Saturday, December 21, 2013

Life and Death, Heaven and Hell

"Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints."
Psalm 116:15
"As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their wicked ways and live."
                                                                                                   Ezekiel 33:11

The past week or so has been a time of extreme contrast for me,  an emotional rollercoaster of joy, sadness, celebration, and grief.  It began Thursday night, December 12, as my wife Julie and I attended Andrew Peterson's "Behold the Lamb of God" concert at the Ryman Auditorium.  It has become a holiday tradition for us and it's always a tremendous blessing to celebrate in music and song the coming of Jesus into the world to save us from our sin.  I love listening to the recording, but it is much more powerful when heard live, particularly the songs  "So Long Moses" and "Behold the Lamb of God".
The next day I got the news that Bob Mowery, former pastor of Park Avenue Baptist Church, had gone to be with the Lord at the age of 87. "Brother Bob", as everyone called him, was my pastor for the first 21 years of my life, but his ministry and influence reached far beyond that time.  His memorial service was scheduled for Tuesday, December 17, which happened to also be the date of our 30th wedding anniversary.
The memorial service was a warm and sweet celebration of his life. I've never known anyone who exhibited more of what I would call a Christ-like life than Brother Bob.  The fruit and power of the Holy Spirit was evident in his preaching, his pastoring, his leadership, and his "private" life. His time in this world was certainly a testimony to how God can use a life for His glory in so many ways.  Although Brother Bob will be missed by family and by so many people who were affected by him, we can all rejoice for him, knowing that he is now in the presence of Jesus who he loved and served for so many years - a life lived humbly to the glory of God, a blessing and an exhortation to us all.
After the graveside service Julie and I stopped by our house and I surprised her with a poem I had written to her for our anniversary. I know all of you are totally shocked that I could write anything poetic, but I do occasionally have the ability to do that with some degree of effectiveness.  In that poem I reflected on the grace of God and His blessing in giving Julie to me.  Another emotional moment in a day already filled with a mixture of joy and grief.  We then got a phone call from our son Benjamin, who let us know that he had successfully defended the proposal for his doctoral dissertation. Another reason to celebrate.
And the day was not finished. We went to dinner at Maggiano's.  If you've ever been you know how awesome it is. If you've never been there, go.  When we got in the car to leave after dinner Julie got a text message. It informed us that a friend of ours had died that afternoon, totally unexpected at the age of 52.  We didn't even know he had recently been diagnosed with inoperable cancer.
The worst part is that as far as we know this friend was not a believer in  Jesus.  The remainder of our evening was spent mostly in a stunned silence. Earlier in the day we had celebrated, knowing that Brother Bob was now in the presence of God, free from this world, from sin, from sorrow. Just a few hours later, I was faced with the thought that a man I knew and cared for, someone I had hoped would somehow, someday come to faith in Jesus, was now suffering eternal torment.
If you are recoiling in horror or find that statement distasteful, I can understand your reaction. But how you and I feel doesn't change the truth of it. The Scriptures are clear. Funny how truth and theology can seem so clear until it affects us in some inconvenient way. This would be a good time to be a Universalist. My friend is forever separated from God. Nothing can change that. Over the next few days I began to process my thoughts and emotions about it , and I still am. 

So here are my thoughts at this point:

I find comfort in the fact that God loves my friend much more than I ever could, and that His grief is far beyond mine.  I know from reading the Bible that He is not rubbing His hands and laughing with delight when unbelieving people die.

The Scriptures have been even more precious to me this week. The promises seem surer, the instructions clearer, the exhortations more urgent, the rebukes more pointed, the comforts sweeter and deeper.  The Word has fed my soul as it has revealed more the heart of God to me.

What I do does matter. And what I don't do does matter. Prayer also matters.  I'll blog more about these subjects another day. Right now I'll simply say that many times God uses people to accomplish his purposes.  I've had to deal with guilty thoughts, wondering whether or not the outcome with my friend would be different if I had done or said certain things.  I know that God is the one who saves, and I'm not going to lay blame on myself, but I also want to be more intentional about living and speaking the gospel to those who are brought into my life. I'm both convicted and encouraged by the life testimony of Brother Bob in this area.

These days have drawn me closer to God.  Sometimes you need a wake up call.  And now I'm awake. 


Saturday, October 19, 2013

Who is Bernie Carbo?

Bernie Carbo.  Do you know who he is?  Unless you were watching major league baseball in the 1970's or are a student of the game you probably have never heard his name.  Bernie Carbo played as an outfielder and designated hitter for six different teams from 1969 to 1980.  After his first full season with the Cincinnati Reds he was selected Rookie of the Year by The Sporting News in 1970. He slumped in the next two seasons and was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals, then in 1973 was traded to the Boston Red Sox.

In 1975 the Red Sox played Cincinnati in the World Series.  The Boston roster of course had some big names: Carl Yastrzemski,  Fred Lynn, Jim Rice,  Rico Petrocelli,  Luis Tiant. Game Six of that series is remembered for Carlton Fisk's incredible 12th inning home run at Fenway Park that gave Boston the victory and forced a seventh game.  It's regarded as one of the greatest moments in World Series history.  I watched it live on TV. If you've never seen it you can view it here.

What many people don't know and what many people who even saw the game have forgotten is that Bernie Carbo came in as a pinch hitter in the eighth inning of that game and hit a three-run home run that tied the score at 6-6. Without that hit, Fisk would never have had the chance to become a hero.  So Carbo's greatest moment was overshadowed by a greater moment by a teammate. Carbo ended his career after 12 seasons,  having played 1010 games with a batting average of .264,  96 home runs, and 358 RBI in 2733 at bats.  Hardly impressive statistics for a major league baseball player - but he had a role to play, he played it, and his team benefited from it.

We who are believers in and followers of Jesus Christ each have a role to play in the Kingdom of God.  1 Corinthians 12:12-31 and Ephesians 4:4-16 tell us the following about the Church:

We are the Body of Christ.
We are one body made up of many parts.
Each part is different and needed.
We each have different gifts and abilities.
We rejoice with each other.
We suffer with each other.
We should care for one another.
We should be unified.

You need the Church. The Church needs you.  You may be one who hits a home run few remember,  you may hit the home run that will be talked about for years, you may be a baserunner when a home run is hit, you may be in the dugout cheering on your teammate, but we are all contributors in some way.  Hebrews 10:23-25 says "Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.  And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.  Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another - and all the more as you see the Day approaching."

Monday, June 3, 2013

I'm Into Leather

Yes, I'm into leather. Bibles, that is. Don't worry, you'll never see me wearing leather pants.  There's something about the way a well-made leather Bible feels to the touch, the way it smells, the craftsmanship and beauty.  As a child I was enamored with two Bibles my father had but my favorite was a Cambridge New Testament with Psalms. Deluxe Morocco Leather, so smooth,  and I loved the stitching on the binding,  way the paper felt,  and how the print looked in the King James Version.   As much as I admired these Bibles I knew my dad used them all and I never felt like I should  ask him if I could have one of them. 

On December 9, 1969, a Tuesday night as I recall, my dad sat down with me on our living room sofa after supper and started asking me questions about sin, Jesus, and salvation.  I was nine years old and having grown up in a Bible preaching, evangelistic church I was beginning to more clearly see my need  of the gospel.  There was conviction of sin in my heart, but my young mind couldn't separate the act of faith from the action of "walking down the aisle",  and I remained paralyzed in the pew due to my fear of getting up and going down in front of all those people.  My dad took me to the third  chapter of the Gospel of John and explained to me what being born again was all about.  I repented and believed the gospel, and that Sunday walked down that aisle with a minimum of fear.  The next Sunday night I was baptized.   Not long after that on a Saturday my dad gave me his New Testament with an inscription to me inside and told me it was now mine.

I treasured that book and took good care of it, but as I became a teenager and moved on through high school my heart and mind moved away in rebellion from the words of the book.  God brought me to a place of repentance at 19 years old and the Bible came alive to me in brand new way.  You can read more about that here: God and a Gremlin . The New Testament that had been more of a trophy became my food and a tool for God to use to change me.  I began marking passages that spoke most clearly  to me or that I was memorizing.  Now the book was special to me for more than material reasons. 
I still have that New Testament, as evidenced by these pictures, and it's in great shape, a testimony to the quality of the materials and construction of it.  I grew up on the King James Version, and although I primarily read other translations now,  I still enjoy reading it from time to time.  Over the years I've come to understand that the contents of the book are much more important than the cover, but I have to say that a good leather cover is like icing on the cake.  My dad passed away when I was 31 and I now have his other Bibles. I have also have several leather Bibles of my own,  various versions, which I'm sure I'll soon blog about.  And maybe one day I'll get a Cambridge Bible, but this New Testament will always have a special place on my bookshelf and in my heart. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Is it Worth Your Time?

I was comically reminded by someone today that several months ago I posted “I’m Back” on this blog and haven’t posted a single thing since.  Well, here I am. I confess I’m a fast reader but a slow writer, which makes it hard to crank out a blog quickly.  I have always physically written very neatly but slowly and don’t type much faster.  Probably a bigger factor is that I’m a perfectionist and I want everything to sound and read just so, resulting in too many re-reads and re-edits. I confess too that I’m somewhat intimidated after reading many well-written blogs.

I want to talk about how we approach Bible reading. There are any number of terms you can use to identify this discipline. Call it what you want, the questions are whether you are you doing it and if so, why?

First, are you reading the Bible? “I don’t have as much time as I’d like to do that” would probably be the overwhelming response to that question. I would ask you for one month to keep up with how you really use your time throughout the day.  Paul tells us in Ephesians 5:15-16 “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but was wise, making best use of the time, because the days are evil”. How much time to you spend on Twitter, Facebook, etc?  Television, Netflix, or the theater?  Recreation, shopping, traveling?  The list could go on. We make time for the things we really want to do. Admit it. Find the time, take the time to read the Scriptures.  Start with 5 minutes if that is all you can find today, but read them.  If you wait until you feel like you have an hour it will never happen.

Secondly, why do you read the Bible? The Scriptures are our spiritual food, the only words that will sustain and satisfy our souls. It is different from any other book you will ever read.  Hebrews 4:11-12 tells us that “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says “All Scripture is breathed out by God, and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”  Ephesians 6:17 speaks of “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God”.  The Scriptures are given to us by God as a tool for the Holy Spirit to use to change us from the inside out.

I love to read. I read many things. I range from online sports reports to theology with a wide variety in between.  I read different things for different reasons.  I find myself at times neglecting the Word of God. If I got out of bed tomorrow morning and skipped breakfast I would be hungry by mid-morning and if I passed on lunch I would be miserable by afternoon. How long will I go at times without the nourishment of the Word?  How often do I try to satisfy my hunger with all the junk food that is quick and easy, forgoing the meditation and reflection on the truths that will feed me? Psalm 119:103 says “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!”  Psalm 19:7-10 says “The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb.”  It is not amazing to think that the God who created the universe has spoken to us?  Is that not worthy of at least a few minutes of our time today?