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Steve's Letter: October 2013
There is an old hymn my friend, Frank Boggs (the first recording artist signed by Word Records), used to sing: "How Tedious and Tasteless the Hours." Let me give you a couple verses:
Lord, if indeed now I am thine,
And thou art my sun and my song,
Say why do I languish and pine,
And why are my winters so long?
O drive those dark clouds from my sky,
Thy soul cheering presence restore,
Or take me to thee up on high,
Where winter and clouds are no more.
You ever feel that way? I do sometimes.
I don't get suicidal or anything and I'm not ready to become a Buddhist, but there are times when everything looks bleak and it's sort of like looking through dark glasses. It passes but, while I'm there, the "dark clouds" in my sky seem to be a very present reality. Sometimes there is a reason and sometimes not. It's just dark and I don't know what to do about it. Frankly, prayer, reading the Bible and doing religious stuff don't help much.
It's just dark.
Steve, not you. You're saved and a preacher. Even if you feel that way, you shouldn't tell people. You're going to lose your job...
Steve's Letter: September 2013
James 5:16 says, "Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed." Last night I saw that verse stand up, salute and sing The Hallelujah Chorus. Let me tell you about it.
As you know, I'm a cynical, old preacher whose attitude is hopefully more biblical and realistic than it is cynical. But sometimes I fear that isn't true. My saving quality is that I'm probably more cynical about myself than anybody else.
There isn't any confession I haven't heard and often identified with. It is rare for me to see anything happening or not happening in the church that surprises me or which I haven't been a part of in one form or another. I've never heard an unbeliever's negative comment about Christians or the church that I didn't want to say, "You don't know nothin'!" I can't even remember the string of marriages gone bad, suicides both successful and not, and deathbeds, tragedy, failure and sin I've witnessed. You don't live as long as I have and observe as much as I have without identifying with the preacher in Ecclesiastes, "Vanity of vanities! All is vanity....a striving after wind."
I'm a little less cynical this morning than I was yesterday.
Last night we went to hear Rose Marie Miller. She spoke at a church pastored by a friend of mine and one of the bloggers on our website for pastors, Chuck Holliday. Rose Marie is the widow of my late friend, Jack Miller, a man whose ministry and life touched mine in profound ways. Jack was a professor at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia (where I'll be teaching in a couple weeks), and the founder of a pile of churches and of World Harvest Mission with many missionaries around the world. He created and taught a seminar that changed thousands and thousands of lives called Sonship.
I could spend the rest of this letter giving you Jack Miller quotes. My favorite one: "The Bible can be summed up in two sentences. 1) Cheer up, you're a lot worse than you think you are. 2) Cheer up, God's grace is a lot bigger than you think it is."
At any rate, being with and hearing Rose Marie was like fresh air...but not for the reasons you think...
Steve's Letter: August 2013
Have you ever read something so true that you couldn't understand why it hadn't been said more often? I recently read a blog like that by Anthony Bradley, associate professor of theology and ethics at The King's College in NewYork and a research fellow at the Acton Institute.
Bradley writes that being a radical and missional Christian has become the new legalism of the church: "Today's Millennial generation is being fed the message that if they don't do something extraordinary in this life they are wasting their gifts and potential....For too many Millennials their greatest fear in this life is being an ordinary person with a non-glamorous job, living in the suburbs, and having nothing spectacular to boast about."
He goes on to write that we are creating a "missional narcissism" where "living out one's faith becomes narrowly celebratory only when done in a unique and special way, a 'missional' way. Getting married and having children early, getting a job, saving and investing, being a good citizen, loving one's neighbor, and the like, no longer qualify as virtuous. One has to be involved in arts and social justice activities—even if justice is pursued without sound economics or social teaching. I actually know of a couple who were being so 'missional' that they decided to not procreate for the sake of taking care of orphans."
What? Are you against orphans? You probably don't give a rip about injustice or about the poor and oppressed...and after all that Jesus has done for you...
Steve's Letter: July 2013
When you were in high school or college, did you memorize William Henley's poem, Invictus? I did and it was one of the few assignments I liked. (Now that I think about it, it was also one of the few assignments I completed.) Even now the words (written in the 19th century) resonate with me:
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
Not only do those words resonate with me, I have a proclivity toward political libertarianism, rejoiced when I first read Ayn Rand, and sometimes wish people would just quit trying to be my mother.
Even as I write those words, I must force myself to stop because I'm stirred with thoughts of John Wayne, guns and "don't tread on me." If I wrote more, I would have to repent more...
I'm writing this during Easter week and just finished (as a part of my daily Bible readings) the book of Ecclesiastes. Frankly, with thoughts of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Easter and Ecclesiastes, there is a disconnect.
If you read Ecclesiastes for your devotional time, make it in the morning. If you read it just before going to bed, you won't sleep very well. In Ecclesiastes, there are texts like...
"I applied my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven. It is an unhappy business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity [futility] and a striving after wind..." (1:13-14).
"I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity [futility] and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun..." (2:11).
"What has a man from all the toil and striving of heart with which he toils beneath the sun? For all his days are full of sorrow, and his work is a vexation. Even in the night his heart does not rest. This also is vanity [futility]..." (2:22-23).
"For of the wise as of the fool there is no enduring remembrance, seeing that in the days to come all will have been long forgotten. How the wise dies just like the fool! So I hated life, because what is done under the sun was grievous to me, for all is vanity [futility] and a striving after wind..." (2:16-17).
That's in the Bible?
Yeah. And you should read it to some of your pagan friends who think the Bible is an unrealistic book, and tell them to put that in their pipe and smoke it...
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