Archive for April through June 2006
Note: This archive contains all of my posts for this month that are not included in some other series. I really don't have the time to save things in more than one place. If you're looking for a specific item, use the "Search" button in the upper left hand corner. Thanks.
by Rev. Dr. Mark D. Roberts
Copyright © 2006 by Mark D. Roberts
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Longing for God
Posted for Sunday, April 2, 2006
|Note: During the season of Lent I have been posting exapnded versions of what I've put up on my other website, The Daily Psalm.
My soul longs, indeed it faints,
For the courts of the Lord
Daily Prayer (based on Psalm 84:2)
Nothing in life is sweeter than Your presence. Nothing gives me greater peace. Nothing fulfills me more than being with You. Nowhere else do I feel truly safe. When I'm consciously with You – for, indeed, in a sense I'm always with You because You're always with me, but when I'm aware of You – I can feel my burdens being lifted, my fears subsisding, my sins losing their charm, my love for You growing.
Thank You, dear Lord, for making Yourself known to me. Thank You for the freedom I have to draw near to You. Thank You for Your Spirit, who dwells with me. Thank You for being my Rock, my Comfort, my Peace.
Where are the Courts of God?
Have you ever wondered what it means for Christians to speak of the courts of God? If we say, "My soul longs for the courts of the Lord," what do we really mean?
||For the psalmist, these courts were literal. They were the courts of the temple in Jerusalem. Here God's people gathered. They purchased and prepared sacrifices. They worshipped, celebrating God's special presence in the temple. They would eat the rich food left over from their sacrifices, often sharing it in a glorious feast. Jews would make long and arduous pilgrimmages to the temple, especially during the holidays (like Passover). Thus the temple was a special place, signifying the specialness of God's people and His unique relationship with them.
A modern model of the temple in Jerusalem.
We do not have a literal temple where we offer sacrifices to God. And, though we may worship in church buildings, these are not the courts of the Lord for us. Rather, we experience God's presence through Jesus Christ. He is the new temple, the source of forgiveness and renewal. Thus we can approach God directly, personally, and intimately.
We also experience God's presence is the gathering of believers. In 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 Paul writes, "Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple." The context makes it clear that Paul is speaking of the gathered church -- the people of Christ -- as God's temple, in which the Spirit dwells. (Later Paul will add that the Spirit also lives within each believer; see 1 Cor 6:19).
So when we long for God's courts, we are eager to meet God in and through Jesus Christ. He is the One who has made it possible for us to approach God's throne with boldness (Hebrews 4:16). Moreover, we long for the presence of God made manifest in the gathering of believers. Here, as we worship, as we minister to each other, as we pray, love, and forgive, we experience the glorious presence of God.
How Will I Be Remembered?
Posted for Sunday, April 23, 2006
I live in a city with no cemeteries. To my knowledge, none are planned for Irvine, California. We don't like to make room for death in our fine city. In fact, we don't even want to think about it.
How different from the East Coast! In a recent trip to Washington DC and Virginia, I was impressed by how much you can't avoid thinking about death. Cemeteries are everywhere. Virtually every older church has one. And there are countless memorials to people who have died, especially in war. Driving through the lush Virginia countryside, markers for those who died in the Civil War are too many to count. And then there's Arlington Cemetery, with its myriads of white headstones, each one a reminder of death's inevitability. If you live on the East Coast and don't want to think about death, you'd have to keep your eyes closed.
The founders of our nation couldn't avoid confronting death. Before they became adults, many of their close relatives had died. Others lost members of their immediate family at an early age. Thomas Jefferson, for example, experienced the death of his young wife and five of his six children, only one of whom made it to adulthood. George Washington, of course, witnessed thousands of deaths that occurred under his command of the colonial armies during the Revolutionary War.
I wonder how such experiences shaped the consciences and characters of our founding leaders. I wonder what it gave them that we tend to lack. I wonder what it took from them that we have in abundance.
It's obvious that some of our founding fathers considered their own deaths well in advance. Thomas Jefferson, for example, determined what should be engraved upon his tombstone. So when he died, ironically enough on the fourth of July in 1826, the same day as John Adams, Jefferson was buried with the following autobiographical epitaph:
HERE WAS BURIED
AUTHOR OF THE
STATUTE OF VIRGINIA
AND FATHER OF THE
UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA
It's curious that Jefferson chose to be remembered for these things, but not for being the first Secretary of State, or the third President of the United States, or anything else more personal.
George Washington also designated his burial site at Mt. Vernon, though his family took more than three decades to construct the tomb and place his body there. The inscription on his tomb is quite basic: WITHIN THIS ENCLOSURE REST THE REMAINS OF GENL. GEORGE WASHINGTON. The tomb itself is a brick, cave-like enclosure, where Washington is buried next to his wife. On the wall behind their caskets is a sign that reads:
I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord. He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live; and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die
St. John XI 25,26.
I haven't been able to determine whether this sign was put up by the specific request of George Washington, or whether it was the work of his descendants (through his wife). At any rate, it certainly stands in contrast to the inscription on the tomb of Thomas Jefferson.
Arlington National Cemetery, with the monuments to Washington and Lincoln in the background.
From the obelisk that marks Jefferson's grave
A grave marker in the Jefferson family plot at Monticello
Martha and George Washington (on the right)
The plaque from the back wall of Washington's tomb
What would I want to be written on my grave marker? If I had to summarize the significance of my life in a few words, which words would I choose? Would I choose a Bible verse, like: "For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain" (Philippians 1:21)? Or would I try to capture the roles that matter most to me: "Christian, Husband, Father, Pastor, Teacher"? (No, I'm not planning to put "Blogger" on my headstone.)
Moreover, when I no longer walk on this earth, what do I want people to remember of me? My accomplishments? And if so, which ones? My character? My faith? My love?
I'm not prepared to answer these questions today, to tell you the truth. And I hope these reflections won't be needed for many, many years. But what I do know is that seeing as many graves as I have in the last week reminds me that I have only so long on this earth, and I want to use the time God has given me to the fullest. I want to invest in what matters most, and be remembered for these things. I'm also keenly aware of how easily I can squander my days, as if I have an infinite number.
What I do know for sure, however, is that, in the end, the fact that I know the One who said "I am the resurrection and the life" matters more than all my accomplishments a hundred times over. And I'm also convinced that my life will be truly fruitful only as I remain connected to Him each day.
Great is the Lord, and Greatly to Be Praised
Posted for Sunday, May 7, 2006
|Psalm 96:4 reads:
For great is the LORD, and greatly to
he is to be revered above all gods.
The following is a prayer I wrote in response to this verse. It appears as today's prayer at The Daily Psalm, my other website (www.thedailypsalm.com).
Indeed, O God, You are great, and Your greatness calls forth praise:
unceasing praise . . . .
And that's just the beginning. For You are great, Lord, and greatly to be praised!
One of my all-time favorite hymns calls us to praise the Lord along the lines of Psalm 96:4. In English it's called "Praise to the Lord, the Almighty" (or, somtimes, "Praise Ye the Lord, the Almighty"). The original was written in German by Joachin Neander in 1680, with the title, "Lobe den Herren." (You can find the German words here.) It was translated into English by Catherine Winkworth in 1863. Here are the verses most commonly sung today:
Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of creation!
O my soul, praise Him, for He is thy health and salvation!
All ye who hear, now to His temple draw near;
Praise Him in glad adoration.
Praise to the Lord, Who over all things so wondrously reigneth,
Shelters thee under His wings, yea, so gently sustaineth!
Hast thou not seen how thy desires ever have been
Granted in what He ordaineth?
Praise to the Lord, Who doth prosper thy work and defend thee;
Surely His goodness and mercy here daily attend thee.
Ponder anew what the Almighty can do,
If with His love He befriend thee.
Praise to the Lord, O let all that is in me adore Him!
All that hath life and breath, come now with praises before Him.
Let the Amen sound from His people again,
Gladly for aye we adore Him.
Winkworth's translation actually included three other verses. They are:
Praise to the Lord, Who hath fearfully, wondrously, made thee;
Health hath vouchsafed and, when heedlessly falling, hath stayed thee.
What need or grief ever hath failed of relief?
Wings of His mercy did shade thee.
Praise to the Lord, Who, when tempests their warfare are waging,
Who, when the elements madly around thee are raging,
Biddeth them cease, turneth their fury to peace,
Whirlwinds and waters assuaging.
Praise to the Lord, Who, when darkness of sin is abounding,
Who, when the godless do triumph, all virtue confounding,
Sheddeth His light, chaseth the horrors of night,
Saints with His mercy surrounding.
No matter which verses we use, the call to praise in this hymn is still as appropriate today as it was centuries ago. (Information on this and many other hymns can be found at Cyberhymnal.org.)
All That Is Within Me
Posted for Friday, May 12, 2006
Psalm 103 is the psalm of the day on my other website, The Daily Psalm. I was especially struck by the first verse:
Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and all that is within me,
bless his holy name.
In response to this verse, I wrote the following prayer, which might be an encouragement to you:
O God, You are the author of all good things, the One from whom all blessings flow. So how can I bless You? How can I offer anything to You that hasn't come from You in the first place?
I can take what You've given me and use it for Your glory.
You've given me the capacity for speech,
so may I bless You with my words of praise.
You've given me a voice to sing,
so may I lift up Your greatness in song.
You've given me a mind to think,
so may I honor You by seeking Your truth.
You've given me a body for work,
so may I labor in Your vineyard.
You've given me a heart to feel,
so may I offer my love to You, and extend Your love to others.
O Lord, may I bless You with all that I am – today, tomorrow, and every day of my life. Be honored in me, dear Lord, in every bit of me. Amen.
The irony and mystery of how we can bless the God who blesses us with all good things is celebrated in a wonderful song by Matt Redman called "Breathing the Breath."
We have nothing to give
That didn't first come from Your hands
We have nothing to offer You
Which You did not provide
Every good, perfect gift comes from
Your kind and gracious heart
And all we do is give back to You
What always has been Yours
Lord, we're breathing the breath
That You gave us to breathe
To worship You, to worship You
And we're singing these songs
With the very same breath
To worship You, to worship You
The Bible speaks of God's Spirit with the same word that means breath or wind. (Picture Copyright © Jenny Horne purchased from istockphoto.com
Who has given to You
That it should be paid back to him?
Who has given to You
As if You needed anything?
From You, and to You, and through You
Come all things, O Lord
And all we do is give back to You
What always has been Yours
Copyright © 2004 worshiptogether.com. To purchase the outstanding album (Facedown) from which "Breathing the Breath" comes, or to listen to an excerpt of this song, click here.
One Thing I Like About the Bible
Part of a sermon entitled Finding God When Life is Hard
Posted for Sunday, May 28, 2006
|Note: This post was taken from the first instalment in a sermon series entitled Finding God When Life is Hard. Over the next couple of months I'll post more sermons from that series, along with excerpts on my blog.
One thing I like about the Bible is its realism about life. Of course I like more than one thing about the Bible, but the fact that it tells the truth about real life appeals to me. So often spiritual writings are obnoxiously positive. They look on the bright side. They employ happy-speak and wishful thinking. This might work for you if you're in a great place in your own life. But that great place won't last. The time will come when the naïve, unrealistic platitudes of happy-face religion just won't cut it.
But the Bible, now there's a different story. From the beginning, Scripture is clear about the real struggles and sufferings of this life. Consider the fact that one of the first stories in the Bible is about a brother killing a brother out of jealousy (Genesis 4). As we continue to read through Scripture, we find more division within families and murder, not to mention rape, parents grieving over their dead children, starvation, adultery, disease, hunger, famine, the slaughter of innocent children, discouragement, and despair. It's all in the Bible, and much more besides.
And I say I like this? Yes, indeed I do. Because this is what life is like. To be sure, there are glorious times, times of blessing and joy, times of rich celebration. Life isn't only hard. It's also good, sometimes very good. But I like the fact that when I read my Bible, it makes sense of real life today. It doesn't force me to pretend as if everything is hunky-dory. In fact, I'll show in this series on Finding God When Life is Hard that pretending and denial are contrary to God's will for us. The Bible tells it like it is, warts and all. It describes real life, a life that is often hard. And it reveals how God makes a difference, not in some pie-in-the-sky world, but in this world filled with pain and difficulty.
These may be fun for a party, but they're not indicative of real life.
To read the rest of this sermon, click here.
How to Avoid the Crowds on Memorial Day . . .
or Not, as the Case May Be
Posted for Monday, May 29, 2006
I don't like crowds. It's rather a joke in my family, because I'm always trying to avoid crowds when we go to the movies, or restaurants, or whatever. I'm not agoraphobic or anything. I just don't like feeling hemmed in, waiting in lines, jammed parking lots, and all the other negatives that go along with crowds.
Memorial Day is famous for its crowds. Beaches, parks, campgrounds, airports, highways, lakes . . . all of these are packed with people trying to get away from it all for the start of summer. From my point of view, this is a good reason to avoid all beaches, parks, campgrounds, airports, highways, and lakes.
Many years ago my wife and I had a Memorial Day problem. We were planning to be on vacation before and after this crowd-drenched weekend, and thus were slated to spend Memorial Day out in nature. But where could we go to be alone, or relatively alone, at any rate? I came up with what seemed to be a sure-fire solution. We could backpack in the Marble Mountains of California.
Chances are you've never heard of the Marble Mountains. That's why they tend not to be crowded on Memorial Day! These mountains lie at the very northern part of California. To get there from where we lived, we had to drive north for hours and hours, almost the whole length of the state. After spending the night in the Motel 6 at Weed (no joke), we turned left and headed into the wilderness. At Happy Camp (no joke) we made another left and drove for about ten miles along a dirt road. We arrived at our trailhead on the Friday before Memorial Day weekend, and nobody else was there! Success seemed assured!
Linda and I put on our backpacks and headed off into the Marble Mountain Wilderness. The trail climbed steeply that first day, and our bodies were just getting used to hiking, so we camped about five miles in. On the trail we saw three Forest Service employees working on the trail, but nobody else. The next day we hiked in another five miles. We located a picture-perfect campsite near Granite Lake, a pristine alpine jewel. My guess is that there wasn't another human being within at least five miles of our new mountain home, maybe ten. It was Memorial Day weekend, and we were utterly, blessedly alone!
That night the wind began to blow, softly at first, and then harder and harder. Finally a gale was whipping our little tent so much that I couldn't sleep. Then I heard raindrops, a few, then many, then torrents of rain fell upon us. Our tent tried valiantly to keep the wetness away from our sleeping bags, with moderate success. In time, the sound of the raindrops mellowed, and I feel asleep.
When we woke in the morning, the sound of light rain continued to fill our little tent. But at least it wasn't too heavy. I zipped open the door to see what it was like outside. What did I see? A winter wonderland! Snow, everywhere! Several inches of it. The snow was falling quite hard, in fact. There was little noise because snowflakes are quiet when they hit nylon.
Snow is great to look at from a warm mountain cabin. But when you're backpacking, ten miles away from your car, and you didn't come prepared for snow, a winter wonderland is not a welcome sight. Plus, we had no idea how long the snow would continue. If it turned to rain, as seemed likely, then the mush would make camping and hiking almost impossible. So Linda and I did the only logical thing, quickly packing our stuff and heading for our car. The snow continued for a while before becoming rain. Yet on we trudged, realizing that our only hope lay in reaching our car and finding some civilized warmth.
Some guy on the Internet is impressed with the Weed sign.
Yes, Virginia, there really is a Happy Camp.
The Marble Mountains Wilderness
After what seemed like forever, we did make it to our car and drove back to Happy Camp. Not sure what to do next, we traveled through gorgeous, rain-soaked forests until we reached Eureka, California, where – Eureka! – we found warm lodging. (Eureka comes from the Greek word meaning "I have found it!"). So we spent Memorial Day in Eureka, having quite a fine time, actually, and not even running into too many people. My wife, always gracious in times of crisis, didn't even accuse me of being an idiot for trying so hard to find solitude on Memorial Day weekend that we almost froze to death.
How do you avoid crowds on Memorial Day? I'd still encourage you to stay away from beaches, parks, campgrounds, airports, highways, and lakes. But you may want to avoid the Marble Mountains, at least until a little later in the summer.
A Yellow Argument for the Existence of God
Posted for Monday, June 12, 2006
As I gazed upon the sunflower growing in my neighbor's yard, I thought, "Surely, this is proof of the existence of God!"
A Violet Argument for the Existence of God
Posted for Tuesday, June 13, 2006
It's not just the striking beauty of this rose that speaks of God's existence, but also the fact that we can see it and appreciate its beauty.
A Light Green Argument for the Existence of God
Posted for Thursday, June 15, 2006
I recently found myself in a forest, where the ground was covered by thousands upon thousands of ferns, each one a marvel of geometry and aesthetics.
Why a Newsletter?
Posted for Monday, June 19, 2006
As you may have noticed, last week I launched the markdroberts.com newsletter. You may be wondering why. After all, I already put up more words on my blog than most people have time to read. Why publish a newsletter too? Isn't a blog enough, or more than enough?
I want to explain why I've added a newsletter to my repertoire. Then I'll add some reflections on communication in a multimedia age.
Why did I start a newsletter? First of all, let credit be given where credit is due. I had lunch a couple of weeks ago with Lee Strobel, author of some fine books, like The Case for Christ, and host of an innovative website, www.leestrobel.com. Lee told me about the popularity of his monthly newsletter, and suggested that I start one as a way of multiplying my avenues of communication.
Second, for some time now I've been aware that people I respect and care about don’t read blogs. . . not even mine. Though they use the Internet for e-mail and web browsing, blogs are off their reality radars. There are lots of reasons for this, I'm sure. One is that some folks are simply used to getting news delivered to them in one way or another. The idea of actually seeking out news by checking blogs is foreign to them. So they wouldn't be inclined to visit my website, even though they might like it once they arrived. But these might very well read a short newsletter, and even click on links from that newsletter to my website. So a newsletter gives me a way for me to communicate with people whom I might miss otherwise.
Third, a newsletter gives me a alternative forum for communication. My blog, as you probably know, almost always includes one post per day. My posts tend to be longer than those put up by other bloggers, and I often join posts together into a series. (My Da Vinci Opportunity series had over fifty posts!). Certain kinds of odds and ends, like book or movie reviews, tend not to fit into my blog format. A newsletter provides a forum for different kinds of communication.
Fourth, I can be a little more personal in a newsletter. My blog is very public. I get a few thousand readers each day from all over the world. Google makes my website even more widely available. So I tend not to fill my blog with personal stuff, like what I'm doing for my summer vacation. Partly it's a matter of protecting my privacy to some extent. Partly it's not wanting to bore a whole lot of folks with my private life. Since my newsletter will go only to subscribers, I'll feel more freedom to be a little more personal in this medium.
Fifth, we're in a multimedia age. A blog is a powerful communication tool, but it's only one tool among many. A newsletter is another tool, a time-tested one, even when it comes in electronic form. (I am not printing my newsletter, by the way.) Doing a newsletter gives me another way to communicate with people. So far in my life and ministry I utilize several modes of communication:
• Face to face conversation
• Telephone calls and messages
• Text messaging
• Preaching and teaching without visuals
• Preaching and teaching with digital projection
• Writing magazine articles (for Worship Leader and others)
• Writing books
• Sermon and teaching tapes/CDs
• Streaming sermons online
• Radio (occasional interviews)
• Television (once in a while)
A newsletter gives me one more way in which to communicate with people in my church and beyond. You'll notice, by the way, that I have not done anything yet with podcasting or with video technology. I expect this will come in time. For a fine example of online video, see Lee Strobel's site.
If you're interested in what my newsletter will be like, you can check out the first edition. If you'd like to subscribe, use the simple form at the top of this page.
This post is going on a little long, so I'll finish up tomorrow with some reflections on communications in a multimedia age.
Communications in a Multimedia Age
Posted for Tuesday, June 20, 2006
I'm old enough to remember when life was simpler. We had telephones, but no message machines or voice mail. We didn't even imagine e-mail or the Internet. When I started working at Hollywood Presbyterian Church, most inter-office communication happened through hand-delivered memos, and my office building didn’t even have a photocopy machine. Most ministry flyers and handouts were done with a ditto machine. This was only 22 years ago!
I remember when my friend John got one of the first cell phones. It was about the size of a car battery and weighed just as much. But I was impressed by the fact that John could actually make and receive telephone calls from all over the place, just as long as he carried around his ten-pound, bulky phone.
Things are different today, for better and for worse. We live in a high tech, multimedia age, whether we like it or not. Of course, we can reject the technology and decide to live more simply. Sometimes I'm tempted by this, to tell you the truth, especially when I have some software glitch and I can't figure it out. But, given my calling as a communicator – preacher, teacher, writer, blogger – I've decided that I can't exactly bury my head in the sand when it comes to technology. Besides, some of it is extraordinarily helpful.
One of the early cell phones. No joke!
All of this multimedia stuff can be a giant distraction from and a hindrance to genuinely helpful communication, however. I heard somebody say recently, "Just because it's on PowerPoint, that doesn't mean it's true." Another friend told me that he heard of major companies prohibiting the use of PowerPoint because it had become so overused that it had lost its effectiveness. I can sometimes spend way too much time finding just the right image for a PowerPoint slide, leaving less time for more important matters.
So if we're going to use media well, we need to think through the purposes, the costs/benefits, and the effectiveness of various media to communicate the content we're trying to get across.
I'm convinced, however, that communication can be enhanced by the use of a variety of media. Take my ministry as Pastor of Irvine Presbyterian Church, for example. Three years ago I had basically two ways of communicating with my congregation: preaching and articles in the monthly (snail mail) newsletter. I suppose you could add a third: tapes of my sermons. That was about it. Then I added my blog into the mix. Many of my church members read my blog regularly. This means that they are getting as much as three times more input from me than they were in the pre-blog era. I can communicate with them about all sorts of things that would never make it into a sermon. And, with e-mail just a click away, they can communicate back to me. Because of my website, I'd estimate that I interact with five times as many people in my own congregation as I did before.
I'm still working away at how to be an effective communicator with my flock. I ask questions like: Should I use digital projection for all of my sermons? (Right now I project in the two contemporary services, but not in the more traditional ones.) Should I start podcasting my sermons? Should we develop a church e-mail list so I can communicate directly and quickly with all members? How can I use my blog more effectively in my pastoral ministry? How can technology help me save time so I can have more face-to-face communication with my members?
I got into this conversation, as you know if you read yesterday's post, because I added a newsletter into my communication mix: markdroberts.com newsletter. Pretty fancy title, huh? This gives me one more way to communicate with people, whether in my church or in the larger world. It's a small effort on my part to expand my effectiveness as a communicator in a multimedia world. Whether it will work or not, who knows? Whether I'm still doing it in five years, who knows? But, for now, I'm stretching to find new and better ways to get out the word . . . and the image.
I'm going to leave this conversation for now, but pick it up again next week when I'll focus on a fascinating debate among some Christians over the value of the Internet and other technologies.