Friday, October 31, 2008

We're Marching (Well, Flying) to Zion

News flash:  Exxon-Mobil set a record quarterly earnings figure last quarter -- while nearly  every other industry was down.  Trivia question:  Whose record did they break?  Answer at the end.

This will probably be my last blog for a couple of weeks.  We leave early Monday morning for Israel.  We fly into New York on Monday -- scheduled arrival is about 5 PM.  We leave from there for Tel Aviv at 11:50 -- flying all night.  We lose nearly a day -- arriving in Tel Aviv at about 5PM on Tuesday.  On Wednesday we begin our touring -- from Joppa to Caesarea to Mt. Carmel.  We stay in Tiberias for 2 nights (near the Sea of Galilee).  We will tour Capernaum, Nazareth and take a boat on the Sea of Galilee.

From there we travel along the Jordan River.  We will stay one night near the Dead Sea, and have an opportunity to swim there if we want.  We will view the Qumran community, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered.  From there, we will go to Jericho.

We spend 4 nights in Jerusalem -- taking a side trip to Bethlehem.  In Jerusalem, we will see SO many things.  David's tomb, the Wailing Wall, the Temple mound, the Jewish Holocaust museum, the traditional site of the Upper Room, the Via Del Rosa, the traditional site of the Garden tomb, the Mt. of Olives, Mt. Calvary, another tomb site -- and much more.

We leave on Wednesday night -- and arrive home on Thursday afternoon.

I have been asked to lead devotional thoughts on Mt. Carmel and at the Garden Tomb.

I CAN'T WAIT!  I never thought I would be able to take this trip.

Answer (This will shock you.  Sarcasm is dripping here):  Exxon-Mobil.       

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Marker Days and Halloween

It's hard to believe that my dad would have been 79 today.  He's been gone now for 13 years.  I can still hear his voice and see his mannerisms.  I wish I could talk to him again to try to find out the pain that was in him that led him to addiction.  And I would like to again hear him talk about his deliverance from it.

Yesterday marked 6 months since Beverly's dad passed away.  What a mark he left on his family!

I will be out of the office tomorrow.  So -- BOO!

Halloween has changed so much!  When I was a kid, we would set out at about 5:30 and hit neighborhoods steadily until about 8:30 or 9.  We had the old-fashioned paper grocery sacks.  I have no doubt mine would weigh at least 10 pounds by the end of the evening.  

Then I would go home and dump it all on my bed.  My older brother would come in and grab all the Bit-O-Honeys.  My favorites were popcorn balls and Almond Joys, followed by Butterfingers, Mr. Goodbars and Baby Ruths (I can't remember ever getting Heath bars, which are one of my very favorites).  As you can see, I wasn't too picky when it came to chocolate.

It was a dentist's dream.     

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

My Grandson the Priest

My daughter-in-law Kayci asked my grandson Truitt what he wanted to be for Halloween.  he said he wanted to be "Dad."  Well, she thought about that.  Dad is a preacher, but there is nothing in particular that stands out about that as far as his dress, etc.  So she decided on the next best thing -- and dressed him like a priest.  My guess is that he is extending his blessing in this picture.

What a cute kid!  I guess  you might say he is from a lineage of "priests" now.  

Have I told you -- I have 4 of them now!  Life is good.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Racism: Alive and Well

So two skin heads have made threats of assassinating Barak Obama.  I find it hard to believe that in 2008, racism is still alive and well.  So much for my naivety

I must say that I have sensed racism in the unjustified anger some people feel toward Obama.  I TOTALLY understand people opposing his political positions.  But Christians, let me ask again:  Why the hatred for the man?  Some of us need to ask ourselves if it is racially motivated.  And if it is, we need to get down on our knees and ask God to forgive us.

Am I passionate about this?  YES!  I grew up in racially-segregated Mississippi.  I have seen the ugliness of judging a person simply based on the color of his/her skin.  I have heard the cruel and ungodly jokes told and broad generalizations made.  I wish I could say that what I witnessed was outside of church.  But it was as common in church as out.  Even as we claimed to be "the right church."  How "right" is that?
The truth of the matter is:  I don't see a HINT of Jesus in it.  And being Jesus to the world is the clearest evidence of being "the right church."     

Monday, October 27, 2008

Monday Morning Quarterbacking

OK, let's talk a little football this morning.

ACU is now ranked #2 in NCAA II.  They beat Tarleton State, who was also ranked, on Saturday at their homecoming 37-17.  They have three players that are projected to make it to the NFL.  They have a running back that must be incredible!  I really did not think I would ever see ACU return to prominence in football again.

Can you think of a college team that has played a tougher stretch of games than the Texas Longhorns?  Three weeks ago, they beat then-#1 Oklahoma.  The next week, they stomped 4th-ranked Missouri.  Last week, they hung on to beat #7 Oklahoma State.  And this week, they have #7 Texas Tech.

Speaking of that, my opinion of Mack Brown has really changed.  When he 1st came to Texas, he had the reputation of not being able to win the big game.  But did you know that his record speaks differently?  Against top 10 teams, he is something like 26-5!  And Bob Stoops, who was early-on hailed as the guy who could win the big ones?  Well, again -- the record speaks for itself.

Best coach in the country?  I don't know.  But I bet Texas is glad to have him.  They have increased the size of their stadium, and could probably fill it if they doubled the capacity.  

I heard some "experts" talking the other night about who they think the best coach in college football is.  While they put Brown up close to the top, they said they think Mike Leach of Texas Tech and Tom(?) Mangino of Kansas are the best.  Their reason:  Because of their remote locations, they only get category 2 and 3 recruits, and yet have winning programs year after year. 

For most of my life, I watched every play of every Cowboy game.  I have seen two games this year.  Yesterday I went home after lunch to watch the game.  I was asleep in a few minutes.  Talk about boring!

So Wade and Jerry are celebrating like they won a playoff game.  Wade even got the game ball (why?)  Suddenly the wiz kid Jason Garrett doesn't look so great.  I know, Romo is out.  But they weren't lighting it up his last couple of games.  Their best offense yesterday was the Bucs defensive penalties.  Without the four in one drive before the half, the Cowboys are hung with another loss.

I still say this team is WAY overhyped.  13 Pro Bowlers?  Right.  Give me Whitten and Ware.

In response to Donny, who replied on Friday's blog:  I thought Tina Fey was hilarious!  I was cracking up.  Will Farrell's George Bush was funny, but not nearly as funny as Fey.     

Friday, October 24, 2008

You Missed It!

I had written a blog for the ages (yeah, right).  Great insights about the Stock Market (sure!), Tina Fey impersonating Sarah Palin, and the joke of a team called the Cowboys.  But for some reason, my post failed.  So, have a good weekend. 

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Message of the Prophets

I have been focused for most of three days in a study of the minor prophets.  Some of them, particularly Amos, spoke words that would be every bit as relevant today if they were spoken on the steps of Wall Street or in the halls of Congress.

Several messages seem to run like a thread throughout the prophets -- even as they spoke to different audiences about differing issues.  One theme is this:  God desires mercy -- not sacrifice.  Our obsession with what we do for one or two hours a week "in church" flies in the face of God's priority -- which is how do you treat people

Another theme is justice.  This is similar to the idea of mercy.  God wants us thinking communally.  What is best for the whole -- not just what is best for me and mine.  That's something to consider at election time.

Another theme is that God wants humble people.  As James wrote:  "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble."  This was played out in God's dealing with nations in the days of the prophets.

Maybe it boils down to this:  God wants people who reflect His heart.  He wants us to love people the way He loves people.  So there it is.  Summed up by Micah (6:8):  "He has shown you, O man, what is good.  And what does the Lord require of you?  To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God."  

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Israel Trip

I haven't even been to Israel yet, but I already find myself thinking about actually being in those places I read and study about.  I can't wait!

I have been asked by John Scott, our tour host, to present devotional thoughts on Mt. Carmel and at the Garden tomb.  I've just finished a study on Sunday nights about Elijah, so Mt. Carmel has been on my mind a lot.  And the Garden tomb?  Wow!  What other person's tomb in the world do people visit where they walk into its emptiness?


Friday, October 17, 2008

Football Trivia

Last night, TCU put it on #9 BYU (yeah!).  I find it interesting how a person develops likes and dislikes for different teams.  For most of my life, I have rooted against Notre Dame and BYU -- no matter who they were playing.  I'm glad to see TCU doing so well.

And my alma mater, ACU, is tearing it up!  It has been a long, dry spell for ACU football.  They have their "game of the year" this Saturday.  Go Wildcats! 

Also, here is hoping that UT puts the whoop on Missouri.  Another thing I root against:  Anything Southlake:)  Chase Daniels is a product of that money machine. 

And how about those Church of Christ boys playing quarterback for big-12 schools?  Colt McCoy for Texas, is currently the leading Heisman candidate.  And don't forget Texas Tech's Graham Harrell.  

While we are on the subject of football, has anybody seen "The Express"?  Beverly and I are thinking about going to see it.  

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Presidential Debates

I kind of doubt that the presidential debates have changed many people's minds, much as most religious debates through the years.  I have watched all three of the presidential debates, plus the vice presidential debate.  I find myself hearing one of the candidates begin to say something on a subject -- hoping they will offer a solution.  But they always seem to stop short.

I grew up in a home that dripped with sarcasm.  And I lived much of my adult life falling back on it myself when I was losing an argument.  I have come to see it (for the most part) as a negative way to deal with conflict.  When I find myself reverting to it, afterwards I don't feel clean.  I realize that even the apostle Paul used it at times, but I have tried to break that in my life.

So as much as I would like McCain to be able to verbalize his message, I have to say his sarcasm and eyerolling (a sign of contempt) probably lost him votes in the debates -- especially last night.  The split screen did him no favors.  Maybe that is just my opinion, but early morning polls seem to support that. 

I would like to know more about Obama's relationship with his former pastor and the former terrorist.  His explanations sound fairly reasonable, but I would like to hear it verified by legitimate to confirm what he is saying.  But please:  Don't send me stuff from radical groups.  They only cloud the picture.  If it can't be verified legitimately, then it is gossip and slander.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Quality or Quantity?

It's been a while since I shared any Tozer with you.  This man spoke so prophetically.  As you read the following, remember he wrote this nearly 50 years ago.  Yet it may be more true now than it was then:

But as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, even so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who tests our hearts. For neither at any time did we use flattering words, as you know, nor a cloak for covetousness-God is witness. --1 Thessalonians 2:4-5

Time may show that one of the greatest weaknesses in our modern civilization has been the acceptance of quantity rather than quality as the goal after which to strive....

Christianity is resting under the blight of degraded values. And it all stems from a too-eager desire to impress, to gain fleeting attention, to appear well in comparison with some world-beater who happens for the time to have the ear or the eye of the public.

This is so foreign to the Scriptures that we wonder how Bible-loving Christians can be deceived by it. The Word of God ignores size and quantity and lays all its stress upon quality. Christ, more than any other man, was followed by the crowds, yet after giving them such help as they were able to receive, He quietly turned from them and deposited His enduring truths in the breasts of His chosen 12....

Pastors and churches in our hectic times are harassed by the temptation to seek size at any cost and to secure by inflation what they cannot gain by legitimate growth. The mixed multitude cries for quantity and will not forgive a minister who insists upon solid values and permanence. Many a man of God is being subjected to cruel pressure by the ill-taught members of his flock who scorn his slow methods and demand quick results and a popular following regardless of quality. The Next Chapter After the Last, 7-8.

While I, too, would love to see great numerical growth in the church I serve, I really hope my legacy will be more about growing and maturing disciples.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Fair Ratings

Yesterday at the Fair was nice.  The weather was pleasant -- and the company ideal.  The crowds were not to my preference, but we got through that.

I tried several foods.  I may have managed to stay within my calorie limit from yesterday's blog. 

So this year's "specialties" are ranked as follows:
Fried cheesecake:  I could have eaten a bucketful.  Crispy on the outside, but moist on the inside.  Delicious.  

Grade:  A+

Chicken-fried bacon:  This has gotten all the attention this year.  Extremely salty.  After a couple of bites, I was craving something to drink.  The 1st strip was OK.  I was ready to stop at that point.  While it was good, it did not live up to its billing.

Grade:  B

Fried avocado chunks:  Just plain nasty.  I took one bite, and it left an aftertaste that I had to find something else to cover it.  Beverly seemed to like it all right.  Jenny and I both had looks on our faces like we had bitten into a green persimmon.

Grade:  F

Edward Fudge had some frank insights into the current financial crisis.  They are words that may be unsettling for some, but are important for us as we keep our Kingdom perspective:

In the midst of such circumstances, believers do well to remember that God has no special deal with America, and America has no guarantees from God. However, actions do have consequences, and societies cannot plant one crop and harvest another. Whether God still chastens nations directly or simply allows their own moral corruption to take its course, the effect is the same. Godly people often suffer and die alongside the scoffers and scoundrels. Faith does not mean that God will always protect us from evil now. It does enable us to trust him, whatever may come, in the confidence that he will have the final, victorious, eternal word.

Monday, October 13, 2008

What a Missions Sunday!

I am SO proud of our church! The missions' committee had set a goal of $30,000 for our Mission Sunday. This would be used in addition to the $50,000 that is in our budget for missions. I have to admit: I was thinking with the recent financial crisis that we might not meet our goal. But these faithful people proved me wrong. Not only did they meet the goal -- they far exceeded it! $54,000! When it was announced, I began to cry. Talk about priorities and sacrifice! God be praised!

Today I am doing what I said I would not do. I am going to the State Fair on a holiday when most of the Dallas area schools are out. Why, you ask? Because my three local girls want me to go. It's hard enough to tell your wife "No." But try telling your daughter -- AND GRANDDAUGHTER.

So I will spend some time in prayer for patience -- and go have a good time. My calorie limit for today is 15,000.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Friday Rant

I confess: I am not an economic expert.  Not nearly in the same league as the "experts" who have put the world in the worst financial crisis of many of our lifetimes.  But I must say, if I hear the word "correction" one more time, I'm going to scream.  

I'm wondering, too, about the $700 billion Wall Street bailout.  Wasn't that supposed to help stabilize the markets?  I would hate to think where they would be if they hadn't been "stabilized"! (that is a sarcastic comment, in case you didn't already know).  

And here is another question:  If the markets are going to tank anyway, can't we renege on making tax payers bail out these greedy folks?  Further, I may be showing cold-heartedness here, but I also find it hard to be overly sympathetic about people who bought more house than they could afford with an ARM -- and now get to refinance at taxpayer expense. 

There.  I feel better now.

God is still on His throne.  And this crisis, too, shall pass.  I spent time today in prayer for the poor, who are the forgotten ones in this kind of situation.  Also, I ask you to join me in praying for W.A.R.M (Wise Area Relief Mission).   We want to be able to continue to provide food for those who are in need.  But right now, getting food is difficult.  The food banks are running extremely low.  This week, we had to purchase food at retail from Wal-Mart.  This REALLY stretches our already-limited budget.  So please pray for us.  God has always been faithful to our ministry.  

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Theology According to T. O.

I haven't written about T. O. for a long time.  I think it is because I have come to feel sorry for him (a little).  No matter what he says, it gets twisted by the media in a way to make him look bad.

But I want to write about Sunday's game.  I didn't see it live.  I have seen the replays of him crying on the bench.  The media was all over him for that -- saying that he was crying because he only had a couple of balls thrown his way.

Well I was on my way back from a funeral in Garland yesterday, and just happened to hear him on "The Michael Irvin Show."  He said that he was crying because his mother had called him the night before to tell him about a relative who had died.  So he had called his pastor -- who told him that he believed God was going to give him the opportunity on Sunday to bring Him glory. He felt that the touchdown he had scored was from God.  Thus the crying.

That's sweet.  It does at least give a different twist than the media had put on it.  But that got me to thinking about T. O.'s claim.  As I heard Dale Hansen say, if God made the play so that T. O. could catch the pass, doesn't that mean that God had to make the defensive back fail?  When a guy hits a homerun and steps on homeplate and immediately thumps his chest and points to heaven, doesn't that mean that God had to make the pitcher throw a fat one up?

I totally agree that God has given certain people athletic abilities with which they can bring Him glory.  But does it break down to individual plays like that?  If so, who are God's favorite teams?  (I know it was once the Cowboys, but He HAD to have changed teams when Jerry Jones fired His favorite coach, Tom Landry).

I truly think theology like this has only sold in America -- where we are so self-absorbed that we think God is interested in our personal successes more than he is in the Kingdom being advanced.  It will be interesting to see how well this "God wants you to be rich, successful, happy and a winner" is going to weather the economic downturn.  Joel Olsteen is going to have a rough time explaining where God went to many of his flock when they have lost 30% of their investment portfolios.  I KNOW such a distorted gospel doesn't sell today in 3rd world countries.  Or in China or Russia or Islamic nations  -- where Christians are persecuted.          

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

A Month From Now

One month from today, America will have a new president-elect. I know he wouldn't admit it, but I bet George W. is counting down the days.

Also, one month from today (Lord willing), Beverly and I will be in Israel. We leave on Monday, November 3rd. And I will admit it: I am counting down the days.

Crude oil prices are now down below $90 a barrel again. I believe that is probably what the true market value is right now. Last time it was running at that amount, the price at the pump was below $3 a gallon. But we consumers are so gullible, we are just thankful it's not $4 anymore. Let's see what kind of obscene record profit the oil companies post this next quarter.

Monday, October 06, 2008

The Call of Preaching

I came across this article by John MacArthur this morning. I think he comes across a bit harshly on a couple of points. But overall, I think he says some things that today's preachers need to consider. So I have left the article uncut. What do you think?:

I have never aspired to be known as a theologian, a polemicist, or an academician. My passion is teaching and preaching the Word of God.

Even though I've dealt with theological questions and doctrinal controversies in some of my books, I have never done so from the perspective of a systematic theologian. It is of little concern to me whether some point of doctrine fits with this tradition or that. I want to know what is biblical. All my concerns are biblical, and my desire is to be biblical in all my teaching.

Preach the Word
That is how I have approached ministry from the beginning. My father was a pastor, and when I first told him years ago that I felt God had called me to a life of ministry, he gave me a Bible in which he had inscribed these words of encouragement: "Preach the Word!" That simple statement became the compelling stimulus in my heart. It is all I have endeavored to do in my ministry--preach the Word.

Pastors today face a tremendous amount of pressure to do everything but preach the Word. Church growth experts tell them they must address people's "felt needs." They are encouraged to be storytellers, comedians, psychologists, and motivational speakers. They are warned to steer clear of topics that people find unpleasant. Many have given up biblical preaching in favor of devotional homilies designed to make people feel good. Some have even replaced preaching with drama and other forms of staged entertainment.

But the pastor whose passion is biblical has only one option: "Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction" (2 Timothy 4:2).

When Paul wrote those words to Timothy, he added this prophetic warning: "For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth" (vv. 3-4).

Clearly there was no room in Paul's philosophy of ministry for the give-people-what-they-want theory that is so prevalent today. He did not urge Timothy to conduct a survey to find out what his people wanted. He commanded him to preach the Word--faithfully, reprovingly, and patiently.

In fact, far from urging Timothy to devise a ministry that would garner accolades from the world, Paul warned the young pastor about suffering and hardship! Paul was not telling Timothy how to be "successful"; he was encouraging him to follow the divine standard. He was not advising him to pursue prosperity, power, prominence, popularity, or any of the otherworldly notions of success. He was urging the young pastor to be biblical--regardless of the consequences.

Preaching the Word is not always easy. The message we are required to proclaim is often offensive. Christ Himself is a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense (Romans 9:33; 1 Peter 2:8). The message of the cross is a stumbling block to some (1 Corinthians 1:23; Galatians 5:11), mere foolishness to others (1 Corinthians 1:23).

But we are never permitted to trim the message or tailor it to people's preferences. Paul made this clear to Timothy at the end of 2 Timothy 3: "All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness" (v. 16, emphasis added). This is the Word to be preached: the whole counsel of God (cf. Acts 20:27).

In Chapter 1, Paul had told Timothy, "Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me" (v. 13). He was speaking of the revealed words of Scripture--all of it. He urged Timothy to "Guard . . . the treasure which has been entrusted to you" (v. 14). Then in Chapter 2, he told him to study the Word and handle it accurately (2:15). Now he is telling him to proclaim it. So the entire task of the faithful minister revolves around the Word of God--guarding it, studying it, and proclaiming it.

In Colossians 1 the apostle Paul, describing his own ministry philosophy, writes, "Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God" (v. 25). In 1 Corinthians he goes a step further: "When I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified" (2:2). In other words, his goal as a preacher was not to entertain people with his rhetorical style, or to amuse them with cleverness, humor, novel insights, or sophisticated methodology--he simply preached Christ crucified.

Faithfully preaching and teaching the Word must be the very heart of our ministry philosophy. Any other approach replaces the voice of God with human wisdom. Philosophy, politics, humor, psychology, homespun advice, and human opinion can never accomplish what the Word of God does. Those things may be interesting, informative, and entertaining, but they are not the business of the church. The preacher's task is not to be a conduit for human wisdom; he is God's voice to speak to the congregation. No human message comes with the stamp of divine authority--only the Word of God. How dare any preacher substitute another message?

I frankly do not understand preachers who are willing to abdicate this solemn privilege. Why should we proclaim the wisdom of men when we have the privilege of preaching the Word of God?

Be Faithful In and Out of Season
Ours is a never-ending task. Not only are we to preach the Word, we must do it regardless of the climate of opinion around us. We are commanded to be faithful when such preaching is tolerated--but also when it is not.

Let's face it--right now preaching the Word is out of season. The market-driven philosophy currently in vogue says that plainly declaring biblical truth is outmoded. Biblical exposition and theology are seen as antiquated and irrelevant. "Churchgoers don't want to be preached to anymore," this philosophy says. "The baby-boomer generation won't just sit in the pew while someone up front preaches. They are products of a media-driven generation, and they need a church experience that will satisfy them on their own terms."

But Paul says the excellent minister must be faithful to preach the Word even when it is not in fashion. The expression he uses is "be ready." The Greek term (ephistemi) literally means "to stand beside." It has the idea of eagerness. It was often used to describe a military guard, always at his post, prepared for duty. Paul was speaking of an explosive eagerness to preach, like that of Jeremiah, who said that the Word of God was a fire in his bones (Jeremiah 20:9). That's what he was demanding of Timothy. Not reluctance but readiness. Not hesitation but fearlessness. Not motivational talks but the Word of God.

Reprove, Rebuke, and Exhort
Paul also gives Timothy instructions about the tone of his preaching. He uses two words that carry negative connotations and one that is positive: reprove, rebuke, and exhort. All valid ministry must have a balance of positive and negative. The preacher who fails to reprove and rebuke is not fulfilling his commission.

Years ago I listened to a radio interview with a preacher known for his emphasis on positive thinking. This man had stated in print that he assiduously avoids any mention of sin in his preaching because he feels people are burdened with too much guilt anyway. The interviewer asked how he could justify such a policy. The pastor replied that he had made the decision early in his ministry to focus on meeting people's needs, not attacking their sin.

But people's deepest need is to confess and overcome their sin. So preaching that fails to confront and correct sin through the Word of God does not meet people's need. It may make them feel good. And they may respond enthusiastically to the preacher, but that is not the same as having real needs met.

Reproving, rebuking, and exhorting are the same as preaching the Word, for those are the very same ministries Scripture accomplishes: "All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness" (2 Timothy 3:16). Notice the same balance of positive and negative tone. Reproof and correction are negative; teaching and training are positive.

The positive tone is crucial, too. The word "exhort" is parakaleo, a word that means "encourage." The excellent preacher confronts sin and then encourages repentant sinners to behave righteously. He is to do this "with great patience and instruction" (4:2). In 1 Thessalonians 2:11, Paul talks about "exhorting and encouraging and imploring . . . as a father would his own children." This often requires great patience and much instruction. But the excellent minister cannot neglect these aspects of his calling.

Don't Compromise in Difficult Times
There is an urgency in Paul's charge to young Timothy: "For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires" (2 Tim. 4:3). That is a prophecy reminiscent of those found in 2 Timothy 3:1 ("Realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come"), and 1 Timothy 4:1 ("The Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith"). This, then, is Paul's third prophetic warning to Timothy about the difficult times that were to come.

Note the progression: the first warning said that the time would come when people will depart from the faith. The second one warned Timothy that dangerous times were coming for the church. Now the third one suggests that the time would come when those in the church would not endure sound doctrine, but desire instead to have their ears tickled.

That is happening in the church today. Evangelicalism has lost its tolerance for confrontive preaching. Churches ignore the biblical teaching on women's roles, homosexuality, and other politically charged issues. The human medium has overtaken the divine message. That's evidence of serious doctrinal compromise. If the church does not repent, those errors and others like them will become epidemic.

Note that Paul does not suggest that the way to reach such a society is to soften the message so that its people will be comfortable with it. Just the opposite is true. Such ear-tickling is abominable. Paul urges Timothy to be willing to suffer for the truth's sake, and keep preaching the Word faithfully.

An appetite for ear-tickling preaching has a terrible end. Second Timothy 4:4 says these people will ultimately "turn away their ears from the truth and will be turned aside to myths." They become the victims of their own refusal to hear the truth. "They will turn away" is in the active voice. The people willfully choose this action. "Will be turned aside to myths" is in the passive voice. It describes what happens to them. Having turned from the truth, they become victims of deception. As soon as they turn away from the truth, they become pawns of Satan.

The truth of God does not tickle our ears, it boxes them. It burns them. It reproves, rebukes, convicts--then it exhorts and encourages. Preachers of the Word must be careful to maintain that balance.

There have always been men in the pulpit who gathered crowds because they were gifted orators, interesting storytellers, entertaining speakers, dynamic personalities, shrewd crowd-manipulators, rousing speech-makers, popular politicians, or erudite scholars. Such preaching may be popular, but it is not necessarily powerful. No one can preach with power who does not preach the Word. And no faithful preacher will water down or neglect the whole counsel of God. Proclaiming the Word--all of it--is the pastor's calling.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Marriage Research

Interesting marriage research results from the UK as reported by John Bingham:

Couples who described themselves as 'happy' recommended regular romantic gestures and time spent without the children. 

A poll of 4,000 couples found that spending at least 22 periods of "quality time" together every month, such as going for a walk or sharing a romantic meal, were also key to maintaining a healthy relationship.

Researchers asked couples who described themselves as "happy" or "very happy" to estimate how much time they spend together in an effort to work out the secret of their success.

Analysis of their responses suggested that couples looking for happiness should aim to spend at least seven evenings in together every month with two proper dinner dates.

Other important elements included two romantic walks a month and at least one visit to a pub or cinema without the children or other friends.

Educational Psychologist Dr Ludwig F.Lowenstein said: "Affection, cuddles and romantic gestures are part of a whole romantic scene which is desired by those entering a relationship.

"They are the safe gestures which say 'I like you, I am glad to be with you, I like and appreciate your support and care.'

"In this busy world we often take our partners for granted whilst we get on with our daily struggles of work and rearing a family.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Looking for Weeds but Missing the Flowers

A story from Yancey's book, Prayer, has stayed in my mind.  I don't know if I will use it in my prayer series, but wanted to share it with you.

When I moved to Colorado I soon learned about noxious weeds.  Unwelcome species such as dandelion, oxeye daisy, Russian thistle, and toadflax are spreading like botanical viruses in my part of the state, threatening the survival of native species.  Wanting to be a good citizen, I bought a hardy weed-puller and began a routine I have kept up through each spring and summer.  I take an afternoon walk on the hill behind my home in search of the noxious invaders.  As it happens, that walk presents an ideal opportunity for prayer.  For a few minutes in the middle of the day I am alone in the beauty of nature, and away from the distractions of my home office.

One day when my wife accompanied me I had an epiphany about my weed walks and also my prayers.  Her keen eyes helped in the process of spotting weeds, yes, but more importantly she changed the entire nature of the walk by pointing out more than twenty species of wildflowers.  I had been so intent on finding the weeds that my eyes had skipped right past the wildflowers adorning the hills -- the very flowers my weed-pulling endeavored to protect!

It occurred to me that I do something similar in my prayer practice.  I tend to bring a tangled mess of problems to God, not unlike the snarl of weeds I carry home in my collection bag, while overlooking opportunities for praise and thanksgiving.  My prayers are essentially selfish, an effort to employ God to help me accomplish my ends.  I look on God as a problem-solver (a weed-puller) while overlooking the striking evidence of God's work all around me.  And when nothing much seems to happen, I grow impatient.

Thanks for the great illustration, Philip.  I do not want to be the type person that is so focused on the weeds that I overlook "the striking evidence of God's work all around me."    

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Wednesday Night Church

THIS is my weather!  What an invigorating morning!  I will enjoy all two or three weeks of it (in Texas we call that Fall) and then the two or three weeks we have in March (we call that Spring).  Just kidding.  But it is SO nice after 4 months of 95+.

I can't wait for church tonight.  I LOVE our men's class.  And I hear such good things about Beverly's ladies' class, too.  There is just something special about getting together with the people I love on Wednesday nights.

I think it is because I am a person of habit.  On Wednesdays, Beverly and I go out to eat together before church, and then we treat ourselves to a Brahm's yogurt after church.  And sandwiched in between is great fellowship!  THAT makes for a good evening.