It’s Just Another Manic…Um…Wednesday

It is the day before Thanksgiving and I have been busy. I spent the first part of the morning in the office, working on sermons. I also tidied up the little bit I’m doing at our Thanksgiving Eve service tonight. I also printed out the bulletin “blanks” for Sunday. I still have to finish up the stuff on the inside but I have to wait until tomorrow to make sure no one has anything to add. I took some more of my books over to the office today and hung a few family photos. It’s a cozy office and I like it a lot.

I also did some cleaning around the house. I am leaving tonight immediately after the service and driving to North Carolina. I didn’t want there to be a mess when Robin and the kids get up here Sunday night. There really wasn’t much to do…wash a few towels and the handful of dishes I used for lunch. I’m not taking anything with me tonight but a change of clothes…so there wasn’t anything to pack.

Robin got a call from Bradford County Action this morning. They offered her the case manager position over in Towanda. She gladly accepted. She’ll start the second week of December. That gives us next week to get the kids enrolled in school just in time for Christmas break.

We got the link to Geo’s senior photos today. They look really good. I’m still wrapping my head around the idea but I might as well get used to it…eh?

That’s about all I have today. I did some more reading and found out that Jack Cottrell did not come up with the idea of Original Grace. He traces the history of the concept in the unabridged version of his commentary on Romans. I didn’t realize that I had it on CD-ROM until this morning. I gave it a look and it seems that early Anabaptists held the same sort of view. I knew there was something I liked about those guys. Anyways…I’m still studying it. More to come later.

I don’t know if I will have the time to post tomorrow. I will try…but I’m making no promises. If I don’t…you all have a Happy Thanksgiving.

Original Grace?

For the past few weeks I have been working on my Christmas sermon series. The first one is next week and is entitled: Why Christmas? I have chosen to begin in Genesis and chronicle mankind’s original decision to sin and separate itself from God. I then move to Romans 5:12-21 where Paul compares and contrasts Adam and Christ. As I was reading various commentaries on the passage I came across an idea that stuck with me.

In Jack Cottrell’s commentary he discusses some of the theological potholes in this particular passage. He points out that many point to this passage as evidence for the doctrine of Original Sin. According to this line of thought, all of mankind inherited the sin of Adam in every possible way. Not only are we affected by the curses God proclaimed on Adam, we are actually born with his guilt as well. We come into this world sinful and damned, from the very beginning.

Cottrell takes some time to explain why he believes this is not the best way to understand the passage but it’s what he says afterwards that grabbed me. He suggests that it really doesn’t matter what you believe concerning Original Sin. Whatever your particular view on the matter, Cottrell says that Jesus’ actions at Calvary negated anything that may have happened at the Fall. Jesus’ blood retroactively covers and erases any sin that we MAY have inherited from Adam. It also frees of from the curse of death by promising us the resurrection. Cottrell calls this Original Grace.

I haven’t taken the time to research the concept to see where it originated. Cottrell is the first person I have ever encountered who suggested it. I am still wrapping my mind around it. I first heard Cottrell’s explanation in Bible college in a course on Romans, but I never really gave it much more thought. As I continue to study on my own and wrestle with various issues that cause division among the body of Christ, I am curious to look at this in more depth. Perhaps I will share what I find as I continue to study it.

 

A Brief Monday Afternoon Update

I have spent most of the day riding around the country…exploring neighboring areas. I went up to Elmira, NY this morning and then drove back down to Mansfield, PA…just to do it. I am now at the McDonalds in Troy…my go-to internet spot until we get it at the house.

We had a good service yesterday. I continued to explore thankfulness and how it should look in the life of a believer. I was primarily in Philippians 4. I felt like the message was well received…so that is all I can ask for. I did join the ensemble that does special music…so that is pretty cool. I haven’t sung in a choir in a while. I enjoyed a wonderful lunch and a Play-Doh party over at the Petty’s home. That was much fun. Their granddaughters kept me laughing the entire afternoon. It was a great way to spend the day.

We have our Thanksgiving Eve service this Wednesday night from 7:00 until 8:00. A lot of folks have put a lot of time and effort into it and it should be a great time.

Depending upon the weather…I will be driving all night Wednesday so I can be in Rocky Mount for Thanksgiving. There is a good chance we will get some winter weather up here…so I am having to take it day by day.

Thinking a lot about the tongue and how it can sin (see James). I think a lot of people don’t consider the fact that gossiping and grumbling are sins. In fact…I think that anything negative we have to say is wrong. We’re supposed to use our speech to praise God and encourage one another. If we are spouting out negative stuff…we’re going against God’s will. I think it was Jesus who said that the things that come out of a man’s mouth reveal what is in his heart. I know that there have been some really nasty things come out of my mouth in the past…I’m not referring to “cuss” words. To refer back to yesterday’s message…if I am truly thankful for what God has done for me…other people will be able to see it in the things I say and do.

LORD…let my tongue give glory to you in all things.

It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like

Yes…Christmas.

Perhaps it is because I am working on December sermons and they are pointing towards the birth of Christ. Perhaps it is because the decorations and signs have been up in many retail stores since October. Perhaps it is because I am currently away from my family and I am looking forward to a couple of days where we will get together. Perhaps it is because Christmas is only thirty-three days away. Whatever the reason…the Christmas music started in the office yesterday. Here is the current playlist:

Behold The Lamb Of God – Andrew Peterson

Christmas Offerings – Third Day

Peace On Earth – Casting Crowns

Glory In The Highest – Chris Tomlin

The Life – Michael Card

In my personal opinion…Behold The Lamb Of God isn’t just the best Christmas album ever…it may be my favorite album of all time. Michael Card’s double album The Life, while not technically a Christmas album, traces the life of Christ all the way through the Bible. It also has the only Christmas song I have ever heard that is written through the eyes of Joseph. I have sung Joseph’s Song on many occasions and it is wonderful tune. The other three are best-selling Christian artists doing their take on traditional songs and writing some new songs. Third Day’s version of Angels We Have Heard On High may be my favorite of them all. I also like Born In Bethlehem. Casting Crowns do a reinterpretation of I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day and I really dig it. I also like Tomlin’s Emmanuel (Hallowed Manger Ground). We sang that one at my home church back in North Carolina.

I do want to put up a tree but I haven’t done it yet. Part of me wanted to wait until Robin and the kids get up here. The other part of me says that I should hold off this year. We are planning on driving down for a couple of days at Christmas so we won’t actually be home on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. I haven’t decided one way or the other yet. I do have a little glass tree that lights up. It sat on my desk at Habitat for the last three years. It’s not much…but it is something.

So yeah…I’m ready for Christmas…for a variety of reasons. This one promises to be a special one. I want to sign off today with the lyrics from my favorite Christmas hymn. Enjoy…and sing along…it’s that time of year again.

Angels we have on heard high
Sweetly singing ore the plains
And the mountains in reply
Echoing their joyous strains 

Gloria in excelsis Deo
Gloria in excelsis Deo 

Come to Bethlehem and see
Christ whose birth the angels sing
Come adore on bended knee
Christ the Lord the newborn King 

Gloria in excelsis Deo
Gloria in excelsis Deo 

See him in a manger laid
Whom the choirs of angels praise
Mary, Joseph, lend your aid
While our hearts in love we raise 

Gloria in excelsis Deo
Gloria, in excelsis Deo
Gloria in excelsis Deo

So…I’m Reading This Book

I am reading a book called Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites…and Other Lies You’ve Been Told by Dr. Bradley R.E. Wright. I picked it up at Ollies (a discount store) for $4.99. I love to read and I love cheap books so it seemed like the right thing to do at the time. It also had an eye-catching title…so that was a bonus.

Dr. Wright is a professor of Sociology at the University of Connecticut. According to the brief bio on the back cover, he researches American Christianity. I am only on the first chapter but I assume (based upon statements made by the author) that he is a Christian. The introduction was penned by none other than Ed Stetzer and sets the tone for the book.

The premise is that much of the negative and disheartening news that is reported about Christianity is either exaggerated or worse…untrue. Dr. Wright explains how statistics are gathered and often misrepresented to convey a particular bias. He also shows how one misleading statistic can be taken, quoted, and even manipulated to present findings that are far from the truth.

As I stated, I’m only on the first chapter but I am captivated by Dr. Wright’s suggestions. On page 14 he writes:

Many of the statistics currently bandied about regarding the Christian faith in the United States are incomplete, inaccurate, and otherwise prone to emphasize the negative. Bad news has pushed aside the good news about the Good News. (emphasis mine)

Dr. Wright already has my attention so I look forward to reading the rest of the book. As a minister I am often look up and cite statistics…so the topic is relevant to me. One of the first things that jumped out at me while reading was Dr. Wright’s suggestion that pastors, teachers, and leaders often use statistics to point out a serious problem that needs to be addressed. They then use those findings to promote their messages, book, seminars, or ideologies. He suggests that bad news can be good for business.

It is definitely something to think about.

Why Christmas?

As I have been working on my sermons for December I keep coming back to one underlying idea…we would not need Christmas if we could live a righteous life on our own. I wanted to explore the reason for the season…to use an overused phrase. It is easy (to me anyway) to talk/write about the Nativity story. There is a lot going on there and one can view it through any number of characters or events. I love the story. I love reading about Joseph and Mary getting divine revelation concerning the birth of Jesus. I love reading about the shepherds getting a late night visit from angels. I love the magi who visit later and bring gifts. I love all that stuff and any of those could make a good sermon. But I keep coming back to the one thing…why did it all happen?

I think Romans 5:17-19 gives me my answer.

For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ! Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.

If you believe the Bible (and I do) then the reason for Christmas is pretty clear. We were lost in our sinfulness…with no way to reach the Father. We were condemned and there was absolutely nothing we could do about. That is why a little baby boy was born in a stable in Bethlehem all those years ago. He came for one reason…to make a way back to the Father…for all of mankind. He did that by growing up, living a perfect life, dying on a cross, and then rising from the dead. Andrew Peterson’s wonderful album Behold The Lamb Of God tells the story…from the very beginning…to the very end. It traces Christmas all the way through the OT and up to the empty tomb.

I love all the decorations that appear this time of the year. I love the manger scene (historical accuracy aside) but I dare not forget that you cannot have the manger without the cross and (praise God) the empty tomb.

Why Christmas? Quite simply…because God wanted to fix the mess we made. It may sound cliche but it is true: Jesus is the greatest present ever given.

Oh Deer

I am genuinely happy to be where I am. I am thankful that God has graciously given me this opportunity to serve in this capacity. I want to be joyful in all circumstances…even the difficult ones. It is not easy being away from my family for an extended period of time but we all understand that it is momentary and will be over before too long. I am coming to grips with the fact that Geo will not be here (I talked about that yesterday…remember?) but I know that God is working this all out the way in a way that will honor Him (Romans 8:28).

I have a wonderful new church family and they have gone above and beyond what I expected. They have invited me into their homes, they have reached out and met needs…in short…they have touched me with the hand of Jesus. I am humbled and grateful. God has used them to confirm my decision to journey northward. Any doubts or fears that I may have had are long gone.

I know that there are always bumps along the road and we all have to deal with them. I try to be positive and see the bright side of all situations…even when they try my patience. So…please do not take this the wrong way. I am not really griping or complaining right now…but…I do want to get it out so I can laugh about it later.

Did I really need to hit TWO deer? As I have mentioned elsewhere…I am from a rural area and am fairly comfortable around God’s creatures. It is not uncommon to see opossums, raccoons, squirrels, rabbits, and deer at my former residence. I only saw one…but there are even coyote. Others have even seen bear. Like I said…it was out in the country…these things didn’t phase me.

I cannot count the number of deer I have seen. If I had a dollar for every deer that has darted out across the road while I was driving…well…I’d have a good start on paying for my kids’ college educations. Yes…I am used to deer. I have been around them my entire life. So…why is it that now…after moving up here…I have hit not one…but TWO? Are Pennsylvania deer suicidal? Do they have nothing to live for? Does my car smell like a doe in heat? What is it about my old Chevy Lumina that attracts them? It’s insane.

Let me stop and remind you all that I am mostly joking. My car is drivable and the damage has mostly been limited to the hood. I don’t believe it will cost much to fix it. I have seen automobiles totally destroyed by deer. I know (and am thankful) that both of these deer just barely hit my car. BUT…I can tell you this…I am extremely nervous about driving at night now. There is not much light out on some of these roads. In both cases…I didn’t even see the deer until they were tumbling up over my hood. Like I said…it could have been much worse. I really can laugh about it now. However…if deer #3 happens jump out in the next week…I think I may start walking.

This One Is For My Family…Especially Geo

I really enjoyed having Robin, Chris, and Jamie up this last week…even if it was only for a couple of days. Being separated from them is much harder than I imagined…but I know it’s only for a short time.

Being away from Geo is tougher. He won’t be coming up and settling in with us in our new home. I will only get to see him a few more times before he graduates from high school and is off to college. I vividly remember the days leading up to his birth. I can remember all the plans and hopes that I had. Seventeen years has passed by so very quickly. I didn’t get around to doing all the things I wanted to do with him and the chance is now gone. I do know that he is a good kid and his heart is in the right place. I am beginning to mourn the loss of his childhood…but I know he is going to be a fine young man and I am excited to see what God will do in his life.

As I look back I can only hope and pray that I pointed him in the right direction. I can only hope and pray that he knows just how much I love him and how much I am going to miss having him around.

What Stops Our Prayers From Getting Through?

Behold, the LORD’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.

Isaiah 59:1-2 (ESV)

God managed to create the world without my help. I think it is safe to assume that He can handle anything that I may encounter in my brief time here on Earth. However…I have somehow forgotten that little bit of information. Whenever things don’t go quite the way I want them to I get upset and wonder where God has gotten off to. How could He leave me in some of the messes that I have found myself in?

The prophet Isaiah gives us a pretty good idea. Sometimes we offend God and He turns His face away from us. Sometimes our sinful lifestyles cause such a separation between us and our Creator that He must turn a deaf ear.

Sin keeps our prayers from being answered. I don’t think there’s any other way to put it. That sure is a lot to think about…especially when it feels like my prayers are getting nowhere.

Have A Seat and Take A Deep Breath

Whew! It is Friday afternoon and I am back at the McDonalds in Troy having lunch with Robin, Chris, and Jamie. They weren’t supposed to be here but Robin had a job interview up in Towanda yesterday. It went really well and at the risk of jinxing her I feel really good about it. She should know something next week. And…in case you’re wondering…I really don’t believe in the jinx…but things have been going so well lately that I can’t help but feel a little but superstitious. If there had been any doubts or fears about moving up here…God has more than confirmed our decision and has given me peace in knowing that we are exactly where we need to be.

I have been busy this week…unpacking and organizing things. I am just about done…so that is a big plus. I have also had the privilege of visiting various families and having evening meals with them. I left a great church family behind but I have to say this…I have been welcomed into one that is every bit as loving and generous. I could not ask for a better group of folks to be serving with. God has truly blessed me and my family by allowing us to be here. I look forward to many years of loving these folks and reaching out to those around us.

The reality of Geo (remember…that’s what I call him) not being here is setting in. I have known that this day was coming from the minute he was born…but that doesn’t soften the blow. I take comfort in the fact that he is a good kid and has his head on his shoulders. I also know that he is staying with folks who will take care of him as if he was their own. He also has a great church family there to support him. I know he’s not alone…but I do miss him already.

Robin and the kids will head back down to North Carolina tomorrow. I will miss them too…but I am glad that I got this unexpected visit. It was good. I am looking forward to a work day at church tomorrow morning. We’re going to be raking up leaves and doing other things around the building. Then we’re going to cook some hotdogs. I get to preach my first official sermon on Sunday. I am so excited. This is finally happening. Thank you Lord for everything.