Friday, September 21, 2012

I Need Thee Every Hour

My son has an app on his mobile device that provides him with meaningless and useless information.  Today's tidbit was:  The average American spends 24 hours per year brushing their teeth.  As he announced that to me and my other son, son #2 replied, "What if we brushed our teeth all one day and got done with it for the whole year?"  At that we all chuckled because everyone knows that things like have to be done regularly, not all at once!  It's illogical to think that dental hygiene is a once for all activity rather than a regularly scheduled disciplined. 

Obviously some people take an illogical approach to spirituality. Call any church and ask what their most attended service is and 4 out of 5 ministers will unhesitatingly reply, "Easter Sunday."  There is a pretty significant percentage of people who go to church once a year, providing there are no weddings or funerals to attend. 

Naturally, I go to church every Sunday.  I'm a minster.  It's in the job description.  Even so, it seems odd to me that some people think they can take care of a year's worth of spirituality in a one hour service.  Don’t those people know that maintaining spiritual health is not a once for all activity but rather a regularly scheduled discipline?  Can a one hour service really cleanse me of all the spiritual plaque that has built up throughout the year?  The very thought forces a sanctimonious chuckle.

Now if you're reading this, I know you're not one of those people.  You too may look despairingly on those others who show up only on Easter.  You give more attention to your spiritual health than a once a year cleaning!  After all, you're reading a spiritual blog.  Good for you.  You are to be commended. 

But before we break out in self-righteous celebration, let's consider another illogical approach to spirituality.

Is it reasonable, or even Biblical, to think that attending church on Sunday, even every Sunday, is sufficient religious discipline to protect me from the spiritual plaque that finds its way into my soul on a daily, if not momentarily, basis?  Could it be that many a person in the pew every Sunday still suffers from severe spiritual decay?   I wonder if I am as silly to think that one hour a week in church is any better than devoting one day a week to teeth-brushing.  That thought does not elicit a chuckle.

The Bible recognizes the value of weekly worship, but it also implies that spiritually healthy people understand that they need more than that.  Jesus himself says, "Take up my cross daily."   The call to discipleship needs to be heard as loudly on Thursday as it is on Sunday.  Paul follows suit when he writes to believers, "Pray continually."  There should not be a conscious hour of our lives when we are not being formed and guided by our relationship with God. 

One hour a year - hardly enough.  One day a week - still leaves us vulnerable.  In fact, could it even be that Christianity is not something that we do, but something that we are - 24 hours a day, 7 days a week? 

As the old hymn goes, "I need Thee every hour."  That means all 8,760 of every year. 

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Gold Medal Me

With the Olympics winding down in the next few days I'm reminded of something that happened years ago when my daughters were pre-schoolers. Our family was gathered around the television watching the games when one of our daughters turned to my wife and asked, "Mom, were you ever in the Olympics?" Never to disparage my wife, but at that question we both broke out into laughter (I may have laughed a little too long)! How sweet for her to think that her mom was a world-class athlete.

The talent really is amazing, and neither my wife or I have or ever will come close to being Olympic athletes. The closest I have ever come was that I once saw the Olympic flame on its march around the world. I admit, I used to dream of being an Olympian. Back in 1972 when Mark Spitz was swimming his way to one gold medal after another, I would swim in my pool dreaming of standing on the podium as the gold medal was draped around my neck. However, it was never to be!

This can be a little depressing. Knowing I will never be the best swimmer, gymnast, or runner can sometimes make me feel like a failure. Watching the Olympics makes me wonder - Am I really the best at anything? And as I think about that, I realize I am.

I am the best at being me. No one else is me. No one else has the mixture of talents, genes, disposition, and character as I do. And the same goes for you! And as much as we sometimes would like to be someone else (especially those someone's who get international notoriety), the fact of the matter is that God has created me to be me and not someone else. And everyone is an amazing creation. The Bible affirms it - Everyone is "fearfully and wonderfully made." The apostle Paul reminds us of this when he writes, "For we are God's workmanship" (NIV) or as another translation puts it, "We are God's masterpiece." (NLT)

 I need to be thankful and impressed with what God has made in me. When God looks at me and you he sees as much glory in us as he does in any Olympian. So, I need to be me and not depressed that I am not someone else or preoccupied with being anyone other than me. An obsession with being someone else inhibits me from being the best me I can be, and that (being the best me I can be) is what God calls us to. Henri Nouwen wrote, "Spiritual greatness has nothing to do with being greater than others. It has everything to do with being as great as each of us can be." My job is to find out what I'm good at, to discover what talents God has given uniquely to me, and then to do my absolute best at living out God's calling in my life.

 At my age I have given up dreaming about being a gold medal swimmer, or a gold medal gymnast, or a gold medal runner. But I still have a goal - to be a Gold Medal Me!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Creative Encouragement

One of the rites of spring is the beginning of baseball season.  From Major League stadiums filled with thousands to much smaller little league fields with stands filled with dozens of adoring parents, diamonds which lay dormant for the winter months are now bustling with activity.  One of the most curious demonstrations of America's pastime is the sight of the youngest of ball players who are taking their first stab at the game.  They march to the plate with bats as heavy as they are and swing their little hearts out.  Each swing is loaded with anticipation yet most frequently met with little if any results.  Many times a complete whiff and when contact is made often a slow dribbler back to the mound.  They may call it baseball, but what happens on those fields hardly resembles what Abner Doubleday had in mind.

In spite of the pitiful resemblance to the real game, one aspect of the game shines through - a cheering crowd!  Strike after futile strike, dribbler after slow dribbler, words of praise flow from the aluminum stands, regardless of the outcome.  Parents applaud wildly.  Words of encouragement are showered down on the athletes:

"Way to swing that bat!"
"You'll get 'em next time!"
"Good try!"
"Way to stand up there!"

I call it "creative encouragement."  A loving parent can always find the silver lining.  If you look hard enough, there's always something to stand up and cheer about.  Even a strikeout elicits cheers from the crowd.  We all recognize the need to encourage and as our children take those first swings we heap it on.

But somewhere in between those early days on the baseball diamond and adulthood we lose the skill of creative encouragement.  If only we could be consistently like those parents who can find good in almost anything -- and if we keep our eyes peeled for the good, we will invariably find it.

The Bible speaks often of the value of encouragement. 

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up ...
Judas and Silas said much to encourage and strengthen the brothers...
But encourage one another daily...
Let us encourage one another.

It's how we survive the difficult times.  It keeps us going when we're down.  It validates us when we're on target.  Everyone needs it and everyone can give it.

There are people around you every day who are in desperate need of a good dose of encouragement!  People in your office.  People in your churches.  People in your homes.  People you bump into at the store!  Let's get creative.  Find something good in people and shower them with those encouraging words that will give them the strength to pick up the bat again, march confidently to the plate, and swing away!

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Looking for Life in All the Wrong Places

Next time you're reading through the New Testament take note of all the questions that are being asked, especially in the gospels and by none other than Jesus himself. Hardly a page goes by where Jesus is not asking someone a question. Questions make us think. They challenge our assumptions. They force us to evaluate our positions. Easter does the same thing. You can't read the account of the empty tomb and not face some serious questions.

On Resurrection morning some of Jesus' women disciples came to his tomb, found the stone rolled away, and upon entering saw that the body of Jesus was missing. Talk about facing some questions? As they begin to process this strange turn of events, two men (angels I assume) in clothes gleaming like lightning (this morning just keeps getting more interesting) appear and, wouldn’t you guess, ask them a question. And it's one of the most pertinent questions of all time, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?"

Easter is about seeking. As a child I would wake up that Sunday morning and begin my quest. A quest for as many colorful eggs, marshmallow chicks, and chocolate bunnies I could find. Some would be in plain view, but others would be hidden. I would search on high shelves, behind doors, in curio cabinets, behind my mother's assorted knickknacks -- anywhere there might be hidden any form of sugar. I was passionate. I was on a quest.

Yet regardless of how enthusiastic I was, there always seemed to be that one elusive egg that would never be discovered. My parents would have to give me clues. "You're getting warmer," they would gently encourage me.

That Easter morning search continues. Life is about seeking. As adults we really just continue the quest. We wake up every morning looking for meaning, purpose, hope. We seek high and low for that one prize that will tie all the loose ends of our life together. We pursue the colorful eggs of success, the marshmallow chicks of pleasure, the chocolate bunnies of riches. We search high and low for anything that resembles real life. But for too many people the search leaves us empty. After our baskets are full we still sense that there is that one egg still out there.

I don’t think we lack passion in our the search - we are certainly passionate people. Perhaps we're just not looking in the right places. Maybe we need some gentle encouragement. Maybe that's the purpose of that question the woman heard at the tomb -- “Why do you look for the living among the dead?"

Where have you been looking for real life? A large part of our problem is that we are looking for life in all the wrong places. Dead things can't deliver. Only something alive can deliver life. And Easter is also about life!

It's only in the resurrected Jesus can we really find what we are looking for. Jesus said so himself:

•I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
•I am the way and the truth and the life.
•I am the resurrection and the life.

The resurrected Jesus is the egg that ties together all the looses ends of life.

May this Easter you discover true life in the one whom death could not contain! May the angel's question give you a clue. May the empty tomb be that gentle reminder that Jesus, and Jesus alone, is what all of us is looking for.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Laughable Laws

Some people live by the motto, "Rules are made to be broken." I see this philosophy played out especially on the highways. For instance: Driving north on highway 75 through Sherman as you approach the downtown area there is a very conspicuous yellow sign accompanied by flashing yellow lights that directs all through traffic to merge to the left hand lane. Being a naturally-born rule keeper, I dutifully merge to the left and correspondingly decrease my speed as mandated by the speed limits signs. I traveled this route several times over the last month and almost without exception as I pulled to the left and decreased my speed others would pass me on the right. Warning signs and flashing lights didn't faze them - this was a rule to be broken!

At face value, this is a rule that seems to have no reasonable explanation for someone passing through our fair region. The right hand lane doesn’t close, there is no impediment, there seems to be no logical explanation for merging left when you have a perfectly clear right hand lane to travel in! However, if you have ever tried to enter highway 75 from downtown Sherman at that particular interchange you know exactly why the through traffic is directed to the left lane. The rule allows incoming traffic the necessary time and space to successfully merge into the flow of highway traffic. Given the limited merge lane, a free and clear right lane makes it much safer for all involved.

Here's my point - Even if a rule doesn’t make sense to you, that doesn’t mean the rule doesn’t make sense. Even if a rule doesn't make sense to you, that doesn’t give you the right to disregard that rule.

Christianity is much more than keeping rules, but let's admit it - God does give us a lot of rules. And at times, some of His rules may not make any sense to us, but simply disregarding them could be disastrous!

"Laws are made to be broken" is an extremely dangerous spiritual philosophy to live by! Just as some of our civic laws may not make sense, sometimes God's laws may not make sense, but simply disregarding them could be disastrous! As the saying goes, "Ours is not to question why, ours is but to do or die."

A board game my family played over the holidays has a category Laughable Laws -- crazy rules that seem to make no sense. For example, in Alabama, it is illegal to throw salt on a railroad track. In Massachusetts you're not allowed to keep a mule on the second story of any residence. These silly laws seem to make little if any sense, but I'm sure if research was done there was some logical explanation for them. Rules are not made without some rationale. Rules are not made just for the sake of making rules.

God does not give us rules and laws just for the sake of making them. God's laws all have some rationale, and whether or not we understand that rationale is no excuse to disregard them. God doesn’t make any laughable laws. They are all designed for our own benefit.

So when you see those signs accompanied by flashing yellow lights, do what they say! Someone's looking out for you.

Friday, January 06, 2012

Three CY's for a Successful New Year

As we begin a new year I hope all of you have resolved to make this year a year of spiritual growth. Here are a few tips to help that come to pass:

Make church, prayer, fellowship, and service a habit in your life. Rarely, if ever, does anyone reach a goal haphazardly. If you want to be more spiritual by the end of 2012 it will come as a result of a conscious effort. Jesus says in Matthew 7:24, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” We are influenced by the things we hear. Consistently hear the voice of God in your life and put those words into practice - making them a part of your life.

Don’t give up when you fail. You will fail, but God will always be there to get you back on your feet. God is a God of forgiveness and second (and third, fourth ...) chances. Listen to the words of John in 1 John 1:9. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” God will not give up on you when you fail, so why should you?

Be optimistic. Not only do we mess up, but others around us mess up and we often have to deal with negative circumstances. When plunged under the water of stress, problems, and doubt be a person who rises back to the top. During those times our hope is so critical. Always believe that with God things will get better in time. Hear Paul in Romans 8:28, 31: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?”