“I WON’T BE BACK!”

“I won’t be back!” That’s what I told our pastor as we left church following worship this past Sunday. In his message he talked about Sabbath, restlessness, always checking our mobile devices, doing too much, always being busy, never slowing down, and a lot of other related things I found offensive. And I told him so.

I asked him why he didn’t just go ahead and call me out by name. I knew he was talking to me, and I told him I didn’t come to church to be convicted and challenged by him about the things he had addressed.

In the sermon he reminded us of when Jesus went off by himself early in the morning to pray and how Peter seemed to chastise him because everyone was looking for him (Mark 1:35). But that didn’t seem to bother Jesus. Our pastor also pointed us to a time Jesus invited the apostles to get away with him by themselves to a quiet place to get some rest (Mark 6:31).

As he neared the end of his talk he took us to Psalm 46 (a passage I was already quite familiar with). In my ministry I often used the opening verses at funerals about God being our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble (Psalm 46:1). I knew about the rejoinder in verse 2 that therefore we would not fear no matter how bad things got because God was still in heaven and active.

I also knew about the last verse of Psalm 46 and God’s call for us to “Be still, and know that [he] is God.” And God’s promise that “he will be exalted among the nations and in the earth” (verse 10).

What I don’t think I had ever done before was connect the first part of Psalm 46 with the last part—especially verses 1 and 2 with verse 10. Since “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble,” it seems appropriate that we would take the time, relax, and “Be still, and know that he is God.” Not only does that seem appropriate, I’m thinking it is also very important.

I’ve had a couple of days to think it over, and I’ve changed my mind about not going back. I’m going to go back. And I’m going to take to heart some of what he said on Sunday. But I hope he heard me: I don’t go to be challenged and convicted. Do you?

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WHAT IRRITATES YOU?

If everyone who reads this post would give two or three answers to the title question there would be a lot to read! I’m not asking you to send me your answers, but I would like you to think of a couple of things that irritate you. Most of us probably have a few in common, and a few of us may have one or two that are unique to us. If anyone says nothing irritates him or her, you are more mature than the rest of us, or you may struggle with honesty.

The reason this is on my mind is because I have been regularly irritated with many drivers on my side of the city. There are two specific places where I make a right hand turn from one road to another, and the road I’m turning onto has a lane exclusively for those entering. What irritates me is that almost every driver in front of me stops, looks back, and waits until there is an opening to move into the next lane while ignoring hundreds of feet of entry lane. These are not freeway entries, but the principle is the same. Why can’t these drivers see that and keep going?!?!

As much as I would like to, I do not sit on my horn and shake a fist at them. Surprising to me, I don’t even blow my horn or give them a dirty look. Believe it or not (some of you won’t), I patiently and calmly wait for them to get out of the entry lane, and then I model the way the engineers planned the road construction by slowly continuing in the entry lane and merging behind the person who irritated me. So far I don’t think anyone has caught on.

The purpose of this blog is not to impress you with my driving, or to instruct readers about entering surface streets that have entry lanes. In addition to asking about what irritates you, I want to ask you two additional questions: why does what irritates you irritate you, and what does your irritation lead you to do? Questions two and three are more important than the first one I asked at the beginning. I confess I am a person who is too easily irritated–and that is not becoming of a pastor, Christian, husband, father, or grandfather.

The reason I am convicted about being easily irritated is because in I Corinthians 13:5 the Apostle Paul tells us love “is not irritable” (New Living Translation and English Standard Version) or “not touchy” (Living Bible and Phillips Modern English). I think some the other translations are more definitive: “isn’t quick tempered” (CEV), “is not easily provoked” (KJV), “is not easily angered” (NIV), and “is not quick to take offense” (NEB). Real love is more than just not being irritable–love is not easily irritated. In his commentary on I Corinthians, Gordon Fee tells us the verb is in the passive voice and “it suggests that the one who loves is not easily provoked to anger by those around him or her.”

You can see why I am troubled by being too easily irritated. I want to be a loving person; and being easily annoyed by what others do is not loving. It’s really not about being irritated by drivers who don’t understand the entry lane. It’s about being easily irritated by and expressing that irritation to those who are close to me—those I love. I think what I need to do is stay aware of my tendency, consider why I am too often touchy, and keep on monitoring and restraining my response when I am irritated. After all, these are people I love.

Where are you with this unattractive trait? It can be irritating, can’t it?

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Picture used with permission of our grandson’s mother, our daughter.

SOMETIMES, IT’S JUST EASIER TO . . .

How would you complete the title of this post? The possibilities are endless given the situations and subjects that may come to mind.

The title is part of a quote that caught my eye and sparked my thinking. Talking about our response to new music, American music critic Stephen Hyden suggested, “Sometimes, it’s just easier to stick with what you know.” I think all of us would agree with Hyden’s observation. When it comes to music, it is easier to stick with what we know because it is music with which we are familiar.

I don’t think, however, that Hyden’s insight is limited to music. Do you? When it comes to new things, most of the time it is easier to stick with what we know—that with which we are familiar and comfortable. And that is certainly understandable. With a lot of our preferences, practices, and habits sticking with what we know is fine. But not always.

My concern is that there are times when we stick with what we know when we shouldn’t. A couple of phrases that raise a yellow flag for me are “We’ve always done it this way” and “Let’s not rock the boat.” Those phrases suggest a hesitancy or unwillingness to try something new. Sticking with what we know may be easier and more comfortable, but it very well may also result in our being stuck.

If we never rock the boat, and if we always do it the way we’ve done it, it will be difficult for us to make changes, move forward, and do better. Not only that, sticking to what we know doesn’t require more from us or challenge us. As good as what we know may be, there may be something even better. Sticking with what we know can keep us from learning and stifle our creativity and growth. Not sticking to what we know may enhance what we know and who we are.

When should we stick with what we know and when should we not stick with what we know? When should we rock the boat and when should we not rock the boat? I’m confident there are times when we should stick with what we know and I’m also sure there are times when we should not stick with what we know. How do we know when to do which?

Before I answer the question I want to relay a quote from a book I have been reading today that has absolutely nothing to do with the subject of this blog post. Yet what the author wrote speaks to pretty much all of life: “there is no point in pretending that we know more than we do” (Canon of Scripture by F.F. Bruce, p 9). I don’t know when we should stick to what we know and when we shouldn’t. Deciding is part of the challenge, isn’t it?

What do you think?

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ARE YOU SURE THEY ARE BLESSED?

I am currently teaching a Bible study in which we are considering Jesus’ teaching in the beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-10). In these verses Jesus pronounces blessed those who have and live out eight qualities and aspects of life.

At first reading, at least four of the characterizations Jesus affirms do not strike us as describing someone who is blessed. On the surface, not many of us would associate “the poor in spirit,” “those who mourn,” “the meek,” and “those who are persecuted because of righteousness” as blessed people.

By the way, although some suggest the word “blessed” can be translated “happy”, I think that devalues the idea of being “blessed”. The idea of “blessed” is that God congratulates those who have these qualities and that his favor is on them. Max Lucado writes about the beatitudes with a book entitled The Applause of Heaven suggesting God claps for those with these characteristics.

Out of the four that seem contradictory, the one that seems most paradoxical to me is “Blessed are those who mourn.” If we use the popular translation of blessed some use, the description reads “Happy are the sad.” “Those who mourn” are those who suffer pain and loss, who grieve, and whose hearts are broken. Jesus tells us they are blessed—and we want to ask, “Are you sure they are blessed?”

In preparing to talk about this beatitude, I was struck again as I reread something John Stott wrote in his book about the Sermon on the Mount. Commenting on this second beatitude about those who mourn, he wrote “we need to observe that the Christian life, according to Jesus, is not all joy and laughter.”

The Bible does not tell us that if we worship and love the Lord, have faith in Jesus and follow him we will live problem and pain free lives. As a matter of fact, Jesus said the opposite: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33b). In Romans 12:15 Paul instructs believers to “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” And in the Old Testament there is a book of five chapters entitled Lamentations!

Most commentators note that when it comes to mourning there are different levels. We mourn our own sins, the sins of those around us, and the condition of the world. But we also grief our personal losses. Dealing with pain, suffering, loss, and grief is a part of life. Is there anyone reading this post who has not suffered a loss? It seems like I have had more occasions to mourn the last 10 months than usual.

Dr. David Gallagher reminds us “God never promised an easy journey, but God did promise to be with us through it all.” A little later he warns us, “A major misunderstanding we sometimes face is that grief is our enemy to be avoided. In reality, grief is a dear friend.”

We may not realize it at the time, but perhaps part of the blessing of mourning is the capacity to hurt and grieve—to know and feel sorrow. And maybe part of the blessing is having God with us in our grief, even though he doesn’t immediately take it away.

Let’s keep wrestling with Jesus’ pronouncement that those who mourn are blessed. I’m confident he’s sure we are—and I’m making progress in understanding it.

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A NEW PATH

This month and next I am officially beginning two part time jobs that in many respects will be a new path for me. This coming Sunday I am excited to be introduced as the part time pastor of senior adults at Washington Avenue Christian Church. I am also filled with anticipation to be the new teacher of the dual credit Bible class at Amarillo High School this coming school year. It is an elective class students may take for credit through Amarillo College.

The last 30 years I was the senior pastor of a church, and the 10 years before that I was the only minister of a church. Although I served for about five years as a youth minster under a senior minister, this will be my first experience serving as a member of a pastoral staff/team under a senior pastor. It will be a new path for me, but having been on the other side, I understand how it works and am eager to be a member of the team rather than the leader of the team.

Although I have been involved with senior adults all my 44 years of ministry, this will be the first time my primary focus will be on seniors. Since I stepped down from my previous church in 2014, I have read quite a bit about retirement and aging. And since we have been talking about this new position, I have focused my reading on senior adult ministry. I am eager to pour my heart and energy into caring about, challenging, encouraging, and ministering to and with seniors.

Although I have never taught in a high school, I was a youth minister for several years working with junior high and high school students. I was also an adjunct professor of Bible at Hope International University the last four years and mostly taught incoming freshman. Teaching in a public high school, however, will not be the same as teaching Bible at a Christian University or leading a youth group in a church setting. As I understand it, my challenge is to keep in mind the difference between teaching the Bible and teaching about the Bible–I am to teach about the Bible.

As excited and eager as I am about this new path, in all honesty, I am also nervous. And I’m not at all embarrassed about that. I was nervous when I began my youth ministry in 1970; I was nervous when I began my ministry in Philadelphia in 1975; and I was nervous when I began the process of planting a church in Southern California in 1984. I think it is both good and appropriate to be somewhat nervous as we begin a new path. As a matter of fact, I would be concerned if I wasn’t nervous.

Think of some of the new paths many of us have started down during our lives: going to high school, going to college, leaving home, getting married, having children, buying a house, and relocating to name a few.

I’m not the first person to begin a new job (even at the age of 66). Most who read this post will have done so as well. Here’s some advice to myself as I begin my new path: be grateful, keep your eyes open and make sure you listen, give your best effort, be gracious to everyone, love the people, enjoy the walk, and don’t stop being both excited and nervous.

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ARE YOU BIBLE-MINDED?

The Barna Research Group recently published the results of their study of the top Bible-Minded Cities and the Least Bible-Minded Cities in 2017. I wasn’t surprised by the results, but the results are not what interested me.

I was interested in what they mean by Bible-minded. Here is the explanation: “Individuals considered to be Bible-minded are those who report reading the Bible in the past week and who strongly assert the Bible is accurate in the principles it teaches.” While the results with regard to the cities did not surprise me, I was surprised to learn that “Nationally, only 25 percent of the population is considered Bible-minded.”

Given their definition, are you Bible-minded? Do you read the Bible at least once a week and do you believe the Bible is accurate in the principles it teaches? The first part of the question is easy to answer, but the second part is slippery. What makes it slippery is that not all Bible readers agree on the principles it teaches.

Certainly we should and do need to read the Bible. Pastor and theologian Eugene Peterson makes that clear when he writes, “Read the book!” I agree with the first part of his next sentence, but am uneasy with the second part of it: “The meaning is in the book; not in the information about the book.” Yes, the meaning is in the book, but the meaning is not always obvious.

Often we get help in understanding the meaning of the Bible by reading or hearing what others say about the book. As a Bible teacher, I was affirmed and encouraged by a reminder from John G. Stackhouse, Jr. in which he notes “God gave his people teachers, as the Bible itself affirms, precisely because much of the Bible is not easily understood.” As we read the Bible we can benefit in understanding the principles it teaches by consulting trusted teachers of the Bible.

I wish the research group’s description of what it means to be Bible-minded added a third criterion. To be Bible-minded, I would add one needs to submit to and obey the principles the Bible teaches. That’s Jesus point in his close to the Sermon on the Mount about two builders (Matthew 7:24-27). Hearing Jesus’ words and putting them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. But hearing Jesus’ words and not putting them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.

It is not enough just to read the Bible. Nor is it enough just to believe the principles the Bible teaches are true. We need to apply them in our lives. Too often we read the Bible, and strongly assert the principles it teaches are accurate, but fail to allow what we have read to shape our lives. When that happens I’m not sure we are really Bible-minded. To be Bible-minded we have to read the Bible, believe that the principles it teaches are accurate, and put those principles into action.

Are you Bible-minded?

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ON GOING HOME

In their 2005 hit Bon Jovi and Jennifer Nettles ask the question, “Who Says You Can’t Go Home?” I’m not sure who first said it, but I think it could have been Thomas Wolfe in his novel You Can’t Go Home Again written in 1934 and published posthumously in 1940. But even if Wolfe was the first one to say it, he wasn’t the only one. In a Google search I found at least seven songs with the title You Can’t Go Home Again.

I’m no song writer or novelist, but I agree with Wolfe and those who wrote the songs: you can’t go home again. Earlier this summer Jan and I took a trip to Cincinnati to visit her stepmother who was critically ill. We both were born in the Cincinnati area and lived there until we moved in 1975. We had a great visit—as we always do when we return; but since we left in 1975 it has never been the same on any visit. I actually got lost driving from the west side of town where Jan grew up to the north side of town where I grew up.

Last week Jan and I traveled back to Southern California where we lived for 32 years before we moved this past December. We visited our son, I played golf three times with old friends, we ate a number of meals with some 20 different people, and went to worship at the church we planted and I served as Senior Pastor for 30 years. Like our earlier visit to Cincinnati, we had a great visit and thoroughly enjoyed returning. Most of our meals were paid for, we were welcomed and affirmed at our former church, and even though the heat was unbearable, losing in golf didn’t take away the fun I had. But it wasn’t the same.

In 2005 our family returned to the Philadelphia area when my son play in the U.S. Amateur Golf Championship. I had served a church there from 1975 to 1984. Both our children were born during that time and we bought our first house. We loved the people and it was great to see so many of them after almost 20 years. But it wasn’t the same.

Again, I agree with those who say you can’t go home again. But in their song Bon Jovi and Jennifer Nettles also ask, “Who says you can’t go back?” I don’t think they are differentiating between “going home” and “going back”, but to me there is a difference. As a matter of fact, I’m sure you can go back; and I know going back can be good, healthy, and wonderful. It certainly has been for us. But “going back” is not the same as “going home”.

Each of three places Jan and I have called home during our lives hold a special place in our hearts and minds. We received much and were greatly impacted by the wonderful people. We also thank the Lord we were able to impact people and leave something as well in Cincinnati, Philadelphia, and Moreno Valley. We will certainly go back to California and Cincinnati and possibly Philadelphia—places that once were our home, but no longer are.

We have lived in Texas just over seven months and in our own house some four months, but as we were driving from California Sunday and Monday we were looking forward to getting back to Amarillo. There are a variety of reasons why this is now our home, but the primary one is because we moved here and made the decision it would be our home. And the longer we are here, the more it becomes home.

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