Archive for category Guest Bloggers
The annual call for exercise has been issued. The new year sales flyers feature equipment of all kinds that will reduce our middle and tone our muscles. The “Y”, Snap Fitness and other workout businesses are offering their “first month free” deals. News shows are featuring the latest home workout gadgets and dietitians galore are encouraging us to eat properly along with that healthy exercise regimen.
I am left to wonder why this has become an annual rite of post-holiday indulgence. It has been going on for years. Obesity in our nation continues to increase. Workout shops can be found in every small community. People must be buying the equipment. But things don’t seem to be getting better.
Lisa suggested to me that we live in a culture of obesity. Not only in body, but also in mind and spirit.
So I succumbed this week to the smart phone. I have argued that I am dumb enough already, I don’t need a smart phone to point out even more of my ignorance! But my “basic” 2005 model is on its last microchip and an i-phone 4 was free. I think about the times in the last month where I have been hanging out with people with smart phones and when a question has come up, we had an answer in seconds. The world truly is at our fingertips. The world’s knowledge is at our fingertips. But are we any smarter? Are we any wiser? Is anyone any closer to solving the major problems that face us…making our culture of violence more peaceful, growing out of debt and into prosperity, learning satisfaction and sharing in a culture of plenty? I would suggest that we are so obese in mind that we miss the simple answers and solutions to the complexities of our lives. It seems to me that common sense has been lost in the fat cells of too much information. Read the rest of this entry »
Another shooting in an elementary school in Connecticut this morning. While it wasn’t their school, I shudder at the thought of my daughter-in-law and 5 year old grandson having to deal with the aftermath of something that horrific.
One of my best friend’s 17 year old step son took his own life on Wednesday. There are no words to convey the hurt and pain or bring solace and comfort to such a situation.
The vulnerability of my friends in house church last night was a blessing as we talked about fear and anger and frustration that confronts us and our friends and how the good news of Jesus ministers in the midst of that.
On my way home I thought about the words of this hymn written in the 4th century. It ministered to me then, and it ministers to me now. I would encourage you to let this be your Advent prayer today, and take some time to meditate on the words and meaning of what the author is saying. The powerful words for me today are in the third verse, “that the powers of hell may vanish as the darkness clears away” because of the Light of Christ. God bless you richly today. Read the rest of this entry »
“Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”Isaiah 40:28-31
As I read the newspaper and listen to the nightly news and keep track of status updates one common theme seems to be weariness. People are tired.
Tired of political ineptitude and fiscal cliffs.
Tired of busy-ness.
Tired of working without time off.
Tired of being unemployed and too much time off.
Tired of gossip.
Tired of bullying.
Tired of the expense of everything.
Tired of others making them tired.
In some cases, tired of life itself.
We are a weary people.
Followers of Jesus however, know the truth of the Isaiah passage. In the midst of weariness…God is God. And he is the One to renew our strength. In him alone is our hope.
May the hope of Life in Jesus today and forever be yours!
As I was reading scripture the other day I made 2 observations – 1) strong, emotional words are often used in scripture and 2) that I have almost completely removed strong emotions from my practice of Christianity and made it an intellectual pursuit.
For as long as I can remember, certainly back to HS, I’ve been a ‘practicing Scandinavian’ where “Yah, you betcha, that hotdish was ok.” is about as emotional as I am comfortable with. Having acknowledged that, I also have to admit that I don’t see that attitude advocated or practiced in scripture.
Ps 55:5 does not say “I am a little anxious; things I dislike concern me.” It says “Fear and trembling have beset me; horror has overwhelmed me.”
1 Thes 5:16 does not say “Be happy most of the time.” It says “Be joyful always;”
Matt 26:38 does not say “I am a little down tonight. Stay with me.” It says “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”
Mk 3:5 doesn’t say “He looked around at them in irritation and wished they weren’t so stubborn.” It says “He looked around at them in anger and was deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts…”
Think about those emotions – Fear and Trembling, Horror, Joy, Sorrow, Anger, Deep Distress. They are not casual, wimpy emotions. When was the last time you felt something that strongly? Were you horrified by the Columbine school shootings? Were you overwhelmed with sorrow at the death of a loved one? Were you joyful at your child’s wedding or grandchild’s birth? Were you angry at getting cut off in traffic? Now ask yourself when was the last time you felt that strongly about something in your faith walk? Are you horrified at the pain and suffering represented by the cross? Are you overcome with sorrow by the betrayal of Christ? Are you joyful at the thought of eternity with God?
I fear that we have read the passages and heard the stories so often that they have lost their emotional impact. I know that we should not be controlled by our emotions; that knowledge and understanding must temper our emotions. But I also know that we are created in God’s image and thus are emotional beings. Being emotional is not a bad thing. I have resolved to view scripture with new eyes not only hearing the words but also feeling the emotions.
1 The boy Samuel ministered before the LORD under Eli. In those days the word of the LORD was rare; there were not many visions. 2 One night Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place. 3 The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the LORD, where the ark of God was. 4 Then the LORD called Samuel. Samuel answered, “Here I am.” 5 And he ran to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.” But Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” So he went and lay down. 6 Again the LORD called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.” ”My son,” Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” 7 Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD: The word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him. 8 The LORD called Samuel a third time, and Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.” Then Eli realized that the LORD was calling the boy. 9 So Eli told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.’ “So Samuel went and lay down in his place. 10 The LORD came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”
I saw a bumper sticker the other day that said “I found God”. My initial reaction was “good for you”. Then I started thinking about that statement. Is this the way it really happens? Is our search for meaning and, ultimately, salvation nothing more than a story line from a CSI television show? I can only answer this question for me by looking at my own story.
My parents had a clear understanding of the Golden Rule – love God, love yourself, love your neighbor. They modeled this philosophy every day, but concepts that most of us at ECC take for granted such as “personal relationship with Christ”, “memorizing scripture”, and “salvation”, were not part of their regular vocabulary. There was very little at home or at church that encouraged a deeper relationship with Christ. Intellectually I knew that Christmas was about Christ’s birth and Easter was about his death and resurrection, but I had no idea how this was supposed to affect the way I thought and acted.
In my home church, religious education consisted mostly of church history. How to live as a Christian was not part of the curriculum. I’ve always been a practical person. I acknowledge the importance of history, but I wanted to know how this church stuff affected me today. There never seemed to be enough time in class to ask all the questions I had so, every Saturday, I would get on my bike, ride to church, interrupt the pastor during his sermon preparation and ask my questions. I remember spending many hours over a period of a couple years sitting in the pastor’s office discussing Christianity and what it was really all about. I started memorizing scripture. I also started using scripture as a focus for my prayers. I want to stress 1) how foreign these activities were at home and at church and 2) this was a spontaneous desire and not prompted by any suggestions from the pastor or my parents.
During the summer between 9th and 10th grade, 2 seniors from my school came to my home. They talked about salvation and asked me to commit my life to Christ. Let me add that 1) although I knew these 2 young men, we were not friends (not enemies either) and 2) it was unusual for seniors to associate with sophomores. Read the rest of this entry »
Sometimes it would be nice to know the future. Some of the characters in the BIble were given a glimpse of it. In Genesis 15, God promises Abram a son. When none was forthcoming with his wife Sarai, he had a son with his servant Hagar. This wasn’t the one God had been talking about; nonetheless, he told Abram that his name would be Ishmael; he described Ishmael’s personality and his place in history.
Later on in Genesis 25, Isaac, the son who had been promised, and his wife Rebekah were expecting twins. Again, even before their birth, God described their strengths, foreshadowed Esau’s selling of his birthright to Jacob, and foretold that they would father two separate nations.
In the first chapter of Luke, God tells Zechariah that his wife Elizabeth will give birth to someone named John, and that John will be the one to prepare people for the coming of Jesus. This news stunned Zechariah, but God had known this all along. In Isaiah 40, hundreds of years earlier, he had described John’s voice, crying in the wilderness.
God already knew these, as yet unborn, people. They already had personalities and they had a place in his world. God says to Jeremiah in Chapter 1 verse 5, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.”
Most of us don’t get those peeks into the future. When our children are born, we meet them for the first time. We discover who they are as we try to equip them for their lives. We love them and teach them. We try to discern and help them to develop their gifts.
When we become parents, it’s easy to allow lives to be absorbed by our children. Our interests, our activities are displaced by the immediacy of their needs. We want them to be exposed to every opportunity, every discipline that might enhance their lives. Read the rest of this entry »
Recently I caught myself using those words for about the 100th time in a week. “If only I would’ve…”, “If only I wouldn’t have…”, “If only I had saved more money”, “If only I hadn’t eaten so much last night”. If only things were different. I think about the future in much the same manner. I use different words of course. “What if…”, “What if I lose my job”, “What if it rains”.
There are several passages in scripture that warn us of looking back or looking forward.
Gen. 19:15-17, 26
15 With the coming of dawn, the angels urged Lot, saying, “Hurry! Take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or you will be swept away when the city is punished.” 16 When he hesitated, the men grasped his hand and the hands of his wife and of his two daughters and led them safely out of the city, for the LORD was merciful to them. 17 As soon as they had brought them out, one of them said, “Flee for your lives! Don’t look back, and don’t stop anywhere in the plain! Flee to the mountains or you will be swept away!”
…26 But Lot’s wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.
38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” 41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
I’m not suggesting that either of these activities are wrong or inappropriate. Looking back at the decisions we have made is an important part of learning – I made this decision. I got this result. Was this what I wanted? Should I do things differently next time? Looking forward at possible outcomes is an important part of being prepared for the future – What can I do to give myself the best chance of a positive outcome?
The point, or at least one of the points, of both scripture passages is that our focus should always be on God. I can only imagine what Lot’s wife was thinking about – maybe about leaving her home and friends, but by looking back, she lost sight of what God was doing in her life right then. We know what Martha was thinking about – all the preparations, but by looking forward, Martha lost sight of the presence of God in her life at that moment. It’s not that looking back or forward is wrong. It’s the fact that they forgot to put God at the center of their lives.
For me the words “If only…” have become a trigger that causes me to stop, refocus, and ask “What does God want me to learn from this situation?” The words “What if…” have become a trigger that causes me to stop, refocus, and ask “Where is God in my planning?”
1 Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. 2 He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. 3 And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’ 4 “For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care about men, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually wear me out with her coming!’ “
I grew up in Pelican Rapids – a small, quiet town in west central MN right on the edge of the lake country. Even at the height of tourist season, the sound of emergency vehicles is relatively rare. As with many small towns, everyone seems to know everyone else, so when you hear sirens, there is a good chance someone you know is in trouble.
I was 5 or 6 when I made my first overnight trip to Minneapolis. I was amazed at the number of sirens. Years later, I moved from small town, northern MN to Mpls. I made a promise to never take sirens for granted, to not relegate them to background noise, to always remember that the sound of sirens, even though I may not who, means someone is in trouble. Now 25 years later, when I hear sirens, I still stop and say a quick prayer.
A couple of months ago, at choir, the choir director asked for prayer requests. One of the altos has a very sick friend (cancer). This alto asked for prayer for her sick friend just as she had every Wednesday for the past couple of months. I am ashamed to say, my reaction was a silent groan and thoughts of “Not again! We prayed about this last Wednesday.” It was at this point, God reminded me of the importance of keeping promises – my promise to pray at the sound of sirens and this lady’s promise to pray for her friend.
Then, just a week later, He reinforced the lesson. The sermon included a story about a man who had been to prison and now was free. Through the faithful prayers and persistence of a co-worker he came to know Christ. In his testimony, this man said he had clearly heard the gospel message 12 separate times before it finally clicked! Clear evidence that persistence and faithfulness is often rewarded.
There are many examples of God’s promises to us – the rainbow promising there will never be another great flood, the promise of a child to Abraham and Sarah, the promise of a messiah. He has faithfully kept his promises.
The lessons for me are “be persistent” and “faithfully keep your promises”.
There is a lady at work who has a way with words. She has the unique talent of making everything she says seem like an accusation or a put-down. She is aggressive and often is involved in other people’s business. Most of my interactions with her are unpleasant. The big question for me is, “what do I do about this?” Leaving the company isn’t an option…I like my job. Hoping that she will leave the company is not very productive either. I have considered that question and here’s what I’ve come up with…
In Duane Elmer’s book, “Cross-Cultural Servanthood”, Elmer says “…every act toward other human beings is either a sacred or profane act. It either treats them with dignity or dehumanizes them. We have no other choice.”
Then in C. S. Lewis’s sermon, “The Weight of Glory”, Lewis says, “It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are in some degree, helping each other to one or the other of these destinations…There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal…But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”
Christ says it like this in Matt 25:40, “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’”
There are numerous accounts in the Bible where ‘bad’ people played important roles in God’s plan – Pharaoh, Judas, Rahab – to name a few. Or ‘good’ people who made poor choices – Jonah, Adam & Eve, David. By the very fact that their stories are included in the Bible we know that God certainly agrees with Lewis that “there are NO unimportant people”. Not the kid with tattoos and multiple piercings or the rude co-worker. Not the janitor or the waitress. Not the criminal or the homeless. Scripture is clear that Christ died for all people. If we follow God’s commandments and Christ’s example, we cannot minimize anyone’s value.
So, what about the irritating lady at work? I have come to understand that I can’t let her words control my actions. I have challenged myself to treat her with respect. Always. No strings attached, just respect.