SOME SELECTIONS TO PONDER

Last week I wasn’t feeling well and stayed home and did quite a bit of reading. I read parts of a wide range of books and a couple of magazines that came in the mail. When I read my own books and magazines I underline things that grab my attention. Here are some of the things I underlined.

Commenting on Jesus’ promise in Matthew 7:7, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you,” author John Pavlovitz describes himself “as asker with more questions, a seeker still looking, a knocker approaching new doors” (The Christian Century, 1/12/22, p. 39).

(I can identify with Pavlovitz.)

“There are five key metaphors for the Holy Spirit used in Scripture: the wind or breath of God, the oil of anointing, the flame of God, living or flowing water, and the dove or the hovering bird” (Welcome, Holy Spirit by Gordon T. Smith, pp. 7 and 8).

“The Spirit who came upon Jesus in the form of a dove at his baptism was present at his conception, and superintended the events around Jesus’ birth” (Welcome, Holy Spirit by Gordon T. Smith, p. 30).

“The work of creation was and continues to be the work of all three members of the Trinity” ” (Welcome, Holy Spirit by Gordon T. Smith, p. 64).

“There is a broad consensus in the history of the church that nothing is so foundational, no practice of the Christian life is more pivotal, that the discipline of regular prayer” ” (Welcome, Holy Spirit by Gordon T. Smith, p. 110).

(I’m reminded that I need to pray more regularly.)

“I have never been able to understand why anyone would worship a wooden statue. Or a tree or an Asherah pole, a cow or an elephant, or a god who looks like a frog. . . . But I can understand why people used to worship the sun. The sun shows us something of the primacy, centrality, and sovereignty of God” (Christianity Today, January/February 2022, article by Andrew Wilson, p. 48).

(As important as the sun is, I don’t understand why people would worship the sun.)

“Satisfaction in life cannot be found in the pursuit of folly or the pursuit of pleasure. . . . Only through Christ can we find contentment in something as simple as eating and drinking” (Where Wisdom Is Found by J.V. Fesko, pp. 24 and 25).

“A greedy man is not satisfied even when his coffers are full and his belly is stuffed, for there is always something more to get. Greed is an equal opportunity sin; it is not reserved merely for the wealthy” (Where Wisdom Is Found by J.V. Fesko, p 71).

(An important reminder for all of us.)

“Not only are we forgiven of our sins, but we are also robed in the grandest festival garments of all, the robe of Christ’s righteousness, to await Christ’s return and the resurrection of the dead . . .” (Where Wisdom Is Found by J.V. Fesko, p 117).

“Christ offers us contentment in the present by giving us the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit comforts us, assures of Christ’s love for us even in the most dire circumstances, and gives us the hope of eternal life” (Where Wisdom Is Found by J.V. Fesko, p 148).

(Comfort for all of us.)

I hope these selections get your attention provoking some thinking that will be challenging, encouraging, and helpful as they did for me.

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CHALLENGES FOR THE NEW YEAR

This evening we had a New Year’s Eve party for our senior saints and I thought I would share in a post a few challenges I presented.

In the coming year let’s give some consideration to seeing people as God sees them.

I want to pass on something I read this week that I had never realized: Both Jesus’ first and last words to the Apostle Peter were “Follow Me.” Hopefully we’ll continue to move forward in the New Year.

I came across a prayer by Dag Hammarskjold we all might want to pray: “Hallowed be thy name, not mine. Thy kingdom come, not mine. Thy will be done, not mine. Give us peace with you, peace with others, and peace with ourselves.

For more than the past 50 years I have used this poem by Helen Field Fischer entitled A New Leaf on New Year’s Eve:

He came to my desk with a quivering lip—The lesson was done.
“Dear Teacher, I want a new leaf,” he said, —“I have spoiled this one.”
I took the old leaf, stained and blotted, And gave him a new one all unspotted,
—And into his sad eyes smiled, —“Do better, now, my child.”

I went to the throne with a quivering soul—The Old Year was done.
“Dear Father, hast Thou a new leaf for me? —I have spoiled this one.”
He took the old leaf, stained and blotted, And gave me a new one all unspotted,
—And into my sad heart smiled,—“Do better, now, my child.”

Happy New Year; and may 2022 be a year of becoming more and more the kind of person the Lord has called us to be.

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GETTING TO KNOW JOSEPH

As we come again to another Christmas celebration I’ve been reading and thinking about Joseph. During this week many of us will focus on the shepherds, the angels, the wise men, Mary, and the baby Jesus. Most of us will include Joseph, but he doesn’t seem to get the attention the others get. Last week I came across an article about Joseph by author and Pastor Acher Niyonizigiye that shed a lot of light on this important Christmas character. Here are some of his observations and thoughts on Joseph (in quotes) and mine as well.

“We don’t know a lot about Joseph. He is one of the biblical characters of whom very little is said. Not a political leader or a great prophet, his name would be absent from the Bible had he not been the guardian of the Messiah.”

“It is most likely that the real Joseph was an average Jewish young man, with some religious education. The Bible implies Joseph was a very ordinary man from an ordinary place, a village man who was known through his profession. People thought of him as the carpenter (Matthew 13:55).”

“While the Jewish culture valued menial labor, the reality was totally different with the Romans. From a Roman perspective, carpentry was a slave’s profession. So Joseph was far from being among the people with high status.”

“In strongly patriarchal cultures, men usually expect to provide well for their families, sometimes with a good dose of emotional detachment from their wives, and they often expect their own plans to be the plans that direct the families.”

“Joseph wasn’t like that. We see that most clearly in his treatment of Mary. He knew she deserved loved and protection. Even before he received God’s message about Jesus, Joseph demonstrated love for Mary and his commitment to protect her dignity. Joseph’s behavior portrays genuine masculinity and Bible-certified righteousness.”

Matthew does not give the detail that Luke does, but he does center his focus on Joseph. In Matthew 1:18 we learn that Mary was “found” to be with child before they came together (in marriage). This would suggest that Mary had been unfaithful to Joseph in the betrothal period, but Matthew confirms for us what Mary learned from Gabriel, that the child Mary carries was conceived by the Holy Spirit.

Since Joseph doesn’t have any details about Mary’s pregnancy, he assumes she has been unfaithful. But this godly man decides not to make a spectacle of Mary and publicly shame her– he decides to divorce her quietly. As Joseph considered all of this, he fell asleep and “an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus,because he will save his people from their sins’” (Matthew 1:21 and 22).

In Matthew’s account we are also told that after the angel spoke to Joseph in a dream, he woke up and immediately resolved to do as the angel instructed. Joseph immediately took Mary as his wife (Matthew 1:24). This shows both the character and commitment of Joseph to the Law and to Mary.

Matthew’s gospel does not go into detail about the birth of Christ, but it does tell us that Joseph “knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.” Both Mary and Joseph immediately obeyed the Lord’s command and welcomed Jesus, their Messiah into the world.

Joseph may not get the attention others get in the Christmas accounts, but he is one of the heroes. He sets an example and challenge for us still today as we celebrate again the birth of Jesus.

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GLAD TO HAVE GROWN UP IN THE BIBLE BELT

This afternoon I read an article that reminded me of so much of my experience growing up in the Bible Belt. The title of the article, I Survived (Because Of) Bible Belt Religion, got my attention; but at first reading the sub-title irritated me: Evangelical leaders who make a great show of their dislike for “Bible Belt Religion” really just dislike the people of the Bible Belt.

Having read the entire article I was not irritated at all, but was affirmed and encouraged. I was also grateful that I grew up where I did and was an active and committed member of my church from the age of 11 until I left home to attend Cincinnati Bible College.

As a pastor (or minister) I spent 10 years in the Philadelphia area and 30 years in Southern California. I thoroughly enjoyed my time both on the east coast as well as the west coast. Neither were exactly like the Bible Belt, but in both churches we believed, taught, learned, applied, and tried to live what the Bible said like we did in the Bible Belt.

Regardless of where you grew up, I hope you have many good memories of those years. Thankfully our country has a lot of variety in so many ways.

Here is the link to the article if would like to read it, especially if you grew up in the Bible Belt: https://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/i-survived-because-of-bible-belt-religion/

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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”?

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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!

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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.

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