Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Praying By the Hour

I tried an exercise yesterday that really came to have a lot of meaning. In the history of the Christian church, there exists a tradition where the local parish would ring a bell every hour on the hour as a call to the Christians in the community to stop and pray. I decided to try this practice using the alarm on my Palm Pilot. I think all I need to say is this - I am doing it again today.

What blew me away was how God has used these opportunities. Again and again yesterday the alarm would go off when I was just getting ready to pray with an individual going through a difficult time or when I was facing a decision that needed to be made. I went to the Duke/Tennessee women's basketball game last night, and it was right as we were singing the national anthem, and I stopped to pray for our country. The prayers were not always long involved prayers - sometimes they were just a few moments to meditate on God's presence in my day.

I really found great meaning and great encouragement through this practice, and I hope to make it a regular part of my day.

Monday, January 21, 2008

A Little Snow & Ice

It was nice to finally have a winter where we see at least a little white stuff hit the ground. The boys were so excited to see snow the last couple of days. They went out Saturday afternoon and threw snowballs at each other! Of course, this was far from what one would call a "significant snow event", but it was certainly more than anything we have seen the last couple of years. Stay warm!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Sermon That Kept Preaching

This past Sunday I preached in my sermon about leaving our sin and sinful nature under the nails of Christ's cross. I think sometimes as Christians we have a hard time feeling like we truly have "new life" in Christ, and I think a lot of that is because we still see ourselves as trapped by sin. We think Christ's death, for whatever reason, wasn't quite enough to set us free from sin. Colossians 2-3 is the apostle Paul's response to that kind of thinking.

It has been interesting how that message has preached. Since Sunday morning's service ended, I have had several conversations with people who have talked about how much they needed that message this past Sunday, that there were things that they realized they needed to put under the nails of the cross and leave there.

Sunday afternoon, I had a chance to preach at one of the local independent living homes. I was going to preach a different message, but ultimately decided to preach the sermon I had preached Sunday morning. Following the afternoon service, a lady came up to me and began to share an experience that had happened soon after she had moved into the independent living center a year earlier. As she listened to me, she realized that she was still carrying the hurt and anger from that experience. She realized that she was a new person in Christ, and it was time to leave the pain of that experience under his nails. I was so honored to be able to talk with her and share a few moments with her rejoicing in what God was doing in her life.

During the Sunday morning service, we had invited folks to write down one act or feeling that needed to be left under the nails of Christ, one thing that was keeping them from embracing the forgiveness and hope of new life in Christ. Then everyone brought their pieces of paper to the front and put them on nails, symbolizing their willingness to leave in the newness of life in Christ. After the service, there was an interesting logistical question: what to do with the pieces of paper. I had committed to the church that no one else would see or read them, including me.

I decided to take a Leviticus 16 approach. I took the pieces of paper off the cross along with the nails, leaving the nails going through the stack. I was very careful to make sure I did not see anything written on any of the pieces of paper. I put them in the bag and decided I would take them somewhere far away from our church and our community to leave them where they could not be brought back to us. The location, as it turned out, was beside a river that I discovered yesterday (not even in our county, I might add). When I found the right spot, I dug a hole in the ground, took the stacks of paper still under the nails out of the bag, and placed them in the ground and covered the hole. As I walked to the site, I was listening to the song "Leave It There" by the Gaither Vocal Band on my iPod. After I was finished digging, I took off the iPod earphones and spent time praying asking God to remove the stain and guilt of the acts and deeds on those pieces of paper from our church so that we could indeed have new abundant life. Suddenly, as I prayed, a wind blew across the waters of the river, and I was suddenly reminded of Genesis 1, when the Spirit of God moved across the face of the deep as a mighty wind. From that, God made a new creation. That image became my prayer: God, may your Spirit move across our lives and make in us a new creation.

I have been amazed this week at how God continues to preach to me and to others.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Discussion on "Blue Like Jazz"

The Young Adult Sunday School Class at FBC Elon is trying a new approach to Christian education - blogging. We have started a blog at www.fbcelondiscussion.blogspot.com. At this site, David or I will post discussion questions and statements each Wednesday, and then people can comment and respond at the blog. Our hope is that we will generate some opportunity for Christian growth and discipleship within most people's hectic schedules. We are using Donald Miller's "Blue Like Jazz" as a discussion starter right now. Anybody is welcome to join in the discussion, and reading the book is not required (though I would highly recommend it - it has been an interesting read so far).

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

New Again

Somebody just sent this link to me, and wow! I am preaching on the meaning of new life, and the song really hits home with that idea, and the visual enhances. Be warned: the video is from "The Passion of the Christ", so it may be difficult to watch for some.


National Champions?

Well, I watched the LSU destruction of Ohio State last night. A couple of thoughts crossed my mind:

1) College football season is over and 24 is not coming on the air until some undisclosed time in the future (thanks, Writers Guild of America). Hmm... sounds like a lot of reading and Food Network between college basketball games.

2) Would a playoff in college football really be that hard? It would have to be better than most of the games the BCS gave us - all blowouts pretty much decided by halftime, and only 1 of the games really mattered for much of anything.

3) Mike and Mike in the Morning were discussing comparisons that Ohio State is getting to the Buffalo Bills, saying that such comparisons were intended to slight OSU and that was unfair to Buffalo and OSU. I agree, but not for as positive a reason as they gave. I think OSU and the Big 10 have to look at the last 2 years and wonder what the future holds. Is it a bad thing to get to the national championship game and lose? No, but for 2 straight years OSU has been totally manhandled in the championship game. In both years, they were supposedly the better team (Vegas odds left out of the discussion). Take that and combine it with Michigan's blowout loss to USC in last year's Rose Bowl and Illinois' blowout loss to USC in this year's Rose Bowl, and I do think that there is a real problem the Big 10 is facing. Their elite teams seem to be a whole lot less elite than the other elite programs. People bash the ACC for the way it has fallen in football. Is the Big 10 really any different?

Monday, January 7, 2008

Does No Mean Yes?

Attorney: Do you have a sexual attraction to post-pubescent adolescents?

Defendant: I refuse to answer that question on the grounds it may incriminate me.

I don't know what I find more frightening, the question or the answer, especially considering the defendant is a Dominican friar, A. J. Cody. Cody is facing charges of sexually molesting young boys at several different parishes in and outside of the United States.

The issue the question raises is disturbing enough. However, I think I am more bothered by the response that Cody gives. As I was listening to this exchange (part of NPR's latest weekly religion podcast that you can get at ITunes), I suddenly thought back to Jesus instructing his disciples, "Let your 'yes' be 'yes' and your 'no' be 'no'". Somehow, I don't think, "I refuse to answer that question on the grounds it may incriminate me" fits in real well with that teaching.

I think sometimes following this teaching of Jesus may mean having to stand up and answer the hard questions that make us uncomfortable or force us to admit to something we would not want anybody else to know. Even in a culture that presumes innocence, I hear Cody's response, and all I can think is, "The fact that he won't answer the question means he did it." Haven't we taken the same attitude with someone like Mark McGwire and his comments before Congress about steroids?

We talk about the need to confess our sins. Sometimes that is painful, embarassing, and humiliating. Sometimes it can cost us freedom and rights. Sometimes it can cost us fame and popularity. Maybe that is where the whole idea of "seek ye first the kingdom of God" takes on a whole different meaning.

I know I probably sound like I am assuming guilt where there has been no judgment of guilt yet. However, I feel like such a thought is left open when we as Christians can't just say "yes" or "no".

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Football on my Mind

Happy New Year! The family and I enjoyed a nice couple of days up in Virginia visiting with family and friends over the New Year holiday. After a couple of days off, I am back at work. However, to be perfectly honest, football is on my mind.

Driving in to work today, I was listening to a sports radio talk show host announce that last night's Sugar Bowl proved that Hawaii had no business being in a BCS bowl. I think, more than anything, last night's game said little about Hawaii and more about how messed up Division 1-A (or whatever they are calling it now) college football's postseason is. If I may:

1) Hawaii finished the regular season 12-0, the only fooball program at this level that can say that. People want to take shots at their schedule because they play in the WAC. Hawaii played 3 bowl teams in their last 4 games of the season - Fresno State, Boise State, and Nevada. Their last game of the season was against Washington, a Pac-10 team. And before anybody yells that scheduling Washington is not necessarily a big deal, please be reminded that Hawaii was originally scheduled to open the season against Michigan, but Michigan backed out of the game to schedule instead ... Appalachian State. My point: Hawaii's schedule is probably the best schedule they could play. Added difficulty: they knew they had to win every game to play in the BCS. One loss, and it was the Hawaii bowl for them. Must be nice for the OSU and LSU of the world to know you can lose 1 ( or 2) and still play for it all.

2) Rather than proving that Hawaii didn't belong, I think last night's game proved what everyone has been saying for weeks: Georgia is playing some of the best football in the country right now. They have been playing lights out for the last month of the season, and one could tell from the emotion and power Georgia displayed last night that the layoff had not hurt them one bit.

3) Did anybody say last year that Ohio State didn't belong in the BCS, let alone the BCS title game because they got blitzed by Florida - a Florida team that, by the way, was a heavy underdog entering the game? No. I do not believe that the results of 1 game (after several weeks of not playing) necessarily defines the quality of a team for 1 season.

4) Was Georgia and Hawaii really the best matchup the BCS could come up with? Besides Georgia, the other team supposedly playing the best football in the country was USC - who, by the way, lit up Illinois yesterday (anybody saying Illinois didn't belong in the BCS? I am. Missouri had the better season by far and deserved far better than the Cotton Bowl). Why were USC and Georgia not playing one another? Can you imagine the attention that kind of matchup would have gotten? That might have overshadowed the national title game. I know the BCS main job is to choose the teams for the national title game, but it is also about money. How much money could have been made, how high a ratings could have been achieved, from a USC-Georgia matchup? And if Illinois had to be in the BCS, wouldn't a Hawaii-Illinois (or Hawaii-Missouri) game have been a better game than either of the two BCS bowls we got yesterday?

My point in all this: Hawaii deserved a chance to play with the big boys. Last night, Georgia proved to be the far superior team, a fact that probably suprises few. However, don't tell me that Hawaii didn't earn the chance to try to prove themselves.