Calvary Church

4216 West 204th St, Matteson, IL – 708-481-8300
  • Calvary Church
  • this Sunday
  • beliefs
  • when & where
  • pastor steve
  • church growth
  • media
  • the courier
  • Archive for the ‘Past articles’ Category

    service call

    Sunday, July 18th, 2010

    When our original dishwasher died about a year ago, I replaced it with a lower-end new model.  I had replaced the pump on the former GE unit and had gotten a year or two more life out of it for a $50 E-bay part.  Soon, we noticed that the new washer was not getting the dishes all that clean.  Calling the company, they graciously sent me a new float valve switch which I installed to good effect. 

    After a few weeks, the washer was again inadequately cleaning the dishes.  The problem seemed to be a faulty float valve switch again.  If I added water manually, the dishes were cleaner.  For some reason, there was a water shortage when the wash cycle started.  Not even the soap was being rinsed out of the door thingy that opens to release the detergent at the proper time.  The company sent two switches this time, and a new intake valve.

    After I replaced the switch again, to no effect, the company offered to send a technician to our home at their expense to repair the dishwasher.  The repairman called me before he came by to make sure that the problem was not merely one improper instruction following, because in that case, we would be liable for the service call.  The short conversation assured him that our direction following skills were not at fault for the problem.

    He replaced the intake valve that lets the hot water in, but this had as much positive effect as the last float valve switch replacement.  A bit annoyed at the lack of solution, we tested the water supply line.  It does indeed make a great difference if a dishwashing machine has a good water supply, which it did not.  The line shut off valve, for which I am liable, was not allowing enough water into the washer for even minimally effective cleaning.  (I have since repaired the infracting valve with dramatic effect.)

    The technician finished filling out the work order and said that in reality, I should be liable for the repair, but not to worry about it, seeing that he did replace a valve on the washer.  It seems that replacing a part that had nothing to do with the lack of performance was enough to justify having the fine manufacturer having to pay $85 for that which it had no real liability.  I questioned this, but he said that it was fine, and that the paperwork was already filled out.  He packed up his tools and went to the next job.

    So is it right to rip off a big company for a mere $85, just because some paper work can falsely justify it.  I am not sure why I did not insist on having the bill directed to me.  I would like to think that I was a little confused, but more than likely, I was just seeking to participate in bill duckage.  Convicted, I called the tech the next day to see what it would take to cover the cost myself, to have him redo the paper work.  I got nowhere.  He assured me that only he and I would know and that I should not worry about it.

    I think that what I actually accomplished was to compromise what integrity I might have for $85.  Why did I allow theft to occur on my behalf?  Why did I not at the moment demand to be billed for the service call?  Sure I felt uneasy, but I did allow this to happen. 

    Scripture is abundantly clear here, starting with commandment number 8, “You shall not steal.”  Pastors are not supposed to steal anything, and yet, in reality, I have participated in the taking of $85 from the manufacturer.  I certainly did not plan this, but I am culpable nonetheless of this transgression.  (“Transgression” is a much nicer word than “sin”, don’t you think?)

    If I am to honor Christ in all of my life, I need to find a way to pay this bill that I might be repentant.  Mere feeling bad about it has nothing to do with repentance, but we sometime feel that feeling bad is good enough and therefore is all that we need to do. 

    If I call the repair company and explain the situation, I risk having the serviceman get into trouble.  In reality, he was probably just conforming to standard practice: It is alright to rip off the big guy.  Perhaps the service company will simply tell me not to worry about it.  I am not content with either solution.

    I will call the company in the morning (they are currently closed) and try to work something out so that I can pay what I owe without getting anyone in hot water.  I am unsure that they will have ever dealt with such a call before, so it should be interesting.

    I fully understand that I could take a “no harm, no foul” attitude, but seeking to live for Christ does not allow me to push aside what I can get away with as being acceptable.  Even more, if I do not try to fix this, I am the one who is harmed by the degrading of my honesty as well as my integrity.   It is not that I am putting myself through some major kind of guilt trip in this, but I do believe that I have the Spirit’s conviction. 

    If I knowingly get too much change back for what I have purchased, I have become an opportunistic thief.  If I purchase an item that I know is priced mistakenly, am I not taking improper advantage?  If I take credit that I do not deserve, have I not taken what is someone else’s?   

    So anyway, in what hopefully is an effort to honor Christ in my life, I can find a way to pay what I rightfully owe.  You will have to ask me about this to know how it turns out!

    Stay awesome and maintain integrity.

    Acts 20:24

    Epilogue: I called the company and graciously explained the situation, keeping any blame away from the tech, and asked to be billed.  They said that they had never had a call like this before, and I explained that I was just trying to honor Christ.  They said that there was no means to correct this error and that I should not worry about it at all.  We sent the money that we should have paid to some amazing missionaries in Thailand who needed an appliance for their kitchen.

    Jennifer

    Sunday, April 25th, 2010

     

     

    jennifer

      Jennifer Knapp has been one of my favorite Christian singer/songwriters for a number of years, although she has taken a long leave of absence from the Christian music scene.  From her CD, Kansas: 

    I come into this place,
    burning to receive Your peace      
    I come with my own chains
    from wars I’ve fought
    for my own selfish gain        
    Your my God and my Father
    I’ve accepted Your Son  
    But my soul feels so empty now 
    What have I become?

    Lord come with Your fire
    Burn my desires, refine me      
    Lord, my will has deceived me
    Please come and free me, refine me            

    My heart can’t see,
    When I only look at me   
    My soul can’t hear
    When I only think
    of my own fears         
    They are gone in a moment
    You’re forever the same   
    Why did I look away from You?
    How can I speak Your name?

     Lord, come with Your fire
    Burn my desires, refine me      
    Lord, my will has deceived me
    Please come and free me
    Come rescue this child
    For I long to be reconciled to you

    It’s all I can do,
    to give my heart and soul to you
    and pray, and pray, oh I will pray    

    Lord, come with Your fire
    Burn my desires, refine me      
    Lord, my will has deceived me
    Please come and free me
    Come rescue this child
    For I long to be reconciled to you
    Refine me, refine me     

     (Refine Me, Jennifer Knapp, c. 1997 Gotee Music/West Hudson Music – BMI)

     Recently, Jennifer has decided to get back into the music scene, but has also let people know that she is a lesbian.  

    Knapp is very clear that she is not marketing herself as a Christian artist, a term with which she said she has never been comfortable. She’s no longer on a Christian-based record label, and her new album of folksy rock songs is described as being about “inner-conflicts, spirituality and life lessons.”  (http://edition.cnn.com/2010/SHOWBIZ/Music/04/16/jennifer.knapp.gay/index.html)

    I end up here feeling very sad for Ms. Knapp, that she has fallen into a lifestyle which is contrary to God’s Word.  (That was PC for “sin”.)  I am disappointed that ability to reach folks musically within a Christian context is on an indefinite hold.  I wonder if I will buy her new CD.

    I anticipate that the “God hates fags!” force will attend some of her concerts now, just to heckle her in the name of the Jesus that they define.  The press will run some segments on how evil the Christian community is toward those who have “come out.”

    I am not disappointed in Jennifer, though.  She fully understands that her choice has consequences and she seems able to accept them without attacking those who feel that they must write her off.  A appreciate her honesty in her confession, and that she withdrew from the scene when she was struggling with a lot of issues in her life.

    I hope that all of us who have treasured the music from her former career will pray a lot for her, and her partner, that they will be brought, through the grace of Jesus Christ, into the kind of ‘lifestyle” that they were designed for.  I hope that we, in full obedience to Galatians 6, seek to gather around her that she might be restored, rather than declared to be ‘unclean.’

    David fell deeply into sin in the matter of Bathsheba.  He had her righteous husband, Uriah, one of the Mighty Men, killed off even though he had been with David in the early days, as they ran from Saul in the wilderness.  David became a murderer, an adulterer and a deceiver, even bringing others into his sins.  Even though David fell to such a despicable level, no one has tried to throw out the Psalms he wrote, even though his sins were “worse” than Ms. Knapps. 

    I wonder how many preachers have preached their best sermons while in the middle of “non-Biblical lifestyle choices” of all sorts.  If the books were opened about any of us, which of us would dare to boast of our worthiness to speak of Christ.  We must be very careful to be as gentle with those whose sin is known as we desire to be dealt with ourselves for those sins which have not been brought to light.  I fear that this is not the track record of the Church in general.

    I think that the norm is that those who confess “big” sins are shunned for life, while Scripture speaks of restoring them, being careful that we ourselves are not caught up in the same temptation.  We too often desire to see the sinner punished for their sin, while we understand theologically that the punishment for all sin was laid upon Christ.  Maybe it makes us feel a little more righteous about ourselves to do this.  Perhaps we are just relieved that the light of scrutiny is occupied with others for the time being.

    If we are to be like Jesus, then we are required to hang out with all manner of “sinner” that they might see the evidence of Christ in us.  Jesus did this as a lifestyle, not that he affirmed sin in the least.  He just wasn’t grossed out by the sins of the folks that he came to die for.  The “sinners” were already fully aware that they did not meet the standard, and that they needed Jesus to have any hope of meeting it at all.  He accepted them, without condoning their sin, but rather calling them from it to himself.

    I saw Jennifer in concert some years ago and she was awesome, although she did not seem comfortable in front of the crowd.  He music was written out of the struggle that we are all in all of the time.  I am glad that she shared her heart and will pray that she returns fully and completely to a Christian context.  I would love to sit down with her and hear her story.  Perhaps it will be on the new CD.

    Lord come with Your fire
    Burn my desires, refine me      
    Lord, my will has deceived me
    Please come and free me, refine me

    Grain ~ for Emily

    Monday, March 15th, 2010

    Grain    I asked Emily for a topic to write about for this Calvary Courier edition, seeing that my usual fare leans toward what seems to me to be a little on the negative and/or philosophically corrective side.  Emily said that I should write about wood paneling, being visually prompted by the wood paneling in the classroom that we were sitting at the time.  So Emily, here goes!
       As I look at the wood paneling that currently sits to my left and right (white-painted cinder block occupies the fore and background), I find the grain in the light brown wood laminations to be a continued source of fascination.  The three inch wide vertical boards to my right are the most natural looking, while the wall to the right is finished plywood.  Each of the vertical boards are made of the exact same material, wood, but like fingerprints, no two look the same, which is the source of their beauty.  Some of the boards exhibit vertical grain, and some more horizontal, while others show hyperbolic patterns.  All of this beauty can easily be overlooked, unless you are specifically looking for it.  The longer you peruse, the deeper the beauty that has taken decades to produce becomes.
       If you look at two guitars whose finish allows the grains to be seen, you will find a natural beauty that differs greatly from instrument to instrument.  Glen’s ash base and my spruce-tops enhance the different grains by using diverse source trees and well applied finishes.  No two can ever look the same by nature.
       The grain’s beauty develops as each tree grows under its genetic instructions and environmental conditions.  Wood that is greatly stressed produces beautiful patterns and grains, making it valuable for use in instruments and furniture; the greater the stress, the greater the beauty that grows.
       There are some woods which gain most of their beauty after their source trees are dead.  Certain fungi and other decomposers can actually add streaks of color and patterns to the old logs, which are sometimes taken deeply into the wood by tiny wood boring insects.

    Perhaps the parallels to life in Christ are already obvious:

    • Each of us is a unique Creation of God.  No two of us are the same, and there is beauty in each.  In fact, it is the very diversity that allows us to see the variance in the wonder of how God is remaking us.
    • Each one of us needs to be connected to the others.  When is the last time you saw a house built out of one 2×4?
    • Life without stress doesn’t build strong trees or people.  The most stable, beautiful folks that you know have probably been through a lot of God allowed and/or directed adversity.
    • Sometimes, when everything seems dead, deeper beauty is developing. 
    • A lot has to be cut away for the beauty to be revealed.
    • Most folks won’t bother to stop and see the creation of God in you.

    ~ Selah

       There were once some pieces of wood that became the most beautiful wood ever “produced”, although they are long gone.  Initially, they really had no special value, and were more than likely some pieces of scrap lumber, or leftovers from a torn down building.   With multiple nail scars and colored with the dried blood of its victims, these beams were used by the Romans to terrorize the unruly into submission via their use in crucifixion.  Were these beams still intact, they would be beyond price, representing the value of every person who has ever or will ever exist.  The grain of the wood here had no meaning, only the life-blood shed for our sins upon it, the stains of the grace of God. 
       To this day, and perhaps now more than ever, folks glance over the crosses that we wear and display without ever considering the savagery committed upon the Original.  To connect the Atrocity with these mere representations is no longer in vogue and would sting the sensibilities of many.  To wear a cross that actually reminds one of the completed work, rather than just being a fashion statement, is not in vogue nor politically correct.  The cross means that all have sinned and need to experience the forgiveness offered there and that without it, there is only terminal depravity to long for.  Those beams would testify that theSavior once hung there, and that he was buried and then on the third day, returned to the living, forever victorious over death.  Those beams declare that there is only one way to the Father, to find the real life that starts in this life and extends into eternity.  This has never been the popular understanding. 
       We must seek to grasp that the One who created trees, from Balsa to the mighty Oak, died willing upon his creation to redeem that aspect of his creation solely responsible for all of its bondage to decay.  That aspect is you and me, and all who have ever sinned.  Whenever you see real wood, rather than particle board imitations, remember its wonderful designer, your redeemer, and life fully according to the grain of his grace to us.

    Selah

       Some of the paneling that you can purchase isn’t really wood at all.  It is merely thin sheets of particle board with a thin veneer of paper or colored plastic over it.  It isn’t real, just a pretense of what the reality would seem like.  If you look at it closely, you can see that it is just an image, an artist’s conception of what the reality is.  The fake wood is much cheaper and is produced in factories, without sunlight, soil and time.  It might look good from a distance, but proximity reveals its false nature.  Being real takes time and effort and usually some decent expense, but it is real and has value and a deep, lasting beauty.  The real also holds up much better under the various stresses and adverse conditions that it will encounter.

    it’s time

    Wednesday, December 30th, 2009

    pocket watch    I don’t really understand the calendar that we use.  For example, I understand that winter begins on the shortest day of the year and summer begins on the longest, but I think that Winter should start in November, at least by Thanksgiving when it starts to get cold.  Spring should start around March first when the snow starts melting.  Summer ought to begin when school lets out and Fall when the leaves start to turn.
        Our current calendar actually dates back to Julius Caesar’s commissioning of an Egyptian, Sosigenes,  to establish a consistent way of tracking the years.  Julius named July after himself and Augustus followed suit with “August.”
        The Jewish version dates all the way back to Adam and Eve, 5770 ago, by their reckoning.  Their New Year starts on September 8th this year.
        What I am trying to illustrate is that it seems a bit silly for folks to get all excited and/or inebriated on a certain day that has been designated by a commissioned Alexandrian over 2000 years ago.  
        People make resolutions about an issue in their lives that they should have taken care of months or years ago, and somehow feel better about themselves for finally getting around to saying that they will do something about the particular problem in their lives.  If this issue really was a problem, isn’t it senseless to wait for “New Year’s Day” to do something about it?  “I should have quit smoking years ago, but now, I will make the pledge of words to finally quit, I hope.”
       The idea of “resolutions” connotes the idea of repentance.  “I have been (or not been) doing “A” and need to change my behavior.”  Again, why wait for a special day to make the needed modification?  Is this not merely a delaying tactic to avoid the desired metamorphosis altogether?  For example:  “In the new year, I will no longer beat my wife!”  I feel better for having said it, but if I am sincere in my verbiage, I would not need a New Year’s resolution because I would have already stopped my cruelty altogether, having seen it as something to repent of.
        Repentance is something that does not allow waiting.  If I say that on such and such a day, I will stop stealing Snickers bars, I have no real intent on ever stopping my theft.  I do not see it as evil enough to cease the behavior at this particular moment; therefore, I do not really understand the activity as being evil.  This is like saying that chlorine gas is not all that poisonous so I shall wait to get out for the fumes for a few days.  “It is toxic!  Run!” is the correct response.  Being engaged for 5 years is saying that you really don’t want to get married.  Procrastination about homework states that you have no interest in learning about the particular subject.  The examples are endless.
        Jesus’ “Follow me” imperatives show this very well. 

    Matthew 4:18-22
        As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were ca sting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen.  “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.”  At once they left their nets and followed him.   

        Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.
        There was no opportunity for thinking the command through, just the opportunity at that particular moment to obey to clear command to leave the known for the unknown.  They needed to repent then and there.  Hesitation would only reveal that they did not think that they needed to change, that they were fine just the way that they had always been, that their life direction was adequate.  (This is not to say that their career was sinful in the least, but it would have been sinful to not obey, stating that they did not indeed need to follow Jesus.)

    Matthew 8:21
     Another disciple said to him, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”
    But Jesus told him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”

        The disciple’s father was not lying there dead before them, but rather the appeal was that he should follow Jesus after his father passed on.  This could have been a matter of weeks and more likely one of years.  “Jesus, I cannot follow you yet seeing that something more important is going on in my life at the moment.” 
        Levi had it figured out.

    Luke 5:27-8
       After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. “Follow me,” Jesus said to him, and Levi got up, left everything and followed him.

        The time to turn to Christ is always now.  To wait is to be an idolater, to place something or someone else in the object-of-personal-pursuit category other than God.  Would you dare to tell your fiancé to wait for marriage because you wanted to date another for a while, and get married when you were through?  It is not that God is narcissistic, but rather that by design, we were meant to be in fellowship with Him as the source of our being.  He had no desire to create and then be uninvolved with his creation.  
        Sin has entered the equation of life and wrecked it.  It must be turned from now, otherwise, there is really no intent to turn from it, but merely an attempt to think better of yourself for the thought of turning.  Thinking has utterly no redemptive value.
        If you need to come to Christ, do it now.  “I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.” (II Corinthians 6:2)  To wait is to decide against Him.
        If you are a believer and are caught in a particular sin, now is the time to turn from it, not in 5 minutes, now!  If you need help in the turning call someone and enlist their aid, but only someone that you can trust.  (We have made the cost of confession far too high, as we are prone to punish the confessor rather than seek his restoration.  That is another article altogether.)
        If we confess that we are followers of Christ, then by all means, let us be on that ever refining path of actually following him beyond the lip service that can sooth our consciences for a moment, but never the Spirit.  Be repenting of anything of the world that keeps you from following Christ with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength.  Violate the self-will and be doing what it takes to actually follow Jesus.

    Thanksgiving’s roots

    Wednesday, November 25th, 2009

    By the President of the United States of America.

    A Proclamation.

     

    The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consiousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

    In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.

    Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the Unites States the Eighty-eighth.

     

    By the President: Abraham Lincoln

    Lightweights

    Friday, October 30th, 2009

    Sometimes, I reflect on what a bunch of lightweights a lot of us are in the trusting God department of our lives. With the technological advances that we have at this point in human experience, much of what folks used to trust God for is obtained without much effort compared to even a generation ago. We don’t really need to trust him to provide water for us. We just go to the faucet and there it is in abundance. We really don’t need to trust him for food, as the average waistline professes. We have shelters from storm and sun as well as transportation to get us where ever  we need to or want to go.  We have it made with little shortage to rely upon God to wonderfully and unquestionable provide. We even live in relative seclusion with our oceanic borders which makes us a little harder to attack.  When attacked, we can fire back with pin-point precision.
    Contrast this with Israel in the wilderness.They had to trust God for everything. Without his daily provision of food, without the miraculous provision of water, they would have all died in the sand becoming a vulture’s banquet. Without the amazing victories that He gave them, they would have been wiped out and resold into the slavery that they had been delivered from in Egypt. Even with all of the consistent evidence of his graciousness, however, the Nation still struggled with trusting.
    In Numbers 14 we read the account of the rebellion at Kadesh in the desert of Paran. After seeing God devastate the super-power, Egypt, they cowered at the thought of the warriors of Canaan.  They forgot all of the evidence of God’s power, love and provision. They jumped at the idea of surrendering to the Egyptians, reenlisting into slavery rather than trust God to defeat their future foes.  Even though they had incredibly abundant reasons from their personal experience to trust fully, they cowered in faithlessness.
    I have never heard a cowering person being a thankful person.

    mayflower    In 1620, 102 pilgrims and a crew of 30 sailed on a 25’ x 113’ foot ship for a 66 day trip to the “New World.” The plan had been for them to take two ships, but the Speedwell was leaking too much to make the transatlantic voyage so the home seeking vagabonds crowded onto the Mayflower.

    Their moniker, “Pilgrim”, was earned before these separatists sailed from England.  They had previously relocated to in search of religious freedom.  (They believed that the Church of England was so corrupt that there was no hope for it. Seeing that the government and the Church were in essence one entity, the only was to be separate from the corrupt religious system was to leave England altogether.) Economic conditions were poor enough for these saints that remaining in Holland became an nonviable option. Their desire to follow Christ apart from the control of the Church of England led them to move across an ocean, where its authority would not reach in the “new” and “unsettled” land. They desired to follow Christ, even if it meant difficulty, persecution or death.
    I think that folks accepted adversity more easily in those times, as there was so much more of it. Plagues and errant, inadequate or absent medical care were common deadly forces, and we would easily think of their base standard of living as deep poverty. Yet these “pilgrims” are best known for being thankful to God for the abundance of his blessings and not cowering before their difficulties.
    We know that half of these saints did not survive their first year as they arrived when winter was in full force in New England.  Nonetheless, their first year ended with a three day celebration of Thanksgiving, and not with cowering and grief.
    Paul writes:

       “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia.  We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life.  Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.  He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers.  Then many will give thanks  on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.”

    2 Corinthians 1:8-11

        Paul anticipates that the end result of the harsh adversity that he, Timothy and others who served with them were facing would result in thanksgiving.  He, in the midst of the grind, starts this letter with “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort”.
    Jesus, just before his suffering for us:

      “While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.”

       “Then he took the cup, gave thanks  and offered it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you.  This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father’s kingdom.” “

    Matthew 26:26-29

        Paul encourages the Thessalonian believers, a highly persecuted group, in I Thessalonians 5:16-18:

       Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

        From prison, he tells the Philippians to:

       Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!  Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.  6Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

       In the middle of the few adversities that you and I face, start with giving thanks.  Here is a short list if you are short of ideas:

    You have not been treated as your sins have deserved.
    You have had the basic needs supplied.
    Your life has purpose and meaning.
    Your life is not bound by this life
    You are infinitely loved.

        We need to fully embrace the concept that our lives are not about us, but about the relationship with God that we were designed to have.  If my life purpose corresponds to this, then I can to be in a state of perpetual thankfulness because even in the grinder of the worst that life can dish out, I am growing in my relationship with God.
    If my life is about me, then, with the forces gathered against me, I ought to cower.  If my life is about Christ, and Christ alone, then I must trust him, full of thanksgiving, for he alone is enough.

     

    Guest writer: Caleb

    Tuesday, October 6th, 2009

    September 28th, 2009 P7170104a

       I’m reading through the book of Exodus right now and just read about the construction of the tabernacle (specifically chapter 37).  There was a chief artist name Bezalel who was a master artist of every craft involved with building this place of worship.  As I’m reading about his work (and longing to see it) the main thing that jumps out at me in the text is the fact that he put massive amounts of thought and time into each individual piece of the tabernacle, and it inspires me to know that such a wonderful artist was serving so many people through the power of God.
       I can’t help but be reminded of the meticulous detail that I put into my work in composition.  But do I write out of my own selfish ambition, or do I write so that other people can be inspired to do great things for the Giver of all good gifts?  I sincerely hope for the latter.
       Last weekend (the 19th) I had the incredible opportunity of seeing the Grand Rapids Symphony play Tchaikovsky’s Fourth.  Not only that, but I got to sit in the balcony directly above the bass section.  Watching the technique of the string players, feeling the power of the brass, being enveloped by the warmth of the woodwinds, and being surprised by interjecting percussion instruments were all transcendent experiences which added up to a very memorable performance.  Then I went to church the next morning and heard the “low brow” and “amateur” music of the religious assembly and was moved far more by the worship than any classical work could ever move me.  I had to ask the question, “Why did I enjoy the music in church so much more than a front row seat at the symphony?”  The answer’s clear isn’t it?  Because God is real and he is blessing that music (giving it life) because of the deep and meaningful purpose that it serves.  Music outside of the context of serving Christ can’t compare to that of the true and passionate worship of a congregation.
       In I Corinthians 1: 27 Paul writes, “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.  He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things–and the things that are not–to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.”  We classical artists tend to take ourselves way too seriously, and therefore way out of context.  Yes, we’re very skilled, smart, inspirational, and some of us are very intellectual.  But that matters little when it comes to the true purpose of artistic expression; to give life to others by blessing them with our gift.  God chooses the foolish things of the world, but very few of us are willing to admit to being the fools we are so that God can use us.  If we would all humble ourselves and be willing to become weak (or be honest about our work’s significance) so that God could use us we might actually become, through Christ, a powerful force for good in this world.  But since most of us are writing with only our own agenda in mind, the classical world’s work seems to be getting “nullified” more and more by “foolish things” that openly acknowledge music (like everything else) as worthless outside of Christ.
       Quality in art is far too subjective to bother analyzing, but it’s really the wrong question anyway.  The question we should rather ask is, “What music gives life?”  Or rather, “What music blesses me?”  And then, “How can I use the life I am given through this art to give life to others?”
       Bezalel’s art helped to give life to God’s temple because God gave him the ability to create magnificent art in almost every craft known at that time.  It helped inspire God’s people to worship and served a purpose far greater and deeper than the art by itself could ever have done.  I sincerely hope that my work is doing this for people, and from the feedback I’ve gotten I suspect that it is.  I can’t help but publicly praise God for that!
       Pray for me that I can keep the intent of my work on blessing others and on Christ.  Also pray that God can influence other composers through me to write with Christ centered intent.

    P7170135a

    usher

    Monday, September 7th, 2009

    violin    Recently, my family took the Metra to hear a free concert at Chicago’s Millennium Park.  The music for the evening included some Shostakovich compositions and featured violinist  Karen Gomyo.  As she played.  she was backed up by the incredible Grant Park Orchestra. It occurred to me that that the non-featured musicians on the stage had spent lifetimes studying their craft, just to be there on stage playing back-up to a relatively young virtuoso, who was amazing.  There was a musical multitude on the stage, each playing their part while the spotlight shone on someone else.  Even the ushers contributed to the performance by making sure that everyone had the program notes and behaved themselves properly: young ushers contributing to a performance of Shostakovich.  Good ushers flee the spot light and should be “relocated” if they do not.
    1smurfit    Our seats allowed a good view of a lot of the cityscape.  I noticed that at the top of the Smurfit-Stone  building, there was a lot of scaffolding, meaning that during the day, workers scaled the heights on an assemblage of thin metal pipes and boards to contribute to the proper functioning of the building.  I doubt that many folks in their offices and dwellings even paid attention to their labors, many hundreds of feet above the streets.
         I observed the jets coming out of O’Hare, flown by a relatively small crew, but supported by a minor multitude of  personnel on the ground, most of whom work in terminal obscurity.  We really don’t think of the ticket agents as being necessary to the operation of the various flying machines in their controlled fall through the atmosphere, but without them, there could be no passengers.  Apart from those manning the various security positions, the jets could not be sure to fly terrorist-free.
        As I am currently writing at the top of a bluff in Door County park, a crying child, asserting his displeasure about his confinement, has no understanding about the hundreds of unnoticeable people who conspired to allow him access to this place of God’s beauty.  The list would have to include his apologetic-for-the-noise parents, the construction crews who carved this Green Bay overlook out of wilderness, the people who built their car, those who made laws about car seats for children, those who brought crude oil out of the earth half a world away, and so on.
        Even the fact that you are able to read this relies on a number of unseen people, doing barely noticeable work to get the job done.  They are only noticeable when they are absent or negligent.
        As we are working our way through the letter to the Ephesians on Sunday mornings, the same understanding applies.  In verse 10 of chapter 2, Paul states that we have been “created” in Christ Jesus to do good works which God has prepared in advance, that we might walk in them.  The word translated “created” comes from the Greek word ktizo, which is used of the establishment and/or formation of a colony.  We need to note that it is indeed “we” who have been so “created” and not a bunch of “I”s. 
        Colonists always need to work together in order to assure the success of the colony, in our case, the “Jesus colony.”  There will always be some in the colony who are more noticeable than other members due to the nature of their assigned duties, while the work of others will be completely unseen, like the vital inner workings of a motor.  Those who are noticed more than others might be regarded as leaders, and those so noticed need to understand that “leader” is just another duty in the workings of the colony.  Their value is not greater or less than the others, although this is easily forgotten.   
        We, corporately, are the Jesus colony on and in the earth that we might represent the grace and glory of Jesus Christ to the world around us, to those who are not a part of His colony yet.  The “good works” part of the colony is not that we run around seeking the good activities to be involved with (helping grandma across the street or feeding a hungry person).  Instead, Paul is referring to the general operation of the colony that Jesus has established which will indeed involve helping a grandma with whatever she might need.
        In his colony, Jesus brings diverse people, who shouldn’t naturally even like each other, together in harmony as we live out the kind of life that God intended for us to have in the first place.  We work, live and love in such a way that the power of God to transform terminally depraved hearts and lives can be clearly seen. 
        Jesus did indeed die to redeem me, but he also died to redeem us, that we together might work out our salvation with fear and trembling.  We are in this colony together, interdependent on each other as we seek the successful working of colony, whose purpose is to reveal the life of Christ in our interactions.
        In first Corinthians Paul deals with the Corinthian sub-colony of Jesus as they struggled with issues of factionalism, immorality and general self-centeredness.  Each one of them had a gift(s) that were to be used interactively within the operations of the assembly.  Some gifts, hence the one gifted, were more notable, but none were more essential than any others.  Jesus, the most “gifted” also humbled himself infinitely, both in the washing of feet as well as his death on the cross for us, so we know that there is no exaltation to be sought from the gift(s) that you have.
        My fellow colonists, we are in this together, seeking  to live out in our daily, even mundane activities in such a way that the genius and glory of Jesus might be fully seen in us, who do not walk according to the sinful nature, but according to the Spirit.  We must continue to support each other in all things, but especially though the gifts that he has given us to benefit the colony through us.  Let Christ be seen in us, and not just in  bunch of “I”s.  From the usher to virtuoso, we each contribute to the purpose of the Colony, honoring and proclaiming Christ.
        Give it Heaven!

    1usher

    clay

    Monday, August 10th, 2009

    Sometimes, I think that something that I write needs to be totally rewritten.  This is one of those.

        There are times when I wonder if my life has been lived in vain; that I should have made so much more out of the life and opportunities that God has given to me.  I wonder how many folks have seen Christ in me as opposed to how many have just seen me in me, and have seen my commit as a mere notion, a gesture of the soul.  I wonder if I have been like a lot of televangelists who save some and irrevocably harden masses against Christ.  
        I am convinced more than ever that we do not need “big” in either reputation or influence in order to honor Christ as he desires us to.  We need to simply seek to be who Christ is making us into, being where he desires for us to be.  Somehow, I always think that I should be someplace bigger or better.  I am prone to think that my failures, weakness and well intentioned goof-up  have cost me the shot at the big time.  I don’t think that I am unique in this thinking, as most of my thinking is not that unique.
        I have been asking God to show me if I have been effective in his sight where he wants me (and my family) to be.  God’s response has been “small.”  My friend e-mailed me the other day, wondering if I would have interest in going on a bike trip to Arkansas with him this summer.  He talked about the various ministry opportunities that are possibly open to him and seemed to wonder if he was up to the tasks.  He wonders if he should pursue full time ministry, or keep the job that he has.  It was great to write, seeking to encourage him.
        One of my former soccer players called tonight to tell me that the sophomores won their match tonight.  She is a great gal and I hope to see her come to know Christ. 
        I saw another former player by “chance” this evening.  It was great to catch up and hear about her life and so see that God is obviously working in her heart.  Her boyfriend was on a team that I coached years ago at the YMCA, and he was there too. 
        The athletic director thanked me for being reliable and competent this morning.  It’s not at all that I want to be, but rather that I want to testify about Christ in my daily grind (peripateo ~ for you Greek fans out there).  This makes me do things that I so not want to do due to the pride and bitterness that all too often need to be beaten up in my heart.
        God is pretty cool in his still small voice.  I wonder how often I miss it because I am just not listening.

    I love 2 Corinthians 4:7-11.

        7But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God  and not from us.  8We are hard pressed on every side,  but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair;  9persecuted,  but not abandoned;  struck down, but not destroyed.   10We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.   11For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body. 

        Clay jars aren’t really worth that much.  We have a few smashed ones laying around, destined for the trash can and we are not fretting the loss at all.  Paul and Silas, in their extreme adversity that made them long for death at times (2 Cor. 1:8-11), knew fully that they weren’t much in themselves, but that God was using them anyway.  What these men did and endured has indeed made an eternal difference, although I doubt that they even began to understand the extent. 
        We as individuals and as a Church are “merely” jars of clay in which God has entrusted infinite grace and glory.  Are we weak? You bet!  Are we fragile?  Certainly!  Are we frail? Indeed.  And may I further say: “So?”  Are we really any different from the folks who don’t know Jesus yet in that respect?  God intentionally works in and through people like us and Churches like ours.  It is what make his glory known.  It wouldn’t be all that big of a deal if God was in the business of completing completed Christians.  (10 times fast on that one!)  Any god could do that.  Our God works through complete imbeciles and rebels like us.  How great would it have been for Jesus to raise Lazarus from a hang nail?  Raising a four day dead man?  Now that’s amazing.  That is the kind of work that Jesus does in us, bring life to those dead in our sins.  He places his treasure in a clay pot.
        We need to learn contentment in what the world might call smallness.
        I think that people with names like George or Jane will be sitting on Jesus right and left in the kingdom.  You never heard of them?  Exactly!  The worked without being noticed by anyone other than God in places where no one else was willing to go.  Others had too much of something or other going on to be that selfless and obedient.  Almost no one noticed George and Jane, jars of clay serving in the mud and mire of humanity in its abject rejection of grace.
        I think that we seek the applause of earth, not realizing that it’s carries the volume of a butterfly’s wings compared to one light clap of Jesus as he says “Well done.”
        Are we relevant or significant?  That is the wrong question.  We simply need to ask: “Am I serving Christ?”  We can answer “Yes” even if we don’t see throngs coming to Christ as a result of our efforts.  We are to seek to serve Christ at his will and disposal, letting him worry about result.  He is in charge after all.
        We need to learn to listen (“listen” carries the implication that we heed what we hear) and understand that he is working in, with and through us as we walk (peripateo) with him. 
        What if every believer was a stadium filling evangelist?  There would be no one left to bring folks to hear them.  The stadiums would be empty. 
        Maybe “small” is God’s means of working almost all of the time.

    religious unity

    Monday, August 3rd, 2009

    no yin

        You have probably heard it said that all religions teach basically the same thing.    This thinking leads to the concept that the various religions need to get over themselves and accept that they are indeed one. 
        A few years ago, I was driving a high school team home and was feeling a little weary.  Not wanting fatigue to hinder my driving abilities, I asked a team member to teach me a little about Hinduism, seeing that he was an adherent to that religion.  The mental activity would keep my mind and senses sharp.  I had no ulterior motive in this: I simply wanted to remain alert.
        “George” admitted that he wasn’t a very good Hindu, but he would do his best.  It wasn’t long before another team member intruded into the conversation wondering why we couldn’t see that we believe the same thing.  (This intrusion did have the effect of fulfilling the intent of the original conversation.)  George and I went over some of the extreme differences between Biblical Christianity and Hindu belief for the intruder.  Hinduism has reincarnation while Christianity holds that you live once and then face God.  Christianity holds that all have sinned and fall short of God’s standards while Hinduism deals in karma.  Hinduism is polytheistic and Christianity is monotheistic.  These are major irreconcilable differences that keep these religious systems hopelessly apart.  One cannot possibly be a Hindu Christian nor a Christian Hindu.  George and I enjoyed the exchange, while the intruder did not.  I found it odd that the one who endorsed the unity of religions struggled with our ability to get along despite our belief differences.  

        Proclaiming itself to be the newest independent monotheistic religion, Baha’i seeks the same unity of religion that my intruder-friend sought to declare. Baha’i views previous religions as different chapters of the same story, and that the various teachers like Mohammed, Moses, Jesus, Buddha, Zoroaster and the like are part of a long line of divine messenger of which Baha’i  founder Baha’u’llah is the most recent and therefore the best.  “While reaffirming the core ethical principles common to all religions, Baha’u’llah also revealed new laws and teachings to lay the foundations of a global civilization.” (See www.bahai.us/about-bahai.) 
        I do not mean to single out Baha’i in particular, but the religion is a excellent example of a type of reasoning that seems logical at the first look, but actually breaks down philosophically. 
        Even though there are some common ethical similarities within many religious systems, the differences are vast as well.  My son, Caleb, has noted the difficulty in reconciling cow consumers with cow worshippers.  This is indeed a deep matter of ethics.  As a Christian, I can delight in eating a 1/2 burger from Fuddruckers, and therefore participate in the killing of cows.  This is an ethical violation to Hindus.  To attempt to unify these religions must do violence to the core of both.  How do you reconcile monotheism with polytheism?  These are not merely different chapters, as Baha’is profess, but radically different books.
        In essence, Baha’u’llah said that his teaching was the new and only correct way and that the others’ were lacking something.  In effect, he dismisses all other religions as being incomplete or flat wrong and that folks need to embrace his teachings which in reality exclude the core values of all other religions.
        Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Jainism, Animism, Buddhism and other religions are all incompatible with each other, which is why they are “different religions.”  The only way to make them compatible is gut them of their essence, which then creates a new exclusive religion, requiring all other beliefs to be abandoned for the new one.
        Baha’u’llah and Mohammed each relegate Jesus to the prophet/messenger class, removing his deity.  This removal completely eviscerates Christianity.  To remove Baha’u’llah and Mohammed from the true prophet class attacks the core of those belief systems.
        To say that these religions teach the same thing actually removes incentive to study them and is a convenient way to dismiss them all in favor of the new system.
         Biblical Christianity is exclusive in its claims.  It was Jesus who said that he was the way, the truth and the life and that no one could get to the Father apart from him.  We who seek to follow Jesus cannot agree with Islam, Buddhism nor Baha’i (et al),  as doing so abandons the person and work of Christ, leaving nothing of substance behind.
        It does not bother me at all that Muslims must regard me as an infidel and I hope that they are not too bothered by my knowing that they need Jesus.  This defined disagreement then becomes the basis for the honest consideration of ideas and beliefs.  We define our contrarian beliefs rather then dismiss them as being the same that there might be some level of understanding without compromise.  (Understanding and agreement are not synonymous!)
        I cannot be spiritually unified with a Buddhist nor a Muslim, but we can get along.  Do I believe that they are lost without Christ? Indeed!  am I offended that Islam declares that I am condemned to hell?  Not in the least.
        Can I achieve “unity” with those who do not embrace Christ?  No, I cannot.  This does not mean that we have to fight either.  If I am to seek to live for and exemplify Christ to the world around me, then it is the love of Christ that I need to model, which will exemplify correct doctrine.