Thursday, February 24, 2005

Down to the River to Pray

As I went down in the river to pray
Studying about that good old way
And who shall wear the starry crown
Good Lord, show me the way !

O sisters let's go down,
Let's go down, come on down,
O sisters let's go down,
Down in the river to pray.

That’s a pretty old song. Many of us were reminded of its beauty when we heard Alison Krauss sing it on the sound track of ”O Brother, Where Art Thou!”

I don’t think it is old enough that Lydia and the other women with her would have been singing it as they went down to the river near Philippi, but wouldn’t it be cool if they had. It is the perfect song for that!

There are actually five verses to the song. The first, the verse above, invites sisters to go to the river. The second invites brothers, the third invites fathers; the fourth, mothers; the fifth sinners. It’s interesting to me that the sisters are invited first. I wonder if that choice had anything to do with the story of Lydia’s conversion to Christ in Acts 16.

Paul with his companions, including Luke, went down to the river because they knew that other people went down to the river to pray. Read Luke’s eyewitness account in Luke 16:13-15

On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. One of those listening was a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul's message. When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. "If you consider me a believer in the Lord," she said, "come and stay at my house." And she persuaded us. (NIV)

Did you notice that the people who came down to the river to pray were women? That is so typical! Women often lead the way, calling others to follow, in spiritual matters. Wives instruct their children, they encourage their husbands, and they grow themselves. And they do it without being prodded, preached at, and threatened with hell. Women are often more interested in the spiritual than men, very often.

Is there a woman in your life calling you “down to the river to pray.” Maybe it’s time to join the procession. That’s Life at Work!

Monday, February 21, 2005

God's Stories

I can tell you that I was born in the same town as Elvis; that I’m married to JeannaLynn; that Brad and Brittney are my kids; that I preach for the South Yukon Church of Christ; and that I like roast with carrots and potatoes. I can tell that I don’t get mad too easily, I’ve never had a drink of beer in my life; but I’ve got an addictive personality, and I talk to myself way too much. I can tell you all those things and you know me. Understand, that is some of the more significant personal information about me. If you know those things, you don’t just know about me – you know me on some level.

If I got a chance to tell you some of the stories about me, you would learn much more about me that can be revealed through a description of who I am. If you got to hear about some of my experiences from childhood to adulthood, you would know how I behave consistently and what values I hold. Stories are important. Our stories reveal us.

I could point you to passages like Nahum 1 where God reveals how he feels about his foes and his friends. You are aware that God is love and that the Lord God Almighty is holy, holy, holy. There is great value in learning these things. We know God by knowing those things about him. But God has consistently revealed himself in a fuller way; a more complete way. God has revealed himself through stories. He has inspired stories about creation and destruction; life and death; mercy and punishment; heaven and earth; and stories about bondage and deliverance.

These stories are for us to read and learn from. You can read them at home and that’s important. It is also important to read them in a community of other readers who are interested in knowing God. Come learn the stories and let’s know God together. That’s Life at Work.

Saints Exaggerate What the World Neglects

It’s interesting that this bit of poetic style would appear in the text of 1 John. In it, John transitions from the darkness of hatred to darkness in general. He compares that darkness exhibited in the priorities of most with the realities of the saints.

1 John 2:9-17
Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him.
I write to you, dear children,
because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name.
I write to you, fathers,
because you have known him who is from the beginning.
I write to you, young men,
because you have overcome the evil one.
I write to you, dear children,
because you have known the Father.
I write to you, fathers,
because you have known him who is from the beginning.
I write to you, young men,
because you are strong,
and the word of God lives in you,
and you have overcome the evil one.
Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world-the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does-comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.

G. K. Chesterson commented, “A saint is one who exaggerates what the world neglects.” That is right on. Look at the John’s list of realities for those in the light: forgiveness, knowledge of God, triumph over the evil one, strength, indwelling of the word, and eternal life. On the other hand, those who are in darkness don’t know where they are going, and they their priorities are the cravings of their bodies, their lustful vision, and pride in temporary stuff. The way John puts it, I can’t help but think that he believes that these differences are more than obvious – they stand out. Saints exaggerate what he world neglects.

How does that happen? I think a spotlight in a theater is a good illustration of how the evil priorities of the world are set in contrast to the life of light. Like a spotlight shines on the stage object that needs to be clearly seen, Christians call attention to the godly things that people need to see. We draw attention in our conversations and sermons to forgiveness, mercy, compassion, justice, love, and righteousness. We say, “Look at these things! They are important! They are eternal values." Then people look more carefully at the heavenly objects to which we are pointing.

Sometimes, it is not the godliness to which we point like a spotlight that exaggerates what the world neglects. You’ve probably turned toward a spotlight and noticed from your dark seat the brightness at the source. Instead of pointing to good things and saying to the world, “Pay attention to that,” the world sees the saints from the darkness of the seats and the light is incredibly bright at its source.

Point out to the world around you what is being neglected. Call attention to those things as if you were a spotlight. Then, live powerfully what the world neglects so that when a backward glance is cast, the brightness of your godly life will shine incredibly bright in the darkness of the theater that is the world. That’s Life at Work!

Thursday, February 17, 2005


Down with the old man, up with the new
Raised to walk in the way of light and truth
I didn't see no angels, just a few saints on the shore
But I felt like a newborn baby, cradled up in the arms of the Lord.

Kenny Chesney’s song "Baptism" reminds me of my own baptism in a creek in Alabama on March 26, 1977. My Dad was in the water with me because he baptized me. My mom and others from the church who made their way out to the Coil’s house were standing along the grassy shore or on the cement bridge. Everyone was all smiles and I got a ton of hugs when I stepped up out of that water. They were true saints!

The old man/new man imagery like you find in Ephesians was real to me. Raising to walk a new life, the picture from Romans 6 and Colossians 2, was my experience. There is good reason for him to sing about feeling like a newborn baby. Jesus said that baptism was a new birth – the unsaved has been immersed and has been reborn of the water and the Spirit (John 3). A new relationship with Jesus was mine.

I saw recently where a brother wrote that some others who had the same experience as me were not a part of the New Testament Church. Though they believe and confess that Jesus is the Son of God; though they accept the Bible as God’s only word to the world; and though they were immersed to have their sins forgiven, they were not a part of the New Testament Church.

According to Acts 2:41 and 47, when people responded to the gospel they were added to the number of the saved, which is the church. That makes them a part of the New Testament Church, which by the way, in the way we use the term church, is the only kind of church.

Be very careful about judgments regarding differences in practice and the impact they have on whether one is in the church of God. If I make the judgment that only Christians who practice everything just right are going to go to heaven, then that same standard will be used for me. None of us measure up to that standard. None of us. That's Life at Work.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Keep It Simple

Pharisees: “The Gentiles must be circumcised and obey the law of Moses.”
James: “We should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.”

The council went with James – and with the Holy Spirit.

Yet, what they wrote to the Gentiles is one of the most puzzling letters that Christians have attempted to interpret. Modern day Christians at least. No doubt, the original readers knew exactly why the Jerusalem Church communicated what they did.

They distanced themselves from those who were demanding that Gentile Christians submit to circumcision and the Law of Moses. “We didn’t send them,” they said.
Then they said that all they wanted was for the Gentiles to:

1. Abstain from food polluted by idols
2. Abstain from sexual immorality
3. Abstain from the meat of strangled animals
4. Abstain from blood

Those four things are recorded by Luke in the conversation in Jerusalem, his reproduction of the letter sent with Paul and the others (15:29), and later in remarks by Jerusalem Christians about how Paul can be protected when he arrives in Jerusalem (21:25).

Why did they ask the Gentiles to abstain from these things? At least three arguments stand out (see: John Proctor, “Proselytes and Pressure Cookers: The Meaning and Application of Acts 15:20,” International Review of Mission, vol. 85). These things could have their origin in Leviticus 17-18 where sojourners in Israel (Gentile God-fearers) are given instructions about living in the Promised Land. Others have suggested that these are linked to the commands given after Noah’s flood. They suggest that these predate the covenant with the Hebrews and are, therefore, for all people and for all time. Still others, including me, suggest that eating food sacrificed to idols, sexual immorality, eating the meat of strangled animals, and eating blood were practices affiliated with idol worship that were particularly offensive to Jews. Abstention from these things was important, then, for the sake of continued fellowship with Jewish Christians. Secondly, abstention was important because while Jews were not to mix Christianity with the law of Moses, neither were Gentiles to mix Christianity with their idolatrous practices of life before Christ.

Jesus had said, “"No one tears a patch from a new garment and sews it on an old one. If he does, he will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old” (Luke 5:36; NIV). I think that helps us understand what James and the others intended with their abstentions. Basically, they were saying “We are not requiring that you mix Moses with your turn to God. Don’t mix your idol worship with it either. That will make it easy on all of us.”

Are you mixing any of your own preferences with your approach to God and expecting others to conform? Keep it simple for yourself and others. That’s Life at Work!

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

In The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, Oliver Sacks wrote about patients that came through his office for psychological evaluation and help. One of the stories was about a musician and music teacher who, it was discovered, had a condition that hindered him from seeing the whole of an object. He would look at a face and see two eyes, a nose, a mouth, cheeks and chin, but could not on occasion tell who the person was even if it was a student in his class. He looked at a glove and could tell the color, that it was leather, that it had five appendages in varying lengths, but he could not tell that it was a glove. Sometimes we embrace the rules of Christianity as though they were the essence of discipleship. In doing so, we fail to see the whole picture. Christianity is more that a conglomeration of rules. It is a relationship. It is more than a religious system; it involves a Savior. It is more than a project with various parts; it is centered on a person - Jesus of Nazareth. Our obedience is our expression of faith in the person, the Savior, and the relationship. When we see the whole of Christianity instead of just parts, obedience will be what God intended it to be - a real blessing to our lives. That’s Life at Work!

(It is worth saying that I found the Sacks story in Leadership Journal a few years back)