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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Being Nice

This morning on the ride to work I was thinking about the things I've always liked about the Christmas season. As a Christian, there is the celebration of the birth of Christ, which I LOVE, but there's something else. Ideally this time of year, people seem to try a little harder to be nice to each other. There's this "Well hey, I'll do that for you... it's Christmas!" thing going on. As if we are required to have an excuse to do something helpful or friendly to someone! Being nice at Christmas is even a big part of our holiday entertainment selections, such as the story about the Grinch and the one about Ebeneezer Scrooge. Of course, at Christmastime we have historical precedent for "being nice at Christmas" in people like Saint Nicholas (not Santa Claus... the canonized Saint) and Duke Wenceslas (yes, he was real, but no, technically he was not a king, no matter what the song says) who took the opportunity of the season to be very generous to others. But I doubt either of them would want acts of kindness to be limited to the last month of the year! If they were here today, doubtless they would tell us to extend our kindness and generosity every time the opportunity presented itself, whether in December or some other month.

But there's something about this "Christmas spirit" that's imperfect. The problem is that we so often do our kind and generous deeds because we want to be kind and generous people... or even worse, we do them because we feel like we have to. And in reality, good deeds that are done because we feel somehow compelled to do them, or because we want to feel warm fuzzy feelings inside... those good deeds just don't measure up for God. To us, those good deeds seem very altruistic, and certainly they do make a difference to others, but God sees them as dirty, nasty clothes that badly need washing (Isaiah 64:6). (And if you really want to know just how "polluted" those "garments" are, do a little research! Trust me, Isaiah was painting quite a negative picture there!)

But there is a way to do good deeds that is acceptable to God. The key is simply to let those good deeds flow to others, via ourselves, by inspiration from God. As though we were wires carrying power from God to the persons we are ministering to. And how do you know if you're doing something that way or some other way? Well, you certainly need to be in tune with the Holy Spirit, and you get that way through worship and prayer and Bible study; that's just Being A Christian 101. I suspect that while we are on this imperfect world with imperfect bodies and not-quite-totally-renewed minds, there will always be at least a small element of selfishness in doing something nice for someone to whom we owe nothing; after all, it does feel nice to do something kind and then be appreciated for it. But I think that the more in tune we are to the Holy Spirit, the less that matters to us and the more it matters that we are doing what is pleasing to God. And in a nutshell, that is what the Christian Life is all about: doing what is pleasing to God, no matter what happens as a result and no matter what the cost.

As we move out of the "oughts" (I look forward to telling kids in future years that "I remember the great Tulsa blizzard of ought-nine!" hehe) into the twenty-tens and -teens, here's an idea: let's seek to daily be more like Jesus. Let's seek to do only the Father's Will. But let's not do it because we know it's the right thing to do and make up our minds to do it; let's do it because we are so close to God and He has influenced our attitudes so much that it has become natural for us to do His will. Because His nature has become our nature. Not because we are trying to act like Him, but because we have in reality become a little more like Him!

Thursday, December 24, 2009


"Advent" is not a word that is used very much in the churches I've been in my whole life. Some years at my house we've had "advent calendars," and I knew the word meant that Jesus had come to Earth, but I never thought much about the underlying idea of the Advent. It's a pretty important concept to the Christmas season, though, and to Christians in general. There are three "comings" of Jesus that we can celebrate at Christmastime:

1. The most obvious and the most universal in religious circles: at Christmas we celebrate Jesus coming as a human being. Being born, being laid in a manger. A baby, a real human baby, but a baby that was also all that God is. Amazing! Incredible! But that's not all...

2. Because of Jesus' sacrifice on the Cross, he has come into our hearts at the time of our salvation. If He had only come as a human being, we would still be without hope, but because He has come into our hearts, we live in Christ! But there is one last coming that we are still looking forward to...

3. One day Jesus will come again, in the clouds to defeat darkness once and for all and to physically rule on the Earth! This year I've spent a lot of time reading about the End Times, doing serious studies through the book of Revelation twice and for fun, reading the entire Left Behind series. Whatever your views on the circumstances surrounding His second coming, it sure is an exciting thing to think that one day peace really will reign on Earth, and God's goodwill really will be physically present for all people!

Have a merry Christmas. Remember Jesus. If He hasn't yet come into your heart, say a prayer and invite Him into your life. Love your family. The last few days of 2009 can be the best Advent season ever!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Oral Roberts Memorial Service

I don't know how I came to know about Oral Roberts University. I don't really remember Christian TV being on at my house that much when I was a kid; probably I first heard Oral Roberts on TV growing up, but I certainly don't remember much about it. When I was in high school I was a pretty Bible-thumpin' guy... I even hauled my NKJV Open Bible to school with me every day... but I was too shy to be very good at sharing my faith with people directly. I did know one thing, though: I wanted to go to college, but I wanted to go to a "Christian" college. If you had asked me why I wanted to go to a "Christian" college as opposed to the state schools that were way cheaper (or other private schools that were maybe more prestigious and which my SAT scores could have gotten me into), I don't know that I could have given you a coherent answer, but I knew what I had on my heart. And for some reason, ORU was the only Christian school that seemed like a likely candidate. (I did briefly consider a denominational school or two, but once I had visited the ORU campus on one of their "college weekends", my mind was made up.) I wound up on campus for classes not knowing too much about Oral Roberts, or Richard Roberts, or honestly, about Tulsa or Oklahoma. But I showed up, and I stayed for four years, and my life has been drastically different because of it.

I've noticed as I've lost loved ones through the years that there seems to be an astounding amount of clarity about the person's character after they die. Whether it's because I finally get to hear what people really think, or it's because I'm finally comfortable taking sides because the person is no longer able to change on me, I don't know. But whatever the reason, after attending the memorial service today, I feel like I understand Oral Roberts now even better than I did the semester he personally taught one of my classes in Mabee Center every week. (Aside: one of my favorite memories of that class is the first time Oral Roberts came up to speak, and started his trademark line, "Something GOOD...!" and the place went to pieces. Like the guy or not, it was fun to hear him say it! The rest of the line, for people born too late to be familiar with it, is " going to happen to you!") Anyway, in the newspaper articles that were in the Tulsa World last week and in the things people said today, a picture of Oral Roberts emerged for me that is much simpler, I think, than the one mentally painted by most people. Oral Roberts was born into poverty. He had some college work behind him, but he wasn't particularly sophisticated. It seems to me that Oral Roberts was actually a quite uncomplicated man; he read his Bible, chose to believe what it said, and... well, that's about it. If the Bible said it, he hung on until the world around him reflected what he saw in the Word.

Even in the immediate wake of his death, I've heard people blasting Oral Roberts as a charlatan. Saying that he bilked people of their money, saying that he trumped-up death threats for God to get people to enrich his coffers. I just don't think Oral Roberts was a complex enough character to have that kind of deceit in him. In interviews and in person, he just seemed to kind of say what was on his mind. I don't think Oral Roberts could have swindled people if he had wanted to. (In fact, I understand that the first time he asked people to give as a seed, he told people if they were unhappy about their gift, let the ministry know and they would give the money back. No one took him up on it.)

I do think Oral Roberts made a few colossal blunders in his day, the most public ones surrounding the City of Faith hospital, about which I blogged a few months ago. Oral Roberts planned a huge hospital complex for Tulsa, and then he went on TV and told the world that God said to him in a vision that if Oral didn't raise the money to build the hospital, God would take Oral home to heaven. It was the only thing approaching a scandal to ever directly hit Oral Roberts' ministry. Ultimately he did raise the money and he did build the hospital... but after only a few years of operation, it was basically closed down (later it became the home to a Cancer Treatment Center of America, and now I don't think there's a medical facility there at all.) Now, I don't know whether Oral Roberts' vision came from God or not, but I can see that the hospital failed. And I would also have to say that even if God gave Oral that kind of vision, it might not have been the right kind of thing to share on television... it sounds like a personal challenge to Oral himself to me. As in a marriage or any other kind of intimate relationship, some things are to be shared only between the participants. Maybe Oral felt like his partners were as close as family members. And maybe they were, but not everybody watching him on TV fell into the "partners" class. But it seems clear to me that whatever Oral Roberts heard or saw, he misinterpreted. Otherwise the City of Faith Hospital would still be seeing patients and preparing medical students to this day.

But the two biggest things in Oral's life that were not blunders were his healing/TV ministry, which reached millions or billions with the Gospel and with healing, and Oral Roberts University itself. Oral Roberts was given both of those dreams by God at the age of seventeen; one of them began to happen immediately as Oral began to hold evangelistic crusades, and the other took a bit longer, but Oral's obedience to God allowed both to come to fruition. Both reached countless people with the Word of God, and as an alumnus of the school who has seen the post-ORU lives of my college acquaintances, and knowing that my graduating class is only one of some forty that have passed through, I can tell you that the impact on lives has been enormous. Whether you agree with everything Oral Roberts said or not, it's hard to deny that he was able to reach people with his message. I loved how he summarized it himself in the biographical video today: "If God says to jump through a wall, jump! And trust God to make a hole in the wall!"

Let me tell you a story. Many years ago, right here in Tulsa, Oral Roberts made a trip to an area hospital. He went up to the pediatric intensive care unit and began to pray for the healing of the babies. I'm told that as he prayed for them, the babies began to improve immediately! One of the babies, a little girl named Linda, had been born with congestive heart failure. She had been in the hospital for weeks, and she was not expected to survive. After Oral prayed for her, her health improved, and she grew up knowing she had almost died but had been healed when Oral Roberts prayed for her when she was an infant. When I met her as an adult, she was going by her middle name, Cathy, and the only trace of her infant heart trouble was a minor case of mitral valve prolapse which was not life-threatening. And even that was healed several years later when someone prayed for her during her pregnancy... with our first child!

Oral Roberts' ministry has affected many, many people in as many different ways as there are individuals. What would my life be like if he hadn't driven down to the PICU that day? Would my future wife have survived? What if he hadn't built the university he had dreamed of for so many years? Would I have been able to formulate the solid worldview that I was presented with there? Would I have ever come to Tulsa at all? Would I have met my wife, or all the fantastic Christian people I've met? Would I ever have done the kinds of things I've been able to do? I don't know how my life would have turned out, but I am grateful that Oral Roberts listened to the voice of God and did what he did. Because he was obedient, "Something GOOD!" certainly happened to me.

Monday, December 14, 2009

ESV Study Bible On Sale

If you've been keeping up, you know that I already have a beautiful new Bible. But if you were paying any attention before that, you also know that I love the ESV translation, and my ESV Study Bible is my favorite Bible study tool EVER. If I hadn't just gotten my new NRSV Bible to carry to church, I would still be sitting here wishing for a leatherbound ESV Study Bible to carry with; the one I have is the hardback edition, which I purchased over the leather version mainly because it was less expensive.

So I'm not really in the market, but check it out... Mardel has the ESV Study Bible with your choice of five different covers on sale at a deep discount! If you love to learn about the Word, you can't do better in one volume than the ESV Study Bible... and this sale takes these imitation leather cover copies below their price for the bardback version. Check out the sale!

If you haven't seen the ESV Study Bible and want a taste of what is like, take a look at It's awesome!

(sale's over now, but it still an awesome study Bible!)

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

To Live or To Die

The past few months we have become faithful viewers of TV's The Biggest Loser. The reason we've become so enthusiastic about the show is that a friend of ours, Danny Cahill, is a contestant this season! Danny started out at nearly 430 pounds, and by now he's right around 200. In something like 3 months, he's halved his size! It's amazing what the contestants on the show are able to do with the help of great trainers and a lot of motivation (the winner of the contest gets a big monetary prize in addition to the new life they've made for themselves!) In the course of the season you get to witness the emotional battles that the contestants face, many of them long-standing hurts or fears or both, and those things have to be overcome in order for the contestants to reach their goals. It's very eye-opening, and quite inspiring.

Early this season, they took all of the contestants to a doctor for a medical evaluation (they are monitored by medical staff during the course of the show for safety, also, but this was an on-camera thing). The very first day during a short foot race, one of the contestants actually collapsed and had to be airlifted to the hospital; during the doctor visit, the other contestants got a serious reality check about the health issues related to being so overweight. One thing that Danny said several times over the course of the season, and other contestants said similar things, was that he wants to not die young... he wants to survive and be around for his wife and kids for many, many years.

Last week as I was reading through Romans 8 at the from-the-pulpit suggestion of our pastor, I spotted a Scripture that reminded me very much of Danny (who we know from being on the same worship team in years past, and who goes to our church now):
For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. -Romans 8:13 ESV
The season finale of The Biggest Loser is tonight. Danny has made it into the top 3 finalists; tonight if he has lost more weight than the other two finalists, he wins the season! The man is a weight-loss machine; the other finalists must be quaking in their boots. Good luck, Danny! We are TOTALLY rooting for you! We have talked to Danny several times during the past few months, and we have heard him speak publicly in church a couple of times about what the TBL contestants consistently refer to as their "journey," and it's clear that Danny's "journey" from obese to athletic and fit was one he made with help from the Holy Spirit. He is a living example of Romans 8:13.

Hope you'll be watching!

UPDATE: Danny WON IT! Yay for him! Check out his new Web site:

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Charges Dropped

Romans 8:1-2 is probably my favorite passage of Scripture:
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. [ESV]
I'm not one who remembers specific events in my life very well. I don't remember the setting, the date or time, or much of anything else about the circumstances the first time this verse impacted me, but I do remember very clearly the fireworks that went off on the inside of me. No condemnation? NO condemnation? There's nothing at all that is condemning me? None of my sin, none of my guilt? To me, the word "no" in that verse was nothing short of revolutionary. I felt a freedom that I had never felt before. And I grew up in the Church! My parents made sure I was exposed to the Word as a child. But this revelation hit home to me when I was in college. Some things you just have to pick up when you're ready for them.

I've been studying and just reading over and over the entire chapter 8 of Romans for the past 2 weeks, at the recommendation of our pastor (from the pulpit, not to me personally) and any number of things other than this verse have sort of woken up in me. One thing comes from this passage:
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. -Romans 8:31-34
I love the picture that everyone who could possibly press charges against the accused party is a family member and will not prosecute! Verse 34, "Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us" reminds me of the story in chapter 8 of the book of John where Jesus is actually identified as the only one qualified to condemn a woman who is clearly guilty, and Jesus declines to condemn... he forgives and sends her away free.

Jesus says to us when we sin, when we confess our sin seeking forgiveness, that we are forgiven. He says to each of us, go and sin no more. He is interceding for us, and because of His work, there is no condemnation-NO condemnation-for those of us who are in Christ Jesus. Is that incredible or what?