Light in the Darkness

Yesterday was my first real trip since early August outside Washington County in a vehicle other than a school bus full of teenagers. Diana and I took Caleb for a visit to Salisbury University to see the college and meet the coach there. And on the way home, we stopped at the University of Maryland in College Park where Jesse is a current student.

We often think of the secular university campus as a bastion of leftist ideology – replete with an anti-Christian hedonism that mocks Christ and the Cross. Indeed, the stuff of this material world is on full display, as is the celebration of the multi-cultural gumbo of all ideas and values being equal ideas and values.

But even without searching it out, the students who are the children of the Kingdom of Light may be found taking their stand for truth and righteousness – competing well in the modern agora of ideas. And in this, I marvel at how they shine like lights in the darkness.

At Salisbury, the coach had his Bible on his office desk – as he did when I first met him 13 years ago when Nathan visited. On the campus tour (as on every campus tour at the dozens of schools I’ve endured such over the past 13 years), they took us into the “average college dorm room.” There a young African-American man talked about dorm life; and as he did, I looked over his shoulder on the shelf behind him where he had several Young Life pamphlets, and a Bible on the top level (he told me he is serving as a YL leader at a local high school). University students often write announcements and messages in chalk on sidewalks – and as we entered a particular building, written on the pavement was this: “For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus,” 1 Timothy 2:15. The campus ministry group was meeting in that building on this evening – with signs advertising the gathering.

At the University of Maryland, we stopped to not just see Jesse, but to pick up his audio equipment from an evening show where his academic fraternity was hosting a benefit program for a student with cancer. Jesse was supplying and running the sound technology for the event. It was a variety talent show, and it was a bit … well … “raw” at times. The dances were creative but a bit suggestive at certain junctures, the comedy routines a bit rough with the language, etc. But one girl sang a song a cappella – introducing it as a part of her celebration, not of “the holidays,” but of Christmas and the coming of Jesus. The song was a ballad as sung from the lips of Mary – pondering the holiness within her by carrying and bearing the divine son. Her song indeed stuck out like a bright light in a dark sky.

The Scriptures are full of passages where we are admonished to live in this way. The Beatitudes encourage us to let our light shine before men … and in Ephesians 5:8 Paul says, “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light.”  And in this Christmas season we celebrate the coming of Christ who is oft spoken of as the light that has penetrated the darkness.

So I have not feared sending my boys into these places – yes, locations abounding with the fruitless deeds of darkness, yet places as well where a strong faith can be forged upon the anvil of friends and associates who together recognize their common faith and the obligation to live – even on the secular campus – as citizens of an Eternal Kingdom. I have become of the opinion that there is far more to fear from certain “Christian institutions” who boast a genuine religious past that is but marginally clung to today, and whose fruit I’ve too often seen as infusing skepticism toward the eventual end of the loss of faith by too many of our youth who have attended such vacuous white-washed sepulchers filled with dead men’s bones.

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Communion Frequency

It has been noted by many people at TSF that there has been a more frequent observance of communion over these weeks where varied service changes have taken place. And this has raised the question as to why? … will it now be weekly instead of monthly?

The quick answer is that it will be more frequent than in the past, though not a necessary feature of every Sunday gathering.

The primary reason for the larger emphasis is from a conviction that we need to have a greater focus upon the communication of the Gospel. Many Sundays the communion time fits very naturally with the teaching topic and passage of the day. Other times however, the topic is focused upon another area of biblical truth; and including the communion allows opportunity to incorporate a section of our gathering time again upon the Gospel.

The primary concern I always have heard over the years regarding such a frequent observance of the Lord’s Table is that such a pattern of recurrence will make the commemoration too common-place and routine, thus diminishing its meaning. I would grant that anything in the expression of faith that becomes rote loses its uniqueness and special qualities … but the answer is not to diminish the event, but to diminish the rote nature of the event by creatively making it a meaningful observance.

I often respond to the objection by saying this: Think about it – why is it only communion that we worry about losing its meaning? We would never say, “We should only pray once a month, because, if we pray every week, it won’t be special and we’ll just be uttering vain and repetitious phrases.”  We would never say, “Preach, teach, instruct – it goes on every week and gets so tiring – let’s not have any teaching except once a month so that we don’t get so bored with it.”

One might respond that those examples are ridiculous – that the early church in the time of the Apostles gave themselves to prayer and teaching. Yes, they did. But what was the one, first, primary, central reason for which they gathered? It was to REMEMBER. That was the focus of the gathering – to remember the Gospel truth of Christ’s sacrifice … and along the way they prayed and taught the Scriptures. The early church would have NEVER gotten together without observing the communion.

So I would submit to you that our emphasis is the restoration of a rightful focus, and we want it to be meaningful in a fresh and new way each Sunday. We have no reason to meet; we have no life and relationship with God … without the incredible sacrifice of the body and blood of Christ – the innocent for the guilty. Let us – as oft as we do it – be awestruck in the memorial remembrance of the One who gave His life freely that we might live!

Shortstops and 2 Timothy 2:2

Most folks at Tri-State Fellowship know that I am a big fan of baseball and the Baltimore Orioles, and many know that I write occasional articles for a sports network on a site called BirdsWatch­er.com. It has been a great year for the Birds and a lot of fun to follow this team and write about them.

The Orioles have a new young player who is one of the most highly regarded prospects in all of professional base­ball. His name is Manny Machado, and at age 20 he was brought up from the minors to finish the last 50 games or so with the major league team. Though drafted as a shortstop, he has played 3rd base for the Orioles, since that was the greater need.

Many people are comparing Machado to the famous Yankees shortstop turned 3rd base­man – Alex Rodriquez. Both are from Florida, and both are similar body types with similar advanced skills at a young age.

Prior to Rodriquez, the man who changed the shortstop position in baseball forever was a Marylander named Cal Ripken. He broke the prior mold of shortstops being little guys with good hands for defense, but also small skills at bat. Ripken proved that a big and strong power hitter could also fill the position defensively.

When Rodriquez broke into baseball, Cal Ripken mentored him in the off season and in various ways. Now, Rodriquez has done the same for Machado – working out together over the winter in Florida. In fact, Ripken has commented that he has heard Machado talk about things in ways that he remembered teaching Alex years ago.

What does this have to do with anything spiritual, and why did I write this for our church newsletter? I include it as a perfect illustration of the Apostle Paul’s teaching in 2 Timothy 2:2 … “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.”

This is the essence of what our teaching is to be about – discipling generations of follow­ers of Christ. This is our motto and purpose as a church. This is why we talk about generations and multi-generational ministry all the time. It is the main idea.

If Chris Wiles was to be called away for the next 50 years to be the pastor of the Crystal Cathedral in California, he should be able to come back at age 80 in 2062 and hear the essential teachings that he is presenting now being echoed down the corridors of time to that day.

Are you passing it on? Are you teaching the skills, the craft, the fundamentals of your faith to younger ones around you?

 

Cat Food: The New Forbidden Fruit

Is this where we are headed in Obama’s America? Where all of us end up eating government supplied cat food as our dietary staple? Maybe it won’t be so bad …

The most sought after and fought over food on our farm is the food in the cat’s bowl!

We have sufficiently disciplined our dog to longer sneak around and steal it. But when Nathan and Allie’s dog stays with us, the cat gets little to eat – all this from a dog who rather hates eating dog food and actually eats very little of anything.

However, now our free-ranging chickens have decided they too want to eat the cat’s food. Some of them have begun to come right up on the back porch and eat it all in full view of the feline! As final evidence that the world is turned upside down in Obama’s America, the chickens today chased the cat off the porch and away from her bowl! She has to be thinking, “And this is the thanks I get for not eating you when you were the size of a chicken nugget?”

To desire to have what you are not supposed to have and possess as your own … that is a condition not limited to the animal kingdom. In fact, it goes back to the very first of human problems – the mother of all sorrows and sadness and sickness and death. Forbidden fruit.

Learning contentment within our circumstances is a great challenge. It may, in fact, be at the very center of the primary lesson that God would have us learn – to trust Him today, right NOW, and in spite of whatever is going on around us. Consider these biblical admonitions:

Philippians 4:11-12 … I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.

1 Timothy 6:6 … But godliness with contentment is great gain.

Hebrews 13:5 … Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”

So Close, but So Far …

I recently had the occasion to go to the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore to visit someone from my church. I parked in a nearby deck and walked a couple of blocks to enter the front door of the facility. As I crossed the street to approach the entrance, lying there on the sidewalk was a man who had been rather obviously stricken with some critical medical emergency – so close to the door of the hospital that he was literally in the flower bed about 25 feet from the entrance.

At about the same time as I was walking up to this scene, from blocks away one could hear an emergency vehicle en route for the purpose of assisting this individual. By the time that the medical care arrived, he had been in that position for quite a while; and even then, he was going to be loaded into the vehicle and driven around to another side of the facility.

And so I thought – what an irony … that this man was so close to the care that he needed that he could have almost rolled over through the front door, and yet he was very, very far away from getting the assistance he so desperately required.

And I thought also – that is the spiritual condition of so many people whom I know and love. They are so close, but yet so far. They have some interests in things related to knowing God, but they really do not have a relationship with Him that is evidenced in any way by the patterns of their lives. They always intend to make this issue a matter of priority, but they never seem to bring it front and center and act upon it.

But here’s the point: rolling through the door of the hospital and being inside would do this man no good unless he also met a physician who could help him … but getting inside was a necessary first step. And likewise, getting into church is not going to really cure your disconnection from God unless you meet up with Him there – the Great Physician … but getting inside is a really good first step.

May I invite you my friends – so many of you being local people who read my writings – to come inside the doors at Tri-State Fellowship beginning this Sunday (9:30). We begin a new season of ministry with a new way of worshipping and gathering … and we begin also this Sunday in a new teaching series called “Belong.”

Do you “belong?”  Do you really know God and have a relationship with Him that informs the steps of your lives today and guarantees you an eternal future with Him? If you fear you may not “belong,” we can help you out!  Don’t just remain so close, but so far.

A physician named Luke, who wrote one of the Gospels quoted Jesus saying, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

And Jesus himself said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Talking to and Hearing from God

My 3-year-old granddaughter Bella – who is unusually verbal for her age – was recently asked by someone what she likes to do. Her answer was, “I like to talk to God. You can talk to him anywhere. He can hear you but he doesn’t talk back very loud.”

After a chuckle at the humor of such a little one saying something like this, I’m guessing that a lot of people quietly agree with the entire statement. Yes, it is true that God may be talked to at any place and any time. And I don’t think many folks really doubt that God hears them. It is the final part of it that is difficult – how does God talk back? And yes, it often does not seem to be very loud or clearly definitive.

How do we hear from God? Where do we find his guidance and his will? Of course we need to be praying and seeking his direction.

Certainly God uses our circumstances and life events to speak to us. There are times where even extraordinary events upon the pathways of life may open or close doors and thus provide guidance to us.

As well, there is what we often call “the witness of Spirit” – that inner sense of either peace or discomfort surrounding decisions and opportunities that grant some measure of leading.

But the primary method of God’s guidance is through Christ and his Word – the Scriptures. It says in Hebrews chapter1 that “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.”  That would indeed be a way cool thing to hear from God through prophets and miraculous voices. But God’s truth has been revealed in the person of Christ, and of course all that we know of Christ is contained in the perfect written record of the Scriptures.

So to know God’s direction – to hear his voice a bit louder – one has to know the Bible. And that is the focus that we have at TSF – in our sermons and classes and small groups of all sorts. If you are not a part of these opportunities, now is the best time of year to jump in.

A Theology of the Beach

The Beach as Therapy

There is now scientific proof of something we have almost all sensed and known to be true – that there is something naturally therapeutic about the beach! Oh yes – here’s a topic that will preach! Eric Boutieller will shout an ecstatic “amen” to this one … he LOVES the beach! (I think it has something to do with the sun shining on his head!)

There was a research study done in Europe with 2750 people which found that time spent near the seaside – regardless of the weather – was better for emotional and physical health than time spent at any other place of leisure, such as a park. Some scientists speculate that the atmospheric turbulence caused by breaking waves releases charged ions into the air … producing mood boosting endorphins and serotonin – hormones that cause a sense of well-being. The same thing we know to be true of a good, hearty laugh, and even the Scriptures support such (Proverbs 17:22).

Could we find the same support for the beach?

The only three occasions of the word “beach” being used in the Bible are in the accounts of Paul’s journeys in the book of Acts – so not much to go on there. How about the word “waves?”  It is actually used 29 times, although to be honest, most of those occurrences present a concept of tumult, disarray, danger, and the angry power of nature.

But there is one very positive usage of “waves” as illustrating well-being … even though it is in the context of a rebuke of the nation of Israel for not trusting God and obeying Him. It says in Isaiah 48:17-18 “This is what the Lord says—your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: “I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go. If only you had paid attention to my commands, your peace would have been like a river, your well-being like the waves of the sea.”  

Well… that’s good enough for me to build a “beach theology!”  It is God’s will for us to spend time on the beach – the Bible as much as says so! Right?

So … I’m going to go for a couple of days of biblically-based well-being next week!