Wednesday, July 25, 2007

What Makes a Pulpit?

I grew up believing that some things were appropriate for church and some things were not. You were not to wear short pants to church. You were supposed to always wear socks to church. There is no talking during church services and never, never, never are you to run in, through or near the sanctuary.

Conversely, there are some things that you should not do when you are outside of the church. For example, everyone knows that prayer is much more effective (and holy) when it is offered in the church building. Sacred music is for the church and not the world. This is why churches have organs and choirs. Taverns, on the other hand, are equipped with guitars and public address systems.

Since becoming an adult, however, I have rejected my previously held beliefs about what is appropriate behavior, speech and dress for the church. I believe that there can be no distinctions between our lives in and out of the church. If I am a follower of Jesus, I must follow him all the time. This means that I should always be a Christian. It makes no difference where I am or who I am with.

So, let's consider what makes a pulpit? Where is it appropriate or effective to share your faith? Are there some places that are out of bounds?

The first answer is that the best place to share your faith is in a place where pre-Christians are. For many Christians this is a problem. Once we become a part of the Christian faith we join a church and cut ourselves off from the rest of the world. This should not be. Look for places where pre-Christians gather. Build relationships with those who are outside the faith. Invest your time and energy in the lives of others.

Once you have made a commitment to share your life with others, it is time to start using your new 'pulpits.'
  • Shopping centers are excellent pulpits. Employees at your favorite store are ready to hear what you have to say about your faith. Be kind. Be friendly. Look for opportunities to naturally share your faith.
  • Restaurants are potential pulpits. Your waiter/waitress is there to serve you, but you can make a difference in their lives by praying for them, being friendly, tipping generously and planting seeds.
  • Your workplace can be a pulpit. Although there are often sticky political considerations in a workplace, often these are the people you know best. Learn to serve those you work with.
  • Social and service groups can be pulpits. The people you spend your social time with are great candidates to share your faith with. Even if you never mention Jesus, you can have a profound influence simply by being a person of integrity.
  • Family members are people who need to hear the gospel. Again, you must be very careful about offending those that you must live with, but you need to share the life-changing message with them nonetheless.
  • Schools and school networks are places to share your faith. Students, faculty, staff, parents and community members can have a positive influence on their local schools and faith.

Here is a challenge, and it's a dangerous one. For the next week pray for opportunities to share your faith. Ask God to put you in places and conversations where you can make a difference for the Kingdom of God. Then, put that prayer into action. Look for times and events that will lend themselves to such conversations. You will be amazed at what happens. You will share your faith, and you will love it.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Things I've Learned

If you know me, or have followed what I have written here over the past couple of weeks, you know that I am suffering from Bell's Palsy. Although my symptoms seem to be lessening, my face is still very irritating to me. I am getting more used to wearing the patch on my eye, but driving is still next to impossible and daily tasks have become monumental feats.

But I have learned some things.
  • What other people think of me is not very important. I think that this has always been a value in my life, but with a face that does not work it has become very apparent that people (all people) tend to judge. Unfortunately, our judging is often based on physical appearance. I am learning that the feelings of others have no effect on my self-image.
  • What God thinks of me is important. He loves me. He made me. God's will for my life is much more important than anyone else's agenda for my life.
  • What I think of myself is important. I do not have to measure up to any one's idea of good, or beautiful, or worthy. I am me. I look how I look. I am what God made me.
  • I have learned to let other people take care of some things that I have been used to doing. This has been very difficult. I am a pretty independent person. I do things for myself and solve my own problems. But in the last 10 days I have driven myself about five miles in my car. I was scared to death. I cannot see well enough to drive. Someone else is chauffeuring me everywhere I go. No matter how I try, I cannot do everything. I am learning to trust God and others.
  • There is always someone else with more and bigger problems than I have. I believe this is true for every person at all times. I am a very blessed person. Although I have difficulties, it could be worse.

Friday, July 13, 2007

More personal thoughts

Another week, another round of problems. Or at least, so it seems. On Monday morning I woke up feeling funny. What that really means is that the left side of my face felt numb. I thought little of it until I saw the doctor on Monday afternoon. I had an appointment to prepare for my Uganda trip so it was very convenient.

The Doctor told my that I either had Bell's Palsy, or I had had a minor stroke. Of course I knew nothing about either one, so I was voting for Palsy. He gave me two prescriptions and scheduled me for a CT Scan to rule out the stroke.

On Tuesday I had the CT Scan. It was not a stroke. However, my face was much worse. My left eye was not blinking at all. This led it to be very dry and irritated. I lost more control of my mouth as well. On seeing the doctor in the afternoon, he gave me an injection of steroids, an additional prescription, and changed one of the prescriptions that I had.

For the last two days I have done very little. Eating and drinking are very difficult as my mouth is hard to control. I am wearing an eye patch most of the time. The children at church think that the faces that I am making are very funny.

I had a follow-up visit with the doctor this morning. I may have Lyme disease (I don't think so, although this can be a cause for Bell's Palsy). I am to be tested for that next week in addition to an MRI for some part of my brain. So far, this problem is just an inconvenient nuisance. Keep me and my patience in your prayers.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Personal Toughts

Seven weeks from today I will be leaving for three weeks in Uganda. In Uganda I will be a part of a team teaching pastors who have planted churches. I am very excited about this opportunity. I have wanted to visit Africa for many years. I have been invited to participate in several work teams, but they never seemed just right. Construction teams, medical teams and the like, are not exactly what I do best (or at all).

But then this group came along and it fit perfectly. Our team is composed of six United Methodist Pastors, all from Indiana. We will be traveling to Uganda to lead the Uganda Bible Academy. The Academy is a training program for United Methodist pastors in Uganda who have very little training and limited access to educational opportunities. This is like a dream come true for me.

So, as I always do when taking on a new project, I began to research. I learned a lot about Uganda. I read about the wild life, the government, the weather, the geography and a little about the history. I cannot tell you everything about Uganda, but I am learning. I will continue to read and learn until the trip, I am sure.

One thing about Uganda was in my memory; Idi Amin. I was in school when Amin was in power. I don't remember much about him. I know that he was a bad man. There were jokes about him invading Angola on Saturday Night Live. I remember little else. But then there was The Last King of Scotland.

I do not believe that everything in this movie is accurate. In fact, I have no clue where fact and fiction meet in this tale. But, I am sure that I know more about Idi Amin and Uganda now than I did before I watched the movie. Forest Whitaker channels Idi Amin the way Philip Seymour Hoffman did Truman Capote. He does not impersonate Amin so much as he is Amin. I quickly lost myself in this movie- and I learned something along the way.

Amin began his reign as the leader of Uganda with the best of intentions. He wanted to do right by his people. His desire was to improve the lot of his subjects and his country. When he began to do this, however, he quickly learned how comfortable it made him. He was in a great situation. He received the adulation of millions of people. He grew wealthy. He began to think that he was always right and that there were no limits to his power.

I have never had the kind of wealth and power that Idi Amin enjoyed, but I have experienced a measure of each. I am financially relatively comfortable. Socially, and vocationally, people listen to what I say and sometimes do what I want them to do. These experiences are so potentially corrupting that they scare me every time. Lord Acton made the famous observation "Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely."

When in a position of authority, it is important that all leaders
  • cultivate humility
  • seek out accountability
  • retain previous relationships
  • live generously
  • continuously seek the well-being of others.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

What are you doing with your time?

This question came to mind recently. I began to wonder how much of my time is wasted. What am I doing when I am not paying attention to what I am doing? Here is what I discovered. Almost all of the things that I did unintentionally were a waste of my time. To be wasteful, an activity needs to add no value to my life or to the life of anyone else. Therefore, taking a nap can be an important, restful activity, or it can be the wasting of a perfectly good afternoon.

In a like manner, watching television can be a waste of time, or it can be a meaningful experience of growth and refreshing. The first thing to remember is to spend your time intentionally. Do not let time get away from you. Plan what you will do; how you will occupy yourself. Here are some guidelines to help you with your time management:
  1. Make sure that all activities are purposeful. Now what you are doing and why you are doing it. Do not spend time in unnecessary pursuits.
  2. Remember that rest is important. It is not necessarily a waste of time.
  3. Meditation and prayer time, although it seems non-productive, is very valuable to your emotional and spiritual well-being.
  4. Be certain that your time is spent well. Ask yourself these questions:
  • Will this event/activity cause me to learn anything or be more fulfilled?
  • Will this thing cause me to be more content?
  • Will this be intellectually, emotionally, spiritually or relationally beneficial to me or others?
  • Will this serve to better me or the world?
  • If I do not participate in this activity will I miss it later?

Finally, never do anything 'just because.' Live your life with purpose.