Thinking Out Loud

The ShepherdI was listening to inspirational music while working around the house and heard a song using the words to Psalm 23 as part of the lyrics.  My mind began to wander as I thought about that classic psalm for a while.  I began thinking about the words of that psalm and wondering. I wondered how may of us as Christian, as followers of the Christ might honestly respond to that psalm at different points in our life. Would this be how you or I would respond?

  • The Lord is my Shepherd; Or so we say, but do you and I follow Him all along the way?
  • I shall not want; But there are many luxuries of this world that we chase after – things that we think we want.
  • He makes me lie down in green pastures; Yet the grass on the other side of town looks a little greener to our eyes.
  • He leads me beside the still waters; We want to ride the rapids, they are so much more fun!
  • He restores my soul; Then like Israel of old you and I find ourselves empty again from the choices we make.
  • He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake; But we pull away and run toward the world for our own version of happiness.
  • Even thou I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; Such easy words to say, but sometimes we grow afraid and give-in to temptation or worldly pressure.
  • For You are with me; He never leaves our side, but do we stay by His side?
  • Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me; But sometimes you and I see them as restrictive as He uses them to keep us in line. Yet, there is comfort in knowing His deep love.
  • You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; But their food looks better to the flesh and they look like they are having more fun. We find ourselves longing to eat with them not just in their presence.
  • You anoint my head with oil. He says that You and I are His, but like the prophet Jonah, we shirk responsibility.
  • My cup overflows; We are overwhelmed by His love, His mercy, and His grace, but neglect to give thanks.
  • Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life; He keeps giving. His merciful loving-kindness is new every day. His love compels us to return to Him.
  • I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever! By the grace He offered through the Christ, we come to Him in obedient faith thanking Him for the forgiveness through His Son.

I am just thinking out loud . . .

-Scott

Lost in Thought

01 manchesterI am sitting here at my desk staring at my monitors, reading reports about the bombing in Manchester, England last night. I am lost in thought.

  • I am thinking about the 22 now reported as dying. Many of them children less than 18 years old.
  • I am thinking about their families.
  • I am thinking about the approximately 60 other victims injured by shrapnel or in the panicked flight to safety.
  • I am thinking about the first responders and the emotions that they are going through.
  • I am thinking about the people of Manchester that quickly opened doors to those seeking safety.
  • I am thinking about the reports of Islamic State websites celebrating the bombing, while not taking credit. (I just saw a news report from the BBC that ISIS is now claiming responsibility – 8:30 a.m. CST)
  • I am thinking about the 23 year-old arrested in connection with the bombing.
  • I am thinking about how destructive hate is.
  • I am wondering why things like this happen.
  • I am imagining how saddened God must be at His creation.

I want to take the high road. I want to always demonstrate love. As I sit here and think, I think I will stop to pray. I will pray for the victims and their families. I will pray for the people of Manchester and her leaders. I will pray for the first responders. I will pray for the enemies of freedom, including those responsible for this attack and those celebrating it. I will pray that I can show love to my neighbor no matter his/her religion, political leanings, or ethnicity. I pray that I have the courage and strength to get off my knees and do more than pray, that I will find opportunities to help where I can and reach those near me with love.

-Scott

Mawwage or Marriage

12307952_10206589030497621_5876259313852573140_oSomeone said Adam and Eve had the perfect marriage:

  • Eve never had to hear how good a cook him mother was.
  • Adam never had to hear about all the men Eve could have married.
  • Adam could honestly say Eve was the best looking woman in the world.
  • Adam never went fishing with his pals.
  • Eve mean it when she told him, “You’re the only ones for me.”
  • They did not have to keep up with the neighbors.

But you and I don’t have such a luxury. We have to work on that “bwessed awwangment, that dweam wifin a dweam.” Below are some points on making a marriage happy that we shared yesterday at Central.  I had a few folks ask if I would share them here:

  1. Hold Hands Often. In other words, just enjoy being together as you stand together against the world.
  2. Say, “I Love You” Every Day. There is something comforting and almost magic about those words. Don’t be like the man whose wife asked, “Do yo still love me?” He replied, “I told you I loved you the day we got married, I’ll let you know if I change my mind.”
  3. Never God to Sleep Angry at Each Other. Work out your disagreements. Learn to say you are sorry and to ask for forgiveness. Be willing and ready to forgive.
  4. Help Each Other Grow. Focus on your growth toward each other and your spiritual growth in Christ.
  5. Enjoy What is Good and Beautiful. It is so easy to forget all the wonderful things about your spouse that attracted you to them. It is too easy to begin focusing on the little negatives and let them grow in your mind. Learn to accentuate the positives and eliminated the negatives in your mind. Look for the best in each other.
  6. Say “Thank You” Daily.  I know a couple married over 50 years and every meal I have had at their home I hear him say to his wife, “thank you for dinner.” Their grown children tell me that he has said that every meal for as long as they can remember. Say and show thanks for the help. love, and presence of your spouse.
  7. Be the Right Person. Notice that I did not say find the one person God has for you – your soul-mate. I do not believe that there is only one person out there for you.  I think we work on ourselves to be the right person for our spouse. When both of us are pointed that direction our marriage will only get better.
  8. Be Understanding. You husband is different from you. Your wife is not just like you. Celebrate the differences and learn the benefits of those differences. Be understanding of each other and learn to work as one.

What would you add?

-Scott

Bonus video: the Wedding Scene from The Princess Bride

Whoa! Whoa! Woe!

Woe (1)Isaiah records, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” (Isa 5:20).

You know what was going on. The people decided that if what they were doing was sinful, then they would decide that it is not sinful. If they said it was good to do, then it would not be bad. Then in turn they look down on actions that were right and those that did them, making those actions out to be wrong.

It might work this way. Suppose I was a thief. I stole an occasional goat, small amounts of food, basic clothing items, or small amounts of money. I did that to support myself and my family, because we did not have much if anything to eat or cloth ourselves. I decide that this is good. I am providing for my families needs. I only steal what I cannot afford, and I cannot afford the smallest of things. I continue this way until I am caught. I convince the authorities that I “have to steal to survive” so my theft is a good thing. I convince them that what is really a crime is having more than you need. So now my theft is a virtue and your storing up for the winter is criminal.

I know it was not necessarily that simple, but that is the idea.

“Woe to those who call evil good and good evil”

I am thinking that maybe, just maybe our society is there. When we applaud sin, elect sin to power, and pay to observe sin in media, but turn around and make fun of those who choose not to participate and punish those who take a stand against sinful actions – we are there.

Christians, the time is now, no it is past time that we stand up for what is right. We must raise the standard. We must first remind ourselves and our families what is good and right. We must live as true light in a dark world and let that light expose the obstacles of the dark.

Scott

That was Then, What About the Future?

Looking ForwardMay 1985, I was where five of our young people here at Central are in their lives. Like Landon, Gretchen, Abby, Marlee, and Chase, I walked across a stage and received that piece of paper I spent my life working for. I had plans, I had dreams, and some of them came about.

I would finish the summer as a steak cook and apprentice butcher, mow a few yards for extra cash, spend some time with fellow graduates, then it was off to Montgomery, Alabama to begin college at Faulkner University. There I would sing in the chorus on scholarship and learn how to become a preacher from men like Wendell Winkler, Carl Cheatham, Eris Benson, Ken Randolph, Leonard Johnson, Donnie Hilliard, Levi Sides, and others.

Overall things turned out great for me. There were a few speed bumps and pot-holes in the road to here, and I had to attend the UHK as well (University of Hard Knocks) to get where I am now, but I have no real complaints.

Now, thirty-two years later — I cannot fathom (or I refuse to fathom) that I am old enough to say that — I am married to a wonderful woman (Amy, the love of my life and my bride of 28 years this August). We have a bright, talented, 20 year old young Christian man for a son who is working on his degree plan at college. We work and worship with a great group of like-minded folk at Central Church of Christ, and we live in a neighborhood where people still seem to care about each other. I knew that May in 1985 that life held great things for me, life has proven that true. I look forward to what the next part of my life brings brings.

Beyond that, I look forward to the day we all graduate from this physical life and enter eternity with God in heaven. I hope to see you there. Do you think we will get to throw our hats in the air when He says, “Welcome home, my child, enter in!”? I know I will want too.

Scott

Death is a Door

mike kellyI am thinking about a friend who passed away this weekend. Yesterday morning at about 3:00.  I have the privilege of speaking at his memorial this week and as I prepare my words for Mike’s family, I recalled this poem by Nancy Byrd Turner:

Death is a Door

Death is only an old door

Set in a garden wall;

On gentle hinges it gives, at dusk

When the thrushes call.

********************

Along the lintel are green leaves,

Beyond the light lies still;

Very willing and weary feet

God over that sill.

********************

Tehre is nothing to trouble any heart;

Nothing to hurt at all

Death is only  quiet door

In an old wall.

Disumbrationism

disumbrationismThe leaflet in 1924 that served as an introduction to this style of modern art began with these words, “We have the distinguished honor of introducing to New England the founder and supreme master of the DISUMBRATIONIST SCHOOL OF PAINTING, Pavel Jerdanowitch.”

His paintings like the one shown above were a new modern style of art that abandoned the use of shadowing.  Critics applauded. Jerdanowitch became instantly renown.  Major art publications around the world included his works and detailed the wonders of disumbrationism. But the artist, Pavel Jerdanowitch stayed reclusive, as artist sometimes are. He never made public appearances. One critic exclaimed, “Jerdanowitch is not satisfied to follow the beaten paths of art. He prefers to discover new lands, explore the heights, and peer into the abysses. His spirit delights in intoxication, and he is a prey to aesthetic agonies which are not experienced without suffering.” Comte Chabrier, Revue du Vrai et du Bea

Three years later in 1927 Pavel revealed that his real name was Paul Jordan Smith, born in Virginia, raised in near Chattanooga, TN., and a current resident of California. He admitted a distaste for modern art and created the hoax and character of Pavel Jerdanowitch to prove a point. Smith never attended art school, he was a writer, lecturer, and ordained Universalist Minister. His wife, Sarah, enrolled in art classes and entered shows and received poor reviews. He wanted to show how ridiculous art critics were.

Interestingly, even when he admitted the hoax, critics and modern art scholars continued to applaud his work and Disumbrationism for years. They were seemingly refusing to admit they had been fooled. Some suggested that as a writer, he possessed artistic talent that he, himself did not know he had.

I wonder.

I wonder how many things we believe that are not true. How many hoaxes have we bought into? We know there are fake news outlets and that news media outlets have their own agendas, but we choose to believe what we want to believe. I see this everyday on Facebook and Twitter when you and I share without investigating the source or the reliability of the information.

I wonder.

I wonder if that is why Luke commended the Bereans. They would not sit back and blindly accept what they heard from Paul and others. Luke records, “Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.”(Act 17:11).

Don’t be fooled. Check up on what you hear people (even preachers) say about God’s Word.  When you realize what is being said is incorrect, stop believing the lie.

-Scott

Why Did He Stop Me?

leo lightsI had just pulled off of I-10 in Baldwin County, Alabama and I turned north onto AL 59. I had traveled about 1/2 mile when I realized I was still going interstate speeds. Just as I lifted my foot off of the accelerator to allow friction to slow me down, an Alabama State Trooper topped the hill coming toward me.  As we passed, I saw him make a U-turn and turn on his lights.  Assuming, it was for me, I pulled over, rolled down the window, and turned down the radio. He did pull in behind me and eventually awarded me a certificate for my ability to exceed the speed limit.  I did have to pay for that certificate. (For the record, that was 30 years ago.)

I have had the opportunity to talk with local law enforcement officers and troopers in similar road side situations since then. They have warned about a tail-light, a too-sudden lane change, an illegal U-turn on a country road, that the speed limit was 45 not 55, and once when I was driving a car that belonged to Jasper Auto Sales for suspicion that it was one they reported stolen. But that first incident is the last time I was awarded the blessing of a ticket.

Maybe you have had blue lights on behind your car. What goes through your mind? Do you get angry that the officer is pulling you over. Do you look to see if it is the end of the month and mumble that they are filling a ticket quota? Do you think the law has it out for you or cars like yours? Do you think the officer has a “need for power” and is a bully?

Or . . .

Do you know that the officer has seen his/her share of fatal and serious accidents caused by excessive speeds, illegal U-turns, reckless lane changes, or distracted drivers and they are trying to prevent you from becoming a statistic?

Maybe the officer has your best interest in mind.

Sometimes, we look at God and His Will the way we do law enforcement officers.  We think of God’s Will as a killjoy, as too restrictive, or even punishing. The Hebrew writer explains the role of God’s Will, “And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” (Hebrews 12:5-6).

Could it be that God knows the dangers, pitfalls, and the destructive nature of sin and He wants to save us from sin’s effects? Could it be that God has and always has had my best interest and your best interest in mind?

Maybe we should spend more time learning His Will, knowing His Word, paying attention to reading and being diligent with Scripture.

-Scott

When the Preacher is Hurting

When the Preacher is hurting (1)If you are a minister who has served in ministry for any length of time, you have faced hurt.

  • You were there when the two teenage boys whose father was in a coma from an industrial accident lost their mother in a wreck. You hurt with them and for them. You walked with the entire congregation through this pain.
  • You were a young couple trying to start a family, when some of your best friends in the congregation were expecting their first child, and you cried as that baby entered the world with so many health issues that she did not survive the week.  You shed tears as you preached that funeral.
  • You hurt as you watch a marriage break apart.  You listened to the injured spouse or children as they questioned everything.  You tried to be encouraging.
  • You heard the gun chambering a round as the young man on the phone said life was not worth living.  You were by his side in less than 10 minutes trying to help restore his faith in God.
  • You stopped to pray as you heard a congregation close to your heart was going through a major struggle.
  • You buried another young couple’s baby.
  • You studied, encouraged, prayed, shared, invited, asked, and that person still turned his/her back on Christ and His Church.
  • You heard from a friend in ministry that he gave in to Satan, his marriage and career are over.

As difficult as those things were and are, they were nothing until it was personal.  Until you prayed with your own family as you heard the word cancer pronounced over your younger brother. The hurt became personal. You thought back to all you had ever said to others. You stand numb as others say similar things to you. You the preacher, the minister, the one who is supposed to have answers, has questions and even a few doubts.  You know God’s promise that things will work out for good (Rom 8:28).  You have told others that that promise does not mean everything is good, but that in time good will come. How can this become good?

You are hurting, but you still have to preach, to console, and encourage others.  How? How can you stand in front of all of them and share the Good News, when bad news entered your front door?

First you renew your faith. You recall the words of Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah (Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego) as they faced the fire of Nebuchadnezzar’s wrath. “If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us out of your hand, O King, But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” (Dan 3:17-18).

BUT If NOT!

That is what you remember. God promises to work things for your good, and he will. But it may not be the way you think it should be. So, you place your hope and trust in Him.

Next, you stand before others who are struggling. You speak to those that you speak to every week. You are standing and speaking to some who are losing jobs, looking for jobs, wishing they had a different job (or boss), those who had a fight with their spouse on the way to worship, the children whose home life is not what you think it is, the parents who are afraid they are losing their child to the world, the man whose doctor gave him bad news just this Friday, he is in such shock he has not even told his family. You understand them, you hurt too.  They know it, and they appreciate your resolve to stay faithful to God – even when you hurt.

-Scott

Bonus video and song from Mercy Me.

Why? What Can We Do?

walking outThis question – THE question – was on Facebook at 6:30 this morning.  A question I struggle with. A question I have some thoughts about.  A question I have tried to answer before. The question is:

“Why are people leaving churches and what can we do about it?”

From my reading, from conversations, from my observations, and as a member of one of the generations who are walking out and taking their children with them; I think there are at least four major reasons people leave (I shared these on this blog in 2009 and in 2014 I still think these are some reasons and some solutions)

  1. A Mis-Focus on Politics: When churches continue to promote candidates and try to push politics from the pulpits the some begin to walk out the door. They are not wanting to be worldly, they want to be godly, and do not feel they are learning as much about God as they are about Washington D.C. Churches do need to teach morals and the truth about immorality, but not with a political tone.
  2. Failure to Teach Doctrine: A couple of decades ago, mega-churches started appearing on the evangelical and fundamentalist landscape. These groups built large communities of adherents by reaching out to the “un-churched” with programs and ministries designed to fill their felt and desired needs. The thought was that if we reach the physical and emotional needs of the “un-churched” with love then we could reach their spiritual need for Christ. The problem is that many have not shifted from this emotional and physical outreach to teaching their converts about doctrine. In many cases the average church goer does not know the major doctrines of the congregation they attend. There is a time for a baby to have only milk, but a child must have solid food to grow to adulthood (1 Cor 3:2; Heb 5:12). Many are leaving churches because they need a change in diet to help them grow to maturity.
  3. Cultural Shift in the Churches: A result of not growing individuals to mature adulthood as a child of God is that they do not learn to avoid the pitfalls of the world. By not teaching doctrine, churches are failing to equip their members to be faithful to each other and to God. Churches have let the world get a foothold on their members. A friend and fellow preacher wrote recently about doing an experiment with his sons. He had his boys time how long he could hold a finger in water as it began to boil (I did not say he was bright did I?). When he finally pulled it out he noticed it was pink and on the verge of blistering. He stuck another finger in and realized the water was quite hot. His first finger did not notice the gradual change in the water temperature as abruptly as a finger left outside of the water. What is the point? When we allow worldly culture in our homes via mass media and we slowly incorporate that culture into our lives and churches we lose people to the world. When we use popular programming to “bring people in” we are not offering anything different from the world. Mankind is smart enough to see our inconsistency.
  4. We Cannot Out Entertain the World: Many churches are losing members to various genres of entertainment. We cannot beat the Devil at his game. If people want entertainment, they will find the best available and Satan has been entertaining people for a long, long time. I once heard Dan Chambers in a lectureship series say “Entertainment, not religion, is now the opiate of the people.” He is correct. {For more from Dan Chambers read “Showtime: Worship in the Age of Show Business” (Nashville:21st Century Christian), 1997.}

What can we do?

Return to the basics. When the church at Ephesus became mis-focused after a few years, Jesus encourages them through the Apostle to “return to your first love.” This concept needs proclaiming from the roof tops of churches around our great nation and the world as a whole. We need to be like Paul who said, “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2). To the Philippians he declares that above all he desires to know Christ and the power of his resurrection (Phil 3:10). We need to return to proclaiming the message of Good News – the Gospel of Christ that is God’s power to save men (Rom 1:16, 5:1). Once we reach people with this wonderful, awe inspiring, love compelling, disciple making message of hope, then we can move on to loftier and meatier matters. Churches cannot abandon the simple Gospel message for any watered down more “palatable” message. Any thing less would be (is) disastrous.

We need to study up on and instruct congregations in the Bible; not modern self-help psychology; but messages that create a firm foundation for faith and hope. We must hear again and follow the teachings of and the teachings concerning Jesus as Christ and not build on the sand (Matt 7:24-27). This teaching begins with a confirmation of the Bible as God’s authentic inspired word and therefore reliable as a guide toward obedience. We need to demonstrate the relevance of the messages within the Sacred Text to our lives in the 21st Century. Details of life may change, but our nature remains the same. Specifics within the context of a narrative may not always be relevant, but the underlying lessons are still for our learning and instruction (Rom 15:4). We need to return to the pattern of living by the precepts of God in Christ.

Remember who we are. We must also remember that Jesus told His immediate followers, and by extension all that belong to Him, that they and we are “in the world but not of the world” (John 17:14-16). We are to lead the world by our example and not follow the example of the world. Paul put it this way in Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind . . .” When we will live a daily Christian life, the world will take notice and we will be the unique people we God calls us to be (1 Pet 2:9).

Finally, we need to refocus our worship. Too many churches and individual Christians look for a worship experience that moves them as individuals. Jesus told the woman of Samaria that God is Spirit and those that worship Him, must worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:24). God is the focus of our worship. When I worship God, I am the last concern, you are next in line, and God is the central figure and the only member of the audience as we each individually participate in cooperate worship. Your edification and admonition are secondary byproducts of my worship and my encouragement is secondary to your worship. The focus is God and His pleasure. We must learn again to worship the Creator and not the created. I find that when you and I focus on God and Christ that I do gain. Notice the Hebrew writer’s emphasis in Hebrews 10:24-25, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” We accomplish this when we gather together to “offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name (Heb 13:15).
What will the results of a shift toward a restoration of Biblical preaching, Christian living, and godly worship? Some will still leave, they left Jesus in John 6, and He asked the Twelve, if they would leave as well. They stayed. Some today will stay the course. If we will do the above those who stay will be stronger for it.

Scott.