FORGIVEN

A few days ago I was reading about Clint Eastwood’s many films and how people ranked them. I was somewhat surprised that the movie chosen as his best was Unforgiven. I’ve seen the movie, but have never completely understood the meaning of the title. What I do know is that unforgiven is a word I hope never applies to me.

In a Bible study I lead we recently covered Psalm 103 as we focused on the Thanksgiving holiday. In verses 10-12 David reminds us of God’s grace in terms of our sin,

10 He does not treat us as our sins deserve
    or repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
    so great is his love for those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
    so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

To me, these three verses are some of the most comforting, assuring, and encouraging words in all the Bible. In digging into Psalm 103 I came across a challenge from a sermon on these verses by Cecil Taylor many of us may want to accept:

Think back to the day when sin weighed heavy on your soul and shame made you hope no one ever found out what you had done. Remember the hot tears that spilled down your cheeks as you begged God for forgiveness. Remember how swift his coming, how loving his touch, how clean your soul when he washed away your sin. Stand up with David and praise God for sin forgiven and gone.

Several months ago in our worship I used part of a blog post by Tim Challies to prepare our congregation to share in the Lord’s Supper. The title of Challies blog asks the question, “Why should we remember what God forgets?” Obviously Challies is reminding his readers that God has not only forgiven us, He also has forgotten our sins.

Following our worship time a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist and Licensed Professional Counselor asked me to send him a copy of the blog. He told me he had clients who would benefit from it. Since Challies’ words were so powerful for me, I wasn’t surprised he thought it would be useful for others.

Here is the link to Challies’ post if you are interested in reading it:

(https://www.challies.com/articles/why-should-we-remember-what-god-forgets/)

Join me in thanking and praising God that as Christians we are forgiven and we don’t need to remember what God forgets.

Feel to leave a comment below and/or share this post on Facebook or other social media.

UNSETTLING AND DISCOURAGING, BUT CHALLENGING

I can’t say with certainty when it started, but the last several years have marked an increased angry, arguing, and divided people in our nation. A lot of it, of course, goes back to Donald Trump and his presidency. However, since taking office the current administration has also led to a great deal of division, controversy, and anger among the American people.  

The anger, controversy, and division is wide and with many people also deep. Family members, longtime friends, fellow workers, and committed Christians too often engage with one another with a lack of mutual respect and an unwillingness to listen to those with whom they disagree. Name calling, abusive language, and insults doesn’t contribute anything to thoughtful discussion.

A factor that adds fuel to the fire so to speak is that some people think and act like they know more than anyone else does. Arrogance usually doesn’t make someone easier to listen to or agree with. Nor is it something that is attractive to others.

The absence of humility and common courtesy in some of our discussions, along with excessive and exaggerated claims and criticism, do not contribute to thoughtful and respectful exchanges in our conversations about things that divide us, lead to anger, or result in intense arguing.

Unfortunately, some people feel they are being rejected when someone does not agree with their position. Just because we do not agree with someone does not mean we think less of them.  

As I have watched others (mostly on TV) debate and argue about so much I have usually ended up unsettled and discouraged.  I have also been challenged to think about how I should discuss things and engage with family, friends, and others.

Here are some results of my thinking you may find helpful:

Don’t take the bait. Some people are fired up and intense when they discuss controversial things–what they want is to argue. I try not to take the bait.

Refrain from becoming angry–anger rarely is helpful and often is unhelpful.

Be respectful–listen to what is being said without interrupting.

Don’t be overly aggressive trying to change someone’s mind–many people have their own opinion and we should refrain from demeaning them.

Be gracious–if possible, agree to disagree.

None of us on our own can do away with controversy, division, different opinions, or anger. Being unsettled and discouraged by some of it is probably natural. What we can do is manage ourselves and how we conduct ourselves when we disagree.

Feel free to leave a comment below and/or share this post on Facebook or other social media.

Image by chiplanay from Pixabay

MAKING PROGRESS

Throughout our lives most of us find ourselves in a variety of undertakings in which we want to make progress. Many do so in terms of their education, their job and career, a hobby, community activities, volunteering, and many other possibilities.

For the past 58 years or so I’ve been on and off giving attention to making progress as a Christian. I’ve often made progress, sometimes I’ve been stalled, and unfortunately there have been times when I lost ground.

The Bible clearly teaches, challenges, and expects us to make progress in our Christian lives. One of the clearest of calls to make progress in in II Peter 1:5-7, “. . . make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love.”  

What sparked my thinking about this matter was a couple of pieces in an issue of The Christian Century (9/22/21) by biblical scholar Jesper Svartvik. Here’s the first of his observations that rang my bell so to speak, “The purpose of the word of God is not to make us feel condemnable, but to help us see what is commendable and what is not.” In our Bible reading we are going to read about what is condemnable, but we need to also give much attention to what the Bible tells us is commendable. As we do what is commendable my sense is we will do less of what is condemnable as we make progress.

I found a second observation of Svartvik to be comforting, encouraging, and assuring: “Christians who look on themselves as pilgrims are reminded that they have not yet reached their destination, that they are still on their way, and that they do not have all the answers.”

For several years I’ve included an observation of my own in my teaching that echoes the first of Svartvik’s threefold observation, “The Christian life is a dynamic life in which no one can ever say in this life, I have arrived.” No, we have not yet reached our destination, but hopefully we are still on our way making progress.

In this post I am not trying scold anyone who is in a holding pattern in terms of progress in the Christian life. Progress is our challenge and expectation, but it is not automatic and it is helpful if we are both aware and intentional.

Making progress in living the Christian life does not earn or merit God’s love and grace. We are saved by God’s grace and love because Jesus died on the cross. As an expression of our faith we keep in mind that we are pilgrims and keep on keeping on in our journey.

Feel free to leave a comment below and/or share this post on Facebook.

I AM NOT ALWAYS RIGHT

Hopefully no one reading this post will be surprised by my confession that “I’m not always right.” Adding to the title of this post, however, it is also true that you (readers) are not always right either. The reality is that no one is always right.

Realizing that we are not always right is an important reality we need to grasp and admit (perhaps especially to ourselves). All of us I would think have been around some who think and act as though they are always right. A person who thinks he/she is always right is not attractive or someone whose company we enjoy.

Everyone, of course, is welcome to their opinion and position. But to insist that their position or opinion is always right is unbecoming to those who do not agree nor hold their position.

Have you ever wondered why some people insist they are always right? I’m thinking they may have an issue with pride and therefore an unwillingness to admit they are wrong. Some people find it demeaning to admit they are or were wrong about something–it’s hard for them not to be right.

Wanting or thinking you’re always right can lead to disagreement and argument. I usually can accept disagreement, but too often am disappointed that disagreement grows into intense argument.    

A lot of disagreements about who is right not only leads to argument, but can result in ill will between those arguing as well as a melting of mutual respect. When the back and forth moves to belittling and anger it’s time to conclude the disagreement and the argument and move on.

Don’t you get tired of being around those who always insist they are right? Why do some of us think we always have to be right? Another outgrowth of thinking one is always right is the loss of listening to what others are saying. We don’t have to agree, but we should listen even when we don’t agree.

As a person matures they usually come to the realization that they don’t have to always be right. My experience is that as I have come to accept that I am not always right I am less intense, more fun, and less often hotly arguing about things that are not that important.

I’m not always right, and I have learned that it is healthy to admit that to myself as well as to those with whom I have meaningful conversations. I am not humiliated to say those magic words: “I was wrong.” I say them to God, to my family and friends, and to others I hope will accept my honesty.

Have you come to realize you are not always right? And have you learned to say “I was wrong”?

Feel free to leave a comment below and/or share this post on Facebook or other social media.

WISDOM WORTH CONSIDERING

Although I had great respect for him, I was not familiar with Colin Powell’s 13 Rules of Leadership. Nor was I familiar with his 2012 memoir, It Worked for Me: In Life and Leadership in which he listed and discussed his rules.

Having read and considered his rules, I cannot help but wish I had read them back in 2012. Even though the title and focus of his book is about rules for leadership, the wisdom and thoughtfulness of his rules are applicable to everyone whether they consider themselves to be a leader or not.

Here is the list with brief comments from one of his many admirers whose name I do not have, but whose observations I appreciate.

Rule 1: It Ain’t as Bad as You Think!  It Will Look Better in the Morning!

These are the words of a man and of a leader who lived a purposeful life.  It is true how many events that seem so devastating have in them the seeds of renewal if we look for them.  Give it some time and perspective.  You can deal with it!  You have made it this far!

Rule 2: Get Mad Then Get Over It!                    

OK, you’re mad–maybe even righteously so! So, instead of letting anger destroy you, use it to make constructive change in your organization or even in your life.  Acknowledge and accept that you are angry and then use your anger in an effective manner for your own benefit and the benefit of others.

Rule 3: Avoid Having Your Ego so Close to your Position that When Your Position Falls, Your Ego Goes With It! 

Your position is what you do to live, it is not who you are.  Leaders that have “their egos in check” will lead from whatever position they hold.  For them, a position is just a means to an ends–not the ends itself.  You can always lead!

Rule 4: It Can be Done!                                   

Leaders are about making things happen.  They continually ask, Why Not, when faced with the improbable.  While one approach may not work, it can be done another way.  Find the other way to make it happen!

Rule 5: Be Careful What You Choose! You May Get It!       

Don’t be rash with your decisions. You will have to live with your decisions, and many decisions have unintended consequences. This also includes the people you choose to associate with. Choose them wisely too! You are affected by the company that you keep.

Rule 6: Don’t Let Adverse Facts Stand in the Way of a Good Decision. 

Whoever said leadership was easy! If they did, they were not truthful. Leaders sometimes have to stand alone (or with the support of only a few) on what they know to be right. They have to make difficult, right decisions that may cost them some relationships. Fortunately, the truth has a way of surfacing with time. Leaders we now admire such as Dr. Martin Luther King and President Abraham Lincoln had plenty of people who hated them in their times. Make the right decision, take the heat, and let time and good results prove you right!

Rule 7: You Can’t Make Someone Else’s Decisions!  You Shouldn’t Let Someone Else Make Yours!       

While good leaders listen and consider all perspectives, they ultimately make their own decisions and take responsibility for their choices.  If it does not feel, seem, or smell right, it may not be right.   Make your own decision about what is in your own best interests. Accept your good decisions.  Learn from your mistakes.

Rule 8: Check Small Things!                                                                               

While leaders live in the “big picture” world they should never forget the importance of the details and they should ensure that the details get the attention they deserve. It is often the small things, or little foxes as King Solomon put it, that ruin the best laid plans. Don’t forget the details!

Rule 9: Share Credit!              

It is probably our American culture but “leader worship” seems engrained in us.  The CEO’s get all of the attention and most of the credit for a company’s success. While leaders are indispensable to success, the truth is a leader cannot achieve success on their own.  The success of leaders is built on the talents of the women and men working with them to achieve the vision.  Without them, leaders would not be successful.  So, if you’re a leader, share the credit with others!  Some of it rightfully belongs to them anyway.

Rule 10: Remain calm!  Be kind!   

It is hard for a leader to inspire confidence and resilience in others if he or she cannot keep his or her composure in times of difficulty.  It is hard for a leader to garner loyalty from others if he or she treats others badly. Remain calm and be kind and your team will climb mountains for you!

Rule 11: Have a Vision! Be Demanding!                                              

Lost sometimes in the language of inclusion, employee participation, servant leadership, motivation, etc. is the fact that leaders are demanding when it comes to fulfilling the vision.  Effective leaders do not accept poor performance and mediocre results. They hold people accountable for their performance.  It is talented people working diligently that achieve success. Be clear about what needs to be done and hold people accountable for fulfilling their roles and responsibilities.

Rule 12: Don’t take counsel of your fears or naysayers!         

Fear can be paralyzing! Further, there will always be those who do not support a leader or have his or her best interests at heart no matter how hard the leader tries to work effectively with them.  To lead others effectively, tune out your fears and the uninformed naysayers.  You will be more successful.

Rule 13: Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier!           

There is something to be said for the leader who refuses to accept defeat and continues to adapt as necessary until he or she is successful.  He or she is a force to be reckoned with and he or she will positively impact others.  Remain optimistic and your leadership effectiveness will multiply.

Colin Powell’s short rules are full of wisdom and application.  We can all do well with these 13 rules!

Feel free to leave a comment below and/or share this post on Facebook.

CAN WE BELIEVE THE BIBLE?

From the time the Bible was put together and published readers and skeptics have questioned its trustworthiness and believability. Some have gone beyond simply questioning it to attacking and ridiculing it.

Christians in general believe the Bible, but there are times and occasions in which they also wonder and ask if all of it is true and believable. Doubts are planted about the Bible’s trustworthiness when seekers and critics ask believers questions they cannot answer.

Earlier this summer I was given the opportunity to receive and read a new book about this issue if I would write a brief review of it. The book’s original title was WHY SHOULD I TRUST THE BIBLE? but was changed to answer the original question to WHY I TRUST THE BIBLE. The book’s subtitle gives specific content: ANSWERS TO REAL QUESTIONS AND DOUBTS PEOPLE HAVE ABOUT THE BIBLE.

The author of this helpful and solid book is Bible scholar William D. Mounce. His brief bio on the back of this paperback will give readers confidence that this book will answer many questions about the Bible’s reliability. In the Preface Mounce tells his readers that “As I’ve been writing, I have kept university freshman and their parents in mind.”

Subjects and topics Mounce covers include The Historical Jesus, Contradictions in the Bible, Why Do We have the Twenty-Seven Books in the New Testament?, Translations, and The Old Testament. Just reading that list probably sparks interest for many readers.

Having read the book, as I leaf through my copy I am surprised by the many sentences I underlined and comments I made in the margins. Why I Trust The Bible is not overly scholarly and is very readable.

I especially appreciated Mounce’s closing two sentences: “The Bible is worthy of our trust, and it can stand up to scrutiny. I have staked my life and my future on it; I trust you will as well” (p. 269). I agree with his assessment of the Bible and also his testimony.

Feel free to leave a comment below and/or share this post on Facebook.

Image by waldryano from Pixabay

ANNIVERSARY – A DAY TO REMEMBER

Most of us have one or more days on our calendar each year in which we remember something that happened in the past. Weddings and birthdays are probably the most celebrated anniversaries, but there are plenty of other things we also remember, including some things we remember but don’t celebrate (like 9/11 in the USA).

This coming Sunday marks a significant day in my life and our family as we look back 37 years to the first Sunday of October in 1984 when we launched a new church in Southern California. After 10 years at a church in the Philadelphia area I was given the opportunity to plant a church in the rapidly growing area east of LA that become the city of Moreno Valley.

Audrey was 2, Rob was 8 months, Jan was 30, and I was 33. I had no experience in starting a church but our nucleus and I had worked hard getting ready for our launch on October 7. We met in a middle school and were so excited that on that first Sunday we had 137 people gather for our first worship celebration.

We bought property in Moreno Valley and eventually built two buildings on the site for worship, children’s ministry, youth ministry, adult classes, banquets, etc. I don’t remember the exact date we occupied the facilities, but it was a great day of celebration on that first Sunday as well as the dedication that followed.

Every year on the first Sunday of October we celebrated the anniversary of the birth of our church. Some of those celebrations were bigger than others. For several years we were known as Moreno Valley Christian Church, but eventually changed our name to Discovery Christian Church to avoid the mix ups with other churches’ with Moreno Valley included in their names.

After 29 years I finalized my decision with our elders to step down from my position a year later. We announced to our congregation on our 29th anniversary that I would conclude my ministry a year later on our 30th anniversary.

My last Sunday was seven years ago on the first Sunday of October in 2014. That Sunday morning time of worship, and the evening celebration of my 30 years, was the most difficult, fulfilling, emotional, and affirming anniversary of all 30 celebrations.

Since I’m looking back in anticipation of this coming Sunday’s anniversary, it’s obvious I remember and rejoice in that first Sunday in 1984 each year. I realize a lot has changed at Discovery Christian Church the last seven years, but not the foundation that was laid at the beginning 37 years ago this coming Sunday.

Congratulations to Discovery Christian Church on the occasion of your 37th anniversary – long time members, newer members, long term staff, more recently added staff, leaders in terms of your elders, and former members who have moved, but still remember Discovery’s anniversaries (like me).

Congratulations to new Senior Pastor Garrison Polsgrove and best wishes as you lead the body of Christ and the ministry of Discovery Christian Church. I’ll celebrate your first anniversary on the first Sunday of October next year as well the 38th anniversary of the church.

To all readers: mark, remember, and celebrate anniversaries that deserve the recognition.

Feel free to leave a comment below and/or share this post on Facebook or other social media.

WORTH SEEING

Even though I have on occasion made comments about a new book I read, in this post I want to make some observations about a movie I saw today. I certainly am not in any way a film critic, but I enjoyed the movie enough to share some of my thoughts about it with readers.

This afternoon my wife and I went to see the new Clint Eastwood film Cry Macho. I knew that the theater for a 12:05 showing on a Thursday would not be crowded and it wasn’t. Altogether there were four of us in attendance.

Having seen Cry Macho I can say with confidence it is worth seeing. I think I have probably seen all of Eastwood’s movies, and this one is unlike any of the others I have seen. It’s not a typical western or about a police officer and there is no shooting of guns, but the ninety-one year old is still an interesting character as a retired rodeo star.

The plot is about Eastwood’s character (Mike) paying back an old friend by going to Mexico City to bring back his friend’s son—Rafa–who is with his mother. Rafa agrees to go with Mike and the bulk of the film is about their journey back to the Mexico/Texas border.

Unlike many of Eastwood’s previous films, this one is unique. Obviously he is older in this one than the others and the setting is 1978. For me Cry Macho was heartwarming and I saw Clint Eastwood playing the part of a gentle and caring old man. Mike was not only caring and gentle with a widowed mother and her children, he also was both gentle and helpful with a variety of animals.

Of particular interest to me was when Mike and Rafa were going to sleep and Rafa asked Mike if he believed in God. Even though it was brief, I thought the exchange was interesting.

The ending of the movie was quite brief and left me wondering about the ultimate outcome of what Eastwood’s character pulled off for his friend. I wish the film would have lasted a little longer to tell us more about what happened next for the two main characters: Rafa and Mike.

If I were a real film critic I would suggest five stars for Cry Macho, but I’m not a real critic. But for me, if Cry Macho is the final film for Clint Eastwood, I’m glad his last piece of work is as good as any of his others.  

Feel free to leave a comment below and/or share this post on Facebook or other social media.

WHAT ARE YOU THINKING ABOUT?

Most of us have at times when we seem to be daydreaming been asked the question, “What are you thinking about?” A common answer is “nothing,” but my sense is that thinking about nothing is probably rare.

I just finished a book by Hannah Anderson entitled ALL THAT’S GOOD: Recovering the Lost Art of Discernment. While she does write about discernment, six of the eleven chapters are about the six things the Apostle Paul suggests Christians should think about in Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (NIV).

The New Living Translation renders Paul’s challenge “Fix your thoughts and think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” In the Message Eugene Peterson paraphrases, “you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on . . . the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not to curse.”

Comparing these three translations gives us insight into the six specific areas Paul encourages us to focus on: what is true, what is noble (honorable), what is right (reputable), what is pure (authentic), what is lovely (compelling), and what is admirable (gracious).

Here are a few selections from Hannah Anderson’s explanations of things we are to think about: “honorable carries the idea that something has weight or gravity” (p. 81), “something is just (or right) when if fulfills what it is supposed to do” (p. 97), “being pure is the condition of being whole and untainted” (p. 114), “to describe something as lovely is to describe both the thing itself as well as the response it produces in us” (p. 128), and “seeking whatever is commendable means giving attention to both what we talk about and how we talk about it” (p.141).

The importance of what we think about should not be understated. Through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit the Apostle Paul gives us six suggestions for what we should consider and focus on.  If as believers we give much thought to the opposite of these six, let’s be challenged to replace them with what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and admirable.

To conclude this post I share Hannah Anderson’s observation: “discernment simply means developing a taste for what is good” (p.13). Perhaps we need to work on being more discerning about what we think about and fully enjoy what we do think about.

Feel free to leave a comment below and/or share this post on Facebook.

Image by 139904 from Pixabay

SOME THOUGHTS ON FRIENDSHIPS

Two weeks ago I learned that one of my childhood friends died and I wrote a blog about him to honor him. I concluded my thoughts about Bruce Edgecomb and another childhood friend, Charlie Bailey who passed away a couple of years earlier, with the closing line of the narrator in the movie Stand by Me: “I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was 12.”

Since then I’ve been thinking a lot about friends and friendships. I’m now 70 and agree with the narrator that neither have I had any friends later on like Chuck and Bruce. That is not to suggest, however, that I have not had close, supportive, fun, caring, and wonderful friends.

Somewhat surprising to me in thinking back is the number of friends I had who were older than me during my years in youth ministry. Most of them (called youth sponsors in those days) contributed in vital ways to our youth ministry and we became friends. What is also meaningful to me is the number of friends I have had and still have from among those young people who were participants in our youth ministry.

I was privileged to serve as the preaching pastor of two churches following my five years as a youth pastor. I served 10 years as the minister of a small congregation in the Philadelphia area from 1975 to 1984. My best and most helpful friends during my tenure there were men who were older and more mature than me who invested in my life by supporting me, advising me, challenging me, and loving me.

At the age of 33 our family moved to Southern California where we planted a church in a rapidly growing area of mostly young families. Jan and I stayed there for 30 years until we thought it was time to step down and move to Texas to be closer to our children and grandchildren.

One of the most difficult things about stepping down from Discovery Christian Church after 30 years and moving to Texas was leaving the many friends we had made and with whom we had shared life. It has not been easy to keep in touch, but we have remained in contact with several and quite a few have visited us in Amarillo.

The past four years we have become involved with a church and I am elated to have a part time position as Pastor of Senior Adult Ministry. Jan and I are certainly loved and appreciated, but we have not yet cultivated many friendships as we are busy with our grandsons. I’m hoping to nurture some more meaningful friendships both giving and receiving as real friends do.

We all need friends, don’t we? Friends make a difference in our lives. No two friendships are exactly the same, and my sense is that’s the way it should be. The loss of a friend or a friendship can be painful. I thank God for my many friendships from growing up, during high school, while in college, in the churches I’ve served, and those with whom I have connected. Friends have enriched my life in many ways and I hope that as a friend I have also enriched their lives in many ways as well. Sometimes I think back over the years and become nostalgic remembering those friends and the times we shared.

Friends and friendships are a gift from God.

Feel free to leave a comment below and/or share this post on Facebook or other social media.

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay