December 31, 2013
A homeless man living under a bridge in a neighboring community was asleep in his sleeping bag when he was attacked and repeatedly stabbed. Sometime later the attacker returned to the scene of the crime and found his victim still breathing. He then used a rock to bash in the man’s head before throwing him into the river to finish the deed. The murderer flippantly confessed to his family that he thought he could get away with it and there was a thrill to the act. He told one of his friends that the bum woke up during the attack asking, “Why brother, why?” So senseless, and yet it brings to mind the first murder recorded in the Bible, the story of brothers Cain and Abel. Abel’s offering to God was acceptable, but Cain’s was lacking. In anger Cain took his brother out into a field and killed him; you can almost hear Abel asking “Why brother, why?” The Lord stepped in to confront the murderer Abel and said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.” (Gen 4:10 NIV)
December 30, 2013
There are interesting stories coming out of China about parents suing their children for neglect, both for financial support and emotional estrangement. One such story is about a 94-year-old half-blind woman who lives in a dark, damp, and cluttered storage space. Her only bathroom is waste-can beside her bed, which is too heavy for her to empty. Her sons protest that they are too old and poor to care for their mother, and the daughter-in-law is painted as a shrew. There really is no excuse for the children’s elder abuse; however I remind myself that this is the mother who raised these uncaring men. The story also reveals that the mother was widowed in a previous marriage, but her mother-in-law at the time set her free, releasing her from the care giving obligation. I was reminded of Ruth, who too was set free by her mother-in-law. Unlike the Chinese woman, Ruth chose to continue her care giving responsibilities regardless of the gift of freedom. The outcome of each story is dramatic and eye-opening.
December 27, 2013
I sometimes struggle with speaking in love what I know to be the truth. Is my tone too harsh, my words too blunt, or do I sound unsympathetic or judgmental? Unfortunately many of us are so uncomfortable that we simply opt-out of speaking the truth at all. Paul, referencing spiritual infancy and maturity said, “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.” (Eph 4:15 NIV) Apparently there is an element of spiritual maturity needed for both parties if they are to hear and speak words ‘in love’. I wonder if a key to this love language is to follow the example of Jesus, “I tell you the truth…”
December 26, 2013
The Apostles questioned why they were unable to eradicate a demon from a possessed man and Jesus told them that this particular demon could only be driven out by prayer. Certainly when we have a loved one in the throes of addiction we coalesce around them in prayer. However, I’m wondering if any of us ever bother to ask the person who is imprisoned, ‘Are you praying to the Lord, and if so, what exactly are you praying for?’ It may well be that the person we see being held captive doesn’t even want freed from his situation. For all we know his prayer may be simply that his family get off his back. Jesus said, “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” (Mk 11:24-25 NIV)
December 25, 2013
More and more we hear of people re-gifting presents that, for whatever reason, were items they don’t need or want. I recently learned of a fruitcake that one family has lovingly passed around for years - that is a real fruitcake, not the collective family fruitcake. In a spiritual sense Paul told Timothy how to re-gift the Holy Spirit. “For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self–discipline.” (2 Tim 1:6 NIV) This Christmas season may we too re-gift and give to others the essence of the Spirit Who lives within us.
December 24, 2013
We cheer when Jesus overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves in the temple courts. He chastised their activity by quoting Scripture, “My house will be called a house of prayer, but you are making it a ‘den of robbers.’” (Matt 21:13 NIV) I’m now thinking about our homes. In the name of hospitality, and keeping the peace in the family, many of us have allowed others to occasionally bring their lifestyle into our homes - homosexuality, alcoholism, coarse language, grudges, bitterness, etc. Maybe it’s time for some of us to clean house and reclaim our own temple-homes. “But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” (Joshua 24:15 NIV)
December 23, 2013
I just learned that a member of my extended family is drinking heavily and refuses to seek medical, psychological, or spiritual help. Because there has been a lot of alcoholism in my family I made myself available if he wants to talk, but I then began to wonder what I might say if given the opportunity. As I thought about how Jesus interacted with people I realized He often convicted people by simply stating the obvious. Examples would be, ‘You have had five husbands…, you of little faith…, you do not have in mind the things of God…, friend, do what you came for.’ It may be that shining the light of observation on the reality of a situation would be more thought provoking than focusing on the individual.
December 20, 2013
Each month our mission’s coordinator highlights a different local mission for the congregation to support. It’s always been curious about why the church collects food for the local food bank when everyone in the community knows the need and many in our congregation are already individual supporters. When the topic came up during a recent conversation the coordinator laughed, “Oh, my intention isn’t support for the mission; I’m just trying to motivate people to serve in the community.” Well, that explains a lot. It’s no wonder I’ve lacked an emotional connection to the monthly mission focus. Not that the coordinator’s efforts aren’t well intended, but it just seems like his efforts to motivate believers to serve is akin to preaching to the choir. Paul tells us that in the body of Christ there are many members with different gifts, but not all of us having the same function. “We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach;…” (Ro12:6-7 NIV)
December 19, 2013
‘Tis the season for watching Christmas plays. Yesterday I attended a third grade student performance that had five superheroes interacting with those involved in the birth of Christ. The heroes - Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Hulk, and Spiderman- had heard a rumor that a new Superhero was arriving on the scene and that He would save the world. The heroes were a little miffed because, after all, it was their job to save the world. They wanted nothing to do with a new Hero if He intended to replace them by eliminating their jobs. I’m wondering if there might not be a little bit of superhero complex in all of us. We get so caught up in saving the lost that we forget that our real job is to worship the King.
December 18, 2013
In my parent’s generation if you talked-back to an adult you were immediately backhanded. In my generation a sharp tongue resulted in a spanking. However, today parents are more apt to reason with a child, or take away their privileges. I recently had a sit-down talk with my grandkids about back talking. Eight year-old Lydia’s ability to articulate exactly what she is feeling sometimes gets her in hot water. In sharing my observations with them I mentioned that I hadn’t noticed David back talking, but the 10 year-old was quick to say, “Well, I think about it. I say it in my head; I just don’t say it out loud.” I chuckled at his confession, and then praised him for his honesty. Often we adults hold our tongues simply because it is the ‘mature’ thing to do, but we also need to recognize that taking our thoughts captive is the first step to teaching them obedience. “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Cor 10:5 NIV)
December 17, 2013
The Christian school fifth grade put on a play and one of the scenes had students divided up into teams. Rather than having the red team and the blue team, the names were Team Loyalty and Team Excellence. I began wondering if the Lord assigned believers to teams, which team might He would put me on. Would He put me on Team Obedience, Team Faithfulness, or would I be simply be designated the cheerleading mascot who warms the bench. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” (Hebrews 12:1 NIV)
December 16, 2013
The interpreter for the deaf who signed for speakers at Nelson Mandela’s funeral has been employed for many events. However, at this funeral he was exposed as an imposter and a fraud who ‘spoke’ gibberish to the deaf when President Obama and other dignitaries spoke. Event organizers are now saying while the man is able to interpret; he is not a trained professional. When interviewed later the man excused his actions by saying he was schizophrenic and had seen angels descending in the stadium during the event. This gives me a whole new perspective to add to my thoughts on speaking in tongues and about those who step forward to interpret. Paul reminds us, “So it is with you. Unless you speak intelligible words with your tongue, how will anyone know what you are saying? You will just be speaking into the air.” (1 Cor 14:9 NIV)
December 13, 2013
My recently married daughter didn’t want to move her succulent houseplant across the state, so she left it in my care. The plant always looked spindly and thirsty, but I didn’t realize until it was too late that Bill was watering it also. I’m afraid we drowned the poor thing, or in Bill’s words, “We loved it to death.” Paul uses an agricultural analogy to show the lifecycle of the Gospel, “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor.” (1 Cor 3:6-8 NIV) It’s wonderful that God rewards our labor, but now I’m wondering how He might feel about over-watering a new believer.
December 12, 2013
I’m in the early stages of learning Twitter, but because it allows you to use only 140 characters it puts ‘writing tight’ in a whole new perspective. I had to laugh thinking about the Apostle Paul literally being tongue-tied if someone limited him to 140 characters per thought. Jesus, on the other hand, was light years ahead of this generation with tweets and getting His message across with limited words. With 88 characters Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6 NIV) And with132 characters Jesus said, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16 NIV)
December 11, 2013
Years ago one of the ‘rules’ for the prayer chain was that you not pass the request on to anyone other than the next person in your link. The concern was that a prayer need could be turned into gossip. Recently my friend was soliciting prayers, but she deliberately excluded asking one woman to pray because the woman was a known gossip. I understand both situations, but it is a bit of a quandary that has me asking questions. Does the Lord care if the prayer comes from a gossip? Should we try to micromanage prayer warriors? Can the request be worded in such a way that there is no fodder for the gossiper? Does the Lord want us to withhold asking for prayers simply because we don’t want a particular individual praying for us? I suppose the real question we should ask; does our fear of gossip trump our need for prayers?
December 10, 2013
Often believers withhold spiritual confrontation with one another for fear that the other party will get mad and/or accuse them of judging. I’m toying with the idea that I can in fact correct another spiritually, but must first admit that I too may have the same fault or sin. Jesus said, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? (Matt 7:3-4 NIV) Jesus does not say to ignore the speck (the sin), but rather to examine ourselves first lest we have the same inclination. The question then becomes, do I recognize the craftiness in others because I too have craftiness to my character? Or, do I see adultery in others because I too have a lustful heart? I’m wondering if acknowledging our own craftiness or lustfulness then frees us to confront that same sin in others.
December 09, 2013
I’ve noticed that the weakest sermon presentations occur in and around national holidays. Preachers will even joke from the pulpit, ‘I pulled my New Year’s Eve sermon out of the file and just dusted it off for today’s message.’ I understand the dilemma, because I fall into the same trap when I force a blog post to conform to a holiday. The Christmas message has already been said, there is nothing new under the sun, and it’s hard to come up with a new thought provoking idea for the season. Sadly pastors and speakers think their audience won’t recognize that they have fallen back on tried and true holiday rhetoric. Maybe the faith community would hear fresher material if we’d take a page from the retailer’s playbook and have Christmas in July.
December 06, 2013
Recently dozens of pilot whales have shown up in the shallow coastal waters of Florida and wildlife officials are trying to coax them back into deep sea, their normal habitat. At least 10 whales have already died and the fear is that more will succumb. The reports describe the situation saying, ‘the challenges are very, very difficult…the whales are not cooperating…it will be difficult for them to navigate out on their own.’ I have this image of similar situation within the extended church family. We can see friends and loved ones struggling in the shallow waters of the world, but getting them into deeper spiritual waters before the beach themselves is very, very difficult.
December 05, 2013
A promotion video clip for AMC’s War Heroes Marathon, which was televised on Memorial Day, caught my attention. If the title was given I didn’t catch it, but the movie appeared to be set in the Viet Nam era. Actor Sean Penn, who played the part of an enlisted Army man said, “Yea though I walk through the valley of evil, I shall fear no death.” Considering the evil that is in our world today I felt a connection with this twist on the 23rd Psalm. Thankfully the more mature we become in the Word and in faith, we neither fear death, nor evil.
December 04, 2013
Obedience, depending on certain areas of our life, can be a struggle for all of us. Recently I was taken aback by a speaker in church who added a caveat to his presentation saying, “If you don’t obey, you have never truly brought Jesus into your heart.” Ouch, that’s harsh…and not very well thought out. It would be wonderful if obedience magically appeared when you accept Jesus into your heart, but that is simply not the case. Just ask any parent or child, obedience is an acquired taste and a learned activity. While Jesus was never disobedient, He too learned obedience. The writer of Hebrews says of Him, “Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him…” (Heb 5:8-9 NIV)
December 03, 2013
My large round oak table dinner table is one that my grandma purchased years ago at a yard sale for 25 cents. Grandma ran an old folks home and we always had four or five old-time gents eating family-style meals with us. Grandma, a staunch believer, never served a meal without first saying the blessing, so the prayers offered over this table would be too numerous to count. Although the table has been refinished, it is seasoned and worn with prayers, petitions and thanksgivings. I can only imagine what this cherished piece of furniture might say if it had a voice. Interestingly, John does give voice to the altar in Revelation. “And I heard the altar respond: “Yes, Lord God Almighty, true and just are your judgments.” (Rev 16:7 NIV)
December 02, 2013
I was doing some extended complaining to Bill about something that had happened and when I finally caught myself I went back and apologized to him for grousing an bending his ear. He accepted my apology with the caveat, “That’s OK. Nobody but me and God can hear you.” I chuckled, but his comment hit a nerve. We sometimes think our communication with God is similar to a light switch. We turn the switch on when we want God to hear our prayers and cries for mercy, but the switch is automatically off if we don’t specifically call on Him in petitions. “I cried out to him with my mouth; his praise was on my tongue. If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened; but God has surely listened and heard my voice in prayer. Praise be to God, who has not rejected my prayer or withheld his love from me!” (Psalm 66:17-20 NIV)