Friday, December 28, 2012

A Child-like Wonder Before God

                With 2 sons that are now 4 and 1 years old, Christmas has become even more fun the past few years.  Arinne and I were both battling a touch of the flu this year, but Christmas morning was still the most fun I can remember having in a long time, and it was a family memory that Arinne and I already treasure.  On opening each gift, we got to watch the boys give an expression of pure joy, followed by 10 minutes or so of playing, before we had to remind them that there were still more gifts to open!   It took so long that we even had to pause and eat breakfast (cinnamon rolls from Sherry Hulen – thanks Sherry!) before finishing the gift opening.  But we were in no hurry; the boys were great, and seeing them have such fun was simply an absolute joy.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

A Lesson in Searching for Hope

            It’s been a tough week for the whole country, it seems.  The elementary school shooting in Connecticut, with so many young lives taken senselessly, brings all sorts of emotions to the surface.  And it brings questions as well.  The moments right after tragedy, however, never seem like the appropriate time to respond to the skeptics who seem to think that every calamity is another argument against God’s existence.  That discussion should be reserved for another time, one that won’t distract from the deep hurt being experienced by the families involved.  But these moments after tragedy do seem like an appropriate time to ask questions about faith’s response to devastating situations like this one.

            One of the places where I believe we see faith’s response to tragedy is the end of the book of 2 Kings.  It’s a strange ending, but it’s one I’ve come to believe shows us an important characteristic of life lived with God.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Ten-Year Anniversary Reflections

                Today is December 13th, a day which means a lot to Arinne and I.  Which is funny to think about, because for almost 25 years of my life December 13th only meant that we were getting close to Christmas.  But in 2002, December 13th took on a new meaning, because that’s the day Arinne and I were married, on a Friday night in Benton, KY, with snow falling outside the Walnut Grove Church of Christ building.

Which makes today our 10-year anniversary! 

We hope to celebrate a bit – probably something simple like going to a nicer-than-usual restaurant and then hanging out at Barnes and Noble while someone watches the boys for us.  And we always like to spend some time reflecting on our lives and marriage, which seems like a good anniversary-type thing to do.  So I’d like to use this week’s blog thoughts to get a head start on reflecting.  I’ll save the more personal  reflecting for tonight’s conversations (where we’ve lived, our favorite times, what our hopes and dreams are, etc).  But as Christians, we hopefully grow to view everything through the lens of faith and God, so I’d like to reflect a bit on what my 10-year anniversary reminds me from a faith perspective. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

My friend Serge Shoemaker asked me to write an article of "The Purpose of Prayer," for a publication they send out to their community in Dyersburg, TN.   (And he was gracious enough to let me turn it in a week later than we planned, since i was finishing up my paper for school last week!)  It helped me reflect on some things and clarify them in my own mind, so for this week's blog post, i thought i would share the article, and hope it's encouraging to our prayer lives...

The Transformative Power of Prayer

            God wants His people to be people of prayer.  Christians are to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17).  We should “in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Phil. 4:6).  Jesus taught His disciples how to pray (Luke 11:1-4), taught them to be persistent in prayer (Luke 18:1-8), and even showed in His own life an example of constant prayer (Luke 5:16).  God wants prayer to be a significant part of our lives!
But we sometimes ask a deeper question: WHY does God want us to pray?
Doesn’t God already know what I need and what the best plan is?  Yes He does, and yes He does.  The God who created all things knows all things, and “even before there is a word on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it all” (Psalm 139:4).  Even Jesus admitted, when talking about prayer, that “your Father knows what you need before you ask Him” (Matt. 6:8).  Yet Jesus did not say this as a discouragement to prayer, but rather as an encouragement to pray with the right motives and goals (to be pleasing to God, not to be heard by men).  So, if God already knows what we need, and yet God still wants us to pray, WHY does He want us to pray?   

Friday, November 30, 2012

Making The Contribution a Time of True Worship

"But who am I and who are my people that we should be able to offer as generously as this? 
For all things come from You, and from Your hand we have given you." 
-David, after the collection to build the temple, in 1 Chronicles 29:14

            I confess that the contribution part of the worship service hasn’t always been a time of meaningful worship for me.  More often than not, I subconsciously feel like it is a breather time that follows the Lord’s Supper before we get back to singing.  In fact, we often make an explicit statement to remind people that the contribution of giving is separate from the Lord’s Supper, which might have the unintended side effect of making us think that the “reflection” time is over, and that thus that there is nothing meaningful to think about during the time of giving to God.  But that certainly wasn't the case with David in the above verse, who takes the time of giving as a time of prayer and meaningful worship.  In fact, 1 Chronicles 29:9 says "they made their offering to the Lord with a whole heart."  I'm ashamed to say my whole heart isn't always there when I'm putting my check in the collection plate.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Sin of a Lazy Search to Know God?

I’m writing a paper for a graduate course on Alexander Campbell’s view of those who were religious people, trying to be Christians, but had not been baptized biblically. (I need to write about that paper more on this blog sometime – it’s really interesting to me where he stood on it.  Maybe in a couple weeks after I finish the paper.)  But in doing the research, I stumbled on a teaching of Campbell’s that jumped out at me:

“Many a good man has been mistaken.  Mistakes are to be regarded as culpable and as declarative of a corrupt heart only when they proceed from a willful neglect of the means of knowing what is commanded.  Ignorance is always a crime when it is voluntary; and innocent when it is involuntary.”* 

In the next paragraph, he adds: “True, indeed, that it is always a misfortune to be ignorant of any thing in the Bible, and very generally it is criminal.”

I have italicized the parts that jumped out at me.  Mistakes happen, he says.  But sometimes ignorance of God’s truth can be… a crime!  Not knowing God’s truth as “criminal?”  It seems that I remember hearing a similar thought from Walter Scott, another Restoration Movement preacher who preached alongside Alexander Campbell.  They both assumed that every person has an obligation to diligently search God’s word for truth, and that it was a sin to not put forth that effort.

Friday, November 9, 2012

How Much Should The Church Be Involved in Politics?

                I guess the whole premise behind writing a blog entitled “Seeking” is that I don’t claim to have all the answers.  And here on the week of the national elections, political involvement is one topic where I’ve never sat down to clarify in my mind where we should stand.  I have some broad ideas, but the details are where it gets tough.  So while this could be dangerous, I’m going to use this week’s post to “think out loud” on this issue biblically, and try to draw some personal conclusions on the fly.  So this will be fun.  I hope.  ;)  For all I know, I could change my mind tonight, but here goes… 

First of all, what’s the issue?  As you probably know, there are all sorts of views on how engaged the church should be with the political world.  I understand David Lipscomb believed that Christians should have nothing whatsoever to do with the “kingdoms of the world,” including not even voting.  While most of us wouldn’t agree with that perspective, I know at Great Oaks we have some who believe we should be more involved in political discussions as a church body, and some who wish we would say even less about political and national issues than we do. 

But here’s the question I’m asking myself: what if Jesus was the preacher at Great Oaks?   Would he encourage more or less political involvement?  Would He be telling us to write our senators or organizing petitions to send to our leaders on moral issues?  Would His sermons include denouncing political leaders or judges for failing to honor God?  Or would He think that we have bigger goals, focusing more on extending the gospel in the community?  Would He focus on teaching the truth on moral issues to the people rather than trying to enforce them through law?  Wow, tough questions. 

So let me brainstorm biblically about God’s people and political involvement, and then try to draw some broad conclusions…

·         Clearly it’s OK for God’s people to be involved in government and politics as individuals.  Joseph, Nehemiah, and Daniel are 3 easy examples of faithful men who were high up in government positions.  (And in nations that were not God-honoring nations: Egypt, Babylon, Persia.)

·         Cornelius served as a centurion, a prominent leader in the Roman army (Acts 10:1).

·         Mordecai and Esther give an example of God’s people asking for laws that would protect the people of God, who were being threatened (Esther 8-9).  The Jews prayed for their success at every step.

·         Nehemiah asking King Artaxerxes to give him the resources to build the Jerusalem walls show God’s people requesting and using the resources of the government to help fulfill God’s desires for His people (Neh. 1-2).

·         The prophets often preach against rulers showing a lack of justice toward those who were poor or powerless (for example, Jer. 22:2-3, Ezek. 45:8).  Zephaniah 3:3 denounces princes and judges who use their positions to indulge themselves and take from others. 

·         John the Baptist publicly denounced Herod, the Roman tetrarch over the regions of Galilee and Perea, for being in a marriage God did not approve of (Matt. 14:3-5).  He was eventually killed for speaking out.

·         Paul demanded his legal rights in defending himself from his accusers, pointing out his Roman citizenship to limit his punishment (Acts 16:35-39 and Acts 22:25-29) and also appealing to Caesar to be ensured a fair trial (Acts 25:9-12).

·         Jesus shows us virtually no political involvement, outside of saying that we should honor the leaders and pay taxes (“give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s,” Matthew 22:21).  This shows that it is possible to fulfill appropriate responsibilities to government without encroaching on the honor our lives should give to God.

·         Surely Jesus’ teaching that we should “seek first” the kingdom of God (Matt. 6:33), which kingdom is “not of this world” (John 18:36) factors in this discussion somewhere.

·         But of course, we must not obey government if it conflicts with the word of God.  (Acts 5:29, “We must obey God rather than men.”  Peter said this after the ruling body of the Jews demanded that they stop preaching Jesus.)

·         Perhaps it is significant that Jesus was not born into a noble family where He would be an earthly king, which God certainly could have chosen if He thought that was the best way to change the world.  And Jesus avoided letting men make Him a king when they tried to (John 6:15).

·         Romans 13:1-9 presents God’s vision for what He wants governments to be: authorities that have the power to punish evil and uphold good, serving as a “minister of God” in that role.

·         1 Peter 2:13-17 teaches, among other things, that we should submit to governing authority and show the world by our lives the ignorance of those who accuse Christians of wrongdoing.

·         1 Timothy 2:1-4 says Christians should pray– including prayers of thanksgiving – for “kings and all who are in authority,” so Christians can have the freedom to live godly lives and help other people come to know God and be saved.

Well, that’s a lot of information to lay on the table and try to pull together some conclusions!  Many good people have honest disagreements over the limits of each of these thoughts, but here’s some broad-brush thoughts I get out of these biblical examples…

1)      First, the easy stuff: we should pray for our leaders, give them appropriate honor, but remember that we have a higher kingdom that we are part of (Phil. 3:20).  Our highest loyalty must always be to God.

2)      Another one that seems pretty easy to affirm: it’s definitely OK for individuals to be politically involved, as many of God’s people have done before.  If you want to campaign and vote and lobby politicians, go for it.  But if you want to pursue political stuff, make sure that doesn’t distract you from pursuing more important things like your personal growth in faith, teaching others the gospel, Christian service, etc. 

3)      Since the kingdom of God is my higher calling, I sure don’t need to confuse being a “good Christian” with being a “good American.”  In worship especially, we need to make sure that our prayers, songs, and thoughts are directed to God’s goals and not just the goals of our country.  A July 4th “Let’s go, America, be a great country!” doesn’t seem like an appropriate worship theme (depending on your definition of "great").  But a July 4th emphasis on praying that God would bless us and help us be a nation of people who pursue Him and do good for Him is certainly an appropriate theme.  Does that distinction make sense?

4)      A little more challenging: as a preacher, perhaps I shouldn’t ignore pointing out political injustice and moral deficiency in leaders and judges, as the prophets and John the Baptist did.  God certainly shows His displeasure with those things, butI might be tempted to ignore them, lest someone think I’m meddling in politics.  Sometimes our country has done and will do things that are wrong in God’s sight.  I don’t need to ignore those missteps for fear of seeming unpatriotic.  God’s people need to see that God’s judgment is the most important measure, and that earthly powers are still subject to Him.  (This could include criticizing things like allowing abortion, but could also include criticizing using military force inappropriately or having policies that hurt the poor.)

5)      The main goal of prayer and government petition by people in the Bible is requesting government to allow God’s people to do what God wants them to do: return to the Jewish homeland and rebuild in the Old Testament, prayer for peace to practice faith and teach others in the New Testament.  It was God’s people asking for permission to live out their faith.  (For example, if our freedom of religion or speech were ever hindered, God’s people would certainly have a biblical mandate to pursue political change, asking the authorities to allow us to keep living according to our faith.)
6)  But God does expect the governing authorities to uphold right and punish evil (Rom 13, 1 Pet 2), so it seems appropriate to want our government's laws to line up with God's laws as closely as possible.  But it seems that we would want the enforcement of the laws to not be oppressive in taking away the freedom to choose that God has given all men.  (We sure don't want a Christian version of Muslim Shariah law, where those who step out of line can be killed for it.)

7)      And perhaps the toughest lines to draw: While individuals were involved in politics, we do not see God’s people as a body making political change a major goal, right?  This is where it gets the toughest.  If I understand it correctly, the body prays for those who pursue political goals (such as Esther and Mordecai), but the church as a body has higher goals such as the Great Commission and teaching the truth.  In following Jesus’ footsteps, it seems wise for churches to make sure our “higher goals” are not distracted by political goals.  We must as a body be known for the gospel more than be known for our political involvement.  This is one way the “Religious Right” movement has probably made our culture less open to the gospel, because political disagreements have become the culture’s first impression of those who claim to be Christians.  All things being equal, it seems to me the church’s major efforts for change should come from teaching the truth, praying, and personally acting, rather than enforcing or publicly making the church’s mission a political agenda.  Is that a fair way to put it? 
      (I realize that honest Christian men and women have different thoughts on this point in particular, and I respect their thoughts.  Perhaps I should say it is “unwise” for a church to make political activism a goal, though perhaps I can't say it is “wrong” to do so.  It just seems to shift the church’s focus off of what is most important, changing who we are and who people see us to be.  Maybe it’s just a matter of keeping first things first.)

Churches in America have the challenge of (1) standing up for God in a culture where the people in theory make their own laws (which encourages us to speak out to culture on God’s truth and perhaps be involved ourselves) and (2) making sure our culture sees us for who God wants us to be: a Christ-shaped community of redeemed believers calling other sinners to salvation, not a group who pursues political power over others.  Holding those 2 principles in balance is our biggest challenge in determining whether our political involvement is too much or too little.

Oh well, I don’t know how much progress I made in my own thoughts.  Some of these lines are tough to draw.  Keeping first things first is the biggest thing I’m reminded of, and hopefully my off the cuff thoughts didn’t overstate or understate too much around that core idea.  Keep thinking and praying about it for yourself, and I’ll do the same…

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

 Putting Fear In Its Place

Happy Halloween!

Halloween is a funny time of year.  We celebrate things that frighten us, most of which are entirely made up (monsters, for example), and everyone seems to enjoy it!  I’m sure all this “fear” stuff can be taken in an unhealthy and even sinful direction – as many movies and seasonal Halloween stores prove – but when it’s kept at a PG level, I enjoy Halloween traditions too.  And if your experience is like mine, Halloween has always been celebrated at a family-friendly, even kid-friendly level, which makes the season a fun one that I believe Christians can enjoy in good conscience before God.  I suppose the key is to keep all the fear stuff at an appropriate level.

And maybe there’s a faith lesson in there also, in keeping fear at an appropriate level.  What is an “appropriate” level of fear in the life of God’s people?

Well, when you read through your Bible, you will run across several events that tell us about fear, some of which could even make for a good Halloween story:

Friday, October 26, 2012

Pastors – A Description, but also an Authority

            In churches of Christ, we have always sought to make a clear distinction between our preachers and our pastors.  This is sometimes awkward, because so many of our religious neighbors believe that every preacher should be called a pastor.  As a preacher, it is not uncommon for me to meet someone of a different faith background – whether at a hospital or a funeral home or simply a visitor at Great Oaks – who will refer to me as pastor.  I realize they are trying to show me a measure of respect as a preacher, but when it’s appropriate, I usually say a quick, kind word to explain in churches of Christ we just use the description “preacher” or “minister,” and that we have a group of “pastors” who lead each congregation, but I’m not one of them.  At the very least, I’ll let them know they can just call me Tim.

Why be so careful to make the distinction between preachers and pastors?  Well, our understanding of Scripture is that a preacher and a pastor are two different roles.  A pastor is a word for shepherd, and in the Bible, each church was to have men – who were called elders, bishops, or pastors – who were to shepherd that congregation (Acts 20:28, 1 Peter 5:1-4).  A preacher was to teach the word of God, but is never called a pastor, or shepherd, unless that preacher was also serving as an elder (like Peter did, as 1 Peter 5:1 shows). 

            However, you occasionally hear people within churches of Christ who have decided to stop holding that distinction between preachers and pastors.  In fact, you even sometimes hear preachers who call themselves pastors, often with defense that sounds something like this:  “Well, a pastor is a shepherd, and as a preacher I’m shepherding people more than our elders are.  I’m the one visiting people in their homes.  I’m the one setting the vision of the congregation.  I’m the one doing most of the work shepherding these people toward heaven.  If it talks like a duck and looks like a duck it must be a duck.  So I believe I am a pastor, and it’s appropriate to take that title.”

            What should we think about that reasoning? 


Friday, October 19, 2012

The Wrong Reaction When People Leave

            Studying Flavil Yeakley’s book “Why They Left: Listening to Those Who Have Left Churches of Christ” has made for some interesting class discussions.  Leaving the church you grew up in seems to be a national “rite of passage” these days, as the Barna Research Group found a few years back that 61% of 20-somethings attended some church regularly at some point in their teen years but are now “spiritually disengaged (i.e., not actively attending church, reading the Bible, or praying).”  Churches of Christ have not been exempt from that trend, even though it actually seems to be less pronounced in churches of Christ than the national averages; Yeakley reports that consistently about 40-45% of our young people become disengaged from the churches of Christ in their young adult years, but about 12% of those who leave will return, yielding about 33% or so of our young people who leave (page 33 of his book). Whatever the number, it’s higher than we’d like it to be.

            Of course, we must respond correctly to this information about those who leave.  One false extreme might be to see that young people leaving is a national trend, and to thereby suggest that there is no reason for alarm among us at all.  Just keep doing what we’re doing, with no need for deep reflection on our own faith.  Part of the house is on fire, but it’s a small fire compared to the neighbor’s fire, so we can just stay here in the living room and everything will work itself out.  That would be foolish, of course.  I hope we always have the humility to look for ways we can do better at living, teaching, and passing on the Christian faith.  If we have somehow not taught the right doctrine, or not shown the right spirit, or not put forth the right effort, then we must be honest about it and bring our lives closer to what God wants.


Friday, October 12, 2012

The Value of Planned Prayer

            Last weekend, Great Oaks had our 3rd annual 24-hour prayer vigil.  We signed up for 1-hour shifts, so that someone was here at the building praying constantly from 6 pm Friday night until 6 pm Saturday night.  To give direction to our prayers, people turned in prayer request cards about issues in their own life (we might have had more prayer cards this time than ever before), and we had a “Great Oaks Outreach Prayer Sheet,” which listed the many ways we are trying to shine God’s light, both locally and through missions.  So for 24 straight hours, we lifted up our work and our lives before God, asking His blessing, and reminding ourselves that “unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it” (Psalm 127:1). 

            Arinne and I had the 3-4 am Saturday morning shift (yes, someone was at our house to make sure the kids were OK!).  It was difficult to crawl out of bed, but I loved praying at that time because it felt like the whole world was stopped.  Hardly any traffic, hardly any movement at all outside of twinkling stars and an occasional breeze, and mostly just a silent, chilly stillness.  It was perfect “prayer weather,” and it made me think of Jesus praying all night while the rest of the world slept (Luke 6:12).

            It also made me think of the value of having a planned time to pray.  Planned prayer seems to be a little out of style these days, or at least seems to be less emphasized.  I hear many Christians point out the value of prayer as a running conversation with God throughout the day.  I love that idea, and I’m glad it’s part of so many of our lives.  It’s certainly biblical.  Jesus often offered short, “in the spur of the moment” prayers to God, such as: “Father, glorify Your name” (John 12:28), “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me” (Matt. 27:46), and the brief 2 sentence prayer before raising Lazarus (John 11:41-42).  A constant communication with God, often in short exchanges throughout the day, is a good prayer habit and shows a proper recognition of God’s presence.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Becoming More Comfortable Discussing the Holy Spirit

In the Bible classes I’m teaching at Great Oaks this quarter, we are using Flavil Yeakley’s “Why They Left” as a topic-starter.  It has already resulted in some great discussions, allowing us to critique ourselves as individual Christians and as a church on topics such as evangelism, our attitude toward the rest of the religious world, and our teaching of grace.  Hopefully our self-critique – which can sometimes be affirming and can sometimes be painful – is being done in a fair and honest way, always letting the word of God have the loudest voice in telling us what we should be.
This week our topic has been the Holy Spirit.  Our discussion has challenged us to not minimize the Holy Spirit in our faith and teaching.  Some feel that churches of Christ have not given enough emphasis to the Holy Spirit, perhaps as an over-reaction to the excessive claims made regarding the Spirit by some parts of the religious world.  I don’t have a wide enough perspective to know whether our churches have consistently neglected teaching about the Holy Spirit, but I know I don’t want to let someone else’s excessive ideas keep me from speaking biblically and truthfully about God’s Spirit. 


Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Life of Faith We’d Like to Have

“Now Abraham was old, advanced in age; and the LORD had blessed Abraham in every way.”  -Genesis 24:1
Abraham was one of the most blessed men the world has known.  When Abraham dies in Genesis chapter 25, verse 8 says he “died in a ripe old age, an old man and satisfied with life.”  Part of me asks, how could Abraham not be satisfied with life?  He was extremely wealthy, he had a beautiful wife, he had a close relationship with God, he had a healthy family, he knew his family was going to be blessed by God in the future, and he lived a long life.

I know that Abraham faced difficulties in his faith.  And I’m sure his wealth brought its own unique temptations.  But even in those difficulties, things always seemed to work out in the end.  In many ways, it seems a charmed life – close with God, and “blessed in every way,” as Genesis 24:1 says. 

Wouldn’t we love to have Abraham’s life of faith?  A few challenges along the way, but a life that walks with God and has tragedy-free happiness most of the time?  Most people’s reality is very different.  In fact, we find many people in the Bible who were expected to be faithful to God in spite of gut-wrenching circumstances:

Thursday, September 20, 2012



A Faith That Overflows

…Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink.  He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’”
 –John 7:37-38

In his book “Evangelism through the Local Church,” one of Michael Green’s helpful definitions of evangelism really resonates with me.  It is one simple word: “overflow.”  Isn’t that the most natural way to view evangelism?  Someone so filled up with God and His love that they naturally reach out to others? 
I recently had the opportunity to preach on biblical baptism for 4 days at the Holly Hill church in Frankfort, KY.  Holly Hill is a great family of God’s people, and  I was blessed to meet many faithful, encouraging Christians.  But there are 2 in particular that will stick in my mind for awhile.