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January 2013 entries

Transparent: Overcoming Impossible Expectations from My Past

The recent death of my mom has caused me to reminisce about my childhood and the events that shaped my way of thinking. A particular character from my past came to mind this morning as I was writing notes for this Sunday's message "Transparent."

This fellow, while only a few years older than my friends and me, seemed more like an old man in a young man's body. He sometimes seemed to appear out of nowhere. Always watching for one of us to break one of the commandments so that he could beat us about the head with the large black Bible that was resting on his hip. I'm sure he didn't always carry this coffe table sized holy book with him, but for the life of me I can't remember a time when it wasn't in his possession.

According to this walking embodiment of God's judgment and condemnation almost anything that was fun was reason for God to throw the switch and open the gates to hell. I was always looking over my shoulder for him while playing marbles with a boy who occassionally stayed with his grandmother on my block. He was a godless boy who either didn't attend my church, or according to God's emissary of doom, attended no Bible believing church at all. The boy always wanted to tempt into playing for "keepsies" instead of "funsies." The second was frowened upon by God and the first was almost the unpardonable sin. Sure enough, whenever I gave in to the boys impassioned plea to play for "keepsies", the fellow with the KJV was already heading my way looking for the verse that would condemn me to hell. If I remember correctly it was usually from the Book of Revelation.

Other times it was while trading comic books with a friend on his porch or under a nearby tree. With stacks of Superman, Green Lantern and heaven forbid Daredevil at our feet, this fiery preacher would expose such literary works as demonic and from the pits of hell. Not even Wendy the good little witch or Hot Stuff the friendly and well mannered devil could escape his fiery indignation.

I could go on with stories of being verbally condemned for racing bicycles down the street in front of the church;  or talking about girls; or swearing; or going to movies. I think you get the idea. If this guy was really speaking for the Lord, I was sunk. I didn't have a snowball's chance of ever getting through the pearly gates. His inability to smile; his unwillingness to ever wear shorts or a t-shirt confirmed in my young mind that this fellow was what God wanted you to be like if you were going to be holy. I was conflicted between feelings of wanting to go to heaven and knowing I could never live up to this man's holiness to get there. 

One day a friend of mine and me were riding our bikes to the other side of the tracks. Literally. When we rode to the other side we were riding to the nice side of town. Just before we arrived at the crossing we observed something by the side of the tracks. It was a body. It was his body. The guy who was always coming out of the shadows to condemn me to hell. He had been hit by a train and we were the first ones to come upon the accident. How could this happen? Wasn't this God's prophet to keep boys like me out of hell and out of fun at the same time? Had the law just been killed by the side of the tracks?

As I remember this story and episode out of my life I am sure I have embelished parts and forgotten others. That's what our minds do to distant memories. The one thing that stands out however, is that I can never remember this fellow killed by the train in church. I never remember one encouraging word to ever come out of his mouth. Never once did I ever remember him saying that God loved us wayward boys and wanted us to be with Him forever. Now I wonder if people see me like I saw him; mean, judgmental, and quick to condemn. I pray not. I want to encourage people more than I want to reprimand them. I have found over the years that God's Holy Spirit is better at convicting someone than I am. I want to be known for what I am for nad not just the things I am against. I want to be transparnt with people about my own struggles and not pretend to have it all under control. I still struggle and I have a feeling you do to. I want to begin to explore the benefit of being transparent Sunday. I hope you can be there Sunday when we begin to look at God's Word about being holy without being phoney.        

Chattanooga: Third Most Bible Friendly City in America

After a brief sabbatical I return to the radio this Sunday afternoon with my good friend, local TV and radio personality and church member David Karnes. We will be on the air at 1:00 on WGOW 102.3 FM. (The Talk Monster)

One of the topics will be whether Chattanooga being listed as the third most Bible friendly city in America is good or bad for local churches. According to the American Bible Society, we only trail behind Knoxville and Shreveport, LA. for the honor. I certainly have an opinion. I have found that most everyone in our fair city feels like they know what the Bible teaches. They use it to support their political, social, entertainment and spiritual views. Often, if you listen closely, their views are not Biblically based at all, but just a reiteration of the views of their favorite spiritual or political expert.

I am afraid that people don't know so much what the Bible says on a perticular view, but what someone they listen to says the Bible says about it. People like Oprah, Benny Hinn, Ellen or Deepac Chopra have more influence on people when they speak as do many pastors in our city. Even well meaning teachers of God's Word sometimes get off task.  We are so passionate about an issue that we begin to read into the Bible what we want it to say and declare, "Thus says the Lord." I have caught myself going down that path too may times.

I have come to the conclusion that God is able to speak to people through His Word. The same verse may convince a discouraged wife to give marriage another try while speaking to a sinner concerning their need for salvation. That is the amazing and unknowable work of the Holy Spirit when He is allowed to have freedom to minister through the Word. I am just blessed to be asked to handle such a treasure in God's kingdom. I hope you can tune in Sunday afternoon. We'll talk later!      

I Am Amazed

Until Tuesday morning it had been 22 years since I had held a new born with the same last name as mine. Andy had been the baby boy in our family until his nephew Graeme was born just three days ago. There are a lot of emotions that go with the birth of your first grandchild: relief, thankfulness, pride and excitement. Holding the tiny bundle of blanket, diaper and baby I felt the same amazement that I did with the birth of my own two boys when I held them for the first time.

I am amazed that the union of a man and woman can result in such a wonderful blessing. Sometimes planned and sometimes a surprise, the result is the same; a beautiful bundle of nervous and seemingly random movements. Tiny hands that grasp things with no name and noises that emanate from both ends suddenly and without warning.  

I am amazed how this little child brings people together. Not only do friends and family members wish you well and offer congratulations, but so do nurses, doctors, receptionists and cleaning ladies. The birth of a little child reveals the kinder and gentler side of humankind.

But I am most amazed at how people can look at this little 7 pound miracle and deny the existence of God. I counted toes and fingers. They are all there and in the same place as mine. How could this be? Was there some tiny craftsman who labored away at this masterpiece while still hidden from the world? Graeme's eyes and ears are there. Just like they were when I examined my own two boys years ago. He takes in milk from one end and...well you get my drift. This tiny human being already has everything he needs at birth. He will just get bigger and more informed, but he is already equipped to survive. Many argue that he is a result of millions of years of randomness, environment, and time. How foolish! A baby is a masterpiece; and a masterpiece, whether it is a flower, a fish or a sunset is the result of an artist. That artist has written His name over all of His creation if we are willing to see it.

Psalms 139:13-16 (NKJV)
13 For You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother's womb.
14 I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvelous are Your works, And that my soul knows very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from You, When I was made in secret, And skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written, The days fashioned for me, When as yet there were none of them.