Sunday, December 4, 2011

Beyond the Sacred Page

I just heard a person described as loving the Bible with all her heart, mind and soul. 

Commendable, I guess. 

However, the most important command of that Bible is to love the Lord, thy God with all our hearts, minds, and souls.

I love the Bible, too. But the Bible isn’t God. It isn’t a person at all.  It is a tool by which I can gain insight into the nature of God. 

Am I just splitting hairs? I don’t think so. If you worship an inanimate object, that’s called idolatry. In fact, there is a specialized term for people who worship the Bible: bibliolatry.  It leads to death, dissatisfaction, and loneliness, just like any other form of idolatry.

I hate to talk about this in an age when so few people really look at their Bibles. The Bible is important. It’s a collection of our most ancient and basic documents upon which Christianity is based. People need to know their scriptures because it’s a principle way of getting to know their God. 

But the Bible isn’t God.    

Like the song said originally: “BEYOND the sacred page, I seek thee, Lord.”

Monday, August 1, 2011

Up and Over

Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. (Mark 2:3-4).

Jesus marveled at those four friends. They were the kind of people Jesus chose to work with him.  The standouts of the Bible (such as Peter and Paul) were like them. Those guys wouldn’t stop in the face of barriers and difficulties. If they couldn’t go through or around, they went up and over. 

The Lord’s work is not easy.  In fact, it’s getting harder in this society.

So do we give up? I don’t want to stand before Jesus one day with feeble excuses:

“Lord, I tried to do this, but people wouldn’t cooperate with me. It was hard. It was expensive. And besides, I had my own life to live.”

Does our community need Jesus more than ever? Is there more or less confusion? Is there more or less fear? Is there more or less turmoil?

There’s no doubt in my mind that the need for a Savior is greater than ever.

In the thirty years I’ve been a minister, I’ve listened to church moan and whine about how hard it is to have church like we used to. I’ve heard worries about how we could “lose our church.”

Congregations come and go, but the church will not fail because Jesus will not fail. The question is will I be a part of his success or lie down my own failure?

I say that we need to stop wringing our hands and put them to work for Jesus.

Is the way blocked? Then let’s go up and over.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Change the World

A new study was done concerning priests who molested children in the 1960s and 70s. One of its conclusions is that the morally lax attitudes of the social climate at time affected these priests, as well as the church.  See article here  

I’ve no doubt there’s some truth to this. We’re all affected by cultural influences more than we think.

However, the church is supposed to resist and change those influences, not give in to them.  Clergy are imperfect humans but they’re still expected to lead the church in setting high standards for behavior.  

For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever. (1 John 2:16-17)

Our job is to go into the world and change it.  Not be changed.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Listen to Your Coach

In scriptures, the word used to describe the Holy Spirit can be translated many ways: Counselor, Comforter, Helper, Equipper, Encourager, and Exhorter, to name a few.  The idea is that the Holy Spirit is close and offering us the insight and strength to get the job done.

It reminds me of a coach in athletics. He analyzes and gives feedback. He tells what the player is doing wrong and how he can do it right. He teaches the players the disciplines of the fundamentals. He cheers them. Sometimes he yells, claps his hands, and blows his whistle to get his team’s attention.  

Most of the time, the player does not take offense, but rather pays close attention so he can correct any error and improve his performance. The coach urges him on reach inside himself to do better than ever before.  

I wish we could take that concept of coaching and apply it to the rest of our lives. 

How much more would we accomplish in school if instead of trying to get away with doing less, we focused on doing more, trying harder, and learning well? How much more valuable as employees would we be if we listened to our bosses and responded as if they were our coaches? How much better would our marriages be if we decided to listen and respond with the aim being a better partners?

How much better a person would I be if instead of getting defensive, I focused on getting better in the face of criticism. Instead of being bound in shame, I would examine myself. I could make my changes, grow in spirit, and move on toward my heavenly goals.  

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. (1 Corinthians 9:24-25).

Friday, May 13, 2011

Certain In Our Convictions

Vindicate me, LORD,
for I have led a blameless life;
I have trusted in the LORD
and have not faltered.
Test me, LORD, and try me,
examine my heart and my mind;
for I have always been mindful of your unfailing love
and have lived in reliance on your faithfulness.
(Psalm 26:1-3).

King David knew when he was right and he wouldn’t back down when he was.

Those of us who have been trained in academia have a difficult time actually having an opinion. We say things like, "On the one hand..., however, on the other hand...."

The great leaders are unshakable in their convictions. It’s what gives them the courage to face giants and win battles against bigger, stronger armies.

Additionally, David was a leader who shared his greatness with the people so they could stand tall with him. During his reign, David was not the only one considered formidable. There were also the soldiers known as the Mighty Men of David.

Ah, to be a leader like him....

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Becoming Sane

At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever. (Daniel 4:38).

Nebuchadnezzar's arrogance made him crazy. In Howard Hughes like fashion, he shunned people and grew out his nails and his hair. He also wandered about outside, eating the grass and living like a wild animal.

They still lock you up if you think you are a god.

How ironic that pride made him lose it all. How wonderful that he found himself and got it all back when he reclaimed his humility.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Last Things

"The end of all things is near." (1 Peter 5:7).

The end of the world makes some people think about digging underground shelters and storing supplies and weapons. Our spirits go into bunker mode as we wait for destruction.

There’s no getting around the fact that there is urgency in the apocalyptic literature. But none of the ancient writers meant to paralyze us in anxiety. In fact, they were encouraging us to let go of fear and use these last times to act for the sake of God by the power of God for the glory of God.

Getting ready isn’t tying down our possessions to secure them for the storm. It’s turning loose of everything that doesn’t matter so we can focus on the needy people who do matter.

The last thing Jesus told Peter was, “If you love me, tend my lambs.” (John 21:15-25).

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Now You See Him; Now You Don't

Lectionary Readings: Psalms 145, 104, Isaiah 25:1-9, Acts 4:13-31, John 16:16-33

Jesus went on to say, “In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me.” (John 16:16)

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33).

Jesus was getting his disciples ready for the time when he would arrested and killed. He was trying to reassure them that all would be well. He wanted them to hang on until the dark times were over because he knew things would be breathtakingly better in a short time.  

But John’s words are meant for the reader, too. He’s encouraging us, giving us hope to persevere when times are hard. If we hang on long enough, we experience better moments.

There are times when the strongest believer will wonder if God’s presence really exists. John the Baptist did. So did Peter.

It’s  part of growing up.

But how do we hang on? Going back to the psalms mentioned above, they speak of praising God constantly. Everyday. That means when we feel bad or tired or discouraged, as well as happy, strong, and excited.

Praise keeps us on track. It keeps us in touch when we don’t feel in touch.  And it keeps us ready for the moment Jesus appears again.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Dry Bones

From Ezekiel 37....

[T]here was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone.

They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you, my people, will know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. II will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the LORD have spoken, and I have done it, declares the LORD.’”

We have finally begun to realize that the church is in trouble. I’ve been yelling to anyone who would listen that the church has been declining for the last forty years. Now, within the next two decades, the church is going to lose a huge number of it’s strongest supporters because folks are old and it will be time for many of them to graduate into heaven.  

Leadership is thinking about how to best organize and consolidate our resources. I know they have to think about this.  It’s the wise thing to do.  But we’re thinking in terms of crisis management. We’re thinking of the church as a terminally ill patient that needs to be made as comfortable as possible.  

I’m still thinking renewal. I don’t believe the Lord means for the church to blink out of existence. He offers a bold vision of an army being raised from a field of dry bones.

If we believe the message of this passage, why not focus on turning this thing around?  

I’m not the only one thinking this.

I plan to continue my work for the next two decades, and I don’t aim to make my final years a time to bury the bleached bones of a dead church. I’m going to work to light the place up.  

What are you going to do?

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Champion

The LORD reigns, let the earth be glad;
(Psalm 97:1).

Why do the nations say,
“Where is their God?”
Our God is in heaven;
he does whatever pleases him.
But their idols are silver and gold,
made by human hands.
(Psalm 115:2-4)

The psalmist speaks of God as his champion, the ruler of everything. He is the real God who lives in heaven--not some hunk of shiny metal some human made.

As I’ve often longed for the personal God that Jesus promises, I admit that I forget to marvel that there is a Champion who is ruled by no one, who cannot quite be understood and can never be coerced.  

That’s the God who watches over us. I don’t always remember it. I can’t always feel it. I almost never understand Him. But the point of the passage is that God doesn’t answer to me or any other created thing. We answer to him. 

That’s comforting, I suppose.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Making a Comeback, Part 2

The world’s greatest leaders often have spotty resumes.  

Joseph went from spoiled rich boy to slave, then convict. But he came back from the dungeon to become a ruler of the most prosperous nation in the world.  

Moses went from Prince of Egypt, to a refugee shepherd, to the man who established Israel as a nation.

Elijah boldly defied the king but then immediately ran and hid for three years. He came back, embarrassed the prophets of Baal in a show of great power, but then had to run again. He wanted to give up and die, but he didn't. Instead went back once more and this time he reorganized the entire government.  

Simon Peter had grand aspirations but failed his Rabbi at the critical time. He came back to preach the first sermon about the risen Christ and 3000 people were baptized in response to his message.  

John Mark failed to complete the first mission trip of Paul. It doesn’t say why, but Paul wasn’t willing to depend on him on the next trip. However, near the end of his life, Paul wrote that “John Mark is very helpful to me.” I like to think both of them made a comeback.  

In more recent history, most of us know about Abraham Lincoln’s failures in business and politics until he became the 16th President of the United States and ushered the country through a civil war to bring about union.  

Winston Churchill suffered debilitating depression and alcoholism. He was not a good peacetime leader, but when the world erupted in War, he rallied the people of Britain to rise up and stand resolute against the bigger enemy.  

Dwight Eisenhower was a nice enough guy. He was well regarded in the Army; however, he was not considered a candidate for any major position of command. Yet he became a five star general and Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in World War II. Later he became Supreme Commander of NATO. Then he became the 34th President of the United States.  

They weren’t born great. Their backgrounds sometimes looked unremarkable although their experiences often gave them significant skill sets. All of them suffered major setbacks. But they persevered. When the big moments came, they were ready.

Making a Comeback

Do not gloat over me, my enemy!
Though I have fallen, I will rise.
                                              (Micah 7:8)

I love comeback stories. Micah might have been down but he wouldn’t stay down.  He speaks of his sins, which suggests that he knew his problems were of his own making. But he knew that God, who demands that we account for our actions, also offers forgiveness and redemption.  

One of the defining characteristics of a person is in how he reacts to failure. Does he hide or face himself and correct his mistakes?  Does he stay mired in humiliation and resentment or does he pull himself up to begin again? 

The man who dares to rise again will find himself, as well as a redemptive God.

It’s time for a comeback.  

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

A Different Perspective

Reflection from Psalms 103,111, 114, Isaiah 30:18-21, Acts 2:26-41, 42-47, John 14:15-31

The Old Testament is full of passages describing the terrible God of vengeance--the Almighty God who sent plagues to Egypt, hated the Philistines, and punished his Chosen Ones when they did wrong.  

However, there were authors who had a different perspective of God.

David described God as the Good Shepherd in Psalm 23. He also wrote how God’s love sweeps over the world and offers us mercy:  

For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
                                             (Psalm 103:11-12).

Isaiah says God longs to be gracious to us and show us mercy (30:18).

It was hard for people to see the loving God.

Its still hard for us to see the loving God.

But this is the God that Jesus wanted us to know: the Redeemer who understands and forgives us, the Champion who rescues us, the Physician who heals us, the Advocate who defends us, and the Abba Father who embraces us.  

Lectionary Meditation: Psalms 1,2, and 3

I think the first three psalms are written by the same person at different times in his life. 

In Psalm 1, I hear a young man's confident faith that he will be able to take on giants and win every time.  

Psalm 2 is written by a seasoned man having accomplished a lot but sees that he is really just beginning to claim his destiny. 

Psalm 3 is written by the man when he is older, more weary, yet still has miles to go. He’s on the run having been betrayed by his own child. I can think of nothing worse. And yet, King David still reaches for the faith that sustains him and it allows him to rest enough to regain his strength.  

I appreciate all three perspectives. I've had many occasions where I could relate to the tired man. I also remember that exciting sense of purpose and destiny. And I really like that young lad who has no doubts whatsoever that he will come through any trial.

It’s the young man that speaks to me and tells me to have hope and reach for victory. The old man reminds me that accomplishments don’t come cheap or easy.  

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Monday, March 28, 2011

Giving It Up for Lent

The Lenten season is our time to prepare for the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection.  In order to honor the Lord, many people choose to deny themselves something significant, sort of as a symbolic fast. People give up chocolate, drinks with caffeine, and desserts. I have a friend who has chosen to go without meat for the season. Others give up TV or some form of recreation. 

Usually, these disciplines are good for us physically and mentally, as well as spiritually. 

I have some other suggestions. 

You know all those people who annoy us by being unreliable and inconsiderate? Maybe we could give up being impatient with them for the season. 

Or maybe I could give up resentment for Lent, where I choose to go without nursing old grudges. 

How about giving up some of our busyness for Lent?  Like Martha, we need to drop the many things that make us worried and agitated to spend time at Jesus’ feet. 

You get the idea. Watching my food intake is good for my health. But perhaps I could refrain from things that would benefit my spirit more directly and honor Jesus more fully. 

I look forward to celebrating the Resurrection with you.   

Thursday, March 3, 2011

It's Not About Being Embarrassed

American society tends to swing on a pendulum between utter shame and utter shamelessness when it comes to human sexuality. When we educate the children we tend to emphasize the shame. 

We tell them to be careful because of pregnancy or illness.  We warn them that they could ruin their lives by cutting short their educational opportunities. We’ll talk about how the whole family would be ashamed, especially Aunt Grizelda, if anybody found out.

While those things bear consideration, they’re not the most important issues that should be emphasized. 

The Bible has insights about human sexuality that are much deeper than a mere physical drive. It is a spiritual union. It’s powerful, lovely, and should be shown proper respect. 

That’s why we teach our children about sexual values.  And that’s why we adults should practice them.

“Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

Monday, February 21, 2011

What if..."

I once knew and loved an energetic church that helped many broken people and brought them to Christ. For several years they grew and their future looked bright.

They had their issues, though. They had the standard conflicts over music, whether children were given too much attention or not enough, whether people should applaud in the worship service. And there were personal struggles with moral issues within the congregation. There were the power struggles between the standard groups you find in any church.  

But still, they made it work and they accomplished much for the sake of God’s kingdom.

Then the worst thing happened that can happen in any church. One group actually won the power struggle. They had just enough votes to get their way. 

They celebrated and looked forward to peace because in their minds, things were finally settled.

But within a short time, the church was emptied  and what was once a bustling congregation became quiet and sad, even though the winners claimed to themselves that things were actually better. 

This is a story that happens everywhere.

I find myself asking a lot of “what if…” questions. 

What if the people who left had decided to stay and insist that the work they were doing was too valuable to walk away from?

What if the “winners” had decided that their brothers and sisters were more important than getting their way?   

What if both the winners and the losers had focused less on what they wanted and asked the question, “What does God want?”

What if the leaders had regularly encouraged people, saying, “Folks, can we agree to quit arguing so we can take care of the wounded that God has placed in front of us?” 

What if those same key leaders had gone to the altar repeatedly and asked God to forgive their selfish ways? 

And finally, what if every church in America--large and small--stayed humble, gave in on the small issues, and stayed centered on Kingdom building?  

Monday, January 10, 2011

Finding Our Identity Through Obedience

Over the last two or three decades, we’ve gone soft on obedience. 

I know why. We don’t want to burden folks with feelings of guilt and anxiety.

But you know, though very few of us preachers give the fire and brimstone sermons anymore, I still see a lot of worry and shame. After all the sermons of love, grace, and the assurance of heaven, people are wound tighter than ever.

I’ve decided guilt and anxiety are simply a part of the human equation. In a positive context, they can get us up and moving. In its negative form, if we wallow in them, we get spiritually (and mentally) ill.

Like a nurse that urges the patient to get up and walk in order to get better, I need to be doing the same with people. Obedience is often the solution to illness.

Our actions define us. In large part, they’re where we find our identities. For years I’ve heard people say it is bad to define ourselves this way. Really? How else do we grow into the persons we are supposed to become?

When the children are small we teach them what they are supposed to do. We give out awards when their actions are laudable. We rebuke them when they do wrong. We teach them what to do so when they are grown they will be strong, confident, and virtuous.

“By their fruits you shall know them,” Jesus said (Matthew 7:16-20).

By our deeds the King will know us: feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, tending the sick, etc. (Matthew 25:31-46).

What about faith? What about the assurance of salvation? They’re there. They are gifts that allow us to do what we were created to do, which is to serve in God’s kingdom.