Monday, March 23, 2020

Our National Timeout


Most parents and kids are familiar with the discipline technique affectionately known as the “timeout.”  A child misbehaves and is sent to the timeout chair to think about their behavior and usually can only resume their normal activities when they apologize for their misbehavior and are able to articulate to their parents what they have learned from their time in isolation. Seems like we’ve all been sent to timeout.

So, here’s my apology.
  • I apologize for taking for granted the full shelves at my grocery store.
  • I apologize for not appreciating a handshake.
  • I apologize for complaining about anything my child’s teacher ever said or did.
  • I apologize for not utterly relishing sitting in a church or a  movie theater or a restaurant with crowds of other people.
  • I apologize for standing in lines and ignoring the people around me.
  • I apologize for not appreciating good health.
  • I apologize for being the selfish, overfed, under-grateful, unappreciative person I so often am.
  • I apologize for not absolutely loving all the simple, everyday gifts I was blinded to before I was sent to this timeout.

And here’s what I’ve learned:
  • I’ve learned that life can turn on a dime and I need to be thankful for every day.
  • I’ve learned that we are not really in as much control over this life as we once thought.
  • I’ve learned that slowing down should be a pattern in my life and not a punishment.
  • I’ve learned that if my hope is in this world, then I will eventually be disappointed.
  • I’ve learned to be nicer to people, especially those who regularly experience isolation.
  • I’ve learned we may need each other a little more than I was once thought.
  • I’ve learned I can get by without some things that I thought were indispensable.
  • I’ve learned that I need to treat every day as a gift that has a 24-hour expiration date with no returns or refunds.

I am not enjoying this timeout but, after all, timeouts are not meant to be enjoyed. They’re meant to make us think. To reflect. To change. To become better people. And if that happens, then maybe this timeout is exactly what we need.






Friday, February 14, 2020

Top Ten Proverbs for a Great Marriage


Perhaps there is no relationship which can give both great joy and great misery than marriage. No marriage is without its problems - conflict and strife are inherent in any relationship - but is there a way where we can move the needle more towards great joy and away from great misery?  There is, but only when we intentionally do so. Bad marriages seem to be the default. Good marriages rarely happen by chance. Great marriages only happen with wisdom. So, when we need wisdom, we go to the ancient but ever-so-relevant book of Proverbs.  So, I present to you my Top Ten Proverbs for a Great Marriage.

Proverbs 5:15 - Drink water from your own cistern, running water from your own well.
You want to ruin your marriage – have an affair. It’s not that it’s impossible for a marriage to survive infidelity, but you are putting yourself at an extreme disadvantage when you go drinking from another well. Proverbs doesn’t deny the lure, excitement, and the temptation of adultery, but wisdom reminds us that cheap thrills do not compare to the enduring intimacy of a faithful and monogamous marriage. Keep your vows. Be faithful. Read all of Proverbs 5 and 6 for more wisdom.

Proverbs 11:13 - A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy person keeps a secret.
Your spouse needs to be your most trusted confidant. In great marriages, husbands and wives know each other better than they know or are known by anyone else. In a marriage we should be able to share our deepest thoughts, our greatest fears, our most personal feelings, and our most profound joys. And these need to be kept only between a husband and wife. When you reveal private matters about your spouse with others you automatically stifle the sharing of these confidences which impedes the creation of deep intimacy.

Proverbs 15:16 - Better a little with the fear of the Lord than great wealth with turmoil.
The pursuit of wealth has been the downfall of many marriages. It is always wise to evaluate how your careers are affecting your marriage. It’s possible to live on less while actually living more. 

Proverbs 15:1 - A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.
Always be careful about how you talk to one another. Sometimes, even without knowing it, our words can be harsh rather than healing. It’s so easy for a reasonable disagreement to morph into a full-scale argument. Gentleness is a much-underrated virtue. Are you gentle?

Proverbs 17:14 - Starting a quarrel is like breaching a dam; so drop the matter before a dispute breaks out.
Not every matter is worth mentioning. So, he did something that wasn’t perfect. Did you really think he was perfect in the first place? Before bringing up a matter consider if it’s really worth it.

Proverbs 17:22 - A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.
Have fun with one another. Laugh with each other. Share good news from your day. Have a positive outlook on life. Love what your spouse loves. Constantly dwelling on everything that’s bad withers up our spirits.

Proverbs 20:1 - Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise. 
Abuse and overuse of alcohol leads to all kinds of problems. Don’t ignore it if it’s a problem in your marriage, and if your spouse says it’s a problem, it’s a problem.

Proverbs 16:24 - Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.
Make it a habit to say nice things to your spouse. Compliment one another. The spoken word has more power than we give it credit.

Proverbs 31:30 - Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
This is written to a woman but is applicable to both genders. If you want to be a good spouse, love the Lord. How much effort do you put into your relationship with the Lord? Is how you look more important than who you are? Tending to our souls is far more valuable than tending to our bodies.

Proverbs 18:22 - He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the Lord.
Again, this is written to a woman, but works both ways. You spouse is an incredible blessing to your life. Living with a spirit of gratefulness for your spouse will go a long way in being the spouse you need to be. Take a moment right now to thank God for your spouse and then make it a regular habit.

And here’s a bonus #11.

Proverbs 20:5 - The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters, but one who has insight draws them out.
It takes a lot of work and patience to truly understand what a person thinks and feels. Most people do not wear their deepest thoughts on their sleeve. A good spouse will take the time and have the patience to listen carefully to get to the deep waters of their partner’s heart.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

(Many churches have resources for marriages or counseling services to help you. Don’t hesitate to call your church or any church to find the help that you need.)


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Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Breathtaking


I recently had a conversation with a woman who is a double lung transplant recipient.  The transplant took place over 20 years ago and I had known part of her story, but there was a detail she included in this retelling that stopped me in my tracks.

She gave some facts about the disease, when she started feeling symptoms, and some of her feelings leading up to the operation, but her reaction when she was extubated (that was a new word for me; it’s when the tube they use to help you breathe during surgery and recovery is removed) was what hit me.

When that tube was removed, she remembered the deep breath she was able take.  Deeper than any breath she could ever remember taking. She had been sick so long she didn’t even know how refreshing and energizing a deep breath could be.

At that moment in the conversation I stopped and thanked God for deep breaths!

You see, I don’t ever recall thanking God for that. For my whole life I have been negligent to thank God for the 23,040 deep breaths I take every day. For the over 8 million deep breaths I take every year. For the nearly half a billion deep breaths I have taken since I took my first breath.

I wonder what else I haven’t thanked God for?

As we enter into this season of Thanksgiving it would serve us well to thank God for the literally billions of blessings we so easily forget are blessings. For the miles our healthy legs have taken us. For the scores of music our ears have listened to. For the thousands of sunrises and sunsets our eyes have seen. For the pleasures of life that have brought innumerable smiles to our mouths. For the pleasant aromas that have wafted up our nostrils. For the spices and flavors and seasonings that have delighted our taste buds. For the gentle touches of loved ones.

For deep breaths.

Wouldn’t it be exhilarating to appreciate each deep breath like it was our first? To delight in every step, sight, aroma, spice, and touch and cherish them as if we previously couldn’t walk, see, smell or feel. How amazing life would be.

How amazing life is! So amazing, you might even say it’s breathtaking!




Wednesday, October 09, 2019

My Lawn. My Life.


I don’t have a nice yard. I’ve never been good at keeping the grass thick and green. I’m not sure why but I’m sure it’s tied to some character flaw. I’m reminded of this every time I mow the lawn, and I use the term loosely. It’s more like patches of lawn interspersed with patches of dirt. As much dust and dirt fly out of my mower as grass clippings. But this mowing season there’s been an interesting development.

My neighbors have a nice lawn, and an even nicer lawn this year. This spring they rooted up all their grass and had a sprinkler system installed. Then they had all new grass brought in and, with the sprinkler system working its magic, their lawn was better than ever. Each day, evidence of an early morning watering left their glittering, green lawn mocking me as I walked through my dry and drooping yard.

As spring moved into summer my neighbor’s lawn continued to flourish while mine continued to wilt under the hot Texas sun.  Then one day while mowing, I noticed something.  I got to a section of my lawn and the mower, which normally glides over my balding yard, met some resistance. The grass was thick. The grass was green. What was going on? I hadn’t treated this part of the lawn any differently. Almost magically a small section of my lawn was a landscaper’s dream. It didn’t take long to solve the mystery.

The section of my newly flourishing lawn was on the property line that borders the neighbor with the recently installed sprinkler system. Apparently, there’s an east wind that blows just enough to coax some of the life-giving water from their sprinklers onto my lawn. It wasn’t magic. It wasn’t anything that I had done. It was simply being in proximity to someone who cares.

Life is like my lawn.

We are affected by those we are close to. Surround yourself with negative, pessimistic, foolish people and you’ll soon find that attitude infecting you.  Surround yourself with positive, optimistic, wise people and you’ll soon find those attitudes infecting you. There’s a wind in our lives that causes the beliefs and habits of others to blow into our lives affecting us either negatively or positively. That’s why it is so important to choose your neighbors wisely.

Michael Dell, founder of Dell Technologies, said, “Try never to be the smartest person in the room. And if you are, I suggest you invite smarter people…or find a different room. In professional circles it’s called networking. In organizations it’s called team building. And in life it’s called family, friends, and community. We are all gifts to each other, and my own growth as a leader has shown me again and again that the most rewarding experiences come from my relationships.”

Scripture confirms it: “Do not make friends with a hot-tempered person, do not associate with one easily angered, or you may learn their ways and get yourself ensnared.” (Proverbs 22:24–25)

If you want a healthy and flourishing life it is essential for you to part of a wise, life-giving community. It’s mandatory to be in proximity to people who speak life-giving truth into your life. There are many ways to accomplish that but let me remind you that that’s one of the functions of church. One of the benefits of worship, Bible study, preaching, and fellowship is the creation of positive borders in our lives. In church we place ourselves in a position to be nourished by the insight of others and, more importantly, to let the wind of God’s wisdom blow into our lives.


Tuesday, August 27, 2019

The Bible – For Mature Audiences Only


Recently I have been preaching sermons on topics submitted by the members of the church.  I thought that was a good idea until someone requested I preach from Genesis 38. It’s not your typical children’s bedtime Bible story. It’s more on the lines of a scandalous storyline for a daytime soap opera.

Read it yourself, but here’s a brief synopsis: A man, Judah, has a wicked adult son who is put to death by God leaving Judah’s daughter-in-law, Tamar, a young widow.  As culture would have it, the man’s brother was responsible for taking his brother’s widow as a wife, but he refuses. Tamar, desperate to have a child, disguises herself as a prostitute and seduces her unsuspecting father-in-law to sleep with her. She becomes pregnant and breaks the news to her father-in-law that he is the father. Talk about an awkward conversation!

To top it off, Judah is the great-grandson of the father of the Jewish nation, the great man of faith Abraham. This is not the news that you post on social media: “So proud of my great-grandson who is expecting a child with his daughter-in-law. Oh, by the way, he didn’t know he was sleeping with his daughter-in-law; he thought she was a prostitute. The couple is registered at your local ‘Oops-a-Baby’”.

To top it off even more, this prostitute-soliciting Judah and disguised-prostitute Tamar are included in the genealogy of Jesus! The Gospel of Matthew makes a particular point to include Tamar in Jesus’ genealogy. This story is part of Jesus’ family heritage. These are Jesus’ people!

Why is this story in the Bible? Shouldn’t this have been one of those family secrets swept under the rug?

The interesting thing is that this isn’t the only story in the Bible where the faults of biblical luminaries are revealed. Israel’s great king David slept with a married woman AND arranged for her husband’s death! Ark-building Noah got a little tipsy in the days after the flood. Israel’s strong man Samson had a weakness for women and an anger issue. The apostle Peter lied about knowing Jesus to save his own hide. The Bible is the story of a bunch of sinners and mess-ups!  But why?

I suspect that God included these less-than-complimentary stories in the Bible to remind us all that God uses less-than-perfect people to carry out his work.

Never should we allow the failings of others or God’s grace to be a license to sin, but neither should we allow our weaknesses and sin to lead us to believe we are outside of God’s plan and his grace. Stories like Genesis 38 remind us that God uses imperfect people. Stories like Genesis 38 remind us that even imperfect people are Jesus’ people.

Don’t we all have skeletons in our closets? Don’t we all have stories we’ve swept under the rug? 

Whatever you have done; whatever salacious story you have; whatever failings are in your past; whatever sin you’re dealing with right now; whatever failings await you in the future – there’s nothing you’ve done that hasn’t been done before; no confessed sin that can’t be forgiven; no person who is outside of God’s love and his purpose.  God can use you - imperfect you. He really has no other option since we are all less-than-perfect.

Thank you, Lord, for you grace and forgiveness. Even as I try to live a holy life, remind me that your love and purposes are greater than my sins and faults. Remind me that you use imperfect people like me to carry out your perfect plan of redemption.



Tuesday, July 16, 2019

A World Without the Beatles

Today allow me to mix in a little movie review with this installment of Moments with the Minster.  Not long ago I went to see the film Yesterday.  It’s a delightful and heart-warming story of a struggling musician who mysteriously is brought to a world where the Beatles never existed. No one else but himself knows these songs that defined rock n roll in the 1960’s. Once he realizes this, he makes himself famous singing all the tunes of the Fab Four. He becomes an overnight sensation. Of course, he faces the moral dilemma of essentially stealing these songs as well as trying to balance a love interest. There are also some other amusing and interesting peculiarities of this modified world. It’s definitely worth the price of admission especially for those of us who grow up idolizing the Beatles.

Now here comes a little spoiler, so if you don’t want to read on and are frustrated that you came to this column wanting some spiritual insight, then I suggest you just put down the paper and read the Bible. It’s much better than anything I ever write anyway. With that said, let’s proceed.

Throughout the main character’s rise to fame there are two people who obviously know what’s going on. While the rest of the world is oblivious to this altered reality, these two remember John, Paul, Ringo, and George.  They recognize these songs. They know he’s a fraud. As these two insiders are followed throughout the movie the audience wonders what they will do.  Will they expose the scam? Will they threaten blackmail demanding a piece of the profit in exchange for their silence?

The day comes when these two confront the now famous singer. And their reaction is unexpected. Instead of criticizing or threatening they embrace the singer with overwhelming expressions of thankfulness and gratitude for giving them back the songs they remember and love. A beautiful piece of their world that was taken away has been restored and for that they are grateful. It took these songs being taken away for them to truly appreciate them. Their absence accentuated their brilliance.

That scene made me think about all the beautiful pieces of my life that I often take for granted. I thought about a world without my wife and children.  A world without my friends. A world without my faith. Do I truly recognize all the beautiful things of this life? What would my world be like without them?

I suppose every movie leaves each member of the audience with a somewhat different message, but this one reminded me to be grateful. It reminded me of all the songs people have sung into my life and how each one of those songs have made my world a better place. It made me wonder how less the world would be without them and how I need to live in daily appreciate for what is.

Too often we are resentful for what we don’t have rather than grateful for what do have. Without a doubt, the world would be a lesser place without the Beatles but how much more would the world be a lesser place without so many of the other splendors of this world? We are indeed blessed.

So, let’s not forget to embrace with overwhelming expressions of thankfulness and gratitude those people who make our yesterday’s, today’s, and tomorrow’s so fabulous.

A Tale of Two Trips

Last month I got to take the trip of a lifetime. I got to go to Israel which, especially for a minister, is like letting a kid loose in a candy store. I ate up every single artifact, ruin, and historical site.  I have read about these places for decades, but to actually be there - to see these them with my own eyes - is beyond description. There it was all right in front of me. I walked through the holy city of Jerusalem. I looked down upon the ruins of ancient Jericho. I prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane just down from the Mount of Olives. I sailed on the Sea of Galilee.  Capernaum, Bethlehem, Nazareth, Dan, Beersheba, the Jordan River – all of them - I was there. My eyes have seen what only my ears had heard. All of those places mentioned in the pages of the Bible actually exist.

One critique of Scripture is that it’s just a book of myths and fairy tales.  Stories created to provide a history and legacy for the Jewish nation.  Fables of a Jewish rabbi invented decades later to provide a foundation for a new religion. Sure, there are some wonderful truths contained in this ancient book, but to actually believe that the stories have any historical basis is asking people to suspend their sense of reality.

Last month some of my family got to take a trip of a lifetime. They got to go to London. In addition to taking in all the customary sites of the old town they took a side trip to the Warner Brothers Harry Potter Studio tour. Here were some of the sets where the blockbuster movies were filmed. They saw Daigon Alley, The Great Hall, Gringotts Wizarding Bank, walked through the Forbidden Forest, and saw the Hogwarts Express.  What an experience for those Harry Potter fans. Yet as mesmerizing and spellbinding that visit may have been, the fact of the matter is that all those places are fictional. There is no Hogwarts Express. There is no Wizarding Bank. There is no Daigon Alley.

That’s the difference between the Bible and Harry Potter. The world of Harry Potter is made up. It’s not real. And that’s okay because never does the author imply that her books are history. The world of the Bible is not made up. And that’s important because the Bible does make the claim that it’s talking about real people and real places. The Bible talks about Abraham, David, Jesus, and Paul as if they were real human beings who walked the earth. The Bible talks about Ur, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Capernaum as if they are actual places on a map. And although not every person or place mentioned in the Bible has been verified archaeologically, enough have been to lead to the undeniable conclusion that Scripture’s claim to be the story of real people and real places cannot be reasonable disputed.

To believers, this adds a deeper layer to our faith. Since we can trust the Bible in regard to the historical and geographical details, we surely can trust it in matters of faith.  To non-believers, it gives an air of credibility to an ancient text that many simply dismiss as being a work of fanciful fiction with little or no basis in history. The message of the Bible is too important to ignore based on the assumption that is on the level of Harry Potter.

I believe the Bible to be true. True in matters of history and, more importantly, true in matters of life and faith. The Bible is the true story of our God who created us and redeemed us. And I’ve seen it with my own eyes.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Miracles for the rest of us


Don’t you love all those Old Testament stories? Oversized arks being built. Seas being parted. Walls tumbling down. Lions mouths being shut. Prophets evacuating earth on chariots of fire.  And certainly there’s no shortage of jaw-dropping stories in the New Testament: the blind see, the lame walk, the dead live.

All these miracles do impress me and remind me of God’s awesome power, but they also can make me feel pretty insignificant. I’ve never built an ark, brought down a wall, shut a lion’s mouth, and I don’t expect to leave earth on a flaming chariot. I’ve never healed the sick or raised the dead.  So, in this biblical world of superheroes and miracle-workers, where do I fit in? Is there a need for an ordinary Joe like me? What about the rest of us?

That’s when I turn to this Old Testament story. The full story is in 2 Kings 5, but here’s a quick synopsis.

A powerful general named Naaman has been afflicted with leprosy. A Jewish servant refers him to Elisha, a prophet known for his healing power. He makes the trip to Elisha expecting the prophet to perform some great show to heal him, but instead is told to dip seven times in the muddy waters of Israel’s Jordan River. Naaman is insulted. How dare the prophet forgo a full-scale miracle-making production? He’s about ready to go back home until a servant boldly confronts the powerful commander with these words, “If the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it?”

The implication is that we often buy into the lie that God only works in the spectacular. The lie that God only works through mind-blowing special effects. Anything less certainly isn’t from Him! Because God asked for something simple, Naaman almost missed out on a miracle!

Could it be that God is working not only in ark-building and sea-parting and dead-raising but also working in simple acts of obedience? Could it be that we walk away from the miraculous because it doesn’t look miraculous? Could it be that we bypass simple acts of service because they are just that, simple?

No disrespect to the miracle workers of Scripture, but the Bible speaks just as highly of giving cold glasses of water to the thirsty; poor widows giving pennies to the temple fund; and boys sharing their meager lunches. These are all reminders that we will not be judged by the magnificence of our work but by our willingness to do what we can.

I may never be called to a starring role, so if I wait to do something remarkable I might just miss out on the small miracles all around me. How sad it would be to have walked away from what God is calling me to do simply because it wasn’t impressive enough?

Maybe God doesn’t need more ark-builders and sea-parters. Maybe he needs more people who are willing to humbly do the unremarkable and less spectacular work of loving and serving others even when no one else notices. These simple and meek acts of service are the miracles for the rest of us.