My Day as Master of Information

One year my daughter joined a summer swim team.  Now I know a whole lot about a whole lot of sports, but swim team isn’t one of them.  As we began our swim team career, I attempted to try to learn the names and order of events, the rules, and the basic strokes.  But after about six weeks, all I had picked up was that twice a week I was going to stand on a pea-gravel deck that was hotter than the surface of the sun for about four and a half hours to watch my daughter compete for about 38 seconds. Continue reading

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The Land of the Itching Ears

At the outset, I want to write a disclaimer.  If you are not a Christian, that is to say if you do not believe the Bible to be the word of God, and you do not believe that Jesus died on a cross to pay for the sins of his people, rose from the dead, and will someday return to judge the world, then this post is really not written to you.  You are welcome here, and I am thankful you are reading, but you are not my intended audience today. If however, you do claim to be a Christian, and you do affirm the very basic, yet foundational Christian beliefs mentioned above, I hope you will consider what I have to say.  Really it is not as much what I have to say as it is what the Apostle Paul has to say.

Paul as you know wrote most of the letters or epistles found in the New Testament.  Paul wrote letters for several reasons; encouragement, definition of doctrine, confrontation, and warning. In all of that his end game was the glory of God, by the work of Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit.  There are three letters known as the pastoral epistles, and those are the letters he wrote to Titus and Timothy.  In Paul’s second letter to Timothy, he speaks about what it will be like for Timothy in the last days to preach the word of God.  He warns Timothy as follows:

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.- 2 Timothy 4:1-5
This letter may very well be the last words we have from Paul.  One of my pastors refers to this letter as Paul’s last will and testament.  Paul knows his race is run, and he awaits the time when he will see Jesus face to face.  These words he writes to Timothy are somber, and stern. For our purposes here, I want to look at the following line.
For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.
To be sure, Paul had specific myths and false doctrines in mind when he wrote this, and every generation has had people who have fallen into these temptations. Our generation is no different.  If we are honest, we will admit that on some level we all do this. But the people Paul is referring to cannot or will not tolerate the truth of God’s word.  When God’s word disagrees with their own likes or desires, rather than submitting to the word and repenting, they go out and find authority figures who will tell them what they want to hear. Paul says they “accumulate for themselves teachers.”  It’s not enough to find one or two people to soothe their consciences.  They accumulate “experts” and build a case against God’s teaching to try to silence their own consciences.  This is a dangerous position to take, and it leads one away from God and toward falsity.
America is the land of the itching ears.  Our cardinal doctrine is independence at all costs. True freedom in the American psyche is the intersection of intellectual, moral, and financial autonomy. Financial health can be a great blessing, but the desire to be financially independent (from others and from the provision of God) often times leads to corruption, greed, and in the end disappointment when it fails to give the security and finality of hope it promised. The desire to be morally independent is more sinister.  Moral independence masquerades as progress or enlightenment, but in reality it is the sin of idolatry.  Moral independence denies the truth of God and replaces it with the foolishness of man. This is where I will start to lose some of you. Stay with me if you care to see the end of this argument.
As a Christian you are not morally independent. Whenever the Christian stares into the revealed will and word of God (the Scriptures) and finds that God’s word disagrees with his or her convictions, the Christian MUST repent and ask God to change his or her heart on the issue.  The problem is with us, not with God’s word. This is an absolutely ridiculous statement to the non-Christian American. Regardless of the issue, we are not at liberty to change, negate, explain away, lessen, or mitigate the word of God.  While there are definitely fine points of theology over which men and women of goodwill disagree, there are plenty of truths in the Scriptures that do not align with the new morality that are simply not open for debate in the Christian mind.
The temptation on our part is to go and find a pastor, priest, professor, or theologian who will give some sort of credence or weight to what we wish was true but know full well the Scriptures do not teach. This is the folly that Paul warns Timothy about.  We want our itching ears scratched and soothed.  But we must trust God enough and be humble enough, as Jesus was, to say “not my will but yours be done.” If you are a Christian, and you find yourself gladly siding with the culture in the new definitions of right and wrong, good and evil, ask yourself the following questions, and ask them honestly:
1. Have I taken this position because I have truly studied what the word of God has to say about it?
2. What has more influenced my belief on this subject, my political party or the word of God?
3. When I read the Scriptures, do I see my position in their pages?
4. Have I willingly denied the clear teaching of Scripture on this issue, because I am afraid to be called out by those around me if I side with God on this?
5. Have I knowingly searched for an authority to tell me what I want to hear, or have I reached this conviction out of submission to God and his word?
You see, whether we would admit it or not, we long for moral autonomy.  This was Adam’s sin; to be like God and to be independent from him. Adam and Eve longed to set their own rules.  But they quickly found that they were incapable of sustaining their own universe.  They could not be their own point of reference for meaning and truth. When we set ourselves against God, we commit this sin of pride and rebellion. And if our consciences begin to sound the alarm, we look for the soothsayers. At the end of the day, if we search long enough, we will be able to find someone to tell us what we want to hear.  They may even claim to back up the lies with Scripture.  They may carry the title of Dr., Pastor, Elder, Bishop, or even Pope. But we know better.  We know what we are doing.  And in the end, there is only one voice that matters. It’s the voice of the one who said “let there be.” His voice is sovereign over all others.  Listen to him.

 

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Timothy

cropped-bw-recording-3.jpg

 

Hello Folks,
Thanks as always for taking some of your precious time and reading my thoughts here or listening to songs.  Just a quick update to let you know that I am working on a new album titled On to the City of God.  I hope to release it this Fall.  I also plan to re-record a few of my old songs this year.  Here is a video of me playing an
acoustic version of one of them if you are interested.  Stay tuned for more info on the album in
the coming weeks.

The original version of Timothy appeared on my album A Remedy Raised, which is now out of print.  You can hear the original version here.  It was sung by my good friend Jeff Blake.

Thanks,
Eric

 

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39 Is a Difficult Age

Profile BWThirty-nine is a difficult age.  This year I decided to buy a Dodge Challenger. Seriously. And I almost did (and I still might). My wife of course explained to me that I just was going through a mid-life crisis.  I thought to myself, “mid-life crisis? I’m not even fifty yet.”  But then I immedialty realized that fifty is only midlife for less than 1% of the US population.  So I looked it up.  If I stop eating pizza and donuts at an alarming rate, I might make the national average life expectancy for men of 78 years old.  So at 39, I’m exactly at midlife.  Well, then bring on the crisis!  In all honesty, I started thinking mid-life thoughts around 33.  I worked full-time for my dad’s company for my last three years of college, got married at 21, had four kids before 30, built the house we now live in at 29.  At 39, I have been in my current job for 20 years.  And I have really started to think about the middle, and yes, the end.  The seemingly limitless state of enthusiasm, energy and optimism in which I operated as a young man in my twenties is all but gone.  Career, mortgage, car payments, school tuition, orthodontics, college savings accounts, consistent parenting (Lord help us), retirement savings, and all that smack-you-in-the-face-real-life stuff is just about enough to kill a man (or woman).  But in the few fleeting moments that I can actually reflect on life, I have started thinking about my legacy.  What have I done that matters?  If the answer is “not much,” then is there still time to do something important?  Have I made my mark on society? My community? My family?

These questions haunt me daily, and I think the answer to all of them is yes, but less than I had hoped. If God grants me a long life, I’m half-way done. There is a nagging urgency to accomplish all I wanted to do in this life, and a more mature and realistic me is beginning to accept that I’m not going to make it. Around the time I graduated from college, a mentor of mine warned me against what he called “prayerless striving.”  Twenty years ago when he told me about this pattern in his life, I don’t think I really understood what that looked like. But now as I reflect on my own life, prayerless striving for me has been the attempt to accomplish great things for God in my own strength.  The truth is God doesn’t need me (or you) to do great things for him.  He does the great things. Moses didn’t rescue the Israelites from Egyptian slavery, God did.  Abraham and Sarah did not overcome Sarah’s barrenness when they were both in their 90s, God did.  David did not kill Goliath because he was a great shot with a sling, rather the Bible says that God delivered him into David’s hand.  And on and on. To be sure, there are men and women who have done what we would call “great things” in the name of God, but the Bible has something to say about the source of those things.  In John 15, Jesus says this:

I am the vine and you are the branches.  Whoever abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. – John 15:5

Those are freeing words.  They do not get us off the hook for serving God, but they make it very clear that the source of what we are to accomplish for God in our own lives and in the lives of others is none other than Jesus himself.  More than that, there is no age limit on this paradigm.  At 39 I am just as dependent on Jesus to bear fruit in my life as I was at 20, and if I make it to the “ripe” old age of 78, he will still be bearing the fruit that he intends if I abide in him. See here’s the thing.  Trying to do great things in your own strength is exhausting.  And at the end of the process, if you have actually accomplished something others might deem “great,” you look at this accomplishment in all its glory and think to yourself “is that it?”

So as I start my 40th year, I have decided to stop trying to do great things. Instead I am now prepared to settle for simple, faithful things.  I am trusting Jesus, the true vine, to bear fruit in my life as I abide in him.  But what does abiding look like?  I think Psalm 1 has at least part of the answer.

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
Nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on this law he mediatates day and night.He is like a tree, planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither.  In all that he does he prospers. – Psalm 1:1-3

Just as we read in John 15, the psalmist points out that the tree bears fruit because it is planted by streams of water.  There is unseen nourishment happening that fuels the tree’s growth and production.  Take the tree to dry ground and it withers and dies.  That water is the law of the Lord, or the Word of God on which this blessed man meditates day and night.  To abide in Jesus is to mediate on God’s word.  It is to seek him in worship, sacrament, and prayer.  It is to spend time with the body of Christ, our brothers and sisters in the faith.  It is to not only seek him actively, but it is to avoid the way of the wicked.  We must see the sin in our own lives and put it to death through regular and open confession rather than hiding and nurturing it. It is to bind up the broken-hearted, and to offer a cup of cold water to the thirsty. To visit the prisoner, and to come to the aid of the orphan and the widow. These spiritual disciplines and deeds of service are the acts of abiding, but they are not the source of the fruit.  Jesus is the source.  The world needs fewer mega-churches and more disciples who walk as Jesus walked.  So abide in him, and let him bear much fruit.  That is, with the help of God, how I plan to live my remaining years.

 

 

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Little Child of Bethlehem

Tonight as Christians ponder the person of Jesus Christ, specifically his miraculous conception and birth, it is important that we do not stop there.  That holy night was magnificent in itself to be sure, but the full work of God through Christ can only be seen if we gaze upon the manger against the backdrop of the cross. Perhaps my new song, “Little Child of Bethlehem”can help you think in those terms tonight and point you to the Scriptures which show us the truth about Jesus, his person and his work.  I have posted the lyrics below with Scripture references for those who are interested.  Merry Christmas!

Little Child of Bethlehem
Words and Music by Eric Parker

Little Child of Bethlehem, David’s promised seed
The cattle they are lowing now, it’s time for you to feed
Silent at the breast they say, but I doubt that it went down that way

(Isaiah 9:6-7) (Like 2:1-7)

Little child of Bethlehem, it’s time to move on out
Herod’s got his eye on you, there isn’t any doubt
Steal away to Egypt’s land, steal away
So pack up your belongings Joe, be up and disappear
To the banks of the mighty Nile, until the coast is clear
(Matthew 2:1-12)

Little boy of Nazareth, walk by Joseph’s side
It’s time to grow in favor now, with people and with God
So by day and by the candlelight, read your Father’s word
You’ll see yourself within the tales, the tales you’ve always heard
Yeah, write them on your doorway and the pillars of your heart
For little boy of Nazareth, soon you make your mark

(Luke 2:41-52)

The world in desperation lay, waiting for that mighty day
For the one who’d heal the sick, the lame, the dumb

(Isaiah 35) (Matthew 9:35-36)

Prophet of Jerusalem, you know your time has come
And you’re praying that this cup could pass, but the Father’s will be done
So feed your closest friends again, and wash their dusty feet
And turn like flint up to the hill where love and justice meet
With betrayal as your vestment and scorn your diadem
For these we choose to lay upon the little child of Bethlehem

(Luke 22:42) (John 13:1-17) (Luke 23:21)
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November Poem a Day #18


Photo by Geneva Adele Morse

One November Sunset

As day surrenders its hold on men
I look thoughtlessly to the west
Expecting the greys and dark blues of yesterday

But in your pleasure, you offer more
Dazzling pink, of a hue not yet named by man
Blue and orange, facing one another defiantly, giving no ground

Clouds halt their migration to bask, reflect, and imbibe the spectrum
Each shimmering line like a knife’s edge
Serrated and sharp, they cut their place in the canopy
Tinder for the burning sky

And below, creatures and the works of men glow with lesser light
Like the face of Moses coming down the mountain
Carrying faint glimpses of the Glory of God

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November Poem a Day #15

Mountain Home, November Morning

Overnight, shalom has fallen
Blanketing November morning

Sunlight rests upon the water
And each ripple plays its part in this symphony of peace
The waters have forgotten a stormy past
And they look not to a raging future
Content for now to rest in stillness

The trees that line the lake stand tall in brisk, cool air while Autumn commands they lay their long-carried burdens down
And these obey, faithfully dropping them to the forest floor
Oak, maple, poplar, hickory, birch
Each welcomes a dormant season where labors may wait

And East to West, creatures meander in morning light, taking up neither gallup nor hurried gait
For watchful night has given birth to dawn
Few predators roam now as light betrays their pursuit

From distant acre to waters’ edge
All is at rest in Edenic calm
And so we are, in mountain home, November morning

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