Saturday, October 31, 2009

179,676 Days

For years, I've promised to write a Reformation Day post. Every year, I've failed. This year, I've made no such promise, but here I am succeeding. Irony, thy name is Chris Krycho, at least for the next hour.

492 years ago—179,976 days, including leap years—Martin Luther nailed up a list of issues he saw with the Catholic church of his day on the door of a Wittenburg church. What followed was one of the most momentous changes in the history of the church, and indeed the world. It is no exaggeration to say that I sit here today, typing away, because of Martin Luther and the men that followed his lead. They shook the world, both for good and for ill.

I am grateful for men like Luther and Calvin and Zwingli. I walk with Christ because these men were as faithful as they could be to the Bible. They took it as their authority, let it rule their doctrine and their lives. They were horribly imperfect men; from Luther's anti-Semitism to Calvin's failure with Servetus, they stumbled along the way. I find it encouraging that these men, sinners all, were used powerfully by God. He is not limited by our weaknesses.

One could say many things today. For my part, I want to focus in on one thing I think the reformers themselves did very well that Protestants have generally done quite poorly ever since: reform.

The Reformers' name isn't a misnomer. Luther and Calvin both deeply valued unity, and wanted an internal restoration of the church they loved. By all accounts they were grieved that their own excommunication was the result of their efforts. They fought hard for what they believed was true, but they also cared deeply about following Christ's commands that we seek unity. For too many Christians since the Reformation, schism has become the easiest out when a doctrinal difference appears. Instead of asking whether or not we can find a way to either resolve the difference or live with the difference, we simply split and go our own way.

Worse, schism has become such a norm that churches have split over the proverbial carpet color. Instead of being a people known by their love for one another, Christians (at least, of the Protestant fold) have become a people known for their divisions. When any given topic has the potential to produce church-splitting conflicts, we are not modeling the love of Christ. We need to learn right practice as well as right doctrine from the reformers. Yes, we must hold fast to right teaching, to sound doctrine, and to the primacy of Scripture. We should not be afraid to call heresy out for what it is. At the same time, we need to be careful not to call heresy things that aren't, and we need to show grace to our brothers and sisters in the Lord. We must strive to reform our churches instead of splitting them.

When Christ is rightly esteemed, we have a much better grasp on just how unimportant things like our own decor preferences are. When He is understood to be the center of and the aim of all we're doing, our own ministry aims must be subsumed to the greater goals of the church. When Christ crucified and come to life again is our gospel, we understand that many of our doctrinal differences are simply unworthy of schism. Indeed, only heresy is worth a violent separation, and few doctrines are worth any separation at all! I may not be a Presbyterian, for example—I'm not much one for infant baptism!—but I certainly ought to have close fellowship with my Presbyterian brothers and sisters in Christ. We have much more that unites us than separates. We shouldn't paper over our differences, but we can treat them as what they are: trifling, compared to our unity on Christ and His work. When issues arise in our own churches, we should work with all of our power to resolve them or to come to a place of amicable disagreement. If at long last we should come to the conclusion that it is best to go our separate ways—e.g. over infant baptism—then it ought to be done with the deepest charity and the most heartfelt affection. When churches do separate, they ought to do it with love for one another and with the aim to continue in fellowship and in cooperation for the gospel.

Happy Reformation Day. Keep reforming.

Sola scriptura, sola fide, sola gratia, solo Christo, soli Deo gloria.
By Scripture alone, by faith alone, by grace alone, through Christ alone, glory to God alone.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

5 100ish-word thoughts, 10/28/09

Composing Training Trials while Reading and Writing

(1) I'm going to make this one a habit if I can, too. It's fun, and it's a good writer's challenge: say meaningful things, briefly. It's especially a good challenge for me, as I'm sure my friends agree! I will write 5 thoughts, none of which will be longer than 100 words (they might be a bit shorter!). Topics will range from theology to humor to current events, and probably back again. Each week will include a wide range of topics. Short, easy, good practice, and hopefully fun reading! Alas, I must move on, as I'm at 99 words already...


(2) As I, and I'm sure many others, have observed before: it's not the big, short trials that are the hardest. (They can be plenty hard, but they're not the worst.) The most difficult trials to endure are the ones that simply keep going. I noted several years ago that James' famous exhortation to "count it all joy" continues by promising that the testing of our faith produces steadfastness. Implication: we're going to be facing the trial for quite some time. We'd better start learning to count it all joy: we'll be doing it a lot!


(3) Training can be one of the dullest and most tedious affairs I've ever experienced. Especially training for software tools. Elegant and powerful this tool may be, but the book would be powerful only as an implement of pain, and never elegant. My days this week have been long and dreary. Three things help, in ascending order: (1) the instructor has a superb British accent; (2) I know that my wife is waiting for me at home; (3) I get to have a very short work day on Friday. Thus do I endure my pain. Longsuffering, indeed!


(4) The joy of reading a new book is difficult to overstate. That being said, I'm pretty sure the joy I have in reading a new The Wheel of Time novel is quite impossible to overstate. I love the characters, I love the world, and I love the story. I'm reminded, every time I sit down to read this fantasy epic (and epic it is) of the power of words to stir the imagination, and how powerful and important the imagination is. Reading good novels is as good for us as reading good nonfiction, the Bible aside.


(5) Composing is a strange pursuit. Not that I've done much of it recently, but I've missed it, and I've thought about it quite a bit. I do not quite understand the mechanism by which people can pull music seemingly out of nowhere, despite having experienced it myself many times. It is, to me at least, one of the deepest proofs of God's existence: we create because He does. (I'd say it's one of the quietest proofs, but that's not quite right, and it'd be a bit paradoxical to claim music as a quiet proof, don't you think?)


God bless, and good night!

Monday, October 26, 2009

An Act of Worship: Sermon Thoughts, 10/25/09 (a day late!)

This weekend proved busier than I expected, in a number of ways, not least in working on my current secret project. That should be unveiled in all its glory sometime in the next two weeks. Keep your eyes open. I think you'll enjoy it. Between that and an extra long work day today - a surprising training opportunity that stretches my days out to nine and a half hours! - I simply haven't had a chance to sit down and type until now. A day late it may be, but I'm determined not to slack off on sermon summaries after only one week.


October 25, 2008 - Bruce Hess, "Right Choices: Choose Contentment Daily"
Sermon text: Philippians 4:10-13, NASB:
But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned before, but you lacked opportunity. Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.
This was an excellent sermon, and one that Jaimie and I found very timely.

Bruce opened by noting how powerful and how pervasive advertising is in America - it's everywhere, and it performs entirely on the basis of discontent. "If you don't have this," it says, "you're nothing." But this discontent, far from satisfying us, will rob us of the joy that God longs to give us.

The two-point sermon (thank you, Bruce, for sticking to the text's outline instead of substituting your own for a convenient three points!) focused on our struggle with contentment and Paul's secret for contentment.

We struggle with contentment for two basic reasons. First, we have a bad case of what Bruce called the "if only" syndrome - "If only I had ____, I would be content." This is simply not true... it's nonsense, in fact. The discontent never ends, and as soon as we have that ____, we're questing on for something else. The important question to ask, then, is whether there is anything we would put in that blank. Do we find anything but Christ ultimately satisfying? Second, we fall prey to discontent because we don't trust God. We forget and underestimate the power of Christ that now dwells in us. If we remembered that, we would know that God supplies all our needs just as faithfully as He has given us salvation. (More on this later in the sermon!)

It's striking that in verse 10, Paul notes that he had "rejoiced in the Lord greatly" - while in prison! He was glad for a financial gift the Philippians had given, but he rejoiced in Christ;. A brief moment of application: we have an opportunity to similarly encourage people in ministry, especially those who we have let fall by the wayside, whether in prayer or financially. More, by contrast with most of us, Paul proclaims in verse 11 that he had "learned to be content." What was his secret? First, contentment is learned. It's not instinctive for us; our fallen selves tend in exactly the opposite direction. Second, it was not his financial circumstances. Paul was content in good circumstances and bad. Bruce's comment here was dead on: "Just because someone has a lot does not mean they will be content... Prosperity can feed discontent." He pointed us to a very helpful prayer: Proverbs 30:8.

Paul's secret was "all about attitude... there [was] an active reliance on the reality of his relationship with Christ." As Paul himself pointed out elsewhere, he had learned not to boast in anything but knowing God. Bruce pointed us to a fabulous passage in Jeremiah that's worth memorizing:
Jeremiah 9:23-24:
Thus says the LORD, "Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things," declares the LORD.
Similarly, Hebrews 13:5-6 reminds us that our contentment is grounded in God's promise: He will not leave us, and He will not forsake us. We can rest in the confidence that we are His. In particular, we are assured by all of Scripture that we may rely on God's providence, and that His provision is perfectly sufficient (see Philippians 4:13). We rely on God's indwelling power - the same power that raised Christ Jesus from the dead! - for our provision. We can rest assured that we will have all that we need. Remember: that means that rich or poor, God has met our needs according to His perfect wisdom. As Bruce said, our attitude toward God should be, "Whatever you call me to experience, you will provide for, and I will rely on that."

I think the best moment in the sermon was Bruce's closing. He spoke to the issue dearest to my heart, reminding us that all of these things ultimately come down to whether or not we are glorifying God. "Contentment at its core," he said," is an act of worship: worshipping God for the sufficiency of His power, for the reality of his provision." God owes us nothing; we owe him thanks for everything, because every part of our life is a free gift.

Our response can be summed up in three parts. First, rejoice in your relationship with Jesus Christ above any other person or thing in this world, for He is our great treasure (Habakkuk 3:17-19). Second, keep your eyes on eternity (2 Corinthians 4:17). Finally, count your blessings: don't lose sight of all that God has done, blinded by the greed of this world.

I appreciated how saturated with Scripture this sermon was. Bruce didn't make it more than about two minutes at a stretch without reading or quoting Scripture, and doing it well and accurately. That sort of sermon is too rare in many churches, and it's always a joy to hear.

I challenge you, as I was challenged, to walk this week in contentment, remembering that contentment is an act of worship.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Name-Calling and Image-Bearing

My friend Jessica just made an excellent post over at her personal blog. You should also take a look at some of the ministry she's doing - there's some fantastic stuff there. (N.B. She's dealing with significant sexual addictions, so it's not light reading.)

Yesterday, as I drove to school, for some reason, I was thinking of Christianity. Recently, I have been working with a ministry that is predominantly Catholic. Mind you, I am not Catholic and do not intend to convert to Catholicism. In fact, I have been dubbed 'the Protestant' by their founder. The fact is, this Catholic ministry is doing more than any 'Protestant' ministry has done. Why is that?

...Do you realize that the world gave them that name [Christian]? It means "Christ-followers" or "Christ imitators." The world, at that time, had seen Christ, so they would know what a Christ follower would look like. Hence, the coinage of the term.

However, it has now come to mean anything from right-wind extremists to anti-government. Now, I know Jesus was not loved and He told us that we would not be accepted because He wasn't accepted, but would someone like to tell me why we are instigating this problem? Did Jesus instigate? No. He didn't. Did Jesus walk up to people, smack them upside the head and say, "You better listen to me, because I am God"? No! Jesus loved them. He reached out to them. He fellowshiped with sinners, and THAT is why people hated Him. Too often now the church is all about hating sinners, which would be why the world hates us.

My thoughts were capitalized last night when author Ted Dekker posted a similar line of thinking on his Facebook page.

According to a Barna Group poll, only 9% of those outside the church think Christians in America are nice, loving people. Whatever happened to ‘you shall know them by their love?’ Throughout most of the world Christianity is simply no longer associated with the core beliefs of sacrificial love that birthed our faith. It has become like a large vessel of dirty bathwater, full of nasty associations that fly in the face of Jesus’ teaching which centered on love and the cry that ‘we judge not lest we be judged.’ A Newsweek cover story cited the dramatic decline of Christianity in the United States. We live in a post Christian world, many would say. They might be right. And who’s to blame them? No one wants to swim around in dirty bathwater.

But wait a minute. There is more than dirty bathwater in this vessel. There is something precious and live-giving! And there is a rising generation of thinkers who are as eager to protect and cherish that life as they are to throw out the dirty bathwater.

Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, we say.

His cry was to get back to what it means to follow Christ and forget all of the hoopla and drammada of religion. We cling so tightly to the label "Christian" and it no longer means what we think it means. We spend so much effort and energy defending our stand and faith that we look more like Pharisees than followers of Christ. It's ridiculous really. So, I think I am actually going to drop the whole label of "Christian." I am not a Christian, I am a follower of Christ. Sadly, yes, there is a difference.

I definitely feel her here, and I've felt a lot of the same frustrations. I think Luke didn't really care for the term "Christian" much, either... he keeps saying "the followers of the way" even after the term is introduced in Acts. And the term has a lot of baggage with it to be certain.

A few other thoughts stemming from her post: While I appreciate where Dekker and Barna are coming from - and I certainly do think that there's an issue with the church involved! - I'd hesitate to take that finding too far. Certainly Dekker overstates his case when he claims that Christians "in most of the world" are not living out Christlikeness. Problems in the US church are simply not universal, and there is a lot of good going on in the world church. Insofar as the critique is accurate - and I think it is, at least for the American church - there are a couple root issues that we need to deal with to address the issue.

First and foremost, I think "Christians" in America by and large aren't. We have churches full of people who think they are believers who give no convincing evidence of that fact. If, over the course of years, one's life displays no fruit - however much moralistic attempting goes on - then the person is simply not a Christian. We're not being kind to pretend otherwise; we're sending people to hell who think they're saved. That's problem number 1, and until we deal with it, we're not going to see the world's perspective change. The world doesn't see Christians as loving because it actually sees not Christians - not disciples - but a bunch of moralizing deists (to borrow a term from Matt Chandler) whose moralizing makes them arrogant. They need a good dose of the real gospel, the one that says that Christ has become the source of eternal salvation to those who obey him (see John 3:34, Hebrews 5:9). Faith produces works. If it doesn't, it's not faith. Solutions: preach the gospel, exercise church discipline (which means practicing meaningful church membership, among other things), and build a church environment that recognizes the basic necessity of community - it's not something cool on top; it's foundational in the healthy life of the church.

On a much smaller, but still significant scale, we need to remember that the world's definition of love and God's tend to differ pretty radically. At this point, anyone who makes any sort of moral stand is considered to be inherently "unloving." I don't deny that Christians have done much to exacerbate this. The doctrinal position we hold on homosexuality may be perfectly accurate, but we've done a very poor job in communicating that position in a way that demonstrates Christ-like love. It's tended to be, instead, either an arrogant superiority or simple fear that gets communicated. I.e. "We're better than you, you dirty heathen," or "Stay away, I don't want you contaminating [insert vulnerable loved one of choice]." Both of which are distinctly unChrist-like responses. All of that to say, yes there's a great deal of growing to do there, but we should judge ourselves not on the basis of the world's perception but simply on the basis of Scripture. It's critique is much louder than the world's ever could be. (And I think Jessica would agree with me there.)

It's not surprising to me that Catholic ministries tend to do a better job than a lot of Protestant ministries at actually working in the world. They, and the Eastern Orthodox, both have a much stronger grasp on incarnational theology - understanding how Christ's incarnation impacts our mandate here and now - than most Protestants. Protestants also, quite rightly, have a historical revulsion for any sort of "social gospel." Unfortunately, that's had a tendency to bleed over into Protestant views of all social action (except political, apparently!). To restore that, we need to deepen our own incarnational theology and recognize that, though our hope is for a kingdom to come, we have transformational, serving work to do in the here and now.

Two major caveats, though. First, it's worth note that in many of the Catholic ministries I've encountered - certainly not all - the sort of good works being noted here are motivated by bad doctrine. When salvation comes by works, as is certainly still taught in many parishes, the faithful Catholic has no choice but to work very hard indeed. There are segments of Protestantism that are just as industrious and for precisely the same reason. As we deepen our theology, and remember that faith produces works, we need to remember that it is still grace that saves. Indeed, a real understanding of grace should prompt us to work.

My second caveat is that we need to be careful not to mistake serving in the world for proclaiming the gospel (or the other way around!). Both are necessary components of our faith, and thankfully we are not left with a contradiction between the two. (Again, I've no doubt Jessica and I are on the same page here.) It's easy, in recognizing the need for social action because of the good news, to forget that we're here as ambassadors. Our purpose is to proclaim that good news. All our social action is gospel-oriented. I'm not speaking of a sort of action that only goes in with the aim of converts, but rather social action that is so Christ-centered that gospel-proclaiming will inevitably be a part of it. If ever we lose the cross and God's grace displayed therein, all our social works are in vain.

The challenge, then, is to go forth and work - to be Christ-followers, disciples, image-bearers, intead of merely name-bearers. Work in the world, proclaim the gospel of peace, and keep the cross and the empty tomb ever in sight.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Sermon thoughts, 10/18/08

I think I'm going to begin making a regular habit out of blogging on the teaching at my church, Wildwood Community Church in Norman, Oklahoma. The more time I spend in the church, the better I like it and the more respect and regard I have for the elders and staff there. My goal in writing these posts is encouragement of the wider body of Christ with how God is working here - and perhaps a bit of self-instruction, as I remember to learn from the teaching. It's too easy to be overly critical of a sermon or a Sunday school class, and correspondingly to miss how God is speaking. We can quite easily confuse discernment and careful consideration with simply criticizing. I intend to combat that tendency in myself and hopefully encourage others by sharing what I learned from the preaching.

For today, you might find my wife's post on the same sermon to be edifying - I did!

If you find the material useful, I'd encourage you to check out the blog of Mark Robinson, our executive pastor. (I'll make a point to highlight his blog whenever I'm referencing one of his sermons, as he often has notes on his blog that tie in.) You may also enjoy Jeremy Horton, our college pastor's blog.

I'll quote whichever version the teaching pastor used in their sermon for the sermon text, and then summarize the sermon as well as provide some thoughts of my own if I have any that are relevant and hopefully edifying.


October 18, 2008 - Bruce Hess, "Right Choices, Choose to Focus Wisely"
Sermon Text: Philippians 4:8-9, NASB
Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

I'll open this post the way Bruce did his sermon. (Note: this would ordinarily have driven me nuts, but, as I'll explain later, I think it was right on in this case.)

Bruce spent a few minutes talking about how much of our time we spend filling our thoughts with all that is wrong, negative, gloomy, unjust, and sinful in this world. He noted that it's not merely "sinful" movies, music, and so on that's at issue here, but the news media and most other sources of information in our day. Very rarely do we hear about, much less spend our time on good things.

This, Bruce pointed out, is thoroughly unbiblical. He then moved into the text and started unpacking for us why it is good to watch news stories like the one posted above. The passage breaks down neatly into two main points and a consequence.

The first point is that we need to think right. Bruce commented that "true" here means more than simply not false, but extends to thinking on more than mere opinion. Focus on the real truth - the word of God, and the good news of Christ (see John 17:17 and Colossians 1:5). Honorable things and just things are actions that match God's behaviors and His heart toward people. When we see people behaving with honor and executing justice and doing right, we should really let it sink in. Lovely things are gracious, beautiful, or winsome - his pictures were of a stunning sunset or a nursing mother. For commendable things, he noted that we should remember kindnesses and well-done deeds. Last but not least, he emphasized that the conclusion of the verse, "any excellence... anything worthy of praise" points us to exactly that: anything that is excellent and worthy of praise.

The second point, he noted, is that we should not only think right, but also live right. He didn't spend a lot of time on this, not least because there was a good deal more going on in our service than normal, though I wish he had!

Last but not least, he dwelt on the promise that concludes the passage: if you think on these things and practice as Paul did, the God of peace will be with you. It's a striking promise, and the more so in context. Only two verses earlier, Paul instructed the Philippians that if they chose to thankfully pray instead of being anxious, God's peace would guard their hearts and minds. Here, he goes a step further: not only will God give His peace, He who is peace will give Himself, His own presence. It's a stunning promise, and one that we would do well to dwell on. (It is, in fact, something true that we should think about!)

Bruce's points of application for the sermon were good and practical. First, we need to evaluate our intake - of media, of conversation, of anything that influences our thoughts. Second, we need to examine our own conversations and make sure that we are focusing on the good things listed above. As an aside during his walkthrough of the text, Bruce hit on the fact that we should make a point to commend what is commendable and comment on what is lovely - with families, especially.

To Bruce's application, I would add one point of my own, which is that we need to choose to actively meditate on these things and to imitate Paul (and the other apostles, and Christ Himself). This is why I liked his use of the video to open the sermon. It's immensely practical, and it's the sort of story that is out there. It's not explicitly Christian, but it definitely fits in the "if there is anything worthy of praise" category. The best way to meditate on these things is to find them and enjoy them, and remember them as we go throughout the day.

One thing that struck me as terribly important in the passage, and that I was sad we didn't have time to cover today, is that Paul strongly emphasizes following his example. The Philippians were to practice what they had learned and received from him, what they had heard him say, and what they had seen him do. We should, too. It's good to remember that we have Biblical examples on which to model our lives, and that Paul is not merely a teacher of good doctrine but also a model of good practice.

Last but not least, Bruce noted (and I agree) that the point of this passage is not to stick our fingers in our ears, saying "Lalalalalala" and pretending that bad things do not happen. We need to be wise, discerning, and aware of the world. However, we should make it our practice not to live there mentally. We need to spend our mental energy on what is good. That's a significant mindset change from most of what we see in our culture, even in the church, and it's a good reminder.

When we fix our eyes on Christ and think on things that are like Him, we will be actively pursuing the sanctification of our minds. We will be transformed as our minds are renewed. And God Himself will be with us!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Lessons learned... and pudding

If, dear reader, you wonder why I have not posted in so very long - 8 days, in fact! - then I have something of a story for you. If you wonder no such thing, then you're simply going to have to content yourself with reading anyway, in the hope that I'll says something informative, edifying, or at least mildly amusing.

10 days ago, my wife and I were in Colorado on a short trip for a wedding. Midway through that trip, I began feeling somewhat less than optimal - by which I mean, I sat around most of that day feeling barely better than miserable. That, luckily, was not our traveling day. On our traveling day, I only had minor dizzy spells and a medium headache. Come Monday, however, all of those symptoms were worsening. I, being a daring master of the fates, not to mention still unused to have personal allowance time at work, toughed it out and trudged through my day. I was miserable.

Being stubborn, I proceeded to do the same again on Tuesday. I've been accused of possessing above average intelligence, but I can find no trace of anything in my behavior to suggest the accusation to be anything but the basest sort of falsehood.

Wednesday, heeding the wise counsel of my wife, I stayed home and promptly spent the day feeling miserable again, but with a good book and nary a glance at the computer screen. It turns out that staring at a screen - especially one at a bad angle and under bad lighting - tends to significantly worsen headaches. Over the course of the remainder of the week, I read several thousand pages of fiction, which was splendid, however unproductive. By early this week, I was feeling much better, and was able to go work without feeling like a walking corpse. Lesson learned: remember the value of personal leave and heed my wife's wise advice!

In the meantime, I managed to suffer yet another catastrophe. This one, I'm thankful to say, was not of my own making. Thursday night, you see, is date night for Jaimie and me. Every week we make a point to do something special that evening - a pleasant dinner out and a movie, or a candlelit meal and long talks and cuddling, or any number of things, but always a date.

This is harder to pull off when you have the flu.

We decided it was to be pizza and a movie - in. Best not to spread the dreadful contagion. A woeful decision. As we returned from picking up the pizza - no paying delivery fees for us that night! - we were struck from behind. Some basic math will help you get the picture: 1984 Chevrolet pickup truck + 2005 Hyundai Elantra = CRUNCH. And the truck won and my neck lost: cursed transfer of momentum resulted in a little thing they call whiplash. My wife's poor car ("La Bomba," in case you were wondering... she names the cars, not me) is once again in the shop, with the back bumper, . (If you don't know the story, it involves scenes from an action movie and sleepless nights. Seriously.) The final result of the whole thing is yet to be seen, but needless to say it made for a far more exciting date night than we anticipated. Lesson learned: all that physics information about transfer of momentum was quite accurate. (The seatbelts work.)

In the midst of all of it, God reminded me that health is a gift, and to thank Him more regularly for it. (Lesson learned: don't forget to thank Him immediately after you get better... like I did today until I wrote that sentence.)

If, dear reader, you are still with me, you are doubtless wondering why I'm addressing you, and most particularly why I'm using the trite, over-the-top, and absurdly overused "dear reader" appellation. I'm afraid you will find no answers here. You're simply going to have to get used to it. (I'll leave you wondering whether I plan to keep up the absurdity. You'll be waiting with unbridled expectation for the next post just to find out, I'm sure.)

Lesson learned: pudding is good. (That was for free.)

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Traveling thoughts

This past week, my beautiful wife and I visited Colorado. One of my good friends from high school was getting married on Friday evening. The wedding stirred up a number of thoughts in me.

I thought a bit on how much has changed since high school as I saw a few friends I've literally not seen since graduation day four and a half years ago. I though for longer about how much I have changed in that time, and how much God has done since then. There have been some deeply transforming periods of time in my life, some painful and others joyful. Most of all, I've seen the faithfulness and the deep love of God as He has transformed me. He continues to do so; I learn a bit more every day about dying to myself and living for Christ, and about walking as well as talking out this faith.

The pastor at the wedding was Lutheran, as are the friends who got married. I am not. Yet I have to say that the man's teaching on marriage was some of the best I've heard, and he brought the focus back to Jesus over and over again. It's always such a joy to be reminded that the Church is indeed a body, whole and complete. We have our differences, some of them profound, but we are part of one universal whole that lives and breathes in Christ. No matter what our disagreements with other believers, it's essential that we remember that we are united in Christ. There must be a deeply irenic spirit among us in our interactions, no matter how deep our disagreements. There are lines drawn, of course, beliefs that we hold place one outside the framework of true Christian profession. It is not wrong to call a cult or a heresy by name. Yet we must always remember that God's truth came not in judgment for this age, but in "grace upon grace" (John 1:16). We should strive to model Christ's grace to all who we meet, and above all to be a picture of His love as we interact with other believers of whatever stripe. My friends and their Lutheran pastor, all of whom I have many theological disagreements with, are my brothers and sisters, and I love them. Now, I only need to learn how to love them as Christ does!

As we descended on our flight back home, we came through two and a half layers of cloud. There was a beautiful moment as we passed through the first layer and then were flying between it and the second when we could see all the way to the clear sky between the layers. Then we plunged again into cloud, and there we stayed for some very long minutes. I was reminded, as the plane bounced to and fro, as I caught my wife's nervous eyes, and as I prayed, that we were no less safe in that moment than in any other. We really are resting in the hands of Almighty God every moment of every day. Even in those troubling minutes before the clouds broke and we could see ground only a few hundred feet below, we were as safe as could be. Should our Father wish to take us home, no effort of ours could stop the plane from falling, and should He wish us alive, the plane would land whatever our fears. It is a comforting thing to know that God is truly all-powerful and good. We can rest then in His will, assured of His hand in all that passes through our lives. What hope, to know that God Himself is orchestrating our days! What comfort in the midst of affliction to remember that we are bought with a price, and that there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God in Christ!