doctrine of God and His qualities. Bible teachers and theologians through the centuries have preached, taught, and written extensively about what God is like. I referred to the great Puritan preacher Stephen Charnock(1628-1680) who penned the massive Existence And Attributes Of God. Arthur Pink(1886-1952) wrote a much smaller but nevertheless valuable work, The Attributes Of God. In our own day, Wayne Grudem has discussed this topic thoroughly among other chapters in his textbook, Systematic Theology(Zondervan, 1994). As you might expect, all of this is heavy reading but rich and rewarding. Potentially faith-building and life-transforming, too.

We are now concluding our Midweek Fellowship(Wednesday evening) series of studies on the "one another" statements of the New Testament. The Holy Spirit inspired Paul, John, Peter, and James to include these sayings in their writings. You've seen them, scattered about the epistles. Serve one another. Pray for one another. Confess your sins to each other. Encourage and admonish one another. Greet and show hospitality to each other. Undergirding all of these is the challenge to love one another. And there are several others of those practical instructions.

These are not suggestions. They are commands. Taken seriously and consistently practiced, they will revolutionize our relationships in the body of Christ. We are given a track to run on in our interactions with fellow believers. Here is clear counsel not just on how to get along in church but on how to build deep, intimate, faith-stretching connections and ties in the family of God that will produce joy and spiritual growth.

We'd all do well to go through our New Testaments and discover and then underline each of these short but highly significant sayings, praying all the while that we'll have the grace and energy of the Holy Spirit in living them out in our age when the world around us presses its nose against the windows of our churches, looking in with the hope that it will find in our fellowships a better way to live and relate than what is out there in the self-seeking, hurried, dog-eat-dog culture.

The Southern Baptist Convention meets this week in Louisville, KY for its annual session. I'll not be attending this year since I used up most of my conference expense money to attend the very valuable John Piper Pastors' Conference in Minneapolis, MN back in the winter. This upcoming SBC gathering does promise to be interesting, though, as the messengers will discuss and vote on a document called The Great Commission Resurgence that has already been much debated. It is almost certain that Georgia pastor Johnny Hunt will be reelected to a second term as convention president. There is a lot of concern in our denomination these days about the growing exodus, or at least decreased involvement, of many younger pastors and laypeople who, while strongly committed to Christ and scripture, are upset with the narrowing theological and cooperation tents as well as a bureauracy that seems too big and outmoded in these fast-paced days. your Religious Herald and maybe even our local newspaper for coverage of the major stuff coming out of the Louisville meeting.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Meteorological Meditations

I absolutely love thunderstorms.

I didn't always.

I remember as a child that everytime the thunder roared and the lightning flashed and the rain poured, my mother, acting, I guess, out of the way she was raised, would make us 3 boys sit down and be still and quiet for the duration. Something about showing respect. That just compounded the fear that I already had at the loud noise and the sense of possible danger. If it stormed in the night I would hide my face under the pillow. Too many scary movies I'd seen on TV used threatening storms at precisely the darkest, most frightening moments and, alone, in bed, I really felt vulnerable.

Nowadays I look forward to these weather events. I delight in the way it somehow gets dark and still and silent in the late afternoon just before a storm erupts. In the middle of the night, it's neat to lay in bed and watch the lightning cause the room to glow, or hear the thunder very gradually get louder or smell the rain as it begins to fall, softly at first and then heavy in a downpour. It's fun to contemplate where that storm has been on its way to you. During the daylight hours it's awesome to observe those massive thunderheads in the sky and wait for the eventual storm. I've had the experience of flying in an airplane through those mountainous castles of vapor and up there it's even more incredible. I've long envied the people who live in the wide open spaces of the Midwest who can see these lofty clouds building long before the deluge.

This is God's work.

We're not to cringe in terror when a storm occurs but there's a sense, I suppose, in which Mama was right those many years ago--we should have a healthy respect for this meteorological phenomenon that passes our way occasionally, especially in these summer months. This is the handiwork of the Lord. His power and majesty and wonder and creativity are on display. He's giving us a gift, and a demonstration of His might and glory. Job 38, among other Bible texts, asks us to consider the mystery and the sovereignty and the omnipotence of God when we witness this weather pattern. Scientists can explain the various conditions that coalesce to bring about a storm but you have to push much, much further back, all the way to the Lord himself, to truly understand the dynamics of these towering sky happenings.

I hope that there'll be thunderstorms in Heaven! Until then, I'm gonna enjoy these free events that remind us again of how big God is, and how small we really are.

One of those storms is moving in right now. Would you excuse me, please?

Friday, June 5, 2009

Odds And Ends

*Treat yourself.
Go see the new Disney/Pixar animated film, Up, which opened May 29.
Okay, okay, I know it's animation and supposed to be for kids. But there's something in it for everybody. Awesome creativity. Neat story. Incredible detailing. It's a visual feast.
What I liked were the powerfully depicted themes of adventure-seeking and risk-taking. Of a long, rich, fulfilling marriage. Of the sobering losses that come with old age as well as the opportunities to mentor and nurture future generations. Of coming to the realization that, in looking back,we find that our best days were not the real dramatic ones but rather the mundane, routine ones that we hardly noticed in passing. I guess you could say that getting to the place where we accept the past and arriving at the point where we're best positioned for the future are two emphases beautifully illustrated in this story of a flying house, a grieving old man, and an eager but already slightly wounded young boy.
Carve out a couple of hours, get some popcorn, and enjoy this cinematic experience that just might bring a tear or two to your eyes even as you laugh. Children will get a kick out of this movie on one level, but adults will find much here on which to reflect as well.

*I had a pleasant afternoon last Sunday at, of all places, a funeral home visitation in Wakefield, VA(yes, I went to the famous Virginia Diner while I was over there!).
I went because a 92-year old cousin, a most beautiful woman in her day, had died. She was on my late mother's side of the family and I suppose I made the effort to attend the wake because this lady and my mom had been so very close growing up and, of course, my mother could not be there.
I'm glad I went.
I didn't know anyone there except for another cousin and her daughter. This cousin, much younger than my mom but growing up around her, has always been good at answering my many, many questions about the childhood and teen years of my mother. My sources for that information are now very few. And there's so much I want to know! I think I'm more inquisitive than most folks my age about the family backgrounds and history of their parents, but even so, it's sad that we sometimes wait too late to seek and dig out those memories and stories and facts of familial context that would enrich us if we knew them.
Once again I peppered this relative with my inquiries.
I have this insatiable hunger to know more and more about what my mom was like in her younger years. When I get bits and pieces of clues, I try to picture her in the imagination of my mind as to those days long before I knew her.
Dorothy came through again last Sunday with more vignettes and wispy glimmers and images of a life well-lived and thoroughly enjoyed some 70 years ago. I was reminded of how my mother loved to dance back then(something I've never been any good at). I learned for the first time that Mama really adored cats(don't get me started on that!) I also heard yet again how playful and fun-loving she was.
Each person's journey is rich and packed with treasures waiting to be unwrapped and shared by and with somebody else. All of us need to be having those deep, intimate, rewarding conversations now before the sand in the hourglass runs down and the seconds on the scoreboard run out to that final buzzer. We become fuller, deeper, riper individuals when we breathe in and revel in the stories of our loved ones.
My time in that funeral home chapel last week was not wasted.
Incidentally, it was during that trip to Wakefield that I learned, by glancing at a Petersburg newspaper headline, that a 92-year old funeral director in Colonial Heights(site of my first pastorate)had died. I well remember riding in the lead car of many a funeral procession with Alvin Small in the late 1970's and early 1980's. We talked about churches and funeral home practices and burials and cremations and all kinds of things. I learned much from him, and he was always so courteous and complimentary and encouraging to this very young(then!) preacher. He prepared me well to receive very similar responses and assistance from the always kind and gentlemanly Eddie Faulkner here in Newport News. There is something of a bond between pastors and funeral directors! We have to work together, as a team, with people who are walking through the dark valley of losing loved ones. Colonial Heights, and especially the ministers there, have lost a dear friend.