Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Fleeting moments

Tonight I did something I haven't done in a long time, I watched the stars come out, one by one.  Klay and I were playing in the driveway, I was pitching a wiffle-ball for him to hit.  We chased balls for about a 1/2 hour.  Then a beautiful twilight set in and I couldn't see the ball, and then I couldn't stop staring at the sky.  I found it hard to believe, staring at tonight's sky, that anyone could doubt the existence of God.

What first caught my attention was the reflection of the sunset on the clouds.  The clouds were magical, grey and shadowed, puffy and full.  I saw a sliver of the moon, it was bright.  Then, I saw Mercury or Jupiter; I'm no good at recognizing particular planets... Then Klay and I talked about the stars and planets as they twinkled and appeared, one by one.  It was incredibly moving.

I told Klay it's sad people don't take the time to observe the stars more often, "It's a wonderful display of God's creation." I said.  I told Klay how I used to stare at the stars for hours as a child, and he told me how he once saw the moons of Jupiter through a telescope.  Klay asked me if I thought there was life on other planets.  I told him I didn't know, he said, "The Bible should say something about that!"

I told Klay how that time of day, twilight, was the time setting when the Sabbath began, and, on the Passover it was at twilight when the Israelites sacrificed their Passover lambs.  Soon there were over a dozen stars out...

We watched the night sky darken, and then Klay gave me a huge hug.  We started walking back into the garage.  He said, "This was the best part of my whole day, dad."  I told him was mine too, it was my favorite.  I hugged him, one of those hugs you give someone you might not see for a longtime.  I felt my throat tighten and my eyes moisten.  I thought of how kids grow up and move away, it goes too quickly.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

When Lighthouses shine:

I have no idea when it was I first heard the phrase, "There's no competition between lighthouses" but that metaphor has burned itself into my mind ever since.  Lighthouses have one purpose, to warn sailors where the shoreline is, period.  In other words, lighthouse are all about saving lives, not out-shining each other.  What a wonderful metaphor for Christians.

I ran into an older gentleman this week who worships within a church culture which I see as having a narrow view of Scripture.  For example, his tribe feels it's sinful to use money out of the church treasury to support colleges or orphanages.  The first thing he asked me was if we "dropped" the name "church of Christ" in our new plant.  It was a pleasant conversation from start to finish, and I respond we do just call ourselves "New Song Church."  I told him we are holding to the essentials, but that we were being open to the non-essentials.

The older I get, mutual acceptance and cooperation with other believers in Christ becomes more appealing.  My tolerance, on the other hand, for sectarianism has decreased.  Jesus said that there was one way the world would know we were His followers, and it wasn't our distinct doctrines or our ability to be right about everything or be correct every time... or the name over the door.  "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  (John 13:34-35 ESV)

My faith journey started within a community of believers that stood on certain doctrines that separated them from the "denominational" world.  I love the people who led me to Jesus, and still have the highest respect for them.  I completely believe that God brought my family to the right congregation at the right time to lead us to His salvation.  It was the perfect church for us, and the preacher who baptized me was perhaps the only person that could've made the personal connection with me that was needed for me to be receptive of the Good News.  I'm eternally grateful to the people who loved my family into the Kingdom.  I'm no longer comfortable though, thinking or feeling "my group" is the only one going to heaven.

For me, I've come to a place where I no longer want to ask what doctrines or rituals sets me apart from "other" believers in Christ.  Why can't our distinction simply be Jesus?  Distinctions separate.  You either see Jesus as Lord, or you don't.  I adhere to certain essential practices in the Christian faith; really only a few that I see as non-negotiable (If you're interested in my core beliefs, email me).  Even still, I refuse to judge or condemn another Bible-believing group that reject my views.  I'm pretty sure God has it all under control, therefore He can bring other people along with me, to better understandings too.  What I don't want to do though, is to confuse my favorites for what's important; I think this is where we have spray-painted the windows on our lighthouses...

Think how much more influence we could have for God if we all simply cooperated.  In fact, I'm convinced when we help other congregations do good things in the name of Jesus, even those we don't see eye-to-eye with, people are helped and God is glorified.

It seems like Jesus didn't feel threatened by working with other groups that His closest followers didn't recognize:  John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. For the one who is not against us is for us. For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward." (Mark 9:38-41 ESV)

Do I "agree" with each and every group? No, nor do I have to.  There's an old saying, "The dog in the hunt doesn't stop to scratch fleas."

Sunday, February 19, 2012

When God doesn't answer your prayers

In what can only be described as tragic, Sheridan Edwards was in a car crash four days ago, suffered such an injury she was in a coma, and passed away tonight.  People all across the globe were praying for her.  Concerts were stopped and musicians offered prayers.  Her hash tag #prayforshay was trending.  There are no words of comfort I could imagine that could, tonight, suffice.  I hope you'll be praying for her family tonight and for many days to come.

As Sheridan lay in a coma this week, a loved-one of mine asked, "What if she doesn't recover; all these teens are praying for her?" That's an incredible question, deep and powerful.  Will people lose their faith over this tragedy?  Will people doubt?  Will the young people in our community turn their back on God?  Why doesn't God answer every prayer and what should we do when He doesn't answer our prayers the way we want?

I know if this was my child who passed away tonight I'd see things differently, I'd probably be angry with God for letting this happen, I'd be upset.  I don't ever want to know what that's like, but I know sitting safe and sound in my warm den knowing my kids all healthy tonight I could sound like an armchair quarterback if I'm not careful....  I'm no expert, and I never met Sheridan, but here are a few thoughts: 

There are times when we pray and it simply doesn't make sense why we don't get the answer we want.  It's one thing for a teen to pray for the prom date they want and God seems silent on that request; it's different when God seems distant in a time of pain and death is on the line.  The mind of God is obviously beyond my ability to fully describe, or defend.  But for me, the 1st question I ask is, What does God know that I don't know about this situation.  It's a no-brainier for me that kids on life-support should be healed.  I mean, how could that not be the right thing, to see a full recovery?  God knows something I can't grasp, He has too much compassion and love to let these things "simply" happen.

My 2nd question is, What is God doing here that I'm missing?  God is doing all kinds of powerful things behind the scenes that we won't always see.  One young adult might turn their life around because of a tragic event.  A whole community might suddenly learn why we must never take family for granted.  A father & daughter might find the strength to achieve reconciliation now, who otherwise wouldn't have.  Who knows what good God will work in the midst of the hell on earth we suffer though?

Then again, I ask 3rdly, are there consequences to the choices we make?   The laws of physics and our freewill sometimes collide.  There aren't always miraculous interventions when bad things happen initially; that shouldn't ever deter us from pursuing God's mercy though.  What about the innocent bystander hit in the drive-by shooting?   I don't know why those types of things happen, but when they do, people suffer, sometimes through no fault of their own by bad choices their friends make, or even choices strangers make.  And God allows these times, and why, I don't know -- I can't wrap my mind around it, but He does let us make choices He wishes we wouldn't make.

Do parents ever say "No." to their kids?  All the time.  Even when it's a request they could honor:  Daddy, give me candy, dad I want to stay up late, father undo my grounding, etc.  But, if any of my kids needed a kidney, I'd be the first to give it up.  I guess there are times when I can't say no.  Nor should I.  But am I God? No.  Things seem to work different for God, perhaps because He doesn't violate our freewill, and, He knows the big picture.  I feel like Bruce Almighty sometimes when I think I could run the universe better than God could, but I'd mess it all up like Jim Carey did.

We see life as a tapestry, but with our face to the wall.  We can't see the big picture.  God can.  Sometimes God is more merciful than we give Him credit for and other times we are so frustrated with God, we can't see Him at all.  What can we do about unanswered prayers?  Not much it seems, or can we?  I think we can.

In times like tonight, I think we can strengthen our faith, and the faith of others when we trust God enough to be God and, we wait.  We wait for understanding from God, and we wait for Him to heal our hearts when we don't get the answers we desperately cry out for.  And, sometimes we are better off not saying a word... just being present for those who are hurting speaks louder than our insufficient words ever will.

"Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. GOD, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer's; he makes me tread on my high places. To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments." (Habakkuk 3:17-19 ESV)

3/26/14 news clip of continuing the trial for Cody Dingus, her boyfriend who was driving

The Devil's delusion:

Here's a book review I wrote a while ago, but thought it worth sharing:

Review of “The Devil’s delusion: Atheism and its Scientific pretensions” by David Berlinski. Copyright 2008. Crown Publishing, a division of Random House Inc., New York. Submitted by, Craig Cottongim

Many people are familiar with (and some offended by) the recent book, “The God Delusion,” by Richard Dawkins. With a title such as Berlinski is using here, it is obvious he is addressing Dawkins. Yet, Berlinski does not merely offer a rebuttal of Dawkins’s efforts, though Berlinski certainly addresses the shortcomings of Dawkins’s thesis.

Without being critical of the legitimate and valuable roles of Science, or Science’s actual contributions to mankind, Berlinski presents thoughtful analysis on why Science has no leg to stand on with their forceful claims of proving God is no longer necessary or there is no god. It is extremely interesting how Berlinski sprinkles multiple Biblical allusions throughout his book, though he is not trying to make a case for faith. This book is extremely useful for any thinking believer that wants to enter today’s market place of ideas more confidently, and it’s especially helpful to anyone with an interest in apologetics.

In the field of apologetics there are three primary approaches to defending the Christian faith. 1st, we can use “positive” apologetics. This is where we make a case for our faith via the validity of miracles, the resurrection, and the reliability of the Bible, ect. We show where our faith claims have substantial justification; demonstrating why we think our claims are creditable. The 2nd available method of defending our faith is “negative” apologetics. This is defending the faith against the attacks others will raise, based in part, on the problem of evil and suffering. This is a response to the questions that naturally arise when people see childhood cancer or why there is so much gratuitous evil in this world. There is a 3rd method, which is perhaps the most powerful of them all, it is “neutralizing” apologetics. This is the tactic of using the other’s worldview against itself. In other words, you show how a given system of thought is self-defeating, without ever even appealing to your own presuppositions. You dialogue at length with the other person, investigating their views, then taking their perspectives to the logical fruition you show from within their own system how their own view implodes because of its deficits.

This “neutralizing” technique is exactly what Berlinski utilizes in “The Devil’s delusion,” as he shows where Darwinian evolution and the entire gambit of popular empirical-verification driven ideologies fall short of their claims. Berlinski is thoroughly enjoyable; never dry. With an ample use of humor, some irony now-and-then, he unpacks their own arguments and aptly explains that their arguments, “when self-applied self-destruct.”

Berlinski does a superb job of showing how the past 200 years of Science has fallen far short of their promises to make the world a better place. He points out how the 20th century should have been the best century of human history, according to promises of secular science, but it was instead the most horrific, evil period known to mankind. The 20th century was not even close to being a century of faith, and with a brief reflection Berlinski reveals how it gave birth to the regimes of Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and several other tyrants. One word can summarize this tragic century’s failings: Holocaust.

Covering topics from the kalam argument, the Big bang, naturalism, the theory of relativity, string theory, euthanasia, entropy, all the way to observing the anthropic principle, Berlinski repeatedly uncovers the reasons why Science cannot prove the inexistence of God, and instead how all of the evidence is consistent with God’s existence! Darwin’s successors have limited theories, and even less evidence on hand, to make their claims that the universe is all there is. With questions on “why” the universe exits even though it is not necessary, or how it began without a cause, it becomes clear rather quickly that Science today has a mistaken ideology at best and how many scientists are disingenuous at worst.

Though this book is written with a broader audience in mind than professional cosmologists, physicists, and biologists, it can be rather technical at times. Berlinski references dozens of high-caliber scientists like Pinker, Collins, Einstein, Schroeder; more than names than you would hear in a semester long course in Christian apologetics. Some of the concepts from quantum physics, cosmology, Intelligent Design, and several terms are going to be unfamiliar to some readers. Do not let this discourage you from reading the book, though. With minimal effort and the occasional aid of a dictionary, anyone will be able to plow through the tougher sections. Berlinski’s PhD. is from Princeton and he writes with an extensive vocabulary that reflects his vast education.

The most valuable lesson in this book, to me, is that Berlinski himself is openly not a faithful follower of God. The first page of the introduction, Berlinski admits he is a secular Jew; explaining that his religious background didn’t take. The fact is, there are no airtight arguments that are guaranteed to convince every skeptic, agnostic, or atheist every time. You might wonder why Berlinski didn’t convert to a Biblical faith as a result of his research. The fact that he articulates the shortcomings of atheistic science better than a host of Christian authors drives home a vital truth: Arguments are simply a tool; there are no silver-bullets that will work without fail. The amazing conclusion that Berlinski has articulated his case against “militant atheists” better than any Christian author quickly fades when we consider that nobody has been argued into the Kingdom… Still, if the old saying is that Darwin made it possible for people to be intellectually fulfilled as atheists, then certainly Berlinski (unknowingly or not) has made it even more possible for Theists today to be confident as intellectually fulfilled believers!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Why our kids don't read their Bibles & why we can still hope:

If your children are wearing-out their Bibles and come to you about once a year complaining they've "worn the cover off of another Bible," this post isn't for you.  If, on the other hand, you are like many adult Christians I know & hear from, and your kids rarely if ever read their Bibles on their own...  you may not like this post, but I think I know why our children aren't reading the Scriptures more often.

In most any congregation, the future is held in the hands of the children.  We live in the here-and-now, but we hopefully are preparing a legacy worthy of passing on too.  Our next generation needs to have a solid Biblical foundation, which can only develop through devotion to personal study. Even if your children or mine aren't taking on "leadership" roles, we still want them to know the Bible well, for obvious reasons.  

As a minister, thinking my kids would naturally be "as interested" in reading their Bible is probably as realistic as expecting Mike Dell's kids to come up with their own line of PCs or Howard Schultz's children to open the next new coffee enterprise.  That's so close to being on the verge of an exaggeration maybe I should say, my interests aren't automatically going be my children's.  Fair enough.

Still, one of my greatest desires is that my children, and your children, were spending more time in the Scriptures. I wish dearly they'd read their Bibles with an insatiable appetite for God's Word. I think, personally and collectively, I/we might be the reason our kids aren't voraciously reading their Bibles.  I'm not saying it's 100% our fault, but, we might be in the equation... 

It pains me to say this, but maybe I've taken the mystery out of God's Word.

Somehow, have I been too ready with an answer for Biblical questions?  Acting like an expert, maybe the spark of the Bible was dimmed or too simplified when I instantly tried to relieve a question's tension...  instead of telling them to dig deeper?  Perhaps I've chewed my children's spiritual food (gross) too well and didn't let them cut their teeth on the Word?

Maybe there's another reason, maybe we've made the Bible so accessible they've never developed a craving and hunger for it.  So maybe they're like the kids in the proverbial candy-shop...?

Could it be we are the reason our children don't read their Bibles more often?  Has an overexposure or readily at-hand answers and easy consumption of the Scriptures watered down and stifled a felt need in our children?  Did we give too much without asking enough in return; i.e., have we "covered them" with easy-answers but we've never asked them to explain the tough passages to us?

Worse yet, could it be I haven't lived-out a "good enough" example?  When I speed in traffic or get gruff with the garbage man when he knocks over our can, did my kids see the dark side of me? 

On the other hand, I never saw my parents open -- let alone read a Bible when I was a child.  Not once.  Even so, I'm an avid daily Bible reader regardless of what my parents modeled for me as a youth.  I'm guessing some of you frequently read your Bibles, and it's not the result of a nagging parent who compelled you to read.

(With my SNL "Church-lady" voice) Could it be, Too much homework? Football/Dance practice, X-box, Facebook, texting, Twitter, Netflix, Twilight, Disney, etc-etc can't be our scapegoat either.  Our kids have free will, and they can exercise it for good too.  We have an obligation to our children to provide the right path, pray for them, and to model with consistency certain practices (like reading a Bible every now and then).

I doubt there's an easy answer here.  A single theory won't satisfy.  I guess we could ask our kids "why don't they" carry they Bibles around like they do their Ipods/cell phones, but then they will say "they have" a Bible on their electronic devices...  does this give me reason to hope?  Perhaps. Perhaps, with enough prayer and encouragement, one day, they'll surprise us!  


Sunday, February 12, 2012

What is the opposite of dazzling?

In the morning, Lord willing, as we gather to worship I'll be preaching from Phil 2:1-11.  And, my guess is, it's a sermon that could have the potential to be unpopular if I were preaching it in a different setting other than New Song.  For example, it's probably not a sermon Text you'd choose if you were "trying out."  It's not a sermon Text you'd try to impress people with, either.  It's a passage of Scripture that isn't for the weak of heart & I'm excited about the way this passage will prayerfully continue to transform our group.

The ideas in Phil 2:1-11, especially about humility, are about as 180 degrees from our Americanized-consumer-mentality as one can get.  This passage is so counter-cultural we do well to use it sparingly; like breathing pure oxygen.  The power in the Text of Phil 2 is the very weakness it calls for.  I know this sounds like some kind of Jujitsu verbiage, but I don't know any better way of describing the truth within this passage.  Only when we are willingly weakened will our reflection of Jesus strong.

There's an old saying about when people are feeling frail, it goes something like "Weak as water."  Last time I looked at the Grand Canyon, water is about the most powerful element on earth.  The most influential and powerful Christians I respect, are the ones who don't "push their weight around" or try to impress people.  They simply and quietly allow Jesus to have His way, and they consistently put others 1st.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Kick'n it old school style:

Today was a beautiful day, being the 2nd of Feb it was at least 65 degrees.  Sunny, and hardly a cloud in the sky.  The concrete driveway we were supposed to pour this week had to be postponed, it was too muddy from the last two day's rain, so we were off work today.  I decided several days ago that if I we were rained out this week, I would do some old fashioned door knocking near the area where we meet on Sunday mornings.  I've been on several door knocking campaigns in college for meetings we were involved in, but today was totally different.

I prayerfully walked through the neighborhood where we meet.  I thought it was more than appropriate to reach out to the people closest to where we worship.  It was invigorating!  I felt very refreshed going from door to door passing out our church business cards.  I simply introduced myself, and mentioned we were a new congregation and we wanted to let the folks in the neighborhood know about us.  I said if they didn't have a church family, we'd love to see them Sunday morning at 10.  That was pretty much it.  I shook hands, thanked people for their time, and didn't stay unless they initiated a conversation.

Some people were short with me, barley opening their doors wide enough for me to slide a card into them.  Other people rustled around inside some, peering out a blind, and then not opening up... I wondered to myself if I looked like a Cop or a salesman in their eyes?

A few people, even some young families, mentioned they were new to the area and were looking for a church.  I was encouraged by their receptivity as they said they'd be by some Sunday to check us out.

I ran into "Jack", you know who I mean if you live in Kingsport.  He's the most famous homeless person in the area.  We had a great talk.  He said he hadn't seen me in a while and was thinking about me and wondered how I've been doing.  I invited him and he said he would be there some time.

I had one man invite me onto his porch and ask me to keep him in my prayers.  Oh, one final one I need to share with you.  I knocked on one door, and the young man who opened the door asked kind of gruffly, "Who you look'n for?" I told him what I was about, and I'm pretty sure I'll be seeing him some Sunday soon.

When Tammy came home from subbing at the Middle School and we caught up on our day, she said something about how I looked pretty happy.  I really felt happy.  It was good connecting with people that I simply would not have met in any other way than going to their home; in about two & 1/2 hours I was able to invite people in about 50 homes to worship with us.  I felt refreshed in the work I feel God has called me to, and I was excited once more about the new work we are involved with.

Now I know there are much better ways of sharing the good news, more personal and meaningful.  And, I know in our day & age people supposedly don't like to be bothered.  People don't like strangers showing up, unannounced and uninvited to talk to them about personal and private things like faith.  As true as that might be, I was received warmly too many times today to say that everybody feels that way.  I'm hopeful my respectful and relaxed attitude helps to plant & water a few seeds here and there.  And yes, I'm anxiously looking forward to knocking a few more doors downtown asap...