The Gospel and Cheers

gospel

(After some misunderstandings I’ve found I need to say “please read it this to the end. It’s not about how a bar is as good as a church”)
Life can be mighty tough and sometimes it takes all we’ve got just to make it through the day. Sometimes we just want to get away from our worries – you know, go somewhere to be with friends, be where they’re glad to see you and be where everybody knows your name.

You can do that by going to church…or going to the bar down the street. I’m sure many of you recognized the paraphrase above of the Cheers TV show theme song from years ago. Cheers was the bar down the street. “You want to be where you can see, the troubles are all the same, you want to be where everybody knows your name.”

I’m reading the book “The Gospel Driven Church” by Jared Wilson. At one point he             emphasizes a statement by James Gilmore – “The only thing of value the church has to offer is the Gospel.”

When I read that, I felt like telling Mr. Gilmore that the church can also offer, in fact we’re told in the Bible to offer, love for one another, bearing one another’s burdens, laughing and crying together. Then the Cheers theme song started running through my head. And I imagined Mr.        Gilmore agreeing that the people in the church can, and should, provide love, and fellowship and support for each other, but without the Gospel to go with it, those actions might as well be found at a bar down the street, or in a bowling league, or the Kiwanis club – take your pick.

So, as we strive to love one another, laugh and cry together, and bear one another’s burdens, let’s make sure we remember the main reason the church is here – to proclaim the Gospel (the Good News) that Jesus Christ came to earth as a man and died and rose again to save His people from their sins.

“And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.”  Matthew 1:21

 

Black Widow Bite

black-widow-spiders_thumb.ngsversion.1482872403820.adapt.1900.1My wife, Sharon, is the only person I know who has been bitten by a black widow spider. One day she took her sweater from the coat rack, put it on and felt a sharp sting on her arm. She smashed her hand on the stinging spot, shook her sleeve and the flattened spider fell out. The telltale red hourglass-shaped marking on its shiny black body confirmed what it was. Sharon sealed her attacker in a plastic bag and took it with her as she drove to the hospital.
Everyone at the emergency room was excited because no one had ever seen, much less treated, anyone with a black widow bite. It seemed to Sharon the entire hospital staff stopped by to inspect the spider and the bite marks on her arm.
I was excited too when summoned from an out of town meeting to take a phone call. Sharon told the story and assured me the doctor said everything was okay. The anti-venom was on its way from Atlanta and would be at the hospital in a few hours. Most importantly, she had no extreme symptoms. I trusted her assurances, but it was still a long trip home to see for myself.
The doctor administered the anti-venom when it arrived that evening. Sharon spent the night in the hospital for observation and was released the next morning. Thankfully, the worst effects of the bite were the five days of mental fog she endured from the prescribed mega-doses of antihistamines.
“How did a black widow spider get in her sweater?” I claim the dubious honor as the agent of that. It was winter and we were using the fireplace. At times, I brought in pieces of wood and stacked them on the floor next to the wall. If you picture the wood piled on the floor next to the wall, and move your gaze up, you come to…the coat rack. Apparently, the spider hitchhiked inside on a piece of wood, crawled up the wall looking for a dark hiding place and chose Sharon’s sweater sleeve.
Like most people, it wasn’t our practice to bring poisonous spiders into our house. However, the one that got Sharon was sneaky – we didn’t notice it because it was hiding in something useful that we often brought inside.
Spiders aren’t the only sneaky things we need to watch for. Every day we bring useful things into our homes through television, books, and the internet. These can help us learn and grow, make us think, or simply entertain us. Most importantly, these media are powerful tools that can help us as we seek to be closer to God.
But there is a negative side to the words and images they contain. Those that are blatantly evil are more easily avoided, but we might miss the sneaky ones unless we’re diligent. Subtle messages can hide among the action, information and laughter.
A scene can have a funny line, but the action may portray sex outside of marriage as not only acceptable but expected. Scripture can be taken out of context or given a slight twist to make a misleading point. Tolerance of sin (sin, as defined by God) may be constantly presented as a greater virtue than living by Biblically based standards.
As subtle messages like this sneak into our mind, they can eventually harden our heart to what is truth. Thus, we should constantly watch for them and as Proverbs 4:23 says: “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” ESV
Sharon and I don’t have poisonous spiders sneaking into our coats or sweaters anymore because I carefully examine all the wood before I bring it in. Perhaps that’s the process we should follow with all things we bring into our homes.

The Cricket in the Bushes

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

On a Columbo TV show the other day, a car drove by in a night scene. The camera was in the edge of the woods so we (the viewers) were, in effect, standing in the bushes as we watched. The car was too far away to hear the motor, but you could hear one of the cast members making noises in the bushes. The sound of a cricket’s chirps rang out, trying to convince the viewers they really were outside at night.

I’m sure he wasn’t listed in the credits, but he was probably the main cricket cast member for Columbo. Anytime there was a nighttime chirping part to fill, I imagine the sound effects editor pulled out the “cricket #1” tape and over-dubbed it on the soundtrack. Perfection every time. Never had to do a re-take.

I wondered if this cricket was featured in other soundtracks. Had I heard him before but didn’t         recognize him? Maybe he was a mega-star among crickets, and recordings of his chirp were shared among the studios and his “voice” heard in hundreds of shows and movies. Or was he even an international star – you wouldn’t need subtitles for that, because they all seem to speak the same in any language. (Actually, not speaking, of course, but rubbing their wings together.)

I don’t know the answer to the cricket’s stardom status. It’s likely he’s just another “extra” that remains unknown. Like the extras I point out to my wife, Sharon, now and then. I’ll pause the TV, rewind a bit, start it again and excitedly say “See me? See me? There I am, over the star’s left shoulder!” as someone walks through the background of the scene. Only him (or her) and their family has a clue who they really are.

I once read extras are there to enhance the ambience (the mood or character) of the scene – to make it more enjoyable. Most of us are extras in the sense we remain unknown to most folks. We may be heard and not seen, like the cricket, or seen and not heard like the person in the background of the TV scene. Now and then, we may be seen and heard for a few minutes as we pass through. And, in all those moments of  being extras, our job is to enhance the mood or character of the scene and make it more enjoyable to those involved.

Jesus gave us instructions to enhance the ambience of any scene we’re a part of when He said “You are the salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13) and “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). Then, He made it clear that we are the extras, and the glory goes to where it truly belongs:

In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)

 

Joseph and Our Hard Times

2016-04-06 16.09.13

Last week my Bible reading included Genesis chapters 39 and 40. Joseph’s brothers had sold him to a caravan of travelling merchants, and he ended up in Egypt as a slave to Potiphar, an official in Pharaoh’s court. Potiphar’s wife “cast her eyes” on Joseph and tried to seduce him.    Joseph refused her over and over but one day she caught him alone in the house and grabbed him. He pulled away and ran but she held onto his coat and he left it behind. Potiphar’s wife yelled out and lied that he had tried to assault her. The result was that Joseph ended up in prison even though not guilty.

After two years, Joseph was released from prison because God enabled him to interpret  Pharaoh’s dream about seven good years and seven years of famine that were coming. Joseph told what the dream meant and also gave a plan to deal with the famine. The plan pleased Pharaoh and his advisors, and Pharaoh made Joseph second in command because it was obvious to him that     Joseph was wise because God was with him.

About that time in the chapter, my brain began wondering about a possible scenario. Say, two or three months after Joseph became second in command, he called his administrative assistant. “Here, Hapusenaram, take this note over to Mrs. Potiphar. Tell her to come to Pharaoh’s palace, where I’m second in command, by the way. I’d like to talk with her a few minutes.”

Wouldn’t that get her excited about what Joseph might do and say? I have a hint of what I might do and say in that situation and it might not be nice (We can deduce that because my mind wandered in this direction in the first place). But I also think we can deduce what Joseph would say based on what he later told his brothers about being sold by them: “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.”

Those words can easily roll off our tongue, but it takes a work of the Holy Spirit and much work by us to have them come from our heart. So, we pray and work against our wandering mind so that we can mean it when we say “God is good—all the time!” – no matter what situation we’re in.

And in the End……..

DSCF0010111

We went through a course at work many years ago on Steven Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. One of the habits was: “Begin with the end in mind.” In the postscript, beyond the business aspect, of his book, he explained the life aspect rather starkly. What do you want people saying about you at your funeral? Figure that out and live toward it.

Along those same lines of thought, my Uncle Ivy once told me he had spent a night in his recliner praying and meditating while considering much that same question—what kind of man did he want to be? He concluded that he wanted folks to think of him and say, “Ivy Spivey is always willing to help in any way he can.” (And he always was.)

In another course at work we were required to develop a personal mission statement. I didn’t think a lot about it and just took the Boy Scout Oath as mine. That is a great statement and living by it is certainly a good “mission.”

But, through the years I’ve thought more about my life’s mission, as Steven Covey suggested and as Uncle Ivy did. My latest rendition is:

  1. The only things that really matter in life are God and other people – so live like it. (You may recognize this is a paraphrase of the two great commandments Jesus gave – Love the Lord, and Love your neighbor. I was thankful when I realized that.)
  2. Do the right things – for the right reasons. (It’s obvious The Bible tells us to do the right things and not do the wrong things. But 1st Corinthians chapter 13 (“the love chapter”) makes it clear that without the right motivation, particularly love, doing the right thing means nothing. See also the Sermon on the Mount and what I call the “woe” chapter—Matthew chapter 23)
  3. Pay Attention (If we don’t, we’ll miss opportunities to do the first two. Isaiah chapter 42 mentions looking but not seeing and listening but not hearing.)

I’m not writing those points here because I’m always successful in following them – The older I get, the more I realize how pitiful my results often are. And, I’m not saying you should take them as yours. I’m just suggesting as we go into this New Year, along with making resolutions like eating healthier and exercising, which are still good resolutions, we also spend time in prayer and meditation and, as Jesus said, consider the “weightier matters of…justice, mercy and faithfulness.”  (Matthew 23:23)
Micah 6:8  “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”

Sometimes We Have to Love Enough to Insist

Guitar 1

I’ve neglected spending time playing my guitar for several years. It’s a mighty fine guitar. I was blessed to be in the right place at the right time in the late 1970’s when a friend wanted to sell it and buy a fancier one. (It was made in 1973, the year Sharon and I were married – neat, huh?)

Over time, I noticed it wasn’t sounding like it once did (more than just my being out of     practice.) Little by little the sound had degraded – a rattle here, a buzz there, dull sounding, a piece of binding coming loose, etc. It still sounded ok, but because it happened slowly over time, the level of degradation wasn’t obvious.

I often mentioned to Sharon that I needed to take it to Randy Wood, but never followed through. (fyi – Randy Wood is a premier instrument maker/customizer/repairer who has built       instruments and done work through the years for Elvis, Johnny Cash, Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, etc. Randy was in the middle of the Nashville scene for years and got tired of the hustle-bustle and somehow ended up with a shop in Bloomingdale, Georgia.)

Last Christmas, after many mentions by me of what I needed to do, Sharon told me what her Christmas present to me was going to be – she was going to insist that I take the guitar to Randy’s shop the first week in January. Those who know me, know that Sharon moving from suggesting and encouraging to insisting on something pretty much makes it a done deal for me. So, I took it in, and it was repaired. It was in bad shape. They reset the neck, glued a couple of braces back into place, reset the binding, cleaned it up and changed the strings. And, the first time I strummed a G chord in its “like new” condition, tears came to my eyes. How wonderful! That’s the way it was made to sound. How could I have let it go like I did?

Many things we let slide aren’t physical, like my guitar, but are spiritual. The first steps in    correcting those are prayer, faith and obedience to God. Another step could be looking for someone with wisdom and life experiences they can use to help us. And, we can look for someone who loves us enough to insist on something (whatever that may be.)
Then, as we go through that process, we can ask God to help us learn enough to become someone else’s “expert” when they need it, and love them enough to insist.

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,” Hebrews 10:24

 

The Spirit in the Car Wash

car wash

(Written last Spring)
I had never been inside a drive-through car wash (outside the vehicle) until yesterday. With all the  pollen on the truck, I decided to stop by Enmark and get a wash during my usual Friday afternoon grocery run. There were several vehicles in line so I pulled in to wait.
After a minute, the door of the car ahead of me opened and an elderly woman got out and slowly walked toward me. I rolled down the window and in a strong Indian accent she haltingly said she had never been through a car wash before, didn’t know what to do, and was scared. I told her not to be scared and said I’d walk up to the machine and get her started. When we got there, I saw the taped-on sign saying the machine couldn’t take payments so you had to go to the kiosk to get a ticket.
So, after a bit of cajoling and explanation, I convinced her to drive through the car wash (“yes, without a ticket, and without getting a wash this round”) and go to the cashier and get a ticket. I needed gas, so I went to a pump and paid for the car wash with the gas, but got the notice to “see cashier for receipt”.
I went over and told the cashier I needed my receipt. The lady was still standing by her car by the kiosk so I asked the cashier to get her a car wash. The lady handed me her credit card, so I bought the wash, gave her the ticket and told her to go back to the car wash and I’d be right there. As I walked toward my truck, I saw I had the wrong receipt so went back to the cashier. She couldn’t find mine in the system, so I asked her to look while I hurried to help the lady, who by this time was parked at the machine by the car wash.
I entered her code and thought I explained OK to go forward until the green light turned red. But, she continued slowly through as the light turned red and then back to green. So, I walked in the car wash and after several times of her backing up and creeping forward, got her stopped at the right position and the car wash started. I waved as I quickly headed out to avoid getting soaked. I went back and got my receipt (the cashier had found it by then), got my truck and got back in line. I realized the lady hadn’t come out, so, I walked in the car wash again and told her it was finished and it was OK to leave. She waved, thanked me and headed out.
The incident was funny in some ways, but not really in the important ones. I wrote this because just before it happened, I was stuck in a drive through lane at a bank across the street getting aggravated and impatient (mostly     calling myself stupid for not paying attention and going to a bank at lunch time on a Friday afternoon.) And, once you’re in the line, especially if a car pulls up behind you, you are stuck.
I was still grumbling at myself as I pulled in the car wash line. But, thankfully, when the lady got out of her car, God’s Holy Spirit took over. C. H. Spurgeon once wrote of the Holy Spirit, that “There is no spiritual good in all the world of which He is not the author and sustainer.” I’d have to say Amen to that, Brother Spurgeon!