Thursday, May 31, 2012

Writer's Block

This week I have been struggling to form ideas and then to translate ideas into words.  Maybe it is the change of schedule caused by the holiday or fitful sleep or the prospect of our Gospel Meeting next week, but my mind has been uncharacteristically blanked this week.

Ernest Hemingway once said that to have good writing you must simply write the truest sentence you know.  Then write another true sentence and another.  Soon paragraphs and stories will form.  Always stop writing when you still have something left so that you can start again the next day.

Life is much like that.  We must live in the best way we know even when it is difficult.  In doing so, we prepare ourselves to make the next step.  Today, do something that expresses the truth about your world.  By living truly you will begin to truly live.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Twitter Thanks

For some time I have been writing down my prayers in notebooks and journals.  It has been a great way to look back over time and see how my life has been blessed, changed and redirected from one season to the next.  Many of these prayers are quite private and who make sense only the one who wrote them.

In order to be able to make some of my prayers of thanksgiving easier to access and search, I decided to set up a Twitter account for the sole purpose of thanking God for the various blessings I encounter on a daily basis.  You can follow this account if you have Twitter (@AllMyThanks) or check out my most recent thanks in the top right hand corner of the home page of this blog.  I pray that by sharing my thankfulness you will be reminded of all the blessings you also have in your lives.  Take some time and thoughtfully list your blessings, big and small.  I think it will change our attitudes and definitely our perspectives.

May God help us to be more thankful each day as we try to live for Him.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

What Joy Will Do

"Joy will spoil those who have not suffered but will humble those who have known pain."
~Donald Miller

Monday, May 28, 2012

Gray-headed crown

The last time I was at the salon, my hairstylist, remarked, "You sure do have a lot of gray hair."  She said it more with more surprise than compliment in her voice.  Personally, I have always thought gray hair was attractive on many people, but I did share her concern that I was graying in my late twenties.

The Book of Proverbs declares that, "Gray hair is a mark of distinction; it is a gift of righteous living."  Why is something that our culture usually tries to hide considered an attractive feature in Biblical times?  I think a couple of reasons could be presented as valid.  Gray hair is usually associated with advancing age.  The Old Testament writers firmly believed that as a general rule the righteous would outlive the wicked.  While everyone knows of good people who die young and cruel-hearted people who live to be elderly, it is true that many ungodly choices lead to a decline in physical health.  Violence, drugs and alcohol and decisions made while impaired can all rob a person of the years that lead to gray hair.  I believe there is another reason that gray hair is considered virtuous in Scripture as well.  Many people associate gray hair with worry.  While it is certainly not good to be a worried individual, according to this reasoning gray hair could well be a sign that a person has convictions and has made hard decisions.  People who never consider the consequences of their actions and who never wrestle with difficult moral choices cannot appreciate the beauty of wrinkles and the righteousness of gray hair.  Men with a conscience and an awareness of their own shortcomings bear these realizations in their physical bodies.  If gray hair is caused by stress, every thinking person should have a few gray hairs due to situations faced and overcome.

The next time you are looking in the mirror and see some wrinkles and some gray staring back at you, be thankful.  Many people never reach the maturity to see these signs of age.  With each line and each gray hair you can remember battles fought and won.  You will be able to say, "I may have gray hair, but I have a story for every single one."  Let us remember that maturing of the internal is more important than the adoring of the external.  Let us embrace who we are and the challenges and blessings that made us that way.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

The message...

"It is the duty of the pulpit to say the same things over and over and over again. They must be clothed in different phraseology, and illumined by fresh illustration, and approached by a new line of thought; but the things that are really worth saying must be said repeatedly."
-Frank Boreham

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Remember...

“To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.”
-C.S. Lewis

Friday, May 25, 2012

Birthday blessing

As of early this morning, I am now 28-years-old.  My life is a mixture of family, education, church activities, sickness, blessings and regrets.  Over the years, I have done many things I take pleasure in remembering.  At other times, however, I have done much to regret.  What I must always try to remember is that now is the only time I can come close to controlling.  I cannot go back and undo my mistakes anymore than I can continue to live in my past successes.  Each day, each hour, each moment of the present must be spent in growing and maturing as a person.  I want to be the type of person that other people can follow to a more Christian way of life.  I want people to be able to imitate me and, in doing so, become more like Christ.  I pray that we all will continue to grow up into the image of Christ regardless of what age we are.  May God continue to bless us as we continue to grow in Him.


Thursday, May 24, 2012

Church


There is something to be said for loving churches.  I have been fortunate enough to travel around the country and even some overseas and to see great cathedrals standing tall.  I have seen small buildings of brick and siding and large ones of glass and stone.  I have seen them with spires and bells, steeples and stained-glass.  Some church buildings are in and of themselves impressive, but to me the best churches are the ones who let what happens in them impress you more than the architecture.
These are buildings that house the simple sacredness of worship.  Powerful events like baptisms and communion take place within these walls.  People meet and gather and share and cry and pray and dream here.  Soon we realize that it is not the building that makes a church at all: it is rather the people that come together with one purpose and one vision.  This gathering can take place in an open field, under a summer tent, in a living room, in a jail cell or in a coffee shop.  If Scripture says that God is no respecter of persons, certainly He is no respecter of buildings either.
The next time that you say, "I am going to church," I hope you will be thinking of the people rather than the place.  Where God's people dwell there is a church.  Always remember a Body, not a building, is what Christ died for.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Witness and Warfare


In 2nd Timothy 2, Paul notes that we must be faithful to He who has called us as a soldier.  Paul often uses the imagery of warfare describing the Christian as being at war with the spiritual hosts of wickedness.  Paul goes on to say in 2nd Timothy 2 that just as a solider should not become entangled with the affairs of civilian life, a Christian should not become entangled in the affairs of the world.  This is a lesson that Christians (including myself) often have learned in a hard way.  A Christian may become very involved in politics, sports, a hobby or even a family situation and in the process lose his or her Christian witness.  Even if the activity is not wrong in and of itself, we can become distracted from giving our full service to God.  We are in this world of course and must give some attention to these things, but often we become of the world by giving priority to temporal things that really should belong to God.  Let us make every effort to keep God foremost in our lives.  If anything we are involved in hinders our walk or our witness, we must be willing to step back and refocus on Christ and His kingdom.  We should never let it be said of us that we cared more for the things of this world than for the things of God.

I firmly believe that once we are in eternity no one will say, "I wish I had only watched one more game."  No one will remark, "I wish I had knocked more doors campaigning for that office."  No one will even say, "I wish I had had one more fishing trip" or "I wish I had bought one more new car."
However I daresay most people will say, "I wish I had prayed more,"  "I wish I had given more to the Lord's work," "I wish I had talked to my friends about the Gospel," and "I wish I had loved my family more."
We ought not wait till then to regret, but we should rather be working to move our lives closer to the example set by Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

What are you thankful for today?

What are you thankful for today?
Take 5 minutes as you sit at your desk to list some specific areas of gratitude in your life.  Often we pray generally, "Thank You LORD for all our many blessings." We need to learn to be more specific in prayer.  Thank God today for a person, a possession, a pet or some other special blessing in your life.  We must realize that we are only given this moment in which to praise and be thankful.  The past is gone and the future uncertain: give thanks while you have opportunity.

"Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning."
- James 1:17

Monday, May 21, 2012

Give your life for something...

“If we are the sheep of His pasture, remember that sheep are headed for the altar.” 
~Jim Elliot

Sunday, May 20, 2012

This should be the prayer of every Christian...

"Father, make of me a crisis man. Bring those I contact to decision. Let me not be a milepost on a single road; make me a fork, that men must turn one way or another on facing Christ in me."
~Jim Elliot

Saturday, May 19, 2012

“I will love the light for it shows me the way, yet I will endure the darkness because it shows me the stars.”
~Og Mandino

Friday, May 18, 2012

"Thank God for the gospel."

Recently I had just finished teaching a class session on the undeserved grace of God at an area congregation when a elderly gentleman approached me and quite excitedly exclaimed, "All I can say is 'Thank God for the gospel.'"  His face became filled with emotion and he turned and went back to his seat to await the next portion of the service.  I knew from a previous visit to that congregation a few weeks before that this man had just returned to a relationship with God after many difficult years.  That night he was genuinely excited about the message that had just been delivered.  This man knew in his recent experience what it was like to be apart from God and he also knew the unsurpassed joy of a spiritual renewal.  
So often in life we become numb to the preaching of the good news about Jesus.  The love of God becomes routine rather than revolutionary.  The beauty of God's design for His people is obscured by the real life issues that plague the church.  We begin to forget the wonder of God and then we begin to wander from God.  The news about our faith no longer seems new and sometimes it seems as if God has moved on to write another story about other people in another place.
The next time you are attempting to live for God and are discouraged by your choices or distracted by your own self-focuesed thoughts, choose to refocus on this reality: God's love and grace are limitless.  Imagine a perfect blue sky that extends out to the horizon in all directions.  The love of God is bigger yet.  Picture a boundless ocean so broad and deep that the ends of it are without measure.  God's grace is far more expansive.  Imagine for a moment a black night sky aglow with stars.  You could sooner count the countless stars of countless galaxies before you could put borders on the love of God.  If you dare, picture all the sin that you have ever committed.  Visualize the mistakes, the guilt, the shame of thousands of bad choices over a lifetime.  Then blow your own mind and imagine the billions of sinful pasts like your own.  Then realize that beyond all you ask or think, the powerful grace of God is sufficient.  God has the ability to cover every sin that was/is/will be ever committed.  His will is that all sin be forgotten and forgiven.  Because of this desire, He prepared a plan before it was even needed to pay the price of redemption and remove the penalty of sin.  This is the gospel: that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.  Jesus came not to condemn but to save.  As we live our lives in Him, we lay hold of the higher life that He desires to give us.  That's good news and it is news worth sharing.
Have a great weekend!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

When we suffer we should remember...


"The greatest Christians in history seem to say that their suffering ended up bringing them the closest to 
God - so this (suffering) is the best thing that could happen, not the worst."
~Peter Kreeft

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Remember...

“If you have not chosen the Kingdom of God first, it will in the end make no difference what you have chosen instead.”
~William Law

Monday, May 14, 2012

Perspective: Mothers and Preachers

Yesterday as I presented my Mother's Day sermon and as I looked over my notes for my class on gender roles in the church, my mind was drawn to think of all the ways mothers and preachers are alike.
Good mothers and good preachers have to look for the best in people.  Just as a mother can find something positive in a midnight call from the local sheriff about some mischief a wayward son has found, so a good minister can find some redemptive quality in the midst of any member's crisis.  Just as a mother has to listen to the hours and hours of recounted teenage drama, the life of a local preacher is full of stories of other people's grandchildren, their gardens, their confessions and their dreams.  The best mothers and preachers don't mind this of course.  They both realize that often it is better to listen long than to be quick with advice.  They love the fact that their children and their parishioners trust them enough to share both their troubles and their triumphs.
Perhaps the quality that makes mothers and preachers most alike is this: they each believe that people can change.  Many a mother has spent many a sleepless night praying for the prodigal.  She can love her children to the point of pride while still recognizing their faults and wanting them to change.  She looks for every opportunity to be an influence and a guide.  She simply cares too much to stop believing.  Even in the face of overwhelming facts, a mother refuses to give up hope.  Her children will always be her children regardless of how they stray.
A good preacher is much the same.  He too has sleepless nights whether spent in prayer or in counsel with the hurt, the broken, the grieving.  He believes that the once-a-month member has potential to be a deacon.  He hopes that the new family that came last week will come back (maybe even for Sunday School next week).  He will plan his sermons so carefully to reach out to the heartsick, the hurting and even the hungover in the Sunday morning pews.  He struggles sometimes against despair, doubt and burnout.  He will wonder, like a mother does with her children, if anyone is really listening.  He, like every mother, will make mistakes, get tired and even forget his point from time to time.
Both mothers and preachers have difficult jobs.  Yesterday many of you thanked or remembered your mother.  Let me encourage you to also remember the preachers/Sunday School teachers/youth ministers/elders in your life.  Often these jobs expect much and pay little in earthly terms.  Few would choose the vocation for the financial or social perks.  Ministry, like motherhood, is a calling and a special responsibility.  Mothers and preachers don't do what they do for a "thank you," but a genuine expression of gratitude will be appreciated and will encourage them to even better service in what God has led them to do.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Mother's Day


Many of us are so blessed with either the presence or the memory of a godly mother.  Our mothers often were the primary teachers of values, skills and morals during our early years.  Each one of us could share lessons that we learned through our mothers' teaching or example.  I would like to share a couple of lessons I learned from my mother with you in honor of Mother's Day.
My mother taught me that every person had worth and was deserving of respect.  Whether we were going to see the President of the United States at a rally or buying a cup of coffee for a homeless man at a convenience store, my mom treated everyone the same.  I truly believe my mother is one of the rare people who never see race, gender, age, past mistakes or economic status in the people that she meets.  As I later became involved in ministry, I realized how important this example truly was in shaping my approach to life.
Another great lesson I learned from my mother is that trying your best is the important thing even if you don’t finish first.  Whether in class elections, school activities, grades or even in my health challenges, my mom was always quick to encourage and is my biggest source of support.  As you may already know, mothers often turn into dear friends as we become adults.
There may be those of you that don’t have great memories of your mothers.  Some of you may have few memories at all.  Don’t be discouraged.  Seek out godly sources of advice and friendship from mature Christians.  Allow these surrogate mothers (and fathers) to be a source of support to you.  The church is a family and it is at its best when it is caring for its members.  Remember to be thankful today and everyday for the great men and women who have shaped you into the person that you are. 
May God bless all of us by allowing us to use our lives as a positive influence on others.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

This is so true...

“Baseball is like church. Many attend, few understand.”  

~Leo Durocher

Friday, May 11, 2012

Meet Me in St. Louis

Enjoying a guys' trip to St. Louis.  Cardinals hosting the Braves.  Tony LaRussa's number to be retired at the game.

 Hope everyone has a great start to the weekend!



We needed an updated video after last fall so...

No time but the present...

All of us have fond memories of what might be called the victory moments of our lives.  A wedding, a birthday, a graduation or a special vacation may stand out in our memories.  We may often recall that occasion and may perhaps wish longingly to go back and experience that happiness all over again.  Each of us also have negative memories.  We may spend time wishing to go back in time to accept a job offer, work on a marriage, make a better choice or do something different.  Whether good memories or bad ones, it is sometimes easy to want to go back to the past.

One area of our life that is uncertain is our future.  We may plan and plot, but there is actually no way to predict what may come in our lives.  Some people live expectantly looking forward to what they are sure are better days ahead.  Others live in dread of the fact that the future may be bleak and dark.  Either looking ahead to joys yet to come or fearing the unknowable future is the everyday existence of many people.

In all honesty, the only moment in life that is real for us is the present one.  We cannot change anything in our pasts and we have limited control over our futures.  So many people are caught up in regret that they miss the gift that the present truly is.  So many others are looking ahead and robbing today of its joy.  Despite what we sometimes think, we cannot add one length to our lives by fretfulness.

When Moses asked God for His name, God responded that he should tell the children of Israel that His name is "I AM THAT I AM."  God exists apart from time.  He is always in the present tense.  In God's eternal mind, all concept of past, present and future is suspended for Him.  He only uses time to relate to we who are mortal.

I would suggest that we need a view of time that is more like God's view.  Realizing that all our experiences have shaped us, we can cease from regret and wishful reminiscence.  Every choice, for good or bad, has brought you to this moment.  You cannot change those choices, but now, here in time, you can choose not to be dominated by them.  You cannot choose the future, but you can choose to live in your present without fear.

As the character John Keating so famously said in the film Dead Poets' Society, "Carpe Diem!  Seize the day, boys.  Make your lives extraordinary."  We all have the ability, by living for today, to make something beautiful out of our lives.  No matter where we start from, if we embrace the present, we can truly be the people that God wants us to be.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Turning Negative to Positive


Occasionally we may look at the state of the world and begin to think that the vast majority of what transpires is negative.  We see the state of our economy or our foreign policy or a church scandal and we could easily become discouraged.  Our society loves to tell bad news, and sadly, often so do many Christians.  What can be done to combat this barrage of negativity?
Scripture provides several solutions to negative thoughts.  First, spend time in the Word of God.  The Psalmist wrote, “Thy word I have hidden in my heart that I might not sin against Thee.”  When we focus on the timeless promises of God, negative news seems passing and temporary.
In addition to study, prayer is a key factor in staying positive.  It is amazing to write down a prayer or prayer list and then to see in a few months how the situations have either resolved or now seem unimportant.  Praying can focus the mind and crowd out the drama of negative thoughts.
Finally, meditation is an essential part of spiritual discipline.  Meditation doesn’t have to be a strange concept to us.  It is simply thinking about certain things and allowing the mind to focus around positive energy and thoughts.  If we would just spend some time thinking about all the good things in the world, we would soon run out of time to be caught up in the negative.  
Putting these three practices to use in our live will have us feeling better about the world and our place in it.  As we grow more positive in our approach to life we by necessity will leave off our negative thinking.  As I have said, enjoyment in life is largely found not in what happens to us but the attitude we have in dealing with what happens.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Power of Attitude


“Nothing is gained by negativity.”
I read that statement last week as I was preparing my ideas for Sunday's lessons.  The article it was taken from was a spiritual one and was pointing out that constantly being in a negative frame of mind gains nothing while being positive can make a great deal of difference in the situations we face.  It seems as if most people are either born with a “glass is half full” or a “glass is half empty” mentality.  I believe a lot of our attitude though is learned at an early age.  If we are constantly told we can’t do something, that we are dumb or that we are insignificant, we begin to believe it.  On the other hand, if we are told we are able, smart and important, we will largely come to believe that too.  If the Bible teaches anything about God’s feelings toward mankind, it teaches that God places a great deal of value on individuals and their abilities and potential.  If the Creator of all things views me as worthy of His concern, I should be motivated to view myself as someone who is esteemed and valuable.  Many times we cannot choose the circumstances we have in life, but we can always choose our attitudes and responses to those circumstances.  If we approach our lives in a positive way we will create a more positive environment for ourselves and those around us.  Always remember that regardless of the situation a positive outlook automatically improves it.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

When it rains...


Early last week I was driving home from Memphis as the sky in the distance became black and ominous.  As I made my way up the Interstate, the clouds seemed to be always moving just ahead of me.  Mom called and told me that a big storm was going on just a few miles in front of where I was heading.  As I continued to travel, I could see puddles and broken branches as signs that the storm had passed through.  Despite the outlook, I made it home without ever driving in the downpour.  In fact, rain never even sprinkled my windshield.  The storm was always just a little ahead of where I happened to be at the time.
Sometimes in our lives things happen right in front of us that leave a lot of damage.  We may be children who are raised in a home that is breaking apart.  Even if we don’t see the fights and problems, we clearly see the effects.  We may be adults dealing with financial difficulties and who are always one step away from disaster and dealing with the after effects of bad decisions.  It is important to remember that we have a Guide and a Comforter that will help us weather the storms of life.  Into every life some rain must fall, but God can use our difficult experiences for our benefit and His glory.  Although we may not always see the purpose in what God allows, we can know that no matter what happens He cares for us in good times and bad.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Starting the week...

"The height of your accomplishments will equal the depth of your convictions." 
- William F. Scholavino

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Truly...

"You can give up the need to compete in the world - when you accept being complete in Christ."
~Ann Voskamp

Saturday, May 5, 2012

How you use your free time...

“It is what you read when you don't have to that determines what you will be when you can't help it.” 
-Oscar Wilde

Friday, May 4, 2012

Indifference

“The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it's indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it's indifference.”
~ Elie Wiesel

Thursday, May 3, 2012

"You may not..."

“You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.” 
-Maya Angelou

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

If every person...

If every person made the decision to do one unexpected and unprompted act of kindness every day just imagine how much positive energy would be released in the world.