Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Things are not looking up, but I am. So is the body count.


I’m always looking up. When I’m out walking in the neighborhood and especially when I’m someplace surrounded by tall buildings. I look up.

Monday as the news of Las Vegas filtered out, the first thing that came to mind was the 1966 University of Texas tower shootings. I was 14. There wasn’t the intense 24-hour news coverage like we have now, but the news that did reach us was terrifying and transfixing.

Who would do such a thing? Why? Was it really happening? How could it happen? In America!

Thinking about the victims then I was gripped by a sense of helplessness. I don’t clearly remember all of the details, but I do remember that feeling. I’m wondering if that isn’t the impetus to my always looking up.

Looking up. I wonder.

Then came 9/11, demon driven terror plunging out of the sky. Memories of that day in 2001 and the weeks that followed are more vivid than those from 1966. The day after, I stepped into the backyard, and looked up. The sky was so clear and blue. Empty and quiet.

Even now I can’t resist looking up any time I hear a plane going over. I need to see it. To see that it isn’t diving down into the earth.

And now I wonder what it was like in Las Vegas to have hundreds of bullets falling down like a hard rain. Some told how they could feel bits of dirt and debris striking their face, thrown up by bullets hitting near them. Very near them. Shrapnel everywhere.

Many looked up, pointed at the Mandalay Bay hotel. Pointed at the source of the terror falling on them. And ran screaming. Many are still screaming in their dreams and silently in their heads. They will be for a long time.

* * *

I don’t own a gun now and have no objections to those who do. I’ve thought about getting one, but it’s not a priority. Years ago I won trophies on the rifle range at Scout camp. It was fun.

For some it seems guns are an obsession. They seem more passionate about guns than most other things in their lives. It’s a weird and desperate idolatry. A crazed addiction of a kind. A sort of paranoia-inducing gunpowder fever. Mad gun disease. Bigger guns! Larger clips! More ammo! Silencers! Bump stocks!

I don’t know a lot about the current gun laws, the lobbying practices of the NRA, or about specifics of different kinds of guns. I know some things and probably should learn more.

But I don’t need to know much to understand that if guns aren’t easily available, when a person goes all broken in their head and heart, when they let evil invisibly take them over, it’s less likely they’ll turn to a gun to do damage.

You can’t use what you can’t get.

* * *

There are those who claim it makes no difference if someone chooses a gun or a knife, that if they are intent on killing they will.

True.

But someone wielding a knife has to come down from the 32nd floor, walk into the crowd of 22,000 to inflict pain. They have to bring their evil up close and personal to their victims. Look them in the eyes.

Once aware that evil is running amok, people can avoid a person with a knife. And one person with a knife certainly isn’t going to kill 59 people and wound more than 500 others. Not even close.

A knife is inherently very self-limiting as to the amount of damage that can be done. You have to hold it in your hand and your reach is limited to the length of your arm. If you throw it at someone, you’re done.

A gun is a different beast. All that limits a person with a gun is how much ammunition they can carry and how fast they can reload. The reach of a single gun is vast and obscene. The Las Vegas shooter had dozens.

* * *

Every time there’s a mass shooting, we’re told this is not the time to talk about gun control or related issues. That doing so politicizes a tragic event. Which is an odd claim given that often those trying to talk about it are survivors, or friends and family of those killed.

What I wonder is, what is it going to take? What’s the body count that will trigger the backlash and release the courage needed to reign in this gun madness that infects our nation?

Clearly the death of 18 people and wounding of 31 at the University of Texas wasn’t enough.

Obviously 12 students and one adult murdered at Columbine wasn’t enough.

Evidently the 32 killed and 17 injured at Virginia Tech wasn’t enough.

Apparently 20 frightened children and six adults being killed at Sandy Hook wasn’t enough.

Forty-nine dead at the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando did not achieve the tipping point either.

You’d think that 59 dead and more than 500 injured in Las Vegas -- and the numbers keep ticking up -- would certainly be enough.

Instead, all that is accomplished is the setting of a new macabre record repeatedly touted in the news.

Get Guinness on the phone! It’s another one for the record books!

A “mass shooting” is when four or more people are killed. According to several sources, in the U.S. there have been 273 “mass shootings” in 275 days so far this year -- more than 1,000 people killed by guns -- and even this is not enough.

* * *

Many, taking a cue from the NRA and bizarrely intense Second Amendment firebrands, urge a wait-and-see approach. Just calm down and let the facts be gathered.

They claim we still need to know how many guns there were, we need to wait to learn if the gun Stephen Paddock used was fully automatic or was converted. We need to wait to learn if the guns were purchased legally. We need to wait until we learn definitely the shooter’s motive. Was it terrorism, a screw loose, a failed relationship, gambling debts, or something else? We need to wait. To wait and see.

Actually, no. We don’t need to wait. We need to act. As far as waiting, enough is truly enough already!

It makes zero difference the type of firearm, how it was purchased, or the motive. Having answers for these questions will be helpful, but they are not required for action. We have all the data and information we need to move, to act, to incite change. Now.

All that matters are the lives lost because a bent man with a gun sprayed bullets into a crowd at a concert. All that matters are the lives lost in 1966 in Texas. The lives lost in 1999 at Columbine. The lives lost in 2007 at Virginia Tech. The lives lost in 2012 at Sandy Hook. The lives lost in 2016 in Orlando. The lives lost this week and every week across the United States.

The body count is high enough already.

We need action to reduce the number of guns produced and available in this country. We need more stringent, consistent laws that make it tougher for anyone to get and own and use a gun.

It shouldn’t be easier to get a gun than it is to get a driver’s license.

It should be as regulated to own and use a gun as it is to own and drive a car. We need standardized training, mandatory testing, required insurance, a probationary licensing process, annual registration, license renewals and fees every couple of years, photo ID -- the works -- to get and own and use a gun.

Not doing anything is insane. Not taking action is irresponsible.

I agree with Stephen Colbert, now is the time to do something. Do something, “or come up with a better answer. Anything but nothing. Doing nothing is cowardice. Doing something will take courage.”

* * *

It’s startling to realize part of why I look up. Out of fear. Fear that was seeded when I was 14 and a madman climbed a tower in Texas. Fear that was fed when towers fell in New York City. Fear that has now been refueled by a guy with far too many guns shooting from high up in a hotel.

It’s a cautionary and not a paralyzing fear. It’s not like the fear generated by gun lobbyists and others that freezes lawmakers into inaction and insensitive excuses when it comes to making needed changes. When it comes to standing up and acting.

The country needs more courage and regulation. Not more guns. There are more than enough guns. Far, far too many guns.

So, while waiting for lawmakers to stand up -- to do what We The People want them to do -- I look up. I look up to scan the windows of the buildings towering over me, and, even though changes were made and it’s much more difficult to commandeer one, to scan the skies and watch the trajectories of the planes above me. And to keep an eye on all those around me vehemently, irrationally insisting they need more guns and fewer regulations.

I look up to God and pray that He will send comfort to the families who have lost a child, a parent, a spouse, a friend -- yet again.

I look up and pray and hope, knowing it will probably take another tragedy, and another, and another, and who knows how many more before lawmakers will find the courage to stand up and act, to push against our country’s gun madness.

God, help us.






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In the iconic image heading this post, think of the man holding the gun as the NRA and the other man as the USA. Agree? Disagree? Do you own guns? If so, are you in favor of more regulation? If not, what suggestions -- better answers -- do you have to better manage gun ownership? What ideas do you have for bringing mass shootings to and end? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Pastors: The real superheroes

 

Paul, Don, Bill, Ken, Juri, Darren, Dan.

These are the ones who come most quickly to mind. I’m surely forgetting a couple.Who are they? No, not members of a rock band, although they all rock. They are a few faithful pastors who have had or are having an enduring positive impact on my life. I love these guys.

Pastors -- the good ones -- are unsung superheroes. Seriously.

I’m a church kid. Well, not so much a kid anymore, but what I mean is that I essentially grew up in church. Really. We were at church a lot and I liked it. Most of the time.

Every Sunday morning we went to Sunday school -- there was a class for all ages. Then came morning worship. This involved a lot of singing from the song book and a special or two.

Then the pastor preached. Boy did he preach.

Sunday evening we were back again for the “evangelistic” service. While similar to morning worship, the attitude was more casual. Still, there was a lot of singing, more preaching, and always the altar call.

Some nights it got pretty raucous. Good times.

We also had a midweek service on Wednesday nights. And the periodic revival weeks when we were there every night, often pretty late, even on school nights.

Outside of “church” at church, there was almost always something going on, some reason to be there. Youth meetings, Boy Scouts, pitch-ins, Vacation Bible school, committee meetings, choir practice, worship band rehearsal, Christmas play practice, and so much more.

At the hub of all this hubbub was the pastor, Brother Davidson. All of the adults were “Brother” or “Sister.” Brother Davidson (Paul) was my first really memorable pastor. He seemed to be always around no matter what was happening at church. If he wasn’t in the office working on a sermon he was puttering around the building fixing this, cleaning that, touching up the paint on a kid-damaged wall. Still, he always had time to listen to a heartache, to pray for a need.

After Brother Davidson moved on from pastoring and I had moved out of town, he taught Old Testament at a small Bible school in one of the Dakotas. Years later I ran into a man, a professor at a prominent East Coast seminary who had been a student of Brother Davidson. We both had great, fond memories of him. Small world.

Just a couple of years before he died, Brother Davidson reached out to me in a letter with encouragement having heard, somehow, about challenges I had encountered. Even decades later, he was still my pastor.

He was a good man. As are all of the men named at the beginning of this post. I call them superheroes because what they do is, if you stop to really think about it, epic. Few other jobs require such a wide diversity of skills and knowledge and crazy hours. Not to mention a bottomless sea of patience.

Real pastoring is hard, exhausting work.

Just doing sermons every week is daunting. I know, because I’ve preached a few times. (Emphasis on few.) Sermon prep alone could kill you if you let it.

Once, while in the midst of working on a sermon, I mentioned to someone how hard it is. Their response was, “Well, that’s the difference when you don’t have the anointing.” Yes, that was not encouraging in the least. But I let it go.

Sermon prep is hard. Every pastor I’ve talked to says so. It’s a labor-intensive endeavor as well as soul-challenging. Even when it goes well it has its frustrations.

Consider this. Imagine how hard it is to labor so lovingly and painstakingly to bring the Word, to do it faithfully, and with the hope that it will change hearts and minds, bending them more toward God’s will. You know, hoping against hope that there will be transformation in the lives of those hearing these sermons.

Sometimes it happens and the change in people is evident. Often it doesn’t.

Still, week after week, our pastors do the work and we are blessed. Even when we’re clueless.

It has to be incredibly tough, following a service, to have people come up to you with a complaint, a grievance, an annoyance. The sanctuary was too cold. The music was too loud. The sound system was popping. And on and on. With nary a nod toward the message.

Some will even go so far as to complain, right then, right there, about some point with which they disagreed. Usually these complaints arise from conviction that should be prompting a much different response.

And so it goes, week after week. The Word is given, brilliantly, yet the words fail to penetrate hearts a little on the hard side and minds that barely crack open.

My heart and mind have been like that.

Every time a truth finally penetrates my rebellious head and seeps into my sinful heart, I grieve that it took so long. That it took years and years of hearing great sermons, of being blessed by the faithful ministry of really good men, before I finally got it.

But I’m also thankful that they all kept preaching and teaching until the Word broke through. Thank God!

So, to all you pastors, the good shepherds, the faithful laborers, my apologies for being dense and stubborn and distracted.

Forgive me when I’ve failed to thank you for your service, when I’ve complained about something petty, when I’ve clearly behaved counter to the Truth you’ve diligently preached. In other words, when I’ve been a foolish, wandering sheep.

Thank you for your faithfulness, your humility, your travails. For your love and relentless caring.

And, please, don’t stop! The world needs real superheroes.

Respect, brothers (and sisters). Respect.



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How many pastors have had a positive impact on your life? Did you let them know? Do you view any pastor, past or present, as a kind of superhero? Why or why not? What do you think makes a good pastor? Please share your thoughts in the comments!



 
Juri, Dan, Ken. 

Friday, August 18, 2017

Suddenly, like a mighty, rushing wind


A lot of people are asking, “Why all of a sudden?”

Why “all of sudden” are certain statues a problem? Why “all of sudden” is the Confederate flag a bad thing? Why “all of a sudden” are things not staying the way they were? Why “all of a sudden” do I need to change my thinking?

Perhaps it's like the process of sanctification.

When we become Christians, everything that needs to doesn't fall away at once. Over time, as the Holy Spirit repeatedly nudges us and, when we finally accede and acknowledge the problem because the pain of ignoring it has grown too intense, then all of a sudden we address it and begin the process of change. Finally, Truth has broken through.

Or, perhaps it's like reading our Bible and we read the same passage again and again dozens and dozens of times over the years when all of a sudden new meaning bursts forth and we see its deeper meaning. A meaning we've missed, ignored, glossed over for all those years. At last, Truth finally takes hold.

Or, perhaps it’s like when I was a kid just learning to read and for whatever reason I thought the sign above a little shopping center in my hometown said Pawnee Village. When others pointed out that’s not what it said, then all of a sudden I saw that it was actually Payne Village. Truth opened my eyes.

Or, perhaps it’s like amazing grace as expressed in one of America’s favorite hymns that describes “I once was lost, but now am found; Was blind, but now I see” and now all of a sudden things look different, feel different, are different because the light has come and shattered the darkness all of a sudden. Mercifully, Truth finally broke through.

Or, perhaps it’s like after centuries of preparation, of wandering in the wilderness, after the birth, ministry, and death of Christ, “When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting” and nothing was ever quite the same again. Truth was victorious.

Sometimes it takes time for truth and Truth to take hold and become effective. The result may seem like it came “all of a sudden” -- like water coming to a boil in a microwave -- but the process of change was happening all along.

It’s a process, not a conspiracy.

The bottom line is, as the saying goes, better late than never, even when it feels so sudden. That’s the Truth, the Way, and the Life at work.


Additional resources:



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How many times in your life have you faced change that at first annoyed you but later made a lot of sense, perhaps leaving you scratching your head wondering, “Why’d it take so long?” Why is change so hard for us? How have you successfully faced and accepted change? How should Christians respond to what’s happening around them in politics and society? Is there ever a time when we should avoid change? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Don’t judge. Just help. You may be next.


Two well-known parables of Jesus have been on my mind lately. You know them as the parables of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) and the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32).

They’re regular fodder for sermons and devotional messages. I’ve read them many times over the years.

But there’s one thing that never really popped out until recently. Something common to both lessons.

I have a friend who is going through a really hard time. A business partner betrayed him and a series of other unfortunate events has laid him low. He is without a car and was recently evicted from his apartment. His primary daily challenges are finding a way to pay for his cell phone, his motel room, and a little food. Since the phone is his lifeline, he often goes without food.

While he’s desperately searching for work and enduring what is an impossible situation -- you imagine doing a job search and making it to interviews with no car and no income -- he’s reached out to friends for help.

Yes, he’s asking for “handouts” -- some money to tide him over. To keep him afloat. To allow him to survive one more day.

This is a humbling experience. I know because I’ve been there. On more than one occasion I’ve been left essentially homeless, jobless, and wondering what the future held. Hope was in short supply.

I got through these unbearably hard times because of one thing: People who helped.

There were the landlords who waived my rent for a time. An acquaintance who let me crash at his house for a couple of months until I was able to afford and find an apartment. The guy from my church I met on the subway as I was on the way to a job interview who shook my hand as we parted and palmed me sixty bucks. The friend from college who sent me a check for a couple hundred dollars. The client who gave me a small job and paid me far more than it was worth. Friends from church who had me over for dinner and sent me home with leftovers and cash.

There are many people I owe a great debt of gratitude for their tangible kindnesses.

As a result, I’ve extended the same tangible kindness to my friend. How can I not?

Apparently some, however, have decided that what he needs is a good talking to. A nice dose of criticism. A little shunning. After all, certainly he is to blame for his predicament! Let him take his medicine like a man!

Which brings me back to those parables. They’re very different stories yet with at least one intriguing common element.

The Prodigal Son asked for his inheritance and then threw it all away foolishly. The robbed man in the story of the Good Samaritan was left beaten, which is not something he had sought out. Both characters were left penniless and bereft.

One was able to seek out help, and did, returning humbled to his father. The other was completely helpless, yet received help from the Good Samaritan.

The common element in both stories? There was no judgment. No criticism. No conditions laid on them for receiving help and restoration.

And this brings me back to my friend.

In looking back on my dire straits I can see where I could have done things differently. Maybe taken steps to avoid what happened. I’ve tried to learn from these.

But there were also those situations over which I had no control. Where someone else called the shots that left me heartbroken, destitute, and helpless.

The point is, what difference does it make? When we are in need of help, we are in need of help. Period.

And when we see someone else in need of help, our calling, our duty, our only genuine and reasonable response as human beings created in the image of God is to provide the help we are able.

The Golden Rule says to “do unto others as you would have them do to you.”

Don’t be the priest, the Levite, or the older brother.

When you see a neighbor in need -- and there are always needy neighbors all around us -- help. Just help. Don’t judge. You may be the next one in need.



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Have you ever been homeless? Jobless? In desperate need? Who helped you? Have you willingly extended help to those around you in need? Why or why not? Please share your thoughts in the comments. Wondering who is a “neighbor”? Then re-read the story of the Good Samaritan.


By the way, here’s how to give to help my friend out:

Click here for his GoFundMe page: https://www.gofundme.com/help-doug-restart-his-business

You can send money via Google Wallet payments that take place right away and can now be completed from the website https://www.google.com/wallet/ or through the Smartphone App to transfer funds from Debit Card to Debit Card using our phone numbers (727) 831-1969 or emails DWR123@gmail.com.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Plumbing problems


Plumbing problems. These are two words that can strike fear into the heart of every homeowner. They also represent a euphemism for bodily dysfunction, but that’s not the tack we’ll be taking here.

What I’m referring to are leaks and breaks and other issues in the pipes of a home. Lead pipes. Copper pipes. PVC and pex. Or, perhaps it’s a bad washer in a faucet, a failed flusher in the toilet, or a clog in a drain.

Plumbing problems -- big and little -- can bring the strongest man to tears. Especially when you’re living on only half a shoestring and haven’t got a clue.

Many years ago, while up in the middle of a very cold night to use the bathroom, I heard a noise in the wall behind the bathtub. I went around to the other side through the laundry room and saw a slight bulge in the wallboard. I touched it and Whoosh! a strong stream of water came spraying out at me.

There was a tiny crack in the copper pipe, the rest of which, it turned out, was frozen.

Panic set in. This was the first home I’d owned, had only barely enough income, and no idea where to turn off the water. I searched all over for a shut-off valve, only to finally discover -- and I can’t recall how I came into this knowledge -- that the shut-off was in the street.

We had to call the city and wait while the water spewed.

Needless to say an easily accessible shut-off valve was added inside the house. Since then, wherever I’ve lived, whether apartment or house, I always checked first thing to see where the water shut-off valve was located.

I’ve dealt with a fair number and kinds of plumbing issues since then. I’ve even worked in construction where I installed plumbing. Now, instead of panic, I figure out what needs to be done. Minor issues I can usually take care of on my own. Duct tape can be handy for fast, temporary fixes! For bigger, more complicated issues -- like the slab leak we recently dealt with-- I call a few plumbers and get quotes.

Experience makes a difference in response. Learning occurs. Or at least it should.

A brand new baby Christian can easily be sidetracked by the usual everyday temptations and clever but wrong arguments. However, if maturing is happening common tempters can be anticipated and avoided. And nice-sounding, but non-biblical and deceptive concepts become easier to spot. We learn not to go certain places or watch certain programs or listen to certain people and so on. We learn.

Trials become a little easier to endure as well. Events that once were instantly crushing eventually are still painful when they happen, yet bearable. We learn that what feels like the end of the world really isn’t. Shaky faith grows into stronger faith. We learn to endure and hope even when it seems hopeless. Our pain teaches us how to comfort others.

And when life throws one of those soul-punch challenges at us -- a serious illness, divorce, death of a loved one, financial collapse -- we discover that it’s better not to bear those burdens alone. We belong to a body of believers and have discovered there are lots of shoulders to lean on.

Jesus told his followers, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33, ESV).

With time and experience, learning the reality of this truth -- that Jesus has overcome the world -- becomes more real, offering steadying hope and comfort. When life “springs a leak” panic abates as we turn to our Master Plumber and fellow believers for support.



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How do you deal with life’s “plumbing problems”? On your own? Or do you phone a friend? Does scripture help or hurt? As for my midnight leak, I wrote a poem about the ordeal later. You can click here to read it: “Prayer at Midwinter”. Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Cue the bunny!



The bunny and colored eggs are Easter oddities. They really have nothing to do with the point of the day. Yet we embrace these alt-artifacts enthusiastically. Why?

There are legends and myths behind their origins, but I’m guessing there’s a simpler motivation behind their creation.

Look at Christmas. Christmas is mostly fun. Interesting. Pretty.

There are donkeys and camels and sheep. Three kings. Shepherds. Angels. And, of course, a baby in a manger. The entertainment factor is easy to find and build on.

Easter is another story altogether.

Even by today's standards, the death Jesus suffered is hard to think about.

So, cue the Easter bunny! Scatter the eggs! Distract!

Distract from the gruesome reality of the torture and necessary crucifixion of Jesus.

Seriously, there’s enough “ugly” in the world. Who wants to think about a beaten, bleeding, thorn-crowned Savior?

The sin in us shuns such meditation. Why? Because it reminds us that there is, in fact, sin in us. And that that sin is uglier than any death-by-cross.

Actually, we are so sin-acknowledging-averse, we even need to create a distraction for the Truth behind Christmas with Santa, the elves, red-nosed flying reindeers and more. That baby, it turns out, is just so threatening!

Bunnies are cute. Colored eggs are fun. Candy is sweet. And Santa is a pudgy pushover.

But none offer what we truly need.

They are merely cheap shiny things to draw our attention away from the hard-edged reality that without the virgin birth, the grim death, and the ultimate resurrection of Christ there is no hope.

Our sin, without Christ, will kill us.

There’s only one cure for the sin in our skin. Only one out for avoiding eternal damnation. By applying the blood of Jesus. It’s a messy and offensive image. But the sin that infects us is far more messy and offensive.

Probably the most quoted verse of the Bible is, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16, ESV).

Yes, the potential for perishing is very real. But so is the promise of eternal life. You and I are pretty wicked, yet, God still loves us! So much so that he gave up his son to a brutal death to wipe out our impossible sin debt.

The crux is believing in the right Savior.

The Son reigns over Christmas and Easter. Santa, eggs, elves, and bunnies are empty imagery. Don’t be distracted by them.

He is risen. That’s the whole point.


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Additional resources:

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How important is the bunny and associated non-biblical imagery in your observance of Easter? How about Santa and such at Christmas? Is it sinful to enjoy these harmless symbols as long as they don’t over-shadow the true meanings behind Easter and Christmas? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

Monday, April 10, 2017

Resurrection ( #PoetryMonday *)


I tuck my sins
like brightly colored
Easter eggs
into the dark, hidden
nooks and crannies
of my foolish soul.

The Holy Spirit
hops relentlessly through my life
finding each rotting one,
collecting them in a basket,
leaving them at the foot of the cross.

Miraculously they hatch out
bright yellow chicks of hope,
cheerily cheeping
of His tender
new-every-morning
mercies.





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* Its PoMo! To learn about PoMo (POetry MOnday), click here.  
Grace. It's what Easter is a lot about. And, even though we long for it, we often run or hide from it. Yet, the "hound of heaven" can be persistent. Any thoughts? Please share them in the comments!





This poem can be found in my recent collection, "Home Noise: New Poems."

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Delight. Fail. Rinse. Repeat. Now!

Many who make resolutions and don’t keep them feel as if they’ve failed for the whole year and can’t try again until the old year once again turns into a New Year.

But why put off what you’ve discerned is a thing that needs addressing?

Could it be, perhaps, you really don’t want to let go of that thing? Maybe you want to play with that bad habit one last time? < Wink, wink. Nudge, nudge.>

Delaying for any reason is avoidance which means failure is likely your fate.

It’s the Holy Spirit in you nudging

As a Christian the reason you’re even considering making resolutions is because the Holy Spirit in you is nudging you. When the Holy Spirit nudges toward needed changes, you can be assured that God will enable you to carry them out.

Let’s examine this methodically with Scripture:

  • Abiding. As a Christian, you live in obedience to God’s word with the Holy Spirit as your Helper: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you” (John 14:15-17, ESV). See also John 16.
     
  • Conforming. As you bend your life to godly living, God works in you: “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13, ESV).
     
  • Thinking. Your mind is attuned to the things of God: “‘For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?’ But we have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16, ESV).
     
  • Choosing. You have access to godly wisdom which yields good choices: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (James 1:5, ESV).
     
  • Doing. You are equipped to do what the Holy Spirit prompts: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13, ESV).
     
  • Walking. The Holy Spirit leads you away from evil and toward holiness: “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16, ESV).
     
When you resist or put off these Holy Spirit nudges you are delaying your own spiritual growth.

Daily resolve is better than annual resolutions

Since change is a process, it won’t be smooth going. But that’s okay. Because, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases...” (Lamentations 3:22-23, ESV).

Also, “If we confess our sins, [Jesus] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9, ESV).

And since living out the Christian life is an ongoing endeavor, there is no need to wait until the New Year to “begin” again, and again, and again. Every time you fall down, get up. Now!

Ultimately, there is only one resolution you need to make on a moment-by-moment basis, all year, every year:
“I resolve to, as best I can, love and delight in the Lord my God with all my heart and with all my soul and with all my mind, and love my neighbor as myself, right now” (see Matthew 22:34-40).

And if you fail?

Rinse and repeat. As often as needed. No waiting necessary.



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How do you feel about New Year’s resolutions? Do you make them? Keep them? Break them? Love them? Hate them? Did you make any? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments!


Note: This is a heavily revised and shortened version of “I resolve to be resolute in avoiding New Year’s resolutions” first posted on December 31, 2015. 

Saturday, January 7, 2017

How your personality impacts reading the Bible (American Bible Society)


Reading and interpreting the Bible through our twenty-first-century sensibilities has its challenges.

Serious students of God’s Word will recognize that assessing and applying Scripture faithfully requires at least a cursory grasp of the culture of the original writers. It helps to keep in mind such simple things as that the biblical writers had no indoor plumbing, that transportation involved using either your own or an animal’s feet, that electricity wasn’t even a spark of an idea.

Not to mention the challenge of writing an entire book with no word processor, typewriter, or even a number two pencil!

On top of such details, knowing that a writer of a particular Bible book was Jewish or Gentile, a prophet or an apostle, a doctor or a fisherman can add to our understanding. It gives us context to wrap around metaphors and figures of speech.

But one other piece of knowledge can also make a drastic interpretative difference: your own personality type.



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Do you believe your personality style/type influences how you read the Bible? How you see the world? Why or why not? Do you view yourself as an introvert or an extrovert? If you are an extrovert, do you view introverts as being broken? Why or why not? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

Friday, January 6, 2017

Basics of a good group, Part 3 of 3: Outreach

This three-part series explores some basics on how to build, maintain, and grow good small groups in your church, fostering healthy biblical engagement together.

There’s nothing like a well-functioning small group.

After a tough week, it’s nice to be able to go where everybody knows your name. Where they're always glad you came. Where everyone’s troubles are the same. Or so promises the theme from the old TV show, “Cheers.”

But what about your neighbors or friends who are unchurched? Do you invite them to your group?

Typically, when it comes to “bringing in the sheaves” we immediately offer invitations to strangers to visit our church. In my experience, resistance to such invitations is high. In many cases, it was a bad church experience in the past that is keeping people out of church now.

Church, for many, carries a negative connotation. The experience is viewed as ritual, formal, impersonal, and even a little weird.

Yet, when invited into a Cheers-like scenario, even sans alcohol, those outside the church are much more interested in trying it out. Mostly because a small group in their neighbor’s house doesn’t look like church!

Yet, welcoming newcomers does have its challenges.

The good group is cozy, safe, and maybe even a little predictable. Rocking the boat by adding newcomers can be resisted by the group, but it’s a resistance that should be overcome. Why? Because the group isn’t just about you or your buddies! Or any one person. Well, other than Jesus.

Exactly because small groups are cozy, safe, and predictable, they are the perfect, non-threatening place to invite your skeptical friends and neighbors for these four reasons:

1. It’s just people. Instead of an institution, the small group is basically just some folks hanging out. While some may have issues with “The Church,” fewer have a problem with getting to know their neighbors and their neighbor’s friends, enjoying some snacks, and engaging in casual discussion of the Bible or issues of faith.

2. More than a book. Engaging with people of the Word who view the Bible as God’s living Truth, makes the Bible accessible to those who view it with suspicion. Instead of being confronted with a harsh set of esoteric rules, the warmth of the Word is released through the sharing of those who seek to live it authentically.

3. Hey, this is nice! Being welcomed into an intimate, caring, loving group of people translates the Gospel into reality for those encountering it. Instead of being “preached at” in a sermon,  in a group people engage with other people who are just like them. People who have car payments, trouble at work, childcare issues, health challenges, and all the rest of the stuff of real life. Instead of ritual, they encounter reality.

4. Is there more? A good small group exhibits the attractiveness of the Gospel and, therefore, attracts outliers into the group and then into the church. Often those who object to church do so for reasons that aren’t really valid. Their fears or objections are based on misinformation or time- and location-specific incidents that are not representative of the full Body of Christ. Acceptance into a good group helps dissolve the barriers to meeting the personal God and finding a relationship with Jesus.


It’s tempting to rest in the enjoyment of the group we know and ignore those outside we don’t. But to be true to our calling to share Christ everywhere, even our cozy groups need to be open and inviting. Is yours?.

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Previously in part 1: Logistics of the good group.

Previously in part 2: Leading the good group.



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Are you in a good small group or any group? What makes it a good group or a not so good group? Do you have other good ideas for creating good small groups? Please share them in the comments!

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Basics of a good group, Part 2 of 3: Leading

This three-part series explores some basics on how to build, maintain, and grow good small groups in your church, fostering healthy biblical engagement together.


A small group leader training booklet lists 15 tips for leaders. Number 13 is my favorite: “You’re not Spurgeon.”

Right now, in my church, we’re wrestling with the need to grow up new group leaders. We have several small groups that are at or near capacity. This means they soon will need to split in two, with each part needing a leader.

This then raises the question, ”What makes a good leader?” To answer that requires addressing another question, “How do you lead a small group well?” And to answer that, you need to answer, “What’s the role of a small group?”

The primary role of a small group -- and in fact, of the church experience in general -- is discipleship. By that I mean helping those who claim Christ as their Savior grow into spiritual maturity. Spiritual growth, in the very simplest sense, occurs two ways:

  • Content infusing. This happens through intentional Bible study, listening to sermons, attending Sunday school, and so forth. You could label it “Christian education.”
  • Relationship building. It’s in the environment of relationships that the head knowledge of content infusing is moved into the heart of meaningfulness. Information is made practical, truth is turned into experience.

A sermon on a Sunday morning is high on content infusing while low on relationship building. This is why small groups are essential. Here’s how I guesstimate the ratios break out for various activities:


Discipleship - The purpose of the church

Content Infusing
(Christian Ed /
teaching, etc.)
Relationship Building
(Personal interaction)
Sermon
90%
10%
Small groups
20%
80%
Sunday school
80%
20%
Doing life together
10%
90%


There’s no science here. Just my own guess based on several years of being in church and small groups. Doing life together, by the way, simply means believers hanging out with each other outside of church.

Given that the primary emphasis in small groups is relationship building, to lead one well means ensuring that this happens. And now we can address the key traits of a good leader with these four insights:

1. Be a person, not a Spurgeon. You don’t need a seminary degree* to be an effective small group leader. If you have a heart for God and a good study Bible, you’ll be okay. What’s most important is that you are honest and real. This means you’re going to have to be a little vulnerable, sharing your own experiences, both the good and the bad. Opening your heart to the group will encourage others to open their hearts as well.

*Caution to those with seminary degrees: You know a lot and that’s a wonderful thing. However, the small group is not a seminary classroom where you need to bring all of your knowledge to bear. Feel free to prepare like you would for a test, but dial your presentation way, way back for the group. Otherwise you risk coming off as intimidating, overwhelming the participants, and perhaps even discouraging others from considering leading a group.

2. Protect and serve. For relationships to form and grow requires a safe place. Make sure everyone has a chance to be heard. Facilitate a “no wrong answers” environment. This doesn’t mean endorsing heresy, but rather allowing people to ask hard questions and share their doubts and fears. Therefore confidentiality -- what’s said in the group stays in the group -- is paramount.

3. Keep it moving. A small group leader is mostly a facilitator. You want to keep things moving. Make sure one person doesn’t dominate the discussion. Sometimes you’re going to have to cut off a lively discussion to ensure there’s time for addressing individual needs. While it will feel awkward, everyone will understand what you’re doing and appreciate your intervention.

4. Wrap it all in prayer. A good leader prays. Seek God’s help as you lead and prepare. Pray for each member of your group when you’re not together. Make sure each session is opened and closed in prayer. Ensure when needs become known, time is taken to pray and care for the one in need.


Leading a small group is simply one way we can fulfill the Great Commission. And we are all called to be His witnesses near and far. You don’t have to be a theologian to facilitate a group. But you do need a basic knowledge of God’s Word and a caring heart that burns to see others grow in the grace of Christ. The Holy Spirit will provide the wisdom to those who step out in faith as small group leaders.

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Coming next in part 3: Outreach of the good group.

Previously in part 1: Logistics of the good group.



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Are you in a good small group or any group? What makes it a good group or a not so good group? Do you have other good ideas for creating good small groups? Please share them in the comments!

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Basics of a good group, Part 1 of 3: Logistics

This three-part series explores some basics on how to build, maintain, and grow good small groups in your church, fostering healthy biblical engagement together.


It’s the first night of your small group. Several people are now gathered at the front of the sanctuary. You begin with prayer and dive into the study.

After a few minutes, you notice Ted looking around, appearing distracted. Beads of perspiration are on his forehead and he’s fidgeting.

“Wow,” you think. “The study must really be hitting home. Ted seems under a fair amount of conviction.”

Just then Ted gets up and makes a beeline for the exit.

Was Ted’s behavior driven by conviction? Nope.

It was too hot, the room too large, and he had to go to the bathroom but wasn’t sure where it was and if he’d make it in time.

Small groups are a big deal in churches and a great vehicle for fostering biblical engagement while building relationships.

Here are six key ingredients for success that too often get overlooked:

1. Is there an echo in here? Years ago, I read Em Griffin’s great book, Getting Together: A guide for good groups (IVP). One piece of advice always stuck with me. He writes, “Meet in a room small enough to put you in touch with each other. Bank lobbies and church fellowship halls may be impressive, but the cavernous space they allow kills intimacy.”

I’ve tested this by holding meetings in very big and much smaller rooms. The differences are significant. Putting a little group in a large room makes people feel small and lost. Minds and eyes wander as every sight and sound is a distraction. A large group in a too small room is just annoying. Fit your group into an appropriate space; big enough that no one feels cramped, but small enough that it feels cozy and safe.

2. Lukewarm is okay. Thermostat battles are real! While it’s impossible to please everyone perfectly, be aware of the room temperature. An empty room that’s a little cool is a good thing -- don’t bump the heat up! The room will warm on its own when bodies arrive. Pay attention to such things as sleeves being rolled up or down, booklets being used as fans, sweaters being pulled on or off, etc. Ask people if they’re comfortable. Make adjustments gradually to avoid wide temperature swings.

3. The lay of the land. Whether you’re meeting in the church or someone’s home, let everyone know where things are, especially the bathrooms. Explain that bringing a cup of coffee to their seats is okay. Allow time for introductions. If you’re located near a quarry (as a group I participated in was) and there will be a loud explosion or two, let people know what’s going to happen so they won’t panic or become preoccupied wondering if they should.

4. Arranged for success. Yes, how you arrange the chairs makes a difference. The circle is most common. If you’re using a video, then a u-shaped arrangement allowing easy  viewing is okay. However you arrange the seating, make sure everyone can see and hear each other easily. Better Bible engagement comes through better sharing.

5. Just say no to technology. Technology is amazing, but can also be annoying. While using PowerPoint is helpful in the college classroom or sanctuary, it’s seldom useful for a small group. Dimming lights induces dozing when it’s cozy! If you choose to use a video or any technology, make sure you know how to use it. Set everything up before people arrive. Test, test, test. And if there are any glitches, be prepared to set the technology aside and go analog, just like Jesus did.

6. The reason I’ve called you together. Small groups are great for building Bible engagement and relationships. Except when the group’s purpose becomes diffused and ambiguous. Have a purpose, mission, and a goal and make sure everything the group does drives toward them. Ambiguity and loss of focus -- which happens over time with inattention -- will kill the best of groups.


Griffin states, “The good group has cohesiveness.” People know what to expect and where they fit. This doesn’t happen by accident. It takes intentionality and effort. The payoff is the good relationships and better Bible engagement that ensues.

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Coming next in part 2: Leading the good group.

Coming next in part 3: Outreach of the good group.



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Are you in a good small group or any group? What makes it a good group or a not so good group? Do you have other good ideas for creating good small groups? Please share them in the comments!

Monday, January 2, 2017

Day old (#PoetryMonday*)

So quickly it’s stale,
not New! New! New! New!

The day old year droops,
drops, sighs, aging fast,
devalued off the lot,
dinged and dented
before it’s even broken in,
becoming last year’s model as
already our eyes and hearts
and longings are set
on the newer new
coming soon to a life near us
in 364 days.

Our short attention span
winded, breathless
we look to the future,
the always shiny, ever fresh,
always receding,
false-promising future.

For now, we’re stuck here
with this day old “new” year
and its grand resolves gone sour
in a mere 24 hours.





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* Its PoMo! To learn about PoMo (POetry MOnday), click here. This one probably is a little raw and may need some more work. But isn't it true that we tire of the new quickly? Have your ever really wanted something that, as soon as it was bought, you weren't as enamored with? We look forward to a New Year and a "fresh" start, then wake up and are met with the same old same old. Any thoughts? Please share them in the comments!