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.