Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Daisies and Tulips

As we’ve been saying all morning, our lives do not consist of watching for and taking care of sin. We were bought with a price—the death of Jesus, the Son of the living God. But Jesus didn’t stay dead. He rose from the dead and as we died in him because of sin, we live in him because he lives.

Consequently, when we come to this table, we come as people who live. We live in Christ, we rejoice in Christ, we exult in him. We are people who look forward to what he has in store for us in the adventure we call life. Sins come, but we don’t wallow in them. We confess them and we go on with life—with life!

To use the image we used in this morning’s exhortation we are gardeners. Our focus, however, is not on the weeds but on plants: flowers (roses, daisies, lilies, tulips), vegetables (broccoli, eggplant, carrots), designs (those fancy British gardens with the mazes), and animals that visit (deer, opossums, raccoons), etc.

Take a look around this room. What do you see? You see other individual people, but the Bible tells us to look past that to realize that you are also looking at the body of Christ. There is a sense in which when we look around we see not David, Steve, and Jay but Jesus the righteous one. We see one another and we remember what Christ has done for us and we rejoice in this gift.

With this in mind we come to the table ready to eat and drink Christ, with Christ, as Christ. And as we do, God the Spirit does a work in us making us more like Christ—making us more holy, more set apart, and more sanctified.

If you have been baptized and are in good standing with the church of Christ, we offer this meal to you with joy and rejoice with you in eating it. If you are living in rebellion against God and refuse to submit yourself to his authority, we ask that you not partake with us.

The Garden

Many people view their lives like a garden. When they come to Christ their garden is full of weeds and dirt. When Christ comes into their lives he cleans up the soil and removes all the weeds and things are wonderful in the garden for a time.

Then one morning the new Christian takes stock of his garden and sees that it has become overrun with weeds as it was before he met Christ. In a terrified and distraught state the Christian goes to the pastor and tells him salvation has been lost. The pastor comforts the Christian by telling he that the weeds represent sin and while weeds are not desirable in a good garden (you want to have flat clean dirt), because we are human and have a propensity to sin, weeds come. He teaches the new Christian that in order to keep the weeds down he needs to do two things: first, he needs to maintain good dirt. The best way to do this is to have the proper theology. So the pastor loads the Christian down with good books about the Bible and about God.

Second, because he knows that clean dirt does very little about the problem of weeds, the pastor will tell the Christian about confession of sin and repentance from sin. He tells the new believer that he needs to take periodic checks of his garden and make sure he gets rid of all the weeds.

Every once in a while a preacher will tell his young gardeners to keep short accounts and to pay very close attention to the weed problem. They are to watch the garden all the time to make sure no weeds spring up and grow into huge trees. And so all the Christians in that church work very hard to maintain clean gardens.

Sometimes Christians are encouraged to help one another to keep their gardens clean. They ask their brothers and sisters to help them by telling them if they see any weeds growing. Sometimes their neighbors will volunteer the fact that they see weeds growing in their neighbor’s garden. The whole church is caught up in looking for weeds and pouncing on them when they find them.

But weeds are not why people have gardens. Keeping the weeds out is not the main goal of having a garden. Flowers, veggies, and fancy designs are why gardens exist. This reminds us to confess our sins.

Good Advice or Good News

Are addicts self-consciously making these idolatrous decisions? In most cases, no. Remember, we are looking at what is behind the scenes. Sin by its very nature is covert. As people who want to help addicts, we need something very powerful to break the hold of idols. Pleas, tears, arguments, or threats will not penetrate. Reason is useless. We cannot simply say, “Stop doing drugs, get control of yourself, stop worshipping an idol.” As a result of spiritual oppression, drug worshippers may be very intelligent, but they can be oblivious to the destruction and slavery associated with drug abuse. They need the power of God (1Cor. 1:18), the message of Christ crucified and risen. Other therapies can offer sobriety, but only this good news is powerful enough to liberate the soul.
Welch, p. 55

Think in Terms of Paragraphs

Paragraphing is a subtle but important element in writing nonfiction articles and books—a road map constantly telling your reader how you have organized your ideas. Study good nonfiction writers to see how they do it. You’ll find that almost all of them think in paragraph units, not in sentence units. Each paragraph has its own integrity of content and structure. Zinsser, p. 80.

History is Teleological

In December 1931 a British politician crossing Park Avenue in New York between Seventy-sixth and Seventy-seventh streets around ten-thirty at night looked in the wrong direction and was knocked down by an automobile—a moment, he later recalled of a man aghast, a world aglare: ‘I do not understand why I was not broken like an eggshell or squashed like a gooseberry.’ Fourteen months later an American politician, sitting in an open car in Miami, Florida, was fired on by an assassin; the man beside him was killed. Those who believe with Spencer and Engels that individuals make no difference because substitutes are ‘sure to be found’ (Engels) might well ponder whether the next two decades would really have been the same had the automobile killed Winston Churchill in 1931 and the bullet killed Franklin Roosevelt in 1933. Would Nevil Chamberlain or Lord Halifax have rallied Britain in 1940? Would John N. Garner have produced the New Deal and the Four Freedoms? Suppose, in addition, that Lenin had died of typhus in Siberia in 1895 and Hitler had been killed on the western front in 1916. What would the twentieth century have looked like now?
Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. Cycles of History quoted in Guinness, p. 33

With Great Compassion

"Fear not, for you will not be ashamed; be not confounded, for you will not be disgraced; for you will forget the shame of your youth, and the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more. For your Maker is your husband, the LORD of hosts is his name; and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called. For the LORD has called you like a wife deserted and grieved in spirit, like a wife of youth when she is cast off, says your God. For a brief moment I deserted you, but with great compassion I will gather you. In overflowing anger for a moment I hid my face from you, but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you," says the LORD, your Redeemer. "This is like the days of Noah to me: as I swore that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth, so I have sworn that I will not be angry with you, and will not rebuke you. For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed," says the LORD, who has compassion on you.
Isaiah 54:4-10

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Bits & Pieces

If you want to see how active verbs give vitality to the written word, don’t just go back to Hemingway or Thurber, or Thoreau. I commend the King James Bible and William Shakespeare. Zinsser, p. 68.

Most Adjectives are also unnecessary. Zinsser, p. 69.

Don’t hedge your prose with little timidities. Good writing is lean and confident. P. 70.

…construct your sentence so that the order of the words will put the emphasis where you want it. Zinsser, p. 71.

Let the humor sneak up so we hardly hear it coming. Zinsser, p. 77.

Slavery to the Addiction

For the addict dope is God. It is the supreme being, the Higher Power, in the junkies’ life. He is subjugated to its will. He follows its commandments. The drug is the definition of happiness, and gives the meaning of love. Each shot of junk in his veins is a shot of divine love, and it makes the addict feel resplendent with the grace of God.
From B. Meehan, Beyond the Yellow Brick Road (Chicago: Contemporary Books, 1984), 175, in Welch, p. 53.

A Banquet in the Grave

Can you see how the biblical theme of idolatry fits hand-in-glove with modern addiction? Drugs and are the modern golden calves erected by addicts to find meaning, power, or pleasure apart from God. Addicts often believe they have found life, but any payoff they experience is short-lived and deceptive. They are blinded to the fact that they are having a banquet in the grave. They are truly out of control, victims of their own .
Welch, p. 53.

Doubting Thomas

Hi Thom,

The Gospel in a nutshell is this: Jesus died to save sinners and rose again to prove it. Some sub points of this is that God is God and we are not, God created us, we are creatures, he gets to tell us how to live, we are responsible to live that way, there are consequences for living in a way that is not pleasing to God, there are rewards for living in accord with God's revealed will (in this life and in the next), etc.

It doesn't sound to me like you would disagreeing with anything I've said so far, so what follows will be assuming that.

The rub for you comes in that you don't feel what you think you are supposed to feel with regard to all of this. You don't feel like following God, you don't feel convicted of sin, you don't feel like reading the word, you don't feel like he is active in your life, etc.

My guess is that you are mis naming, or incorrectly defining, these things and looking for something that often does not exist at least in the way you are looking for them. For example you seem to indicate that you think loving God with your whole heart involves something coming into you and then you can act. "I must feel like following God before I can follow God." You didn't say this, but this is what it sounds like you are saying.

But there are a number of things in your letter that make me think you actually do care about what God thinks. First, you are writing to me about it. Second, you label your sin as horrible and ugly. Third, you seem to want to follow God with your whole heart. Fourth, you keep reading the Bible even though you don't feel driven to do so. I could go on and on but you get the point.

People who don't want God in their lives don't care about these things.

It sounds to me like you need to make up your mind to do what you know is right regardless of whether you feel like it or not. God doesn't tell us to love our wives, for example, when we feel like it. He simply tells husbands to love their wives. It isn't a feeling, necessarily, it is an action. Feelings, if they come at all, will come after the act of loving. It is the same thing here. Loving God with all your mind, soul, heart, and strength doesn't really have anything to do with emotions, but what is right.

The Christian life is not about how we feel about things, but how God feels about them. So, when he says, "love your neighbor as yourself" he isn't telling us to gin up emotions toward our neighbor, he is telling us to go over and see if he needs some help, whether we feel like it or not.

It sounds to me like you need to find a good church, get involved, read your Bible, do what it says and if emotions attend to what you are doing, great. If not, that's great too. But do it all because God is God and he requires it of you. Believe that he does it because he loves you. Love him back. Make up your mind to think and act the way the God who loves you tells you to think and act. In other words, don't do it in order to earn anything from him, but because he has acted on your behalf in history because he loves you. Do what you do because it is right and good and holy.

One more thing. Fruit comes by obedience, which comes by belief, trust, and faith. These all come because we believe God has spoken and said to do certain things. We hear them, believe where the command came from, and do themà fruit.

Finally, people who fear that they don't have salvation hardly ever need to. You're right about how terrible it will be for folks to get to Heaven and have Jesus say, "I never knew you," but it doesn't sound like that is your situation. I'm not saying don't be concerned about it. I'm saying change your mind about how you view it and do what you are called to do feelings or not. Incidentally, feelings usually come when we decide to have them. So you might want to think about deciding to be joyful (which is a command by the way), and free because you've been forgiven, and happy because God knows you, etc. These are all choices. Circumstances can influence our emotions, but in the end we decide which emotions to have and when.


Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The Sociologist Samaritan

The story is told of two sociologists walking down a road and coming across a badly wounded victim of a mugging. One turned to the other and said: “Whoever did this needs help.”
Guinness, p. 25

Unity is the Anchor

Unity is the anchor of good writing. So, first, get your unities straight. Unity not only keeps the reader from straggling off in all directions; it satisfies your readers’ subconscious need for order and reassures them that al is well at the helm. Therefore choose from among the many variables and stick to your choices…One choice is unity of pronoun. Are you going to write in the first person, as a participant, or in the third person, as an observer? Or even second person,…Unity of tense is another choice Most people write mainly in the past tense…Another choice is unity of mood.
Zinsser, p. 50.

Idols Are To Be Used

The purpose of all idolatry is to manipulate the idol for our own benefit. This means that we don’t want to be ruled by idols. Instead, we want to use them…Idolaters want nothing above themselves, including their idols. Their fabricated gods are intended to be mere puppet kings, means to an end.
Welch, p.49.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Here's another picture of Rachel. She's 12. She thought that first picture of her was too silly. There's another one coming in a day or two that shows her real personality a little better, but I thought she looked pretty in this thoughtful pose. So here you go.

Exodus 1:1-22

Study Questions for Exodus 1:1-22

1:1-5a – Introduction …70 souls in all.

Who are all these people?
Why do you suppose all these names are here?

1:5b-6 Joseph was already in Egypt…
Why does the author mention Joseph and his death?
Why do you suppose the author begin his book this way?


7—How much time has passed since Joseph lived in the land? How do you know?
What was the status with the Jewish population when the story of the Exodus begins?

8—What did the new king know about Joseph and his family?

9—What is the Pharaoh’s view to so many Israelite people?
Why do you suppose this was Pharaoh’s take on so many people?

10—How did he want to deal with the people who were stronger and more numerous than the Egyptians?
What does deal wisely or shrewdly mean? Isa. 29:13, 14; Jer. 8:9; 9:23; 1Co. 1:19-25
Why does he want to deal wisely with them?
What does “get them up from the land” mean?
Is he afraid?
What kinds of things does fear make people do?

11—How did the Egyptians respond to Pharaoh’s observation and request? What did the Israelites build for the Egyptians?
How do you suppose treating the Israelites badly would make them less likely to join with enemies against Egypt?
How often do you think fear causes people to make unwise choices?
How often do you think unwise choices produce results that are the exact opposite of what was desired?

12-14—How did the Israelites respond to these afflictions?
Why do you suppose the multiplied in response to their affliction? Gen 46:3
How did the Egyptians view the reaction to their actions towards the Jews?

After this, how did the Egyptians treat the Jews?
Why do you suppose they reacted this way?
How often do you continue and increase an action that isn’t and hasn’t worked in your own life?

15-16—What were the Hebrew midwives names?
What did the Pharaoh do with them?
Why did he want all the baby boys killed?
Why did he let the baby s live?
If the numbers of Israelites was such a problem, why didn’t he just let them “escape”?

17—What did the mid-wives do?
Who is God? He isn’t mentioned before this.
What does their fear of God have to do with their disobedience of Pharaoh?

18-19—What did Pharaoh do when he found out that the baby boys weren’t dying?
What was the reason the mid-wives gave for the fact that they weren’t dying? Acts 4:19
What actually happened?
Did they lie?

20-21—What happened to the midwives for not killing the baby boy?
And what happened to the Israelites as a result of their oppression and the mid-wives actions on their behalf?
What happened because the midwives feared God?
But wait, isn’t wrong to lie?
How can the lies of the mid-wives be something God rewarded them for?

22—How did Pharaoh react to the blessing of God?

Put yourself in the Israelites situation. You’re in , things are getting worse and worse, your sons are being slaughtered, things look bleak. Where is God?

But what is actually happening here? What is the big picture? Genesis 3:15
Does Matt. 27:46 fit into this scenario? How?

If we are ever in a similar situation, how might we expect, or hope to respond? And what will give us encouragement? Rom. 8:37

What did the Egyptians do wrong? How do you know?
What did the Israelites do right? What makes you say that?

Variety Maintains Interest

See if you can gain variety by reversing the order of a sentence, or by substituting a word that has freshness or oddity, or by altering the length of your sentences so they don't all sound as if they came out of the same machine. An occasional short sentence can carry a tremendous punch. It stays in the reader's ear.
William Zinsser, On Writing Well, p. 36.

Constructing Idols

The heart’s instinctive plotting in this idol construction is amazing. We know that we are called to imitate God. This means that we are to live for God’s glory, not our own. We are to make him famous, not ourselves. A noble calling, to be sure, but we choose to forsake it or “exchange” our calling and give glory to idols instead (Rom. 1). This is a surprising move but it is quite purposeful on our parts. You see, being created in God’s image is somewhat humbling to our sinful nature. It means that we are not the ultimate original. We do not get glory for ourselves, and we are totally dependent on the One whom we imitate. To avoid this, we renounce our imitating status and turn to objects of worship that we hope will give us what we want.
Ed Welch, Addictions: A Banquet in the Grave, p. 49.

Character Is Our Core

Character is the “inner core,” or core, of a person…The second theme of consistency is an extension of this point. A core is constant, and thus, a person’s core character is best seen in what he or she reveals consistently rather than in a single statement or random act. Echoing the Bible and Aristotle, deTocqueville names this consistency “the habits of the heart,” while Nietzsche speaks similarly of “a long obedience in the same direction.”
Os Guinness, When No One Sees, p. 16.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

We Always Serve Someone

Amos was born a slave, he was raised a slave, and he is a slave as an . He hates everything about being a slave. He hates being obligated to do what his master tells him to do. He hates having other slaves rule over him. He hates being accountable, to his owner, for his time every moment of every day. He hates what he sees as the heavy handed treatment he suffers at the hand of his owner.

Amos hates the fact that he was not able to pick where he lives or what he does for a living. He hates not having a say in his health issues. He hates having to ask permission to do pretty much everything he does or wants to do.

Every glance, thought, action, and emotion shows how strongly Amos hates his master. When his owner tells him what to do Amos resents it with every fiber of his being and he rebels at every opportunity. When his master is out of sight Amos gossips about his master, misrepresents him, slanders him, and tries to lower the master in the eyes of his fellow slaves. Amos runs away every chance he gets and when he is dragged back he comes kicking and screaming.

Robert, on the other hand, was born a slave, was raised a slave, and is a slave as an . But whereas Amos hates being a slave, Robert loves it. He loves having a master who cares for his every need. He loves the fact that he doesn’t have to worry about what he will do during the day and into the night. He likes being accountable to his master and to those the master has placed over him. He views his master’s interaction in his life as a blessing and rejoices in the fact that the owner cares so much about him.

Robert likes where he lives and is grateful that his master thought enough about him to ask him to do what he does. He trusts the owner to take care of his physical needs and the needs of his family and he exults in the opportunity to serve such a gracious owner.

Every thought, glance, action, and emotion shows how strongly Robert loves his master. When the owner tells him what to do Robert warms to his master with every fiber of his being. When the master is out of sight, Robert talks about him in warm terms, words filled with respect and admiration. When his owner speaks, Robert is the first to jump to obey. He looks forward to serving the master at all hours of the day or night.

The interesting thing about Amos and Robert is that they both serve the same master. Jesus Christ laid down his life as a ransom for many. Amos and Robert were both bought with a price, they belong to God almighty, maker of Heaven and earth. One rebels in anger, the other submits in love.

The Need for Character

The essential qualities of a great leader, President Eisenhower said, are “vision, integrity, courage, understanding, the power of articulation, and profundity of character.” We might add other virtues—decisiveness and a sense of providence, for example. But over against all who would disagree with Eisenhower by omitting character from this list, this curriculum sets out a series of classical and modern readings that drive toward one overwhelming conclusion: character is central to good leadership—not just for political leaders, but moms and dads, teachers, pastors, managers, and everyone who influences lives around them.
Os Guinness, When No One Sees, p. 15.

The Nature of Idolatry

One of the most common portrayals of the human condition, and one which captures both the in-control and out-of-control experiences of addictions, is that theme of idolatry. From this perspective, the true nature of all addictions is that we have chosen to go outside the boundaries of the kingdom of God and look for blessing in the land of idols. In turning to idols, we are saying that we desire something in creation more than we desire the Creator.
Ed Welch, Addictions: A Banquet in the Grave, p. 47.

Words Often Have More Than One Meaning

You’ll never make your mark as a writer unless you develop a respect for words and a curiosity about their shades of meaning that is almost obsessive. The English language is rich in strong and supple words. Take the time to root around and find the ones you want.
William Zinsser, On Writing Well, p. 32
This also applies to those who would be good readers.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

When Everyone is the Leader

Imagine, some say, that aliens from Mars land on earth and demand, “Take us to your leader.” Most earthlings, the response goes, would be a loss to direct them. Or as Plato warned more than two thousand years ago, the ship of state is in trouble when the crew takes over from the captain and the sailors all believe they have an equal right to steer no matter how untrained they are in navigation.
Os Guinness, When No One Sees, p. 14-15.

Total Healing

As you consider confession and forgiveness, be careful not to compartmentalize, You are not simply bringing health to another sector of your being, you are dealing with the essence of your very soul. Confession and forgiveness are not aides to dealing with addictions, like exercise or eating well. They are the very heart of the cure.
Ed Welch, Addictions: A Banquet in the Grave, p. 42.

Take Words Out

Writing improves in direct ratio to the number of things we can keep out of it that shouldn’t be there. “Up” in “free up” shouldn’t be there. Examine every word you put on paper. You’ll find a surprising number of that don’t serve any purpose.
William Zinsser, On Writing Well, p. 12

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The Good Thing I Have Found

Here is a picture of Eileen. She and Rachel and one of our Greyfriars' students, Ben Alexander are walking on a frozen lake near here. The ice is around 3 feet thick. Pretty cool—around 15 degrees.

Sunset in Moscow

Sunset over the Skating Rink.

Rachel Faye

This is my daughter Rachel. She has a new paper route. She is saving money to buy souvenirs and pay her own way to Camp this summer. She’s just as sweet as she looks in the picture and is an incredible joy to know and have in my family. I am very blessed.

Writing is Work

With each rewrite I try to make what I have written tighter, stronger and more precise, eliminating every element that's not doing useful work. Then I go over it once more, reading it aloud, and am always amazed at how much clutter can still be cut.
William Zinsser, On Writing Well, p. 11.

Growth with Disease

When we have a disease, we can still be growing in the knowledge of Christ, but addictions are incompatible with spiritual growth.
Ed Welch, Addictions: A Banquet in the Grave, p. 41.


But the era of titans—whether giants of evil such as Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, and Mao or giants of good such as Churchill, Roosevelt, and de Gaulle—shows us only half of the twentieth century’s problem of leadership: a public overly dependent on a leader.
Os Guinness, When No One Sees, p. 14.