Thursday, March 30, 2006

What God Thinks About Us

What does God think about you? As I read Isaiah 66 the other day, that question stared me in the face. The ancient words of the prophet stung fiercely.
"This is what the Lord says:
Heaven is my throne and the earth is my footstool. Where is the house you will build for me? Where will my resting place be? Has not my hand made all these things, and so they came into being," declares the Lord.
"This is the one I esteem:
he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word.
The next verses describe the failure of worshippers' sacrifices to please God and contain his assurance that he "will bring upon them what they dread." Why?
"For when I called, no one answered, when I spoke, no one listened. They did evil in my sight and chose what displeases me (Isaiah 66:1-2,4, NIV)."
No one answered. No one listened. These people, however were praising God. They sacrificed to him. They worshipped. They somehow missed what he wanted: a humble and contrite spirit couple with fear of his word.
As we strive for culturally relevant worship assemblies and organize aggressive parachurch ministries, as we make bold lifestyle decisions, let's remember to take time to ask, "What does God want? Am I still listening to him?"
The Bible contains numerous instances of people who thought they were doing God's will, but were not. Ananias and Sapphira, Saul of Tarsus, the Sanhedrin, and Diotrephes are only a few who missed the mark. Of course, Saul eventually "saw the light." They all (with the possible exception of Ananias and Sapphira) thought that they excelled in doing God's will. What a warning their example is to us.
As I contemplate my life in the mirror of the word of God, I see my failures in bold print. Yet, I also read words of assurance. If I will listen, really listen, and obey, God will give peace and comfort me as a mother comforts her child (Isaiah 66:12,13).

Monday, March 27, 2006

Pray for the Winklers

I, like many, was shocked to hear that minister Matt Winkler had been murdered. His father and grandfather have preached with great influence among churches of Christ for many decades. The entire Winkler family, to include the widow and alleged murderer, needs our prayers at this time of crisis and pain. Rumors and speculation are rampant. I can only imagine the agony that family members feel as they mourn while having to endure public speculation. A Baptist preacher, appearing on talk show "Nancy Grace," used the appearance as an opportunity to bash churches of Christ as an exclusivist cult. However, he rankled Nancy with his approval of a "traditional" role for women. Why did Nancy Grace choose him as an "expert" on the Church of Christ? Surely a professor from Pepperdine University or one of the more than twenty other colleges associated with the church could have done as well. National media have also labeled Winkler's (and my) alma mater, Freed-Hardeman University, as a Bible College. FHU does have a large Biblical Studies department, but also offers degrees in education, business, physical education, music, science, and many other fields. It actually began as a school for teachers, public school teachers. Freed-Hardeman ( is a regionally accredited liberal arts university which offers masters' degrees in education and religion, and which has recently added a nursing program.
May the Lord bless and protect the Winkler family and the local church where Matt preached.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Angry at God?

Anger eats away at our souls. That's how I see it, at least. When I have that kind of gnawing, won't-go-away anger that prevents me from doing anything well, I feel as if a cancer were devouring my spirit. Have you ever been so angry that your emotion paralyzed you? Have you cried out in anger to God, "Where are you? How could you let this happen?" I've felt that way. So did the writer(s) of several Psalms. Take a moment and read Psalms 6, 13, and 22. There is anger in those Psalms, as well as desperation. If the first verse of Psalm 22 sounds familiar, perhaps it's because Jesus said the very same words as he hung in excruciating pain on the cross. "My God, why have you forsaken me?" he asked. Isolation resonates from the cross.
What can we do? Pray, someone might say, and be correct. However, sometimes people are so angry at God that they don't want to talk to him. It's hard enough at those times just to listen to what he says (See the Bible.). Sometimes I do as the psalmist did, and express my thoughts in writing. I run or shoot a basketball (Note: The basketball idea doesn't work as well unless the ball occasionally drops in the basket). I confide in a trusted friend. Once or twice, I've done my best imitation of the character in Edvard Munch's painting "The Scream." Some people call that a primal scream, and claim that it cleanses the soul. Maybe. What works best for me, however, is singing.
Some hymns express so well what I'm feeling in those moments of darkness. "While on the sea, hear the terrible roaring. See how the boat of my life rolls me. In fear of death, and deepest of anguish, Lord, watch my soul as I drift on the sea," begins a hymn from the Ukraine. Those words have been just the right words for me. Martin Luther's hymn, "Out of the Depths," based on Psalm 42, also has provided comfort and strength. I actually met the man who wrote the music for one of my favorites. "Be with Me, Lord, I cannot live without thee," it begins, and the music composed by L.O. Sanderson, a church of Christ preacher, fits T.O. Chisholm's words like a hand in a glove. Those hymns revive hope.
The company of God's people also has kept me going. Some people stop going to church when things go wrong. That's a bad move, somewhat analogous to running away from the hospital while you're having a heart attack. Perhaps you hurt so badly you cannot pray, or fear so intensely that you cannot sing. Let the prayers and songs of believers massage your soul and revive your spirit. "The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective," wrote the brother of Jesus in the book of James, chapter five.
How do you deal with soul-killing anger, with frustration, with darkness of the soul? Share your ideas, for God's people are a family, and your idea might just rescue another. Do you have a favorite song, a ritual, a reading, a habit that renews your soul in times of darkness?


On a completely different track, if you've read my profile, you know why I wore orange instead of being lost in a sea of green today. The University of Tennessee men's basketball team survived to play again in the NCAA tournament. Go Vols!

Thursday, March 09, 2006

My personal scary movie experience

I had the most uncanny experience the other night. While on a business trip, during a commercial in the basketball game, I channel-hopped and found a strange movie in which a television set repeatedly turns itself back on after being turned off. Then a zombie crawls out of the set. After about five minutes of that, I turned back to my game. Shortly thereafter, I turned off the television and went to bed. Fifteen minutes later, the noise of the television awakened me. I turned it off and went back to bed. Fifteen minutes later, it awakened me again. By this time, I began to worry about zombies (just kidding). The plug and socket were behind the heaviest furniture I've seen in a motel. Eventually, I solved the problem by setting the television on sleep mode for fifteen minutes and leaving it on. This time, it turned itself off and stayed off. I had begun to fear that my whole night's sleep would be disrupted and that I would be a zombie equivalent in my meetings the next day. Surprises constantly pop up in life. When you think you cannot lose, you do. When you think all hope is lost, suddenly a rainbow spans the sky. Sometimes things happen that we cannot understand or explain - a child's death, reports of UFO's, my television experience. Usually, as in the case of Job, all works together for good. Didn't the apostle Paul say that in Romans 5? Hope, illusory and derided, sustains us. Without it, we shrivel and die. So, don't fear the zombies. They're probably a figment of your imagination (You might want to worry about that). Keep hoping, and believing. Our God is an awesome God.

Friday, March 03, 2006

The Wisdom of Admitting Ignorance

When I was a college student, one professor often frustrated us. When we would ask him a question, he always would answer, "I just don't know. But if you can wait until our next class, I will try to have an answer for you." And he always did. At first, we wondered about this professor's intelligence. Eventually, we recognized his wisdom. Rather than quickly give an answer which might be wrong, he took the time to search for correct information for his students. Sometimes the best answer is, "I don't know." An old saying suggested that it was better to be silent and be thought a fool than to open one's mouth and remove all doubt.
Some questions may not require an answer. A college classmate, when asked whether a rumor about his holding a controversial position is true, sometimes answers, "How about that?!" Religious discussion focuses at times on intricate issues. To be frank, we may not need to know all the answers on all the issues. If something is going to happen after my death whether I believe it or not, then I should just trust God to do his job well and not argue if he does it differently than I thought he would. After all, it's his universe. Other issues are more immediate; I need answers yesterday! How to be just, how to show mercy, how to know the difference between right and wrong in today's streets - these demand answers, for they determine the direction of people's lives. Harmful decisions may alter history.
It's alright to admit ignorance; it usually is wise. So, if you don't know, ask. Search for truth. Apologize when you're wrong. And keep searching.