Monday, December 31, 2018

Planer Graphs and Dr. Seuss


Without getting too technical I want to talk to you about graphs. You know, those things you probably hated to do in math class. When you get into a little more advanced mathematics it’s important to know if a graph is planer or not. That’s p-l-a-n-e-r. In other words, do all of the connectors on the graph lie in the same plane with no overlapping connectors?

The following graphs show simple planer graphs.



The second shows the connectors overlapping, however it can be redrawn in “planer” fashion as shown below.


The last shows a non-planer graph. The connectors overlap. It cannot be redrawn to eliminate the intersections.

Our lives are not planer. We have to interact with others. It’s called life. It’s the place where change occurs, decisions are made. When you met your spouse, that moment became an intersection for you. The two of you were traveling different directions. The dynamics at that intersection were strong enough to take both of you a different direction.

Sadly, many live their lives trying to avoid the intersections. They order the various aspects of their life with as few intersections as possible. This is not how God created you to live. Others think they can do whatever they want, whenever they want, regardless of what others may think; go any direction they choose without thought of who or what may be in their way. This is not how God created us to live.

Dr. Seuss is an amazing theologian. He wrote a book about Zax.

One day, making tracks In the prairie of Prax, 
Came a North-Going Zax And a South-Going Zax. 
And it happened that both of them came to a place 
Where they bumped. There they stood.Foot to foot. Face to face.  
“Look here, now!” the North-Going Zax said, “I say! 
You are blocking my path. You are right in my way. 
I’m a North-Going Zax and I always go north. 
Get out of my way, now, and let me go forth!”  
“Who’s in whose way?” snapped the South-Going Zax. 
“I always go south, making south-going tracks. 
So you’re in MY way! And I ask you to move 
And let me go south in my south-going groove.”  
Then the North-Going Zax puffed his chest up with pride. 
“I never,” he said, “take a step to one side. 
And I’ll prove to you that I won’t change my ways 
If I have to keep standing here fifty-nine days!”  
“And I’ll prove to YOU,” yelled the South-Going Zax, 
“That I can stand here in the prairie of Prax 
For fifty-nine years! For I live by a rule 
That I learned as a boy back in South-Going School. 
Never budge! That’s my rule. Never budge in the least! 
Not an inch to the west! Not an inch to the east! 
I’ll stay here, not budging! I can and I will 
If it makes you and me and the whole world stand still!”  
Well...Of course the world didn’t stand still. The world grew. 
In a couple of years, the new highway came through 
And they built it right over those two stubborn Zax 
And left them there, standing un-budged in their tracks.

When we’re born, we have a pre-disposition to go a certain direction, the way of Adam. Jesus came to be an intersection in our life. He forces us to make decisions, to change direction. Jesus comes to us to show us “The Way, The Truth, The Life.” We now have a choice to make. Do we continue to follow “our” path or do we choose His way for us?

This is where the phrase “cross roads” comes from. You see, the roadway system is not planer! In the early days of automobiles there were some strange procedures developed to ensure you did not have a collision at intersections, or cross roads. You first had to stop the vehicle and shut off the engine. You then sounded your horn to indicate your presence. If there was no response it was suggested that you then fire a shot with your gun to indicate you were about to enter the intersection; very different than today’s driving.

If you notice, there’s always traffic control devices at cross roads. It’s as simple as a stop sign, or as complex as multiple direction traffic lights. These are all designed to keep us out of trouble.

The same is true when you begin your journey on the path of Christ. Our spiritual “traffic controller” is the Holy Spirit. That is why it is so important to learn to hear His voice. He speaks to give us information that will help as we traverse the non-planer graph known as the Christian life.

Communion is one such “cross roads” that we must choose to encounter. It’s a built in rest stop on our journey where we can take opportunity to rest our souls, check the tires, see if there’s anything that is going un-noticed on our vehicle, and deal with it. Paul said to “consider the Lord’s body” to see if there’s anything unclean in us. It gives us a chance to adjust our course, check our map to see if we are still on track with the Holy Spirit, pursuing the destiny that we took on when we encountered Jesus at the “Salvation Cross Road.”

It is not ironic that the symbol of our faith today is a cross. As a matter of fact, it is the very reason Jesus came from heaven to earth. He came to “cross” our path to introduce us to the Father. What will you do with your “Cross road” moment? Let’s choose well. Let us choose Christ.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

If Wal Mart Can Sell Valentines At Christmas, I Can Talk About Easter At New Years

It's amazing to me how retail has started getting the jump on every holiday. I remember standing in Cracker Barrel in early August. There was, of course, football everything and the remnants of July 4th, but also Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas merchandise everywhere. I was in Wal Mart on Christmas Eve and noticed Valentine's Day displays. It's pretty crazy, but not more crazy than a minister of music's life.

While the Christmas decorations are still hanging I'm in full-blown Easter mode. Actually, I've been working on it for about a month, even before we performed our Christmas music at church. It's just the way it is.

This year I'm working on a new approach to telling the Easter story. I would like some input on this, so if you're willing, so please comment either here or on Facebook. Or, you can private message or even e-mail if you prefer to be more anonymous at ibworshipin@gmail.com.

The things I'm looking for are the elements of the story you find most compelling, and why. Was it the triumphant entry, or the Passover meal with the disciples? Perhaps the trials, betrayals, etc.? Gethsemane? The crucifixion itself? What about the burial, or the resurrection? How about the Emmaus Road experience, or other sightings of Jesus after the resurrection? The ascension?

I'm looking at some of the backstory to why Easter was needed in the first place. Things like the Garden of Eden - the place of original sin. Or the deliverance from Egypt - instituting the Passover. And then there are numerous prophecies, types, and shadows of how Messiah would die, be resurrected, even the method by which He would die.

Any thoughts you have along these lines would be greatly appreciated. I'm looking forward to hearing some of the elements you find most interesting about Easter. Thanks in advance.

By the way, any unique ideas I choose to use I will give you credit, if I know who you are.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Any Day Can Be New Year's Day

My friend, Jeff Jenkins, posted something today that brought a verse to mind. He said, "It's not just the beginning of every New Year that we can have a fresh start, it's the beginning of every day! Every new day is God’s invitation to a start all over again."


In Exodus 12, before Israel had been delivered from Egypt, God spoke to them and said, "This month shall be for you the beginning of months. It shall be the first month of the year for you.” Exodus 12:2 (ESV)

Regardless of your circumstances, even while you are still in the middle of the problem, your life can be changed. Any day is an opportunity to begin a new life, get a fresh start, begin to live, maybe for the very first time!

Never consider your life over. I have several friends fighting for their life against disease. Today could be the day that God speaks a new beginning for them. Even if you're not facing something this dire or dramatic, it still matters to God. He wants you to have the life Jesus bought for you through His sacrifice on the cross. In John 10:10 Jesus said, "I came to give you abundant life." Abundant means, "The God kind of life." The life He gives exceeds anything you could imagine.

Be willing to allow God to change your circumstances. Like Israel in Egypt, they had to believe what God said to them and act on it. The result was freedom for centuries of captivity.

A new day. What a concept. Literally, a new beginning.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Improvement vs. Criticizing

I notice problems. I don't consciously look for them. They just pop out at me. This can be both a blessing and a curse. When you are attempting to fix something that is broken it is a good thing. When you are listening to something inspirational, not so much.

I know others that have this knack in them. The most important thing is what is done with the information. I attempt to use the newly identified problem to help improve things. If I notice something not working correctly on the soda fountain at the local fast-food chain, I bring it to the attention of the manager so they can correct it. If the door-closer at the church is broken I report it to the person responsible for building maintenance. Because of this, I consider myself an Improver.

Others, when learning of a problem or an issue, will tell everyone except the person that can correct the problem. These folks are Criticizers. They have no desire to see anything improve. Instead, they seek opportunities to point out flaws in others.

There are others, still, that simply do not notice the problems at all. These are called Happy People. Sometimes I wish I was one.

I remember a quote, but cannot recall the source. I believe it was from a CEO that said, "For every problem you bring to the board you also need to bring at least two possible solutions." Be an Improver!

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Triggers - An Interesting Concept

Roy Roger's horse was named Trigger, but that's not the subject of today's blog. The mechanism that begins the process of firing a gun is also called a trigger, but again, not the topic.

Psychologists refer to something as a trigger that causes an emotional response. It can be a word (or just a sound), a song, a picture, a smell - just about anything - that when experienced brings an immediate emotional response. The brain has indexed certain experiences by these triggers and performs immediate recall. It is almost involuntary the way we are moved by these triggers.

The reaction to a trigger is actually a habit. You may not even be aware you have the habit. Some habits are so "comfortable" or "natural" that they are not seen as habits. That's one reason habits are hard to break. Habits, however, are not all bad. The habit of waking at a certain time because the trigger (alarm clock) set off the morning routine can help start your day on a productive note.

As we approach the new year many begin to evaluate life to see if anything needs to change. Resolutions are made, and quickly broken, because the old habits do not yield to the new ones. It takes conscious effort to make a new GOOD habit.

Back to triggers. The habits that cause us the most problems are those brought on by triggers that we do not even recognize. Why do we have sudden outbursts of anger? Overwhelming sadness can come on us suddenly and we cannot seem to put our finger on the "why". Something has triggered the response. Identifying the trigger can help begin the change that is needed to thwart the undesirable behavior.

Sometimes it may require help from a professional counselor. I'm married to a really good one if you happen to be in the market. Many times we cannot see the pattern or habitual behavior that keeps us in a non-productive cycle.

A habit is made up of three components: trigger, action, reward. Yes, your habits are designed to bring a reward. The trigger and reward are usually not the problem. It's the actions we take in between the two that cause the problems. If we can identify the trigger, we can then alter the behavior (action) that follows, and still reap the reward afterward. We simply replace the action with something that will bring a good outcome instead of the destructive actions we normally choose.

Regardless of when you begin, it will require constant attention until one day you are simply doing the new action "habitually". That is the beginning of a new life. Not habit-free, but productive instead of destructive. Live well!

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Is This All There Is To Christmas Morn?

A few years ago I wrote a Christmas song. Below are the lyrics. I don't have a decent recording of it, so just imagine it being sung by Michael Buble to an amazing tune.


Is This All There Is to Christmas Morn?

Verse 1
Preparations made, All the gifts sit underneath the tree.
Minds filled with wonder, Each package full of hope and mystery.

Verse 2
Did they remember, After oh so many lists and hints were given.
That one special gift That would make life truly worth the living.

Chorus 1
Year after year when the paper and bows
Lay shredded on the floor.
So many gifts were opened,
But not the one I’m longing for.
Everything I needed, just not what I wanted,
Yet still I hoped for something more.
Is this all there is to Christmas morn?

Verse 3
Still a young virgin, All her life ahead was yet to be.
Her mind filled with wonder, Each day full of hope and mystery.

Verse 4
The angel appeared, He spoke words that were very hard to hear.
But in simple faith, Mary asked the Father to come near.

Repeat Chorus 1

Bridge
While picking up the wrap and bows
That were strewn across the floor.
I found the family Bible
And opened it once more.
Luke’s story brought me back to Bethlehem.
A baby born in a manger filled with hay.
The greatest gift in all the world
Came to me on that blessed day.
This is all there is to Christmas morn!

Chorus 2
Now year after year when the paper and bows
Lay shredded on the floor.
All the gifts were opened
How could we long for more?
I remember the Baby, lying in the manger
Now there’s no need for something more.
This is all there is to Christmas morn!

© 2013 Kurios Music. Words and music by Dudley Harris.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Me Three

Disclaimer: This is not an opinion article about the #METOO movement.

I think it can safely be stated that the prevalent state of mind, at least for us in the Western culture, is "Me". This is not new. It has simply been amplified though all of the forms of media we have at our disposal.

Self-preservation is a core impulse built into our very fiber.
1. When faced with danger our body automatically kicks into "fight or flight" response.
2. When great emotional stress is placed on us our brain can disconnect (become dissociative), in order to preserve our well being.
3. Deflecting the blame is as old as Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

I remember from my childhood when a group of kids would be asked a question, one would immediately begin to cry out, "Me, me, me!" Another would chime in with, "Me, too!" Then another, "Me, three!" We all want to be chosen. We all want to be considered special. When we perceive this is not the case, it can cause poor behavior in order to attract attention. Other, out of their frustration, may actually attempt to harm themselves, or others.

In these days let us remember to treat everyone with respect, even if we do not feel they deserve it. That is not our call. Give them the same respect you would want to receive. Speak a kind word. Give a smile. You never know how it might affect their day.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

The Game Called Communication

Language has become my favorite pastime. There are so many things about it that keeps me curious, but here a few for you to consider.

When I took Spanish in college, the first few chapters of the text was incredible. It described the near perfect language that had rules for everything (and I love rules). We studied verb conjugation, looking at the vosotros and nosotros forms. I loved it. It all made sense. Then the most dreaded chapter in the entire text appeared: Irregular Verbs. That's when I started hating Spanish.

It is interesting however, that English has the same problems, it's just that I grew up learning English. The most common irregular verbs are verbs of being. Words like is, am, are, was, were, etc. If you did not speak the language you would not immediately recognize how closely these are related. But, all of them speak of the same subject: states of being.

Perhaps we have such a difficult time communicating our state of being that our language reflects this. It is something to consider.

Another thing that makes language difficult is the use of idioms and colloquial expressions. Several stories from speaking with interpreters come to mind. The term "brand new" makes perfect sense in our Western culture, but Kenyan's have no idea what it means. The word "snit" does not translate well either.

A term my mom used often was "off like a jug handle." Many have never seen a jug, and did not know they had handles. Add the Southern drawl to it is unintelligible to most.

Yet, we still have to communicate, and our native tongue is the best shot we have of getting our message across. The only thing I know to do is keep trying.

Monday, December 10, 2018

God's Names at Christmastime - Jesus

The following is from my book, The Names of God.

Matthew 1:21 (ESV) She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

I couldn’t believe it. As I was working through the “R”s on the Names of God list, it suddenly occurred to me that the name Jesus was omitted. How could that be?

Then a few thoughts came to me. First of all, it is the most familiar name for God that we know. Every thing from lullabies to epic movies has the name of Jesus in them.

Secondly, it is also a name that many avoid because the mere mention of the name evokes a response. For Believers it triggers gratitude. For non-believers it brings conviction. For others it brings anger because of the hardness of their heart.

C. S. Lewis summed up men’s response to Jesus. He said, “He is either Lord, liar, or lunatic.” Jesus is either the Son of God as He claimed, a liar for making such a claim, or a lunatic that has no idea what he is saying. “But,” as Lewis continued, “You cannot call Him just a good man.”

You can speak of “God” to most people and they will politely oblige your conversation, but when you mention Jesus their heart is almost certainly revealed in their response.

We just completed the Christmas season where you see and hear more of the name of Jesus than at any other time (at least in the Western culture). It is after all, the time we celebrate His birth. But Jesus is so much more than a baby in a manger. Even the name Mary was told to give Him at His birth implied there was much more to this child than any before Him.

Since the fall of man in the Garden of Eden, God had been working a plan of redemption; a way to bring man back into a right relationship with his Creator. The one that would “crush the head of the serpent” became a baby in a manger; helpless, vulnerable, the embodiment of God’s love. His name, however, caused satan and his kingdom to fear. The Second Adam had been born. The Second Joshua had come to deliver God’s people (this time all of them) from the grasp of sin and darkness that kept them in bondage.

Jesus. His name is from the Hebrew word interpreted as “Joshua,” and means, “Jehovah-saved.” The first Joshua completed the journey of Israel out of bondage from Egypt to Canaan. The Second Joshua, Jesus, paid the penalty for sin and gave mankind a way to escape the second death.

Call out to Him now. Receive the forgiveness provided through the death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and seating of Jesus. Identify yourself with Him in baptism. Receive the Gift He sent to abide in us until He returns: the Holy Spirit. Your life will never be the same.

Friday, December 7, 2018

God's Names at Christmastime - Wonderful

I recently finished writing a book called "The Wonder of the Wilderness". It's not published yet, but hopefully will be after the first of the year. Sometimes we overlook some of the simple ways in which God is presented to us in scripture. The word "wonderful" is very familiar to us. So when it is also ascribed to God, we tend to be unimpressed. After all, the doughnut we had this morning was wonderful. The picture our toddler drew at school is wonderful. The wedding last weekend was wonderful.

So what, that God is also wonderful ... until you look at the true meaning of the word: full of wonder. A doughnut is not full of wonder (even though they are really good!). The wedding was beautiful, and emotionally moving, but not really full of wonder. Perhaps, because of the innocence and creativity alive in a toddler, their drawing may actually be filled with wonder.

But God IS wonderful (full of wonder). His very essence exudes wonder. When you seriously consider God, His nature, His character, His presence, everything about Him is wonder-filled. It's no "wonder" (slight pun intended) that when it came time to send His Son, Jesus, to earth to redeem mankind, that "wonderful" would be one of the adjectives used to describe His birth.

A teenage virgin girl (Mary) willing to give up her dream of life with Joseph as just a husband and wife to become the mother of God's Son. An old priest and barren wife (Zacharias and Elizabeth) surprised with WONDERFUL news of a son (John) that would usher in the presence of Messiah.

The old prophet, Simeon, that recognized Jesus as Messiah when Joseph and Mary brought Him to the temple on the eighth day. The woman widowed at a young age, Anna, who spent the remainder of her life in the temple praying, when she saw the Messiah and was able to bless the Child.

Wise men who travelled for years, following the WONDERS in the sky that led them to the Newborn King.

It is no surprise that Christmastime is filled with wonder, because the first Christmas truly was. Let WONDER fill your heart and home this year. Make room for Jesus, but also for others, to celebrate this most blessed time together.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

God's Names at Christmastime – Son of God


Daniel 3:25 (NKJV) "Look!" he answered, "I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire; and they are not hurt, and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God."

It is interesting that the first mention of the Son of God comes from a king that had no regard for God. Yet, he recognized the extra man in fire as one that looked like the Son of God.

The next reference in scripture of someone using the name Son of God is when satan came to Jesus in the wilderness to tempt Him. Three times satan said, “If you are the Son of God …?” Each time Jesus responded with a verse found in the Old Testament.

Luke 4:2-13 (ESV) for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.’”

And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.’”

And he took him to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’” And Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time.

As a child, Jesus knew He was the Son of God when He was only twelve years old.

Luke 2:48-50 (ESV) And when his parents saw him, they were astonished. And his mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.” And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” And they did not understand the saying that he spoke to them.

In Luke’s account of Jesus’ life he gives the linage of Jesus. It ends with another reference to the other Son of God, Adam.

Luke 3:23-38 (ESV) Jesus, when he began his ministry, was about thirty years of age, being the son (as was supposed) of Joseph, … the son of Enos, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God.

Jesus was the second Adam. He came to undo what Adam brought to the human race through his sin in the Garden of Eden. Jesus became the One whose heel would be bruised in the crushing of the serpent’s head. Jesus succeeded in His mission. He was born of a virgin, conceived by the Holy Spirit, lived a sinless life as a man filled with the Spirit of God. He died as the perfect Lamb whose blood washed away our sin. He was raised from the dead, defeating hell and the grave for us. He ascended to heaven and was seated at the right hand of God, “far above all rule, and power, and dominion, and every name that is named”, so that we once again reign in life. Jesus then sent the Holy Spirit to abide in us forever.

That, my friend, is the Good News, the Gospel of Jesus, which provides us with a way back to our Creator. Thank you, Jesus, the Son of God, for paying the price for us!