Monday, January 30, 2017

Will You Think about My Box?

Is purity important to you?

Let me approach the same question another way, using several examples.

Imagine that you are looking for a *new* car. You inspect its body, every inch of the interior. Even if you know only a little about mechanics, you want to see a lot of shiny parts under the hood. It is *new* and you expect it to be unblemished.

When you are served a glass of water at a restaurant and you notice lip prints on the rim of the glass (gross!), you send it back. You expect a clean glass.

Shopping for an article of clothing you make a selection, but notice a small 'spot.' You put the item back; you expect it to be unstained.

When buying a special ring for your wife, would you prefer 14 or 24 caret gold? And what about the diamond? Clarity is one of the “Four C’s” of diamonds that defines value. You probably prefer the purest gold and the clearest diamond you can afford.

Truth be known, none of us really prefers the unretouched portrait photo. We would like people to see our wrinkles softened, stray hair adjusted, the bird that bombed the outdoor photo removed. We prefer to remove the blemishes.

Blemishes get our attention and they irritate us: Blemishes, stains, impurities and flaws in everyday life; personal flaws, past sins. They are all a part of life; we prefer life without them. Yet how often we focus on them, obsess over them.

Some people are really good at noticing blemishes. They often criticize. Show off a new article of clothing and they will zero in on the most insignificant flaw. They will see the mistake you made in your freshly painted room (oops). You can walk, skip, hop, and run a hundred miles, and they will remind you of the instant that you stumbled.

The empty ‘quote box’ (that white box above) really irritates some folks. They find it distracting, not because of what is there, but because it is unexpected. An empty box in the middle of an blog article (blarticle) appears to be a flaw.

However, did you notice how clean it looks? Did you see how pure it is?

I know that it has never had words in it. It wasn’t an old messy box that I cleaned up. It started out clean and remains clean. Pure.

There are different ways to be pure; the Bible describes each. In the Old Testament sacrifices and cleansing rituals brought about a state of cleanliness before God. (Uncleanness affected one's standing with God and the community of God's people.)

A practical way of achieving purity is to remove impurities. Filtered water is a good example.

In these first two examples of uncleanness and impurity, something blemished is made pure.

Purity also exists where there had never been a flaw, like my empty 'quote box.' There is no need of cleansing. For lack of a better explanation, you might call this perfect purity. Would you agree that this kind of 'never-before-blemished' purity is rare?

The Apostle Paul encouraged:

     Whatsoever things are...pure…
     dwell on these things.

                               —Philippians 4:8

God invites you to stop! and spend some time thinking about things or people that fit the description of purity.
(To do this you will need to put down your phone and get off the Internet; stop watching/reading the latest news.)

Sooo...STOP. Think. Things that are pure.

Now, let me ask: "Is purity important to you?"

Monday, January 23, 2017

Sheetrock and Social Injustice

My friend, Jeremy, and I were finishing sheetrock in a new room in his basement. After a little chit-chat I asked him, “How do you answer your generation concerning current social ills, the election, and clear misunderstandings of reality?” He asked for clarification.

Earlier that day I had gotten sidetracked on Facebook reading messages (rants) about politics, the environment, social concerns, etc.

I caught myself yelling in my mind, “Can you not see how you have contradicted yourself!” “Surely you are young; otherwise you would see things differently!”

I read posts by professed Christians on different issues, silently brooding: “Have you ever read your Bible! What kind of reasoning is that!?”

I had to back away and take a breath. Their unique vocabulary gave them away; they were Millennials or Gen X’ers.

Ok. Step back from that thought too. That was really judgmental.

I settled down and asked myself: “How can I, a preacher, effectively communicate to those who are from my parents’ generation, my own baby boomer generation, and Gen X, Gen Y, and the Millennials...not to mention my 10th grader who speaks ‘mumblage’?” (She will grow out of it, I'm sure.)

It was a good question, but that was not really what was bothering me. I wanted to know how I could convince ‘them’ of ‘my’ understanding of things. I was so sure I was right.

My young friend snapped me back to reality. He actually reminded me of some recent comments I had made in Bible lessons and sermons.

“Why do you think you need to answer them?” he asked, “Isn’t that what you have been teaching us?” (We both laughed heartily; I was a little embarrassed.)

WHAM! The teacher had not been listening.

Here’s the lesson I had forgotten:

Now on the same occasion there were some present who reported to Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. 2And Jesus said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this fate? 3I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
                                                                                                 —Luke 13:1-3 NASB

The people, were reacting to the front page headline news: “The Galileans!” “Pilate!” “What about all this, Jesus!?” (I was doing the same thing: reacting.)

Jesus was making the simple point that the people were losing themselves in the injustices of their society. As a result they were not focusing on their relationship with God. They could not do anything about the injustice against the Galileans...and what if they could!? More important than social justice and stewing over it and getting all bent out of shape...and being distracted; more important was whether they were righteous before God.

Whatsoever things are...right [just]…
dwell on these things.
                              —Philippians 4:8 NASB

It sure is easy to get caught up in all the injustices in our world (nation, state, city, workplace, family). There are many and they are real. However, nothing good comes from the tension and anger of dwelling on injustices. We should learn to let go of the injustices of life. (When we do, we might even find that people enjoy being around us more.) Then, in the spare time that it creates, think about things that are right/just.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Peter Pan, an Honorable Man???

My extended family came together for the funeral of my uncle and aunt who were killed in a car accident. The two were getting up in years and, down deep, we all knew that it was better this way; they went together.

The funeral director gathered the family in a side room and then led it to the auditorium of the church building in single file (to facilitate the seating of about 100 family members).

The doors of the auditorium were opened and I was overcome by the sight: The entire congregation of over 200 people standing as we entered.

We sit to relax, to get comfortable, to rest. They stood.

There are different reasons to stand, but on that day, the people stood to show honor to my uncle and aunt and all the family. What a kind and moving gesture of honor it was.

In a courtroom people gather; they seat themselves; people chat. Court officials and lawyers shuffle papers.

“All rise for the honorable Judge Hayes.”

Military funerals can be especially moving: A 21-gun salute; "Taps" on a mournful bugle; the careful and precise folding of the American flag and its presentation to the family...all to show honor for a fellow serviceman.

The New Testament word ‘honor’ comes from a term that in Classical Greek was originally reserved for the Greek gods. 'Honor' described sacred things, heaven and its order. The Jews used it to describe the temple. It was later used to describe the visible or outward magnificence of things such as the majesty of a royal throne, the splendor of clothing, the loftiness of speech.

'Honor' was associated with nobility, dignity and seriousness. Charm and wit, though highly valued among the Greeks, were never described with the word honorable.

On one occasion, to escape King Saul, David went to the Philistines and pretended to be insane so they would not think him to be a threat. That was clever but not honorable. (Read about it in 1 Samuel 21.)

The Apostle Paul drew a contrast between childhood and adulthood:

When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things.
                                                                                         --1 Corinthians 13:11 NASB

It is not honorable for adults to act like children. Go ahead and play with your kids and grandkids for a moment, but a 'Peter Pan never-grow-up’ mindset has nothing to do with honor.

Bathroom humor, crude jokes, childish silliness, ‘letting your hair down’ and the like can be really funny, but these are not honorable. Criticism and humiliation of those in authority is no way to show honor. Misplaced humor (i.e. comedy in the pulpit) may ‘bring them in’ in droves, but it is without honor. Rock concerts passed off as worship lack honor toward God.
  • Are you always acting like a kid, angling for the next laugh, planning another sarcastic dig at someone in a position of authority?
  • Is the worship assembly more for your pleasure or God's honor?
  • What is it that captivates your mind?

Finally, brethren, whatever is...honorable…
dwell on these things.
                                              --Philippians 4:8 NASB

There is a time for fun and games, but there is a time to grow up and put away silliness. (Is there ever an appropriate time for vulgarity and criticism?) Think about honorable things.
Show honor.
Be honorable.

Monday, January 9, 2017

My Lucky Star is Shining!!!

Mike and I had lunch at a local Chinese restaurant and, as usual, cracked open our fortune cookies as we finished our meal. We have both whined over the way fortune cookies have changed over the years. Nowadays they offer advice or present a watered-down proverb. But that day was different! Something about the future! A real fortune!  Are you ready for this?

Remember three months from this date! Your lucky star is shining.”

I have a friend who will not touch a fortune cookie. Another friend appends the same phrase to the end of every fortune cookie saying to make it funny. It is all fun and games; no one really takes fortune cookies seriously. Right?

That is not entirely true, is it? Some people are sure that the fortune cookie they receive is not a coincidence but a specific message destined for them. (And just who is it that is in charge of destiny???)

Can we take a look at my wonderful stroke of luck destiny?

I received my fortune cookie on August 12th. Upon reading it Mike laughed, “From what I know about stars, that star has been shining for a long time!” He’s right. The closest star to our solar system is ‘Proxima Centauri’ at 4.25 light years from the Sun. That simply means that the light from my ‘lucky star’ took over four years to reach the earth. So, in reality, my ‘lucky star’ was already shining…on August 12th.

So, when I look back at my fantastic fortune, I have no clue what it really means. What does the ‘three months’ have to do with anything. And just what is a lucky star? How do I locate mine? Do I have to see it for it to be lucky? Is it the star that is lucky or does it somehow bring me luck? If it brings me Why now?

Many people wish they could stand on the edge of today and take a peek into tomorrow. They would make better decisions if they knew what would happen tomorrow. Right?

For example, if I know it will rain tomorrow, I can prepare better. Then again, I could always carry my umbrella and be prepared every day. But who wants to end up carrying an umbrella on a sunny day? (*tsk*) Do we really need to know about tomorrow???

He who watches the wind will not sow
and he who looks at the clouds will not reap.
                                             —Ecclesiastes 11:4

Fortune cookies, dream interpretations, crystal balls, horoscopes, the Chinese calendar (I’m a dog), lucky charms, lucky rabbit’s feet (foots?), and on and on it goes. None of these are from God; none give real insight into tomorrow.

God was furious with ancient Israel for ignoring Him when they needed insight. Looking for tomorrows answers in the cookies, crystals and calendars of their day led to idolatry. God was not throwing a fit because He was being left out; he had true insight, real answers. He offered stability in life and future hope (expectation). Israel looked to empty idols.

The question is not whether we can figure out what will happen tomorrow or what the statistical probabilities are. Rather…

Will we turn to God when problems arise?
Will we patiently wait for His answer?
Will we follow His revealed word faithfully?

Finally, brethren, whatever is true…
dwell on these things.
                                    —Philippians 4:8

Do not waste precious time and energy on life’s uncertainties and wishful thinking; think about things that you know to be TRUE.

Monday, January 2, 2017

A New Year's Reflection: Laundry, Ends and the Ellipsis...

Laundry and the Calendar

My wife has commented over the years, “I would have a Master’s Degree in laundry, but I just can’t seem to finish my thesis.” I’m sure you understand. As soon as she gets near the end, more laundry piles up; a never-ending task.

Odd as it may seem, laundry is what came to mind as I looked at the last page of my calendar: December, 2016. Why laundry? Because it seems to be more descriptive of the passage of time than the printed calendar. The calendar actually has a last page, then a new and different calendar goes up for the *new* year. Life, like laundry, really doesn’t work that way. There always seems to be, just another day.

I think we like the idea of a ‘new year’ because it makes us think:

  • New (a good thing);
  • Better ( know...better);
  • Different (is fun; stimulating);
  • Positive future (hopeful);
  • Difficulties past (relief); and so on.

In reality, New Year’s Day comes right after New Year’s Eve...every year. On one calendar it is New Year’s Tuesday after New Year’s Eve Monday. This year it is Sunday after Saturday. (Do squirrels really know the difference? What do the cows know about Sunday or New Year’s Day?) One day follows another; more laundry.

I can remember more than 50 ‘new years,’ though they mostly blur together. It is like Solomon said, “There is nothing new under the sun.” Take down last year’s calendar and put up a ‘new’ calendar, and do another load of laundry...nothing really new at all.


The End and the Ellipsis...

I wanted you to think about the realistic ‘laundry life’ for a moment in order to introduce a ‘real’ question: What about the end?

Some people live as wanderers, never knowing quite what they are doing or where they are going. They end life with a question mark. Huh?

Others live in perpetual motion. They pursue, chase, claw, climb and attain. They end life with an exclamation point. POW!

Most people, I think, simply live life trying to get through the day. They do a lot of laundry and their life ends with a simple period. Dot.


My wish for you as we close the book on 2016; and as we start a new chapter, 2017; and as we continue the 'laundry of life’ is to…

Truly enjoy the times of joy and happiness with genuine thankfulness in your heart. These are a gift from God. But know that there will be difficulties in life. (Read Ecclesiastes)

Persevere through the aching trials of life while holding fast to your faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. Trials are the testing ground that God uses to make us spiritually mature. (Read James)

Maintain purity and holiness toward God and maintain your love for your fellow Christians and your fellow man. That is how you will be most like God. (Remember the Great Commands.)

I think about my end sometimes (such as, when I take down a calendar) and I am not really interested in the Huh? POW! or Dot. I am expecting an dot dot...continuation...for I have a promise from my God that when I die I will live again… resurrection...a truly 'new' day…

(Read 1 Corinthians 15…

Happy New Year, 
Mark Stinnett...