pecaspers: a Blog in transition

October 12, 2013

Competing Desires

Earlier today my three year old son Peter threw an epic fit that made me a little later to a meeting to which I was headed. Even after I left, in part because I left, the tantrum train kept rolling right along for a while longer.

Why was Peter having a grade-A melt down? It was because he doesn’t have a steam roller, obviously.

That’s not quite right. It was because he has a monster truck instead of a steam roller.

I can see this isn’t making sense to you. Some background is in order.

Peter is a big Bob the Builder fan. Bob has a team of anthropomorphic construction equipment; one of whom is a steam roller named Rolly. Peter has a wide assortment of construction equipment toys. It doesn’t matter to him that only a couple of them are actually Bob the Builder toys, any kind of machine featured on the show is called by that character’s name. Peter doesn’t have a Rolly, nor does he have a suitable stand-in.

For his recent birthday, Peter got some “monies.” Yesterday, Peter and Mommy pulled a dollar and change (got to learn about taxes early) out of Peter’s froggy bank with the expressed purpose of buying a steam roller from Dollar Tree. However, Peter decided in Dollar Tree that he wanted a monster truck instead.

Peter wanted a Rolly, but he bought a monster truck instead by his own free choice.

Back to today’s fit. “I want a Rolly!”
“Peter, you don’t have a Rolly. You bought the monster truck, remember?”
“I don’t want that monster truck! I want a Rolly!”
And so on.

There’s a sermon illustration in there somewhere.

He had a desire for a good thing. He had the resources to achieve his desire. Yet because he wasn’t focused, he ended up with something other than his primary desire, and he regretted that decision when the weight of that first desire settled back in.

There’s all sorts of things this little tale might illustrate.

In this moment, the best tie in that comes to mind is to Colossians 3. Paul tells us to set our minds on Christ and his Kingdom rather than on this world, our flesh, and our struggles with each.

He leads off with a conditional statement: “If … you have been raised with Christ.” Have you? If you have, then we are to put to death what is dead and live the life which Christ raised us into. Go read Colossians 3 (especially 1-17), it’s right there in the Scriptures. You were dead, you died to death in Christ, you are now alive to live in Christ…if you have, in fact, been raised with Him.

Peter should have looked at that monster truck and declared it dead, not worth his time, attention, or resources. He should have focused on what would bring him more “joy” (to misuse the term for effect) later. He should have stood firm on his desire to bring his collection of construction equipment to completion. He chose what looked shiny and fun in the moment instead, and he suffered great emotional turmoil for it later, and he still had no Rolly in spite of all his screaming and crying.

Where are you caving in to earthly desires rather than staying focused on Christ and those things that will lead you to greater spiritual maturity, to fuller obedience to His will, and to greater experience of His blessings–whatever form they may take?

To be honest, a number of things come to my mind in my life. Will you be honest, too?

[Truth in all things: The end of this post was written weeks after the beginning of it. Peter does have a steam roller now. He also chose not to get a certain toy from another show the other day so that he could look for one that was the same character but had more moving parts. Growth is possible.]

August 21, 2013

Old Habits Die Hard

I just got back to my house after being away for a couple of nights. I checked the mail, turned the air conditioner back down, and eyeballed my garden. You know, the usual things.

Then something strange happened. This sense that I needed to check the answering machine hit me. (Pause for effect.) We don’t have an answering machine. We don’t even have a landline telephone. We haven’t had one for years. I might be wrong about this, but I’m pretty sure we’ve never had one in this house. Nevertheless from somewhere in my past, there is still some connection in my brain that says I’m supposed to check the answering machine when I get home after being away.

There’s a sermon illustration in there somewhere.

Without trying to exhaustively cite passages of Scripture, this is the kind of thing Paul and other New Testament writers are talking about when they instruct us to live according to who we are now in Christ and not live according to our old life of slavery to sin. In Colossians 3, Paul talks about putting off the old man and putting on Christ. John talks in his fisrt and second letters about walking in light and not in darkness. James has a few things to say about our works displaying our living faith. I’m sure there are many other examples.

Now, it’s not sin for me to feel like I need to check an answering machine I don’t have. Come on, this is an illustration. I had a pattern in my life. There was a time when checking the answering machine is something I did daily, even multiple times daily. And then my life changed; we got rid of the landline and the answering machine obviously went away as well. It would be very strange to keep an answering machine without a phone line and stranger still to check it. Checking the answering machine is just not part of my new life. The very thing that makes an answering machine useful, a phone line, is no longer a functioning reality in my home.

That’s how it ought to be for Christians and their sin. God in His goodness came to live and die and rise again so that we could be counted dead to sin and alive to God in Christ. Because we have been cut off from sin and sin from us, then we ought to no longer live as though our slavery to sin were still a functioning reality. We should live freely out of the new creation Christ has brought about in us.

Old habits die hard. We spent years living according to our slave-master Sin’s wishes. We did what sin told us to do, and we enjoyed it a large amount of the time. Yes, we have been changed. Yes, our nature is new and our standing before God is established as righteous. However, we still carry the memories, personality, preferences, etc. that we’ve been developing in our life of sin.

The landline is cut off, but we’re still all toting around answering machines. Through community with fellow believers, accountably, spiritual disciplines, and other means, the Holy Spirit aides and allows us to put the old life behind us and to live increasingly in light of the present reality of His presence in us and our new identity in Christ. We must always be careful though. We still live in these same fleshy bodies. You never know when you might find yourself in a situation that feels like one you have been in before, and it’s possible to respond based on an old habit instead of the present reality.

You will be happy to know that I didn’t go looking for my old answering machine to check it… That’s because I got rid of it years ago. Is there any paraphernalia (physical or metaphorical) of your old life that you need to get rid of so that you are less likely to fall back into an old habit?

April 15, 2013

We Have a Crap Problem

We have a crap problem at our house. Stay with me; I’m going somewhere with this.

My son is potty training. While he’s pretty good about going pee-pee, the poor kid struggles to go poop. He holds on to it for too long then dances around on his tip-toes saying “oh dear, oh dear.” If you ask if he needs to poop, then he’ll tell you that he just needs to pee-pee. But of course, that’s not the solution to his problem. Eventually, he’ll either poop in his pants, or we’ll sit him on the potty and enter into a battle of wills to keep him there until he just can’t hold it anymore. Then we celebrate. “Look! I put my poops in the potty!” “Good job!” …as if he hadn’t been fighting his need to poop for hours or days.

It’s extremely frustrating, potty training that is, from a parental perspective. I’m sure it’s emotionally hard on my wife to sit watching her son in pain knowing that she could just tell him it was O.K. to go in his pants. However, she had a preschooler in her class once who would ask for a diaper to poop in for years after he had mastered the other side of potty-training, and she doesn’t want that for us.

As a man, I like to fix things. So as a father, I want to fix his problem, but I can neither physically force him to poop nor go for him. I have also had no success at commanding him to poop or threatening to punish him for not going when I can clearly see he’s struggling to hold it in. (Don’t call DHR. If you have been through it as a parent, you know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, then one day you will.) We are trying to train him in how to deal with his bodily waste in a healthy way, but he wants to keep it inside and deny that there is any need to let it go.

The poor boy gave me a new line the other day while he was sitting on the potty after about ten minutes solid of stumbling around on tip-toes trying to put together a puzzle rather unsuccessfully due to his decreased ability to focus his motor skills. I said to him, “Just let your poops go. You’ll feel so much better.” And he looked at me and said, “I don’t know how!”

Now, he does know how. This isn’t the first time we’ve put him on the potty, and it’s certainly not the first bowel movement he’s ever had. Here’s where this article will take it’s turn.

Isn’t this exactly what we (include yourself if you are a Christian) put our Heavenly Father through? In so many ways, isn’t he trying to show us how to get the crap out of our lives so we can stay focused on enjoying Him and enjoying doing the good work He has set us apart to do?

The apostle Paul wrote this to the Philippian church after having described his own Jewish, self-righteous pedigree:

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— (Philippians 3:7-9 ESV)

The word translated as “rubbish” is a light vulgarity. Depending on your generation and geography, it’s roughly equivalent to crap or the “s-word.” If you are walking barefoot in the grass and squish down into a warm pile of dog feces, what word do you use? That’s the way you should read this text.

Paul says all the things that he once thought were so important are really “rubbish.” It’s not that this stuff is worthless, rather it’s that it has negative value. Paul is saying that he considers himself worse off because of all the things he might be tempted to find some significance or value in.

You have seen that show Hoardes, right? They try to help people who have amassed so much useless stuff that it is litterally (see what I did there) a danger to their physical health and has usually caused relational breakdown with family and friends. That’s what Paul says we are, spiritual hoarders.

Paul wants us to recognize that life–real, good, glorious, wholesome, true, beautiful, eternal life–is hindered by all the mess we falsely think has worth.

We are children of God who do not know what to do with our feces. We need to poop, we’re crying out, we’re distracted, we aren’t able to enjoy being with our Father and family,
but we won’t admit to ourselves that letting it go is as simple as it sounds.

And it makes me realize how frustrated God must be with me at times. And it makes me think about how good a Father He is that he doesn’t just grab me and squeeze. And it makes me wonder why we dance around and try to stay busy ignoring what we’re in desperate need of expelling. And it makes me stop and consider what I might be missing out on in God’s Kingdom because of the earthly things I cling to for support.

We have a crap problem.

Let’s remember, too, going potty isn’t a one time thing. I have to take the trash out of my house every day or two and to the curb once a week. You may rid yourself of rubbish today only to find there is more to be rid of tomorrow. It’s only natural.

Praise God, however, because there is a day coming when the King will renew everything and all the broken things that bring junk into our lives will be set right. There is no “rubbish” in God’s house.

Until then, learn from the Father how to get rid of the waste in your life. Don’t be like my son. Just let it go. You’ll feel so much better, and you’ll make Daddy proud. He loves to see his children mature and succeed.

September 12, 2012

Tallassee Ministerial Alliance – Prayer for Our Enemies

Filed under: Culture,Ministry,Politics — pecaspers @ 12:53 PM
Tags: , , , , , ,

On September 11, 2012, the Tallassee Ministerial Alliance and members of our community gathered to pray as we remembered the tragedy of eleven years before. I had the honor of leading the prayer for our enemies. As acts of terror and warfare still fill global headlines, please pray along with those who gathered that day. We prayed:

Our Father in heaven, You are the mighty Maker of heaven and earth. You scattered the nations at Babel, and you called out Abraham to make a nation of his descendants and to bless all the nations of the world through his Seed.

God, in Christ, You became that Seed of Abraham, and by your perfect life, death, and resurrection you became the ultimate Blessing to all nations–the Way to a restored relationship with You for all mankind, for anyone who will repent and believe.

We confess that our hearts do not always reflect Your heart. I’m sure some of us here today have sinned against you by things we’ve done or said against people who consider themselves enemies of the United States of America. We do pray that You would cause any attempt to attack our homeland to fail. We do pray that you would bring an end to the governments and organizations who seek to destroy both Americans and the United States of America herself.

But God, help us to always remember that this country is not our home, that the United States of America is not the Kingdom of God. Those who crashed planes into symbols of our national pride and identity are under your wrath–I am sure–but they are there because they sinned against You, not us.

Forgive us for any time we have wished death or suffering on men and women created in your image. Forgive us for thinking that we are somehow superior for being born in this country and not the Middle East, Northern Africa, or somewhere else. Forgive us for every failure to extend hospitality, kindness, friendship, and especially the gospel to Muslims, or to those we assumed were Muslim, or to anyone else we considered “not one of us.”

Father, by Your grace and through the power of the Holy Spirit, break our hearts for our enemies. So, standing before You based only on Your goodness and the faith in Christ we have by Your grace, we pray for our enemies as you taught us to.

We ask for your gospel–the good news of salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone–to spread like wildfire across the Middle East, Northern Africa, and Central and South Asia.

We ask for You to call out missionaries from our churches to take the gospel to those who have no access to it.

We ask for you to continue to reveal yourself to Muslims through visions and dreams. We ask that you would change the hearts of American Christians so that our own churches would be welcoming to the millions of people who come from nations without the gospel, that we would share with them Your goodness and love, that they would see how their sin has separated them from You, that we would explain clearly how in Jesus Christ You gave the answer to our problem, and that people from all over the world might repent and believe and join the fellowship of our churches. Oh that our churches would look more like people from every nation, tribe, and tongue gathered around your throne and less like country clubs and family reunions.

We ask for you to raise up leaders from our churches to start new churches here in America, especially in the major cities where the nations have come to us.

We ask that you would bring to salvation would-be terrorists so that their fervor could overflow to eternal life for many just like you did with the Apostle Paul.

Your will be done. Your Kingdom come. Forgive us our failures. Use us for Your glory. We pray these things in the Name of Christ and for His glory among the nations…even ours…even our enemies. Amen.

September 11, 2011

9/11 for the Tallassee Tribune

It’s Sunday night, September 11, 2011 as I write. It’s Tuesday or later when you’re reading it. It was Tuesday on September 11 ten years ago. I don’t know what the Tallassee Tribune had in it that day; I wasn’t a Tallassee resident back then. I was a student at Auburn University, and I remember that day in more detail than any other day in my life. It’s safe to say that you probably remember that day with graphic clarity as well. My facebook feed attests to this as it is currently populated by memories, pledges to never forget, and references to that day which changed this nation forever in many ways. Back then, there was no facebook, no Twitter, and texting hadn’t truly gone mainstream. In 2001, most of us still got our up-to-the-minute news from old-fashioned T.V. and radio.

Among the teens I know, they don’t remember much. They were in second grade or younger, but even they knew something big was happening. Many of my peers’ accounts follow this pattern: I was in class when somebody told us that planes had flown into the World Trade Center. Some classes were canceled, some were held in defiance of the terrorists’ intention to disrupt our lives, but Auburn University gave everybody a free pass to skip class if they chose as I recall. I was in the Auburn University Marching Band then; that was the only class I went to that day. Almost all of us came, but no one seemed to know what to say when we got there. We began practice by playing the national anthem, and then we rehearsed because we had to be ready for pre-game and half-time on Saturday.

Everyone everywhere seemed to be struggling with the dual realities that things were never going to be the same, but things had to get back to normal even if it was a “new normal.” In the wake of 9/11, people flooded into churches. People wanted hope, comfort, to mourn, maybe just to not be alone. Whatever the case, they came. Some were coming back, others for the first time. Some thought 9/11 was going to propel us into an awakening of the gospel across our land. That’s not what happened.

Part of that “new normal” was the same spiritual complacency that we had before. The people who had run to the Church for various reasons, all left for one reason, the same reason that people usually leave the Church. They didn’t know God. They came to a church to meet some need–maybe it was met, maybe it wasn’t–but eventually they stopped coming because nothing held them there. That is a far greater tragedy. People came into our churches and did not hear the life-changing gospel and were not everlastingly introduced to the one true and living God. Equally condemning is that many people have come to our churches for years because some need is being met other than their need for a saving relationship with the Creator.

The reason any Christian church exists is to make disciples of Jesus Christ by baptizing them in His name and teaching them to obey everything He commanded, which includes that they themselves are to make disciples (Matthew 28:19). That is our purpose, and we might as well close our doors if reproducing disciples are not being made no matter whatever lesser good we might be doing. On the 100th anniversary of 9/11, all those people who poured into our churches will be dead. It won’t matter what we did for them if we did not simultaneously introduce them to Christ. A man who turned to the church and found momentary comfort but did not repent and believe will be no better off than one who turned to alcohol.

———-Above Is the First Draft, Below Is the Draft I Submitted———-

It’s Sunday night, September 11, 2011 as I write. It’s Tuesday or later as you read. It was Tuesday on September 11 ten years ago. I don’t know what was in the Tallassee Tribune that day; I wasn’t a Tallassee resident back then. I was a student at Auburn University, and I remember that day in more detail than any other day in my life. You probably remember that day with graphic clarity as well. My facebook feed attests to this; it is currently populated by memories, pledges to never forget, and references to that day which changed this nation forever in so many ways. Back then, there was no facebook, no Twitter, and texting hadn’t truly gone mainstream. In 2001, most of us still got our up-to-the-minute news from old-fashioned T.V. and radio. We stayed fixed on them for days because we didn’t know what else to do.

In the wake of 9/11, churches were flooded. People wanted hope, comfort, to mourn, maybe just to not be alone. Whatever the case, they came. Some were coming back, others for the first time. Many thought 9/11 was going to propel us into an awakening of the gospel across our land. It did not. Part of the “new normal” was the same spiritual complacency from before. The people who’d run to the Church for various reasons all left for one reason, the reason people usually leave the Church. They didn’t know God.

They came to church to meet some need–maybe it was met, maybe it wasn’t–but eventually they stopped coming because nothing held them there. That is a far greater tragedy. People came into our churches and did not hear the life-changing gospel and were not everlastingly introduced to the one true and living God. Equally condemning is that people have come to our churches for years because we meet a need other than their need for a saving relationship with the Creator, and too many of us are OK with that.

The reason any Christian church exists is to make disciples of Jesus Christ by baptizing them in His name and teaching them to obey everything He commanded, which includes that they themselves are to make disciples (Matthew 28:19). That is our purpose, and we might as well close our doors if reproducing disciples are not being made no matter whatever lesser good we might be doing. On the 100th anniversary of 9/11, all those people who poured into our churches will be dead. It won’t matter what we did for them if we did not simultaneously introduce them to Christ. A man who turned to the church and found momentary comfort but did not repent and believe will be in hell with everyone else who did not.

There’s plenty of retrospection going on, and rightly so. But we in the church need to look forward and to look to Christ and His purposes. We sing, “This is my Father’s world, o let me ne’er forget that though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.” ‎Greg Key, a youth pastor friend of mine posted this on his facebook wall: “We are no closer to Jesus now than we were 10 years ago.” I fear he is right. But what will you do about it?

July 30, 2009

Response to “See the Show, Be the Show” on pluggedinonline.com

Filed under: Responses to Articles — pecaspers @ 4:06 PM
Tags: , ,

Find the article I’m responding to at http://www.pluggedinonline.com/read/read/a0004658.cfm

Adam R. Holz states,

“Most of the scientists involved in this research would say that airtight cause-and-effect relationships are notoriously difficult to prove because the mere correlation of two things doesn’t scientifically prove causation. After making that disclaimer, however, the same researchers would have no problem saying that there’s a strong link between the entertainment people consume and the choices they make, especially in the case of young people.”

Let me suggest a bit of an alternative. People most likely to engage in a certain behavior, are most likely to be entertained by that behavior. The results being:

Sex:
Students who are having sex by age 16 are going to be the ones who will also be consuming a lot of sexualized content in movies, television, and music.
Their peers who are more restrained (or even just restricted) in their sexuality are also not going to find sexual humor and/or acts to be appropriate forms of entertainment.

Violence:
Again, flip the assumption of causation around and it makes a safer bet that violent people expose themselves to more violent electronic media because they like violence.

Smoking:
I’ve got to say, this one I’m pretty much on board with. I’m a big fan of old movies…like really old, 1940s, ’50s, and ’60s stuff. I’ve sat there watching Jimmy Stewart or Cary Grant smoking a cigarette and thought to myself, “Man, that’s got to be the coolest thing in the world. Why don’t I smoke?” And you think I’m being sarcastic, but I’m not. I’d love to sit and smoke Marlboro Reds with Clint Eastwood until my lungs turn black if it meant that my voice would be as gravelly and awesome as his.
At the same time, we need to consider the shift of the prevalence of smoking in movies from back then up through the ’80s and those put out in the last twenty years or so. Mostly these days, it seems it’s only the bad guys who smoke. Not that that’s a true solution, Dora’s foxy nemesis rubbed off on the article’s author’s son. Still, I’m holding to it that smoking is less something everybody just does in movies now, and is more often related to the development of the characters themselves–almost universally displaying some flaw.

Now let’s look at how we can easily misread the data if we don’t understand what we’re looking at:

If it seems that not much good comes from much of the media kids consume, well, that’s exactly what researchers at the National Institutes of Health (working with Common Sense Media) concluded after examining 173 studies involving entertainment and behavior. Government researchers found that 80 percent of those studies linked media (defined as TV, movies, video games, music, the Internet and magazines) to adverse outcomes among children, including obesity, sex, smoking, drug and alcohol use, attention problems and poor grades. One of the five study reviewers, Ezekiel J. Emanuel, summarized, “The research is clear that exposure to media has a variety of negative health impacts on children and teens. … We found very few studies that had any positive association [for children’s health].”

I’m constantly amazed at how educated people miss the obvious. Check this out. “…after examining 173 studies…” “…We found very few studies that had any positive association.” Duh! You can’t get grant money for studying to see if kids learn manners from watching Sesame Street. It is FAR more profitable to be against something bad than for something good. They don’t have congressional hearings on how to increase sharing among preschoolers which leads to government funded studies the way they do regarding teen smoking. It’s kind of like saying that more people like Pepsi than Kool-Aid because Pepsi beat Coke in nation-wide blind taste tests. The dataset isn’t what is required to back up the statement being made.

Beyond the Behavior
We can only act on the information we have. No abortion-minded woman ever decided to keep her child without first being confronted with the fact that there was a child to keep and not just a mass of tissue she could have surgically removed. Stories, whatever form they take, have always been a great way to put forth arguments and information in a non-threatening way that by-passes people’s defense mechanisms.
As for the upsurge in the popularity of witchcraft, kids (including teens and adults who have no better way to spend their time) like to emulate their pop-culture heroes. It just so happens (and sadly so) that playing at or reading about being a witch leads you into dark and dangerous places that doing so with cowboys, astronauts, princesses, or kid detectives likely won’t.

And to those who say, “I don’t listen to the words, I just like the beat,” I gotta say that you can find just as good a beat without the vile words. My wife likes pasta, but she doesn’t like tomato sauce. She doesn’t just eat the marinara sauce, disregarding her dislike for it; obviously, she orders alfredo, which she enjoys, instead. That “old saw” is really a cover up for, “All my friends like it, and I am asserting my independence by being just like them.”

Asking Quarrelsome Questions
There is a difference between rejecting the idea that people do bad things because they are entertained by bad things and saying that morally abhorrent entertainment is a societal good.
I’m with Skipknot’s lead singer, Corey Taylor, (and I think it is pretty theologically sound thinking from a worldly mouth) when he says “At the end of the day, there are always going to be mental disorders and people who cause violence for no other reason than the fact that they’re f—ed up and lost.” See folks, we’re born sinners. Cain didn’t need Tony Soprano to make him want to kill Abel. Hitler wanted to take over the world without ever playing Scorched Earth. Men and women are completely capable of inventing all kinds of ways to be evil without any outside influence.

But don’t misread what I’m saying. Eve might not have eaten that fruit if the serpent hadn’t told her lies about it, about herself, and about God. Sometimes we DO do evil things in response to hearing, seeing, or reading about anothers evil actions. That doesn’t mean someone else caused it. See, this argument of causation is based on another cultural lie; it’s a subtle way of mitigating our own (or someone elses) responsibility. “He was a good kid, but those video games he played corrupted him.” “She was such a sweet girl, but then she got into that rap music, and now she dresses like a video-girl, ‘hooks up’ with random guys, and disrespects her parents.” Don’t be fooled. “He” was corrupted before the video games, and “she” was depraved before the first beat was dropped.

I’m also with screenwriter Mike White when he questions the notion that Hollywood should “give life to our most demented fantasies and put them up on the big screen without any hand-wringing.” And I do wish more entertainment providers would, “before cashing those big checks, …at least pause to consider what [they] are saying with [their] movies [etc.] about the value of life and the pleasures of mayhem.” I think we’d be much better off with artists of all kinds self-filtering their work for the betterment of society. But I’m not holding my breath because most people aren’t in business (entertainment or otherwise) for the betterment of society but for the Benjamins. So, it then becomes MY responsibility to not consume soul-destroying entertainment and to confront its influence by offering myself and others something better to think about.

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