The Living Room

The old saying goes, “a man’s home is his castle.”  While there is some comfort in this, it is worth remembering that the primary architectural goal of a castle is to keep others out.  Castles have walls with battlements from which projectiles can be hurled and pots of boiling oil dumped on the heads of those who seek to gain entry.   A castle’s windows are designed for archers, not effective lighting.  And castles have moats – a feature that unequivocally says, “keep out, or else.”  Castles were not built for hospitality.  Castles were built to clearly draw the line between us and them.

The architecture of 1970’s Americana had an answer to this kind of bunker mentality.  It was called, the Living Room.  Not to be confused with the den, which was the private gathering spot for the nuclear family, the living room was a separate room designed and decorated for the reception of strangers.  This was the place where guests were received, where daughters were courted, and where outsiders became, for a brief time, insiders.  The Living Room served as a stone of remembrance that we lived in a world larger than just “us.”

Our society has grown increasingly divided, however.  We have our church groups, school groups, and various other groups.  And rarely do they cross-pollinate.  But this is not the normative expression of the Christian life.  Our faith must permeate, flavor and unite every realm of life.  We don’t hang up our Christianity on a hook at the back door of the church as we leave worship each week and only put it on again as we arrive the following Sunday.  The life of faith, modeled through our worship, is to be lived out in every sphere – our vocations, our avocations, and our families.  Like a living room, our faith forms the meeting place, the intersection, of all our little worlds.

In the New Testament, Paul wrote two letters to his young friend, Timothy, to instruct him in pastoral care.  To be sure, many of these instructions regarded doctrine, worship and organization within the local congregation.  But Paul also gave eminently practical instructions on questions of communication and family life, reminding Timothy and us that the gospel defines who we are, and what we are, everywhere that we are.

Join us this Lord’s Day, February 24, as we examine 1 Timothy 5:1-8 and consider how our faith informs some very practical matters of communication and family life. We meet on the square in Pottsville, right next to historic Potts’ Inn at 10:45 am for worship.  Get directions here or contact us for more info.   We look forward to seeing you.

Knock Offs

To say I was unpopular as a boy would be an understatement.   I wanted to fit in and find acceptance, but there were three significant strikes against me – I struggled with my weight, I loved to read the World Book Encyclopedia for fun, and I wore Trax shoes.   For those unfamiliar with vintage 80’s knock-off footwear, Trax were the K-mart Adidas want-to-bes.   But no one was fooled.   In a time when being a part of the “in-crowd” at school demanded the full complement of status symbols – Jordache, Izod and Adidas – wearing a K-Mart knock off was the worst of all possible worlds.

Discount stores finally figured this out and started producing their own distinctive, no-name brands.  At least a no-name brand says, “I don’t really care what you think; I’m more practical and not pandering to your good opinion.”  But the knock-off attracted all the wrong kinds of attention.   My father was trying to help, but as a child of the depression, he was oblivious to the narcissism of the age and the power of the status symbol.  He was far too practical (and wise) to spend beyond our means to purchase a logo.  But, alas, there was no anonymity for the wearer of Trax shoes.   Everyone knew you were trying to fit in but came up short.   No one was fooled by the knock-off.  It was important to be the real deal.

Authenticity is important.  We want this in our food, we this in our relationships, but what about our faith?  No outcry is more universally raised in reaction to Christians than the cry of “hypocrite.”   Once when the missionary E. Stanley Jones met with Mahatma Ghandi he asked him, “Mr. Ghandi, though you quote the words of Christ often, why is that you appear to so adamantly reject becoming his follower?” Ghandi replied, “Oh, I don’t reject your Christ. I love your Christ. It’s just that so many of you Christians are so unlike your Christ.”   No one is fooled by a knock-off.

The Apostle Paul in writing to Timothy pointed out the importance of authenticity for pastoral ministry.  He instructed him to preach the word, in season and out of season, but he also stressed the importance of living authentically as a follower of Christ before the believers in Ephesus.

… set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity… Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers. 1 Timothy 4:12, 15-16

Walking the walk, makes our talk talk.   Just like Timothy, we are called to live authentically — our lives and doctrine corroborating one another.  Scottish pastor, Robert Murray M’Cheyne famously wrote.

“A minister’s life is the life of his ministry….  In great measure, according to the purity and perfections of the instrument will be the success. It is not great talents that God blesses so much as likeness to Jesus.  A holy minister is an awful weapon in the hand of God.”

Join us this Lord’s Day, February 17, as we examine 1 Timothy 4:11-16 and consider the call to live authentically as Christians.  We meet on the square in Pottsville, right next to historic Potts’ Inn at 10:45 am for worship.  Get directions here or contact us for more info.   We look forward to seeing you.

Eating Well

My mother was the consummate Southern cook.  And my father was not an adventurous eater.  We had fried chicken twice every week, roast beef once, and never anything that might remotely be construed as ethnic food.   Every meal had white bread and some variety of gravy.  The metric of culinary success in our home was how well the meal satisfied the tastes of my father, not whether it was a significant source of nutrition.   As a consequence, I was a portly boy and my father labored to find husky, tough-skin jeans.

Americans spend considerable time and effort crafting food to please the palate, but little energy training the palate for food that will nourish.   We are familiar with the Hippocratic Oath which begins “first, do no harm.”  But Hippocrates is also reputed to have said, “let your food be your medicine and your medicine be your food.”

God has given us food ideally suited to nourish our bodies, protect us from sickness and promote healing.  He put our first parents in a garden with only one dietary restriction.  Adam and Eve were encouraged to eat everything except the one fruit which appealed to their sensual desire, but had no power to nourish.    Listening to flattering words and eating only to satisfy sensual desire brought unparalleled grief to our first parents – as it does to us.

Like food, the words we consume should nourish us.   Truth matters.   We were created to be nourished on a diet of God’s truth.  Only this brings spiritual health.  If we only consume spiritual junk food, then our souls are malnourished, and the diseases of unbelief and fear ravage our lives.   The Apostle Paul instructs his young friend, Timothy, that a good minister is not one who crafts palate-pleasing platitudes, but one who nourishes his people with biblical truth and warns them earnestly about the addictive allure myth, masquerading as spirituality.

Feeding and being fed on a diet of truth requires intentionality and discipline.     Paul wrote “train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.”

Join us this Lord’s Day, February 10, as we examine 1 Timothy 4:6-10 and consider how best to feed our faith.  We meet on the square in Pottsville, right next to historic Potts’ Inn at 10:45 am for worship.  Get directions here or contact us for more info.   We look forward to seeing you.

Muddy Waters

I never liked to swim where I could not see the bottom.  Growing up in Georgia, our lakes and streams were usually murky.   Like the water used to rinse children’s paint brushes, our natural swimming areas always sported a milky, muddiness that left me fearing what might be lurking in the darkness, ready to nibble my toes or wrap itself around my legs.   We had special “old clothes” we would wear to such places, because once dipped in, they were beyond all hope of cleansing from the effects of a red clay baptism.    My own children do not have these concerns.  Our Arkansas swimming holes are quite different.  Infused with generous amounts of limestone worn away by the rushing streams, our natural pools sparkle with an electric blue clarity that invites and assures.  The clarity of the water gives hesitant children a clarity of perspective that nothing sinister waits beneath their feet.   When it comes down to it, none of us want to swim in muddy waters.

What is true of our swimming holes is also true of the ideas and experiences that shape who and what we are.  We all want clarity of perspective, but often we latch on to ideas or experience things that muddy the waters.  When we were children, everything was black and white.  Some cowboys were good and some were not.  It was simple to distinguish them because some wore white hats, while others donned black ones.   But then we realized that men in white hats sometimes committed black deeds and the waters got muddied.  Skepticism crept in regarding the people and the truths we thought were so clear.   As we sought clarity, we found murkiness.  Where would we look for truth?  Who can we trust?  As one ancient preacher mused, “the devil fishes in muddy waters.”

The enemy of our soul likes to muddy our waters.  His goal is to make us suspicious of truth, of one another and of God.  You don’t have to look very far in our world today and see that he seems to have had some success.  His favorite muddy fishing hole is false teaching and false teachers in the church.  Nowhere is doubt and suspicion more easily sown than in the very place which professes to be the pillar and buttress of the truth.  Yet Satan’s, strategies, though subtle are never surprising.  He always works in the same way.   He is never a bald-faced liar.  Jesus called Satan the father of lies and a liar from the beginning, but his lying is filtered through subtlety.  Like an evil chemist, he mixes healthful truth and poisonous deception.  He loves muddy waters.  God warns us of this time and time again, reminding us that His Word and Spirit bring clarity – that He is the Living Water.

Join us this Lord’s Day, February 3, as we examine 1 Timothy 4:1-5 to unmask Satan’s nefarious strategy by considering the sources, the content and the consequences of false teaching.  We meet on the square in Pottsville, right next to historic Potts’ Inn at 10:45 am for worship.  Get directions here or contact us for more info.   We look forward to seeing you.

Dirty Jobs

For our children, a stay in a hotel has many charms.  The pool, of course, is at the top of the list.  Hotels without pools fall into the “emergency only” category.  Booking a room at such a venue is seen as a breach of paternal trust.  But our children also enjoy the freedom to jump from one bed to another (before 9:00 pm) as well as the carb-overloaded cereal bins in the breakfast area.  And then there is television.

We have a television at home and recently got basic cable, but we rarely watch anything that does not stream from Roku or spring from a DVD.   Unless we have a hankering for big-pharma or big-auto commercials, we never venture past the evening news into TV land – except when the Olympics are on.  But when we are at a hotel, we enjoy a small dose of cablevision, especially “Dirty Jobs.”  While the show’s host, Mike Rowe glories a bit in the “muck and mire” aspect of each episode, I appreciate the heroic light he shines on those who work these jobs, day in and day out.  But “dirty jobs” are not for everyone.  It demands special people to work these special jobs.  Despite the natural revulsions these jobs may inspire, each one is of value and produces something that makes our lives better.

As far as I know, “Dirty Jobs” has never done an expose on the work of elders in the church, though it certainly might qualify.  A mentor of mine once declared, “working with sheep is a dirty business.”  And, so it is with any helping and caring profession from the work of an elder, to a nurse or caregiver.   But the value of this work extends far beyond the here and now, into eternity.   For this reason, the Apostle Paul writing to his apprentice, Timothy, instructs him to instruct the church in regards to what type of men God calls into the work of elder and deacon.

Paul declares that anyone who sets his mind on this work desires a “noble task,” then sketches the qualities of elders as men who have been tested in life and leadership.  They have a proven track record of living and leading consistent with their creed.  But Paul’s instructions are not just for Timothy and an elite group of executive recruiters in Ephesus.  They are for the whole church, so they may know what type of leaders to desire and how to pray for the leaders they have.

Join us this Lord’s Day, January, as we examine 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and consider what type of men are to be desired and selected to do the dirty job of shepherding the flock of God.  We meet on the square in Pottsville, right next to historic Potts’ Inn at 10:45 am for worshipGet directions here or contact us for more info.   We look forward to seeing you.