Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The "R" Word

I know this is horribly unpopular to say, but honestly, you and I need some religion.

In Acts 2, we meet the first Christians and right off the bat, they are doing a lot of "religious" things ...Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

That all sounds like pretty religious stuff to me.. Baptism, listening together to sermons, fellowshipping together, taking the Lord's Supper together, praying together, going through crisis together, sharing life and resources together, worshipping together in larger groups, fellowshipping in homes and witnessing together all across their community. That's pretty much what organized Christian faith is all about still today.

Almost nothing on this list of things that the first Christians did can be done at home with Joel Olsteen or on the lake by yourself. With all due respect toward Mr. Olsteen's TV show and all those who seek to use it as a substitute for "church," church is about a lot more than giving out or hearing information. God established the local church as a place where real people could cooperate together to love God, each other, and their world. We need other people to help us along the spiritual path. The Bible knows nothing of this modern idea of a personal spirituality that finds no place for community expression. While we do need some time for personal spiritual experiences, a personal spiritual life without a religious life is a glass half empty.

This is a great time of year to find your way back into a local church. God has a lot to teach you and many ways He wants to encourage you through involvement with His people. What's more, you have some things to give the Lord and the world that you can only give when you are in a healthy relationships with a church family. If you have been out of church it's God's will that you revive your "religious" life. To be clear, the Lord isn't looking for meaningless rituals, and if you aren't a sincere follower of Christ, religion won't help you all that much. However, if you are a Christian, then there is great depth and meaning to be found in seeking after God with other people, and of course, that's the reason Jesus established His church.

I hope you will be in church this Sunday. A little religion would be good for you and the community where you live.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Chicken or Egg

I am preparing for an upcoming sermon series on Hell. It has me thinking a good deal about the different ways that we try avoid the whole notion. In some corners of our nation, we dismiss the idea all together, but in Texas, it seems to me that we are more likely to lower the bar of salvation low enough so that we can console ourselves into believing that most everyone has already jumped over it.

The troubling thing about this "cheap grace" approach to salvation is that it seems to be a rather large issue to our Lord. Jesus warns that on the day of judgment many will cry "Lord, Lord," only to be reminded that "The Lord" never knew them. In the same manner, most all the parables that talk about Hell end with someone who claims to be in, being out.

It all seems rather back handed to me at times. We don't work to earn our salvation it is a gift of God's grace alone, but if we are saved certain actions and attitudes will surface in our lives. In my devotional time this morning, Oswald reminded me that sanctification is God's certain work in all those who have trusted Christ.

  • Sanctification means the impartation of the holy qualities of Jesus Christ to me. It is the gift of His patience, love, holiness, faith, purity, and godliness that is exhibited in and through every sanctified soul. Sanctification is not drawing from Jesus the power to be holy— it is drawing from Jesus the very holiness that was exhibited in Him, and that He now exhibits in me. Sanctification is an impartation, not an imitation. Imitation is something altogether different. The perfection of everything is in Jesus Christ, and the mystery of sanctification is that all the perfect qualities of Jesus are at my disposal. Consequently, I slowly but surely begin to live a life of inexpressible order, soundness, and holiness— ". . . kept by the power of God . . ." ( 1 Peter 1:5 ).
The 19th century theologians used to call this idea perseverance. If you have given your life to Christ then you will persevere. It will take time, but at the end of life it is becomes obvious that God has been at work in your life. If you are saved, you will work for the Lord. You won't do it because you are forced but because the Holy Spirit has written a passion for people and their needs on your heart as a part of your sanctification.

It's never our place to judge who is in and who is out in eternal matters, but the work of God to sanctify us is a great affirmation that "He who began a good work in you will complete it."

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

On Beauty

We need more.

Last summer my family and I spent a week in Jackson Hole. During our time in Yellowstone, we came across several areas of burned out forest. In some areas, as far as you could see there were thousands of fallen trees littering the hillsides.

Honestly, it was ugly. In the midst of all the grand beauty of the finest of our national parks the fallen trees seemed out of place. This was most especially true along a certain well traveled pathway that led to one of Yellowstone's famous waterfalls. To reach our goal, we walked for a couple of miles on a path lined by fallen tree trunks. It was hot and there were no trees to shade our journey. Weeds and grass had grown up between the fallen trees and occasionally we would spy a new sapling coming up to greet the sky.

At one time, I'm sure that the pathway was cool and a joy to walk, but not anymore.

Later we asked some friends who were working for the part service why the fallen trees weren't cleared and new one's planted along the path. The fires that had wreaked havoc on the beautiful landscape had occurred over ten years ago. Surely there had been time to clean things up a bit.

My friends had asked the same questions and the park rangers had explained that a new park policy forbid the cleaning up of the mess, because it wasn't "natural" to do so.

Well, thumbs down on natural.

Now the park rangers may have a very good reason for making this choice, but my hunch is that this is conservation gone overboard. Before there was sin in the world there were gardeners. Adam and Eve were invited to create as God had created. To take the raw materials of nature and use them to do something glorious. To create beauty from beauty. Mankind has a contribution to make in this world and our efforts are not always destructive or hurtful to the natural order.

The application of this truth is broad. In a sinful fallen world, not everything that occurs "naturally" is beautiful. From parks and churches to giving leadership in a public school classroom the need for Kingdom minded creators is acute. There are some ugly things in this world that will remain an ugly mess until one of God's children decides to do something about it. Natural isn't always best. Natural often calls out for someone to clear away a mess and start something new - to bring beauty in the aftermath of disaster.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009


So here's our latest project.  Our purpose is to try and put forward a message of hope to those who are searching for an authentic relationship with God.  We are anxious for some input.  Please take a moment to watch this through and let me know about your experience.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Science and Faith part 2

In the December issue of Discover Magazine, a purely secular magazine with no particular affinity for Christianity, noted science writer Tim Folger writes about a painfully inconveneint truth that has emerged as a consensus in scientific circles... He writes:

“Everything bears witness to this extraordinary fact about the universe; its basic properties are unannily suited for life. Tweak the laws of physics in just about any way and life would not exist. If the protons in atoms were just 2 tenths of one percent heavier, atoms could not exist. A slightly stronger gravitational pull and stars and our sun would burn up too quickly for life. The sun is just exactly the right distance from the earth to support life. A little closer or farther away and all life would burn up or freeze.

In fact there are a lot of really, really strange coincidences and all of these coincidences are such that they make life possible.

But, Physicists don’t like coincidences. They like even less the notion that life is somehow central to the universe, and yet recent discoveries are forcing them to confront that very idea. Life, it seems, is not an incidental component of the universe, burped up out of a random chemical brew on a lonely planet to endure for a few fleeting ticks of the cosmic clock. In some strange sense, it appears that we are not adapted to the universe; but the universe is adapted to us.

Call it a fluke, a mystery, or a miracle. Or you can call it the biggest problem of physics.”

How could everything in the universe be so precisely fine tuned to support human life on this small planet?

I tell you how. There is a God who created this universe for us.

Not only did he make it to support life, but he filled it with wonders and beauty much of which is still undiscovered and beyond our wildest imagination.

Sunrises and starry nights, flowers and seashores, mountains, lakes and streams. From the farthest nebula that our telescopes can scan to the elegance of the DNA strand. God did it all.

And God did it for us - a gift that we could enjoy and carefully pass along to the next generation.

Almost exactly 500 hundred years ago, a scientist by the name of Copernicus put forth the theory that the earth was not the center of the Universe, and all these years we know he was right. Now, we also know that while the earth may not be the center of our solar system, it seems that human life is at the center of the universe.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Science and Religion

The ongoing battle between "faith and science" is absurd. Don't you figrure that all truth is God's truth and, as such, science and Christianity are completely compatible. Science can and does answer questions that the Bible does not address. On the other hand, The Bible seeks to answer questions that science can never solve. Questions of love, beauty, and morality can not be quantified or tested in a lab. These matters are outside the scope of science's capacity. Faith, Hope and Forgiveness can't be reduced to an equation or verified by measurement or analysis.

Much of the debate and heat surrounding the creation/evolution discussion is generated by people who are trying to push science or Scripture beyond what either are capable of addressing. When science or Christian faith are in conflict either the scientist or the theologian have misinterpreted their respective "texts."

I think evangelical Christianity has often sought to force bad science of the world in Jesus' name when the science should have driven us back to make sure that we have been properly interpreting God's Word.

I think some intellectuals are guilty of trying to use scientific tests to disprove the existence of God and when they do so, they usually become poor philosophers and do science no favor.

Ross Douthat blogging for Atlantic Monthly this month lays out a rock solid case for the validity of religious dialogue and the foolishness of trying to establish "science" as the only possible path to truth. Science does provide us some truth, but there are limits to its capacity. Not all "truth' can be tested in a lab. The fact that a thing can't be tested doesn't make such truths any less truthful.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Kurt and Brenda Warner

There are several great stories of faith tied to this weekend's Super Bowl, but none is more gripping than the tale of Kurt and Brenda Warner. For the past twenty or so years, God has guided their lives and transformed their character in a way that is truly remarkable.

My wife tells me that "getting to know about the players" is the best way to get her interested in the game. So, in an effort to help bring marriages together on Super Bowl Sunday (and justify big screen televisions around the globe), I want to offer up this article about Brenda Warner from the Arizona Republic.

This time, Warner's wife is ready for the limelight
by Craig Harris - Jan. 28, 2009
The Arizona Republic

As her husband leads another improbable team to this Sunday's Super Bowl, Brenda Warner has been thrust into the spotlight again.

It's not something she sought or desired. The last time it happened, she got burned.

But there was no way to dodge it, especially after her husband, Kurt Warner, sought her out for a post-game embrace after his Arizona Cardinals won the NFC Championship and will play in Super Bowl
XLIII. Cameras captured that moment, and shortly after, the quarterback choked up - twice - during a news conference when talking about his wife.

"None of this feels as good unless you can share it with someone. I get to share it with my best friend and the person I'm in love with, and that happens to be my wife," Warner said later. "We have done this together . . . and I wouldn't do it with anyone else."

Brenda Warner's journey, however, hasn't been easy, but she feels much more ready for the limelight this time around.

With her then-spiky short hair and long manicured nails, her looks and bright-blue outfit with a boa were picked apart when Kurt led the upstart St. Louis Rams to victory in Super Bowl XXXIV nine years ago.

Over the next few years, she gained notoriety after calling St. Louis talk-radio stations to defend her husband, who by 2003 had gone from Super Bowl Most Valuable Player to riding the bench. She even suggested a trade would be welcome. Such talk from a wife is taboo in the professional sports world.

Around that time, she also put her foot down and said "no" when St. Louis fans wanted an autograph from her husband while the family was out for dinner.

Friends say that Brenda was just protecting her family and that her tough side emerges from being a former Marine who has overcome major heartaches.

They say she is a compassionate woman who still collects thousands of coats for low-income kids in St. Louis and rocks babies to sleep at a Phoenix nursing center for chronically ill infants.

Her supporters add that she has a deep loyalty for her friends. And even with the demands of seven children, they say, she makes time for those in need.

"She's guarded about her family because that is her world," said Tina Wilkins, whose husband, Jeff, was a kicker for the Rams. "People misunderstood her and thought she was too involved in her husband's life. But a lot of us wives want to make a phone call and tell it the way it is."

Jeff Perry, who was the
Warners' pastor in St. Louis, said the criticism Brenda Warner received was unfair.

"There is no class on how to respond to escalating media pressure," he said. "She came out of an obscure place and just got slammed."

Since moving to metro Phoenix four years ago, Warner has kept a low profile. She says what happened in the past is just a life lesson.

"At that time, things happened good and bad, and you live and learn," she said. "I'm going to be 42, and we are at the Super Bowl again, and I'm just looking at the positives."

Growing up with faith
Brenda Warner's story is as compelling as her husband's rags-to-riches tale.

She was born to Jenny and Larry Carney on June 17, 1967, in
Parkersburg, a northern Iowa community of fewer than 2,000. Her father made transmissions for John Deere.

At age 12, Brenda's life took a spiritual turn when she and the rest of her family became Christians. She began reading the Bible and proclaimed her faith all the way through high school.

"Jesus Freak. That was my name," Warner said with a slight laugh. "But I'm proud of it."

Brenda excelled as a high-school cheerleader and was honored as an All-American. She didn't go to college for financial reasons and enlisted as a Marine.

Shortly after her 18
th birthday, she was shipped to Okinawa, Japan, and in the military, she met her first husband.

The marriage lasted less than four years but produced two children: Zack and Jesse.

The oldest child, Zack, suffers from brain damage and a loss of vision from a childhood accident.

Divorced with two kids, Brenda moved back to Iowa, where she relied on her parents, food stamps, low-income housing and government medical benefits to make ends meet.

"The Christian thing didn't stop me from going through tough times, but I had that faith to hold me up when things were really bad," she said.

In 1992, she started nursing school and, while at a country bar, met a college quarterback four years her junior. They danced all night, but when Kurt Warner walked Brenda to her car, she told him there likely wasn't any future.

"I said I was divorced with two kids and if I never see you, I understand. But the next morning, he shows up at my door," she said.

The couple would date for five years, but during the lengthy courtship, tragedy again would occur.

In April 1996, a tornado ripped through Mountain View, Ark., where Brenda's parents had retired, killing them both.

"It was heartbreaking for her," said Stacy
Weinke, who went to nursing school with Brenda.

Weinke said the challenging life experiences made Brenda compassionate. When Weinke and her husband were flooded out of their Iowa home, the Warners sent four boxes of clothing and household goods.

"It's humbling and hard to be on the receiving end when you know you can never repay them for some of the things they do,"
Weinke said.

A year after Brenda's parents died, she and Kurt were married, and he adopted the two children. Soon after, their lives would dramatically change.

About family
In 1999, Kurt Warner was a former grocery-store stock boy, ex-Arena Football League player and NFL backup who came out of nowhere to lead the Rams to a Super Bowl victory.

He graced the cover of magazines, and, during that time, Zack's teachers stuffed his backpack with those periodicals seeking autographs.

"My son walked with a limp and couldn't see and he's carrying home Sports
Illustrateds for Kurt to sign," Brenda said. "That made me realize we needed to make rules and parameters for the kids to be safe."

It was then that the no-autograph policy when the kids were around went into effect. Jesse, then 8, was trying to tell her dad a story at a restaurant and Kurt was constantly interrupted by people seeking an autograph.

"He doesn't want to be the bad guy, and he's not a bad guy, and it's against his nature to tell anybody 'No,' " she said. "But we have to make sure our kids are our priority."

Inside the family's spacious Paradise Valley home, it's evident who the priority is.

While Kurt's Super Bowl MVP trophy is tarnishing and rests under a stairwell, there's a glass trophy case near the kitchen filled with art projects done by the couple's seven children, who range from age 3 to 19.

Kitchen walls are peppered with framed drawings of stick figures and squiggly red glitter art done by the little kids. In the nearby workout room are 38 large black-and-white family pictures, most of them portraits of the children that Brenda photographed.

The youngest ones, twin girls Sienna and Sierra, came after the
Warners moved to Arizona.

Brenda had two miscarriages while Kurt played one controversial season for the New York Giants, where he lost his starting job.

Brenda, who had never miscarried before, said she was emotionally rocked.

"Little did I know Kurt was praying that God would restore what was lost. I wish he would have prayed to have one at a time, but God took it as twins," she said with a grin.

The twins also are part of the reason for Brenda's longer hair, a subject that has been bantered about on Internet chat sites.

Brenda said she had kept her hair short because that's the way Kurt liked it, but she grew it out while on bed rest for the final two months of the twins' pregnancy.

"How many people care about my hair?" she said with a laugh. "I find it trivial. I am more than my hair."

One place no one bothers to ask about her hair is Hacienda
HealthCare, a 24-hour care facility for medically fragile children near South Mountain.

Staci Glass, Hacienda's marketing director, said that, for the past year, Brenda Warner has quietly checked in nearly every week and rocked infants. She recruited seven other Cardinals players' wives to go to the facility, and she donated eight rocking chairs.

Warner said her time at Hacienda allows her to just be herself.

"The football stuff is what people find exciting, but the real-life stuff to me is what means so much more," she said. "When football is all over, there will be another chapter. We are not done with what's important."

--- So there you go.  Pretty great story. 

For another look at the Warners' faith in action see this ESPN video.

Go Cardinals!