Saturday, December 25, 2010

Thursday, December 23, 2010

His Name is Wonderful

“And He will be called Wonderful,….”

The modern translations say this is an adjective, but I don’t think so.  I think it’s one of his names.  

Wonderful. It's a beautiful name.  

I wonder if Jesus wondered about things. When he was a boy, did he look at the night sky and marvel at the stars like the wise men did? Did he laugh with delight when he held a lamb in his arms like the old shepherds would have? Did he watch his father work and wonder how he could make things out of wood? Did he imagine what the angels looked like when his mother told them how they sang of his arrival? And did he wonder about who he would be when he grew up?

The Christ Child inspires me to continue to probe the heavens and ask hopeful questions. Because of him I persist in the notion that there are joyful answers to unresolved questions.

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given,… And he will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6).

Monday, December 20, 2010

The People in My Heart

I remember once after an especially beautiful worship service that my brother and I attended, he told me that he was sure our sister, Mary, was there with us.

Mary had passed away several years before, but like all loved ones, she never quite went away.

It’s probably not unusual to feel these things at big moments. Perhaps we’ve felt a comforting presence when we’re sad. Or they’re quietly celebrating with us in our hearts when we’re happy. Or maybe we feel their encouragement when we’re down. A lucky few dream or actually hear people that have passed on.

I don’t always feel them, but I believe they’re there. It’s not a haunted thing and it really doesn’t even feel mystical. It’s a spiritual thing that feels quite natural at the time.

I carry many people in my heart—the ones I love and who love me. Some are still alive, and others are not. If they’re alive, they’re probably reading these words and they know who they are. If they’re gone, they probably saw me while I was writing them in the first place.

I think about these things especially at Christmas because of our emphasis on family and friends. I remember the people who used to celebrate with us when they were alive. And we worship the Christ child who makes this little aspect of eternal life possible.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Fighting Yesterday's Battles

The worship war, where we fought, screamed, cried and split over music and preaching styles is not yesterday’s issue. That was the day before yesterday. And as is typical, we leaders in the church are two steps behind in addressing our problems.  

Yesterday’s issue is the consumerism of the church, where people go to church where the music, the preacher, and the coffee is best.

There’s some connection between the two. Our focus on worship style led to a self centered consumerism: Which church has the best drummer and electric guitar player? Which preacher is the most entertaining speaker?

Perhaps the commonality is that we’re appealing to people’s selfishness. We tell them we can make them feel better, happier, more satisfied, and more successful. 

The most marketable churches may have the biggest crowds, but overall, the whole thing is still shrinking. If I imitate the church with the biggest crowd, I’m still looking at something that is part of a losing equation. 

Most of our identified problems are only symptomatic of the real one, which is that we don’t know who we are or what our purpose is.

Why are we here? Does it matter if the church exists? What would happen if we disappeared? Would anybody notice?  What are we supposed to be doing besides filling our time with “wholesome” activities?

Until we find clarity of purpose, we’ll find ourselves squabbling about yesterday’s issues until we are only a part of yesterday.

Any thoughts on the subject?

Touched by Holiness

Items that were part of Jesus’ birth have become special over the millennia. The manger (an animal’s feedbox), the stable, and swaddling clothes (tattered rags) became special in history because they have a place in story of his arrival.  

Bear in mind that these things were originally meant to be signs of poverty and humiliation. But because they are associated with Jesus, they have become subjects for beautiful paintings and music.

The people in the story were also changed in our perspective because of their part in the story. Shepherds were dirty, menial laborers, but they are honored in Christianity. Mary and Joseph were poor people who went unnoticed at the time but are now honored by all Christians.  

He “lifted up the humble.”   He did it all his life from the moment he was born, and he continues to this day. Ordinary people become beautiful because they are touched by holiness.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Thanksgiving Thoughts

I used to assume that gratitude came bubbling to the surface when I was overwhelmed with wonderful things. However, since that hasn’t happened since I was five years old at Christmas, I’ve come to understand that giving thanks requires discipline on my part. I have to set aside my gloomy, grumpy thoughts, and deliberately list my blessings, and then maybe I’ll feel the gratitude.

Thanksgiving is also an expression of faith. The Bible instructs us to give thanks even while we express our concerns because we know that God will bring us through our struggles.

The hardest thing for me is giving thanks specifically FOR my hardships. I understand saying thank you for my blessings. I even understand expressing hope that I’ll be delivered from my struggles. But being thankful for illness, unemployment, the loss of a child, or a divorce? How do I say thank you to God for those things?

It helps when I look back on past issues with grief and sadness. I can see how the hardest, most humiliating moments actually defined me and made me a better man. But saying thank you while I’m crying is not something I’ve been able to do, so I guess that’s my growing edge.

Thanksgiving Day will be much easier. I’ll sit at a table full of good food and look around at my beautiful wife and handsome sons and maybe it will feel like Christmas when I was five and was so delighted with all I had gotten.

I wish the same for you this holiday.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The End is Near... Again

I just saw a brochure for a seminar on Revelation. It had lots of ominous quotes and promises of insight as to the end of the world, so we’ll be ready.

It gave me the same feeling as when an accountant offers to show how to prepare for a tax audit.

I have some respectful disagreement with many people’s understanding of apocalyptic literature. And I’m annoyed with books, seminars, and TV shows that ramp up our anxiety with their sensational but poor interpretations.

You can’t say that monsters described in Revelation are going to be tanks and helicopters. The antichrist is not going to be one specific person. And no one, not even Jesus, can pull out the calendar and point out the date when the end of the world will occur.

Look, bad things are going to happen. They’re happening now: wars, rumors of war, persecution, false teachers, etc. There’s nothing unusual or unexpected about that. But Jesus says that on the other side of our tribulations there will be a new heaven and a new earth. Things will glisten with newness and the glory of God will ring out through the cosmos.

There are many ways of looking at last things. But we can agree on some basic thoughts. Everything that went wrong will be made right. The wicked will have been defeated. The righteous will be vindicated. A shout of victory will sound.

How we get there, when we get there, it will be worth it. We will have won. It’s something we look forward to, not worry about.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Moving Mountains

You can read about the following event in Mark 11.

The day before had been big. I mean BIG.

First, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey and was greeted by thousands of people, who waved their palm branches, laid down their cloaks in a kind of red carpet treatment, and shouted their allegiance to their next king.

Then Jesus entered the temple courtyard and chased the liars and cheats who swindled people in the name of God. The people cheered again that their champion overturned the tables of the moneychangers and drove out the overpriced livestock.

Could the disciples even sleep that night? If they did, what might they have dreamed about? The magnitude of possibilities must have been almost frightening.

And maybe that was a problem.

You know what they talked about the next morning? A fig tree.

Jesus had cursed it the day before for not having produced its fruit and by the next morning it had shriveled and died. “Wow,” they marveled. “Look at what you did, Jesus.”

That’s what they wanted to talk about? A dying fig tree?

Not the crowds. Not the showdown with the temple officials. A tree.

Jesus said, “THAT what impresses you? You’re going to see and do much bigger things. One day you’ll be able to level mountains if you have enough faith.”

I think the problem most of us have with such a sweeping promise is that we don’t actually want to move mountains. Doing the big things requires commitment on our part (that’s part of the faith).

We’d rather focus on fig trees. Little stuff. Things that we can fit in our budget and spare time (whenever that is).

Faith to move mountains requires a shift in commitment and the calendar. It requires thought and imagination. It requires people to work together (that’s why in the next sentence Jesus talked about forgiveness.).

But moving mountains does something for us. It keeps us from being bored. It gives us a purpose. And perhaps we get satisfaction in knowing that we’re participating in something bigger than ourselves.

What would you rather do? Move a mountain or curse a dying fig tree?

Monday, October 18, 2010

Room to Grow

"What must I do to inherit the kingdom of God?”

The rich young man thought he was almost there. If the Rabbi would give him the rest of the requirements, he’d be done.

He’d been a good boy all his life. He was clean and well dressed. Any mother would have been proud for her daughter to bring him home and announce they were engaged.

Jesus looked at the boy’s innocent face and loved him immediately. Who wouldn’t?

I’m sure he made quite a contrast to the grubby disciples who had been following Jesus from town to town. They were older, less refined, even crude. They didn’t look as nice but they had come much further than the boy in their spiritual journeys.

They had left everything to follow the Rabbi. But even they weren’t near the finish line. They still had much further to go.

This boy thought he was nearly done when he really hadn’t even started. He didn’t know any better. It’s the confident naiveté of youth.

We older folks smile at the optimism of the young ones. We know what will happen to them soon enough and we also know that men like this one can usually pull themselves together to face unexpected challenges.

Jesus must have decided the young man was ready to grow up a little. “There’s only one more thing to add to your list. Sell everything you have, give the money to the poor, and follow me.”

Scripture says the young man walked away sad. I’m sure he was. His world just got a lot more complicated. This disciple stuff was going to be hard. A lifetime journey.

This is not necessarily a story about materialism or money management. It’s about how far along we are in our discipleship.

How dedicated am I really? What have I been holding back? How much more of myself could I be giving to Jesus?

Turns out I’m like the young man, only I’m not young and handsome. I’ve got a few years (and pounds) on him. But I still have room to grow.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Is It Worth It?

Jesus was clear that the gospel is not for wimps. “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.” (Mark 8:34-35).

If following Christ is costly, then why do it? Why not go for the comforts and luxuries in this world? Why not live selfishly for our own pleasure?

I’m reminded of a choir teacher that felt a lot of frustration in her job. She would sing, yell, and work so much that she’d lose her own voice before every concert (she would resort to banging the furniture to get our attention). Her frustration stemmed from knowing how good the music could be versus how we sounded at the moment.

Why put herself through the angst? Because the performances were good and we won most of the contests we entered. And that was satisfying.

I think most of us feel the need for purpose more than we want pleasure. We want our lives to count for something important. We quickly see the emptiness of a comfortable life and we’d rather have the challenge and the fulfillment of doing things that make the world better.

Living for Jesus can be frustrating, even heartbreaking. We do it because we see how things are versus how they could be. We work toward a goal that ultimately glorifies God and saves the souls he created.

We believe the end will be worth the working and the waiting and the sacrificing.

It is not easy. But it’s good.

Monday, September 27, 2010

"Be Opened"

Jesus battled a lot of stubborn ignorance from religious leaders who should have been the most willing to see the possibilities of God in his work.

Other people said, “Wow, did you see how Jesus healed the blind man, the lame woman, that deaf guy, and the demon possessed child? How wonderful! How amazing! Praise God!” However, the religious leaders complained that he didn’t wash his hands correctly, didn’t fast like the others, and did his healing on the wrong day of the week.

Instead of opening their minds to new possibilities, they tried to shut him down.

We’re not so different today. Most of us want to keep things the same--the way we’ve always understood them to be. I’m fine as long as no one makes me change or consider that God is different than I was taught as a child.

Those kinds of limitations make me irrelevant to society, out of tune with God, and just plain boring.

It also frustrates Jesus.

When Jesus healed the deaf and mute man, he placed his fingers in the man’s ears and mouth and said with a deep sigh, “Ephphatha,” which means “Be opened.” (Mark 7:34). I think he was speaking to more people than just that man. He was speaking to everyone around him and to those of us who read his words now.

Faith requires a certain amount of openness in order to consider things that aren’t normally considered. It’s interesting that so many of us have gotten it backwards. Our religious convictions can lead us to shut down our thinking to where we never entertain new ideas.

Perhaps Christ’s greatest blessings are waiting for us to become open enough to receive them.

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Possible Dream

To dream ... the impossible dream ...
To fight ... the unbeatable foe ...
To bear ... with unbearable sorrow ...
To run ... where the brave dare not go ...
To right ... the unrightable wrong ...
To love ... pure and chaste from afar ...
To try ... when your arms are too weary ...
To reach ... the unreachable star ...
                           --lyrics by Joe Darion

I have loved this song all my life. I saw a scene from “Man of La Mancha” on the TV the other day and I started singing with the music. I will always love it, but I no longer quite believe in the words. I started writing some of my own thoughts which will never be set to music, but they are mine and I share them with you:

I don’t believe in the impossible dream.
I believe in doing things that people say are impossible;
In trying things that appear impossible.

I believe in dreaming audacious, ambitious,
     outrageous dreams
But I do not wish to glorify magnificent failure.
I aim for unbelievable triumph.

I still believe in being daring, taking risks, and being bold.
I still believe in nobility, idealism, generosity,
     courage, and higher purpose.
I believe in dying for love ones and noble causes.
I believe in trying again
When you don’t think you have anything left.

I believe there’s a time for going for broke,
for risking it all,
for laying it all on the line.
And I believe one can come back from utter loss and devastation.

Scientists and philosophers have regularly
been proven wrong  about the limitations
They place on the universe.

I believe in possibilities.
I believe there are more things in heaven and earth
Than are dreamt of in human philosophy.

I reach for things beyond my grasp
Because I don’t believe they're unreachable.

I dream the possible dream.

"I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.
                                                     --Mark 11:22-24

Monday, August 30, 2010

Making Promises

Waffles are good for Breakfast, but not for Promises

Garrison Keillor, in Leaving Home, wrote about one of his characters in Lake Wobegon, that he is never willing to make plans. The guy just cannot make a commitment, and he says things like: I’m not saying we can, but if the weather holds, and nothing goes wrong, and nothing more pressing comes up, maybe we can go, but I can’t promise anything, so don’t get your hopes up. His children wanted to kill him because they couldn't make any plans with him, even when they were grown.

Talk like this makes everyone around us unsettled and uncertain. It says no one can rely on us for anything.

I know why we do it. We don’t want to say no, but we’re scared to say yes, so we waffle. We need to do better.

“I’ll be there if I can make it,” means I won’t be there.

“I’ll try,” means I’ll fail.

“I’ll do my best,” means I won’t do my best.

When I think about Keillor’s character, it gives me a different perspective on Jesus words, “Let your ‘yes’ mean ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ mean ‘no.’”(Matthew 5:37). I also think about how he told a church that he wished they would be hot or cold rather than lukewarm (Revelation 3:15-16). He means for us to state ourselves clearly, make definite commitments, and keep them.

It’s one thing to count the cost. We need to make wise commitments. But there are commitments that we should make. At some point, we need to state clearly what we are going to do, and then do it, even if it costs more than we thought it would.

"Lord, who may dwell in your sanctuary? He who keeps his oath even when it hurts." (Ps. 15:1, 4)

Friday, August 27, 2010

Am I Closer to God?

Lately, the United Methodist Church has been challenging us with the question: “Are you closer to God this year than last year? How do you know?”

It can be frustrating to try to answer this question because sometimes we are making our greatest strides toward God when we feel farthest away. On the other hand, we can feel like we’re doing well when in fact we haven’t grown at all.

But perhaps there are some things we can look at to measure if we’re moving forward. Here’s a list of questions to help me gauge myself:

How often did I worship with the Lord’s people last year?

How regularly am I praying?

What am I praying about?

How often do I ask, “What does God want?” How often has that question changed my actions?

How much money did I give to the Lord’s work? More significantly, how much of a percentage of my income did I give?

How many acts of service did I perform? How many hours did that amount to?

Can the people closest to me (family and work) tell a difference in me?

How often do I go out of my way to speak kindly and encouragingly to others?

How often do I deliberately notice the needs of others?

Am I teaching the children about Jesus by instruction and example?

How gentle am I? How often did I answer softly when I wanted to yell?

How far along am I in forgiving those who hurt me?

How did I act when things went terribly wrong?

How did I act when I did not feel my best—hungry, angry, lonely, tired, or sick?

How many mistakes did I correct? How quickly did I take responsibility for them?

Did I tell the truth?

Did I keep my promises?

Answer honestly. Recognize your improvement without being boastful. Need to work on some things? Instead of wallowing in guilt, go to work.

Become the person you want to be.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Organized Religion

Anne Rice, the famous and wealthy novelist (she wrote about vampires), has left Christianity, sort of.

She was raised in Christianity, rejected it most of her life for atheism, then went back to it, and now has left it. Her problem is with organized religion. She doesn’t like some of the doctrinal stances, so she’s leaving. She’ll stay home to read and pray quietly, but she’ll no longer be a part of Christian fellowship.

More and more Americans are fed up with organized religion. They don’t like the corruption, the moral rigidness, and red tape.

I understand but consider the following thoughts:

That Bible that Anne Rice will read quietly? She has it because organized religion made it possible. If she uses a prayer book for meditation, she has it because people in organized religion labored so people like her could have one. It’s likely that she’s able to read, write, and make her living because of the education she got from organized religion. If she were to get sick and have to go to the hospital, there’s a good chance she’d go to one that exists because of organized religion.

Because of organized religion we have orphanages, foster homes, schools, soup kitchens, beds for the homeless, schools and colleges, relief agencies, and counseling services.

Organized religion is not a faceless entity. It’s a group of exhausted people. They’re not getting rich either. We hear and read about a few religious leaders who scam the public, but by and large most employees of these service agencies eke out a living at a fraction of the salary their education warrants. They work long hours that tax their health and strain their family relationships.

They would tell you that we need MORE organized religion, not less.

Anne Rice can sit in her nice home and read her Bible in quiet self-righteousness. Many Americans are choosing to do the same.

Shame on them.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Nothing But the Best

Anne Lamott, wrote about writing in Bird by Bird, “you have to give the work before you all the best stuff you have, not saving up for later projects. If you give freely, there will always be more. This is a radical proposition that runs so contrary to human nature, or at least to my nature, that I personally keep trying to find loopholes in it. But it is only when I go ahead and decide to shoot my literary, creative, wad on a daily basis that I get any sense of full presence.”

This is true with all the things that are important to you: work, family, and volunteer acts. If we agree to do something, we need to give our full effort to it.

Good enough is not good enough, especially when we think in terms of what we give to God.

One of the biggest reasons that churches decline is that while a handful of people work very hard, the rest of its members offer half efforts, if that much. Their time, efforts, and financial gifts are the gnawed over leftovers.

Since the days of the Old Testament, God has made it very clear that He wants us to give our very best—the first fruits of our lives. He is displeased with anything less. “‘When you bring injured, crippled or diseased animals and offer them as sacrifices, should I accept them from your hands?’ says the LORD.” (Malachi 1:13)

I’m not trying to make us all neurotic perfectionists here. But I think it’s reasonable to ask for our best, however much that may be at the time.

God is clear that if we bring him our best, that He will bless us in return. That’s a pretty good deal because no one can outgive God.

“‘Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,’ says the LORD Almighty, ‘and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.’” (Malachi 3:10).

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Praying Big

“Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.” (Eph. 6:10-20).

Think about the things Paul did not ask people to pray for. He didn’t want prayer for his release. He didn’t ask for deliverance from further punishment. He wasn’t worried about execution. He didn’t talk about how hard it was to be alone far away from home.

Rather, he was single-minded in his desire to get the job done. He wanted to be part of God’s work more than anything else, including his comfort and safety.

Most of my prayer life consists of my asking God to spare me discomfort and protect my loved ones. I pray for healing and help and solutions to my problems. In truth, I rarely ask for him to help me to be good at doing his work.

I think whole churches can do this, too. We focus on each other’s health and loss, and we’ll express concern about our church growth because we want don’t want to lose what we’ve accomplished. We reach out to people so they can help us maintain our church.

Our prayer life reveals our priorities and it dictates our direction. What would happen if we prayed more earnestly for God’s kingdom to be expanded? What if we prayed to be more effective for His glory (rather than ours)? What if we remembered that His will is more important than our comfort and concerns?

I predict it would revitalize our souls and our churches.

It might not do a thing for our comforts, but since that isn’t as big a priority as accomplishing God’s will, perhaps our comfort is not so important.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Reaching Our Destiny

It's not a new concept but I was thinking about this the other day as I spoke at the funeral of a grand old gentleman.

You have to be brave to get old. I admire those that do it. They persevere while the body diminishes and the mind slows down, compensating with experience and maturity of the spirit.

However, it doesn’t seem fair. Many people have asked me over the years, “Why am I still here if I can’t do anything productive? If all I am is a burden for others to bear, what’s the point of existing?”

The question assumes that life can only be evaluated by what we do and then simply grinds to a halt. The saying goes: “Life is hard and then you die.”

But we don’t believe that, do we?

Christ teaches that this life is preparation for the next one. I think of the metaphor of the caterpillar that shuts down, wraps itself in a cocoon, and then breaks out to be the butterfly that celebrates its new life by taking flight. Christ didn’t look forward to his death but he consoled himself by thinking of how the seed has to die before it can become what it was meant to be, and so he had to die in order to become truly glorified.

He died quite suddenly, but some of us take a while to reach that point. Whether it comes sooner or later, whether it is quick or gradual, we all have the moment when the body dies so we can become the person we were destined to be.

We call it resurrection.

We become less so we can be more. We get old so we can be new. We die so we can live.

It’s hard to grasp until you look at the butterfly and the tree.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Church Picnic

I admit it. I was nervous about the church picnic.
What if nobody came? What if everybody came but we didn’t have enough food? What if the music we planned with the old foot stomping songs fell flat and nobody sang or stomped?

The day didn’t start out promising. I woke up early to the sound of rain. Great, I thought. Now all we need are some ants for later. I drove the supply laden van to the park and only when I arrived did I notice that I left the back doors open. My bad mood was getting worse.

However, the rains stopped, the sun came out, and nothing fell out of the van. The people came—kids, parents, and grandparents. We filled every seat and then some. The music had foot stomping, handclapping, and the beautiful voices of the congregation.

And the food! We had chicken, brisket, ham, baked beans, green bean salad, corn, salad, and desserts including homemade ice cream.

No one was duly appointed but plenty of people helped set up lunch and plenty of people helped clean up afterwards.

Someone just came into my office to share this with me: “You may not realize that my husband and I don’t get around as well as we used to (chuckle). But when we got there, a little girl approached me and asked if she could help me up the steps. A young lady helped my husband carry his plate to the table. Those picnic tables are hard for us to navigate but there were others who helped us get seated. Just thought you should know, Pastor.”

The church is very much like the Sunday picnic. You never know who’s going to show and what they’ll bring to the table, but it’s usually more than enough. How good it is depends on how much the people as a whole put into it.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

In the newspaper ad about our church picnic, this blog site was also included. You're always welcome here but perhaps you would like to visit our church website at:

And remember our worship and picnic this Sunday a.m. at Boiling Springs State Park. 

Monday, July 5, 2010

Fending Off the Arrows

“Take up the shield of faith with which you can extinguish the flaming arrows of the evil one.” (Ephesians 6:16).

Paul uses this vivid image to describe our defense against Satan. When the evil one wishes to harm us, we can protect ourselves with our faith.

Sounds great, but faith doesn’t seem to shield us from much. We still endure grief, loss, physical pain, financial reversals, embarrassing failure, family conflict, and sickness. Even Paul, with his great faith, suffered these things.

I’ve decided these painful events are not really Satan’s weapons. But he will use them to create doubt and disillusionment, which are his flaming arrows.

The doubts come when God disappoints us. When he doesn’t protect us from painful things after we’ve been loyal to him, we feel like he has not lived up to his end of the bargain. And it’s tempting to abandon our faith and go our own way.

Faith is the commitment to God’s standards even when they don’t seem to be “paying off.” It is belief in God’s integrity when we can’t see it, much less prove it. Faith is a firm grip on the promise of resurrection. This commitment is the choice we make. And this choice fends off our doubts and helps us persevere.

Faith does not spare us from pain. It is what helps us endure it.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Where Are My Shoes?

"How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation..." (Isaiah 53:7.)

Turns out that there are interesting references to feet in scripture.

In battle, the warrior put his foot on the neck of his opponent as a sign of victory. Other times, a person would voluntarily bow at the feet of another to show submission. Sometimes people put gifts at the feet of someone of authority.

When Moses approached the burning bush, he was commanded to take off his sandals because he was approaching holy ground. I assume this gesture was similar to people removing their dirty shoes before they enter anyone’s clean abode.

I often wonder if Mary had her shoes off when she sat at Jesus’ feet while he was at her house.

Then for the sake of God, there are times when we put our sandals on and get ready for action. Paul said part of our Christian armor are the sandals that we put on so we can carry the gospel of peace to the world.

Living well is knowing when to have our shoes off to worship God and when to put them on in serving God.

Isn’t it all the same? Isn’t worship part of service and isn’t service part of worship? Maybe, but we’re quibbling over word usage.

My point is that there are times to take off our shoes, get still, and contemplate godly things. It’s a time of mutual expression between God and us. Then there are times when we put on our shoes, and launch out to do works of service in His name.

I look forward to the time when every boot that has marched into battle will finally be set aflame and we will spend eternity with bare feet on holy ground.

Monday, June 21, 2010

At Bat

In baseball, batting puts us in a unique position. Although baseball is a team sport where members function interdependently, when I am up at bat, it is only me facing the next pitch. The moment I hit the ball, I’m back with the team, coordinating my efforts with any other member who is already on base. And if I score, it’s not for myself, but for the team.

Batting can be a metaphor for matters of the spirit. Some choices are mine alone to make. In the face of testing or temptation, I choose how I will respond. My friends can coach me or cheer me, but they can’t choose for me. God won’t choose for me and he won’t make me do what he wants, either.

Jesus had those occasions. When he was tempted in the desert, the moment of decision came when Satan offered him the world if only Jesus would bow down to him rather than God. Jesus told Satan to leave him because he would worship only God. Only after that bold statement did the angels come and minister to him.

In another moment, when his friends had fallen asleep, he prayed in the garden, “Father, let this cup pass from me… yet not my will but yours be done.” Afterwards, the angels came to him.

The worst moment must have been on the cross when he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you left me all alone?”

That’s a good question. Why does God leave us alone at the most significant (and painful) moments? Please don’t quote to me the poem about footprints in the sand where God is carrying me. I think for that moment of testing, I really am alone. God waits on the other side of my decision.

I might do well, or I might fail and have to try again. Whatever direction I take, God will be with me. But I must make my choice first.

Which job will I take? Will I lie or tell the truth? Will I steal or do without? Will I respond angrily or gently? Will I be selfish or generous? These are the moments I am up to bat.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Pulling It Together

I like the word "integrity."

We use it to denote the quality of honesty in a person--someone who holds to his values especially during trials and tribulations. The word also means the quality of being put together in harmony where the object or person is whole and complete.

I like to put the two definitions together to explain that we can be whole persons who keep ourselves together when we hold o virtues when times are difficult.

Our fears tear at us. The world attacks us. Our selfishness can betray us. It can be easy to compromise our morals when we're under those pressures. But temptations--or trials, take your pick--can be defining moments in our character, where we become the persons we were meant to be.

Sometimes we can feel like we're losing ourselves. Perhaps we're afraid we're gong to lose the things we have. And sometimes we're just plain confused.

We can pull ourselves together and straighten out our thinking when we remember to stay committed to our values.

The thing that held Job together during his trials was his righteousness. He was completely frustrated and alone, thinking that even God had abandoned him. But he held on through his ordeal because he held onto his values. We can too.

"As long as I have life within me..., my lips will not speak wickedness, and my tongue will utter no deceit.... till I die, I will not deny my integrity. I will maintain my righteousness and never let go of it; my conscience will not reproach me as long as I live." (Job 27:3-6).