Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Internal strength versus external circumstances

Life is full of both joys and sorrows.  Sometimes we can be at the highest point emotionally and then receive word of a death, a diagnosis, a divorce or some other negative event and our entire joy is zapped from us.  The secret to lasting happiness is learning to let our joy come from internal strength rather than external circumstances.  The outward conditions of life are subject to the whims of others and the chance of nature, sickness, or accident.  Internal strength can be built through the training of one’s character through the pursuit of holiness and cannot be taken away from us no matter what external pressures may come.
Research has shown that among those unfortunate millions who were in the concentration camps of World War II one of the major factors in survival was the belief that one had something for which to live.  Whether it was the hope of being reunited with loved ones, the hope to finish a piece of writing or work, or even the desire for vengeance, these prisoners, even though sometimes more physically sick, lived longer than those who gave up hope.
We as Christians have a whole eternity for which to live.  
Don’t let a temporary setback steal your joy and your future.

Friday, January 27, 2012

"The time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining."
-President John F. Kennedy

Thursday, January 26, 2012

“Who would ever know the greater graces of comfort and perserverance, mercy and forgiveness, patience and courage, if no shadows fell over a life?” 
-Ann Voskamp

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

"The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of those depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. 
Beautiful people do not just happen."

-Elizabeth Kubler Ross

Friday, January 20, 2012

Just stepping out for a minute...

I spent the morning walking on the treadmill and writing Sunday's sermon.  Both those tasks are not finished.  For every mile I walk, I realize that tomorrow I will have to walk again.  For each sermon I prepare, I realize that I am also preparing my life to speak to others.  Every decision has consequences it is said.  Just this morning a woman from just down the street lost her life while walking to town.  Accidents are a fact of existence.  Life is as a vapor, a mist, that can ever so quickly vanish away. 
So now I am deciding to go visit my great-grandmother for an hour or so.  I saw her yesterday (one of the benefits of living so close by), but sometimes between all the preparing for what's ahead, we forget to simply be present in this world.  I will likely have many more days to walk and many more sermons to prepare, but the time spent with those I love is fleeting and precious.
I give a word of advice as a person not just as a preacher: cherish the moments of this life.  Redeem the time in this world that so constantly wants us to go faster and faster.  Slow down, call a friend, send a card.  Don't leave anything unsaid between you and the ones you love.
Have a blessed weekend.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Relationship dynamics are everywhere

I was reading an article recently about one of my favorite bands who have been playing together for over 35 years.  The article outlined how the band members, five in all, had each had various troubles with infidelity, substance abuse, ego trips and health challenges.  The members of the band, now in their sixties, now lead much calmer lifestyles, but the effects of all those years in the wilderness are still informing the way they make music.
Being a preacher I guess I just think this way, but I couldn't help but draw some similarities to how the church functions.  We all have our own personal demons and when we are brought together in Christ we are not automatically cured of our selfish personalities, health problems or relationship baggage.  Sometimes people argue over who will be lead singer as it were.  Members of the congregation may feel that the role they play is not respected or seen as important.  Christians become involved in the lives of other Christians and not always with positive results.
Fortunately, maturity and spiritual growth can overcome the problems that we as people bring into the church.  Our experiences in the wilderness inform the people we become as mature Christians.  Those who have not suffered and searched have a hard time identifying with the broken people that the church is supposed to reach. Communication, acceptance and tolerance can enable us to not only coexist but to thrive.  When we all work together, we can make a beautiful sound to the LORD.  Our harmony will attract others to the church and we will be able to help them overcome the challenges they face as well.
Let's make music together.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

MLK Day 2012

When I was just a child, I began to study the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Like all of us, Dr. King had faults, but unlike so many of us, he also had vision.
A vision of a society where people are judged not on their race, income, or place of birth, but rather on their ethics, compassion, and character.
We still live in a world where this vision has yet to be realized in the lives of countless millions of people, yet because of people like Dr. King that vision is a little closer to reality.
Dare to Dream.

(Dr. King in jail in Birmingham in the 1960s.  His famous letter written during his incarceration stirred the conscience of a nation.)

Marriage or Celibacy? Both!

"Celibacy is not just a matter of not having sex. 
It is a way of admiring a person for their humanity, maybe even for their beauty."
-Timothy Radcliffe

In my recent Sunday School classes, we discussed many of the Bible's teachings surrounding marriage, divorce, gender roles, adultery and other issues facing Christians who are struggling to build a home all the while being assaulted by the negative images the world presents on these topics.  Much of our discussion today centered around divorce and how God never intended for divorce to be an option among his people.  Christians are given two options: live a single life of sexual abstinence or marry for life.  Often we see pastors, preachers, and Sunday School literature that talks about the joys of marriage and how God made man and woman to be in relationship with one another.  While this is certainly true, it is also interesting to note that both Jesus and Paul (single men themselves) extoll the choice to remain celibate.  
Jesus, after his landmark teaching on divorce in Matthew 19, answers the statement of his disciples that if a man cannot get divorced it is better not to marry at all.  Jesus says to His followers that some are physically celibate from birth, other are physically made celibate through injury or surgery, and then that some are celibate for the sake of the Kingdom.
Paul mirrors this in 1 Corinthians 7, when he advises people to marry if they burn with passion, but continues that one that does not marry does better.  He notes that the married care often for the things pertaining to their spouses while the single Christian is free to serve the LORD without distraction.
Obviously, the Bible teaches that marriage is honorable and a worthy institution.  Men who would be the leaders of the church are to be, among many other things, husbands.  Despite this truth, however, single people also have a valuable place in God's Kingdom.  The secret to either life choice is being content in one's circumstances.  Contented and fulfilled marriages are a blessing as is a celibate life devoted to God and His work.
I personally believe that celibacy is not merely abstaining from sexual activity.  It is a radical shift in the way a person views other human beings.  Instead of indulging in forbidden fantasies, the truly celibate Christian will focus those powerful, passionate forces on pursuing the perfection of purity.  Not just the action, but the desire must be overpowered for a person to truly serve the LORD without distraction.
May God bless us, single or married, to become vessels to be used in His service.

Friday, January 13, 2012

"Remember not only to say the right thing in the right place, but far more difficult still, to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment."
-Benjamin Franklin

Thursday, January 12, 2012

What we study and who we are

One fact about me that perhaps many people don't know is that I studied primarily literature in college and not Bible.  The things that we choose to learn about whether formally or informally have a tendency to shape our views on life.  I believe that my background in literature and writing greatly impacts the way in which I think, teach, and preach.
Many men who are preparing to be preachers spend only a small amount of time in learning how to present ideas.  Most ministry students take two or three classes on the actual practice of preaching and spend much of the rest of their education in classes about the Bible text, Biblical languages, church history and church organization.  While it is certainly a benefit to learn Biblical criticism and ancient languages, these studies do not always inform a preacher's ability in the pulpit.  In my experience, it is just as needful to know how to express ideas in a meaningful way as it is to possess the ideas themselves.  One simply cannot be effective without both the knowledge of material and the method of presentation.
Fortunately, a background in literature informs both areas.  Knowledge of the Biblical text is enhanced when one understands the literary devices used by the writers of Scripture.  Also being able to compare the Bible with other literary works is valuable in seeing how human experience is universal and timeless.  In addition to aiding with knowledge, a background in literature also helps in the delivery of information.  Much of preaching is writing whether it be sermon outlines, bulletin articles, or study materials.  Having a more than basic skill level in the use of words is a great benefit to a minister.
I have often wished I had taken more text and language classes while in college, however, my extra time spent in the study of words and how to use them effectively is something I would not change.  Obviously some preachers will be heavy on the knowledge and lighter on the application and vice versa.  Hopefully we can all be used of God to draw more people to the point of a decision regarding relationship with Him.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

“Memory can make a thing seem to have been much more than it was.”
-Marilynne Robinson in Gilead

Monday, January 9, 2012

Letter versus Spirit

Some people make a great claim on righteousness.  They can tell you of all the good deeds they accomplish and all the evil they avoid.  They generally speak of things that are either done or left undone.  While it is certainly commendable to do good and to abstain from evil actions, there is another layer to righteousness that often goes overlooked.

Jesus spoke five times in Matthew 5 contrasting the Law of Moses with the new way of viewing the commandments that He was imparting to His disciples.  Moses had instructed the people to avoid wrongdoing (i.e. Thou shalt not murder, thou shalt not commit adultery, etc.).  Jesus tells His disciples it is not enough to avoid wrong action, but rather we must eliminate even the desire for wrong action.  Many a person can say they have never committed murder, but how many can say they have never been angry with their fellow man?  Most people never commit adultery physically, but how many can say they have never entertained impure thoughts?

To free ourselves of evil thoughts we must stay busy in good works and continually focus our minds on holy things.  If we can fill our minds with good things we will by necessity have less opportunity for evil.

Let us strive to keep not merely the letter of the Law which can be met, but to continually yearn to keep the Spirit of the Law which is limitless.

(Thanks to William Barclay's Commentary on Matthew for the source of these thoughts.)

Friday, January 6, 2012

A Personal Favorite

I have been read Ann Voskamp's blog for quite a while now.  This entry from several years ago is my favorite.  We often think we can read the minds and intentions of others.  Many times we may be right, but rarely, we are caught by surprise in the best kind of way.  
This is a bit lengthy, but I think some of you can identify with the characters presented.
"It takes all sorts to make a world."
-The Wind in the Willows

Thursday, January 5, 2012

"Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither."
-C.S. Lewis

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

New life in a new year

During this first week of the year, many people will assess their lives and seek to make what they hope will be lasting changes.  Plans to quit smoking, lose weight, further one's education and a myriad of other resolutions will be made this week.  Some will succeed in keeping their self-made promises in the next year while others will last only a few days or perhaps even hours.

As people of faith, we do not need the arrival of a new year to prompt changes in our lives.  Each night we retire to sleep and in the morning we are born again into a new realm of possibilities.  Each day, each moment is a gift and we should be careful to use our times for things that are of lasting significance.  The world we see is temporary and passing, but the spiritual and emotional lives we lead will carry on forever in our spirits and in the lives of people we influence.

A challenge for the year: make every day significant.  Whether in work or rest, play or worship, we can resolve to live a life of consequence.

Hope you are having a great start to 2012.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

A Poem for New Year's Day

Another year is dawning,
Dear Father let it be,
In working or in waiting,
Another year with thee.
Another year of progress,
Another year of praise,
Another year of proving
Thy presence all the days.
Another year of mercies,
Of faithfulness and grace,
Another year of gladness,
The glory of thy face.
Another year of leaning
Upon thy loving breast,
Another year of trusting,
Of quiet, happy rest.
Another year of service,
Of witness for thy love,
Another year of training
For holier work above.
Another year is dawning,
Dear Father, let it be,
On earth, or else in heaven,
Another year for thee.

-Frances Ridley Havergal