Focusing on Jesus, the Reason for the Season

November 30, 2014

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It’s easy to get distracted from the reason for this season of the year.  So about 30 years ago we installed our first nativity set to remind us to keep our focus.  We add a little bit each year.  This is how our day-after-Thanksgiving project turned out for 2014. The figures are mostly 12-inch Fontanini.

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The figures help me to remember that in those days 2000 years ago, people of faith were hoping for the coming of the Messiah.  The announcement of His incarnation came as “good news of great joy.”  This continues to be a season of hope for the future because God has come to us.

They help me remember that the message is simple, but profound.  God, Immanuel, came to us.  He came to us so that I could come to Him in my everyday life and respond to his initiative of love.

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They remind me that wise men still seek Him. I would like to be wise, so I want to remember Him, seek His face and worship Him.

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He changed history. I want Him to continue to direct my story.

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Free Training in Bible and Theology

November 17, 2014
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Richard Pratt, President Third Millennium Ministries

I attended a luncheon last week and heard Richard Pratt describe a wonderful method of training pastors worldwide. Third Millennium Ministries avoids a lot of the problems associated with providing seminary level theological education. For example, the major problem being addressed is that millions of pastors around the globe have less than one hour of formal training in the Bible. Three obstacles stand in the way of their education here in the US: (1) Language: If a church leader doesn’t speak English, he’ll be unable to get training here. (2) Money: the average annual cost of an American seminary enrollment is $15,000. That’s very restrictive for many pastors. (3) Educational prerequisites: A Bachelor’s Degree is required before starting seminary in the US. With the Third Millennium material, the pastor starts right in. Notice how none of these obstacles were present at Pentecost (Acts 2).

The Third Millennium material is currently provided in five languages, which include the areas where Christianity is fastest growing. It’s free and it’s very well presented. I just went to their website and watched a couple of their segments. The format is full of attractive graphics, like watching the History Channel, not simply shooting a lecture and copying it. I plan to use their materials to sharpen my own seminary training that I received 40 years ago.

Take a look at it. Click here and watch their video.  Watch one of their teaching segments.  See what you think. Use it for your own training. If you are able, make a contribution.  But more, if you know of a pastor in some foreign country who could use some training, let him know about Third Millennium Ministries.  Watch the testimonials of pastors who have used the material.  The website has testimonials of its effectiveness.

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Antithetical Complementarity

November 7, 2014

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Art does not often move me. I’m auditory; art is visual. But my son moves me and he is an artist. He recently commissioned a work by a Venezuelan artist, Rafael Araujo, and hung it in his office. My initial response at our family viewing/party was “l like it because I love him.” Then I kept looking. The more I looked, the more I saw. The more I saw, the more I was moved. Here’s what it stirred in me.

In the language of the artist, “Araujo creates an imagined mathematical framework of three dimensional space where butterflies take flight and the logarithmic spirals of shells swirl into existence.” What I saw was the stiffness and rigidity of the construction lines providing a realm within which the butterflies could flow along their patterned courses with fluidity. Rigidity and fluidity come together. Mechanical drawing all by itself is just that, pretty mechanical. A view of butterflies flying around by themselves is rather chaotic and, to me, pretty fluffy. Each has its own brand of “pretty” (or at least interesting) but when they merge in a complementary manner, mutually offering and receiving qualities to the other, they express a completeness that is fundamental to life. This concept resonates with my world of counseling.

I counsel couples. Often, one of them is very functional while the other is very aesthetic. So he leaves his “stuff” where things can easily be reached – in piles, in stacks, where he last used them. She objects to the visual clutter, the unsightly “mess” within which she cannot relax without putting it in order. The resolution of the conflict lays not in one side winning over the other, but in creatively finding ways for his functionality and her aesthetics to serve one another. Yes, to enhance and enrich the other so that the resulting unit thrives at a harmonious higher level.

Then, there’s the playful, spontaneous partner, tugging against the responsible, planned partner. One seems to be antithetically opposed to the other. Perhaps, with a little creativity, this couple can experience “planned spontaneity” or even “playful responsibility”. The goal is complementary enrichment.

Ultimately, beyond the possible myriad human experiences, I see a picture of the character of God himself! Is He a God of wrath or a God of love? Yes, perfectly! Is He just (executing justice) or merciful (granting grace)? Yes, perfectly.   God’s punishment of his people in the Old Testament was always accompanied with a compassionate plea to return to him so he could bless them. In his wrath, he never rejects his chosen people. He loves them. His holiness and justice require him to administer sanctions as consequences; his mercy and love require him to provide a way back to his caring arms and his blessings. So Paul can say

“ . . . that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”   (Romans 3:26)

and the psalmist can (without fully realizing it) anticipate how God’s complementary nature showed forth on the cross, where Christ took on the wrath of the Father and provided loving access to his eternal security.

Lovingkindness and truth have met together;
Righteousness and peace have kissed each other.   (Psalm 85:10)

My friend, Dr. Larry Waters, recently presented a talk at the Dallas Theological Seminary chapel in which he described the personal traits of that great man of God, Martin Luther. Listen to how he was described: “Rough and tender; poet and boxer; boisterous and devout; deadly serious and a possessor of keen wit; exquisitely sensitive and volcanic invective; and bold before men while humble before God.” I think that as we surrender our lives to God, we take on more and more of His characteristics even the blending of those characteristics that don’t seem to fit with each other.

Would that this goal of conciliatory complementarity would infect our political system. In the wake (wave) of last week’s election returns, I’m reminded of why I’m frustrated with politics. If God is present at all, the Republicans believe that their emphasis on balance budget, family values and small government is aligned with God’s priorities. But the Democrats believe that social need provided by the government is the priority that is closest to God’s character. Why can’t the answer be “Yes.” Then our work could be characterized by creating an enriched harmony of antithetical complementarity.

IMG_0040Back to butterflies. My son’s painting moved me because it pictures a timeless universal reflection of how the world ought to work. There is no winning in the war against one good thing versus another. There are no “trump cards” in the deck of antithetical complementarity. Real victory comes from rigid structure and free mobility integrating harmoniously in an organized fluidity.


Character and Quality Make Reliable Rehab Center

November 1, 2014

I like organizations that are led by men of character.  Robert Shryoc is one of those men and the Stonegate Center is one of those organizations.  It’s a Christian drug and alcohol rehab center for men located west of Fort Worth in the country.  Robert founded the center some years ago and continues as its CEO.  I had lunch with him a few weeks ago and was impressed with his world view and his attitudes toward treatment.  

He says that addiction is about impaired choosing.  The addict is a broken person who sees things in a distorted way and makes bad choices that make his condition worse.  Robert likes the Twelve Steps because they help a person gain (1) peace with God, (2) peace with themselves, (3) peace with others and (4) and enduring peace that comes from a transformed life from the inside out.

The program itself  works on physical, mental, emotional and spiritual issues that pertain to addiction and recovery.  A typical day there is structured from 6:00 AM to 10:00 PM but includes time to relax and reflect.  Robert says that real change happens IMG_0008in the context of real relationship, so community is very important at Stonegate.  I find that to be true in the personal counseling that I do as well.  Robert practices this with his organization as well, referring to specialists in the community and accepting referrals from other professionals in the community.

Another thing I like about the program is that it focuses on how to live a full and meaningful life beyond simply not doing the harmful thing.  In other words, let’s evaluate progress by the presence of good, not just the absence of bad.  It reminds me of the passage in Colossians 3:1-17 that uses clothing as a metaphor.  “. . . rid yourselves of . . .  and clothe yourselves with . . . “.

Perhaps these are some of the reasons the program has a 70% success rate.  I hope you don’t have a need for a recovery center, but if you do, consider Stonegate.  It’s a quality program run by a quality person of high character.