SURPRISINGLY, MOST OF US WILL AGREE

A news report I read on Monday both surprised and encouraged me.

On Sunday, along with several others, Ellen DeGeneres and former President George W. Bush and Mrs. Bush were invited to the Dallas Cowboys football game by owner Jerry Jones. Someone took a picture of the former president and DeGeneres sitting next to one another enjoying themselves.

The picture was posted on social media and there was significant response to it criticizing Ellen for spending time with and enjoying the Bushes.

On her show Monday, Ellen DeGeneres responded with these remarks: “Here’s the thing: I’m friends with George Bush. In fact, I’m friends with a lot of people who don’t share the same beliefs that I have. We’re all different and I think that we’ve forgotten that that’s okay that we’re all different… but just because I don’t agree with someone on everything doesn’t mean that I’m not going to be friends with them. When I say, ‘Be kind to one another,’ I don’t mean only the people that think the same way that you do. I mean be kind to everyone. Doesn’t matter.”

Hats off to Ellen DeGeneres! What a thoughtful and mature explanation to those who had criticized her actions. I agree with her.

I too am friends with a lot of people who do not share the beliefs or same exact beliefs that I have. But just because we do not agree on everything does not mean we can’t be friends.

I don’t watch her show, but I learned today from someone who does that Ellen closes every show with the challenge “Be kind to one another.” Apparently she practices what she preaches. I am impressed by that and convicted to putting more of my preaching into practice.

Another report I read said that Former President Bush “appreciated her comments and took a stand against the Twitter mob shaming her sitting next to him. Bush’s spokesman told one news outlet: “President and Mrs. Bush really enjoyed being with Ellen and Portia (de Rossi) and appreciated Ellen’s comments about respecting one another. They respect her.”

Sadly, when it comes to both politics and religion we often seem to exaggerate our differences and suit up for battle. Even more disheartening, rather than showing respect to others we too often become disrespectful.

Surprising to some I’m sure, I think most of us (including me) agree that we need to be kind to one another even if we don’t think the same way. We do not compromise what we believe when we are kind and respectful to others.

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THE CHALLENGE AND BEAUTY OF FORGIVENESS

While some hardhearted people might disagree, most of us would agree that it would be difficult to overstate the importance of forgiveness. And its importance includes both being forgiven as well us forgiving.

I’ve been thinking about what I call “the four lines of forgiveness” for several weeks now, and a news report I just saw on TV reinforced both my premise that we cannot overstate the importance of forgiveness and that there are four lines of it.

The news report was about the trial of a police officer who was going home to her apartment and got on the wrong floor. She entered the wrong apartment, thinking it was hers, and shot and killed the resident thinking he was an intruder. She was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison.

What was so powerful to me about the news report was the words of the victim’s younger brother on the witness stand speaking to the woman who had killed him. He said he forgave her, loved her, and hoped the best for her while she was in prison. He then asked the judge if he could hug her, got the judge’s permission, and the two embraced. It was a powerful and moving demonstration to see. (To forgive someone does not mean we must put ourselves in a place or position to be hurt or wronged again by the person we are forgiving.)

One line of forgiveness that can be challenging and is beautiful is our forgiveness of others. I have no idea if the younger brother’s words to his older brother’s killer were challenging, but I do know they were beautiful. I also know in my own life, and probably in yours as well, that forgiving others can be challenging. But the reality is that God calls us to forgive others and forgiving them is good for us.

A second line of forgiveness is others forgiving us. I’m confident every person who reads this post has needed forgiveness from others. It is not always offered, of course, but often it is. In my experience admitting whatever it was that you did or said that needs forgiving, and asking for it, goes a long way in receiving it. Unfortunately, if forgiveness is not granted, we have to leave it there.

A third line of forgiveness is God forgiving us. We should never take God’s forgiveness for granted, but the Bible is clear that God wants to forgive us. That’s what the coming, life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus is all about. All of us, without exception, need God’s forgiveness. And while it is not necessarily automatic, because of his great love for us God does forgive us when we ask for it.

A fourth line of forgiveness is forgiving ourselves. We probably don’t think or talk as much about this line as we do the others, but for many of us, this is a need. We’ve all heard people say something along the lines of “I’ll never be able to forgive myself!” Certainly no one should be cavalier or flippant about forgiving themselves. Yet, my sense is we do need to forgive ourselves, not be totally defeated by our failures, and move forward rejoicing in God’s forgiveness in Jesus with a commitment and resolve to do better.

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LET’S STOP THIS

I just watched an episode of the Andy Griffith Show (first aired in January of 1964) in which Andy and Helen and Barney and Thelma Lou went on a picnic. Unfortunately for Andy, Helen, and Thelma Lou, earlier in the morning Barney had an embarrassing experience and was in a bad mood. Because of his foul mood, Barney was a wet blanket on the others and almost ruined the picnic for the other three.

Have you ever done anything like that? I have and I am sorry. I remember times when our children were young and I allowed my frustration and stress in getting ready to go ruin the first part of an outing or even vacation.

Before I saw Barney’s downer attitude on TV I had heard a song I thought said “don’t bring me down” that reminded me of times when my attitude and actions brought others down and others have done the same for me. The correct lyrics “can’t bring me down” do not change my request to others “don’t bring me down” or my desire to not bring others down. To me, allowing your bad luck, bad day, or bad mood to rob the joy of those with you in whatever you’re doing is simply being selfish.

I play a lot of golf and sometimes don’t play very well. And when a person enjoys golf as much as I do, to struggle with your game can be disconcerting. Long ago I made the decision that because of my poor play I would not allow my attitude to ruin it for the guys I’m playing with. I wish everyone I play with would make the same decision.

Here are a couple of quotes (edited) from an article by Phil Cooke entitled Stop Wallowing in Negativity and Constant Complaining that sheds light on the issue. “We must be very careful about wallowing in our disappointments and frustrations because negativity can easily build momentum. Don’t let your frustrations and your complaining take control. Find the positive and learn to see the good. You’ll find your attitude will change, and before long you’ll become a positive voice.”

The title of this post is a request for all of us to give some thought to our attitude and actions when things are not going the way we wish they would. Are we going to be selfish and bring others down and ruin things for them? I hope not.

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FAITH AND BELIEF – WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE

New Testament scholar Luke Timothy Johnson notes “Belief and faith are closely related but not identical.” I’m not sure what the difference is between faith and belief, but I am sure both are important.

It would be difficult to overstate the importance of believe and faith in the Bible. Here are just three:

Hebrews 11:1 gives a partial definition of faith: “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (NLT).

Hebrews 11:6 underscores the necessity of faith:  And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him” (NLT).

John 3:16 is one of the best known verses in the Bible: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

The words obviously overlap in meaning, and sometimes forms of the words are used interchangeably, but if Johnson is right they are not exactly the same. What further complicates the meaning of the words is that different people mean different things by them.

Having given it some thought, if pushed to differentiate, my take is that belief is primarily about content and faith is more oriented to living according to one’s belief. One writer observes people can believe something is true without it mattering in their lives.

When someone says this is what I believe they are affirming the content of their belief (or faith). Creeds and statements of faith are lists of teachings or body of content of what a person or group believes. When someone says I have faith in something (or someone) they are referring to their trust or expectation about something or someone they believe.

Equally important, faith and belief are lived out in one’s life. What we really believe is shown in how we live. I like two phrases that seem to me to bring it all together: “keep the faith” and “stay faithful.”

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DISCUSS, ARGUE, OR BLOVIATE?

I read an observation today that resonated with my take on things. Lance Witt noted, “In this election year, the amount of vicious attack and trash talking has reached a new high (or low). No matter what your political persuasion, I think you would agree that the political environment has become increasingly toxic.” I then saw the date Witt published his piece: March 11, 2016. The author’s observation was almost three and a half years ago!

Obviously it is not a new concern, but I continue to be concerned about and discouraged by the continued degradation of today’s discourse at pretty much every level. Politicians and those deeply captivated by politics seem to be leading the way, but it certainly isn’t limited to them. Verbal attack and trash talking is widespread.

There is nothing wrong with having strong beliefs and opinions, but how they are held and discussed is important. An arrogant and demeaning attitude towards others can do more damage than good.

When I was fresh out of college I had that ugly disease of thinking I knew it all. Given the opportunity to continue my education in three different graduate schools, I was exposed to a lot of religion, theology, and biblical interpretation that was far different from what I had learned and believed. I wasn’t there, however, to change anyone’s mind, but to learn – and I learned a lot.

I’m not a politician, but in my many years of being a pastor and teaching in a variety of venues, I have been involved often in controversial discussions. When it comes to Christianity, religion, the Bible, faith, doctrine, and theology there are many strong beliefs and opinions.

I wish I could say I have always been gracious and understanding, but that would not be true. In the last several years, however, I’m confident I’ve made significant progress in how I deal with those who come from a different background and have a different understanding or interpretation of the Bible and its meaning.

How are you doing when it comes to discussing controversial issues and matters? Are you respectful or demeaning? Do you listen or dominate? Do you discuss or argue? Do you bloviate? Do you give the impression that you think you know more than you do?

I wish people could say about me what one reviewer said about the author of a book dealing with controversial Christian material: “he means to speak as a friend to friends and he never comes close to being harsh or offensive.” As trite as it may seem, it is true that we can agree to disagree without destroying one another.

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IS IT TIME TO GO?

I read an online article from Christianity Today last week that left me somewhat unsettled and a little irritated. The premise of what author and Professor Kutter Calloway suggested is that it is time for baby boomers to pass the torch to the next generation.

I think what surprised me the most about the article was that in the opening sentence the author addresses baby boomers: “If there were ever a time to pay attention to what’s coming out of Hollywood, it would be now.” He then points to a couple of this summer’s blockbusters featuring Tony Stark (Iron Man) and Woody (of Toy Story 4) as examples of passing the torch to the next generation.

In the interest of full disclosure, I confess I am a baby boomer (age 68) who stepped down after 30 years at my last church at the age of 63. Concluding my ministry, however, was my idea. No one suggested that it was time for me to go or that our church needed a change in leadership. Yet I felt like it was time to begin thinking, talking, and planning for a transition.

I’m uneasy with the idea that boomers should be put out to pasture just because they have reached a certain age. Many boomers still have a lot in the tank and much to offer in the role they have been filling.

It does seem reasonable to me that some boomers have passed their prime and do not realize it. Addressing the situation may be needed, but those who initiate such a discussion should carefully think through how to proceed.

I agree with most of what Professor Calloway notes in his observation “that boomers really do want younger generations to take the reins . . . but they just can’t seem to let go.” But why not be more precise and say some boomers just can’t seem to let go?

I also agree with Calloway’s assessment that “mentorship doesn’t happen by accident.” Then he notes “it doesn’t happen when each generation is pointing fingers over who’s to blame.” Ironically, in his article he seems to be pointing a finger at boomers.

I haven’t researched or studied the matter, but my experience and sense is that the professor is overstating a general resistance from baby boomers to train millennials and Gen Xers and pass on the torch. Nor do I believe those who passed the torch on to us boomers were any better at it that we are.

My sense is that every generation coming into their own have faced similar circumstances as today’s Gen Xers, Millennials, and Gen Zers. I remember well the 60s and early 70s and the disagreements, conflict, and upheaval between the Greatest Generation and Baby Boomers.

In the article Professor Calloway quotes the well know challenge from the Apostle Paul to his protégé Timothy not to “let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers . . .” (I Timothy 4:12). I think it is appropriate to encourage baby boomers today not to “let anyone look down on us because we are older, but set an example for the believers.” And that example we set includes wisely and carefully passing the torch.

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For those who are interested here is the link to the article: https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2019/july-web-only/boomers-summer-movies-marvel-iron-man-toy-story-4-yesterday.html?utm_source=ctdirect-html&utm_medium=Newsletter&utm_term=15819991&utm_content=663619272&utm_campaign=email

For those who may be interested here is the link to an article I wrote about our transition when I stepped down after 30 years and passed on the torch: https://www.christianitytoday.com/pastors/2015/february-online-only/handing-off-pastorate.html

 

 

 

WHY SEVEN TIMES?

I’ve been working my way through Psalm 119 (which by the way is the longest chapter in the Bible) and was struck earlier this week by verse 164. The NIV translates the verse, “Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous laws.” The NLT renders it, “I will praise you seven times a day because all your regulations are just.” And The Message paraphrases it, “Seven times each day I stop and shout praises for the way you keep everything running right.”

Both the NIV and NLT, as well as most translations, suggest the author’s praising of God is done in response to his instruction to his people in his word. In The Message, Eugene Peterson expands the reason to include God’s oversight and involvement in his creation.

While I like Peterson’s thought, I’m good with the majority opinion as well. My question is, “why praise God seven times a day?” I don’t think the Psalmist is declaring that he will praise God at least seven times a day, but no more. In other words, I think less than seven times a day works, and I think more than seven is good too.

The number seven is used a lot in the Bible beginning with the six days of creation and the seventh day of rest in Genesis 2:2. The last book of the Bible, Revelation, is filled with the number seven beginning with the letters to the seven churches in first chapter and throughout the book. I remember from Sunday School as a child learning that the number seven in the Bible is the number of completeness and perfection. 

Most usages of the number 7 are referring to the exact number. For example, in II Kings 5:1-14 the Syrian general Naaman was told by the prophet Elisha his leprosy would be healed if he dipped in the Jordan River seven times. Naaman went and dipped seven times, and he was healed.

Back to Psalm 119:64 – if we follow the example of the writer, do you think we need to keep a count and make sure we praise God seven times a day – no more and no less? I don’t.

I think the Psalmist’s report to God that he praises God seven times a day is a challenge to readers of the Psalm to follow his example. We need to take note of God’s blessings and recognize how he has and is working in our lives. With that recognition we offer our praise and thanksgiving to him on daily basis. It’s not about doing it seven times a day, but about cultivating praising God as a way of life.

To praise God we don’t have to be at church, in a small group, or at a prayer meeting. We don’t have to say something out loud nor do we need to close our eyes (especially if we are driving!)

One final thought – we don’t praise God for his benefit, we do it for our benefit.

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