Table Talk

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communion

 

I am not sure who writes the discussion guides we use to review and talk about the Sunday sermon in our community groups each week, but this week’s sure got my attention. Right out of the batter’s box, they stepped up to the plate swinging their pen with this question: “Do you struggle to be consistent in a particular spiritual discipline or habit?” Gulp!

Since I would probably need more space than I’m allowed to answer that question, I will limit my response to where I stink worst: my prayer life. How about you? Actually, before you go there, let’s start here. The word discipline is a derivative of the Latin disciplus, meaning pupil, which (per Merriam-Webster’s website) also provided the source of the word disciple, in later Latin being associated with a follower of Jesus Christ in his lifetime (that’s us). So then, when asked to identify “a particular spiritual discipline” you struggle with, the real question is this: where do you keep missing the mark following Jesus’ example? Gulp! Gulp!

Made abundantly clear in Sunday’s message, despite their best efforts, Israel habitually blew it; like a senseless dog, always returning to his vomit to be made sick again, and again, and again — and we are no different.

For those of us who are members of the older-than-dirt generation, you may recall The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, a show that starred the real-life Nelson family and aired on television from 1952 to 1966. Each episode would begin with a pleasant family time at the table. Ozzie, Harriet, David and Ricky were all happy, and everything was good. But no sooner than they got away from the table, dishes barely dried and put away, something had gone wrong. Someone had messed up. The remainder of the episode was about how they get back to the table. Sound familiar? In a nutshell, that’s the story the Bible tells.

Should you read the book of Judges, it looks and sounds like ancient episodes of Ozzie and Harriet. By way of comparison, this is how it always went:

  1. The story begins. Israel is seated at the table, serving God. All is well.
  2. Israel leaves the table, tumbling into sin.
  3. They fall into the hands of their enemies and are overcome by them.
  4. They cry out to God in repentance, wanting to get back to the table.
  5. God hears and raises up a leader — a judge — who defeats the enemy, restoring Israel to the table.

You’d think that by the time we got to Nehemiah they would have learned. They didn’t. 2,500 years later, the story remains the same, both for Israel and for me. I still blow it. I still miss the mark. I still commit sin. I spend more time away from the table than I do sitting at it. But there is good news:

God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
— Romans 5:8

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
— 1 John 1:9

In Christ, God has raised up a leader who has made a way back to the table. One day, all those who believe will take a permanent seat and enjoy, never again to leave. Then, as Jackie Gleason might say looking forward, “How sweet it is.”

 

I Almost Drowned

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Several years ago, I was fishing along the banks of the Sabine River behind the Lake Tawakoni dam in waders. Stupid? Yes. Every few yards I would step out in the water a foot or two casting my bait in the direction of what looked to me a honey spot, the home of that long overdue trophy catch. Now, if you’re an angler, then you will already know I am not. I knew it too the moment I slipped.

Attempting to climb back up was hopeless. Getting traction on the muddy slope proved impossible, and my waders were filling fast. Unable to climb or swim, I knew I was in trouble, I would have drowned that day were it not for a man on the bank above me with his fishing rod pulling me safely from the river. I didn’t have to cry out; he knew my situation without me having to say a word. Little doubt he had a fish story to tell his buddies about the day he caught a 150 pounder on a Zebco 33 with 10-pound test line.

Okay, so you’re not into fishing, “Zebco” is Greek to you and “test line is what the IT department does when your work computer goes down – I understand. The point I would like to make, however, is this:

We all do the wrong thing sometimes, even when knowing better. What was I thinking to step out from a river bank in waders? Surely somebody switched out my vitamins with dum-dum pills that morning. But like the man who was there to rescue me, not just from my drowning, but from my stupidity. Our heavenly Father understands our ignorance and tendency to make bad choices in life, stupid choices, even rebellious ones; “he knows how weak we are; he remembers we are only dust (Psalm 103:14 NLT). Even so, he is always standing on the bank with an outstretched hand ready to pull us to safety; we don’t even have to say a word.

How many times have you looked up to find him reaching out to you? Me, I lost count a long-long time ago. Today I just sing along with the Psalmist and remember the words of Paul, “How precious is your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings; for he who promised is faithful” (Psalm 36:7; Hebrews 10:23b). Then comes to mind these words from Luke 10:37: “You go, and do likewise.” Yes, I am my brother’s keeper.

Be Careful

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Strategically set throughout the stadium by skilled experts, a series of powerful explosives waited for detonation. It wasn’t an overnight take down Texas Stadium game plan. The implosion of large structures never is. Months of planning and weeks of setting charges in precise locations preceded the plumes of smoke, dust, and debris that rose from the collapsing building. If your heart can take it, Cowboys fans, you can relive the moment on YouTube. Just click this link.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=14OQByZRxWc

As I sat thinking about it, I fired up ye old laptop and done a little research and here’s what I found on Wikipedia about implosions.

“Implosion is a process in which objects are destroyed by collapsing (or being squeezed in) on themselves. The goal is to induce a progressive collapse by weakening or removing critical supports. Therefore the building can no longer withstand gravity loads and will fail under its own weight. These explosives are progressively detonated on supports throughout the structure. Then, explosives on the lower floors initiate the controlled collapse.”

Wow! How much does that sound like the way stories in life often go? You know, those last few sentences before you read the words, “the end”.  All along the devil has been planning your destruction placing a charge here, a charge there. Each one, one at a time, set at those strategic points where you are most vulnerable; the load bearing walls, the piers, and beams that undergird and support the superstructure of your life and relationships with God, family, friends and others you know and interact with each day.

Followers of Jesus beware. That innocent cup of coffee in the breakroom you begin looking forward to with someone, not your spouse. Those posts you Like and Share on social media. Those harmless, meaningless things we say and do that skirt along the razor’s edge of appropriate, ethical behavior. A break from church a few Sundays, missing a night or two of prayer time, or bible reading; I know, you’ll double up tomorrow night – of course you will.

What these tiny little insignificant, don’t mount up to much things most always turn out to be are small blocks of C3, sticks of spiritual dynamite awaiting the enemy to detonate. Plumes of smoke, dust, and debris will follow.

Some of the best advice we can offer ourselves and others to keep those protective walls up and our spiritual houses intact comes in the words of a song I learned as a child in church:

Be careful little eyes what you see

Be careful little eye what you see

For the Father up above Is looking down in love

So be careful little eyes what you see.

Be careful little ears what you hear

Be careful little ears what you hear

For the Father up above Is looking down in love

So be careful little ears what you hear.

Be careful little tongue what you say

Be careful little tongue what you say

For the Father up above Is looking down in love

So be careful little tongue what you say.

Be careful little hands what you do

Be careful little hands what you do

For the Father up above Is looking down in love

So be careful little hands what you do

Be careful little feet where you go

Be careful little feet where you go

For the Father up above Is looking down in love

So be careful little feet where you go

The Humpty Dumpty Challenge

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Whereas I would never encourage anyone to take the Humpty-Dumpty challenge; that is pretty much what we are doing whenever we step outside of the boundaries God has established for us – all of us. Believer or non-believer, devout Christian or adamant atheist, the Bible overflows with principals applying to all. I don’t like to call them “rules” as no one likes being told what to do – I get that. So, for the sake of being less abrasive, let’s just refer to them as principals, spiritual guidelines for good living. And if that sounds still a bit rough around the edges, then we can knock off the burrs and just call them, suggestions.

I mean, the Bible says DON’T, but you can lie, steal, kill, maim, defame, defraud and be as Humpty-Dumpty as you want to be perched up on that arrogant wall of self-centeredness, self-indulgence, and greed. After all, not doing those things is just a suggestion, right? Entirely your choice. But God’s word also suggests should you fall off that wall, and you will fall, you are going to fall apart. Then all the king’s horses and all the king’s men will not be able to put you together again – Oh! But wait. Have you already taken the Devil’s version of the Nestea plunge? Was the pool empty? That’s unfortunate. Hurts, doesn’t it?

As so much devastating pain, heartache and heartbreak can be avoided, the destruction of children’s lives averted, I will always advise against taking the Humpty-Dumpty challenge, and for good reason. But if you are already picking up the broken pieces trying to figure out how and if they can ever be put back together again. I’m sorry, but the answer is No, all the king’s horses and all the king’s men won’t be able to put things back together again for you. However, although the king’s horses and the king’s men can’t, the King can. May I suggest, taking what’s left to him. He goes by the name of Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace – Jesus. He is a restoration expert specializing in broken lives.

This past Sunday at church we watched a powerful video of one of our own who stepped outside of the boundaries of God’s plan for his life and fell, then to experience the miraculous work of God in restoration. You can see the video at the c|Life Facebook page.

https://www.facebook.com/clifec/videos/10154451820741443/?pnref=story

A Baby Changes Everything

It’s that time of year.

Just Thinkin'

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“This is how God showed his love for us: God sent his only Son into the world so we might live through him” (1 John 4:10 – The Message)

Back in the dark ages before marriage and the birth of my children, life pretty much went my way. Do what I want, when I want, and most of the time, how I want. With money in my pocket a smooth ride and a different girl accepting my invitation for a date every weekend, life was grand. My usual evening itinerary on weekends was taking my lady of choice out to eat at a nice restaurant, followed by a movie or concert, then cruising Buckner Boulevard for a few hours – gas was cheap, and girls were plentiful. Unfortunately, I wasn’t the one catching the girls; it was the car. The only thing I seemed to catch was the tab, but…

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My Pursuit To More Fully Know

 

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” ~ Matthew 24:35.

In the course of my personal studies, I have found every nugget unearthed but a fragment of a greater vein untapped; Behind every answer a question mark. In the pursuit of understanding biblical truth, the road traveled is both broad and narrow, often without guardrails. When broad, there is a tendency towards a dogmatism neglectful of further inquiry – scripture has said enough, we say, but has it? Did I miss a question mark? I must approach with a cautious yet open mind not jumping to conclusions because a majority says so.

When the road is narrow, the task is often staying within the boundaries of reason without dismissing a challenging possibility even though skirting along the edge of probability. All available evidence from all fields of study applicable to the pursuit must be weighed and processed without bias.

There are no shortcuts. The serious-minded student of scripture will understand the road less traveled is the right road to take. Sometimes daunting? Yes. But always rewarding. The objective for me is to be on the cutting edge without being on the bleeding edge. To discover and expound truth in accurate and relevant voice. To this quest, prayer and collaboration are essential ingredients. Seeking the leadership of the Holy Spirit and the counsel of peers are not options but required components, invaluable assets making the journey far less burdensome and well worth taking.

The last page of my journey to share the blessed hope of the gospel I seek to understand more fully and communicate more effectively will remain unwritten as in death; I hope to pass the torch, the baton of life to another runner who will “run with endurance the race that is set before us,

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” ~ Matthew 24:35.

In the course of my personal studies, I have found every nugget unearthed but a fragment of a greater vein untapped; Behind every answer a question mark. In the pursuit of understanding biblical truth, the road traveled is both broad and narrow, often without guardrails. When broad, there is a tendency towards a dogmatism neglectful of further inquiry – scripture has said enough, we say, but has it? Did I miss a question mark? I must approach with a cautious yet open mind not jumping to conclusions because a majority says so.

When the road is narrow, the task is often staying within the boundaries of reason without dismissing a challenging possibility even though skirting along the edge of probability. All available evidence from all fields of study applicable to the pursuit must be weighed and processed without bias.

There are no shortcuts. The serious-minded student of scripture will understand the road less traveled is the right road to take. Sometimes daunting? Yes. But always rewarding. The objective for me is to be on the cutting edge without being on the bleeding edge. To discover and expound truth in accurate and relevant voice. To this quest, prayer and collaboration are essential ingredients. Seeking the leadership of the Holy Spirit and the counsel of peers are not options but required components, invaluable assets making the journey far less burdensome and well worth taking.

The last page of my journey to share the blessed hope of the gospel I seek to understand more fully and communicate more clearly will remain unwritten.  I hope in death to pass the torch of life to another runner who will “run with endurance the race that is set before us, [always] looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith. . .”.

Thoughts from Jimmy Joe

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Thoughts on Psalm 103:8-17 by my friend, Jim VanBibber

“8 The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
9 He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. 10 He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. 11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; 12 as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. 13 As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him. 14 For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.
15 As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field;
16 for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more. 17 But the steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children…”

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Often my fleshly mind (Rom 7:15-20) has responded to that aspect of my own dark heart by defending my own ungodly thoughts and sinful actions. Misery! I have even thought how fortunate God must be to have such a nice guy as me affiliated with his cause. Blindness!

If I compare my “best self” to another human selecting the most offensive things about them, then I always will judge myself okay or good enough. What? Am I crazy? Yes!

The Holy and Righteous Lord opposes the proud mind and the one who trusts in his own righteousness. But there is true spiritual freedom in acknowledging the truth revealed by God in his word. I am a radical sinner but one who has received the radical forgiveness of God by grace through faith in Christ Jesus. I now have received new life in Christ.

This Psalm is a sweet balm to the heart of the child of God who trusts in the merciful and gracious God! He knows that we are dust and prone to transgression. Our lives are so brief. May we find comfort that he “does not deal with us according to our sins.” It is a gift from God that we may call him, our Father in heaven.

What’s Your Pool?

Typing the words “stupid questions” into Google, I selected “50 Stupid Questions Asked on Yahoo! Answers” and began reading some seriously absurd questions that made me wonder what train these people fell off of. Be that as it may, at the pool of Bethesda, Jesus asking a man who had suffered from an incurable illness for 38 years if he wanted to be healed seems like a dumb question too (see John 5:1-15). Personally, I can’t think of ever having been ill and wanting to stay ill. I mean, at the first sign of a cold, I’m headed for Walgreens or CVS to stock up on NyQuil. But, according to one commentator, a Middle Eastern beggar could have made a good living begging for handouts in that day, so the question may have been fair to ask.

Regardless, there was a legend surrounding the pool suggesting that an angel would, from time to time, come down and trouble the waters. The first person who came into contact with the pool afterward would be cured of his or her illness. Whether the legend is fact or fiction, no one knows. Perhaps it had something to do with sacrificial animals being washed there before being offered to God that gave life to the legend. Your guess is as good as mine. Nonetheless, many sick people believed it to be true and gathered there every day, hopeful that today would be their day.

For many of us here in the 21st century, the therapist’s office is a pool of Bethesda, where we sit in the waiting room, hoping today will be our day. For some, it may be the offices of J.P. Morgan, Charles Schwab or Smith Barney. And, sad but true, others look to the church as their Bethesda, coming week after week, waiting for the man standing behind the pulpit or at the lectern to stir the waters. They hope to get in before the waters stop churning, but they never move an inch.

Had the unfortunate man at Bethesda been there the longest? Was that why Jesus went to him? What are we to learn from this story, anyway? There are many lessons wrapped in these verses, but here are a few things I think about :

1) Contrary to what some believe and teach today, the baptismal waters are not a fix. The waters themselves cannot wash away sin.

2) No matter how long you have been looking, the answer is the same today as it was when you first began searching: Jesus.

3) Never give up on God. Look to Jesus, and it just may be that today is the day you will find what you have been looking for.