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October 29, 2010 at 10:42 am | Posted in Devotional thoughts, Wisdom | Leave a comment

Some thoughts from Proverbs 18:

A fool finds no pleasure in understanding but delights in airing his own opinions.

A fool’s lips bring him strife, and his mouth invites a beating.

A fool’s mouth is his undoing, and his lips are a snare to his soul.

The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to a man’s inmost parts.

He who answers before listening – that is his folly and his shame.

The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.

I fear any comment I make on these verses would put me on dangerous ground!

Disciplines and Drills, Swimming and Life

October 21, 2010 at 10:54 pm | Posted in Swimming, Wisdom | 2 Comments

I started helping with my daughter’s high school swim team today.  Her coach found out I’ve read Total Immersion, one of the definitive textbooks on modern swimming – the text he uses, and that I know the drills given in it, so he put me to work helping the slowest swimmers with those drills.  I watched the four girls in my lane swim during warmup, explained to them what I saw that needed improvement, how I thought Coach Luke’s drills would help them improve, and how I would instruct them through the process.  We spent the next 40-45 minutes doing drills that, to the untrained eye, would seem to have nothing to do with swimming faster or better.  With a few minutes left in our session, I told the girls we would take a break from drills and just swim freestyle to other end of the pool.  Not only did they already look way better than at the beginning of the session, but when I asked them what they felt while swimming, they commented on things they’d been doing wrong, and that they realized when they did those things.

It occurred to me that spiritual disciplines are to life like those drills are to swimming.  To the untrained spirit, the disciplines may seem to have little to do with real life, even appear to be a waste of time.  But the more one does them, the better that person becomes at living real life.  The more time you spend reading, studying, memorizing and meditating on God’s Word, the more you will see how it’s principles relate to living life.  It won’t take long, once a pattern of spiritual disciplines is established, to see the difference.

At the end of practice the Coach Luke got all the girls together and put them into relay teams.  During the ensuing race, it looked like my girls lost everything they’d seemed to gain in the hour I’d spent with them.  They hadn’t learned the techniques well enough to imprint them in their brains, and the stress of the situation made them go right back to old habits.  The goal of the drills is to learn the best stroke technique well enough that it becomes natural even under the stress of a race.  Also, if those girls never do those drills again, they would not show any improvement, they would go back to their old habits even when they are not in the stress of a race.  This too parallels spiritual discipline, we must practice the disciplines so well that the principles of God’s word work in our lives, even under stress.  And we must continue them so that we never go back to the old way of living.

Spiritual discipline is practice for real life.  Practice well and you will live well.  Practice poorly and . . . well, let’s not go there.

Deliver Us from Evil

October 14, 2010 at 9:03 am | Posted in Devotional thoughts, Security and Assurance | 5 Comments

          A man came into my office the other day and told me a long story of how he had been overcommitted and stressed for a long time; how everything he’d done had been from a sense of pride that he could do it all; how in the midst of the stress, he started making some very stupid decisions.  He spent a few months living a sinful and selfish lifestyle, and, as a result of his foolishness, lost his career, his home, his savings, his wife and his children.  He is a broken man who has been beating himself up over guilt for many months now.  I tried to encourage him with reminders of God’s complete forgiveness and unconditional love, with talk of God’s amazing grace, with the thought that he can now experience that grace at a different level than ever before.  Before he left my office, I prayed for him.  I prayed that he would see and sense God’s love and grace, that he would again walk and fellowship in God’s grace, and that God would break through his guilt.

          There are two thoughts to pass along.  First, often the hardest part of forgiveness is not forgiving someone who has wronged us, rather it’s forgiving ourselves when we live lives of hypocrisy.  But God’s forgiveness is vast and complete.  I have often commented on these pages about the completeness of that forgiveness.  Those who trust in Jesus are eternally forgiven; sins past, present and future are wiped clean from our record.  People often ask me, when I make a comment like that, how our future sins could be forgiven already.  Well God could offer no assurance of salvation if our future sins are not already forgiven.  Yet the Bible gives full assurance that we will be saved and that we are already forgiven.  Besides, all of your sin was future when Jesus died for it!  For more of my thoughts on this, with relevant scripture passages, check out some of the articles under the Security and Assurance category heading.

          The other thought that struck me was how all of us are susceptible to grievous sin.  Anybody who knew this man two years before the story he told me began would never have believed he could make the foolish decisions he made.  In fact, they would be shocked at what he did.  That means that I, even as a church pastor, am not above falling into the same trap.  I was reminded that I must keep myself clear of undo, self-inflicted stress, doing too much for the sake of my own pride; that I must take the sabbath rests God prescribes in his word; that I must focus on my daily relationship with God, humbly coming to him for guidance and strength; that I must never take my wife and daughter for granted but daily thank God for the gifts they are.  Ironically, as soon as I think I’m better than he is because I have never fallen like that, I am guilty of the same pride that brought him down.  The old saying sure applies here, “But for the grace of God, there go I.”  Thank God for grace!

The morning after listening to this man’s story, I read the following prayer in Psalm 141“O LORD, I call upon You; hasten to me!  Give ear to my voice when I call to You!  . . .  Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips.  Do not incline my heart to any evil thing, to practice deeds of wickedness with men who do iniquity; and do not let me eat of their delicacies.”  I often have to pray the same thoughts David prayed in this great poem.  O Lord, deliver us from evil!

Is Christmas Pagan?

October 6, 2010 at 2:16 pm | Posted in Questions for Pastor Glenn | Leave a comment

I received a note from a woman who has been challenged on the history and pagan origins of celebrating Christmas.  Though I can’t reprint the letter here, I can show a part of my response to her.

          As to the celebration of Christmas, and to whether it is a pagan or Christian holiday.  Here’s my understanding.  Christmas is a Christian holiday, that ‘s why it’s called CHRISTmas, though it is not a biblical one.  However, December 25 has been a pagan holiday for centuries in many cultures around the northern hemisphere.  There is a simple explanation for that.  December 25 is, so I’ve been told, the first day the naked eye can determine that the sun is returning north; December 21 being its farthest southern migration.  That is the perfect scenario to celebrate the sun god or the summer god or, in the Roman case, Saturnalia.  Some believe the latter to be a week-long celebration ending on December 24/25.  Whether or not Christians should celebrate it is a matter with a couple of factors.

          First, should Christians celebrate at all?  Sounds like a stupid question, but there are some who believe celebration of any kind is prohibited.  I wonder what bible they read.  God encourages his people to celebrate, and the celebrations in the OT often relate to the events of their redemption.  Passover is the most obvious, remembering the release from slavery, but Tabernacles remembers the travels in the desert, and Yom Kippur (sometimes called the Day of Atonement) is the day of sacrifice for sins (though this is more solemn than one might think of “celebration”).  Later added holidays like Purim and Hanukah also recall redemption events in Israel’s history.  In addition to these there are Pentecost (sometimes called the Harvest Feast, the First Fruits and Feast of Weeks) which celebrated the early barley harvest, and the celebration tithe, some believe this to be a second (or even third) tithe offering.  This offering was eaten in celebration by the family who gave it!  Imagine preachers teaching that kind of tithe today!  All this adds up to say that God wants his people to celebrate.

          The further question then would be, what do we celebrate, the events of the OT or something new?  If the biggest celebrations were reminders of the great events of their redemption, then why shouldn’t we celebrate the great events of our redemption, especially Jesus’ coming, his death and his resurrection?  The answer seems most obvious to me: we should celebrate those things.

          So if we celebrate Jesus’ coming, how and when should we do it?  Not all the history is clear, but it seems the early Christians, who began celebrating on December 25 did so because that was a day people were going to celebrate anyway, and we really don’t know when Christ was born.  Does that make the celebration pagan?  Were those early believers taking a part of culture and baptizing it to look Christian when they should have separated from it?  Or were they taking a part of culture and redeeming it for better purposes.  I tend to believe the latter, however, that doesn’t downplay the danger of losing the Christian meaning in the party atmosphere of the surrounding culture.  How to live in culture and redeem part of it without adapting the pagan meanings of it is always a tricky balance, but one we strike on more fronts than holiday celebrations.

          As to the Christmas tree being in the Bible.  Jeremiah 10 is the passage often associated with this thought.  The chapter says , “the customs of the peoples are worthless; they cut a tree out of the forest . . they adorn it with silver and gold; they fasten it with hammer and nails so it will not totter.”  That certainly could be read to sound like what we do in December.  This chapter is talking about those who make statues out of the trees and then worship those dead statues as though they had life in them.  That is worthless in comparison to the living God.  Are our Christmas trees reminders that Christ is the light of life, or are they objects which, in our minds, take on a life of themselves that deserves worship?  In this matter, there is a third possibility: Are our trees so much a part of our celebration, we feel we can’t celebrate without them?  Most often, I fear it is this third option, which may not mean that the tree is an idol per se, but may indicate we have lost the meaning of Christmas and replaced it with emotional emptiness.

          Obviously, as you’ve said, many of these things depend on the meaning we attach to them.  If you can celebrate Jesus’ coming on December 25 without buying into the typical drunkenness, materialism and emptiness attached to it, then celebrate with all your heart.

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