Monday, January 21, 2013

Spiritual Gifts in the Body


Built Together
Various Scriptures

APOSTLES (modern-day missionaries or church-planters)

The divine ability to take the truth of God and start new churches or new works.

Pioneer and establish new ministries.            
Adapt well to different surroundings.
Desire to reach out to unreached peoples.     
May oversee groups of churches or ministries.
Demonstrate authority and vision.

While the original office of the apostle no longer exists, the role or gift of apostle remained after the original twelve and continues to function today.


SHEPHERD (or pastor)

Caring for the spiritual needs of a group of people and overseeing their growth in Christ.


            Takes responsibility to nurture the whole person.                              
            Provides guidance and oversight to a group of people.
            Models with their life one of following Jesus.
            Establishes trust and confidence through long-term relationships.
            Leads, feeds, and protects.
 

Not everyone wo has the gift of pastoring has been called to the office of pastor.  Perhaps more Christians than realize it possess this gift.  If more Christians would guide, feed, and guard fellow-believers, not so much counseling would have to be done professionally.  This would eliminate much wear and tear on the church staff, but also it would meet many demands that might otherwise go unmet.  - Leslie Flynn


EVANGELIST

The divine enablement to effectively communicate the gospel to unbelievers in a way that they respond in faith and move toward discipleship.


Profile of Philip, early-church evangelist

Evangelists go after people (5,30).    
They proclaim Christ with boldness and clarity (5,12,35).
They are winsome. 
The lost are attracted to them (6,13).
They are often itinerant – they move around (5,26,39-40).      Live by faith (26-27,29-30).


They often don’t fit a pattern.  They are often misunderstood.               

Are uncritical of lost people and have a deep love for people.

God gave us evangelists to help the structured church get out of the box and remind u to keep our eyes on the harvest, not the barn.

The evangelist should find a safe haven in the local church.  They are a great asset.

The evangelist should partner with, not criticize, the local church.  They need each other. 

Pastors and evangelists need each other.  (Most pastors either disciplers or evangelists at heart.)


FAITH

An unusual trust in God, seeing things that God wants done and sustaining unwavering confidence that God will do it regardless of seemingly insurmountable obstacles.


Believes the promises of God and inspires others to do the same.

Demonstrates an attitude of trust.  Confidence in God’s ability to overcome obstacles.

Goes forward when others will not.   Irritated by unbelief.

Have a hard time appreciating “the system.”

Will often see what God wants done long before others.   Often people of prayer.

 
Suggestions for growth for the faith-er:

Spend much time alone with God to clarify the stages of the vision.

Learn to patiently love those who do not see what you see.

Be undaunted by what you see (circumstances) and other people (criticism or lack of vision).

Remember that God will fulfill what He plans in His time (Hab. 2:2-4).

Let God mold you during your seasons of waiting.

 
Average people who have the gift of faith in a local church may never build a mega-church, but they can discern with a remarkable confidence where God wants the church to be in 5 or 10 years.  They can set goals and establish a mood for growth.  -  Peter Wagner

Administrators and faith-people need each other.  An oft-repeated word of advice is that a church’s financial team needs to have a balance of administrators and faith-ers / givers.  They balance each other.  Faith-ers perceive what God wants.  Administrators help the body organize to do it.


DISCERNMENT (distinguishing of spirits)

The capacity to distinguish between truth and error, good and evil, right and wrong, pure and impure.

1 Cor. 12:2,10; 1 Jn. 4:1; Acts 16:16; Lk. 13:11; Mk. 9:25,29; 1 Jn. 4:9


WISDOM

The ability to apply spiritual truth from God’s Word to practical, everyday problems in specific situations.  To speak a wise word in various situations.

Acts 6:1-6,10; 15:19-29; 1 Kings 3:25


KNOWLEDGE

The ability to seek out, remember and make effective use of a variety of information.

Understand truth to help others.   Unusual insight and understanding.  Organize information effectively.

In both cases [word of wisdom and word of knowledge] it would not be based on a special revelation spontaneously given by the Holy Spirit but would be based on wisdom acquired in the ordinary course of life, the knowledge and wisdom that should characterize Bible teachers, elders, or other mature Christians.  It seems preferable to understand these in a non-miraculous way.  What many people call “words of wisdom” or “words of knowledge in charismatic circles, it would seem better simply to refer to as “prophecy.”  - Wayne Grudem    

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Rules to Our Son for His New IPod Touch


For years, my wife and I have shared a serious concern for the video-game and electronic culture that has overwhelmed children and young adults.  Children of previous generations were often found reading books, using their imagination, or playing outside.  Children of this generation are often found sitting in front of a television screen or glued to an electronic device.  Gaming has become a huge enterprise, culture-changer, and force with which to be reckoned. 

In recent years, both divorce lawyers and marriage counselors have attested that one of the rising causes of divorce among young 20-somethings is the astounding reality that the 20-something male is addicted to video games! These "men" have grown up in a virtual-reality world that in some ways has more value to them than the real world. I would argue that such men are actually boys in men's bodies.

The negative effect of violent video games has been discussed in the media a fair amount.  I am still appalled to walk into stores and see on the display counter video games with names such as "Grand Theft Auto."

There is a very real addictive element of video games that affects most boys more than girls.  Designers of video games appeal to the male "desire to conquer" and create games that are addictive because they almost never end.  There is constantly a "hook and bait" approach of getting to the next level.  Focus on the Family aired an excellent broadcast on the subject several years ago called "Sounding the Alarm on Video Games."  (I have not been able to find it online.)  In it they shared a story of a young lawyer who rebuked his parents for not taking the gaming system away from him when a child and teenager.  The addictive nature of the games combined with his obsessive personality had, in his estimation, caused him more personal trouble than it had been worth.  (I do believe parents have to make these choices on a child-by-child and home-by-home basis.)

I fear that many parents are unaware of the potential dangers of a childhood culture overrun by video games and electronics.  Parents give smart phones and other devices to children (not just teenagers) with no restrictions whatsoever.  Talk about handing a child a loaded gun!

Last year I heard Josh McDowell speak at a conference on apologetics in South Carolina.  He spent his entire session speaking on what he considers to be the greatest moral threat that has ever threatened to destroy the church in any generation.  The culprit?  Internet pornography.  Josh passionately explained the awful reality that our boys are growing up in a culture with instant access to nudity and watching acts of sex.  When I was a boy, it was difficult to come across pornography.  Someone had to put forth a lot of effort to do so.  I remember my buddies and I in elementary school on one of our many neighborhood explorations coming across someone's stash of magazines, hidden in a concrete hole under the neighborhood bridge. I expect that some teenager had hidden them there for his own use.  Now that was a lot of trouble and hard to come by.  Today, however, the child or teenager only has to go into his bedroom, close the door, and he (or she) can find 1000's or more pictures and videos of explicit sexual material - enough to make my grandparents blush! 

Ten or even five years ago there was a general rule of thumb with internet safety that said, Don't allow your child to have a computer with internet in his or her room.  Keep your computer with internet in the middle of the house in a place where it is open for everyone to see.  Well, with the development of wifi connection and of the smart phone, that world is now gone.  Now children carry an entire computer in their back pockets - often without any safety filter.  Those smart phones can be taken into their bedrooms and used at any hour of the day without parental knowledge.  Parents, we must fight against this societal-moral-spiritual problem!!!!  We cannot let the enemy devour our children (John 10:10).

(Focus on the Family shares this helpful article about keeping our families safe in the digital age.)

Dr. Mohler writes more about this social phenomenon in his article The Emergence of Digital Childhood. The Verizon survey also revealed that many parents fail to set any rules or protections for their offspring’s use of the cell phone. The danger of this is increased when it is realized that many of these cell phones are actually smart phones with advanced Internet access and access to social media. This effectively puts a miniature computer with unrestricted Web access in the hands of very young children.


There can be no doubt that we are all now living in a digital world. The digital revolution has wrought wonders and unparalleled access. But it has also brought unprecedented dangers — and those dangers are magnified when it comes to children and teenagers. This Verizon survey should serve as a wake-up call to parents and to all those who care for the coming generation. Childhood is being left in the dust of the digital transformation.

Children need to run and play outside a lot.  They need worlds of forts, outside adventures, swingsets, and bicycles.  Children need some boredom.  They do not need a world where every moment is crammed with a digital image.  Parents (and even church leaders) sometimes see boredom as a bad thing for children.  Boredom can be a potentially very good thing, because if encouraged, boredom can foster the use of imagination and creativity.  I wonder how many great inventions, books, or other masterpieces were born out of boredom?  (See Richard Winter's Still Bored in a Culture of Entertainment: Rediscovering Passion and Wonder.)

Children need to learn how to engage in verbal communication, to listen to other people, to converse, to show interest in others, and to show respect to adults by listening, talking, and answering.  They do not need to almost constantly have their nose in a digital device.  They need to be trained to sit, to listen, and to talk!  As I tell my children sometimes, Life is not mainly about entertainment!

And children need to learn to love to read.  One survey of great people from history attempted to discover some common denominator that shaped these persons.  The only thing the survey discovered that was common from each of these person's history was the fact that in every one of their childhood homes there had been more than 100 books.  C. S. Lewis once stated that boys have to be trained in matters of taste.  90% of boys will always gravitate toward things they do not need but want.  Unless otherwise directed, they will choose to play a video game rather than read a book.  You as the parent must help shape their tastes.  Just as you would not allow them to eat what they want all of the time, you must help to direct their spare time as well.


R. Albert Mohler writes, The most direct enemies of reading in the lives of today’s boys are video games and digital media. These devices crowd out time and attention at the expense of reading. Spence cites one set of parents who tried to bribe their 13-year-old son to read by offering video games as a reward. Spence is exactly right — don’t reward with video games. Instead, take the games away. If parents do not restrict time spent with digital devices, boys will never learn to read and to love reading.

For years, my wife and I have struggled with how much we will allow our children to play video games and enjoy digital entertainment.  We have not taken the approach of throwing the television set out the window nor banning all video games (though we have considered it!).  Nor have we allowed our children to watch whatever they want as much as they want.  And, of course, we keep a safety filter on our computers (and now will on our son's IPod Touch).  The past year we have used the one called SafeEyes.

When our children were preschoolers, we worked hard to help them understand that they could not play video games if we saw that they were being controlled by the game.  In other words, if we see that your behavior, attitude, and moods are negatively affected by them, then you lose the privilege.  And, very simply, if you cry and resist when we tell you that your time is up, then you lose the privilege.  Why?  Because too much digital world can control people's minds and spirits.  As Christians, we are to exhibit self-control and Spirit-control.  (And I do believe that boys are often more negatively affected and controlled by the digital world than girls.)

We have tried time-limits, which works well.  At times we have designated days of the week as "no-game days."  Other times we have observed a no-digital media Sabbath on Sunday, the Lord's Day.

Recently, my wife and I made the decision that we would allow our twelve-year old son to purchase an IPod Touch with his own money.  We did so with the agreement that we would give him some clear guidelines/rules for the usage and that these rules would most likely spill over in time into other areas of the digital world.  The following is our list of guidelines.  Perhaps they will be helpful to someone else as well.

This is a new challenge that the church must come to terms with and not be swept away foolishly with naivety.  In closing, Dr. Mohler, again, so rightly says, in his article, Screen Test: The Danger of Digital Fixation, that [t]his does not mean that parents should throw the computer (and other digital devices) out of the house, but it is a wake-up call that Christian parents should note with particular concern. . . .. We must be concerned with the means of grace that make for godliness in the life of the believer. The Christian should be a student of the Scriptures, and this requires the discipline of attentive reading. Attentive worship is another necessary discipline of the Christian life.

Are we creating a generation that cannot worship or read without the need for a dopamine release?This research is important for us all. The digital revolution has brought wonders and opened new worlds. There is so much to celebrate and appreciate. At the same time, there are real dangers in these new technologies, especially for children. Parents must set and maintain boundaries for their children . . . and for themselves.

Jesus Christ taught that the "eye is the lamp of the body.  If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light.  But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness" (Mt. 6:22-23). 

May we do our part to raise children and be people whose minds are set on good things and are controlled by the Spirit of God (Ro. 8:5-8; Phil. 4:8).



Guidelines for Use of the IPod Touch **


1.        We use it in a way that honors Jesus Christ and our             family.

 Whatever you do, whether in word or in action, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus.  Colossians 3:17


2.        Your parents always have the password and can access it any time.  Because your parents are the gatekeepers and watchmen for your life.

3.        We keep a filter on it that your parents have the password for.  Because we all need help to keep out bad things.

4.        We do not use it during mealtime or family time.  Because we value each other, which includes talking and listening to each other.


5.        We do not use it more than one hour a day.  Some days less than an hour and some days not at all.  Because our minds and bodies need to focus on other good things to be healthy and well-rounded.  (The time limit is modified on weekends and summers.)


6.        You may not play it until all school work and chores are done for the day.  Because life is mainly about relationships and getting things done – not mainly about entertainment.


7.        Remember that wise men and women spend some time with the Lord in prayer and His Word daily .  Because spending time with God is much more important and beneficial than playing with electronics.  


8.        No downloading or purchasing without parents’ approval.  Same reason as #2.


9.        No new contacts you don't know without parents’ approval.  Because we want to know who your 
            friends are.


10.      If we notice that the Touch affects or controls your attitude and behavior negatively, we will intervene.  Because self-control and Spirit-control are more important than games, entertainment, and electronics.

11.     We keep the Touch in the den or kitchen at night, not in your bedroom. 


**  We created this list when our son was about twelve, and we thought it fit a twelve-year old's needs.  As children grow older, we modify the list as appropriate.



Pictures in this article are used by permission from Pixabay.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Trouble We Are In

The news of this week is that Louie Giglio, well-known evangelical pastor, was disinvited to pray at the Presidential Inaguaration.  The reason?  He believes a biblical moral standard that historic, biblical Christianity has espoused for 2000 years.  And Judaism for several thousand more than that!

A left-wing, liberal group discovered that Giglio preached a sermon more than a decade ago in which he called homosexuality a sin.  They ranted and made a fuss, very typical of left-wing activists these days when they discover someone holding to a belief not their own, and the White House (still the most liberal, anti-conservative White House regime in history), made it clear that Giglio (and those who think likewise) are not their type.

Russel Moore stated this week in his blog article "Louie Giglio and the New State Church" that when it is now impossible for one who holds to the catholic Christian view of marriage and the gospel to pray at a public event, we now have a de facto established state church. Just as the pre-constitutional Anglican and congregational churches required a license to preach in order to exclude Baptists, the new state church requires a “license” of embracing sexual liberation in all its forms.

Albert Mohler hit the nail on the head in  his article The Giglio Imbroglio — The Public Inauguration of a New Moral McCarthyism.   

Louie Giglio was cast out of the circle of the acceptable simply because a liberal watchdog group found one sermon he preached almost twenty years ago. If a preacher has ever taken a stand on biblical conviction, he risks being exposed decades after the fact. Anyone who teaches at any time, to any degree, that homosexual behavior is a sin is now to be cast out.

That is the quintessential Christian Gospel. That is undiluted biblical truth. Those words are the consensus of the Church for over 2,000 years, and the firm belief held by the vast majority of Christians around the world today.

The Presidential Inaugural Committee and the White House have now declared historic, biblical Christianity to be out of bounds, casting it off the inaugural program as an embarrassment. By its newly articulated standard, any preacher who holds to the faith of the church for the last 2,000 years is persona non grata. By this standard, no Roman Catholic prelate or priest can participate in the ceremony. No Evangelical who holds to biblical orthodoxy is welcome. The vast majority of Christians around the world have been disinvited. Mormons, and the rabbis of Orthodox Judaism are out. Any Muslim imam who could walk freely in Cairo would be denied a place on the inaugural program. Billy Graham, who participated in at least ten presidential inaugurations is welcome no more. Rick Warren, who incited a similar controversy when he prayed at President Obama’s first inauguration, is way out of bounds. In the span of just four years, the rules are fully changed.
The gauntlet was thrown down yesterday, and the axe fell today.

This is precisely what biblical Christians cannot do. While seeking to be gentle in spirit and ruthlessly Gospel-centered in speaking of any sin, we cannot cease to speak of sin as sin. To do so is not only to deny the authority of Scripture, not only to reject the moral consensus of the saints, but it undermines the Gospel itself. The Gospel makes no sense, and is robbed of its saving power, if sin is denied as sin.

The slippery slope is getting even more slippery.  When the foundations are destroyed, what will the righteous do?

Friday, January 11, 2013

The Father of the Year


What does it take to make a man a good father?  The National Father's Day Council seems to think that Bill Clinton has it, as they have selected the former President as the Father of the Year.  (What?!)

Todd Wilson, a Christian speaker known as "The Familyman," writes an excellent response to the NFDC.  I will post it here . . .

 
Hey Dad,


I’ve decided to forgo what I had planned to write in lieu (whatever that means) of the news that was just passed to me by familyman, Tim B.
 
Are you ready for this? It was just announced that The National Father’s Day Council selected former President Bill Clinton as the Father of the Year.
 
The group selected Clinton for his “profound generosity, leadership and tireless dedication to both his public office and many philanthropic organizations,” Dan Orwig, chairman of the National Father’s Day Committee, said.
 
Now, I could respond with a variety of critical comments, but let me forgo those in lieu (that’s 2X) of something more…constructive.
 
Someone’s business credentials have nothing to do with fathering, although most of the world would disagree with me.
 
It seems to me that almost every Father of the Year award I’ve ever seen awarded is given to some ‘dad’ who is successful in business, Hollywood, or some other media. That should not be the criteria or the arena that determines the Father of the Year award. It’s about sacrifice.
 
So, Dan Orwig, Chairman of the National Father’s Day Council, here’s my criteria for the Father of the Year Award.
 
The recipient should be relatively unknown, not as successful as his peers, having sacrificed his own ambitions for the sake of his family. He should have a wife who smiles a lot, even when no one is looking. His children are far from perfect, but they love their dad who is home most every night for dinner, is involved in their lives, and prays with them as he tucks them into bed.
 
The dad has fingerprints on his dress shirts, handle bar scratches on his car, hasn’t played golf in years, and doesn’t hang out much with the guys. He’s been invited to more little girl tea parties than power lunches, takes time to know who his kids’ friends are, and can’t remember the last time he watched a movie that he wanted to watch.
 
The only important people he knows are Dora the Explorer, the Avengers, and Mr. Rogers. His desk is covered with family pictures and kids’ artwork. He tears up when he thinks about his kids leaving the nest. He gives, he sacrifices, and he never quits trying.
 
And if you ask what he does…he answers, “I’m a dad.”
 
That’s my criteria for Father of the Year, Mr. Orwig.
 

You can view Todd's blog here.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

J. R. Ewing Funeral and Ebenezer Scrooge


The recent death of Larry Hagman shocked many television fans both in the United States and around the world.  Known worldwide for playing the infamous Texas villain J. R. Ewing on the hit CBS and later TNT show Dallas, he created a character that almost seemed larger than life.  However, Hagman died in November of leukemia-related problems, and consequently TNT is preparing for the death of J. R. scheduled for March of this year.

 I grew up watching Dallas.  Countless Friday nights included “coming home to CBS,” as their 1980’s phrase stated.  The Duke boys of Hazzard, Georgia, enthralled me at 8pm, and then there was time to fix a quick snack in the kitchen before hearing the brass and drum roll of the Dallas theme song.  Oddly, even today hearing that iconic music brings a warm memory of the consistent routine of my Dad, mom, and me.  (Though I have to say I would never let my children watch Dallas today!)  I remember watching just about every wedding, BBQ, Oil Barron’s Ball, fight in the Southfork pool, and cliffhanger!  I can still spout off a load of useless Dallas trivia.

Few television shows have experienced anything near the success of Dallas.  This drama about a dysfunctional family in Texas became a phenomenon worldwide.  Dallas lasted for fourteen seasons, a feat accomplished by few prime time dramas.  Larry Hagman created and molded a character that became the villain everyone loved to hate.  His winsome ability to smile and win while doing his dirty work attracted audiences and made him the highest-paid tv actor of his day in the 1980’s.  TV Guide gave the character of J. R. in 1999 the #11 ranking of the top 50 television characters ever.

J. R. was the epitome of the self-absorbed narcissist.  He would cross anyone, lie to anyone, and hurt anyone if it would advance his agenda.   The only soft spots he seemed to have were for his son, his father, and his mother, though they were sordid at best.  (A horrible husband, he drove his wife Sue Ellen to alcoholism and near-death.)  Hagman later said that he lost count of how many affairs J. R. had, how many people he screwed in business, and how many people he drove to suicide. 
It goes without saying that the best-known storyline of Dallas was the 1980 “Who Shot J. R.” when the man is gunned down in a dark office by his sister-in-law, Kristen Shepherd, played by a young Mary Crosby (daughter of Bing).   An estimated 83 million viewers watched the episode that revealed the culprit on November 21 – more people than voted in that year’s Reagan/Carter Presidential election.  Today, thirty-three years later, the “Who Done It” episode is second on the list, beaten only by the final episode of MASH.  Some writers argue that the 1980 cliffhanger ranks #1 among cliffhangers of any television show. 

Dallas set another precedent in television history in 2012, twenty-one years after going off of the air.  After years of speculation, TNT rebooted the Dallas franchise and brought the Ewings of Southfork back to television.  This time the cast included a younger generation anchored by the veteran characters of Sue Ellen, Bobby, and J. R.  And Hagman's death has inspired the show to create another "Who Shot J.R." murder mystery, this time finishing off the iconic character.

As an old fan who grew up watching the show, my curiosity wondered how they would play the old characters in the new Dallas.  I watched the first episodes of the TNT reboot last summer.  The writers did a great job making Bobby the solid, moral anchor for the show, moving him into the role held by his mother in the original.  I was glad to see that Sue Ellen sobered up and made something dynamic of her life.  They play her as a solid person of values overcoming her dysfunctional past and even considering running for the Governor of Texas.  From the first episode it is clear that if Bobby and Sue Ellen are supposed to be the good guys, J.R. is definitely still one of the bad ones.  By the first episode’s end he is trying, though much older and slower, to lie, scheme, and cheat. 

However, I was pleased to see that no longer was the dastardly Ewing smiling and grinning his way through wickedness with no personal consequence.  It appeared, at least at the season’s beginning, that life had been rough on the old Texan the past two decades.  When Dallas ended in 1991, J.R. lost almost everything.  He lost his beloved Ewing Oil to his arch-enemy Cliff Barnes, he lost Weststar to Carter McCay, he lost Southfork to Bobby, his mother moved off, and he lost much of his money to his ex-wife Sue Ellen, who also moved away, taking their only son John Ross.  The final cliffhanger left the audience wondering if J.R. had committed suicide. 

Twenty-one years pass and we find J. R. in an almost catatonic state in a nursing home.  Apparently he has suffered severe clinical depression for years, unable to cope with the fruits of his sins.  He is the epitome of a man who wasted the good years of his life chasing things that do not matter.  His now adult son deeply resents him.  His ex-wife and brother don’t trust him.  He is a pitiful person.  He tells his son John Ross, "I spent most of your childhood chasing after women I didn’t love and making deals that didn’t really matter." One can almost have empathy for this wasted life.  The senior J.R. has glimpses of even appearing remorseful at times, though it does not change his scheming and manipulating.

As a child I could watch Dallas and not think much of the moral implications of its characters; as an adult I cannot.  The evolution of J. R. Ewing is reminiscent of a quotation from the Bible: “They sow the wind and reap the whirlwind” (Hosea 8:7).   J. R. Ewing, though a fictional character, was a wicked man who lived a wicked life.  In real life, he would not be someone that we would “love to hate.”  Instead, he would be a person of whom we would warn our children.
The book of Proverbs speaks much wisdom regarding people like J. R. 
The violence of the wicked will destroy them, because they refuse to do justice (Prov. 21:7).

There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death (Prov. 16:25).

The evil deeds of a wicked man ensnare him; the cords of his sin hold him fast (Prov. 5:22).

Those who plant injustice will harvest disaster, and their reign of terror will come to an end (Prov. 22:8).
According to TNT, J. R.’s “reign of terror” has come to an end.  Larry Hagman acted in the first six episodes of Dallas’ second season before his death.  TNT has scheduled J. R.’s Dallas funeral for March11 of 2013.   Apparently, the new success of the remade Dallas and the old allure of Hagman's villain are still making waves.  Several times in the past month I have noticed that one of the top ten current searches on yahoo's search engine is "J. R. Ewing Funeral."

Were J. R. a real person, on this earth he would leave a horrible legacy.  He hurt the people that he should have loved the most.  He left a trail of destruction almost everywhere he went.  His lust for power, money, sex, and self resulted in horrific carnage.  And were he a real person, J. R. would face a horrible future.  It is true that it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment (Hebrews 9:27).  J. R. would face much punishment for his many sins.  Sadly, though, his greatest sin was in living a life ruled by self rather than submitting himself to his Creator.  Only through a relationship with Him would J. R. find ultimate peace, forgiveness, and an eternity marked by the blessings of heaven.

Another fictional character found such peace.  A man very rich according to the world’s standards of money, business, and commerce.  A self-absorbed man.  A man with a shriveled, cold heart.  A miserable, pitiful wretch of a man.  A man who, unlike J. R., did not seem to enjoy the world, its people, and its pleasures around him.  But also a man, unlike J. R. Ewing, who changed in the latter years of his life and became a totally different person.

Ebenezer Scrooge experienced the transformation of a lifetime, becoming a beacon of goodwill and cheer after his visits from the spirits of Christmas past, present, and future.  Most everyone has heard of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.  We enjoy at least one of the television renditions yearly.  Many people do not realize, though, that Dickens’ original story is blatantly one of Christian conversion.  A miserly, self-ruled man who submits himself to the Christ of Christmas.  Replete with biblical-Christian language and references (which are ignored in our modern and secular retellings of the story), Ebenezer comes to know His Creator in a real way, and the One born in a manger changes his life.  (Why did I walk through crowds of fellow-beings with my eyes turned down, and never raise them to that blessed Star which led the Wise Men to a poor abode?  - Jacob Marley)  Scrooge spends the rest of his life making amends to those he has wronged, spreading goodwill and compassion, and keeping Christmas every day in his heart.

J. R., on the other hand, spent his final days manipulating, double-crossing his family, and thirsting after more greed, money, and power.  And on March 4th on TNT, J. R. met his earthly end.  If it is true, according to King Solomon, that it is better to go to a house of mourning than a house of feasting, we are wise as J. R.'s funeral approaches to "take this to heart" because "death is the destiny of every man" (Ecclesiastes 7:2). 
What a contrast of fictional men.  One who allowed sin and self to destroy him and those around him.  A man who would leave this earth facing a dismal and painful eternity.  The other one who, though late in life, allowed God to forgive him, change him, and use him.  A man who became a source of goodwill, selflessness, and generosity to many others.  And his eternity secured by the Babe of Bethlehem, enjoying His Presence, goodness, and blessings.

J. R. never repented.  Ebenezer did.  What about me and you?


Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The Magic of Christmas


It is always hard for me to let go of Christmas. 
The fall months are my favorite time of year – all leading up to Christ’s birthday.  For our family, the celebrations begin with birthdays for my wife and I in August and September.  Then each year fun marks October as our children pick out costumes to wear on Halloween.  As the bright leaves of October begin turning into November’s duller hues, my oldest son has a birthday the first week.  After that celebration, we anticipate Thanksgiving, trying each year to give the holiday more attention than simply one Turkey Day.  I pull out some CD’s with traditional Thanksgiving hymns, and we read stories of the Pilgrims.  Thanksgiving Day (or the weekend thereafter) our family works on our Thanksgiving tree, each one writing down specific matters of thanksgiving on construction-paper leaves. 
Thanksgiving afternoon includes Daddy pulling out the sale papers and making strategic plans for Black Friday!  Christmas is the only season when I really enjoy shopping (and when I give myself permission to really splurge and enjoy spending).  Black Friday finds me most years leaving the house hours before the rest of the family awake.  And over the course of that weekend, as Thanksgiving hymns give way to Christmas ones, the Advent season comes alive once again! 

Our family enjoys the various aspects of December.  Tree-decorating always stands out as one of our favorite experiences.  We love unpacking the various ornaments – many that we have forgotten since packing them eleven months ago – and enjoying the memories associated with them.  We have fun Hallmark collectibles ranging from superheroes, Disney characters, and movie nostalgia.  There are classy, blown-glass ornaments including Santas, manger scene people, and drummers from Colonial Williamsburg.  Small treasures adorn our tree as keepsakes from the places we have traveled – a clear holy family that we obtained at The Biltmore House on our honeymoon, a small Ryman Auditorium from Nashville, a beautiful one replicating the barn at The Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, and a red round ball with the inscription “Thomas Road Baptist Church” which we bought to remind us of our December-trips to Lynchburg, Virginia.  There are even ones that remind us of friends from long ago – childhood friends, our families of origin, a star that deflects the light of the tree that was given to me in memory of a dear old friend, Gloria Taylor (the person who gave it called it my “Glo Star” to remember that sweet woman).  During the month we can hear Kermit the Frog sing the rainbow song, the Indiana Jones theme song, and Linus repeat the Christmas story as our children press various buttons on the ornaments with batteries!  What fun are Christmas trees!

We enjoy reading books about Christmas.  One series we have used in recent years explains from a Christian perspective the traditions of the candy cane, the Christmas stocking, the Christmas tree, and the history of Saint Nicholas.  What a rich heritage surrounds Christmas.  I suppose one reason that Christmas is so wonderful is that, whether the world understands it or not, it is as if the modern world adjusts their lives for one month to remember and celebrate what happened at Bethlehem.  You can turn on virtually any radio station – country, rock, classical – and hear people singing about Jesus Christ.   On our CD players we hear The Robert Shaw Chorale singing “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” The St. Olaf Choir sing “O Come O Come Emmanuel,” Nat King Cole roll out “The Christmas Song” and “A Cradle in Bethlehem,” Kenny and Dolly frolic and play with “I’ll Be Home with Bells On” Michael Buble croon with “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas,” Alabama share “Christmas in Dixie,” and The Oak Ridge Boys add my children’s favorite from this year – “A Peterbilt Sleigh!” 

People often take time to be friendlier, to show generosity, compassion, and goodwill during December.   People share their goods with the needy and hungry, often purchasing toys or meals for children or families in want.  Church services abound with songs about Jesus, festive lights and colors, and genuine wishes of cheer and blessing to one another.  Dickens also said, I have always thought of Christmas as a good time; a kind, forgiving, generous, pleasant time; a time when men and women seem to open their hearts freely, and so I say, God bless Christmas!
In early December our family celebrates the birthday of our daughter, often by taking a road trip to Lynchburg, Virginia, to experience The Virginia Christmas Spectacular, a fantastic Christmas show at Thomas Road Baptist Church.

Yes, to me it is the most wonderful time of the year.  Charles Dickens wrote, “There seems a magic in the very name of Christmas.”

I enjoy giving.  I often don’t have the money to give the type of gifts through the year that I would like to people I love.  But Christmas offers an opportunity to find ways to express your love and appreciation to those around you.  I find it a great yearly joy to prepare and give those over-the-top presents for my own children and to enjoy their pleasure in them.  (We chuckled happily at our seven-year old falling on the floor as though he were fainting when he saw that Santa had left him not one or two but six Star Wars action figures!)

The few days before and after Christmas offer time to devote almost completely to the family.  For my wife and I, that may be the best gift of all.  To have a few days to spend in almost uninterrupted leisure together – that is surely a taste of heaven on earth.   Each year I am surprised afresh at how little I long for the outside allurements around Christmas.  Email and surfing the internet hold little appeal, I don’t want to spend any more money on anything after the gifts are purchased, there is little pleasure in engaging the outside world of stores, shopping, and the like.  I suppose it is because when you have focused on Jesus and His coming for weeks, when you have given your best to those you love, and when you take time to really enjoy the people around you – that indeed is  a blessed, contented taste of heaven.  Time to play long with the children without feeling the need to "hurry it up."  Time to say, "What do you want to do," and mean it!  Time to get on the floor and engage the children and play with their toys in their world.  Time to talk with your spouse and enjoy the blessings of marriage!

Oswald Chambers rightly says that the real test of spiritual maturity is not how well one does on the mountain but how well he descends the mountain.  As we walk forward with the afterglow of Christmas 2012  on our backs and still ringing in our ears, may we remember the words of Charles Dickens, “I will honor Christmas in my heart and try to keep it all the year.” 

May we remember and live our lives in light of the things that really do matter.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Keeping the Main Thing the Main Thing

The leaders in a church (staff, deacons or elders, teachers, administrators, musicians, etc.) are primarily to help God’s people grow to Christlikeness. Or as Paul said, God gifted the leaders “for the training of the saints in the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ, until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son, growing into a mature man with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness” (Eph. 4:12-13).

This is every leader’s first and primary responsibility. It is not merely setting goals and efficiently organizing and running activities for church growth. God will “add to the body” (i.e. take care of church growth). That is what Christ promised to His disciples from the beginning: “I will build My church” (Matt. 16:18).

Because I knew that every leader, in whatever place of responsibility, was first assigned to edify, I would have an instruction time at the beginning of each church year for our church leaders. I would remind them not to put their work or ministry assignment first. Their primary assignment was to assist each member under their care toward Christlikeness. As leaders, they were to work together to make sure this was accomplished. For example, though the finance committee handled the financial matters of the church, or the missions committee was to guide the church to be on mission with God, it was still the primary task of each leader to help each member of their committee to grow toward Christlikeness as disciples of Him. It was in the context of their ministry assignment that their primary assignment of building up the body could happen. IF they were faithful to the primary assignment, they would get their work done.
 
- A God-Centered Church by Henry and Melvin Blackaby