My wife and I are entering the next phase of life.  The nestlings are getting their wings and moving out, starting homes and families of their own.  My second daughter, Amy, will be home this month from Liberty University and we’ll commence working on her wedding, slated for July 26th – preparing all the decorations and flowers and whatever other paraphernalia accompanies such a glorious event.

    I offered to assist in the choosing of the wedding dress, and spent some time perusing online dress catalogs with Amy.  It was all very exciting, but I found that all of the dresses looked the same: white.  Amy did not find my perception helpful.  She wanted me to observe the crucial distinctions between cream, champagne and ivory.  I failed not only at this, but at perceiving distinctions between various fabrics, designs and accoutrements – all of those highly complex and evasive mysteries of the highly complex and evasively mysterious feminine world – and so I wasn’t invited to go along for the actual dress shopping.  I stayed home and soothed my wounded soul by watching a game and eating chips and salsa, I think, all the while going out of my mind wondering what the dress would look like, and all the while knowing it would be…white.  After a few minutes I got over the rejection, and settled back into my old comfortable and well-suited role of “pack mule”.

    Yes, I am a pack mule….the family pack mule.  I’m not complaining.  Just stating the facts.  I love and enjoy the role.  I’m a happy pack mule!  The pack mule is not the center of attention, not the focus of every eye and every whisper, not a thing of beauty to be beheld or commented upon (though one thoughtful congregant upon seeing me in a tuxedo, said, shocked: “Wow!  You clean up pretty nice, don’t you?”).  No, friends, the pack mule isn’t a show horse.  He’s there before the show, getting dirty behind the scenes.  The pack mule bears the burdens quietly and patiently.  He takes whatever load is placed upon him and pulls it.  He takes joy in pulling and carrying.  He pulls until he’s told to stop.  He gets the job done.  It’s not the pack mule’s to worry about the destination or the end result.  He doesn’t have to know why he’s carrying what he’s carrying, or what it’s going to be used for.  That’s high-minded weighty stuff – someone else’s business.  Never mind all those technicalities.  Don’t trouble me with details.  Put the load on there, tell me which direction to head, and let me pull.  Throw me some oats now and then, and some water, and an occasional rest to get my breath, but let me pull.

    Pack mules don’t say much;  they are actually pretty reluctant to speak (the Bible mentions one pack mule saying something one time, I think), but I have just a brief word to share regarding this upcoming wedding.  Many of you have walked the Christian pilgrimage with my wife and me and our children for 10, 15, 20 and some of you for 25 years.  We’ve shared joy and tears and disappointments and victories.  We’ve grown to be friends at various levels, depending on how intimately our lives intersected.  In the past five years that circle of friends has expanded with all of the wonderful new faces at MVC;  some of you are still just acquaintances, and some have become good friends already.  We love you all, and we invite you all to share the joy of Ben & Amy’s wedding, but if we don’t limit the number of guests invited to the reception, the pack mule is going to collapse under the burden and end up shipped off to the glue factory!  Just mine and my wife’s families are a party in our own right (almost 70 people), but we thought it would be really nice to invite the groom’s family to the reception as well.  Accommodating 500 MVC’er’s beyond that is just an impossibility for us, so one of the more difficult and unpleasant tasks of wedding preparation for both the bride’s and the groom’s families has been the trimming of the guest list.  I speak for our family and the Galaskas' when I say that we’d all like to have EVERYBODY there, but we just cannot do it.  If you don’t receive an invitation to the reception, I trust that your feelings won’t be hurt excruciatingly, that you’ll understand there is no animosity intended and I’d kindly beg the indulgence of your patience and understanding for a middle-aged happy pack mule.

MVC Youth Group will be having a Car Wash FUNdraiser this Saturday, April 24th, from 9 AM - 3 PM in the Mountain View Chapel parking lot. Baked goods and drinks will be available. Proceeds will benefit the MVC Youth Group Summer Mission trips.

    During my morning commute I often listen to Michael Smerconish, an extremely intelligent, reasonably conservative Philadelphia attorney-turned talk-radio host and newspaper columnist.  In January, after a Gallup poll revealed that 17 percent of the American public wouldn’t vote for the Mormon Mitt Romney because of Mormonism’s weird beliefs, Smerconish waxed sarcastic in his Daily News column…  "…We're clearly aided by an ability to spot a whopper when we hear one, a skill obviously lacking in…Mormons. Maybe it's our grounding in the Old and New Testament that enables us to easily size up the preposterous nature of the customs that guys like…Romney follow. …After all, we know that the earth was created in seven days, and that the son of its creator was born to a virgin mother. Indeed, a star over Bethlehem led three wise men to the scene of Jesus' birth, and, 30 years later, he walked on the water of the Sea of Galilee.”

    Presenting these thoughts on his talk show, Smerconish’s tone and phrasing sounded to me like this was a spiritual awakening of sorts for him – an “aha” moment.  He’d always assumed the Christian religion to be reasonable;  he simply accepted the biblical tradition, and had scoffed at the outlandish notions of Mormonism, Islam and the other religions.  Now he was thinking differently.  He wrapped up his article with: “Truly, one man’s faith is another man’s bunkum.”

    I found Smerconish’s “aha” moment refreshing, because I think there are lots of nominally Christian people – including fundamentalists and evangelicals – who are having similar “aha’s” for the first time.  Smerconish is two years younger than I;  the USA of our early 1960’s childhood was still thoroughly baptized;  Christian ideas were accepted and assumed.  The atmosphere has changed radically and our religious beliefs and traditions are being cast in a much more skeptical light.

    C’mon – can a virgin really get pregnant???  Can a man really walk on water???  Can a dead man really come to life without the intervention of advanced medical technology and start walking and talking again???

    These aren’t new questions.  A small number of scholars have raised them since the early days of the Christian faith.  The apostle Paul faced those kinds of doubts on Mars Hill.  The apostle had the scholars’ ears until he mentioned the resurrection of Christ. “…And when they heard the resurrection of the dead, some mocked…” (Acts 17:32).  What is new, however, is the more educated, more scientific, more ‘enlightened’ populace who understand and increasingly embrace the skepticism of scientific professionals.

    In my youth it was honorable and respectable to be a religious Christian, even for educated people.  That notion is changing; your sanity and intellectual integrity are questioned more and more.  It’s an uncomfortable shift, but there is also something refreshing about it.  Suddenly, the command to “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ” is no longer a simple thing.  It is a confrontation to our hearts, our souls, our minds, our strength.  We must think seriously about what we really believe.  We must choose – and stand.

    Many sermons will be preached this Easter Sunday in “Christian” churches which will attempt to sidestep the importance of believing in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  It’s that unpleasant non-scientific thought that we’re kind of stuck with.  Many people will be told that it doesn’t really matter if Jesus really got up from the grave.  They’ll be told that the resurrection is really only a picture, a parable, an illustration of living life in a new and invigorating way, following the example of Jesus, and that is what’s really important about the story of the resurrection of Jesus.

    Very pretty words, these.  But not Christian words – even if the preacher who speaks them wears a cross around his neck.  The apostle who met the risen Jesus on the Damascus road saw it much differently:  “And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty.  Yes and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up, if in fact the dead do not rise, for if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen.  And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile – you are still in your sins!...If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.”  (1 Corinthians 15:14-17,19)

    With all the talk of small groups in the air, some folks have expressed concern about cliques developing in our church.  People label as ‘clique’ any group from which they find (or feel) themselves excluded.  We always use the term pejoratively and infer with its use the accusation “That group is bad because it excluded me.”

    The Spirit of God says “love believes and hopes all things,” meaning love always chooses to believe the best options first, to give the benefit of the doubt;  love doesn’t quickly accuse others of wrongdoing or malicious motives.  So why, at the suggestion of the creation of small groups among adults, would we right up front start expressing concern about cliques and exclusion?  For many of us it’s a residual habit we learned in childhood.  As Jonathan Swift observed in Gulliver’s Travels and as the 1992 Disney film Honey, I Blew Up the Kid! illustrated in comedic form, children can be very nasty and dangerous!  Most of us have in our growing-up years experienced intentionally malicious exclusion from a group.  Perhaps some experienced it often enough to make cliquishness a knee-jerk fear or concern whenever we think of having to join in a gathering of some sort.

    But do mature adults intentionally and maliciously exclude people merely for the joy of being spiteful?  I have a really hard time believing that to be a common occurrence.  Rarely have I seen such malice in a church.  What I’ve seen more often is people who react quickly and emotionally to any perceived slight and who fail to give others the benefit of the doubt instead of thinking through the actual dynamics of the way groups work.

    Whether you’re talking about a church, a team, a family, a Scout troop or any circle of friends, a group is a group because bonds have been forged between the members.  The longer a group has been together and the more experiences its members have shared, the stronger, the greater and the more numerous the bonds.  Any time a new person comes to join such a group the newcomer is at a disadvantage because he hasn’t participated in the experiences that molded the group. Newcomers don’t understand the group’s history, the various relationships between members, or the fun inside jokes, subtle looks and catch-phrases used in the group’s communication.  A sensitive newcomer may interpret a group’s normal interaction as rejection.  “I don’t understand” leads to “I feel stupid for not understanding” leads to “This group is trying to make me feel stupid” leads to “They think I’m stupid” leads to “They don’t want me.  They’re a clique.”  Love interrupts this logic early on:  “I don’t understand because I haven’t been part of this very close group.  They’re not trying to hurt me.  I have to get over feeling stupid and go through the uncomfortable natural stages of being a newcomer until I learn enough to feel comfortable fitting in.”

    Sometimes moving through stages of life can make us feel rejected by a group.  A few years after we graduated from college my wife and I returned to campus for a group conference.  We were so looking forward to reliving the good old days.  But when we got to campus, we realized that the thing that made school so great was the people, not the campus.  None of the students knew us or our accomplishments; we weren’t important to the life of the campus.  We weren’t greeted or lauded.  We were pretty much overlooked and ignored and left to ourselves.  It would have been very easy to feel rejected by our college; instead we just noted that we’d moved on to a different stage of life, and we rejoiced in our memories and took pleasure in watching the new generation of collegians making their own memories.

    Young people will experience this once they have children.  Suddenly you don’t fit with your unmarried friends.  “The singles” start going places without you.  Are they maliciously excluding you?  No – they just realize babies don’t do too well white-water rafting or rock-climbing.  Love believes the best and moves on – no hurt, no blame, no accusations. 

    The reverse can also be true.  Singles can feel excluded by married friends, simply because when you’re married and start having children, your perspective generally changes.  The issues that concern you are no longer the issues of your single friends.  The common bonds that make a group a group start to disappear.  Love believes the best:  My married friends aren’t ignoring or rejecting me.  They’ve moved on to a new stage of life with concerns that are different from mine and that I won’t understand until I move on to that stage of life.  Our own friendship will not be as intense as it used to be – and that’s fine.  This is how love talks to itself to prevent self-pity and accusation of others.

    Finally, there are some groups to which we just can’t belong because we’re not qualified to belong.  The Bible college I attended required Christian service projects every semester. I wanted to go to churches on the weekends with a school gospel team (a singing group).  I can’t read music and I had no voice training, but I signed up for a tryout anyway.  And I did miserably.  The music professor criticized me from the first note that I sang, and he rejected me as unqualified.  In my immaturity (I was 17) I charged the school musicians with being a snotty narrow-minded clique.  The truth was that I was unqualified musically – and that I had too much pride to acknowledge that fact.  Crying ‘clique’ was much easier.  Love would have believed the best of the professor and wouldn’t have vaunted itself the way I did.

    Recognize that people can easily be hurt in the ways that I have mentioned, and that it’s very easy to feel rejection where none is intended.  Be sensitive to outsiders and newcomers – ‘aliens and strangers’ to use the Old Testament terminology – who want to fit in and belong.  Make the extra effort to help them to understand your group and its idiosyncrasies, to eliminate every possible roadblock that would make them say ‘clique’.

    I’ve read Scripture in front of lots of people on many occasions. But as I looked down at the black words on the white page this time, I had trouble finding my voice. “…And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes…there shall be no more death…nor sorrow…nor crying…”  The next sentence brought a knot to my throat.  My eyes were burning, and I couldn’t hold back any longer.  I let the grieving flow and read through my tears: “There shall be…no…more…pain.”

    Those last three words were so hard to get out at my father-in-law’s funeral, because they summarized the life of the man who I had come to know and love. My father-in-law, Clarence Dunnett, was born in Toledo, OH in 1926. Conceived close to his mother’s change of life, Clarence was so small that his mother didn’t know she was pregnant.  She went to the hospital that October morning to find that what she thought was an attack of appendicitis was actually labor pains for her fifth child. His mother was unprepared to have a baby that late in life. She even gave the task of naming him to Clarence’s sisters, almost twenty years his senior, and Clarence was always perplexed as to how such young women could name a boy something as unromantic and   uninspiring as “Clarence Elwood”!

    Clarence was never a big man. The Dunnett’s weren’t towering stock to begin with, and being born just in time for the Great Depression to parents on the older end of the scale, Clarence Dunnett suffered poverty and malnutrition as a child. He may have reached 5’9” at his tallest, and for most of his adult life he wasn’t much more than 130 pounds. One of our family’s fond memories from this past Christmas was an “argument” he had with my daughter Amy (barely 5’4”) about who had smaller feet. Clarence often had trouble finding shoes small enough in men’s sizes, but when Amy challenged him to fit into her high heels, he tried – and lost the contest.  Antics like this were common, and he often had the family in stitches.

    Being small and poor, he was often the butt of jokes as a child, and being the butt of jokes he learned how to fight. He relished telling David & Goliath stories of fights from his childhood.  Because of his quickness and speed he ended up being a very good boxer and an even better baseball player – and coach (though it took him awhile to realize the latter).  In his seventies someone persuaded him to help coach the local Christian school’s girl’s softball team. A number of those parents were among the nearly five hundred that came to pay their respects at Clarence’s viewing, thanking us for the patient input that Clarence had had in the lives of their daughters. He also coached his children and grandchildren to excellence in athletics. You don’t want to play catch too long with my wife. To this day she can give your glove hand a pretty good beating!  (She can box too – ask her to tell you the story…). 

    Perhaps it was the times, or her time of life, but whatever the reason, Clarence’s mother was very hard on her son and extremely critical of him. He grew up believing himself to be stupid. But this “stupid” kid ended up doing an honorable stint in the Navy; when going through his things in the attic the family found several achievement medals which we’d never heard about. He also ended up managing a very successful business engineering and selling cutting tools to the automobile industry. When word of his death got around, letters – not cold form letters, but very detailed personal notes – were sent from managers at General Motors and other businesses that dealt with him testifying to Clarence’s engineering expertise in this precision business as well as his truthfulness, his servant’s attitude and his outstanding business ethics. My father-in-law didn’t play games – he didn’t wine and dine people – he was a straight talker and he refused to lie – even when telling the truth meant losing a sale.

    One of the most amazing things about Clarence Dunnett was that he built much of this success after he had been stricken nearly to death with a devastating combination of spinal meningitis and encephalitis in 1979. He was hospitalized for a month; when the doctors released him they told my mother-in-law they were sending him home to die. Carolyn, who’s quite a fighter herself, insisted that Clarence wasn’t going to die if she had anything to say about it. 

    That was about the time I met Clarence and Carolyn (1980).  I’ve spent much of my adult life watching Carolyn stubbornly nurse him back to health and watching Clarence stubbornly struggle back to normal life against his own weakened body. I watched him build a successful sales business, despite his having to learn to drive again due to nerve damage in his feet (he couldn’t feel the pedals – riding with him during that time was a real hoot!), the residual effect of the meningitis, and despite regular debilitating headaches, the residual effect of the encephalitis. I have so many memories of family get-togethers where Clarence would suddenly pull back into a corner, cross his legs, and his head would drop into his hand, toughing out a headache without complaint. When the pain would pass, he’d come back and play with his grandchildren like nothing was wrong. He suffered so gracefully.

    Last year a nasty bacterial infection (C. diff.) almost killed him. He was hospitalized for several months. While recovering a nurse administered the wrong medication which damaged his optic nerves, making him almost completely blind. He kept on. Once home he went back to work, and his cheerfulness masked the fact that he was almost totally blind. We would all forget about it until dinner, when he would stare at a full plate that he couldn’t see, and then would say, with a chuckle in his gravelly voice, “Would someone tell me what I’m having for dinner?”

    A few weeks ago my father-in-law suffered a stroke and while in the hospital contracted several staph infections. His body battled once more with such focus that he went into a coma. On the morning of January 23rd, the family phoned us from the hospital room and said that my wife should say good-bye. They put the phone to Clarence’s ear;  Chrissy said her goodbyes, and then began to sing “I’ll Fly Away."  Just as she began the third verse, her sister came on the phone and said, “Chris, he’s gone.” He flew away.

    “…No more pain…”  The many memories recorded in this brief tribute rushed through my mind in the second that I pondered those words in Revelation 21. The tears flowed, not merely because of the loss of my father-in-law, but for the memory of the heroic and graceful endurance he demonstrated in life, and the joy that we have because our hope in Christ means no more pain.
No more staph infections.
No more strokes.
No more headaches.
No more struggles.  No need to fight ever again. Just rest.  Blessed rest.  Rest in his true home – the loving arms of the Father of all spirits (Hebrews 12:9) to Whom he really and rightfully belongs.

    The “whispering-down-the-lane” aspect of the grapevine never ceases to amaze me, especially when it comes to what I believe or teach.  Recently someone told me that they heard we teach and believe that a Christian can lose his salvation.  Since that’s a question that a lot of people have anyway, I thought I’d address it (and the rumor) briefly here in the Scrip.

Traditionally, conservative Christianity has been divided into two camps on this question.  One camp says a Christian can never be lost;  this idea is often referred to as “once-saved, always-saved.”  This is the camp I was raised in.  The other camp says that a Christian can be lost, though there are differences of opinion over what it takes to bring about such a loss.  We always called this the “ye must be born again and again and again” school of thought. 

The two camps have arisen because there are Scriptures which seem to teach both points of view.  The “once saved, always saved” people emphasize the verses that seem to say a believer can never be lost;  the other side focuses on the ones which seem to say that a believer can lose his salvation.  Each side accuses the other of fostering weak Christianity.

 “Ye-must-be-born-again-and-again-and-againers” say that if you can never lose your salvation then there’s no reason to live in obedience.  Sin away since you’re bound for heaven no matter what!  Proponents of “once-saved-always-saved” say that if you can lose your salvation (and regain it so easily) why not do the very same thing; sin, if you want to sin, lose your salvation – and then pick it up again when it’s more convenient to you and you feel like being a Christian.  Do this as often as you want!

    This argument has been going on for almost five hundred years now and has generated more heat than light.  In studying both sides I’ve come to the following conclusions.  First, the Bible is clear that I’m not saved by my own works but by grace through faith in Christ who died for me.  Second, all those so saved by grace are called to be obedient to Christ in everyday life.  Generally what the two schools argue about are those who are not living obediently – those who are willfully, carelessly and regularly disobeying God and living flagrantly in sin.  The two schools argue over whether such people have lost their salvation or whether such people were ever really saved in the first place. 

Hmmmm….I think that it’s really stupid to be arguing fine theological points when you’ve got a rebellious sinner in front of you!  Instead of glorying in the splitting of theological hairs, I think we need to focus on practically APPLYING the Scriptures.  So what do you do with a person who is living in disobedience?  Put your arm around him and tell him it’s okay because when he was three he prayed by his bedside with his mommy to get saved, and “once saved, always saved, so, hey bro – continue in sin that grace may abound???"  Or, do you point him to the Scriptures which hold out very serious warnings about his persistent high-handed rebellion, disobedience and unbelief, calling the rebel to repentance?

    We can argue all day about whether another person is truly saved or not, but the only person who finally and surely knows if someone’s profession is genuine is God Himself.  The Lord knows those that are His.  But we’re told that we can have assurance of our profession by looking at the fruits that such faith produces in one’s life (e.g. 1 John 1:5-2:6).  Faith without works is dead (James 2:14-26).  So when the fruit is there, we sense the assurance.  And when the works aren’t there?  Should we sit back on our blessed assurance?  Or should we have questions and fears and concerns which should lead us to repentance?

On the flip side, some people are so emotionally insecure that they worry about tiny insignificant things.  Every little peccadillo makes them feel not only guilty, but that they have once again incurred the wrath of God - that they are condemned to hell for lying about their sister’s surprise bridal shower!  They are sincerely concerned that they have seriously offended God by such tiny slights.  What do we do with such people?  Hold up the threats of Scripture and sneer them into repentance?  No – I point them to the security that we have in the forgiving love of Christ.  There is no condemnation to those who are in Him!
    Discerning differing situations and properly applying the Scriptures is, in this case, I believe, far more important than arguing over the technical correctness of one’s theological theory.  So for me, asking “Can a person lose their salvation?” isn’t even a good, or important, question.  It has no practical value that I can see.  So I don’t worry about it.

    Or maybe someone can give me a reason why I should?

    This month I’d like us to think about stewardship – the responsibility that we have to care for and about certain things.

    First, I’d like us to think about the church building.  At this point we don’t have a full-time custodian, and sometimes the task of cleaning up our building after a Sunday service or ministry meeting is made more difficult for our part-time cleaners than it needs to be.

    Put your hymnal back into the rack.  That’s YOUR responsibility and it’s not that hard to do.

    If you must bring a beverage into the service, don’t let your cup under your seat.  Throw it away.  If it’s one of those plastic or stainless types, don’t let it sit half full of coffee where it can be accidentally kicked and spilled.  Take it home, dispose of the leftover coffee, and wash the mug.  That’s YOUR responsibility.  If you don’t, the MVC Coffee Mug Elf has been known to dispose of such lovely mugs permanently.  That’s HIS responsibility.  :-)

    Don’t let your bulletin lay on the seat (or even worse, the floor).  Take it with you or throw it away.  It’s YOUR responsibility.  Show love to the cleaners by making their job a little easier.

    Don’t let your stuff lay on tables in the foyer or on the hatracks.  If you went through the gym on our recent “Find Your Lost Stuff Day” you saw four or five tables FULL of (among other things) shoes, shirts, jackets, Bibles, and even children’s eyeglasses (I saw 3 pairs!).  How can a child go month after month without eyeglasses???  Why wasn’t some parent ringing the church phone off the hook in search of those glasses???  Those glasses laid on the table in the foyer for MONTHS.  Are we that “easy come, easy go” that we can just keep buying glasses when little Susie loses them???  (Incidentally, ever since the teens’ all-nighter this summer, one of the guys left his toothbrush, toothpaste, and dental floss container on top of the towel dispenser in the men’s bathroom of the Classic Building.  I trust that this was just a spare;  I’ve disposed of it.  If it wasn’t a spare…well, that’s just despicably gross.)

    If you move tables and chairs around, put them back before you go.  That’s YOUR responsibility.  Isn’t that what you’d want done to you?  Don’t leave it for someone else.

     If you see paper or plastic on the floor of the church, or blowing across the parking lot – pick it up and throw it in a trash can!  You’re a part of the church family if you come here.  You have authority over that trash!  Take the responsibility and show a little love and appreciation to those who sacrifice time to clean the church.  Make their job a little easier by sharing that stewardship, take care of OUR building.

    Second, I’d like to talk about stewardship of babies.  The service is not designed for babies two years old and under;  the nursery is.  A baby in the service is a distraction to AT LEAST a dozen people around you, even if the baby is quiet.  People are naturally drawn to watch babies, and that is exactly what all of the people around you do during the sermon if your baby is with you.  The same thing is true of babies being walked in the foyer.  People near the doors can see you out of the corner of their eyes;  and if the baby makes sounds, even happy sounds, people instinctively turn around.

    I know – because I watch it happen just about every week.

    Part of the responsibility that each of us has is to not distract others who are trying to listen to the message.  Keeping your baby with you is disrespectful to those around you, and love is not rude.

    More than that, we have a responsibility to our babies to acclimate them to people other than ourselves.  An important part of a child’s training involves short times of separation from parents so the child can discover that connection to others is not a bad thing!  The only way to learn that is for the child to experience being left with someone else so he can discover that it did not hurt and he did not die.  Of course he will cry;  you’re stretching his comfort zone!  Stretching the comfort zone is how you teach life!  A parent’s job – a mother’s job – is not to prolong the womb experience for the child every waking hour.  On the contrary, she must gradually wean the child from the womb experience so the child adapts to life in the world.  It won’t hurt to do that very early in the child’s life for short periods of time (like the forty-five minutes of a sermon).
“Separation anxiety” is not fatal.  It’s not even dangerous;  it’s a natural part of growing up that babies must be taught by their parents.  Most babies get accustomed to the nursery quickly if you consistently leave them there and if you aren’t swayed by their crying, which is also neither fatal nor harmful (cf. Proverbs 19:18).  The child will not die or be seriously damaged in the nursery.  We won’t allow it.  If you’re really needed, you’ll be called.  The nursery workers here haven’t lost a child yet!

So as good stewards of all that is entrusted to us, let us please put ALL babies in the nursery.                   
                                 -- Pastor Chris

An MVC teen once said to me, “You seem to have done so many things!  Is there anything that you haven’t done???”  I always thought of my life as somewhat simple, dull, and boring – but that comment made me think back through some of my job experiences and the things I learned through them.

              Janitor…  At National Penn Bank.  A great starter job at age 15.  Made $1.90 an hour.  I learned how to run a big shredding machine that shredded old bank documents.  I cleaned toilets and got stains out of carpets.  I changed lightbulbs in the time and temperature clock at the corner of Philadelphia and Reading Avenues in Boyertown.  And I learned to squeegee windows.  I learned how to be at the bottom of the totem pole – a servant.

Bass guitarist in a rock band…  I was in bands for about three years and only played a few gigs – enough to show me that “glory” wasn’t what it was cracked up to be!

Bank teller…  I learned all about handling money and traveler’s checks and dealing with customers, even difficult ones, in a friendly way.

Bank vault worker…  Wrapping coin and fixing the wrapper when it broke down.  Working alone in the quiet for long periods of time -- an interesting discipline.

Metal worker and packager in a furniture factory…where I learned work with burly tattooed dudes and rough women and get accustomed to swearing on the part of both.  I also learned how to spot weld and grind welds and shrink wrap stuff…and to deal with monotony and understand the “American Joe” who had to do the same.

Police officer…  Yup – I worked on the campus police force at our college.  It was a glorified security job, but we did receive police training in certain aspects of law, self-defense (got some basic traning in jiu-jitsu), and weaponry (we had to qualify in the use of a nightstick and a .38 pistol) and first aid.  Learned about handling authority and crisis situations and keeping my cool.  I also learned how to direct traffic and organize simple security and safety concerns for large campus events.

Singer…  Traveled for a year or so with a gospel quartet.  We organized and ran youth rallies and ministered at churches and camps.  I also learned a lot about “politics” as I got to see what was going on behind the scenes in a number of churches and in my own college.

Chocolate-maker…  The infamous chocolate factory (Blommer’s in East Greenville, PA), where I learned everything from unloading the raw beans and roasting them to the making and packaging of chocolate chips and chocolate bars.  I also learned to drive a fork lift, how to move railroad cars by hand, and to perform some lab procedures necessary in the making of chocolate.  I also learned how much “garbage” goes into food products – and I don’t mean sugar and fats.  I mean real garbage…  Let’s not go down that road…

Pastor…  All of a pastor’s life experiences come into play as he seeks to relate to other people – and the life experiences of the pastor’s people add to his.  I’ve learned about various life problems and various hobbies.  I’ve learned about pets and poker.  I’ve learned about fishing and flying.  I’ve learned about cancer and eating disorders and medications and how to be comfortable in very uncomfortable situations.  Most sobering, I think, is that I’ve seen death a number of times.  I’ve learned how to listen, to counsel, to organize, to grieve, to celebrate, to lead, to speak in public, to persuade, to identify and assess “characters”, to show mercy, to be gracious, to raise money, to encourage people toward change and repentance, and I think more than anything --  to pray and be patient.

Fabric cutter…  For a brief time I worked cutting fabric in an upholstery business to supplement my income from ministry.  Believe it or not, that was the first time I really learned how to use scissors correctly (I was 36)!  My boss had to teach me!  It was also interesting to learn how different fabrics works and how furniture is made.

Teacher and educator…  I also supplemented my income for a number of years teaching home school students how to write essays and papers using courses that I developed.  I also taught some Shakespearean literature and history and speech courses.  Likewise, I developed and taught two courses at Pacific Islands Bible College back in 2000 – and learned a little bit there about cross-cultural communication…

Umpire…  I learned the rules of baseball – an interesting exercise.  But I am also learning how to be decisive, how to be bold, how to be gracious but firm, how to handle angry people and conflict, how to handle authority, how to be outgoing and friendly and set the tone for an event…

Maybe my life hasn’t been all that boring!  But neither is yours!  Think back through your own life and the “gift experiences” (I’ve just listed “jobs” here;  experience goes way beyond that!) that God has given you in molding you to be who you are.  Each experience can become a tool to relate to others for the kingdom! 


Whenever new technology comes out – like the new i-Phone which can do just about everything but cook dinner -- there are those who rave about it and those who bemoan the loss of “old values” because of the new technology.  Years ago I had an elderly Christian gentleman tell me that the downfall of our civilization was the invention of the automobile.  Prior to that, he opined, people spent more time together talking on long, slow rides in horse-drawn buggies!  He had a small point, I guess.  But I couldn’t help but compare a complaint that I’m sure elderly gentlemen made in the days when alphabets and writing and scrolls were first created:  “Well, there goes the need to memorize things!  Now everyone’s brain will turn to jelly and the younger generation won’t remember anything!”


Conservative people believe in “conserving” old values and practices, things that we know are good because they’re tried and true.  As a result we often have knee-jerk reactions against new things.  We see all the dangers and refuse to see any blessings that may come with new things – perhaps because accepting such blessings would force us to change something in our thinking or behavior, and change is uncomfortable.


Others – I almost said ‘most’ -- plunge in almost mindlessly and accept new technology because of the “good” they see without ever considering possible adverse side effects.


How should Christians deal with new technologies?  I have found it helpful to ask four questions -- three of which I heard raised by social critic, Neal Postman, and one which I think every Christian should ask about everything – if we are going to be wise about our approach to new technologies.


What is the problem to which this technology is the solution?  Take cruise control, for a harmless example (since it is now standard on most vehicles and therefore a non-issue).  Cruise control solves the problem of having to keep your foot on the gas pedal.  Wow.  Big problem.  Perhaps for those who drive interstates for long distances on a regular basis, but for most of us, is that really a problem?  And if not, is it really necessary technology – or is it just another of the meaningless bells and whistles of life that wastes our money?  And if it’s the latter, do I really need to buy it?

 Whose problem is it?  With money they had saved, my children purchased i-pods.  Music is very important in their lives, and on bus trips with school groups listening to music of your own choice is often preferable to participating in some of the other things that go on in the bus.  So, the i-pods solved a ‘problem’ for my kids.  Hurrah.  But when my children turn to me and say “Dad, you should get an i-pod!!!” I can only respond that music is just not a big part of my life, so an i-pod would be a big waste of money.  My problem is having enough silence in my life – not enough personally selected musical favorites!  Purchasing technology just for the sake of saying that you have it is pride – or avarice.


What other problems will be created by my using the new technology?  The technology of the internet is a superb source of information, but it opens the door to a number of problems.  Some are obvious, like the undesirable information within the click of a mouse (like pornography and how to make bombs), or the possible theft of my identity or abuse of my credit cards via the hacking of online sales sites.  Some are more subtle, like the undermining of the ability to conduct face-to-face and verbal personal interaction because of the ease of the more “anonymous” instant message.


For me and my family, to date, the adverse side effects of having cable has outweighed the benefits of having cable TV.  Instead I purchased a good VCR and DVD player that allows me much more selection and control in what we watch.


I’m not saying that having cable is sinful;  just that each form of technology brings problems with it, and each presents new challenges that our souls need to be aware of and weigh and measure.  Some challenges make certain technologies less useful to some, and more useful to others.  Each of us must be wise as serpents in such decisions and not give a foothold to the enemy -- just for the sake of being up-to-date.


How can I be fruitful for the kingdom of God using this new technology?  Christians ought to be asking this question about everything in their lives.  I-pods and the internet and cell phones certainly have their downsides.  But like radio and TV before them, they can also be an extremely fruitful tool in God’s service if used rightly.


Let each seek the kingdom of God in these things.  Let each walk in faith, being convinced in his own mind.  Let each stand or fall before his Master.



I thought the Memorial Day message on Isaiah 2 was a harmless little piece of encouragement for Christian believers.  I was somewhat taken aback when I heard the response of some extremely fundamentalistic visitors who said something to the effect that preaching was obviously not my calling and that I was a deceiver and a liar and if I was honest I would leave the ministry.

Wow.  And thanks for sharing…

What upset these folks was my failure to interpret Isaiah “literally”.  I preached that Mount Zion being raised above the other mountains was a symbolic way of saying that the God of Israel would one day be worshiped all over the world (cf. John 4:21-24), even by pagans who used to worship their own false gods on various mountains.  But these folks insisted that if Isaiah says that Mount Zion will be “established above the mountains” then it could only mean that seismic activity would one day raise Mount Zion over 27,000 feet into the air to make it higher than Mount Everest because that’s the literal interpretation of the prophecy.


These folks also believed one day people will literally “beat swords into plowshares” and “spears into pruning hooks”.  It didn’t bother them that armies today don’t use swords or spears and that most equipment is no longer built by hammering things out on anvils.  To my surprise they acknowledged these facts and said that what Isaiah really meant by “swords and spears” was “tanks and machine guns”, and they would be melted down and turned into “tractors and farm equipment” (not necessarily only plowshares and pruning hooks)!  It never dawned on them that this was NOT literal interpretation!

Scholars of the late 19th and early 20th centuries introduced “literal interpretation” as the only correct way to interpret the prophets because they believed that such interpretation was reasonable and scientific, and a scientific approach would create a result about which there would be absolute certainty.  Absolute certainty about the future has become a fundamental of the faith for many Christians, and fundamentalism in general has come to regard certainty based on scientific interpretation of the prophets as one of the key values of Christianity.

Is Christianity about scientific certainty – or is it about faith?  Faith isn’t the substance of things which are there to be observed and seen, but “of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).  If something can be seen and known for certain, proved exhaustively and conclusively, no faith is required.  One then simply KNOWS.  The thing that makes faith great is not the overwhelming evidence for a thing, but the overwhelming size of the gaps between the evidence.  It is the gaps in our knowledge which force us to believe rather than to know beyond a shadow of a doubt.  And I think that some fundamentalists want the certainty of knowledge, not the certainty of faith which lives with enormous gaps, with lack of knowledge and certainty.  I think some fundamentalists are afraid to believe.  They MUST know;  they insist on being certain – or they will NOT believe.  And they insist on literal interpretation of the prophets to safeguard that certainty;  they couldn’t have faith without it.


This despite the fact that Jesus and the apostles didn’t consistently use literal interpretation when explaining the prophets.  But that’s another can of worms for another time… 


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