Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Discipleship Tuesday: Looking Back to Move Forward

One of my all-time favorite movies is the Disney classic Mary Poppins.  The music, the colors, the fanfare, and the story excite me.  Our family occasionally cleans house stepping in time and singing along with the movie's soundtrack.

My wife and I recently watched the movie Saving Mr. Banks, the story of the making of Mary Poppins.  Banks portrays the unlikely team of Walt Disney, who longed to see the children’s book character come to life on the screen, and Pamela "P. L. Travers," the author of the children’s books about Mary Poppins.

Travers reluctantly and under duress agrees to allow Disney to make her fictional character a motion picture.  Tom Hanks’ Disney, the affable visionary, made a promise to his daughters twenty years earlier to make Mary Poppins fly off the pages of Travers’ books.   Travers, withdrawn, negative, and guarded, distrusts her characters to anyone else’s creativity, including Disney.  At one point Walt declares, “The woman’s a conundrum.”
The movie, far from the light-hearted Poppins, contains deep and serious themes.  Travers, haunted by past wounds, created the world of Mary Poppins to find sense and solitude from her own demons.  Through flashbacks, the viewer sees her father as a restless, wanderlust spirit going from place to place.  Due to irresponsibility and alcoholism, he lost his jobs and harmed his family and reputation.  Travers remembers him as a likable man who loved her but never found peace.
The flashbacks reveal an increasing dark cloud over their family.  At one point, Travers rescues her mother from a suicide attempt.  When her father becomes ill, the mother’s sister arrives to help the family.  Young Travers hopes her aunt, who in the movie resembles Poppins, will be their salvation, resulting in her father being a changed man.  When instead he dies at age 43 from alcohol-related problems, it is as if hope dies with him.  The movie repeatedly depicts Travers' deep inner struggles as a woman in her sixties still trying to come to peace with her family of origin. 
Disney disgusts Travers when he wrongly assumes that the purpose of the Poppins character is to save the children. By the end of the movie, Walt realizes that Travers created the story of Mary Poppins to redeem her own father.  She fashioned a world where George Banks, trapped in the duties of a job at a bank, forgets to smell the roses in life and enjoy his family.  Enter Mary Poppins, who arrives as a nanny and begins a process of changing them.  By the movie’s end, the father, freed from the bank and his spirit transformed, enjoys the restored family unit with joy, songs, laughter, and love. 
The big revelation comes near the end when Walt tells Travers, “So it's not the children she comes to save. It's their father. It's your father.”
Saving Mr. Banks skillfully depicts the long-term damage resulting from childhood wounds.  Travers comes across as a difficult, pitiful woman, locked in the dungeon of unresolved conflict and broken dreams.  As a senior adult she still tries to save her father from his own downfall. 
In real life, Ms. Travers greatly disliked the motion picture at the initial screening and refused to watch it again for twenty years.  How sad that she could not enjoy what became one of the most celebrated movies of all times.
Bobb Biehl, shares that our dominant childhood feeling often results in an adult phobic fear and an adult insatiable need.  For example, a person who felt unloved during childhood will often fear rejection as an adult and need to be loved unconditionally.  A child who felt favored will fear failure as an adult and will need to feel significant.  Someone who experienced the dominant childhood feeling of insecurity will fear failure and inadequacy and will need security. 
Biehl writes, “See yourself as God’s students, not life’s victim.  God uses our past to build in strength for everyone.” 
Sometimes in order to best move forward we first need to look back.  The Bible says that one of the reasons Jesus came was to bind up the brokenhearted, release prisoners from darkness, comfort all who mourn, and give praise instead of despair (Isaiah 61:1-3).  It is possible for us to know the Bible intellectually yet remain emotionally immature due to past hurts.  Christ came to free us from the chains that bind and bring freedom for our tomorrows.
I wonder how Travers' life could have been different had she experienced the balm of the Spirit of God washing over yesterday’s tears. 
We are wise to occasionally look back, asking the Lord to reveal areas of pain and wrong ways of thinking we developed to cope with those problems.  The ministry of the Word of God, the Spirit of God, and the Body of Christ together can result in our salvation from yesterday’s wounds.
Trying to convince Travers to trust him with her story, Disney explains, "That's what storytellers do.  We restore order with imagination.  We instill hope again and again and again." 
God is the greatest storyteller of all time.  He wants us to be whole emotionally as well as spiritually.  Let’s allow Him to take the debris collected along life’s way and do a work of restoration.  He can rewrite our stories.  And that salvation is enough not only for Mr. Banks - but for you and me.
God is love.  Whoever lives in love lives in God and God in him. . . .  There is no fear in love.  But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.  The one who fears is not made perfect in love.  1 John 4:16,18


Thursday, April 17, 2014

Fantastic Family Friday: Easter Memories

Holidays, particularly religious ones, carry with them a lot of memories that invoke various emotional responses.

Easter reminds me of decorating Easter eggs with my mother using the PAAZ egg dye kit.  I remember seeing my grandparents every Easter at their house.  We enjoyed egg hunts and Easter baskets.  I have very fond church memories from various Easters.  I received my first real Bible from my parents one Easter - a bright yellow "Good News" one, which still sits on my shelf today.  I was baptized by my pastor on Easter Sunday, 1982.  I remember big Easter musicals the weekend of Palm Sunday, singing hymns like Christ the Lord is Risen Today, and always having a new Sunday-best outfit to wear.  I especially liked a green sports coat I was given when I was in about the 5th grade.  Hamricks was usually the place to shop!  Our church had a cross outside each year, and on Easter Sunday we would all bring fresh flowers to fill it up with color!  And I recall every year ABC playing Charlton Heston's The Ten Commandments from 7pm-11pm.

My family now has some of our own holiday practices, many of them similar to those of my boyhood.  We have never done the Easter Bunny with our children.  We weren't terribly opposed to it, but church jobs always required one of us to be out of the house early Sunday morning before children awoke, so we made it our habit to give our children Easter baskets from us on the Saturday before Easter.  We chuckled then and still do now thinking about when our then 5-year old came home from church one Easter and said, The children in Sunday School were talking about some bunny coming to their house this morning!  What are they talking about?

Easter offers wonderful opportunities, whatever your practices, to talk with your children about the essence of the Christian message - that God loved a sinful world so much that He sent His Son Jesus to die on the cross so that our sins could be forgiven and we could have a forever-relationship with Him.

Don't underestimate what children can absorb.  One of the church-misnomers of our time is how we send middle and high school students to school where they learn algebra, chemistry, history, and foreign languages, yet we bring them to church and think that all we should do is play games with them thinking that they can't yet absorb the great truths of the Bible.

And don't miss opportunities with your own family members and other people in the community to share biblical truths about the gospel message. 

The church of my youth never did sunrise services, but we did do Easter musicals.  Perhaps my most vivid memory of an Easter season was when I was in the third grade.  Our church did a musical called Hosanna the weekend of Palm Sunday.  I still have the cassette tape from that performance.  My grandparents came to attend with us, and I sat directly next to my grandfather.  I will never forget that when they came to the scene where Jesus was dying on the cross, my grandfather began quietly sobbing.  Tears streamed down his face.  At that moment, in my little nine-year old thinking and feeling, I was deeply struck with the fact that this stuff is real to him.  This matters to him.  His life has been changed by the cross.  He loves and respects God.   I remember that moment like it happened last week.  And I doubt I will ever forget it. 

Don't underestimate how your faith and your love for Jesus, shown in your own unique way, can deeply impact the life of another person - even a child.  Thirty years from now they may be remembering you this Easter.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

5 Insights for Healthy Relationships

Charles Swindoll, one of my favorite Bible teachers and authors, shares 5 insights for healthy family relationships.  The same goes true for friendships and church relationships . . .
1.  Biblical principles are more important than traditional opinions.

2.  Personal relationships are more valuable than individual accomplishments.

3.  Domestic priorities rate higher than church programs.

4.  Positive reinforcement is better than negative reaction.

5.  Unconditional forgiveness is much preferred to lingering probation.

Walk with Jesus Tuesday: Discipleship Part Two

Last Tuesday I began a blog about the qualities in the live of disciples.  The first part was called Discipleship: Part One.

3.  Spirit-controlled (Ephesians 5:18; Galations 5:16; Acts 6:5)

          When the disciples walked with Jesus, they literally walked with Him!  They woke up in the morning, looked at Jesus, and thought, "Today, I'm with Him!"  In our day, in the Church Age, God has left us the Holy Spirit, the One who comes alongside of us to help us, to comfort, to convict, to guide, and most importantly, to manifest the Person and Power and Purity and Presence of Jesus in, through, and around us. 

            It is only the Christian who is filled with and controlled by the Holy Spirit who can please God.  The fleshly, natural, carnal Christian cannot please God.  Only the spiritual man, empowered by God's Spirit, can carry out the will of the Father.  At salvation we get all of the Spirit of God.  The appropriate question then, for the believer is not "Do you have the Spirit" but "Does the Spirit have you?" 

            In the great Shantung Revival in China, what some historians call the greatest revival and spiritual awakening of Southern Baptist history, Martha Franks, Bertha Smith and others witnessed that a key to that mighty move of God was when many believers realized that they were not filled with the Spirit of God: He was not able to flow out of their lives (John 7:37-39) because self was on the throne instead of Jesus.  The Spirit is poured out when Jesus is on the throne!  Bertha Smith wrote, "If He sees that we are clean, and that He is in complete possession of us, He will fill us just as He filled the tabernacle and the Jerusalem temple when they were dedicated to Him."

            Am I filled by the Spirit of God?  Am I walking under His direction and in submission to His leading?  Smith said that "there can be no fullness of the Spirit without a life of yieldedness."  Am I yielded to Him?  Am I resting in His ability? 

4.  Fruit-bearing (John 15:8,16)

            In the Old Testament, the Lord filled His house with His glory.  And that glory evoked tremendous awe and worship from His people.  After God later removed His glory, it was not until Jesus Christ came to this earth that the glory returned.  Then, just before He went back to the Father, Jesus explained how that glory would remain in this world: "This is how My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be My disciples" (John 15:8.)  Today the temple of the Lord is filled with glory through the process of fruit-bearing.  Those Christians who are fruit-bearing disciples bring the Father glory.

            First, we can bear the fruit of godly character.  As the Spirit controls us, He produces the fruit of the Spirit (Galations 5:22-23) and the fruit of righteous living through our lives.  So, when you bear patience, joy, love, gentleness, and when you obey God, the temple is filled with glory.  Second, as you give witness to others of Christ's work, you are empowered to be His witness, leading others to Christ and then helping them to be His disciples, God is glorified.  It is this process of making disciples of other people, taking converts and teaching them to obey, to walk with Jesus in the details of life, that brings the Father glory.  And is that not the simple call of Jesus?  Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.      

            Matthew 4:19 gives us this picture of disciples.  They are abiding in the Word of God, that is, they hear and appropriate what Jesus says.  Then, they are obedient, and their obedience is immediate.  They are responsive to the person of Christ, as today we are to be responsive to the Spirit of God.  And they embark on the journey of becoming fruit-bearing disciples, fishers of men.

            Oh, Father, bring Yourself glory in and through our lives.  Teach us to be Your disciples.  And make us Your vessels whom  You use to make disciples both here and around the world.  And keep our nose to that mandate.  We love you.  Thank you that as we obey you, you will make us know you more and more.  To your name be glory.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Fantastic Family Friday: Aftershave, baby blankets, and a college dorm

The smell of my grandparents' house still lingers in my memory.  In my mind I can walk through the house and recall different smells in various rooms.  Though he has been gone for 17 years, I remember the distinct scent of my grandfather.  We called him "Pa-Pa."  His back porch, his aftershave, and his clothes all carried distinct aromas.

My children often note while unpacking after spending a night away from home that the clothes coming out of the suitcase smell like the place from whence we came.

The dormitory I lived in as a freshman in college was named "Bailey Dorm."  That old dormitory had a very distinct smell.  Because as an adult my family lived in the same town as my college, I often frequented the campus.  Every year or two I would wander over to old Bailey and slip inside for a few moments, walking down memory lane.  Amazingly, the second I walked into the building and encountered that unique smell, memories and feelings of old times - some forgotten - flooded me.

The other day while my family was out of town, I wandered into my daughter's room.  On her bed lay her favorite stuffed animal and well-worn blanket.  Sitting down on the edge of the bed, I picked up the blanket and buried my face into its warmth.  Anna-Frances' scent lingered on the threads, and it made me feel good thinking of her. 

Studies have proven that the sense of smell is the human sense most tied to the recollection of memories.  A Japanese company even attempted to create a device allowing the user to capture a certain number of smells.  How sweet that would be to have smells that you could revisit at your leisure. 

Some people who lose loved ones keep articles of their old clothes.  In times of loneliness, they get out those clothes and smell them to be reminded of the comforting scent.

Through the years I have enjoyed kissing my wife and children on their heads.  One of the reasons is that I experience their unique smell, which makes me feel close to them.

The Bible says that our prayers are like that to Jesus.  In Revelation 5:8, the apostle John depicts this image of heaven:

The four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb.  Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.

The golden bowls hold our prayers, which are like incense to the Lord.  Because I did not grow up in a liturgical church and have never been accustomed to burning incense in worship, this image could almost be lost on me.  But not when I remember some of the wonderful smells of life. 

Those memory-scents remind me of people, houses, foods, restaurants, experiences, and journeys with family and friends.  They make me feel warm and fuzzy on the inside.  They make me feel loved and secure.  They make me tear up and long to be with those people.  Some of those smells make me long for a reunion in heaven.

Those good smells and the memories they invoke take me back to people I journeyed with and loved. 

When I pressed my face into my daughter's blanket, I felt close to her and enjoyed the moment.  Even though she was not physically with me, I sensed her nearness and felt blessed.  I believe God's Word shows us that our prayers cause God to do the same.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Walk with Jesus Tuesday: Discipleship Part One

             Jesus Christ issued a simple call - it was the simple call of Jesus.  He walked up to ordinary fishermen and said, "Come, follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men" (Matthew 4:19).  Or, I will show you how to fish for people.  The Message says, "Come with Me.  I'll make a new kind of fisherman out of you.  I'll show you how to catch men and women instead of perch and bass."  Then it says, "They didn't ask questions, but simply dropped their nets and followed." 

            Am I asking questions, or am I simply dropping my nets and following?  Our mandate is none other than this first, clear call of the Lord.  It is the simple call of Jesus: Follow Me and I will make you a fisher of men and women. 

            When Jesus left this earth, He gave us what is called the Great Commission.  That mandate, to make disciples, involves, going, baptizing, and teaching them to obey all things that Jesus has taught.  How will we teach others all the things that Jesus has taught?  It is through the process of discipleship, or disciple-making.

            What is discipleship?  Discipleship is simply the term we use to describe the process of teaching a new Christian how to follow Jesus and become a fisher  of men, someone who can lead another person to Christ and teach them to follow Jesus.  Robert Coleman writes, "The Great Commission is not a special calling or gift of the Spirit; it is a command - an obligation incumbent upon the whole community of faith.  There are no exceptions."  In Matthew 28:18-20, as Jesus ends His earthly ministry, He basically told us, "Continue in the simple call of Jesus."   
            The learning and following of disciples is expressed through several characteristics.  These qualities of life will be found in a growing disciple . . .

Abides in the Word of God (John 8:31-32)

          Jesus said that IF YOU ABIDE (CONTINUE, REMAIN) IN MY WORD, THEN YOU ARE TRULY MY DISCIPLES.  A convert has not yet learned to abide, to live a lifestyle that is soaked in the Word of God.  The psalmist describes the person who meditates on the Word of God DAY and NIGHT (Psalm 1).  God told Joshua that the key to his success was meditating on the Book of the Law day and night. 

            A disciple has learned to feed himself - he is not dependent on other people, his preacher, his teachers.  He gleans from these sources, but He knows how to go to the true Source.  He or she is a person of the Book.  As a growing disciple, he is learning have a grip on the Word of God by . . .


Obedience (Matthew 7:21; John 14:21)

          A disciple of Communism obeys the teachings of Communism.  A disciple of an outstanding voice instructor follows the instructions of that person.  A disciple of an ice skater couch follows the directions of that individual.  So, a disciple of Jesus obeys Him.  Habitual obedience characterize disciples.  I apply that truth to mean that 90% of the time, a disciple is going Jesus' way.
           How beautifully the fishermen illustrate this characteristic for us in Matthew 4.  Did you see that when Jesus speaks to them, when He calls them, the Bible says, "And they immediately left their nets, and followed Him."  The New Living translation reads that they left their nets at once and went with Him. 

            A good litmus test for our own discipleship is this: When Jesus speaks, do we obey Him?  When the Holy Spirit speaks through God's Word, do I obey?  When I know what the Lord wants me to do, is my obedience immediate, or do I ask a lot of questions?  The Message says, "They didn't ask questions, but simply dropped their nets and followed."  
             Continued next Tuesday on Walk With Jesus Tuesday . . .

Friday, April 4, 2014

Fantastic Family Friday: Easter Cometh

Two weeks from today will be Good Friday, the day that the church historically remembers Christ's crucifixion.  Given the significance of Easter to Christianity, it is wise for us to plan now how we will make the time special for our family.

Here are a few suggestions for how you can make Easter meaningful:

  • Take advantage of a Passion Play in your area.  During my childhood, the main thing I remember that set Easter aside as extra-special was that our church almost yearly performed a big Easter musical the weekend of Palm Sunday.  I have many vivid memories of witnessing the Passion of Christ through drama and music.  Watching those musicals helped instill a love in me for dramatic musicals, which I still have today.  Find a church or theater in your area that will produce a Passion Play or other biblical drama and take your family.  Two that I know about this year in Upstate South Carolina are the Easter musical Redeemer at First Baptist Simpsonville and the Living Gallery called "Looking Unto Jesus" at Bob Jones University.

  • Take time the next two weeks as a family reading parts of the Passion story in the Bible.  One thing you can add to that is to find two or three songs or hymns that talk about the crucifixion and resurrection.  Print off the lyrics and give them out to family members.  At mealtime or another setting for family worship, take time singing them together and talking about their rich meaning.  One resource our family uses is Passion Hymns for a Kid's Heart, which gives you the songs on CD as well as devotions to read.

Whatever you do, know that Easter will be here in two weeks.  Don't let it slip up on you.  Take some moments this weekend to plan how you will lead your family in remembering Christ in the days ahead.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Throwback Thursday

Two happy children on their way to Disneyworld!

Quote of the Day

When you stand before God at the Judgment Seat of Christ you may have regrets over how you spent your time, but you will have no regrets over any amount of time you spent in prayer.  There will be no praying in heaven.  Take advantage of every opportunity to pray - now.

- R. T. Kendall

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Kids Say the Darndest Things

Classic moment with our eight-year old.  In the middle of prayer meeting Sunday night at church, when the adults are praying spontaneously, Dawson grins wide from ear to ear. 

My wife asks, "What is it?" 

He happily replies, "Mommie, ear wax tastes just like hand sanitizer!"

How Charles Stanley Prepares to Preach

The following is a helpful article from The Rocket Company . . .

As a pastor, or communicator, it’s easy to neglect the most important component of sermon and message preparation—your own heart.

With family obligations, staff meetings, and other commitments competing for your time, you may find yourself trying to find something to say, without having something worth saying.

How do you prevent this?

Here are some key ways Dr. Charles Stanley—who has faithfully preached week-in and week-out for more than 50 years—prepares himself and his messages.

John Piper on Endurance

          John Piper, one of the most well-known pastors of our day, wrote a tremendous little book of three biographical sketches.  Each person's life models endurance.  The book, The Roots of Endurance, challenges the superficiality of our day.  Even the church today is often marked by living too much on the surface instead of plumbing the depths.  Piper shares some great words . . . 

         "What I have found is that in my pastoral disappointments and discouragements there is a great power for perseverance in keeping before me the life of a person who surmounted great obstacles in obedience to God’s call by the power of God’s grace.  I need this inspiration from another century, because I know that I am, in great measure, a child of my times.  And one of the pervasive marks of our times is emotional fragility.  It hangs in the air we breath.  We are easily hurt.  We pout and mope easily.  We blame easily.  We break easily.  We are easily disheartened, and it seems we have little capacity for surviving and thriving in the face of criticism and opposition.

A typical emotional response to trouble in the church is to think, If that’s the way they feel about me, then I’ll just find another church.  We see very few healthy, happy examples today whose lives spell out in flesh and blood the rugged words, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds (James 1:2). 

We all need help here.  We are surrounded by, and are part of, a society of emotionally fragile quitters.  The spirit of the age is too much in us.  We need to spend time with the kind of people – whether dead or alive – whose lives prove there is another way to live." 

                                                             The Roots of Endurance by John Piper

Walk with Jesus Tuesday: 10,000 Reasons

My family recently attended a National Invitation Tournament (NIT) basketball game at Clemson University.  The placed was packed.  We had the great and awesome privilege of sitting in seats at the very top row of Littlejohn Coliseum - where the air was warm, the seats packed, and the fans loud. 

Near the end of the game, the announcer shared that 10,000 people attended the game.  I believed it.  Very few empty seats remained.  Men and women unlucky enough to not find the correct number of seats together stood around the circular wall.

I find it much easier to watch sports games on television than I do in person.  Never have I been a huge sports fan, and for most of my life I spend as much time at sporting events daydreaming and checking out the environment of the arena as I do watching the game - and imagining what good snack I can find at the concessions stand. 

Having a great view of the crowd from the top-down, I mused, "So this is what 10,00 people look like.  What a large number of people to have in one place.  I am sure through the history of the United States, many battles have been won with fewer than this number of people." 

My mind returned to a biblical account.  As God prepared his servant Gideon to experience the Lord's work and lead God's people, the "mighty warrior" watched as God sifted His battle army from 32,000 to a much-less 10,000.  I looked around the stadium and realized, "This is the number of troops Gideon had after the first group went home."  Still, with 10,000 remaining, Gideon must have taken some comfort in the size of the group.  One feels protected and cushioned with that many people.  A measure of safety and strength comes in such an atmosphere.

Then, the unexpected instruction came from the Lord: "There are still too many men." 

What, Lord?  What?!?  Still too many!  Do you remember that our enemy has 135,000 warriors?  And even now they outnumber us about 13 to one?  And you tell me that there are "still too many?"

The Lord sifted the men again - and this time only 300 remained.  I looked at one of the sections in the noisy stadium.  Yes, one section would approximately hold about 300 people.  I tried to imagine the sheer shock and nakedness that Gideon and the remaining 300 must have felt when 9700 men left the camp for home. 

I imagined that many people suddenly leaving the basketball arena - and only one section of people left.  Then, I tried to visualize Gideon facing that section in Littlejohn and saying, "OK guys, now - the 300 of us are going to defeat an army of 135,000.  In case you are not good at counting or left your calculators in your tents - that means they outnumber us 450 to one!"

I would be tempted to quip, "Get a grip, Gideon!"  The reality was, however, that God had a grip on Gideon.

The Lord chose to break the odds and do the impossible with that small group of 300 - a group that originally numbered 32,000.  Less than 10% of the original army remained.

God was about to work in a way that only He would receive the glory.  He explained to Gideon, "You have too many men for Me to deliver Midian into your hands."  God reduced his army in "order that Israel may not boast against Me that her own strength has saved her."

When God worked, the Bible says that "all the Midianites ran, crying out as the fled."  The Lord even caused the "men throughout the camp to turn on each other."  At the end of the day, Gideon and his small group of men knew that God had worked for His glory.

When Clemson beat Belmont that night, many fans cheered and shouted for the Tigers.  However, the night that God won His victory for His people, I expect that praises went up to Jehovah more than they did for their leader Gideon.

To help us grow - and to teach us to trust Him - God sometimes sifts us.  It hurts.  It is often unexpected.  And it can be downright scary. 

But at the end of the day, the Lord wants us boasting not in our efforts, circumstances, or resources but in Him. 

Trust and obey, for there's no other way to be happy in Jesus, than to trust and obey.