Ancient History: Mine

My sister Mary posted this old picture of our parents on her facebook page last week. My dad was in the Seabees during World War II, building airstrips, barracks, bridges and the like in the Pacific Theatre. This photo was probably taken when he was on leave, early 1945, when I was conceived. I was born in November of that year, just a month or two after the war ended. I was an original baby boomer.

My parents grew up in a different time. Growing up I heard them say things like: “When I was your age:  we didn’t have indoor toilets … we had to pump water from a well … we had to milk cows and gather eggs before breakfast … we had to walk five miles to school.”  It all sounded like ancient history to me.

Now my history is ancient, too.

How many of these can you relate to?  They were all true when I was growing up:

  1. We couldn’t drive into town for a fast food meal because there were no fast food restaurants.
  2. Mothers  who worked outside the home were considered irresponsible.
  3. TV sets were considered furniture and they were available in black and white only.
  4. And it went off the air at midnight.
  5. And there were only 3 channels.
  6. Pizza was  called “Pizza Pie.”
  7. And it wasn’t delivered to your house.
  8. But milk was.
  9. And milk bottles had little cardboard stoppers in them.
  10. Newspapers were delivered by paper boys.
  11. There were no movie ratings because all movies were more or less G-rated.
  12. But Christians still didn’t go to them because they were “worldly.”
  13. Christians didn’t go to bowling alleys either.
  14. Or to school dances.
  15. But we could buy candy cigarettes.
  16. And little bottles of Coke made out of wax.
  17. Coke machines dispensed glass bottles.
  18. Music was purchased on 45 rpm records.
  19. Roller skates had keys.
  20. There was only one phone in the house.
  21. And it was on a “party line” so you had to make sure a neighbor wasn’t using it.
  22. We saved S&H Green Stamps.
  23. Nobody ever asked “paper or plastic?”
  24. We could take toy guns to school.
  25. Ice trays were made of metal.
  26. Cameras had blue flash bulbs.
  27. Clothes were dried on a clothesline.
  28. Wash tubs had wooden rollers for rinsing clothes.

Ancient history, indeed.  One of these days your life will become ancient history too. Enjoy it now … while you can!

 

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The Eighth Deadly Sin


Pastor Carlton Harris (College Avenue Baptist Church) just completed a powerful series of sermons on the Seven Deadly Sins. One of my takeaways from the series was that the Seven Deadly Sins are particularly troublesome for Christians, for those who are inside, not outside the flock. In other words, they are the sins of the church. Truth is, they originated not from the Bible but from the church fathers, most of whom lived in monasteries with other monks. While monks weren’t likely to kill, steal, tell lies or commit adultery, they apparently struggled quite a bit with anger, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony. And I have been reminded by Pastor Carlton that I do too.

What strikes me as unique about these sins is that they are all more or less acceptable. They seem rather benign on the surface. Take anger. Who doesn’t relate to that line in Broadcast News “I’m mad as hell and not going to take it anymore!” We don’t really consider anger a sin. We think of it more as a natural and sometimes necessary response to disruptive events in our lives which deserve to be called out. Anger doesn’t need forgiveness, it needs management.

But why stop at seven? Seems to me there are other sins which produce just as many sinister consequences as the classic list of seven. Some have suggested these:

  • Fear
  • Intolerance
  • Hypocrisy
  • Anxiety
  • Exploitation
  • Stupidity
  • Procrastination
  • Chocolate
  • Leaving the Toilet Seat Up

Personally, I’d like to nominate Busyness as the Eighth Deadly Sin. It’s one that I deal with every day and I hate to say it, but I’m somewhat addicted to busyness. I don’t like being NOT busy. I really don’t know what I would do with myself if I weren’t busy. I like doing things, creating things, solving things, running things, um, writing things. I sometimes brag to people that I am not retired. “But you’re getting up there in years, aren’t you?” they think to themselves. “Well, it’s not biblical to retire,” I assure them as if I’m not being sinful but obedient.

Busyness is a sin, no question. Certainly the consequences of busyness are pretty much the same as the other seven. When you’re too busy you experience anxiety, shame, aloneness, guilt, broken relationships including one’s relationship with God. Maybe Busyness didn’t make the original list of seven because monks by definition lived a disciplined, unhurried life. They didn’t deal with the demands of modern life that we have to contend with in today’s fast-paced world. Well, the probably did, in their own medieval kind of way. But apparently they didn’t see any real harm in it.

My old pal Jim Burns is fond of saying “If the Devil can’t make you bad, he’ll make you busy.” That sure sounds like a sin to me. Busyness is a sin for which we need forgiveness, healing and the power of Christ to overcome. I myself have been way too busy these last two years while serving on a church staff. The problem for me is that most people don’t see my busyness as a sin at all. They simply cheer me on and admire all that I’m doing for the Kingdom. This is not their fault or the church’s fault. I was already busy when I accepted the call to CABC. I had plenty to do even without the ministry that God called me to do at the church. Fortunately our senior pastor is one who knows the danger of busyness and has urged me to be very careful with my schedule, to set limits and priorities on my time, to erect fences around my soul so that the Devil won’t gain a foothold. I have found it hard to follow his advice (it is so counterintuitive to me) but I am taking steps … slowly but surely … to un-busy myself. I want more than anything to be fruitful for God and to please him in all that I say and do but I can’t do that if I’m just too busy.

How about you?

 

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Facebook and the Seven Deadly Sins

Once a month, I write a short article for “CABC Parents,” an e-newsletter for parents at College Avenue Baptist Church. Here’s the latest:

The Danish philosopher and theologian Soren Kierkegaard wrote a story about a group of very clever burglars who broke into a jewelry store one night. Rather than stealing anything, they switched the price tags so that items that were previously expensive became cheap and those that were cheap became expensive. No one noticed when the burglars came into the store the next day and purchased the items they wanted at a steal of a price!

I am reminded of this story when I listen to Pastor Carlton teach on “Killing the Seven Deadly Sins” (current sermon series).  It’s safe to say that the seven deadly sins have today morphed into the seven deadly virtues. Could it be that someone has switched some price tags?

When I log on to Facebook or Twitter, for example, my tendency to be full of myself (pride) is not only affirmed but celebrated (not to mention my sloth). I turn on the TV and see a hamburger chain commercial where my lust is not only prompted but encouraged (not to mention my gluttony). I turn to a reality TV show where greed is rewarded, making me feel envious which of course leads to anger! Yikes! This is what our children are being exposed to every single day! What’s a parent to do?

Let me encourage you first to take care of yourself. Guard your heart. Spend time in God’s Word and pray daily. Kill the seven deadly sins in your own life. As you know, we lead children primarily by example.

Secondly, bring your family to church for worship each Sunday, especially during the month of May. After the service is over, talk with them about what they saw, heard and experienced. Teach them how to recognize sin for what it is, how to know right from wrong, how to think Christianly in every situation. You can give your children the tools they need to be able to faithfully follow Jesus in a world of switched price tags.

Please know that we are here to help and encourage you in your holy calling as a parent. Let us know how we can support and serve you and your family. Springtime is here and we pray that your home is filled with Easter joy. May you take take advantage of the many opportunities we have to worship and serve our risen Lord!

 

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Mary Rice Hopkins @ CABC on April 21

I’m very excited that my sister Mary (along with her puppet partner Darcie Maze) is coming to San Diego to do a concert at the church where I now serve as Pastor to Generations, College Avenue Baptist Church. The concert is on Saturday, April 21 at 4 PM and it will benefit the College Area Pregnancy Services, which is supported by our church for its good work helping expectant mothers have successful deliveries.

If you are in the San Diego area, come to the concert (it’s free; an offering will be taken) and bring some kids. The address is 4747 College Avenue Baptist Church and the concert will be in the family center (gym). It should be a fun day. Here’s a video clip trailer for Mary’s new TV show.

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It’s Friday, but …

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Honoring Earl Scruggs

I’ve been playing the banjo now for … let’s see, that would be 46 years … the same number of years I’ve been married. Yep, I bought my first banjo on my honeymoon. It was a Harmony banjo, made of plastic, which I bought at a pawn shop in L.A. We were on our way to Palm Springs (from Ventura County, where we were living at the time) and as I recall, Marci was OK with me buying the banjo with some of the money we were given at our wedding. We both were singing in a folk trio at the time called the Accidents (patterned somewhat after Peter, Paul and Mary) and we figured a banjo would be a nice addition if I could learn to play it.

Me and Earl at the IBMA Awards Show (1997)

And I did for the most part. Like most banjo players, I learned to play by listening to Earl Scruggs. There were other banjo players (Doug Dillard was one of my favorites) but as I soon found out, they all learned from Earl.

Earl passed away last week at the age of 88 and he was still making music well into his ninth decade of life. He won a Grammy award for best country instrumental performance at age 78.

HIs memorial service was held last Sunday afternoon at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, home of the Grand Ole Opry for so many years. I listened to a broadcast of it on the web and it was very moving. It’s amazing how many people were there to pay tribute.

If you would like to listen to my radio show honoring Earl Scuggs, you can listen online at www.kson.com/bluegrass.

Slacker Radio also asked me to program an Earl Scruggs tribute station and it is now available for listening at http://www.slacker.com/station/earl-scruggs-tribute.

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Intergenerational Mission Trips @ CABC

One of the great things I get to do at College Avenue Baptist Church is to plan and promote intergenerational short-term mission trips. Here’s a video we showed in church this past week:

 

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The Morning Prayer of John R.W. Stott

I recently finished Roger Steer’s biography of the late Anglican pastor and renowned author John R.W. Stott titled Basic Christian. Thank you InterVarsity Press for sending this book to me during the Christmas season. What an amazing, full and exemplary life was lived by this giant of the evangelical faith. I have read several of his books over the years, most notably his The Cross of Christ (several times) which I learned in this biography was the book he considered his greatest work. But I regret that I never had a chance to hear him speak nor to learn more about his private and public life. I am especially intrigued that he was an avid birdwatcher and always took time to enjoy his hobby all over the world and sometimes at great personal expense and risk. This encourages me somewhat as I also have some obsessions (like bluegrass music) which is sometimes hard to explain to people in ministry circles. I have often suggested that people who do ministry should take up a hobby, an “other life,” a passion outside of ministry that is healthy, invigorating, fun and irrational. I’ve discovered that pastors and ministry leaders who do not have such an “other life” often become full of themselves and are more likely to burn out or fall into an other life which is more often than not self-destructive.

One big take-away for me from this book about Rev. Stott (and there are many) is his morning prayer which Steer reprints and notes that John prayed it daily. “Each morning (usually before five a.m.) John swung his legs over the side of his bed and before placing a foot on the ground started the day (whenever possible) with this Trinitarian prayer.”

“Good morning heavenly Father, good morning Lord Jesus, good morning Holy Spirit. Heavenly Father I worship you as the creator and sustainer of the universe. Lord Jesus I worship you, Savior and Lord of the world. Holy Spirit I worship you, sanctifier of the people of God. Glory to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. Heavenly Father I pray that I may live this day in your presence and please you more and more. Lord Jesus, I pray that this day I may take up my cross and follow you. Holy spirit, I pray that this day you will fill me with yourself and cause your fruit to ripen in my life: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Holy, blessed and glorious Trinity, three persons in one God, have mercy upon me, Amen.”

I want to make this prayer mine also. And I want to go back and read more of Stott’s books now that I know more about the man. I am at an age when I am seeking out contemporary mentors–dead or alive–who lived their lives completely dedicated to God with immense integrity all the way to the end of their lives. I have found one such mentor in the life and ministry of John R.W. Stott.

 

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Gospel Reading

The December 2011 issue of Christianity Today featured an article by Anthony Baker, a theology professor at the Seminary of the Southwest titled “Learning to Read the Gospel Again” with the subtitle “How to address our anxiety about losing the next generation.” Losing the next generation (or expressed positively—hanging on to the next generation) is a topic I’ve been thinking a lot about lately in my role as Pastor to Generations at College Avenue Baptist Church. Like many churches, we are doing our best to stop the bleeding of young people leaving the church in record numbers.

Professor Baker makes a strong case in this article that the only thing capable of holding young people to their faith is the Gospel itself. He quotes the venerable theologian Stanley Hauerwas who made this comment about the emergent church movement which of course targets younger generations: “The future of the church is not found in things like this; the future is in doing the same thing Sunday after Sunday.” The “same thing” Hauerwas is referring to here is not the same failures of acculturation, but rather the continual proclamation of the good news, the Gospel about Jesus Christ, and “attending to the various classical practices that form people’s lives within the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ … The future of the church is found in doing this week in and week out, Sunday after Sunday, come rain, drought, hell or high water.”

Baker notes that one doesn’t have to look far to find churches where the “same thing” is a thing of the past and he suggests that youth & children’s ministries today are particularly prone to skipping over the gospel message in favor of more relevant fare.

For the kids, the situation is especially dire. Summer camps feature Jesus on a surfboard, or perhaps in safari gear, while Sunday morning classes tend to specialize in low-quality group counseling sessions. What we offer is anything but the simple gospel that ‘God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ’ (2 Cor. 5:19). On good days the children humor us by pretending to enjoy themselves, all the time wondering when they get to do something more fun.

Quoting a memorable line from Kenda Creasy Dean and Ron Foster, he continues: “Young people look to the church to show them something, someone, capable of turning their lives inside out and the world upside down. Most of the time, we have offered them pizza.”

What Baker is suggesting is not that we stop using age-appropriate methods of reaching and teaching our young people, but that we consistently offer our kids a fresh and inspiring look at Jesus as revealed to us in the Scriptures. He continues,

“Of course what Matthew Mark, Luke and John offer us is a story, but not just a story. It’s also the linguistic vessel through which we encounter the loving, creating and saving God. The central character in this narrative loves us back. After asking, ‘Do you love what you are reading?’ the Christian educator ought to be able to add, ‘And are you loved by what you are reading?’… Imagine a church in which children and adults of all ages, races and classes were bound together by their common love for the words of the Gospel. If Christians can learn, week after week, to read the story of Jesus of Nazareth—to love what we read, to be loved by what we read—then surely the future of the church would look a bit more hopeful.”

I also read a new book last month by professor Scot McKnight (North Park University) titled The King Jesus Gospel which has greatly enlarged my understanding of what the Gospel is all about. McKnight begins at the beginning of the book by asking the reader to write down on a piece of paper an answer to the question “What is the Gospel?” I played along and wrote something like this: “The Gospel is the good news that Jesus died on the cross for our sins, was buried and then rose again on the third day.” I based my explanation of the Gospel on Paul’s summary in 1 Corinthians 15:3.

As it turns out, I wasn’t too far off. McKnight in fact bases much of his book on the same verse in 1 Corinthians. But he takes issue with evangelicals who summarize the Gospel more in terms of a formula for salvation: “Christ died on the cross for your sins. If you will repent, believe and receive Christ as your personal Savior, you will be saved.” I have to admit, I have presented the Gospel that way many times.

But McKnight’s view is that such a formula is not the Gospel but “the plan of salvation.” It is, of course, an important part of the Gospel, but it’s not the Gospel. When we reduce the Gospel to the plan of salvation, writes McKnight, we tend to make the Gospel more about us and what we do than about Jesus and what he has done. The Gospel is not our story, writes McKnight, but instead it is the story of God, the story of Jesus, how he came as the Messiah of Israel, lived, died, rose again, ascended into heaven and is coming back again to rule over his Kingdom forever and ever. That’s the good news (Gospel) about which all of the four evangelists wrote and which is contained in their four accounts which are appropriately named “The Gospel (according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John).” This is also the Gospel which Paul proclaimed in 1 Corinthians 15: 1-5: “Now brothers and sisters I want to remind you of the Gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this Gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the twelve.” McKnight asserts that these four crucial events in the life of Jesus Christ are the concern and the primary message of the biblical evangelists, not the “four spiritual laws” which are the concern and primary message of evangelical Chrisitanity today. The Gospel as a system of personal salvation is an incomplete Gospel, says McKnight, and is ultimately self-centered.

We are tempted to turn the story of what God is doing in this world through Israel and Jesus Christ into a story about me and my personal salvation. In other words, the plan has a way of cutting the story about God and God’s Messiah and God’s people into a story about God and one person—me—and in this the story shifts from Christ and community to individualism. We need the latter without cutting off the former.

What McKnight is saying is that the Gospel is more than what can be communicated in four bullet points. It is even more than what happened on the Cross. It is the whole story of God’s redemptive plan, from the creation story to the coming of the Messiah to the final consummation of human history when Jesus reigns forever as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

The story is told of author and professor Robert Webber’s (Wheaton College) encounter with a student who asked him to explain the Gospel. He replied, “Do you have an hour?” McKnight himself takes a stab at summarizing the Gospel in his book and his summary takes six pages. He’s not saying that it’s impossible to be concise and clear about the Gospel message by using just a few words (that’s exactly what Paul did it in 1 Corinthians 15). He’s just saying that the Gospel is the entire amazing story of Jesus as Messiah, Savior, Lord and King as told in the context of God’s amazing plan to redeem all of humankind.

I remember reading a book years ago by Paul Little called Your God Is Too Small. McKnight’s book has made me think that mayber our Gospel has become too small. I agree with Baker that the Gospel, the good news about Jesus, is big enough, awesome enough and certainly powerful enough to capture the hearts of our young people and keep them connected to Christ and the church. If the Gospel is something that we want our children and young people to believe and trust for a lifetime, then we must take the time, week after week, to teach it to them.

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Ten Years of Joy

Today I am celebrating ten years since my wife Marci’s brain surgery. It was in 2001 that she was diagnosed with a meningioma tumor in her brain which thankfully was operable. You can read the whole story about her surgery and recovery here which I posted on the web ten years ago this week.

Here’s what I posted on December 11, 2001:

Tuesday, December 11

After sending an e-mail to everyone I could think of, I headed for the hospital around 9:00. They wouldn’t let me in the CCU when I got there, so I had to wait a while until they allowed visitors in at 11:00. When I saw Marci, she still had all those tubes in her, including the respirator going down her throat, so she couldn’t talk, but when she heard my voice, her eyes opened and I saw a little smile under all those tubes. My heart leapt. When I held her hand, she squeezed mine hard. The nurse told me not to get her too excited because they were testing to make sure she could breathe on her own. They wanted to take the respirator out soon. So I just stood and watched for a while, feeling really good that she recognized me and was trying to communicate. I left the room while they finished up their testing on her.

When I came back in about an hour later, the respirator was out of her throat and she opened her eyes when I spoke again and tried to talk. It was real raspy but I heard her “Hi babe” which is what we usually call each other. I started crying again (I’ve been crying all week) but this time they were tears of joy. I said something that must have been funny because she laughed and then started coughing. Praise God for that laugh! That’s what I’ve been praying for … I just couldn’t bear not hearing her laugh again. Marci’s sister Dixie came in and cracked a joke or two and Marci laughed some more. The intensive care nurse asked in amazement, “Is she always like this?” I answered “Yes!”

I stayed with her for a good part of the afternoon, just looking at her while she slept, thinking to myself that even though her eyes are almost swollen shut, her face is all puffy, her hair is gone, she’s wrapped in bandages and has tubes galore coming out of her … she looks so beautiful to me.  I don’t want to get too sentimental here, but I think I’m falling in love with my wife all over again.  I’m just so happy that she’s doing well and that I’ll get her back.

Corey also got a chance to see her in the CCU, but Amber was not feeling well and running a slight fever, so she couldn’t go in.  Amber went on home today.  I have really appreciated having her here during this time.

I went home later in the afternoon, and we (Dixie, Corey and me) went out and got a little Chinese food.  After being home a while, I wanted to go back down to the hospital and see Marci again.  While I was there, Dr. Hardy came by to check up on her and he said she’s doing good.  He checked her vision by holding up fingers and making her count.  She got all the answers right, so he was pleased with that.  He told her that her eyes would probably continue to swell until she couldn’t open them at all, and they would turn black.  He said, “Remember what I told you … in another couple of days, you’ll look like you’ve been in a prize fight.”  She laughed again.  I told him that he was my new hero.  What an amazing thing to be able to do … to go in and take a tumor out of somebody’s head, sew it back up, and have the person laughing the next day.  Incredible.

I slept better tonight.

I am so thankful to God for the gift that he gave to me and our family of these ten years with my wife. She is still laughing and brings joy to everyone who knows her.

Ten years ago, just a day or two before Marci’s surgery, our granddaughter Maddie was born at a hospital in Orange County. We took Marci to the hospital to see Maddie the day before her surgery because we knew that it might be her only chance to see her, given the serious nature of the surgery. Our neurosurgeon had warned us that blindness, brain disabilities of various kinds, even death were possible outcomes.

Well, today as I type this, Marci and Maddie are seeing a matinee performance of “The Nutcracker” together–just the two of them. I know they are having a ball and I am so grateful

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