Thursday, February 28, 2008

Life Verse

Philip is my hero. There are lots of reasons for this, but the primary one is what is said about him in Acts 21.9. Since finding this seemingly unimportant verse a few years ago, my life has changed and my focus has improved dramatically. Here is why.

"Now this man had four virgin daughters who prophesied." Acts 21.9

That now sums up my purpose, my life. It is partly because my only child is a daughter and because Philip had a heart for evangelism, but mostly I love this verse because Philip was a father. I, like Philip, am called to be a father, not only to my own child, but to spiritual children as well.
  • I am called to reproduce children who are holy. Philip's daughters were virgins. This is true in the physical, moral sense of the word, but I believe it means that they were young women of integrity. My calling is to reproduce myself in this way as well.
  • I am called to reproduce children who are spiritual leaders. Philip's daughters were ministers who shared the message of God with others through prophecy. I am called to build ministers as well.

There you have it. That is what I do (at least, what I should do). Keep me on track.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Our Celebrity Culture

What is our world coming to? What has happened to us? We allow those who are famous, or make a lot of money, or are beautiful, or talented do whatever they want. Celebrities surround themselves with "yes" men who keep telling them how wonderful they are. It does not take long for a celebrity to lose touch with reality. They can quickly forget where they came from. It is a tragedy that is repeated over and over again on an almost weekly basis.

Celebrities feel as though they can do whatever they want, whenever they want, to whomever they want. They believe that there are no consequences for them because they are famous and have money. Too often this is true.

But the biggest problem with our celebrity culture is that when a celebrity get too big for his/her breeches and does something bad, we reward their behavior. Amy Winehouse wins a bunch of Grammys, Barry Bonds sets the home run record and Martha Stewart is on television every day.

We are, in essence, rewarding this bad behavior. What is wrong with them? WHAT IS WRONG WITH US?

And it is not just in the movies and in music. Every walk of life can point to celebrities "gone wild."
  • Now we have learned that a whole crop of seemingly heroic baseball players cheated. The great Roger Clemens, the best pitcher of our time (maybe of all- time), among others, used steroids and human growth hormone to get an advantage.
  • Richard Robert, son of the legendary Oral Roberts and the head of his father's ministry, has mishandled funds and lost his job. Tragically, Roberts is not a rarity in the field of Christianity. Catholics have their abuse scandals, and protestants have financial and sexual scandals. (Currently six televangelists are under investigation by the US Senate.)
  • Britney Spears has become a "scandal a day." It is almost tedious to even recount. The pop princess has lost her children, her family, and maybe her soul.

Gratefully, there is an answer. The world does not have to bow at the altar of the 21st Century celebrity culture. We do not have to pay attention to tabloids (on the news stand or on the television). We do not have to support those who are too arrogant to return to mainstream society. It is our world. There are more of us than there are of them.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Weekly Prayer Thought

Pray without ceasing. 1 Thessalonians 5.17

What a hard admonition this is. How is it possible to pray all the time? How can I work? Care for my family? Go to church? All of those things seem impossible if I have to pray all the time. I cannot be on my knees in my prayer closet 24-7. I have to fulfill my daily responsibilities.

Of course that goes without saying, but we should always be ready to pray. Christians should always be in an attitude of preparation. When an emergency comes along, we must be ready to go immediately to the Lord. You should never be in a situation where you have to get in an "attitude of prayer." Your attitude should always be one of prayer.

Lord, we are faulty creatures. We mess up a lot. One of our biggest problems is that we fail to pray all the time. Help us with that. Build in us consistency to be faithful and perseverance to not give up. Bring us always closer to you and your will for our lives. Amen.

Friday, February 22, 2008

An Impotant Affirmation

Recently a friend was struggling with some issues from his past. Although he would not give me the details, he asked that I pray for him. He felt that God wanted him to deal with his past so that he could move on with his life.

I found this approach surprisingly mature. This friend was looking for an ear to unload some stuff. And although I am certainly not a therapist, have no training in counseling and am barely passable as an active listener, I served as the repository for some hurt, guilt and shame. I was a therapeutic resource for my friend.

During the course of our conversation- which, by the way, was almost entirely one-sided- I offered a few platitudes and words of wisdom. Most of what I had to say was gleaned from years of listening to others. I had little of substance to offer. That is until God showed up.

I am not a creepy, mystical type person, but I do believe in God and his willingness to intervene in the affairs of humans. Sometimes he makes himself obvious and at other times he stays somewhat hidden in the background. But last week with my friend he showed up front and center. There was no mistake about his presence or his attitude. God's word came from my mouth. Out of nowhere I said one of the wisest things I ever had.

"Do not let something from your past- something you did, or something that was done to you- be an excuse to keep you from moving into God's will for your future."

How true! Too many people let guilt from past mistakes (sin) keep them from moving forward into God's will. They are so consumed with guilt and regret that they refuse to believe that God, or anyone for that matter, can find any value in them. They do not see why they should be hopeful because they are so filled with remorse that they become paralyzed.

There are also people who are filled with shame. Many men and women are consumed with the memory of past abuses. They blame themselves for what others did to them. They cannot get beyond the emotional bondage that captured them six months, two years or 20 years ago.

There are also many men and women who experience guilt by association. They were a part of a group who participated in sin. Or they were witness to something that proved to be evil. All of these situations fall into that category. Many are suffering because of what was done to them.

So here is my encouragement; God loves you just like you are. No matter what. He will take you just like you are. You do not have to clean up your mess first. Come to God and let him clean up the mess.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

What I Learned on the Mountain

Last week I climbed a mountain. The mountain was not very big. I needed no special equipment at all. In fact, I wore my street shoes and just took off walking. It was hard though. Remember, I am a little fat (a lot fat?) and firmly into my middle-aged years. Nothing physical is easy for me anymore.

But I felt a strong need to climb that mountain. It was almost a call that moved me to take off walking. I did not take long for me to get pretty winded. It was hard work. I started out very slowly, but I had to stop and catch my breath right away. And then I had to stop again. And then again. And then I got a little sweaty. When I reached the top I found a rock to sit on and I finally caught my breath.

I sat there for quite some time. I am not sure how long it was. I looked all around across the valley below me. It was beautiful. Urban blight became a little bit beautiful from this perspective. I read from the Bible. I thanked God that even I could have a sense of accomplishment. I was silent, waiting for something. I am not sure what I was waiting for, and I am not sure that it happened.

Then I came down. That is when I learned the most important thing. Coming down made me a lot more nervous than going up. I was not afraid of the height. I was feeling fine. I had rested on the top long enough that I had plenty of energy for the descent. What made me nervous was that I might fall. The trail that I was following was well-traveled. There was a very distinct path. For most part the path was covered with rocks that made hiking more enjoyable and safe than a dirt foot-path would. And it was those rocks that were there for my safety and convenience that made me nervous. I was afraid that the rocks would shift and that I would fall. Thankfully, I did not fall, but that's when it hit me:

It is easier to fall down than it is to climb up!

The truth of that thought has tremendous implications. The stakes are high. Be vigilant. Be careful. Always be prepared. Know that the trip to the top is hard, long and dangerous. It takes great commitment and care to reach the summit. Falling down, on the other hand, can happen to anyone at anytime.

This is true in life as well. Never let your guard down. Do not take a day off. Be careful and committed everyday.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

An Interesting Thought

I spent last week at a continuing education event for pastors and church leaders. I had a great time. I received a lot of inspiration and learned many things. I was exposed to new foods and experiences as well. Many of my experiences will wind up in this blog, I am sure. One of the things I heard turned out to be a sort of revelation.

A thing can only be a revelation, in my opinion, if it meets one or both of these criteria:
  1. It is a completely new piece of information. It opens the door to new things that you have never considered before.
  2. It is a revelation if it is a result of information that you already have, but you begin to think of the information in a completely new and unique (to you, at least) way of thinking.

This revelation fits into the second category. I had all the components of this thought in my mind before last week, but at that time it was presented in a new way that caused me to process the implications differently than I ever had before. Here it is.

Interested is not the same as committed.

I know. I know. You know that. However, we often convince ourselves that they are the same. Committment is a level of involvement in a cause, purpose or relationship that values the cause above many, perhaps all, other things. Many times we decide that we are interested in a topic and somehow convince ourselves that we are committed to it. But interest is not commitment.

For example, I am very concerned about global warming. I am interested in the effects that humans are having on our world and environment. However, to this point I have not been committed to the cause. I have not changed my lifestyle to be more eco-friendly. I am interested and even concerned about this issue, but I am not committed to it.

The life of faith is much the same. We can convince ourselves that we are committed to our faith, to a particular lifestyle or values, but until our choices change what we have is interest. The importance of Christianity is that we are to be committed, not just interested.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Weekly Prayer Thought

"Call to Me and I will answer you and show you great and mighty things which you do not know." Jeremiah 33.3

What a promise! If I turn to God in prayer, if I submit to him today (and everyday) he will answer me. What a great bit of assurance for me. When I have doubts, he will answer me. When I am alone, he will answer me. When everyone is out to get me, he will answer me. God will answer me if I pray to him.

But that's not all. When I pray he will answer, but he also promises to show me things that I have never seen. I will know things that I do not know. God will reveal things to those who speak to him. When we share our needs and desires with God, he will share his desires with us. Prayer goes both ways.

Jesus, Savior of all the world, Lover of each of us, keep us this day. Speak to our hearts and encourage us as we commit ourselves to your work. As we revel in your promises, build our faith by showing us great and mighty things. In the name of Jesus we pray. Amen.

Friday, February 8, 2008

The New Revolution

I am getting to an age where the familiar is comfortable and comfortable is good. I like to wear my slippers and stay close to home. I prefer to reminisce rather than explore. I remember the old days fondly and wish that they would return. All the good music is at least 20 years old and my favorite television channel is TVLand. I am not naturally one who embraces innovation.

That needs to change. In fact, I know that the whole world is changing. Everything is different, all the time. The world I new when I woke up this morning will be completely different by the time I go to bed tonight. I will not recognize anything by tomorrow morning. And it will continue that way... forever.

Things are always "better than ever," "new and improved" with "added value" and "now with more cleaning power." So it is probably time that I joined this "New" revolution. Maybe you should too.
  • I am going to try new things. I will do things and go places that I never have before. It is time that I spread my wings and live a new life.
  • I am going to eat new foods. This will be the hardest for me. I am pretty finicky. I do not like most things (especially vegetables). But if I am to join the new, I will have to eat the new.
  • I will listen to (and try to enjoy) new music. As much as I like my classic rock, I am going to try some new things. New country makes me nervous and rap makes me nauseous, but in the spirit of the New Revoluion, I will give them a chance.
  • I am going to make some new friends. I am basically an introvert. I like keeping to myself. I have often joked that I have enough friends. That will change. After all, making friends, and new ones at that, is a part of my mission in life.
  • I am going to live life to its fullest and have new experiences. You only go around once, the old commercial said. I am going to experience as much "new" as I can.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Ash Wednesday II

It was not quite a year ago, but it was Ash Wednesday that I began this blog. It is only appropriate that I once again come back to that theme on this day. Here are some thoughts.
  • Reflect. During this season of Lent, for this 40 days, spend some time evaluating your relationships. Check you relationship with God, with your spouse, family, neighbors, friends, co-workers. Are your relationships- all of them- what you would like them to be? If they are not, fix them. You are the only one who can do that. Make your relationships better 40 days from now than they are today.
  • Remember. Think back on the events that have made you who you are today. There are good and bad things to remember. Remember them all. Be grateful for what has been good, and for the good that has come from the bad. Remember how God has worked in your life to make you what you are, or how you have neglected God.
  • Repent. There are dozens (hundreds? thousands?) of things that we should be repenting. Take the two-step approach to repentance. First of all, recognize, admit and confess those things in your life that are unhealthy, unhelpful and just plain sinful. Secondly, make a decision to avoid all of those in the future.

May you be blessed on your Lenten journey as the Lord speaks to your heart and receives your sacrificial penitence.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Maria Full of Loneliness

In 2004 a little movie came to USA theatres and video stores from Colombia. Maria Full of Grace was slated to be submitted for Academy Award consideration that year, but was ultimately rejected because it was not Colombian enough. It was a loss for the Oscars. Maria Full of Grace is almost spiritual and meditative in its treatment of Maria, a teen-ager from a small village in Colombia.

Maria has an awful job with an awful boss. She has a terrible sister whose baby Maria is forced to support. Although we do not learn much about Maria's mother or grandmother, they are not much help to her. Maria's boyfriend is a dead-beat loser with no ambition and no future. Maria's life is one dead-end after another. And that is when Maria finds out that she is pregnant. After an argument with her boss, she quits her job. After a confrontation with her mother and sister, she leaves town.

And that is where Franklin comes in. Franklin has connections in the drug business. He hooks Maria up with Javier a dealer from Bogota. The potential to get out of her small town existence looks too good for Maria to pass up. She agrees to become a "mule," transporting drugs from Colombia to the USA. She swallows 62 pellets filled with drugs and then passes them in New Jersey where she is paid for her work.

There are a lot more details to this story than I have just given. But you can get the idea. There are two themes that immediately spring to my mind.
  1. Maria is desperate. She has many strikes against her life. There is no chance that Maria will ever be successful, at least the way most people think of success. There is so much failure and hopelessness around her that she cannot help but think that her future is the same. Maria needs to change her circumstances so that she can change her potential. Although we certainly cannot endorse her choices- no one in this film does, either- we can understand the reasons behind her actions.
  2. Maria is lonely. There is no one who cares about her. Her employer is only interested in Maria's production. Her boyfriend is only interested in the physical amusement that she provides. Her sister and mother are only interested in her financial contribution. No one cares about Maria.

There is a lesson here. It is not about drug trafficking and the drug trade. It is not about illegal immigration or civil rights. The lesson is that we should be certain to care about people. Let no one be lonely. It ought to be our mission.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Weekly Prayer Thought

"Pray without ceasing." 1 Thessalonians 5.17

A few weeks ago I read a very interesting cartoon in the Sunday paper. I used to read Funky Winkerbean on a regular basis, but for the past several years I have only had the opportunity in the Sunday paper. In this particular strip, a young lady is looking through her mail for a CD that someone has promised to send her. She is disappointed that it has not arrived when her father offers some consoling words. He says that there are three promises that people never keep. They are: "The check is in the mail." "'I'll pray for you." And, "I'll send you a CD."

Let me encourage you to do two things this week. First of all, tell people that you will pray for them. It is encouraging to hear that you are remembered by someone in this way. Secondly, be sure to pray for those you tell that you will pray. Keep your word. Encourage people emotionally, and encourage them spiritually with your prayer.

Lord God, today I pray for every person who reads this message. I ask that you would encourage them. Bless them emotionally. Encourage them in their work, their family life and their social life. And God, help each of us to lift up in prayer all of those who are around us. Amen.

Friday, February 1, 2008

I Think, Therefore I am a Minority

A friend of mine is always saying that a few people think, but most people use labels so that they do not have to think. How true. We have analysts who explain world events to us every day on the evening news. This is very convenient. He saves us the trouble of having to figure all those complicated things for ourselves.

That reminds me of my first girlfriend. She was a little bit older than me and she was able to vote in a certain election that I was not allowed to vote in. This drove me crazy. I wanted to vote in the worst way. I knew every candidate and all their positions. Dating teen-agers do not talk about politics, however. We were too busy with peer pressure, complaining about our teachers and wondering if our parents would let us go to the movies on Friday. It was not until after the election that I enquired of my beloved's voting experience. She told me simply that she had voted for all the wrong candidates (at least in my opinion). I cried out, "Why?" She said, "I voted for who my dad told me to vote for." It was easier for her than thinking.

And now we are in an election year- a presidential election year, no less- and we have too many people who have the same beliefs. It is easier for them to let some pundit- Al Sharpton, Ted Kennedy, Pat Robertson or James Dobson- tell them who to vote for than to do their own research. Learning about the candidates is hard work, after all.

One of the problems that we face is that many people are in love with opinions and they ignore evaluation. Evaluation causes you to study and analyze. If you skip write to opinion, you can get through much more easily. Not evaluating issues will leave you more time to watch reality programming on television. Jumping right to opinion can make us seem smarter than an individual who wastes time considering options and implications.

Another problem is the very one that my friend identified so clearly. If I can label people, or issues, or news events, I do not have to go to the trouble of thinking about them. If I put you in a category, I do not have to be bothered with who you are, what you feel or what you believe. My life is a lot less complicated that way.

And that's what life in the 21st century is all about, isn't it? We have drive through windows for banks, restaurants and prescriptions. We have microwave ovens and cell phones and other convencience items to make our lives easier. That's what we really want. We want easy. And that is an antonym for thought.