Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Hidden Fires Blaze Out of Control

Today as Spouse and I drove into the parking lot of our local grocery store, we smelled something unpleasant. The kind of burning rubber odor you might detect if someone had just spun tires while squealing out of the parking lot. We didn't think anything of it until we got inside and had been shopping for a while. Then there came an announcement over the P.A. system, calling employees to the front of the store with a fire extinguisher.

Outside in the parking lot, someone's car had been slowly smoldering. We had smelled it as we walked right by the car, but had not detected much out of the ordinary. Apparently, it had smoldered for quite some time before it really started to smoke. Either nobody could fiind a fire extinguisher, or nobody wanted to be the one to approach the car in case it exploded. In any case, a crowd gathered to watch the smoke begin to filter from beneath the car's hood. By the time the fire department arrived, it had begun to roll from the engine with real determination. I could see beneath the car where bits of burning things had fallen to the ground. The fire fighters had to pry open the door and hood of the car, because the heat had virtually welded it shut. Before long, they got the fire put out, but not before the car was totally ruined.

This got me thinking about sin. Like a hidden fire beneath a car's hood, it smolders just beneath the surface of our souls. We can't see its spark in the beginning. We might get a whif of it, but we ignore its warning. By the time we get around to addressing the problem, our hidden fires have blazed out of control and consumed our lives.

God told Cain in Genesis 4:7, "If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it."

Sin crouches. Sin hides. Sin smolders beneath the surface until it bursts into flames. This lenten season (and the rest of the year), let us be so aware of our smoldering sin that we extinguish it while it is still just a foul odor. And if it has already become a damaging fire, remember to call the only One who can put it out.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Coping with Anger

Not long ago, I was preparing a sermon on anger, based on the book of Esther. (If you’ve never read the book, I suggest you sit down and read it all at once. It’s a quick read, and well worth it.) King Ahasuerus had problems with anger, as evidenced by his spur-of-the-moment divorce when Queen Vashti refused to dance before the royal court at a party. Court official Haman also had anger issues, as we can see from his plot to destroy the entire Jewish population simply because Mordecai refused to bow to him at a parade. But while these characters represent anger, Esther demonstrates the virtue that combats it—patience. Patience enables us to defeat anger before it turns to sin.

As I was preparing the sermon, I prayed that God would give me something to share with people who are desperately trying to cope with their anger. That night before I went to sleep, I prayed, “Lord, give a tool that will help people cope.” I slept restlessly, as words and pictures drifted through my head. Then I sat up with just the coping tool that we need: A COPING SAW!

For those of you who don’t know, a coping saw is a precision-cutting saw that rounds corners and can cut odd angles like a jigsaw. A coping saw allows you to cut without too many mistakes. If you want to cope with your anger and avoid making mistakes, use a coping SAW.

S: Separate yourself from the source of your anger. Just like I separate my kids when they’re fighting, so I also have to separate myself from the source of my anger. Esther lived in a spa-like environment, well cared-for and surrounded by palace guards. Where she lived, she knew no fear. When you feel angry, separate yourself from negative influences. You’ll be in a better place to make good decisions.

A: Ask for help. Esther asked for help from her relative Mordecai, and from all the Jewish people. She asked Mordecai for advice, and asked the people to fast and pray with her. Then she asked help from God. When you get in a place of anger, separate yourself and ask for help. God will provide what you need.

W: Wait for the right moment. Esther could have charged in to do the right thing, at the wrong time. Don’t let your anger make you impetuous. Ephesians 4:26 says, “In your anger, do not sin.” Instead, have the patience to wait for the right time to speak or act. Then, do it wisely.

Sometimes injustice and wrong make us angry. But when you’re offended, ask for the patience of Esther, rather than seeking the wrath of Ahasuerus and Haman. As Haman found out, our anger can be our undoing. When you’re angry, separate yourself from the situation, ask for help, and don’t forget to wait on God.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Book Review: House

If you're up for a good bit of frightening Christian fiction, I recommend the supernatural thriller House (click here for a Wikipedia article on the book, but beware of spoilers--it tells how the book ends) by Frank Peretti and Ted Dekker.

Four stranded travelers find their way to what should be refuge in a backwoods inn. But instead of safety they find themselves trapped in a demon-possessed house that brings only panic and murder. And the only way out is an inward journey of faith.

If you're familiar with both of these authors' books and writing styles, you'll probably agree that it seems like Dekker had more of a hand in it than Peretti. Wikipedia says, "House takes place in the same universe as The Paradise Novels (Showdown, Saint, and Sinner). White is created by Marsuvees Black, The Paradise Novel's main antagonist, as is a number of other characters that are in Dekker's Books of History Chronicles. While not being mentioned directly within House itself, it is mentioned in Saint."

Because of the relationship to these books, I think the reader who is unfamiliar with the world view of Ted Dekker would probably enjoy the book more. Having read several of Dekker's novels, I found House to be a little redundant, though thoroughly enjoyable. I would have liked to have heard a bit more of Peretti's voice in the book, to counter redundancy. All in all, though, it was a great read.

Dekker's and Peretti's books push the envelope of Christian fiction. In one interview I read, Dekker says that in order to understand salvation, you have to completely understand evil and sin. Only then can you appreciate what we've been saved from. So these authors pull no punches in this Christian horror. If you choose to read this novel, be prepared to be afraid. Then, be prepared to learn that "perfect love casts out all fear (1 John 4:18)."

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Sorry for Sin

This Lenten season, you may encounter many words that are new to you. I thought I’d share the origin and meanings of some of these words.

The word Mardi Gras itself is French for “Fat Tuesday.” Since the Lenten begins on Ash Wedneday, the Tuesday before is a time of raiding the larder and getting rid of rich foods. Fat Tuesday is a feast before the fast.

The word Lent comes from an Anglo-Saxon word lencten that means Spring, or, literally, the lengthening of days. Lent is the forty days from Ash Wednesday to Easter during which we focus on fasting, repentance, and our need for a Savior. This forty days corresponds to Jesus’ forty day fast in the wilderness. The Latin word for Lent is quadragesima which means forty days. The Greek word is tessarakoste (fortieth).

The Thursday of Holy Week is called Maundy Thursday. It is the day we remember the Last Supper, Gethsemane, and the arrest of our Lord. On that night, Jesus said, “A new command I give you, that you love one another (John 13:34).” From the Latin phrase, mandatum novum, or “new command” we get the word Maundy.

Lent is a period of time when we tell God that we’re sorry for our sins. The last word I want to look at is sorry. The trite phrase “sorry about that” was made popular by the TV show Get Smart in the 1960s. But we must not forget that the word sorry comes from the same root word as sorrow (Old English sarig and sorg, respectively). This means to feel wretched, miserable, sore, and sick over sin. Do we feel that way about our sin? Or do we flippantly say with Steve Martin, “Well sooooooory!” and not really mean it? Instead, we need to pray the prayer of David, from Psalm 51:

1Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.
2Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.
3For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me.
6Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom.
7Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
8Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice.
9Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities.
10Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.
11Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me.
12Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Our Grandfather's Hats

Here's a picture of me in my new hat that I bought at Antics, a kitchy antique and vintage clothing and mishmosh store on the Downtown Mall in Charlottesville. I think I look rather dashing, don't you?

I don't know about you, but over the past couple of years, I've noticed more men wearing hats. I haven't noticed a real increase in western hats--they have their own niche in haberdashery. No, I'm talking about other kinds of wide-brimmed hats, such as the Fedora and the Snowy River hat (an Australian classic). I've also seen an increase in those sleek racing caps, aka flatcaps boys used to wear in the 1920s.

According to the salesman at Antics, my new hat is an example of a widely-varied "Porkpie" style. I don't think so. The Porkpie is known for its flat top, and my hat has a definite pinch to the front. After doing some research, I think it's probably a Trilby, because it has a shorter brim than the Fedora. So don't go calling my hat an Indiana Jones hat as one lovable scamp at church did. Indie wore a Fedora. If you're a hat expert, please leave me a comment and let me know what you think.

It seems everywhere you look in pop culture, the latest hiphop stars and movie stars are wearing porkpies, trilbies, and fedoras. Gangsta has gone gangster, or so it would seem. But I was wearing hats long before Johnny Depp, Tupac, and Kid Rock made them popular. What is it about "old man hats" (as I call them) right now? Why are younger generations trying on our grandfathers' hats?

With the recession as it is, many of us are returning to old things. We're learning how to plant gardens. We're re-learning how to sew. We're making things last and buying things that will last, rather than being quite as careless with our dollars as we used to be. We learned this from our grandparents, though it's taken us far too long to figure it out. We're rediscovering the faith of our fathers and mothers. We're reaching into the storehouse of our grandparents' wisdom and pulling out those things that got them through the Great Depression. Perhaps these old hats are just a symbol of that. Wouldn't it be great if these young dogs could learn a few old tricks?

Monday, March 9, 2009

My Melting Heart

Weren’t the snows beautiful last week? My children had a couple of days off from school. We played in the snow, made snow cream, went sledding, and generally enjoyed our time together. On Thursday of last week, I went hiking at a local park, and enjoyed the snow by myself. It was the first of regular appointment I have committed to make with myself—to spend a day each month with just me and God. It’s so easy to get distracted by all the busyness of life, and I’ve decided that in addition to a daily devotion time, I have to remove myself from life once a month and focus on spiritual renewal.

Thursday was that day when the morning started out a bit brisk, but by the afternoon the temperatures had risen dramatically. When I started my hike, snow was still on the ground in most places. By the time I ended my hike, most of it was gone, except in the shady areas. Rivulets of water turned the trail into a little stream, and the ground was mushy everywhere I walked. Still, despite the mud, it was a beautiful day.

When lunchtime came, I sat down beside a little stream. There I noticed a bit of ice that still clung to the underside of a log. Warming water had swept most of it away, but still this bit tenaciously refused to let go. That’s when God spoke to me about my heart.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been going through a bit of a personal revival. God has been cleansing me from the inside-out. God has been teaching me patience, devotion, and many other things. Through the ice, God said, “My Living Water is flowing over you all the time, washing away the your cold, hard sin. But still, in the dark shady parts of your heart, sin still hangs on. How long will you dam up the flow with your own hard-heartedness? When will you let it melt away and break free?”

I believe God says this to each of us, especially during this introspective season of Lent, when we ask God to reveal our sins and cleanse us of all unrighteousness. I invite you to pray the prayer of Psalm 139:23-25 (Amplified Bible) with me:

Search me [thoroughly], O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there is any wicked or hurtful way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

What in the World is Lectio Divina?

Tonight at Bible study, we did a little something different. We practiced Lectio Divina, an ancient form of scripture reading that asks the question, "What is God saying TO ME today through scripture?" Rather than an in-depth, verse-by-verse study that breaks the passage down to look at it historically, literarily, theologically, et cetera, we simply read the same passage several times, asking God to tell us what He wants us to hear.

First, we read the scripture through slowly--not rushing through the words but letting them soak in deeply. We listened for one word or phrase that stood out to us. We sat in silence for a bit, contemplating the word or phrase that God had given us from the passage of scripture. Then we went around the circle and shared with the group what that word or prhase was.

Next, we read the same scripture again slowly. This time, we asked God to tell us something about that word or phrase. "What does this mean TO ME--IN MY LIFE today?" We sat in silence, contemplating this after the scripture was read. Then one by one we shared what the word or phrase meant to us.

After this, group members were invited to share insights into what we perceived God's word might be for each individual, based on the word or phrase that stood out to them.

Finally, we read the same scripture once more. This time as we listened, we asked God to show us what God would have us TO DO about the word or phrase He had given us. This way, we did not leave our meeting without having some action to take in our lives.

It was a great time in the Lord. God spoke to each of us in a different way.

You can do
Lectio Divina (Divine Reading) by yourself or in a group. Here are a few links to get you started in learning about this great way of soaking in God's word:

Tuesday, March 3, 2009


The other day, I came across a word origin that I thought I'd share with you. The following article is from Yahoo! Answers.

The word bedlam came to be used generically for all psychiatric hospitals and sometimes is used colloquially for an uproar.
( BEDLAM is an English abbreviation of BETHLEHEM).

A London hospital originally intended for the poor suffering from any ailment and for such as might have no other lodging, hence its name, Bethlehem, in Hebrew, the "house of bread." During the fourteenth century it began to be used partly as an asylum for the insane, for there is a report of a Royal Commission, in 1405, as to the state of lunatics confined there. The word Bethlehem became shortened to Bedlam in popular speech, and the confinement of lunatics there gave rise to the use of this word to mean a house of confusion. Bedlam was founded in 1247 as a priory in Bishopsgate Street, for the order of St. Mary of Bethlehem, by Simon Fitz Mary, an Alderman and Sheriff of London. This site is now occupied by the Liverpool Street railway station. In the next century it is mentioned as a hospital in a license granted (1330) to collect alms in England, Ireland, and Wales. In 1375 Bedlam became a royal hospital, taken by the crown on the pretext that it was an alien priory. It seems afterwards to have reverted to the city. At the beginning of the sixteenth century the word Bedlam was used by Tyndale to mean a madman, so that it would seem as though the hospital were now used as a lunatic asylum exclusively. In January, 1547, King Henry VIII formally granted St. Bartholomew's hospital and Bedlam, or Bethlehem, to the city of London, on condition that the city spend a certain amount on new buildings in connection with St. Bartholomew's. In 1674, the old premises having become untenable, it was decided to build another hospital, and this was erected in what is now Finsbury Circus. This came to be known as old Bedlam, after the erection of a new building in St. George's Fields, which was opened August 1815, on the site of the notorious tavern called the Dog and the Duck.

The attitude of successive generations of Englishmen towards the insane can be traced interestingly at Bedlam. Originally, it was founded and kept by religious. Every effort seems to have been made to bring patients to such a state of mental health as would enable them to leave the asylum. An old English word, "a Bedlam" signifies one discharged and licensed to beg. Such persons wore a tin plate on their arm as a badge and were known as Bedlamers, Bedlamites, or Bedlam Beggars. Whenever outside inspection was not regularly maintained, abuses into the management of Bedlam, and in every century there were several commissions of investigation. Evelyn in his Diary, 21 April 1656, notes that he saw several poor creatures in Bedlam in chains. In the next century it became the custom for the idle classes to visit Bedlam and observe the antics of the insane patients as a novel form of amusement. This was done even by the nobility and their friends. One penny was charged for admission into the hospital, and there is a tradition that an annual income of four hundred pounds was thus realized. This would mean that nearly 100,000 persons visited the hospital in the course of a year. Hogarth's famous picture represents two fashionable ladies visiting the hospital as a show place, while his "Rake," at the end of the "Progress," is being fettered by a keeper. After an investigation in 1851, the hospital came under regular government inspection and has since been noted for its model care of the insane. It accommodates about three hundred, with over sixty attendants. Its convalescent home at Witley is an important feature. The management is so good that each year more than one-half of the patients are returned as cured.
It seems that one of the pasttimes for residents who lived near Bedlam was to sit upon the walls and watch the "bedlam" that went on inside. While many residents were confined, others were allowed to wander freely inside the courtyards. What a lively entertainment to watch the residents of the asylum!

Things haven't changed too much since those days. The only difference is that instead of sitting atop a wall watching the residents of an asylum, we just turn on the TV and watch Jerry Springer or Maury Povich. We love to watch the train wrecks of human life. We enjoy seeing the TV studio brawls that ensue after a paternity test reveals the truth. We want to see the parents whose children go bad, denying that they had any part to play in their poor teaching. These things make us feel like maybe our lives aren't all that bad.

But do we really need to fill our minds with all this garbage? The problem with watching the bedlam of humanity is that we eventually come to regard the things we see as the norm. View garbage too often, and garbage becomes the standard for you.

The other problem with it is that we don't need to be convinced that our lives aren't all that bad. Instead, we need to be brought face to face with our sin and our need to repent. Instead of wagging our heads like the reality TV show riffraff (click here to see the origin of this word) and saying "Don't judge me!" we need to be asking God,

"Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.

See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.

(Psalm 139:23-24)