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If the Lord is willing, I will be preaching from 1 Samuel 3 this Sunday night.

While working through the text this Monday, I remembered something that I hadn’t thought about lately.

This text played a significant role in my call to the ministry.

Here’s what happened.

It was late summer 2002 and Mark Margis was serving as youth pastor at my home church. Our pastor, John Allen, asked Mark to preach on a Sunday night. His text was 1 Samuel 3.

Well, wouldn’t you just know that I was struggling with a call to ministry?

Mark preached about the call of God in the believer’s life. He made me absolutely miserable. I actually felt sick.

And no, it wasn’t because Mark is from Arkansas. He can’t help that.

In fact, it wasn’t Mark at all. I’ve since come to understand that God was using His Word to show me His will for my life.

God was calling me to the ministry. Specifically, he was calling me to be a pastor.

As Mark preached, God’s will became clear. But to do His will, I had to tell Donna, quit my job, and go to seminary. What if Donna wasn’t willing? What if we starved to death? What if I was a rotten preacher? What if? What if? What if?

Time may have condensed a few of these memories, but it seems like a few days later, at Olive Garden (breadsticks make everything easier), I told Donna that God was calling me into the ministry.

Would you believe she already knew and didn’t tell me?

The nerve of that woman.

So, the Sunday after Olive Garden, Donna and I told our family and I made my call public on a Sunday night.

About six weeks later, I began working on my M.Div. at Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary.

Now, twelve years later, I have been a pastor for almost ten years and I can’t imagine doing anything else.

Thank God for preaching that makes people sick and miserable.

The above title is an actual song about Ted Turner—the king of cable.

Well, at least he was in the early 1980s.

I don’t remember life before cable, but I do remember my parents having cable installed. We had a channel switching box that sat on top of the television. If you moved the button at the perfect speed, you could scan the channels and find something to watch in one smooth motion. I mastered the move.

Cable box

Cable meant that we had access to the best cultural programming possible.

That’s right.

I could watch professional wrestling from all over the country.

The channel changing box eventually wore out and a cable ready TV with remote control took over. Cable, with its 50 plus channels, continued to dominate. Only the socially rebellious allowed those oversized saucer-shaped satellite dishes in their backyards. Those home owners probably voted Independent.

But, satellite would not be denied. When Donna and I moved from an apartment to our first home in 2001, a much smaller saucer was attached to the south side of the house.

Next, this thing called a TiVo showed up. You could record and watch your shows when you wanted. I’ve never known an Enoch, by blood anyway, who could program a VCR, so TiVo was liberating. Of course, every service now offers DVR.

In the spring of 2013, Donna and I found ourselves in an interesting position. We had been kicking around the idea of cancelling our satellite service. Netflix allowed the girls to watch just about anything they wanted. With services like Hulu and network websites, Donna and I could watch new shows shortly after broadcast.

Once we knew we were moving to Jackson, we made the call and cancelled satellite.

This cancellation prompted an immediate trip to Best Buy. Network television began to broadcast digitally not too long ago. To watch it, you need a digital antenna. No rabbit ears in the twenty first century. The antenna is just a flat box, about the size of a large piece of pizza.

In Bartlett, the antenna picked up about twenty stations in HD. At our rental house in Jackson, we received five channels. Our new home, south of our church’s neighborhood, picks up three.

Now, none of this bothers me. The only time I really miss satellite is during football season. I have to watch whatever CBS shows. On Saturday, that’s fine. The SEC is on. On Sunday, it’s not fine. The Titans are on.

So, why all this rambling about the history of my television viewing?

Let me tell you what happened this past Sunday.

I had the house all to myself. Donna and the older two were at camp with the church and the younger two were with my parents. After church, I decided to eat my lunch in the living room. I turned on the TV to see what was playing on  the three channels our antenna receives.

What I found to watch was amazing.

This blond headed guy was really excited about what he could do for me. He was offering free television. Can you imagine that? We could have TV for free. I only needed to order their digital antenna and hook it up to my set. He promised me that I wouldn’t have to pay a dime for any of the programming.

He was correct.

I was watching him, for free, through the exact medium he was peddling.

My biggest frustration was that no one was home to experience this irony with me. (Hence, this blog.)

Guess who showed up on my Facebook page while I was writing the first draft of this post?

Guess who showed up on my Facebook page while I was writing the first draft of this post?

Free television has always been around. We just walked away from it when Ted Turner started showing the Braves and Georgia Championship Wresting.

Haven’t we all been down this road before?

Have we made a complete circle?

The commercial fails to mention that the viewer has no control over the programming. They can only watch what’s on. How many people paid $19.99 without realizing this? I’d hate to know.

While I admire the seller’s marketing ingenuity, the whole situation makes me shake my head. They are selling people the very thing that has always been around, as if new.

Ecclesiastes 1:9–11 says, “9 That which has been is that which will be, And that which has been done is that which will be done. So there is nothing new under the sun. 10 Is there anything of which one might say, “See this, it is new”? Already it has existed for ages which were before us. 11 There is no remembrance of earlier things; And also of the later things which will occur, There will be for them no remembrance Among those who will come later still.

This truth means that the things we experience in this fallen world are not new to the experience of humanity. The repackaging of consumer products has little eternal impact, but the same old sin and temptation with a new logo and paint job leads to death, according to James 1:15.

Every generation has been tempted to deny truth, to recognize evil as good, and to make an idol of self. None of these temptations and none of our own sinful leanings are new under the sun.

Everything old is new again.

Christians must accept that this world is not our home, even if it does offer DVR service. Through our relationship with Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, we can understand that the world offers a lie and that God provides the truth.

If we keep our eyes open and fixed on the author and finisher of our faith, then we will see these old things for what they are and avoid the traps reset for each generation.

The packaging may be new, but the dangers, deceptions, and consequences are the same.

Bilbo_Baggins_from_The_Hobbit_Wallpaper

“Bilbo … Bilbo Baggins … only three feet tall.”

“Bilbo … Bilbo Baggins … bravest little hobbit of them all.”

Those words are from a song, performed by Spock himself, Leonard Nimoy, about the hero of The Hobbit. If you have never seen the video, then it’s worth a quick YouTube search.

Since the publication of The Hobbit, and The Lord of Rings, Tolkien’s Middle Earth has consistently fascinated readers.

I first became aware of Middle Earth in elementary school. On our playground, a few of the boys in my class would play The Hobbit. I hadn’t read the book , so I wasn’t really interested.

I’m sure Tolkien never crossed my mind during high school or the early days of college. Truthfully, I stumbled across Middle Earth while exploring this new thing we had in the late 1990s—the internet.

In college, I learned that George Lucas was making what he was calling “prequels” to the original Star Wars Trilogy. I did an internet search (anyone remember Web Crawler?) and found Starwars.com and TheForce.net. It was on the second site that I found a link to a website about the upcoming The Lord of Rings movies. I decided to read the books before the movies premiered.

I’ve enjoyed Tolkien’s writings ever since. I’ve read The Lord of the Rings twice and plan to reread them again. I completed The Hobbit in one sitting.

Peter Jackson’s film adaptations have not disappointed. Donna and I love each of the five films so far. Jackson displays the scope of the Tolkien’s world while not losing the small moments that drive the story.

Jackson is at his best in those small moments.

The battle of Helm’s Deep, in The Two Towers, is one of the best battles ever filmed. The most powerful scene, in my opinion, occurs in the buildup to the battle. We see men too old and boys too young preparing for war. The reactions of the wives and mothers might be Jackson’s best direction in the series.

The latest installment of Jackson’s films, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, contains one of those small, yet powerful, moments.

Our hero, Bilbo, finds himself battling giant spiders which have captured his dwarf friends. Bilbo, with the aid of the One Ring, fights off the pack. Towards the end of the struggle, Bilbo drops the ring. Won in a riddle contest with Gollum, it is Bilbo’s most prized possession.

Bilbo panics when he can’t find the ring.

He’s become obsessed.

Finally, spotting the ring on the forest floor, he moves quickly towards it, only to find another spider-like animal in his path.

Bilbo reacts violently. Earlier he fought off the spiders in defense, but now he is aggressive, almost blood thirsty. Once he kills the creature, he holds up the ring, looks at the dead animal, and says, “Mine.”

Jackson assumes the audience has seen The Lord of the Rings trilogy, so that we recognize what the ring is doing to Bilbo. Our hobbit, however, only now begins to understand.

The viciousness of his attack shocks and reviles Bilbo. He covers his mouth as if to be sick. The actor, the brilliant everyman (and my favorite Dr. John Watson), Martin Freeman, communicates this moment perfectly.

Bilbo realizes, but only momentarily, that the One Ring is changing him.

Mine.

That’s what he called it.

In Colossians 3:5, Paul wrote, “5 Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry (NASB).”

Greediness, or the “mine” attitude, is idolatry. Since idolatry places anything before God, then greediness hinders our relationship with Him.

Every believer must ask themselves what they hold most dear.

The things we treasure dictate our behavior. Just as Bilbo acted out when threatened, you and I can act ungodly when thinking we must let go of what we consider ours.

Avoiding this idolatry requires us to admit that what God builds through us doesn’t belong to us.

In 1 Corinthians 3:5-11, Paul shows us the opposite of the “mine” attitude. He wrote, “5 What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. 7 So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth. 8 Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor. 9 For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building. 10 According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it. 11 For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ (NASB).”

If our foundation is Christ, then what’s “mine” is never an issue.

I have a pizza problem.

Whenever I’m in the same room with pizza, I constantly think about it. If I visit your house and you have pizza, I’m going to ask for a slice.

My obsession with pizza began in the old Raleigh Springs Mall in Memphis. Milano’s, which serves New York style pizza, sat near one of the anchor stores. We called it “mall pizza.”

Eating one slice was not an option. A mall trip meant at least two slices, maybe three.

The closest Milano’s to Jackson is in Somerville. Donna and I claim that traveling Highway 64 is more relaxing than I-40 when returning to Jackson from my parent’s home in Fayette County. I think, deep down, it’s because I know I can turn into Milano’s if I want.

I’m not limited to New York style pizza. Papa John’s runs a close second; but I’ll slum for just about any combination of dough, sauce, and cheese.

I can even remember certain pizzas that I’ve eaten. I’ve blogged in the past about my love for the original Planet of the Apes (https://johnenoch.com/2011/12/30/hey-hey-were-the-monkeys/) The movie made a big impression. The large cheese pizza from Dominos was just as good.

If I was down to one bagel bite, and had to choose between eating it or feeding my family, I’m not sure Donna and the girls would do so well.

The inspiration for this blog began after a long day of driving. Everyone was tired, so we ordered pizza. I planned to eat two slices.

This strategy has succeeded in the past.

I crashed and burned.

The third slice determines everything. Two slices, for me, cure my hunger and don’t leave a too full feeling. By the third slice, I’m completely full. So, why not keep going? I’ve already had too much. Why not just enjoy eating? Three slices become four and four becomes…

My pizza issue isn’t exactly an earth shattering problem.

But, truthfully, we all do struggle with certain temptations.

Have you noticed that Christians sin?

Even though we have been forgiven and the Holy Spirit lives within us, we are not yet perfect.

The Bible likes to list sins. For instance, Proverbs 6:16-19 says, “16 There are six things which the Lord hates, Yes, seven which are an abomination to Him: 17 Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, And hands that shed innocent blood, 18 A heart that devises wicked plans, Feet that run rapidly to evil, 19 A false witness who utters lies, And one who spreads strife among brothers (NASB).”

We aren’t limited to these seven sins. While some wouldn’t even think about being envious, others constantly look towards greener grass. One person never struggles with addiction, while another is pulled towards drugs, alcohol, or pornography. You may easily walk away from gossip, but your friend may think they have to know.

In Romans 7:14–25, Paul wrote, “14 For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. 15 For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. 16 But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good. 17 So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. 19 For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. 20 But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. 21 I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. 22 For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, 23 but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin (NASB).”

Paul reminds us that sin still exists in the life of Christian. However, in the very next verse, Romans 8:1, he wrote, “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (NASB).”

Christians will continue to struggle with sin. We must remember, though, that our sins have been forgiven. We will not suffer God’s wrath for a sinful life. Jesus took that wrath for us on Calvary.

What we do need to understand is that our lives are to be a reflection of Christ in us. When we choose to sin, we live as if our new life in Christ makes no difference in how we think or act.

Your severest temptation can be overcome. Being born again means that you are not the same person you were before salvation. Your spirit has been made alive by the Holy Spirit.

Will you continue to sin?

Yes.

Do you have to sin when tempted?

No.

Trust me.

That third slice isn’t necessary.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking about my misspent youth. Or at least, that’s what Mark Twain would have called it.

I grew up playing nine ball. I began playing pool in October 1988 (I was 11) and played seriously until my first year of college. As you can imagine, I met some interesting people during those years.

This week’s death of Philip Seymour Hoffman reminded me of the one professional players I knew. He was both personally fascinating and ridiculously talented—“St Louie” Louie Roberts.

"St. Louie" Louie Roberts

“St. Louie” Louie Roberts

Louie was a rarity in the world of nine ball. He combined good looks, charm, and world class skill. A genuine hustler/money player, he also claimed the greatest of all American nine ball titles, the U.S. Open, in 1979.

I spent a limited amount of time around Louie. He was the house pro at Highpocket’s before I took up the game and he returned to Memphis from St. Louis in late 1990.

A gifted teacher, Louie influenced many of the players I competed against. Most people assumed he would begin working with me on my game. I never put much hope in that assumption, as his style of play was different than the one I was developing; but I was open to learning what I could.

We played exactly two shots of one game together.

One Saturday morning, after Louie had been in town for a few weeks, he came into the pool room early. I was practicing on my favorite table and he asked if I wanted to play.

Louie racked the balls and I broke. I don’t remember what I made on the break, but I will never forget my next shot.

A pool table is twice as long as wide. A full size table, which we played on, measures 4 ½ feet by 9 feet. After my break, the next shot was on the one ball. Nine ball is played in numbered order. The one ball sat almost touching the long rail on the table’s right side. It was between the corner pocket closest to the where a person stands to break and the side pocket. The cue ball was near the middle of the table, slightly closer to the short rail. Or in pool terms, just below the object ball. What I had to do was hit the one ball, but just barely, with what is called a thin cut shot. The one ball would then have to travel about seven feet, without touching the long rail, to the corner pocket on the far end of the table.

I had learned from watching Louie for a few weeks to lengthen my bridge on thin cut shots. The added space between my bridge hand and the cue ball helped to line up that particular shot.

Louie 2

I took my stance, aimed, pulled my cue back, and shot.

I still remember the feeling of that stroke. I knew the instant the cue tip contacted the cue ball that I’d made it. The cue ball struck the one ball paper thin. It traveled the seven feet to the corner pocket and never wavered.

Louie exploded with praise. Frankly, I was a bit embarrassed. Fortunately, I had a shot on the two ball and could move on. Unfortunately, I never took that shot. A phone call came for Louie and he had to leave.

Within a year, Louie died.

Like many uber-talented people, Louie struggled with addiction. His main weakness was alcohol, but he wasn’t limited to it.

In the 1970s, Louie was a force of nature. By the 1980s, the chemicals began to erode his skills. The player I watched was a shell of the former national champion. He still played world-class pool, but not top tier.

By 1990, Louie was a man near or just beyond forty with nothing to show for life lived at full speed. I would guess that he never paid a dime of Social Security and certainly had no plans for retirement. You see, pool hustlers don’t retire. They give all they have to the game and the game likes to settle up in the end.

Whether in despair, depression, or just a stupor, Louie took his own life. We were all sad to hear the news. Louie had moved on from Memphis but hadn’t been gone long when we received the word.

It was a shame.

It still is.

Louie 4

Louie’s story resembles many others. John Belushi, Hank Williams, Sr., Tim Richmond, and countless others, with talent that wowed even their contemporaries, died too soon.

I’m no psychologist, so I can’t pretend to have an overarching and unifying explanation for this phenomenon. What I do believe, though, is that many of these superstars found their sole identity in what they did, rather than who they were.

Genesis 1:26–27 says, “6 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27 God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them (NASB).”

God created humanity in His image. This truth means that we are unique in God’s creation. His image separates us from the plants and animals. Our talents reflect the image of God.

For instance, have you ever noticed that animals don’t produce art? They don’t create things just to be pretty. Humans do, because God is the creator and that aspect of His image inspires creativity.

While the fall into sin marred that image, enough remains in each person to produce amazing results. Salvation through Christ brings full restoration of the image of God in man (glorification), but even non-Christians show us a bit about God’s nature by using their talents.

The tragedy of talent occurs when giftedness becomes a god, rather than that ability being used to glorify God.

In Louie’s case, like others, a talented life ended tragically.

Christians have the opportunity to avoid such circumstances. We understand that our abilities glorify God. We don’t have to define ourselves by the speed of our fastball, our singing voice, or business acumen.

Our talents are not about us.

Our talents are about the God who graciously granted them.

13

Donna and I celebrated thirteen years of marriage in 2013. We began dating during our last semester of high school and were married on October 14, 2000. The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 sent us back to church. Less than a year later, I told Donna that God was calling me to preach. She said she already knew.

Donna has stood beside me through every high and low of the ministry. She is the best wife I could ever imagine and the best mother our children could possibly have. We are a lucky bunch.

10, 8, 5, 2

“How in world do you survive in a house full of that many girls?” I hear that kind of question a lot. Truthfully, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Emma, Sarah, Brenna, and Tessa fill our home with humor, joy, and the occasional challenge. (They get the challenging stuff from their momma). The numbers in the heading are their ages for 2013. Where does the time go?

MBC Fall-O-Him 2013

MBC Fall-O-Him 2013

8 years 4 months, 9 months

These numbers represent my time as a pastor. For just over eight years, I was privileged to serve as the pastor of Fellowship Baptist Church in Bartlett, TN. I’ve blogged about my time at FBC before: https://johnenoch.com/2013/03/24/dear-fellowship-baptist-church/. The comma that you see in the above heading, philosophically at least, stands for God’s call to Meridian Baptist Church. On December 31, I will have been pastor there for nine months. I am so grateful to God for allowing me to shepherd such a special church for so long, and then for His sending me to another special place. When I surrendered to the call to preach, I never expected to know such great saints of God as I’ve met at these two churches.

Fellowship Baptist Church

Fellowship Baptist Church

Meridian Baptist Church

Meridian Baptist Church

7000, 42, 51

I grew up and lived in the same house until Donna and I married. We bought our first home less than a year after our wedding and lived there for over four years. 2013 was a bit different. In almost exactly six months, give or take a few days, we lived in three houses. Fellowship Baptist provided a parsonage during most of our tenure. We moved in on December 7, 2005. We left 7000 US Highway 70 on March 26, 2013. Later that day, with much help from our new church, we moved to 42 Norvel Drive, a rental house owned by Mary Ross. Six months and one day later, on September 27, we closed on the purchase of our new home at 51 Michelle. Donna’s now legendary moving skills rose to fame during this geographical hop scotch.

Moving Day - 7000 US Highway 70

Moving Day – 7000 US Highway 70

Moving Day - 42 Norvel Drive (The Rental House)

Moving Day – 42 Norvel Drive

Moving Day - 51 Michelle Lane

Moving Day – 51 Michelle Lane

3

What have I learned in this crazy year? Let me mention three.

First, there is no one, outside of Jesus, more important than our spouse. I could not do what I do if Donna did not do what she does. Our girls have transitioned so well and I’ve had the stability at home to adjust to a new ministry. We’d all be lost without her.

Second, nothing exists like the local church. We left one great congregation and arrived at another. God’s people love and look out for one another no matter if they are in Shelby or Madison County. I just happen to suspect that this truth applies to the entire world.

Third, God know exactly what we need when we need it. I’m sitting at my kitchen table as I type these words. This house quickly became home. Without going into detail, the only explanation for our being here is God’s hand in our lives. He put me in the right place, at the right time, so that we could make a new home here on Michelle Lane.

2014

What does 2014 hold for this group of Enochs? I’m not sure.

I do know this, however. If it’s anything like 2013, it’s going to be an adventure.

Happy New Year!

The St. Louis Rams have contacted Brett Favre about being their quarterback. Yep, Brett Favre. Fortunately, he turned them down.

As a Packers fan, I have mixed emotions about Favre. He may be one of the NFL’s all-time greats, but the drama surrounding his many retirements tarnished my perception of his legacy.

I bring this up because for the past few days Donna and I have been talking about how our culture values athletes. We often equate athletic ability with heroism. We admire hard work and competiveness. Countless children have aspired to be the next great whoever playing whatever.

I enjoy watching sports, mostly football and golf. I used to watch a lot of boxing, but MMA has pushed it to the sidelines. Watching athletes drive themselves to the limit to win, or just go the distance, entertains and inspires.

Well, it at least entertains.

I’ve become a firm believer that pro sports are pure entertainment. I enjoy them, but that’s about it. I’m under no illusion that the athletes are good people just because they can throw a ball.

I think we make a mistake when we equate character with athletic performance. For instance, one of the most inspiring athletic performances of all time was given by a man who later served time in prison for cocaine possession.

In 1975, Chuck Wepner stood toe to toe with Muhammad Ali for 14 and ¾ rounds. His courage inspired Sylvester Stallone to create Rocky. But, Chuck Wepner went to prison, despite having the guts to face the Greatest.

Ali vs. Wepner

Ali vs. Wepner

Let’s be honest. The ability to throw, catch, run, hit, serve, drive, dribble, shoot, or pass does not equal personal integrity and character.

Admittedly, many great athletes are also good people. Numerous pros are outspoken about their faith in Christ. Some of their teammates, however, would steal our best china if given the chance. Yet, because they can do things on the field or court that we can’t, they often get a pass.

Let me return to Brett Favre.

If you keep up with politics, then you know the name Anthony Weiner. He famously was caught in a sexting scandal and resigned his congressional seat. This year he ran for the Democratic nomination for the office of New York Mayor. He failed. His past foibles and the revelations that he continued his wrongful use of a smart phone cost him the nomination.

Good.

Favre, while with the New York Jets, committed the same act as the Congressman. He sent nude pictures of himself to a female reporter who covered the Jets. Yet, he is now volunteering as a coach with a Mississippi High School and receiving offers to come back on the field.

Not good.

What’s the difference?

Anthony Weiner can’t throw a football so hard that it breaks the receiver’s fingers.

American culture values Favre’s athletic ability over Weiner’s political skills.

Brett gets a pass. Anthony just looks like a jerk.

Coach Favre

Coach Favre

Please don’t take me wrongly. Sports themselves are good things. How we value them is the problem.

The player who hits the walk-off home run may end up a criminal, while the pitcher that gave up the homer may be your brother in Christ.

Enjoy the game.

Encourage your kids to play.

Remember though, character and godliness come from inside a heart changed by Christ, not from a well swung bat or perfectly thrown spiral.

Go, Packers.

Below is a link to an interesting article by Ed Stetzer. In the article, Stetzer makes the case that the church is not actually dying, it is just being clarified.

Here are a few interesting quotes.

The “Nones” category is growing quickly, but the change is coming by way of Cultural and Congregational Christians who no longer feel the societal pressure to be “Christian.” They feel comfortable freeing themselves from a label that was not true of them in the first place. Convictional Christians are not leaving the faith; the “squishy middle,” as I like to call it, is simply being flattened.”

As the trend continues, we will see the “Nones” continue to grow and the church lose more of its traditional cultural influence. Christians will likely lose the culture wars, leading to difficult times ahead for us. But we do not need to lose hope. This is not cause for despair. It is a time to regroup and re-engage.”

As the distinctions between Christians and an ever-growing post-Christian culture emerge, we will have to set aside any nominal belief systems and become active agents of God’s Kingdom. The answer is not found in waging cultural wars incessantly, or in making a theological shift to the left to pacify a culture offended by the gospel. The answer is in all of God’s people, changed by the power of the gospel and propelled by love, moving into the mission field as agents of gospel transformation.”

I’ve placed the link to the entire article below. Take time and consider what Ed is saying.

http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2013/october/state-of-american-church.html

 

I begin with a confession.

I love country music.

As an experiment, before I began to type, I pulled up my Pandora App and it played a Hank Williams, Jr. song.

I’m a bit of an old-timer when it comes to my country music. I haven’t listened regularly to current country radio in years. I know a few of the new folks, but for the most part I’m ignorant.

With that confession and my admission of ignorance out of the way, let me tell you about something I’ve been pondering.

A few months ago, when we first moved to Jackson, I entered the dry cleaners and the radio station was playing a classic country song (I can’t remember which). So, I asked the person behind the counter what station was playing, and when I returned to my car I tuned in.

Recently, I turned to the station several days in a row.

Now, here’s the frustrating part.

The same song was on each time—Blake Shelton’s, “The Boys ‘Round Here.”

My first impression was that the singer and songwriters were just trying too hard. I was actually embarrassed for them at the line, “chew tobacco, chew tobacco, chew tobacco, spit.”

The chorus is what I can’t stop thinking about. It goes like this:

Yeah the boys ’round here
Drinking that ice cold beer
Talkin’ ’bout girls, talkin’ ’bout trucks
Runnin’ them red dirt roads out, kicking up dust
The boys ’round here
Sending up a prayer to the man upstairs
Backwoods legit, don’t take no lip
Chew tobacco, chew tobacco, chew tobacco, spit

My issue isn’t with the song’s celebration of redneckism. As a Hank Jr. fan, I can’t fault that approach. What does bother me, and it bothers me about many country songs, is the casual inclusion of God.

The group Alabama used that same phrase in a song called “Roll On.” The story of a lost trucker’s telephone reunion with his family includes the line, “but the man upstairs was listening, when Momma asked Him to bring Daddy home.” That line confused me very much when I was a kid. I couldn’t figure out how the man in the apartment upstairs could find her husband when others couldn’t. (Don’t worry. My dad explained it to me.)

The Gentle Giant, Don Williams, explored the nature and purposes of God in “I Believe in You.” One verse says of God:

Well, I don’t believe that heaven waits
For only those who congregate
I’d like to think of God as love
He’s down below
He’s up above
He’s watchin’ people everywhere
He knows who does and doesn’t care
And I’m an ordinary man
Sometimes I wonder who I am.

The song is a favorite of mine. Like several of William’s singles, including “Good Ole Boys Like Me,” the song contemplates deeper issues than most country tunes. The picture it presents of God, however, stands contrary to the Bible. Lack of church attendance plus good works and intentions do not equal favor with God.

One of the most overt examples of a casual approach to Christianity is Cal Smith’s song, “The Lord Knows I’m Drinkin.” Written by Whiperin’ Bill Anderson, the song tells the story of a man being confronted in a bar by a self-righteous Sunday School teacher, Mrs. Johnson. The chorus says:

The Lord knows I’m drinking and running around
And He don’t need your loud mouth informing the town
The Lord knows I’m sinning and sinning ain’t right
But me and the good Lord gonna have us a good talk later tonight

Once again, we have flippancy towards the true nature of God. The song may be a bit funny, but the theology is anything but.

So, why all this ranting?

Our notion and understanding of the nature of God informs all that we do. If we build up a picture of God that is contrary to His true nature, then our behavior will reflect that false understanding.

If we develop our understanding of God from His Word, then, through sanctification, we will grow in Christ-likeness.

I believe that country music offers valid insight into real life. David Allen Coe codified the perfect country song when he said it includes momma, trains, trucks, prison, and getting drunk. Many people joke about those clichés, but they exist because country music has dealt with both the good and bad of almost any subject.

Theology, however, is not country music’s strongpoint.

As Christians, we must be careful about what creeps into our thinking. We discover God through His Word, not through others as they sing about their imagined version of deity.

Don’t go out and jettison all of your country tracks. Just be aware that the God of Nashville is often not the God of the Bible.

By the way, I just tried my Pandora App again. It played Johnny Cash.

Self-Discipline.

Doesn’t that word just excite you?

Think about it. Who doesn’t love the idea of waking early to exercise or of pushing away the plate before being full? What about those books you were going to take the time to read? What about not wasting so much time on Twitter, Facebook, or obscure Wikipedia entries.

Self-discipline excites few. The idea of self-discipline excites most.

I’ve written before that one of my goals is to read a biography of every President of the United States. So far I’ve gotten to know FDR, Washington, Lincoln, Grant, and Eisenhower. I’ve learned much about the nature of leadership by studying these men’s lives.

My latest subject of study is Theodore Roosevelt.

Mr. Self-Discipline.

The adult Teddy Roosevelt combined sound mind and body. His muscular physique and equally powerful intellect propelled him to the White House. The intellect, however, developed more easily than the physique.

As a child, Roosevelt suffered from severe asthma. He often spent weeks in bed struggling to breathe. His father, the epitome of gentlemanly manliness, encouraged young Teddy to build up his body. The future president’s brain power was sufficient, his father explained, but Theodore would have to work on his muscle power.

Roosevelt – the wiry Harvard freshman

Roosevelt – the wiry Harvard freshman

His father’s challenge spurred Roosevelt towards conquering his physical weakness. With an iron will, he endured recurring asthma attacks while developing energy and strength beyond his turn-of-the-twentieth-century colleagues.

President Roosevelt

President Roosevelt

Roosevelt’s pursuit brings two ideas to my mind.

First, very few of us take caring for our bodies seriously. Maintained physical fitness demands consistent devotion to exercise and wise eating choices. Unfortunately, there are many days when I just don’t have it in me.

Second, and much more importantly, is the self-discipline of progressively growing in our relationship with Christ.

The apostle Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 4:7–8, “7 But have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old women. On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; 8 for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come (NASB).”

The importance of our spiritual fitness far exceeds that of our physical fitness.

Our bodies begin dying the day we are born. Our spirits live forever, either in Heaven or Hell.

While I regret missing a day at the gym, I ought to miss even more my neglected time with God.

The spiritual disciplines vary. Bible reading and study, prayer, Scripture memorization, worship, witnessing, and journaling are but a few of the activities that build us up.

Like Roosevelt’s physical shortcomings, our spiritual asthma restricts our growth in Christ.

In weightlifting, the term “progressive resistance” describes the method of slowly increasing the amount of weight being lifted. If a person can perform curls using a fifty pound barbell for twelve repetitions, then that person may increase their resistance to sixty pounds in the next workout. They may be able to perform only nine curls at first, but over time they’ll be back at twelve.

In the Christian life, the term “progressive sanctification” describes our gradual growth in Christ.

Spiritual disciplines build us up for Christ. As we pray and spend time in God’s Word, He reveals His nature and will. He builds our faith as we seek Him with our hearts and minds. He slowly grows us into His image as He prepares us for the return of Christ.

So, where is good place to begin?

First, I’d suggest reading through the Bible. If you read one New Testament chapter and two Old Testament chapters each day, in nine months you will have read the entire New Testament and in eighteen months you will have read the entire Old Testament.

Second, pray daily. I follow the ACTS acrostic: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication. Adoration means to worship God in prayer. We confess our sins so they do not inhibit our relationship with God. Thanking God for His blessing in our lives shows that we understand that our wellbeing comes from Him. Supplication, a fancy word for praying for our needs, allows us to spend time talking to God about the specifics of our lives and the lives of those we care about.

Many other spiritual disciplines exist, but nothing substitutes for prayer and Bible reading.

As we discipline ourselves in these activities, God builds us into stronger believers.

We all should exercise and eat properly. No one will argue with the benefit of a healthy lifestyle. But, even the healthiest people eventually die.

We should rather put first our spiritual exercises.

Open your Bible.

Bow in prayer.

Grow in Christ.