Friday, May 16, 2014

BASICally Outstanding

It's tough to read a review of a place or a report of an event that is done purely in superlatives--it's tough to write one without feeling like I haven't been observant enough to find at least something to criticize--at least a little bit. However, looking at the 2014 Basics Conference, held at Parkside Church in Chagrin Falls Ohio earlier this week, it is pretty tough to find problems. The music was excellent; speakers the same; the food beyond belief for such an event...you get the picture (http://www.parksidechurch.com/partners/basics/). The BASICS Conference has been an annual even at Parkside for many years. This was my fourth year attending and I've not been disappointed at all.

  • The music is always well done.  A praise band with a wide range of skills from guitar and mandolin to piano to washboard to violin plays all the music well and leads the singing with joy. The music is never mindless; but always uplifting and fitting to the teaching session which it introduces or closes. The musicians "all have real jobs" as was said; but give up their time to devote to this ministry. They do an awesome job. 
  • The speakers were awesome. Alistair Begg himself is an internationally known speaker, preacher and teacher, he opens and closes the conference, sandwiching in a couple other exceptional men whom he believes to be among the best in the world. This year he had Christopher Ash and Gary Millar as his guests. Their messages were clear and compelling calls for pastors and leaders to do their jobs well and filled with practical tips on how to do it. All of them are easy speakers to understand and present their messages clearly, concisely and simply. All speak with humility and grace.  It's interesting that Begg, whose theology appears to be Baptistic, often has Anglicans and Presbyterians as his guests. He trusts them as Godly and honest men without regard for their denominational affiliations--we should all learn from that. That openness allows the presence of men who come from a great variety of denominations--this year there were even a couple Amish men there. That's diversity without compromising truth! 
  • Books by the Park is the in-house bookstore at Parkside Church. Only the largest Christian bookstores are as well stocked and as helpful as this. During the conference, many major publishers underwrite some of the cost, allowing the store to sell everything at a substantial discount--this year was 30%!  If a student has a hundred dollars to spend, it's wise to wait for that conference.  
  • The meals are something to behold--and for a men's conference, that's important. The food is always good, well prepared and served in ample quantities--we won't even discus the desserts except to say they are amazing. The high point seems to be the Tuesday night BBQ with wonderful ribs and chicken, done to perfection. Served with spicy BBQ beans and sweet corn, it's a wonderful meal. 
  • The meals cannot be discussed without talking about the service. Though the meals are catered in, Parkside volunteers do all the service, serving with "great joy and humility," as was mentioned. A church that engenders that culture of service is to be commended for that alone, if nothing else. The volunteers are retirees, housewives, folks on vacation college students..., all kinds. One fellow flew in from California and spent three days just making coffee, nothing else. That's the heart of a servant. 


So, yes, this is review in superlatives.  I expect next years will be as good or maybe even better--though I can toss out no viable suggestions on how they can improve it. Well, maybe one suggestion--men, get a bunch of guys from your church to join us!


Friday, May 9, 2014

Too Good to Pass Up

Sharing this transcript of Erwin Lutzer's statement on a major problem of the church today.

Dr. Erwin Lutzer message from the Understanding the Times Conference
April 26, 2014, Minneapolis, MN
This is this trouble, this is the rub. If you are 40 years old or younger, there’s the 40-40 split in
America. If you are under 40, you probably belong to a group of evangelicals who basically see
nothing wrong with same sex marriage. They are more tolerant, saying that there may be other
religions that lead you to God, so on and so forth. I say it humbly: They don’t have much of a
clue. Not everybody of course, but many of them have no clue what the implications are or what
the real issues are. They were reared by “Will and Grace” on television.
They are obsessed with technology. Many young people – not the ones that are here today by the
way; they are the exception – but many young people are so narcissistic. Yesterday I heard on
the news that one kid took 200 selfies – 200 pictures of himself in a single day. I mean the whole
technology world out there.
So there are those who say we can’t preach against homosexuality or mention Islam or anything
because we want to win these people to Christ, and that’s a barrier. So what we’ve found is that
the gospel and its implications are often dumbed down. Then you have a form of ecumenism that
compromises the gospel. And then there’s something else and that is it’s popular today to say,
“God loves you unconditionally.”
Now, to the one who’s sitting in the pew that’s sleeping with his girlfriend, he says to himself, “I
know exactly what that means. That means that it’s okay for me to continue to sleep with my
girlfriend because, after all, God loves me unconditionally. That’s His job. That’s who He is.
You see it used to be, and some of you who are older would remember this, that preachers used
to preach against sin, and then when people knew that they couldn’t live up to God’s standard,
and they were aware of their sin, then grace was offered to them. Thank God for amazing grace,
how sweet the sound.
Today grace is offered up front. Grace is offered to people when they don’t even know they need
it and whether or not they really care as to whether or not they want it because God loves you
“unconditionally.” Not to put too fine a point on it, but there are several different passages in
Scripture in the Psalms where it says that God says, “I am angry with the wicked every day.” Certainly, God loves the elect, those who are saved and He loved them, the Bible says, from the
foundation of the world. But to throw that out there for everybody to hear – that God loves you
unconditionally – is really to water down the seriousness of sin and the real understanding of
grace. Because you cannot understand grace until you fully understand sin and the better you
understand sin the better you will magnify grace. But we don’t have that today in our society.”

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Not My Battle

That's a true statement in some way, though not in others. Some of my friends would rather that I be more vocal and visible in my stances toward a lot of issues, particularly the erosion of personal rights in our nation. That's a big issue, and I support my friends in their fights on the many fronts; but I have chosen a different line of attack based upon my beliefs, my theology.
I do not believe that this is a purely physical battle. Actually, I believe that what we're seeing is only the physical manifestation of a spiritual battle.  In the book of Ephesians, Paul tells his readers where the real battle lies, it is "against authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realm."
All bad government aside, all bad policies aside, all conspiracy theories aside; here and here alone is the battle. I will take my stand as a preacher and teacher--and even a blogger, not lashing out against the evils we see; but against the one we cannot see: the father of lies, the prince and power of the air, the god of this age...Satan himself. He is the source of the problem.
If men would seek God, follow Christ and Christ alone, Satan would have a much more difficult time damaging our lives. Will I support those who battle the earthly side? Certainly. Will I speak on their behalf? Of course. However my part of the battle will be on a different echelon, urging men and women to come to terms with sin. When hearts are changed, lives are changed, belief patterns change. When beliefs change, behavior changes, politics change. I will attack the problem at the root.

Ephesians 6: 12: For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places 2 Chronicles 7:14: if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A Fly on the Wall

Sometimes that fly is in a position to see some great things.

It was a small courthouse in an obscure town. Even a GPS has trouble getting folks there without a few wrong turns. It was not a busy court night, nothing big on the calendar, really just traffic tickets and a couple low-level offences.
The guy had LOSER written all over him: rough, rumpled clothing; unkempt, dirty hair; scruffy beard. His face was tired, the sagging eyes suggested a history of alcohol abuse. He came in, met with the prosecutor to see if could make a deal of some kind on his charges and then took his seat, waiting quietly to be called by the judge.
The judge is the epitome of a small-town judge. A godly man, he attempts to administer justice appropriately.  He's a bear of a man, looming large behind the bench in his black robe. He takes each case seriously and deals with each case on its merits.
When the man was called before the judge, the judge noted from the plea agreement that the prosecutor had recommended a low fine as the defendant was a disabled veteran. The judge, a veteran of Vietnam himself, inquired about the man's service and found that he had served there also. The picture became clear to the judge--he was looking at one of the overlooked heroes, one of the many had come home from an ugly and unpopular war and had never recovered from its effects. He noted, on the record, the fact of the service and thanked him for it--probably more recognition than he had when he returned home from the war. Making a decision as good judges do, the magistrate opted to reduce the fine considerably, to an amount that most people can spend without thinking much about. The man thanked the judge for the consideration, and asked for a couple weeks to pay the fine. His check would come the first of the month, until then, he'd be unable to pay.
Until that time, court had been business as usual; but then something unusual happened. A woman in the courtroom got the attention of the bailiff and quietly asked if it would be OK to pay the man's fine. She was given permission to approach the bench, which she did, and handed the judge the money for the fine. She was totally unknown to the defendant; but had heard the dialogue between him and the judge and decided to take an action. The judge was speechless, the defendant stunned; the courtroom came to a complete stop for a moment--several moments, actually.
The lady who had stepped up and paid the fine had to run out the door to compose herself; the defendant had tears in his eyes and his family was in awe; the judge had a lump in his throat and the bailiff suddenly disappeared into the judge's chambers. When court resumed, it was different than a normal court session.  Folks who had driven many miles to have their day in court and were anxious to get on the road homeward were just a bit more patient than normal; fines were paid with smiles; and thanks to the judge, prosecutor, clerk and bailiff were just a bit more frequent, and seemed a bit more heart-felt.
Funny what happens when someone steps up and does the right thing, just because it's the right thing to do. Life changes, and the change is a good one.

Sobering Thought

This morning I started reading John Piper's book called Don't Waste Your Life. I'm a couple chapters in and so far, so good. Early on in the book he mentions that throughout his growing up years there was a plaque in his mom's kitchen that he saw every time he walked through through there. He described it in great detail, and I recognized it...right down to the details of color and design. My dad had the same plaque in his shop. It said: Only one life, 'twill soon be past. Only what's done for Christ will last.

Piper seems to have taken that to heart, being a well know preacher, teacher and writer of solid doctrine. Dad was not perfect and will never be known far and wide like John Piper; but anyone who knew him well knew where he stood on matters of faith. Even if they didn't notice the sign on the wall in the shop, they could see it in his life. He lived it out and displayed it within his family.

Most likely, in the not so distant future, my siblings and I will be called upon to write our dad's obituary. He's 94, in a nursing home and dealing with the ravages of dementia; but he's still Dad. A pastor friend paid him a visit last week and they talked about him needing to live that same way yet. He still understands.

Dad's legacy will show four successful children, all hard working in their callings. One has spent most of her life in full-time ministry, another has been part-time in ministry and serving his local church for years and a third has spent time serving as an officer in his church also. Looking beyond that, he has grandchildren who are hard working and successful, and some of them involved either in full-time or part-time in Christian service. Two generations removed from his active life, what was done for Christ is still visible and ongoing. The great-grandchildren are still growing.

No doubt, some of this will end up going into his obituary or will come out in eulogies when the time comes, and that's a sobering--and yet a refreshing thought. He is leaving a lasting legacy: What's done for Christ will certainly last. His life has been proof.


Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Critter Stuff

Like most people, I love animals.  I love dogs and cats--when they belong to others; wildlife--both when viewed safely in their natural environment or properly in legitimate zoos or animal farms, and I'd have to add when skillfully prepared on my dinner plate; and domestic animals--whether providing a source of power, material such as wool, or a source of food.
Also like most, I abhor the thought of animals being mistreated and/or abused; but what qualifies as abuse? I've had people complain to me about local Amish farmers abusing their horses by using them to harvest hay on a hot day.  Is that abuse?  I think not, as they would not treat a possession as valuable as that in a manner likely to cause it harm; but it gets noted as abuse.
Is it abuse to euthanize an animal injured on the side of the road?  Though some may be rescued and ultimately returned to the wild, the success rate is not that high, nor are there many skillful enough to undertake such a task.  My hat is off to those have done and continue to rescue such animals; but it takes a lot of time and resources to pull it off.
And then there are the supposed "rights" of cats, dogs and other animals held as pets, or for any other reason. They have ceased to be pets, and are now treated better than the children of some families
Again, there is no reason to mistreat an animal, and laws should be enforced when abuse is discovered; but why is it that there is so much outrage when a dog is maltreated; so much news coverage when a house full of abandoned animals is found, and cries of MURDERER when such a thing as a rhinoceros is killed illegally.
Have we forgotten what's really important?  While animals hold value--and truly they do--they do not hold the value of a human life.  I see item after item in the news about animal mistreatment, blog and facebook posts without number about homeless, mistreated or neglected dogs and cats, but where is the outcry when people are harmed? How many bloggers rail against the child abusers, elder abusers, abortion, euthanasia...? How many facebook posts--by good people, mind you--decry these things?  Not many when compared to the number that worry about our furry and feathered friends.
Man was put on earth to, among other things, be stewards of God's creation. While we haven't always been really good at, we've done even worse at caring for the creature made in God's own image.  Let's pay more attention to the care of mankind and not worry so much about the rights of the other lives we are to steward.

Monday, March 17, 2014

It's Not My Fault

There's a young lady in our family who was having a run of bad luck around the time of a family gathering. Her continual cry was "it's not my f-a-u-l-t," dragging the last word out for dramatic effect. There was nothing serious going on, so fixing blame was not really an issue; but we did harass her by quoting her for many gatherings thereafter.
I have a young friend though, for whom everything seems to be not his fault. In the last few years nearly his entire life has gone downhill. Failed relationships, out of wedlock children, job issues, excessive alcohol consumption...all of it seems to be the fault of someone else. It's that woman, that man, that boss, that person, that set of circumstances....  Never is there any acknowledgement that he might have something to do with at least a little bit of the problem. Sadly, I think that attitude is going to destroy what's left of what was once a promising career. He's bright, talented, personable, and in denial.  He fails to see that the common denominator is himself.
When our kids were in school, we often heard about "that dumb teacher," and in fairness to the kids, a couple times the teacher was the primary component of the problem. However, when there were several "dumb teaches" at one time, we sat the kids down and made them look at it objectively: What is the common component here? It was usually the student, not the teacher. It took some doing, but the boys all faced up the issues, got through them and are now successful men.
My point here is that I am pained when folks fail to stand up to their own failings, deal with them and move on. Continually blaming others will never allow a person fix a problem. I have watched a near never-ending parade of promising lives being destroyed by men and women who fail to face up to the realities of their own choices. So often, facing up to a problem early on stops the problem in its tracks while ignoring it only makes it worse.  Penalty delayed is like interest on a loan, it only gets greater the longer it's unpaid.
So, identify the issue, deal with whatever your responsibility is and move on. You'll be better for it.