Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Done for now.

After 9 years and almost 500 posts, I'm done blogging for awhile. Thanks for stopping by and reading what's here. Feel free to follow me at https://www.facebook.com/StephenRClarkWriter/.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

The Odd & Marvelous Work Of Grace

This is the devotional message
I gave on 12/31/17 at my church,
Huntingdon Valley Presbyterian Church.
It’s been edited very slightly for this pos
t.

A couple of weeks ago, while I was attempting to prepare this message, BethAnn asked me what my topic was.

“Grace,” I said.

She replied, “That’s a big topic!”

And I thought to myself with a sigh of desperation, “No kidding!”

At that time, I’d been thinking about this big topic for a few weeks. After all, Advent and Christmas is all about grace. When I volunteered to speak, I knew immediately grace was to be the topic. I even had a pretty good idea of an outline for the message. At least I thought I did.

I started reading, making notes, and mulling.

One night, as I lay in bed, I began thinking through how to structure the message. All the pieces seemed to come together. I was pretty confident that I had a plan and went to sleep.

You may be able to guess where this is going.

The next day, when I finally got the time to sit down and start writing -- “Poof!” -- all those pieces came apart and evaporated.

Well, maybe not totally “Poof!”

The general ideas were still rattling around in my head and heart. But, as happens sometimes in the process of writing, getting those things in my head to appear on the page -- or, rather, my computer screen -- just wouldn’t happen. At least not in any cohesive way.

I had an outline. I had ideas. But I just couldn’t make it all coalesce into whatever it was that God wanted to communicate through me.

After all, that’s what preaching is. Even when it’s what this is supposed to be -- a brief devotional thought. When you stand up here, you’re -- well, as Peter puts it, an “oracle of God.”

That’s a little scary! Which may have fed into my sermon block.


The context is in 1 Peter 4:10-11 where Peter writes, “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ....”

Even this cautionary encouragement mentions grace.

Which is what I’m supposed to be talking to you about.


Okay, as I mentioned, I had an outline in my head early on. It started with five or six items, got trimmed to four, and finally, I landed on three basic points. Here they are:
  1. Grace is a stupendously marvelous thing.
  2. If grace is working in us, it should show.
  3. All we covet about grace for ourselves, we must freely extend to others.
I mean, that’s all pretty obvious, right? I’m sure everyone here agrees with these points. How hard should it be to flesh them out?

I thought about opening with a few facts about the word grace. Like how in the New Testament, the original Greek for grace is charis -- c-h-a-r-i-s. And that charis actually appears around 159 times in the New Testament.

By the way, many passages are about grace even though the word grace is not used. Practically the entire Bible is about grace! Even the book of James.

Anyway, charis, when not translated as grace, is usually translated as favor or pleasure, or some version of thanks such as thankful.

A more expanded definition for grace is “that which affords joy, pleasure, delight, sweetness, charm, loveliness, good will, loving-kindness; of the merciful kindness by which God, exerting his holy influence upon souls, turns them to Christ, keeps, strengthens, increases them in Christian faith, knowledge, affection, and kindles them to the exercise of the Christian virtues.”

So says Strong’s Concordance.

A simpler definition, and the one you’re probably most familiar with, is that grace is the unmerited favor of God.

You get the idea.


But I also thought it would be important to really punch up how truly marvelous grace is -- redeeming us from sin and making us new creations.

You know, like in the hymn that says, “Marvelous grace of our loving Lord, grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt | Grace, grace, God's grace, grace that is greater than all our sin.”

I need this grace!

I can’t speak for you, but David speaks for me in Psalm 51:3 where he says, “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.”

A quirk of being an introvert is that memories of decades-old failures can pop-up out of nowhere, any time, feeling very present, and make us cringe.

As a result, I covet all the grace I can get.

I love Micah 7:19 that declares, “[God] will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. [He] will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.”

Or how about Psalm 103 -- you could call it the Grace Chapter -- that goes into wonderful detail about how God forgives all our iniquities, crowns us with steadfast love and mercy, is gracious, slow to anger, does not deal with us according to our sins, or repay us according to our iniquities.

And my favorite part declares, “as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.”

I don’t know about you, but having my sins removed as far as the east is from the west sounds like a really good deal.

But then there’s Isaiah 43 that goes further when God declares, “I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.”

Talk about something going “Poof!”

All this is done by grace.

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound! Bring it on and save a wretch like me!


So that’s more or less what I had in mind to try to get across how stupendously marvelous grace is.

The second point of my cut-down outline is, “If grace is working in us, it should show.”

What I think I had in mind was looking at the characteristics, impacts, effects, and results of grace. And here’s where I think the subject just blew up bigger than I could wrangle it.

Seriously, pull out your concordance or go online to any of the Bible sites
-- I like BibleGateway.com -- and search on “grace.”

Depending on the version of the Bible you choose, you’ll get around 130 to 150 or so results. And in reading just these verses, you’ll begin to see the magnitude of the work of grace in our lives.

By the way, Dan and others will be taking us on a deep dive in Romans all year long and a big theme with Paul involves grace. It’ll be coming around again in the New Year.

Okay, so a handful of sub-points under “If grace is working in us, it should show” is that the grace of God, when it’s being effective in us -- justifies us, redeems us from sin, fuels gifts, transforms our thinking, reforms our behavior, re-centers our motivations, heals our emotions, empowers our love -- essentially does the yeoman’s work of undoing the horrendous damage of sin and making us into all God intended for us to be. Day by day. Moment by moment.

This is the oddity of grace -- it’s like grace is a solid, a gas, and a liquid all at the same time! Whatever we need, God provides the grace that is sufficient. Grace is the Swiss Army knife of faith!

This is a big, big deal!

Coupled with this is another sub-point -- which overlaps with the first point -- something to the effect that for all of this good stuff to happen, grace first gets us out of jail free! It removes the shackles of sin. It ends our slavery to sin. It lifts the crushing weight of condemnation from our lives.

Grace takes us from a place of closed in, suffocating bondage and sets us out into open air and sunshine. Grace gives us room and nourishment to grow -- in grace.

I knew this is important and struggled with how to convey it. I thought maybe something like this:

Being weighed down by the condemnation of sin, perhaps, is like being locked inside a dark cell. You have nothing -- no tools or supplies -- yet you’re expected to, let’s say, bake a cake.

You don’t even have an oven or fire! Yet every hour someone opens a little window on the door of your cell, sticks in their ugly face, and starts chiding you for not baking. They call you all sorts of belittling names. They mock you, shame you. Lay on the accusations and condemnations big time. You feel small, weak, useless, powerless.

But then grace takes you out of the cell, puts you in the most gloriously equipped and stocked kitchen you’ve ever seen. There are cookbooks, supplies galore, open windows, perfect lighting, a modern oven, and even helpers (also known as ministering angels). Everything you need to succeed at baking is freely and generously supplied. Regular and gluten free.

Now that we’re in the kitchen of grace, we ought to be baking grace cakes to give away. The work of grace in us needs to be visible and productive.

I think maybe Colossians 1:9-14 captures this, at least in part:
“And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
This is the work of grace.


So those are the first two of my three points I wanted to make: That “Grace is a stupendously marvelous thing,” and, “If grace is working in us, it should show.”

The third point is, “All we covet about grace for ourselves, we must freely extend to others.”

I think some of what was fueling this thought is my own failure to show grace to others. Especially people who have, as the Country Western songs put it, “done me wrong.”

I’ve been “done wrong” a few times in my life. Some of those wrongs really, really hurt. At least one has hurt hard for decades, and there’s no end in sight. Yet, I’m supposed to extend grace to the wrong doers.

It’s not easy and I’m not always gracious in my actions, words, or thoughts toward them.


Another factor prompting this point are the really horrible posts I see way too often on social media -- and many posted by Christians -- that communicate the idea that “toxic” people are expendable. We should ignore them, shun them, toss them aside.

It seems anyone who annoys us in anyway can be labeled as toxic. That’s a pretty low bar to view someone as disposable.

In fact, a rather extreme post I came across recently lists “8 toxic people you should get rid of.”

It declares that if a person spreads negativity, criticizes, wastes your time, is jealous, plays the victim, doesn’t care about you, is self-centered, or keeps disappointing you, you need to get rid of them.

Be honest with me. If being tagged with just one of these eight characteristics makes a person “toxic” then I am, and, frankly, so are you. Who among us has not ever disappointed someone? And when it comes to being self-centered -- another term for selfish -- I’ll admit I’m really quite skilled. It sort of comes natural for most of us.

Posts like these are totally graceless. They are anti-grace and they are heartbreaking.

There may certainly be times when we need to step away from certain people. And grace does include accountability. But our first instinct should not be shunning or disposal -- especially when the issues are merely annoyances.

Rather, it should be seeking to come alongside in grace. And, when there is repentance, we should be like the father of the prodigal son -- expectantly longing and looking for the opportunity to extend grace and restoration.

One of the functions of grace is to protect both offender and offendee. Grace makes room for accountability, repentance, and restoration to happen. Grace keeps the door open.

Instead of posting or agreeing with these kinds of messages -- instead of too easily and almost joyfully denying grace to others -- we should be over-the-moon abundantly grateful that God doesn’t view us like this! If He did, we would have zero hope of heaven. We’d all be doomed.

We need to take to heart that at least one of our grace-fed superpowers as Christians is supposed to be the ability to spread grace to others as freely as we are receiving it. Yes, as a Christian you have access to superpowers -- or, rather, supernatural powers.

All the good stuff about grace that we covet feverishly for ourselves we must share with others. It’s really not an option.


R. C. Sproul wrote, “The more we understand how kind God has been to us and the more we are overcome by His mercy, the more we are inclined to love Him and to serve Him.”

I contend that an excellent way to understand and more fully appreciate how kind God has been to us is through the very hard work of ministering grace to others.

As I mentioned, there are a handful of people in my life that, when they come to mind, my first instinct is to wish them -- shall we say -- not good things. What stops me is looking in the mirror and admitting to myself that there have been times I’ve been the one doing the hurting. And that ultimately all my sinning has really been against God.

In other words, when it’s hard for us to extend grace to someone else, we should think about what God has gone through -- and goes through -- to extend grace to us.


We all know the Love Chapter, 1 Corinthians 13.

Nearly every Christian wedding includes it in the ceremony or the invitation or on a candle. When we read it, we get all dewy-eyed and warm inside.

Love! Yes! This is it!

Well, at least how we’d like it to be, especially when aimed at us. Doing it? That’s another story. But we try our best.

The Greek word -- agape -- translated as “love” in this passage is sometimes translated as “charity.” Oddly, the word for grace -- charis -- is also sometimes translated as charity. Love and grace are related. Who knew?!

So I thought, “What if we replace ‘love’ with ‘grace’ in this passage.” Here is what we get:
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not grace, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not grace, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not grace, I gain nothing.”

“Grace is patient and kind; grace does not envy or boast; grace is not arrogant or rude. Grace does not insist on its own way; grace is not irritable or resentful; grace does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Grace bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

“Grace never ends.”
Wow.

The thrust of what I want to get across is that, when it comes to grace, we need to be giving as good as we’re getting. We shouldn’t be insisting others cut us slack while we tighten nooses for them.

If we aren’t being gracious with those around us -- even those who have hurt us -- well, then, grace is not working in us.

Withholding grace from others is the same as being a bully. It de-magnifies God. It tries to manipulate vengeance and bring on punishment. It’s refusing to forgive, refusing to show mercy, refusing to share in God’s provision, refusing to admit our own desperate dependence on grace.


So, these are the three basic points I wanted to get across:
  • Grace is a stupendously marvelous thing.
  • If grace is working in us, it should show.
  • All we covet about grace for ourselves, we must freely extend to others.
There was a lot of other stuff that came to mind. I accumulated about 20 or 30 pages of notes. The rabbit trails -- all worth chasing -- are legion and they go everywhere!

Like this one, that hoarding grace for ourselves is somewhat like the Israelites did in Exodus 16, trying to collect more than a day’s worth of manna and store it. It will just turn rotten and bitter.

Or how about the golden rule in Matthew 7:12 -- do to others as you would have them do to you -- a rule I probably break at least once a day
-- it’s about grace.

And, of course, Lamentations 3:22-23, “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” Which shows us every day -- not just every New Year -- we can and should hit the reset button to start over with fresh grace, for ourselves and others.

And the passage in Matthew 18 about forgiving seventy times seven -- which is about grace countlessly multiplied. If someone offends us and then repents, our only grace-fueled option is to forgive them, extending grace to them.

Or how about this? Grace is not just passively applied to us -- we need to choose to engage with grace and encourage others to continue in grace. Acts 13:43 states in part, “Paul and Barnabas, who, as they spoke with [some devout Jews], urged them to continue in the grace of God.”

Oh, and this is kind of fun. In Romans 12:6 where it states, “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given us...” The Greek word for gifts in this verse is a form of charis; it’s charisma. So, since everyone who comes to Jesus is gifted to serve him -- none are left behind in this area -- it means that, in a sense, we’re all charismatics!

Anyway, see my dilemma? Grace just goes on and on, and on and on!


But this was supposed to be a brief devotional message (not so brief, sorry) so I should start wrapping up.

Phillip Holmes, the Director of Communications at Reformed Theological Seminary, writing on the Desiring God website, states:
“[God] is not ignorant of all the ways we’ve sinned against him. He knows everything we’ve ever done and is able to stomach it. His knowledge of who we really are will never hinder his love for us. He’s even aware of the evil behind our righteous deeds. The intimacy by which the Lord knows us but is able to lovingly embrace us as his children is supernatural. God’s grace is mind-blowing. Every time I think of this reality, I’m brought to tears because I serve a God whose love and grace baffle me.”
Yes. Exactly. Me too.

So, in 2018 and beyond, as grace upon grace is being lavished on us by God, may we be transformed more and more into His glorious image, and may his grace flow through us to others abundantly.

And that’s what I wanted to share.


=======
Yes, this is a long post. Sorry about that. But it seemed a good way to end the year. Do you agree with my assessment of grace? Are you baking grace cakes for others or tightening nooses for them? Please share your thoughts in the comments! And have a blessed New Year.

You can listen to this message at www.HVPC.org/Sermons.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Don’t include the uninvited (a rant)


A pet peeve of mine is when I email someone and, when they reply, they add a new recipient or few into the conversation.

Please don’t do this. It’s unprofessional and a tacky breach of email etiquette.

Here are a three reasons why:
  1. It wastes time. Not everyone needs to be included in every email about a topic, especially if it’s an initial communication. This is true even if later -- after all issues are clear and resolved, after all the facts are found -- others may need to be informed. Then they can be added -- by the originator. In the meantime, why bother them? It merely annoys busy people as well as clutters and confuses the conversation.
     
  2. It implies misdoing. Whether you intend it or not, to suddenly include a new recipient or two can imply to the originator of the conversation that you think they’re trying to get away with something. That they’re trying to go around someone. Or, it can imply shady doings to those added in making them wonder what’s up when nothing is amiss. It wrongly introduces mistrust and falsely casts aspersion.
     
  3. It can complicate the simple. An email may need only a simple response. The originator has carefully chosen the recipients and asked for what he/she needs to know. No more, no less. Adding in new recipients will almost always generate additional emails asking for clarifications, expressing confusion, injecting unwanted input, causing emotional distress, and on and on. What was easy-peasy becomes a muddled mess.
So, what to do?

The general rule of thumb is to only reply to the person sending the email -- the originator. Or, if it’s a group conversation (as determined by the originator), reply all only to the original recipients.

“But,” you object, “what if I feel really strongly about including someone new?”

Then call or email the original sender, tell them who you want to add and why, and ask them if they mind the addition.

What you probably will discover is that the originator intends to include the person or persons you have in mind at a later date. Often after details are worked out and settled. But only if the initial conversation yields a positive response that leads to further action. If not, then there’s no reason for bugging others (see #1 above).

One more caution: There may be very sensitive and confidential reasons for not including someone in a conversation. These are things you’re not privy to and are none of your business. Adding uninvited others into an email can be a serious ruffling of the proverbial feathers creating chaos, havoc, and serious personal and professional damage. This is never good.

If there really is a reason to add someone in, let the originator of the original email do so. They started the conversation, so, with respect, allow them to manage it. Don’t usurp their conversation.

Adding someone into an email conversation you didn’t initiate isn’t your call. Period.

And don’t even get me started on BCCs! Oy vey!



=======
Okay, I know this isn’t a “spiritual” topic but I do think respectful and clear communications is an important tact for Christians. Feel free to offer a scripture that supports this. Do you agree with my post? Can you think of exceptions to this rule? What are they? Have you experienced someone adding in new recipients when replying to an email? How did you deal with it? Did it ever create unnecessary conflict or other issues? Please sound off in the comments!

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Email me. Okay, I’ll text you. (a rant)


Not everyone likes to communicate the same way. Some people prefer email while others want to meet face-to-face and others like to text.

How can you tell a person’s preference? Simple. Pay attention to how they initiate contact.

Did they call? Email? Text? Come knock on your door? Send a Hallmark card?

There’s your clue.

I hate it when I send someone an email and ask for a response and they text me.

It’s like sending a message to someone to arrange a time for a call because right now you’re busy, and they call -- right now.

Please don’t do this to people!

If someone emails you, respond via email. If someone calls you, call them back. If someone texts you, text them back.

See how that works? It’s an apples-to-apples kind of thing. Yes, there is an exception and I’ll get to that in a bit.

While this practice is important to be aware of generally speaking, it’s crucial if you are a service provider. You know, like a plumber or freelancer or any kind of independent contractor.

Why is it so important?

Because you can annoy your customers away if you contact them (or insist they contact you) via a mode they don’t like. Especially if it’s a technology they aren’t proficient in or comfortable with.

I’m not a huge fan of texting, especially when complexity is involved. (And I generally loath Facebook Messenger!)

I prefer email, or, if that fails, perhaps a phone call. Or more email. Or, perhaps face-to-face. But probably still more email.

If you are a service provider and you insist on communicating only via text telling me that it works best for you, then I’ll probably look for a new service provider. Why? Because it doesn’t work best for me -- the purchaser of your service.

I know texting is popular, especially for the young ‘uns. But don’t force your customers to communicate outside of their comfort zones.

You want your customers happy and anxiety free. You want them to like being in touch with you.

So, what to do? Let’s review!
  • If someone emails you, respond via email.
  • If someone calls you, call them back.
  • If someone texts you, text them back.
  • And so forth. Except...
There is an exception to this rule. If someone texts you and says please respond using email or with a call, then do as they direct. That should be pretty clear. Otherwise, if no such specification is made, reply using the same mode they used to contact you.

Isn’t that just so simple?

Now, if we could only fix politics. Oh well. Baby steps to a better world!


=======
Okay, I know this isn’t a “spiritual” topic but I do think respectful and clear communications is an important tact for Christians. Feel free to offer a scripture that supports this. Do you agree with my post? Have you experienced someone insisting on communicating with you in a mode you don’t care for? How did you deal with it? Please sound off in the comments!

Monday, November 27, 2017

That wasn’t the question (a rant)


A common and very annoying ploy of shady politicians is to dodge questions. It’s annoying. It’s dishonest. It’s just not very polite.

The same is true when people are making inquiry by email or text and the response is lacking.

For example, Jack emails Jill: “Will you be able to make the meeting today at 9:30 a.m.?” To which Jill responds: “I’ve completed the report on pails for Feldon.”

At this point Jack commences pulling out his hair or banging his head on his desk.

This kind of craziness happens all the time in other milieus. Here’s another example from a non-business setting.

Elaine texts George: “I’m tied up right now. When would be a good time for me to call you about Jer’s party?” To which George responds: “No problem! I’ll call you right now!”

Elaine makes a mental note to unfriend George.

By not paying attention or just being sloppy and not answering the question(s) asked, complexity and craziness ensue. Especially if in subsequent communications questions continue to be dodged.

Please, people! Stop doing this!

When receiving an email or text message, read it. Seriously. Take a few seconds and actually read it.

To understand how to respond, look for clues such as a question mark (this thing > ?). When you see a question mark (?) it means you’ve been asked a question the sender needs you to answer.

So, how do you reply? Answer the question(s)! Plain and simple. Just answer the question(s) you have been asked.

Let’s look at our two examples above and fix them.
  • Fixed Example 1: Jack emails Jill: “Will you be able to make the meeting today at 9:30 a.m.?” To which Jill responds: “Yes, I’ll be there on time. By the way, I’ve completed the report on pails for Feldon and will bring a copy for you to review.”
     
  • Fixed Example 2: Elaine texts George: “I’m tied up right now. When would be a good time for me to call you about Jer’s party?” To which George responds: “No problem! I’m free later today at 3 p.m., or any time tomorrow. Let me know what time works for you.”
See how simple this is?

It’s even okay to add a little additional information as long as you first fully answer the question(s) you were asked. Easy as pie. Well, actually much easier.

Don’t be like a shady politician tying to pull the wool over the world’s eyes. Be smart, courteous, and give a straight, complete answer to the question(s) you’re asked in emails and texts.

Trust me. Life will be so much better for everyone. The time saved and aggravation avoided, you have no idea!



=======
Okay, I know this isn’t a “spiritual” topic but I do think respectful and clear communications is an important tact for Christians. Feel free to offer a scripture that supports this. Do you agree with my post? Have you experienced asking someone a question via email or text and they didn’t answer it? Or, you asked 2 or 3 questions and they answered only one? How did you deal with it? Please sound off in the comments!

Monday, October 30, 2017

I love church! & other rambling thoughts on the privilege of preaching as an introvert


I cannot imagine being anywhere else on Sunday morning other than church.

Seriously.

There are moments when I’m in church that I just tear up.

Frederick Buechner writes, “Whenever you find tears in your eyes, especially unexpected tears, it is well to pay the closest attention, they are not only telling you something about the secret of who you are, but more often than not God is speaking to you through them of the mystery of where you have come from and is summoning you to where, if your soul is to be saved, you should go next.”

I try to stifle the tears. After all, real men don’t cry, right? When this happens, if we are singing, I have to stop as I consider where I have come from and to where, next, God is summoning me.

Often tears happen when we’re singing a particular hymn that reminds me of my mom. She loved to sing. Yesterday it was “What A Friend We Have In Jesus” that nudged out a tear or two. That was one of her favorites.

But it’s more than that.

There is such an intense thrill being with other believers as we are focusing our lives on the worship of God. It’s at times like these that the word “awesome” is accurate in its truest and deepest meaning.

How can one not tear up when God is affirming His presence in your heart?

Yes, what I’m saying is that in church -- and at other times -- I can feel the presence of God. Tangibly. This is a good thing. In fact, several million people around the world would agree with me on this.

* * *

To be loved by God, acknowledged by God is crazy delicious. And mind-numbingly humbling. All at the same time.

I know, better than anyone (other than God), that I don’t deserve His attention, His grace, His mercy. And yet, every breath I take, every move I make, it’s because of Him.

One of my favorite passages is Colossians 1:16-17 (ESV): “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”

All things hold together. In Him!

This couples well with Paul’s statement in Acts 17:27-28 (ESV) “...that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for ‘In him we live and move and have our being.’"

This, too, is a good thing.

Surprisingly, even those who refuse to acknowledge God are in still His care. While these atheists or agnostics or “spiritual but not religious” often claim bliss in the midst of this ignorance, frankly, they don’t know what they’re missing.

And then there are those who wrap themselves securely in the banner of being Christian and yet eschew church completely, or, if they are a member somewhere, easily find “reasons” for not being in church on Sundays. And if they do show up, Lord help them if they are asked to serve more than rarely!

Forgive my little rant, but I don’t get any of this.

* * *

Maybe I was just spoiled as a kid. I was born into a family where being in church and serving in church was viewed as a privilege, an honor, a source of joy. And so that is in my DNA, as they say. Referring back to the Buechner quote, “this is telling you something about the secret of who” I am.

Mom and dad always held various leadership as well as behind-the-scenes roles in church. Me and my sister followed their leads. And I have zero regrets in this area.

Occasionally there is some Satan-seduced scoundrel that slithers into a church and tries to stir up discord and strife that results in hurt feelings and worse. These times are hard. Yet, inevitably, the Holy Spirit provides clarity and discernment, the scoundrel either is repentant or rebuffed. Healing comes and unity is restored. Until the next round. And there will always be another round.

Jesus made it clear that the Christian walk is no cake walk. There are weeds in the wheat fields. Goats among the sheep. It rains on the just and the unjust, and everyone has troubles to deal with. But the advantage goes to believers who get to hold God’s hand during the hard times.

I’d rather be worldly-poor holding God’s hand than wealthy and godless. I’ve turned my back on God a few times and it wasn’t a good thing. It’s those times that generated regrets.

* * *

But, as I was saying, I love church.

I love it so much that, even as an introvert who is not the most comfortable getting up in front of people, I will joyfully -- more or less -- say “Yes!” when asked to fill in for our pastor on any given Sunday and preach.

For some weird and inexplicable reason, God has subtly gifted me with the ability to preach, periodically. I know this isn’t something I could do every Sunday, and I have huge respect for the pastors who can and do. But, I can fill in now and then.

Oddly, it’s something I want to do, kind of.

Just recently I shared with a friend that, of late, I’ve found myself wondering when I’ll get to preach next, while at the same time, sort of dreading it. There is both eagerness and anxiety.

Probably at least some of the anxiety comes from such admonitions as found in 1 Peter 4:10-11 that advise, “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace:  whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God....”

An oracle of God? Yikes! That’s some heavy-duty responsibility.

Confronted with such a burden of obligation, I cry out with Isaiah, saying, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips....” (Isaiah 6:5, ESV).

So, no, I don’t step into the pulpit lightly. I understand full well how serious such an endeavor is.

* * *

This awareness helps drive my preparation. I’ll even share an early draft of a sermon with my pastor and a few trusted friends to ensure I’m on the right track.

Sermon prep surfaces a few fears. Besides worrying that I might have to go to the restroom halfway through delivering a sermon, the bigger overarching concern is that I not misspeak, mislead, somehow misinterpret a passage, or provide any level of misinformation. God forbid! Which He does.

One of the advantages I’ve discovered of doing sermon prep is that it takes me into the Word at a different angle.

Just yesterday I had the privilege of filling in for our pastor and continued the series on John that he began over a year ago (Read it here; listen to it here). We’re near the end and the passage that was next was John 21:1-14, the breakfast on the beach scene.

As I mentioned in the opening of my sermon, on the surface, there doesn’t seem to be much there. What’s happening seems obvious. But is it?

Much if not all of God’s Word is like those expandable grow-monster sponge toys. They come in little capsules and when placed in water overnight, the next morning your kitchen is overtaken by a nearly life-size dinosaur or some other giant sponge beast. In fact, these things can keep growing for days!

This is what happens when diving into scripture with the intent of opening it for others. The Holy Spirit provides intense insight. Some may call this anointing or unction. Perhaps. But the application of these is entirely up to God and not something I can be presumptuous to claim for myself.

All I know is that as I examine a passage with the intent to preach it, the passage begins to look different from all the other times I’ve read it. What was unseen before glows, as it were. Well, at least eventually. It takes diligence, discipline, prayer, study, and panic before the glowing comes.

* * *

I don’t begrudge the need for some blood, sweat, and tears when digging into the Word to unearth the deeper truths. Nothing good comes easily. And the struggle forces dependence on the Holy Spirit which is as it should be.

I also don’t begrudge the sheer effort it takes for me, a God-imaging introvert, to stand up and preach. I don’t begrudge the exhaustion and recovery time needed afterward -- and every introvert knows what I mean. To echo Paul, I rejoice in this suffering because I know it’s productive and temporal. It’s good for me.

 * * *

Yesterday evening I was exhausted. And I was genuinely happy to be done with the preaching for the day. Yet, at the same time, I was happy to have had the opportunity, to have been entrusted with such a weighty task, to be considered by God and others as acceptable for such an endeavor. The tears welled a little thinking about this as I don’t really feel worthy. Others do, so I trust their judgment and work hard to live up to their trust in me.

Buechner also said once, “the vocation for you is the one in which your deep gladness and the world’s deep need meet. When you are doing what you are happiest doing, it must also be something that not only makes you happy but that the world needs to have done.”

From time to time, here in my little part of the world, there is a need for someone to fill in when the pastor has other obligations. For me, answering that need, saying yes, ultimately brings me deep gladness. Even as I write this, thinking about yesterday’s preaching effort, joy bubbles gently in my spirit and tears well.

Like I said, I cannot imagine being anywhere else on Sunday morning other than church. Even when it’s me -- the introvert -- who is preaching.


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Do you love church? Why or why not? Do you attend church regularly? Are you a member of a church? What is one of your most fond memories of church? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

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."

Monday, January 9, 2017

Hiatus


On a blogging and social media hiatus. 

Please feel free to stick around and read a few of the more than 470 posts available that I've written over the past 8+ years (That's nearly half a million words, or about 5 novels worth of reading!).

Simply read and scroll down then click on the "Older Posts" link to continue. Or, use the "Table of Contents," the "Search This Blog" box, or the "Categories/Topics" to the right to explore the posts. You can also enter your email in the "Subscribe" box to be notified when new posts become available.


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Update 1/20/17 -- A thought while on hiatus:

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!