New Beginnings (Part 2)

It was a bright Sunday morning in 18th century London, but Robert Robinson’s mood was anything but sunny. All along the street there were people hurrying to church, but in the midst of the crowd Robinson was a lonely man. The sound of church bells reminded him of years past when his faith in God was strong and the church was an integral part of his life. It had been years since he set foot in a church—years of wandering, disillusionment, and gradual defection from the God he once loved. That love for God—once fiery and passionate—had slowly burned out within him, leaving him dark and cold inside. Robinson heard the clip-clop of a horse-drawn cab approaching behind him. Turning, he lifted his hand to hail the driver. But then he saw that the cab was occupied by a young woman dressed in finery for the Lord’s Day. He waved the driver on, but the woman ordered the carriage to be stopped.


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A New Beginning (Part 1)

Have you ever wished you could have a do-over? I know of a teen-age girl in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, who wanted one. Police stopped the girl after complaints that a car had been seen doing laps around her neighborhood in reverse for some time. The girl told police that her parents had let her use the car, but she had put too much mileage on it. “I was just trying to unwind some of it,” she said.

Unfortunately, cars don’t work that way. And neither does life, does it? The frustrating thing about time is that it always moves forward. There is no “R” on the stick-shift, no reverse in the gears. The hands of the clock always move clockwise, and the pages of the calendar are torn off in only one direction. Time never moves backward. Not an inch, not a step, never. But just because we can’t turn back the clock or run the odometer in reverse, doesn’t mean we can’t have a fresh start. Spring is a time of new beginnings and fresh starts. And, the God who created the world specializes in new beginnings!


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Experiencing Revival

Recently, Ashley and I watched the movie “Princess Bride” for the first time with our kids. It’s a classic fairy-tale movie filled with romance and swashbuckling adventure. In one pivotal scene, Miracle Max lifts the lifeless arm of the hero, Wesley, and lets it drop to the table, massages his chest, and searches for signs of life. The situation looks awfully grim to Wesley’s companions, but then Miracle Max exclaims, “I’ve seen worse…it just so happens, your friend here is only MOSTLY dead. There is a big difference between mostly dead and all dead. Mostly dead is slightly alive. With all dead, well, with all dead there is usually only one thing you can do…go through his clothes and look for loose change.”

Sadly, there are countless churches all over the country that are in the same condition as Wesley… or worse. Last year more than 3,500 churches died, closing their doors for the last time. The same number will likely die this year, too. Myriad more churches have lost their healthy glow, displaying little or no signs of life.


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Saint Patrick’s Day: Our Three-in-One God

Saint Patrick’s Day is just around the corner and, of course, in our modern-American celebration that basically means lots of drinking and the occasional pinching of those who forgot to wear green. Have you heard the one about the Irish priest driving home from church on Saint Patrick’s Day? He got pulled over for speeding and the state trooper smells alcohol on the priest’s breath and then sees an empty wine bottle on the floor of the car. He says, “Sir, have you been drinking?” “Just water,” says the priest. The trooper says, “Then why do I smell wine?” The priest looks at the bottle, sniffs it and says, “Good Lord! He’s done it again!”

It’s really disappointing that Saint Patrick’s Day has regressed in many parts of the world to a celebration of Irish beer, but in Ireland itself it is still celebrated as a religious holiday by both the Catholic Church and the Church of Ireland. What’s really disappointing is that many people, even Christians, don’t have a clue what Saint Patrick’s Day is really all about.


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Parables of Jesus: The Sower

In 1886, after the state of Georgia passed prohibition laws, a young man name John Pemberton invented a carbonated non-alcoholic beverage which he thought would appeal to Americans given the prohibition against alcohol. It was marketed as a “soft drink” as opposed to hard liquor and contained a mixture made from coca beans and cola beans, which inspired the name Coca-Cola. John first started selling the soft drink in pharmacies in his home town of AtlantaGeorgia, but he had a much grander vision for his invention. He had a dream that within 100 years every person on the face of the earth would have tasted the soft drink he created. He didn’t quite reach his goal, but I’d still say he was pretty successful, wouldn’t you? Today it is estimated that…

  • 51% of the all the people living in the world today have actually tasted Coca-Cola
  • 72 % have at least seen a can or bottle of Coke
  • 97%, if they haven’t seen or tasted it, have at least heard of Coca-Cola

On the other hand, only an estimated 73% of the world today has heard of Jesus Christ and I guarantee you—a whole lot fewer have actually tasted what he has to offer. I wonder how different things might be if Christians were as passionate about sharing their faith as John Pemberton was about sharing his soft drink—if we tried as hard as he did to put Bibles instead of bottles in the hands of people all over the world?


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Parables of Jesus: The Tenants

Most of us are pretty familiar with product warning labels. It seems like almost everything has a warning label on it today. I recently came across some actual warning labels that really make you question the intelligence of American consumers:

 

  • Ÿ  A Vidal Sassoon hairdryer: DO NOT USE WHILE SLEEPING.
  • Ÿ  The label on irons says: WARNING! NEVER IRON CLOTHES WHILE WEARING THEM.
  •   iPod Shuffle actually has a warning that says: DO NOT EAT IPOD SHUFFLE
  • Ÿ  Nabisco™ Easy Spread Cheese announces on its label: FOR BEST RESULTS REMOVE CAP.
  • Ÿ  Auto-Windshield sun visor bears the reminder: DO NOT DRIVE WITH SUNSHADE IN PLACE
  • Ÿ  The label on a Dremel Rotary Tool says: THIS PRODUT IS NOT INTENDED FOR USE AS A DENTAL DRILL.
  • Ÿ  A warning label on a pair of Superman pajamas: WARNING! THIS GARMENT DOES NOT ENABLE WEARER TO FLY.

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Parables of Jesus: The Wheat & The Weeds

I know the forecast is calling for frigid temperatures and frosty condition this week, but I’m so thankful for the brief preview of spring we had last week. Two days of 50o temps was such a welcome reprieve from the snow and ice we’ve been having. I don’t know about you, but I am ready for spring to arrive. Spring brings so much warmth and color and new life. Flowers start budding, grass turns green again, blue skies and rainbow fill the air. One of the big things Ashley is looking forward to this Spring is planting a new garden. There’s something about feeling the dirt between her fingers, and the hope of seeds turning into five-foot tall tomato plants, or a high-bearing pepper plant that she finds enticing. To me, gardening just sounds like a lot of work. Hoeing, tilling, planting, fending off the bugs that think your bean plants were planted just for them, and of course the endless weeding that goes along with it.

I don’t know if Jesus ever had a garden, but a lot of his parables have to do with seeds and soil. Apparently he wasn’t very fond of weeds either, as evidenced by the parable of the wheat and the weeds. He tells this story in Matthew 13 along with several other parables about planting and harvesting. Here’s what he says:


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Parables of Jesus: The Laborers

 

Well over fifty years ago, during a conference on comparative religions, experts from around the world debated, what—if any—belief was unique to the Christian faith. The debate went on for quite a while, until C.S. Lewis wandered into the room and asked, “What’s the ruckus about?” His colleagues explained that they were discussing Christianity’s uniqueness among world religions. Lewis responded, “Oh, that’s easy. It’s grace.” A sort of enlightened hush fell over the crowd. Everyone at the conference had to agree.

Grace. We talk as if we understand the word. “The bank gives us a grace period. The corrupt politician falls from grace. We describe the hostess as gracious and the dancer as graceful. We even say grace before our meals. We talk a lot about grace, especially at church.” What’s interesting to me is that Jesus never said grace.


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Parables of Jesus: The Firm Foundation

pisa

The Leaning Tower of Pisa is one of the most famous structures in the world—not because of its gently rising series of arches, but because of its legendary tilt. Construction began on the historic tower in 1173 (840 years ago) and lasted for nearly two centuries. But before the first three levels could be completed, it began to shift on its foundation ever so slightly. Gradually leaning further and further over the centuries, it’s now heralded as the most lopsided structure in the world. In fact, by 1990 the top to the tower was seventeen feet further south than the bottom. It was finally closed to the public for safety concerns and not reopened until 2008. During that time, engineers completed a 25 million dollar renovation project designed to stabilize the tower. They removed 110 tons of dirt, and reduced its legendary lean by about sixteen inches. What was the problem? Bad design? Poor workmanship? An inferior grade of marble? No. The problem was what was underneath. The sandy soil on which the city of Pisa was built was just not stable enough to support a monument of this size. The tower had no firm foundation.

Unfortunately the same can be said of some of us.


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Parables of Jesus: The Lost Sheep

Among the many metaphors used throughout the Bible to describe God’s relationship with people, one of the most common is a Shepherd and his sheep.  David first wrote “The Lord is my Shepherd” in Psalm 23 and Jesus often used this imagery, identifying himself as the Good Shepherd. Now, I don’t really know if that’s a compliment. If you ask a classroom of Kindergarteners, “If you could be any animal you want, which animal would you be?” I don’t think any of them would say a sheep. You’ll never see a college sports team with a sheep as their mascot. Can you imagine the Southern Illinois Sheep, Louisiana Lambs or the El Paso Ewes? People will even use the word sheep as an insult, implying that a person is just a follower that doesn’t think for themselves.

Yet, these are the creatures to which Christians are most often compared in the Bible. Perhaps it’s because they naturally flock together; sheep are very social creatures and enjoy living in groups. Or maybe it’s because of how worrisome they can be. A sheet of paper blown by the wind will frighten them. A thunderstorm may throw them into a panic. Or possibly it’s their relationship with their shepherd. Sheep are able to identify human faces and voices, remembering them for years. They won’t follow just anyone, but they will hear and obey the voice of their Shepherd. Or it could be their tendency to wonder that makes them worthy of comparison. This seems to be the primary parallel of the parable of the lost sheep.


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