Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Monday, December 5, 2011

Advent Reflections 02:Is the Virgin Birth Important?

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.
Isaiah 7:14

From the confessional history of the church, the Apostles' Creed is one that emphasizes the basic essential doctrinal points of the apostles' teaching. The confession begins this way:

"I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
the Maker of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord:

Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,
born of the virgin Mary..."

Have you ever wondered, "Is the virgin birth of Jesus really that important?" After all it is scientifically unprovable and seems highly improbable that this could even happen. Yet it is predicted in the Hebrew scriptures, fulfilled in the New Testament, and affirmed by the early church fathers as essential. But how does that affirmation of belief impact our practical reality? And why is it so important?

Christian doctrine can seem so impractical without a solid understanding of clear application to our present lives. And without the clear application all we are left with are words to give verbal assent, a warm fuzzy feeling, and questions about the infallibility of the Bible. Although, to the early church, the Apostles' doctrine was completely practical. It met them in their life and fuzed meaning into their experiences. It also helped shape their understanding of how God has created the world to work, how it was broken, and how it is fixed. We should share their perspective on doctrine, and this blog is designed to take something that seems impractical and show that it not only applies to our lives, it is essential just as the early church affirmed.

The practical implications of the Virgin Birth are related to sin, or should I say, the possibility for the removal of sin. There are three aspects of sin that are important for each of us to understand if we are going to see the necessity of the Virgin Birth. The three aspects are as follows: original sin, generational sin, and personal sin. I will discuss these more in part two of this blog. For now, just know that these are real parts of our depravity that are addressed in the application of the gospel (good news) of Jesus Christ.

Before we get to our sin let's look at what the Hebrew scriptures say about how atonement or reconciliation with God is made. Exodus 12 details the requirements for the Passover. In verse five a lamb without blemish is to be prepared. The blood is to be placed on the doorpost and lentils so so the angel of death would know who belonged to the LORD. Leviticus 1 outlines many of the sacrifices to be made including a lamb without blemish for the atonement of sins. These sacrifices had to be made repeatedly until the LORD sent His final sacrifice to redeem His people through a new covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Luke 22:14-20; and Hebrews 8-10). Jesus was the perfect Passover Lamb and the sacrifice for all time establishing the new covenant of God's grace between God and His people.

You see the sacrifice had to be without any blemish or stain (perfect). This is the reason for the Virgin Birth, which will make more sense when we begin to understand more about sin.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Snow in the Mountains

Here are 10, no wait, 11 things that I have learned and love about mountain snow. It's not the miserable midwestern or southern mess that probably comes to most of my friend's minds. If you don't believe me come and visit for a week this winter!

1. It's not that people don't know how to drive in snow at sea level. It's just that it is impossible to drive on ice. Snow is very manageable in the mountains.

2. The roads are clear within hours of the snowfall finishing. And by clear, I mean dry!

3. There is practically no slush as the midwest knows it.

4. We can ski on this snow!

5. Snow ice cream once a week:)

6. You know those brushes on some ice scrapers? I understand why they are there now. You can literally clean all of the snow off your car with those, no ice layers!!!

7. We clear snow with plows here. No more shovels for the driveway!

8. No need to shovel the deck. We can sweep this powder!

9. There is a clear difference in the cold here. It does not feel like your skin is going to break off and bones shatter. It is just simply cold, no side affects.

10. The mountains are beautiful covered in a white blanket!

11. The deep blue sky the day after a snowfall. It is amazing. It should be on all bucket lists to see.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Pastor's Journal:From Southern Baptist to Non-Denominational

Traveling across a religious spectrum has provided some unique challenges. This journey has included being born into a Southern Baptist home, studying religion at a state university, going to seminary at a Presbyterian school, being ordained through the Baptist General Conference, planting a church under my ordaining denomination, and serving as pastor of a non denominational church. Many lessons have been learned, some of which I hope to share through this journal in the future.

So many labels exist for Christians. Many are helpful, and many are destructive. They include: evangelical, fundamentalist, liberal, parachurch, literalist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist, Bible thumper, spirit-filled, charismatic, Pentecostal, reformed, Calvinist, Arminian, etc. It is one thing to be labeled, and it is another thing entirely to look through their lens at the surrounding world. A lot of the religious conflicts that I have caused, mediated, or observed have stemmed from a lack of understanding from other points of view. One person was labeling while looking through a lens, and another was defensive while looking through a completely different lens. Who was right? Who was wrong? How does anyone attempt to sort through it?

That lack of understanding has expressed itself in pride, ignorance, disrespect, and division. Maybe through my journey you can confront such attitudes in your own life as you read the way I am confronting mine. Let's take a thoughtful and considerate walk through this maze. It will be important for us to establish common ground from the outset.

To be continued...

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Advent Reflections

If you have ever had children, you know anticipation well. From the moment two lines show up to the day of the birth it is almost constant preparation. The nursery must be painted. Furniture needs to be arranged. Gotta check the baby development websites, everyday, sometimes twice or more. There are the birthing classes, bottles, diapers, baby showers, etc. So much goes into preparation, and then the day comes. It is a magical moment the first time you hear the baby cry, and for the next two years everything is surreal, mostly due to lack of sleep. But it is so much different than you expect. Don't get me wrong, it is amazing, but it is not like what you had envisioned.

Another birth that was greatly anticipated, but not what it was envisioned is the birth of Jesus. Advent is the season of anticipation of Christmas. The first Sunday of Advent is focused on prophecy. There are more than 300 things foretold in the Hebrew scriptures about the One (Messiah) to come that Jesus fulfilled throughout His life. It seems that with all of those fulfilled prophecies there would be no disappointment or mistake who this Messiah was. But expectations are funny things. The more specific uncontrollable expectations, the greater risk of missing it or being completely disappointed. The expectation was for a great military leader and a king to take the physical throne of David. In contrast, Jesus was born to humble beginnings, and led as a servant giving of Himself to the point of a criminal's death.

John the Baptist was to prepare the way for the Messiah, and even for him, Jesus as Messiah was a question mark. John sent his followers to Jesus with an inquiry recorded in Matthew 11:3,

“Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”

If anyone should know that Jesus is the Messiah, it is John. But it is understandable that he would ask the question. After all, preparing the way for One who has been anticipated for thousands of years is not something you want to get wrong, and the developed expectation that he was no doubt taught was much different than what Jesus looked like. Jesus wasn't the king or military leader they were looking for in a Messiah. The acceptance of reality and truth haven't changed much in the last 2000 years. Think about this,

What are you anticipating for Christmas? Maybe you envision a Norman Rockwell setting with a grand feast and warm fuzzy feelings about the people around the table. It could be big gifts under the tree with that perfect gift bearing your name on the card. Perhaps it is the look on your kid's faces when they see the gifts after Santa came the night before. There could be a more bleak outlook for you because hard times, unemployment, personal loss, or tragedy has struck. You may not even be able to envision any resemblance of happiness at Christmas. These are not the hooks on which to hang your hope and expectation.

So, as we enter the Advent season, maybe we should ask of our own expectations, "Are you really what I am anticipating? OR is there more?"

The hope that Jesus offers is not bound up in gifts we can buy or give. It is not found in a feast for the family. It is found in the historical reality that a baby was born in a miraculous way for a miraculous cause. He did not come to bring employment or warm fuzzy feelings. He came to die. Until our anticipation of Christmas is grounded in historic coming of a savior, and our hope is found in the salvation He alone offers; we are destined for disappointment and discouragement.

Turn your hope for Advent to Him. You may find a sense of contentment and peace you've never experienced before this Christmas. And along this journey you may discover a baby born in Bethlehem 2000 years ago fulfilling a new anticipation grounded in reality and Truth.

Favorite Christmas Movie Scenes 03

There will be more from this movie. My kids act this scene out more than any other. There's just something about bodily sounds that are hilarious. Don't forget to leave a comment of your favorite Christmas movie scenes. They may show up before December is over!

Favorite Christmas Movie Scenes 02

Here's another great moment. I remember after running a 5k race in Birmingham, AL sticking my lips to a Popsicle. OUCH!!! Anyone ever get stuck to something cold??

Favorite Christmas Movie Scenes

Christmas is here again and here are some of my favorite moments from some Christmas movies. Please leave comments of your favorite scenes, and maybe I will post them next!

The Christmas Tree from "Christmas Vacation." "It's not going in our yard, Russ, It's going in our living room." Hahaha!!!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

To My Kids on the Importance of Auburn Family: Iron Bowl 2011

It is rivalry Saturday in college football, and THE big game is on at 1:30 MST. Now, you guys know I love Auburn football, but you need to understand why daddy acts a little "crazy" on days like this. Today, November 26, 2011, is the first time in my life that I can remember NOT looking forward to the Iron Bowl, but we will talk about that more later. Suffice it to say that this letter is therapy so that I can keep things in perspective on what I am anticipating to be a painful day. There is a wildcard, however, that will come to play! Auburn is bigger than the stats and more resilient than a point spread. So we have a fighting chance with home field advantage and tradition on our side. So win or lose this family (AU family) will stand united and yell with pride, War Eagle!!

Last year Auburn came back from a 24 point deficit to beat Bama and went on to play for the SEC and National Championship. This year Bama is stacked with speed and talent. The landscape of a team changes every year in NCAAF, and that is one of the things that makes it great to watch. But the reason I love Auburn is deeper than what happens between the hedges on any given Saturday afternoon every fall; it is TRADITION.

It seems the culture of our day undervalues tradition from church life to politics to family heritage. People want to write their own history rather than live as a part of something greater than themselves. Individuals are praised at the cost of the collective. There is certainly a place for the individual, but only in so much as he contributes to the whole. The Heisman Trophy is a great example of how an individual contributes to a team for the betterment of the whole. The individual is celebrated, but only because of the contribution he makes to the team. I don't love Auburn because of Pat Sullivan, Bo Jackson, or Cam Newton, but they help build a rich winning tradition of which I am proud. So what is the heritage and tradition that makes me believe in Auburn and love it?

We are two generations of Auburn graduates in our family. Your grandfather (O) started us on this journey in the 60's. He ran track, and secured the Swearengin name in Auburn history by assisting his mile relay team to an SEC gold medal win in 1966. Just four years later O and Pops (your great grandfather) went to the Iron Bowl of 1972 named the "Punt Bama Punt" game.

(Kick off just began the game Bama 3 and out-Auburn 3 and out.)

The day I became an Auburn Tiger was 10 years after Punt Bama Punt. Pops took me to see the Iron Bowl of 82. In this game Bo Jackson went over the top of the offensive line across the goal line to secure an Auburn win and snap a nine year losing streak. I asked Pops after the game, "Is this the biggest game in the world?"
He replied, "To some it is."

After graduating high school, I went to junior college for two years. There was no question that I wanted to transfer to Auburn for my undergraduate education. Your mom and I met while we were DJ's at WEGL, Auburn's campus radio station in the summer of 1994.

(Auburn just scored a touchdown off of an Alabama fumble to cut Bama's lead to 14-7)

We both graduated in 1996 and were married in January 1997. The church in Atlanta where we were married wouldn't let us play the Auburn fight song as we left the church. The next Iron Bowl we went to was the 2005 game where Brodie Croyle (AL QB) was sacked 11 times and Auburn dominated the game winning 28-18.

But the TRADITION is greater than our family and its part of the AU story. There are so many people who have built the greatness of Auburn. I am just proud to be a part of the family and hope to represent it well throughout my life.

(Half time and AL is up 24-7)

The AU Creed emphasizes the importance of education, character, country and God. I'm sure other institutions emphasize the same, but there is no personal connection to any other. The family extends to others all around the world and is evident when traveling and saying War Eagle to others donning the Orange and Blue. I have had those moments almost everywhere I have traveled.

(Onterio McCalebb just returned the kickoff to start the 2nd half to make it 24-14)

Well the game is over now, and it turned out about like I expected this year. Final score Alabama 42 Auburn 14. Not the way we ever want it to end, but it is important to understanding the Auburn family. Even after a game that can be frustrating and depressing as a fan, most of us will still say, "It's still great to be an Auburn Tiger!" And as O always says, "We didn't lose, the time simply ran out this year." That is the way it is in this rivalry. It means bragging rights for a year, but the time will start again next November no matter who the score favors. So, even though I was not looking forward to the game, I know that we (AU Family) will stand together through good years and bad years believing in Auburn and loving it! And that is Auburn spirit. War Eagle!!!!


Friday, November 25, 2011

Clarifying the Win: Thanksgiving

We all have things that need to happen for a fulfilling experience at almost anything, but rarely do we clarify what those things are. For the last several years for Thanksgiving we have hosted people at our home who did not have family in town nor were they traveling. With that scenario the win is accomplished every time almost by accident. This year we were invited to someone's home for the big feast. So, I had to really consider what the win would be. Do I have to watch football? Do I have to have turkey? What are the ingredients to a successful Thanksgiving?

I will assume that the day is spent with family in some way. That is an essential. It's not always with extended family, but it has always, ever since I can remember, involved family. So that is a given. I found out yesterday that football is not essential. But there were some menu items that can not be avoided for the proper celebration of Thanksgiving in my mind. Here are some of the items:

1. Pumpkin Pie: I love pumpkin pie with spray whipped cream. It has to be there!

2. Sweet Potato Casserole: This is not the marshmallow topped atrocity. It is the one with a double topping of crushed pecans, brown sugar, and butter. Lots of butter! Yes this is a southern dish, and corners can not be cut to make it more "healthy."

3. Canned Cranberry Sauce: It was on the table every Thanksgiving I can remember growing up, which makes necessary.

4. Sauerkraut: Now this one takes some explaining. Melanie's grandmother always had this on the table, and one year as we were engaged in our gluttonous feast, the question was asked. "Why do we always have sauerkraut?" To which she replied without any hesitation, "Because it makes you sexy!" If it wasn't officially established before then, that comment made it a requirement.

Well, those are the wins for our family. We may develop more over the years and, Tyler and Megan, you will probably have your own. Tell me when you have one of your own. If you know what they are, you can prevent, at least some, disappointment with the holiday.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving Resolutions

Well, I am getting a head start on the new year with a few resolutions that I have already been working on but are being built into my whole life. Here goes:

1. I resolve to write. I have explained this in a past blog entry but suffice it to say I want to leave a written picture and profile for my children and future generations of their heritage in my words.

2. I resolve to learn and live the Word. Aside from my calling to pastoral ministry there is an even greater call to be the living stone mentioned in 1 Peter 2:1-12.

3. I resolve to preach the Word. My calling as a pastor is to preach the Word not psychology, popular opinion, or the gospel according to Disney.

4. I resolve to learn church history. This has become even more important since taking a position leading a non-denominational church. I need to know and teach where we have come from and how we have developed theologically and Biblically. The church has too many people leading out of passion and ignorance alone. I don't want to be one of them.

5. I resolve to read. Maybe this is assumed from some of the previous resolutions, but it still needs to be stated.

6. I resolve to lead my family. Deuteronomy 6:4-9

7. I resolve to make disciples of Jesus. This is confession, repentance, and resolve that the unintended result of intentional discipleship has been that disciples of Lance have been made. This should not be. The only one worth following is Jesus.

8. I resolve to play Yahtzee. These have been too serious so far and the mood needs to be lightened. The best game ever is Yahtzee, and I play it at least 10 times a day on my phone.

9. I resolve to develop my grasp and understanding of Christian Theology.

10. I resolve to kill an elk! This comes from my desire to feed my family the most lean and delicious meat in the world, not to mention the whole kill and eat thing:)

Happy Thanksgiving!!

Monday, September 26, 2011

New Title and New Direction

Maybe you saw a few months back that I resolved to write. Well, today is the day I will jump back in the game here. I am writing another blog for church which is largely based around my study for sermons, but here is where I will lay my life out more experiencially and emotionally rather than expositionally. My resolution to write came as I read the resolutions of Jonathon Edwards. The reason I feel the need to write is mostly for my kids and family. What a great way to vomit existential information that they may never experience with me, or it could be a great way to track memories of a journey shared. These entries will be wayoints in my journey, just as they have been thus far. They are not a final answer or declaration of what is as the previous title, iManifesto, suggested, but they are just check points along the way where anyone who reads this can see the real me. I might unpack the past or dream about the future. I may brag about some accomplishment or whine for a while. But all in all I hope my kids will come away with something they can use to understand me, remember me, and understand themselves (since the apple doesn't fall far from the tree). And maybe you can be entertained by a guy who is stumbling through the dark as he follows the Light.

Oh and the new name is a reach back for me as I was a church planter of WayPoint Church in O'Fallon, MO for five years. The name was meaningful then and it is still meaningful now to me and hopefully to all who experienced the church. Until the next check in....