Rappin’ With Rick

Steaks and Streams

What’s the difference between a steak dinner and just eating steak? I’ve come to the conclusion that even adding a salad, baked potato, and broccoli doesn’t turn eating steak for dinner into a steak dinner.

Last Saturday I grilled a nice sirloin on our new gas grill while Marilyn was fixing all the sides. When everything was ready, I stood at the counter and cut the steak into bite sized pieces. That alone would have shocked my rich Aunt Nellie from Chicago.

She’s the aunt who always brought a leg of lamb to Christmas at Grandma’s, and taught me you had to eat lamb with mint jelly; something that was very hard to find in rural Kansas when a farmer from the church gave us some fresh lamb from his flock. She also made it very clear that you cut your meat one piece at time, put down your knife, and then eat it.

She would have been absolutely shocked at what Marilyn and I then did with the plate of food. We carried it into the living room, sat in our easy chairs, and watched TV while devouring our meal.

When the kids were home we turned off the TV, sat around the table, and had dinner together. It was an important time of sharing what was going on, practicing good manners, and just enjoying each others company. Now, for the most part, we just eat.

Sadly, it’s not just empty nesters who do this. I recently read that the typical family now manages six or seven simultaneous streams of information during the dinner hour. I really doubt family members are using those electronic devices to stimulate conversation. At least Marilyn and I try to outguess the contestants on Wheel of Fortune.

When we do have the family over for a special occasion, we pack around the table as best we can, and actually have dinner together. And the grandkids generally make it clear they’d rather be around our table eating pot roast, than in a restaurant eating steak.

Next time I grill a steak I think I’m going to dust off the china and crystal, and Marilyn and I are going to actually have a steak dinner.

God Bless, Rick

A Beautiful Paraphrase

At my ordination into the ministry 50 years ago, my Uncle Gene gave me a copy of J.B Phillips’ paraphrase of the New Testament. Inside the front cover he had written, “Make the Word of God plain to those you teach— God will convict them if they hear Him clearly. This is my favorite translation—it is plain.”

I’m not sure that I agree the Phillips“translation” is plain, but I do find it to be beautiful. And, as I did again last Sunday morning, I’ve often quoted Romans 8:18 from it. “In my opinion whatever we may have to go through now is less than nothing compared to the magnificent future God has planned for us.”

I’ve not only found it to be beautiful, but also very comforting. In fact, I used it in the first funeral I ever preached, and have used it in almost every funeral since then.

I don’t use the Phillips for serious study, nor as a text to explore while preaching. That’s not the purpose for a paraphrase. And paraphrases do more easily reflect the biases of the individual writing it. You never want to come to a doctrinal conclusion on the basis of what you read in a paraphrase.

While not being inspired by God as are the Scriptures themselves, they can however be inspirational, and they do have their place in personal reading. In fact, many of us are reading through The Daily Message this year, which is Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of the Bible.

I do have to admit that while reading Peterson’s paraphrase this year I’ve often found myself wondering where in the world he got something. And at times I believe he tried too hard to be contemporary, and as a result his choice of words and phrases are already dated. I even found myself laughing last Saturday while reading through the daily passage, which actually happened to be the text I’d be preaching on the next day.

Paul does say that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth, but Peterson may get just a little too picturesque.“We’re also feeling the birth pangs. These sterile and barren bodies of ours are yearning for full deliverance. That is why waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, don’t see what is enlarging us. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and more joyful our expectancy.”

I doubt that I’ll be using that in a funeral any time soon.

God Bless, Rick

How to Defeat a Dragon

While reading A Landscape with Dragons: The Battle for Your Childs Mind, I was reminded of the importance of both mothers and fathers, and what each brings into the raising of children.

The author opens with an account of how his mom and dad each addressed the fear of a monster that kept him awake at night. His dad charged into the room with a stick and assured him that the monster had been driven from the closet. That sufficed for a night, but the monster returned. His mom then had him and his brother draw pictures of the monster, and then cut them up and burn them. That took care of the dragon they had seen so clearly in their imagination.

Mr. O’brien uses that incident to open a very interesting book that addresses the imagination of children, and how serious thought should be given on how to respond to their fears, and how discernment must be exercised in evaluating, and perhaps even limiting, what they read and watch. I found his thoughts about responding to their fears especially insightful.

“These are frequently called ‘irrational fears’, as if they were completely groundless, when in fact some of them may be well grounded indeed, though not based in the visible world. These I prefer to call metaphysical fears, or cosmic fears, and they are of a spiritual nature. It is a wise parent who recognizes the first awakenings of these mute dreads as the first buds of a spiritual faculty.”

“In a seeing-is-believing culture, which denies the existence of the supernatural world, the tendency is to repress all fears of invisible things. But if a child’s fear of monsters under the bed or dragons in the closet always are ridiculed as nonsense, his spiritual guard is in danger of being lowered, with the consequence of his becoming more vulnerable to spiritual evil and less sensitive to spiritual good.

“As his awareness of the presence of evil in the world expands, we must help him to overcome his real and imaginary fears with courage based upon faith that God is more powerful than evil. Just as my mother led me and my brother to destroy the dragon, so God leads us forward in battle against the enemy. We do not overcome evil with our own power, of course, but with Christ. Our children’s fears provide opportunities to learn this.”

God Bless, Rick

A Cosmos Centered in Love

As you are no doubt aware, some of us have been reading and discussing Love Thy Body by Nancy Pearcey on Sunday nights since September. Our final session will be this week at 6:30, and I would like to invite everyone to join us. To help encourage you to come, I’m giving the author one more chance to convince you of the importance of the issues we’ve been exploring.

“In every decision we make, we are affirming a worldview. We may think we are just acting on our feelings of the moment, but in reality we are expressing our convictions about the cosmos. Either we are expressing a biblical worldview or we are being co-opted by a secular worldview. The secular moral revolution is built on the conviction that nature has no moral meaning, and that we are inherently disconnected, autonomous atoms connecting only by choice. As Morse writes, (in The Sexual Revolution Reconsidered) ‘We act as if we believe that we are alone in a meaningless and indifferent universe, as if we ourselves have no intrinsic value, that our sexual acts have no meaning apart from the meaning we assign them, that our sexual acts are simply the actions of mindless particles bumping into each other from no particular cause at all, and with no particular purpose in mind.’

Christianity offers a genuine alternative to an empty, pointless cosmos. It says that we are not alone, that the universe is meaningful, that we do have intrinsic value, that sexuality has its own purpose or telos, that human community is real, and that there is objective truth, goodness, and beauty. Most of all, we are not products of mindless chance but the creation of a loving Creator.

Each one of us was loved into existence, and we have the high calling of inviting others into the astonishingly rich experience of living in a cosmos centered in love.”

We will begin this Sunday by briefly reviewing how we have allowed society to redefined abortion, marriage, gender, and parenthood. You really need to be here.

God Bless, Rick

Vexing Verses

What book of the Bible do you find to be the hardest to understand, and the scariest? Most would probably say it’s Revelation, and who would deny that the images found in Revelation are hard to interpret and are indeed frightening. It might surprise you, however, to discover that the verse many believe to be the most difficult to interpret, as well as a verse that causes many to live in anxiety, are both found in the little book of James.

A couple weeks ago we confronted James 4:5 in our Wednesday night study. Confusion about that verse centers on two things. When James says, “Or do you think that the Scriptures speaks to no purpose,” it’s impossible to determine if he is referencing what he has just said, or quoting an unknown Scripture. The other problem relates to the possible quote no one can find; “He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us.” Is he talking about the Holy Spirit or our spirit, and is he saying God jealously desires a relationship with us or that we have a jealous spirit? We decided any way we looked it, it was true, and that we’d leave the debate to the theologians.

The verse that many find frightening is one we ended on last Wednesday night.“Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do, and does not do it, to him it is sin.” (James 4:17) It is from this verse that “sins of omission” arise. If you’re not familiar with them, they are the opposite of “sins of commission.” They aren’t what you do, but what you don’t do.

If this verse is read in isolation, it does sound like a blanket warning about failing to do whatever you know you should do. If it’s kept in context, however, James may simply be saying that we must do what he’s been telling us to do.

If this is a warning about failing to do everything we know we should do, I think it takes away any sense of peace in our relationship with God. How would we ever know if we’ve done everything we’re supposed to do? Some have suggested this can be addressed by praying for forgiveness for everything we did, and didn’t do, but I’m not sure if that would really be confession of sin, or just a lame attempt to cover the bases.

Last Sunday we were reminded that we are to consider ourselves dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus. I think it would be hard to feel alive to God if we’re always walking under the cloud of unknown sin. I think it might be best to simply walk confidently in grace, and do our very best to walk in obedience.

God Bless, Rick