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Archive for October, 2011


James Franco as Rolston

I remember when Aaron Rolston’s story hit the news in 2003. I printed out the story knowing it would make a powerful sermon illustration.

Two summers ago I was driving with my brother-in-law and 2 of our nephews.  Somehow Aaron’s story came up.  The boys were intrigued. A few days later I saw they were making a movie of the events.

Last night I finally saw the 127 Hours. I was not sure what to expect. I’d recently seen a different movie that made me way too uncomfortable with the pain of the characters. I wasn’t sure if the movie would glory in the pain. Thankfully it didn’t.

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She wants you to know, really.

She felt publicly humiliated. I’m not why.

What makes even less sense is what she did as a result.

People just don’t make sense. The story I’m going to tell won’t make sense, but it isn’t my fault. I’m not making it up. But a clinical psychologist could have a field day with it.

Her name is Jill Filipovic. She was flying from Newark to Dublin. She checked her bag which contained a “personal item”.  She knew the risks, there is something called the TSA. She should have anticipated they would check her bag. They did, and added a little note to the TSA notice.

For this she says she felt publicly humiliated. You’d think they marched out to the gate calling her name and announcing they found her “personal item”.

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I have not read a John Grisham novel in years.  But my wife is currently reading The Confession.  She had it lying around, open to chapter 11.  So I read the following:

In a normal week, Reverend Schroeder would spend most of Tuesday afternoon locked in his office with the phones on hold as he searched for his next sermon’s topic. He looked at current events, thought about the needs of his flock; prayed a lot, and, if nothing happened, would go to the files and look at old sermons. When the idea finally hit, he would write a quick outline and then begin the full  text. At that point, the pressure was off, and he could practice and rehearse until Sunday. Few things felt worse, though, than waking up on Wednesday morning with no idea what he would say on Sunday.

Sadly, this is probably the process for many pastors.  For the life of me, I can’t figure out why.  When I first felt the inward call to ministry, I thought this was what would happen.  I was uncertain if I’d be able to come up with something every week.  I’m glad I never really tried it this way.

We can sometimes fall into the mistaken notion that the Spirit can only lead us one week at a time.  I preach through books of the Bible, so my planning looks very different.  I will pray and consider the needs of the congregation when I choose a new book to study.  What God wants to tell them is important, but I’m handling it in bigger chunks.  I think I’m less prone to be drawn to my hobby horses, felt needs or current events.

I’m convinced that they need the whole counsel of God, and it should be done systematically.  We teach them how to study the Scriptures in context when we do this.  Many Christians don’t know how to systematically study the Scriptures in context because their pastor is jumping all over the Bible week to week under the guise of being led by the Spirit who gave us whole books not snippets.

So after I’ve identified the book to work through I’m praying about how to break it up into manageable texts.  In the historical books I’ll take whole stories or parts of longer stories.  If we are in an epistle, I try to find thought units even while recognizing the larger context.  I tend to work out the sermon schedule for months at a time. This helps the worship team to plan a meaningful service that connects with the sermon text and the likely main idea.

So, during the week I’m praying for the Spirit to illuminate the text and help me to apply it to the needs of the congregation.  My time is spent on exegesis, not trying to figure out what text to preach. I suspect the pastor will not feel as much pressure and be better prepared on Sunday.  The flock will be better fed and better prepared to feed themselves.

Consider it.

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In case you haven’t noticed, I haven’t been blogging very much.  There are a few reason for that. Possibly more than I realize.

I’ve been really busy with other matters.  We are in the process of adopting again.  This time around we’ve needed to apply for more loans and grants than we did before. We are also home schooling our daughter, which has taken up some of my time.  And the church I now pastor is twice as large as the one in Florida, so it takes more of my time and energy.  I come home and I’m wiped (being older doesn’t help).

19 When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent. Proverbs 10

More importantly I regret things I’ve blogged on in the past.  The friend who got me into blogging admits he has been an attention whore in the past.  I’m not sure I’d go that far, but to build up readership you often have to weigh in on the controversial topics of the day.  I’ve recently removed some posts from the past because I was unfair to people, as one of them (thankfully) pointed out.

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Addiction is a horrible master.  It doesn’t matter what your particular addiction- food, sex, alcohol, shopping etc. There are nearly as many “methods” for freeing someone from addiction as there are addictions.  As Christians, we recognize that addiction is a form of idolatry. We are not just seeking freedom from a behavior, but freedom from a false god. Most of the methods for freedom just don’t work. Often they just transfer your devotion from one false god to another. Many AA meetings are filled with chain smokers, and all of them are filled with bad tasting coffee to satisfy a caffeine addiction.

This is a really cool cover

Christians have often adapted other treatment plans and sprinkled in some Bible verses.  On the other hand, some have looked to Exodus for a pattern.  Gerald May, in Addiction and Grace, adds the wilderness motiff to psychotherapy. An old friend of mine should have his book, The New Exodus, published soon.

A few years ago, Mars Hill Church in Seattle noticed they had a buffet of small group options for addictions.  They decided to use one curriculum to address all the various addictions people struggled with.  Mike Wilkerson put one together that walks people through Exodus.  The result is Redemption: Freed by Jesus from the Idols we Worship and the Wounds we Carry.  Not only is Mike trying to apply biblical counseling, he’s using some exegetical, narrative theology.

This is one of the strengths of the book.  He is utilizing the pattern of redemption found in Exodus (which is used elsewhere in Scripture like Ezekiel and Revelation, and Jesus refers to the “new Exodus”).  He is applying it to both our idols and our wounds.  This is significant.  The Israelites not only worshiped false gods, but they were the victims of unspeakable evil.  God does not see us a merely victims or merely victimizers.  He knows the degree to which we are both wicked and wounded.  Because of our sinfulness, our woundedness results in one form of wickedness or another.  Bad counseling focuses on only one.  Good, biblical, counseling focuses on both.

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Corporate greed is the new boogey man being blames for all society’s ills.  We have people occupying financial districts to protest corporate greed. Based on some of their own demands, they can’t see their own corporate greed.  Isn’t that what motivates people to demand free education, the forgiving in of all debts etc.?

We live in a world with very little self-awareness. One contributing factor is that we’ve tuned out the Scriptures, and therefore God.  The Bible has quite a bit to say about who we are, and if we are honest it is accurate.

6Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, 7for we brought nothing into the world, andwe cannot take anything out of the world. 8But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. 9But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. 1 Timothy 6

Including those enslaved by greed

Each of us enters this life with nothing.  Our parents may have something, but we’ve got nothing.  We also can’t take anything with us.  At those 2 moments everyone is in the same boat.  What differs is all that comes in between.  This the part of life we are concerned with now.  It is the desire to be rich that  plunges us into a world of danger.  We are tempted to do any number of things.  This love of money is the root, as Paul says, of all kinds of evil (or every kind of evil).

“He that loves money is influence in his practices by that love, and kept by it in the continual pursuit of wealth.” Jonathan Edwards

So what ways do people continually seek wealth?

One is the idolatry of work.  Work is not part of the curse.  God works, and work is noble and good.  Christians serve God in their work, even as they provide legitimate goods and services to other people.  Illegitimate goods and services (prostitution, producing or distributing heroin, being a hit man…) are a corruption of work). That work is difficult and does not always produce the intended or desired results is related to the curse.  Due to our sinful nature, we make an idol of work.  We refuse to be content and work too much to enrich ourselves beyond our need. Many a rich person has made an idol of work.  But you don’t need to be rich to do this.  You don’t even have to do it for money, it could be significance.  But we are focused on money and wealth here.

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In the 1980’s I owned a vinyl version of this release, an edited version of this release.  I used to hear Deep Purple’s Made In Japan thundering from my older brother’s room.  I thought nothing of it.  Then came MTV and I saw videos by Blackmore’s band Rainbow.  Soon I was listening to all the Deep Purple I could lay my hands on, especially the Mach II recordings.

This album is two concerts recorded live for the BBC.  The version I have includes the host introducing the band and the songs.  I like hearing some of the banter, though that may change after I listen a few more times.  On the second show there is some nut with a squeaky toy or something that you can hear between songs.  The concerts represent what was best and sometimes worst about early 70’s hard rock.  The music is raw, and the solos are long.  Some might say too long.  We’ll get there later.

The first concert is from about the time of the release of In Rock, the first album with Ian Gillan and Roger Glover.  The band was moving from progressive rock into hard rock.  The musical struggle between Ritchie Blackmore and Jon Lord had been won by Ritchie.  This concert is the transition period for the band- and it shows.  There are only 4 songs.  Two are from the new album- Speed King and Child in Time.  The other 2 are from their albums with Rod Evans and Nick Simper on vocals and bass- Wring that Neck and Mandrake Root.

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