ONCE IN A WHILE

shepherdsWeek after week, throughout each year, Christians of the Churches of Christ join in one consistent act. Songs change, sermons change, even ministers change, but the spiritual gathering around the Lord’s table never changes. The manner in which it is shared may change but the focus does not. Many different messages are used to call the worshiper to the Supper but the central theme always includes the words of Jesus himself when he said, “Do this in remembrance of me.” We are called to that central theme whether we reflect on the oneness to which the bread calls us or the “life in the blood” which flows from the cup. It is a time of solemn reflection and unbounded joy. Reflection on our own flawed nature and joy that, through the sacrifice of God’s own Son, “Mercy overcomes justice!” James 2:13

Week after week, month after month, the death of Jesus is thoughtfully observed. However, just once in a while there is a Sunday where there is an additional focus. Rarely but certainly, there is a Sunday when the birth of Jesus is remembered as well as his death. I am aware that there are mixed feelings about the date of Jesus’ birth, but that is not the point. One day out of the year the world, believing and unbelieving, are called to give thought to the birth of Jesus. I realize that theologically there are those who chose to throw Christ out of Christmas, but keep Santa Claus. They are the same ones who take the resurrection out of Easter but keep the fertility symbols of rabbits and Easter eggs. I am not writing today to debate these matters. They just crept in through my lack of discipline. My focus is that at least today the world celebrates the birth of the King of Kings. Regardless of your theology isn’t it sweet to look once more into the manger and hear the angels sing out to the shepherds – and us – “Glory to God in the highest! Peace on earth, good will toward men.!” Luke 2:14

THE AGES OF MAN

man-life-stages-development-cartoon-illustration-different-cycle-growth-31181105When I was studying psychology years ago I discovered something that struck me as rather lacking in honesty. Most writers said the same thing but called them different names. I suppose one could not get published if they stuck to the same names, but it seemed a little less than honest to constantly publish a new “theory” which was nothing more than those published by others, but was given new names to make it appear new. What was even more interesting to me was the number of writers who used biblical descriptions of the states of man, but denied the validity of the Bible itself. To be perfectly candid, there is “nothing new under the sun.” “That which has been is that which will be, And that which has been done is that which will be done. So there is nothing new under the sun.” Solomon – Eccl 1:9 Another saying of Solomon that fits very well as a response to my studies is “ …be warned: the writing of many books is endless, and excessive devotion to books is wearying to the body.” Eccl 12:12 But that is another subject.

Jean Piaget is held in respect by educators. He saw man’s development in four stages. Sensorimotor, Preoperational, Concrete operational and Formal operational. These beginning with birth and developing through life. Erik Erikson put forward eight stages of Psychological Crisis from infancy to maturity. Sigmond Freud boiled his theory into three parts. The Id, the Ego and the Superego. But then had to expand the Ego into eight Defense Mechanisms used for protection to keep it from being overcome with anxiety.

What all of these convoluted theories do is attempt to describe man from birth to death and to explain the development of good and bad. The truth appears to be that no one is satisfied with what others may use to describe these events. Large words, small words and new words are used to codify and attempt to explain why we are who we are. All interesting and none complete. Our pulpit minister recently touched on the subject of nurture vs. nature and basically opined it is an ongoing conflict among those seeking to define which does what. All of this is written to say that I agree with Solomon, there is nothing new under the sun and of the making of books (theories} there appears to be no end.

May I be so bold as to give you my short theory on development? There appears to me to be two periods in the life of man. When we are young we dream of what it will be like to be grown and when we are grown we dream of what it was like to be young. I will not write a book on this theory, but at least I have it in print.

LA CASA EN LA SOMBRA DE LA CRUZ

cross_jesus_wood_236183“La casa en la sombra de la Cruz.” That little sign caught my eye as I climbed the steep path to the great Cross on the mountain overlooking Acapulco, Mexico. My Spanish is not very proficient but I had no trouble translating that phrase. “The house in the shadow of the Cross.” And it was exactly that. Nestled rather precariously on the side of the mountain sat this little house which, in the morning hours, was literally in the shadow of the Cross. Both the sign and the significance of that small place has captured my attention through the many years which have passed. Would it not be very special to actually live in such a place?

As the years pass I come back to that thought and it expands to so much more. After all, it was the Apostle Paul who wrote, “I am determined to know nothing except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” And perhaps of even greater significance, it was Jesus himself who said, “If I be lifted up I will draw all men to me.” In our search for soft and encouraging thoughts we tend to speak much more about the resurrection than we do the cross. Do not be confused, the resurrection is a magnificent moment and one that bring peace and hope to us all, but it was the cross that brought salvation. All the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament focus on the cross. The cross was God’s offering of great and unthinkable love which would purchase a lost and dying world from its sin and guilt. Jesus was raised from the dead because death could not hold one who was perfect. His resurrection was the event which led to the promise that those who were washed in the blood of the Lamb would also not be held by death. All of this is wonderful, but the price was the cross!

All of us should be living in a house in the shadow of the Cross! If the words of Jesus are true, and they are, it is his “lifting up” that not only makes possible our salvation, but in fact draws us to Him. Grace though faith is where salvation is delivered, but it is faith in a crucified Savior that make that grace possible. The children of Israel marked their doors in Egypt with the blood of a lamb to protect them from the angel of death. Perhaps it might be appropriate if, for the sake of our own remembrance, we placed a small sign over the threshold of our door which simply read “La casa en la sombra de la Cruz” If we are who we are called to be we all live in the shadow of the Cross.

TILL THOU AT LAST ART FREE

imagesWe live in such a blessed society in the USA. No other people on the face of the earth have the standard of living we enjoy. It is a blessing and it is also a curse. The ease with which we live is the blessing and the temptation it presents is the curse. Success is generally gauged by the things one has. It can be wealth or fame, but it is still the measure of how we are judged. This philosophy has lead us to constantly be in pursuit of more. Sadly, Christians are not all that different from the world. Somewhere along the years we lost the view that simply following God is the only true measure of success. Our lives constantly become more complicated as we seek the “more” of everything. Our lives never have enough and our prayers are constantly for more.

Somewhere we missed the real point of the prayer we call The Lord’s Prayer. Where did that “Give us this day our daily bread” get lost? Or the “Take no thought for the morrow?” Do you hear what Jesus is saying? Daily bread – not even weekly or monthly. Certainly not yearly. The whole emphasis of the teaching of the Christ was simplicity. A limited amount for a limited time. Enough for the body for the day. Whole books have been written explaining how that was not really what that passage means. But it is very difficult to make it mean something different from what it says. I remember the old preacher Marshal Keeble saying , in a lectureship at Harding College years ago, “You have to be educated to misunderstand that.” We have always been able to re-interpret those Scriptures that differ with what we want to believe. “Take no thought for the morrow,” obviously does not mean take NO thought for the morrow, we say. But if it does not then what does it mean. Take a little thought? Perhaps take no thought for the morrow, but certainly the day after. I understand that we must take Scripture in the light of where and how it is said, but when we do, we become sole interpreters and all truth resides with us.

We are held in bondage to the world view of success. It will always have some effect upon us. The African Bush man may find wealth in goats and the American in homes, autos and so on, but all have a measure that includes more of this world than it does of God. I always loved the poem by Oliver Wendell Holmes called The Chambered Nautilus. It is often not interpreted as it should be, but it speaks to the final freedom that comes when all the things have passed away. Listen –

Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul,
As the swift seasons roll!
Leave thy low-vaulted past!
Let each new temple, nobler than the last,
Shut thee from heaven with a dome more vast,
Till thou at length art free,
Leaving thine outgrown shell by life’s unresting sea!

“Till thou at length art free” After building more stately mansions – each nobler than the last and finding they have, in fact, shut us from heaven with a dome more vast. We finally end that pursuit and find the true freedom of life with God. Would it not be so much richer if we could just be happy in the now – one day at a time?

SONGS OF THE SOUL

th[1]“When I survey the wondrous cross on which the Christ my Savior died—“ That song comes to me quiet often. It always re-focuses my priorities. Life is full of frustrations, but also it is filled with opportunities. The differences in one’s being often depends on which of these finds prominence in our thoughts. I can see the cracks in the sidewalk or I can enjoy the fact that I am not walking in the muddy path that was there before. Game playing is not a bad thing when properly used. I am rather tall. As a youth I developed the stooping habit. I have fought it all my life. I remember someone in Ft. Smith, Arkansas telling me that it would help remind me if I would just back up to a wall and straighten up every once in a while. I began the habit of doing that every time I made my hospital visits. It became a game I played but It was remarkable how much that helped me maintain better posture. That is what the Cross song does for me mentally and spiritually.

When the writer penned “My richest gain I count but loss, “ he helped me considerably, but when he closes that phrase with “–and pour contempt on all my pride,” he strikes at the seat of most of my difficulties. My pride! Pride is such a manipulative thing. It colors our view of reality and prohibits the solution of many of our problems. Even the perception of pride injures our influence with our fellows. A phrase I heard many years ago still echos in my memory as I contemplate the Christ on His cross. “Your sins sent Him there!” I heard the preacher say. I had always enlarged the thought to the sins of the whole world and it never seemed so personal and accusative. If I am to rejoice in the fact that He saved me, I must also accept the blame for His death.

God loved the songs of the psalmist David. I think they must have reminded Him of the heart so attuned to His. Songs still express with deep emotion our common thoughts and turn them into thoughts worthy of eternity. Words and thoughts often pass through and are gone, but a good song replays itself over and over in our very souls.

SIMPLE TO COMPLEX

can-stock-photo_csp24636316It is said that, in the natural order of things, things tend to go from the complex to the simple unless operated on by an outside force. In the case of creation God is that force. He is the one who holds things in complexity as He sees fit. But He did not do that with religion. God gave man a simple religion and it is man who forces it into complexity. When God, speaking through His Son Jesus, gave His version of Christianity’s requirements for entry, He said, “He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned.” (Mark 16:16 NASB). As the Apostles preached the message delivered to them, Paul would write, “For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” (1 Cor 2:2 NASB). Christianity didn’t sound all that complicated did it? Now I realize that there were other matters that a Christian needed to know, but even they were relatively simple. The Christian life was not so complicated with long list of laws that the common man could not understand it, much less keep it.
When Jesus was ask which of the commandments was the greatest His answer was simple. “‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.'” (Mat 22:37 NASB). And just to be sure they understood the rest of what the complicated law of Moses really entailed he continued, “The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF. On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” (Mat 22:40 NASB). Things have not really changed all that much today. If one loves God and his neighbor there is nothing in the Christian life to be violated.
But man cannot leave things simple! Our forefathers gave us a relatively simple form of government, but we have complicated it into an unmanageable bureaucracy. Our Heavenly Father gave us a relatively uncomplicated religious form and we have done the same to it. If someone ask you what he would need to do to be a Christian what would you tell him? Some would reply, “Repent and be baptized.” Others would extend that to mention living an unselfish life. And still others would require that he subscribe to one hundred and thirty articles of faith! You don’t think so? Just think for a moment how many judge whether or not one, who is already a Christian, is to remain in their fellowship. Will he believe in instrumental music or not? Does he take the Lord’s Supper each first day of the week or not? Will he have Sunday Schools or not? Can he use the collection to share with other congregations in work or not? Is his worship service traditional or contemporary? Will he use multiple containers for the Lord’s Supper or not? And on and on and on—!
God took a simple people and gave them an uncomplicated religion. But we have taken that uncomplicated religion and made it so complex that neither we nor those we would teach can possible meet all the requirements. Every real reform has attempted to restore the simplicity of God’s way, but we always seem to have to add additional requirements until its adherents stumble and fall beneath the load. We can’t even seem to get Christ’s invitation right! “”Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and YOU SHALL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. For My yoke is easy, and My load is light.”” (Mat 11:28-30 NASB). His yoke may be easy but we have made it a galling, binding, burden. God forgive us!

THE WATERFALL

IMG_2003There is a waterfall in Arkansas. The stream called Petit Jean flows off the top of Petit Jean Mountain into the canyon below. It is one of my favorite places, with memories that span a lifetime. I was there as a child. I was there with the girl who was to become my lifelong companion and wife. I was there often in joy and peace and once in a while in anguish and grief for I still go there, 350 miles away, to mourn my greater losses. When I need peace from the treacherous and fast paced world I turn to this place if only in my mind.
Often, in younger days when I could still descend to the bottom of the canyon, I would lie on my back on the great stone that stands in mid-stream and view the falling water as it plummeted toward my upturned eyes. Before long it seemed that the droplets in the spray were solitary units and all falling in slow motion. It never failed to slow my rushing mind and lull my anxiety into a calm and peaceful comfort.
What is it about water that is so powerful? From the Creation water has played a prominent place in the life of our planet. In fact, as scientists probe the distant space, they constantly search for water, believing that it is the one thing which will be necessary for life to exist. Water is literally the earth’s life blood.
While the earth was without form and organization the Spirit of God “moved over the face of the waters.” (Gen 1:2) When God made the Garden of Eden He caused it to be divided by rivers of water. When David describes a godly man he says, “And he will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, Which yields its fruit in its season, And its leaf does not wither; And in whatever he does, he prospers.” (Psa 1:3) When Jesus speaks of the great gift He could give to the Samaritan woman by the well in Sychar He tells her it would be a “stream of living water, welling up unto life.” (John 4:14) Is it any wonder that God chose baptism in water to be symbolic of the “washing of regeneration” (Titus 3:5) or of the “new birth?” (John 3:3)
I have a waterfall on a mountain in Arkansas. Do you have a place of healing and peace in your life? I will be there this Thanksgiving!