Tuesday, June 01, 2021

Spellcheck Fail


I’m a terrible typist. I’m old enough to have taken typing class in high school when that kind of thing was taught, but I never thought that I would need to be proficient on a keyboard; so I bowed out. Typing was not in my future. But here I am on a keyboard just about every workday hunting and pecking my way to letters, articles, and sermons. After even the shortest of documents I’m left staring at a screen filled with red-squiggled underlined words. And then I click on spellcheck – the savior of the keyboarding- deficient like me. Magically it corrects all my misspellings. That is for all but one word.

I nearly always mistype the word “the”.  I transpose the “h” and the “e” and almost without exception type “teh.” The problem is that somewhere down the line I told my computer that the correct spelling of “the” was indeed “teh”. I must have clicked the wrong option in my spellcheck menu and now the computer thinks “teh” is a legitimate word – even though it isn’t. So, there’s no red-squiggled line underneath “teh”. Spellcheck doesn’t find the error. I have had to go back and search my document for this misspelling and, even worse, have sent out many a document with the incorrect spelling. I told my computer “teh” was the correct spelling and the computer only does what I tell it to.

Yet, saying “teh” is correct doesn’t make it so. No matter how many times I say that “teh” is a real word that doesn’t make it a real word. It’s incorrect in spite of what I say or what my computer thinks. Some things are like that. Some things are right or wrong despite what we say or what we think.

Could what is true for words be true for other things, like morals and ethics? Could it be that we overlook incorrect behavior because we’ve been told it’s not incorrect? Are some things wrong even though someone, or for that matter everyone, says it’s right? Bringing it closer to home, are there things in my life, your life, that we regard as correct that are really wrong? Have we been misinformed? Have we convinced ourselves falsely? Has our spellcheck been messed with?

Bottom line – are things right or wrong because we say so or are things right or wrong because they are right or wrong? The answer to that makes a big difference.

There’s a book in the Old Testament portion of the Bible known as Judges. It tells stories of the tumultuous relationship between the Israelites and God. Often times God’s people find themselves in trouble and then God sends political or military heroes, aka judges, to rescue them. But most importantly, these judges would bring the people back in line with God’s expectations.  When the people do what is right, things go well. When they do what is wrong, things go poorly. One of their biggest problems was judging what was right and what was wrong.

The book ends with this somber assessment of that period of Jewish history which gets to the root of the problem: “Everyone did what was right in their own eyes.” They failed to realize that right is right and wrong is wrong and their thoughts or opinions don’t change that truth. They messed up their spellcheck and their souls no longer recognized evil from good.

That’s a dangerous place to be. But it happens.

It was always embarrassing when I sent out an email or a document with “teh” instead of “the”.  Confusing good and evil is much worse than being embarrassed.  

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Solar Powered


The other day I was sitting on my back porch. On my porch is a bird bath with a small solar-powered fountain. The fountain only works when the sun is directly on it and, since that day was a clear day, the fountain was operating at full steam.  As I was sitting enjoying the day a brief passing cloud blocked the direct sunlight and the fountain came to a halt. No light, no power.

The apostle John records in his gospel several “I am” statements of Jesus – I am the bread of life; I am the resurrection and the life; I am the way, the truth, and the life; and so on.  One of those “I am” statements is, “I am the light of the world.” Jesus goes on to say, “Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John would later write three letters to Christians that are included in our New Testament. He borrows that “light” imagery of Jesus and encourages believers to “walk in the light."

There are several nuances to this “light” imagery. Light gives direction as it illuminates our path. Light represents righteous living as opposed to the unrighteousness of darkness.  Light relieves fear when darkness creates it.  Perhaps another nuance is that light gives energy; light empowers us.

It’s not uncommon for me at times to feel spiritually lethargic. Sometimes I’m just not as loving as I should be. Sometimes I’m more susceptible to temptation. Sometimes I just don’t feel the joy of salvation like I should feel. Sometimes I’m not as patient, not as kind, not as selfless. And the list goes on. Sometimes the fountain is just not operating at full steam. Maybe sometimes you feel the same way.

Could it be that our experience is like my solar-powered fountain? Clouds of doubt. Clouds of despair. Clouds of fear. Clouds of sin. Clouds of isolation. These clouds obscure the “light of the world” and all of a sudden we are sputtering instead of bubbling.  No light, no power.

That may be why John is so concerned that we walk in the light. He knows that we will only live into the life God has created us for when we are bathed in light. The light of God’s love. The light of God’s mercy and forgiveness. The light of God’s word. The light of Christian community. The light of Jesus himself. All these sources of light empower us and energize us to bubble over with things like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. Because where there is light there is power.

We’re just like my fountain. We too are solar-powered.

 

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

The Esau Syndrome


There have been some really bad deals made throughout history. In 1976 Ronald Wayne sold his shares of an upstart computer company for $800. That upstart was Apple Computer. In 1803 the French sold the Louisiana territory to the United States for 4 cents an acre. In 1867 Russia sold Alaska to the United States for 2 cents an acre. In 1919 the Boston Red Sox sold Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees. All bad deals.

A biblical bad deal that rivals these is in Genesis 25. Esau sold his birthright, a priceless blessing and inheritance from his father, to his twin brother Jacob for a bowl of stew. Esau had been out hunting and came back famished when he came across his brother’s freshly prepared bowl of stew and made a deal that would haunt him and his ancestors for years to come.  

As foolish and impetuous as these bad deals may sound, it’s not beyond us to make a bad deal every now and then. We’re offended by an off-handed comment and let off some steam in uncontrollable anger and end up damaging or destroying a friendship. Bad deal. We feel neglected by our spouse, so we flirt with a co-worker and it feels so good to be affirmed. In the process we put our marriage vow in jeopardy. Bad deal. We feel underpaid at work so we help ourselves to a little of the profits. Bad deal. We feel overwhelmed at work or at home and turn to alcohol, drugs, or uncontrolled spending because we deserve it. We end up addicted or financially ruined. Bad deal. We seem like we can never get ahead so we stop by the casino and blow our check that was meant to pay rent and buy groceries.  Bad deals, all of them.

Why do we do this? When we are under some form of pressure we tend to fail to consider the long-term consequences of our actions as we seek instant relief. Granted, we get some temporary respite but in the long run we end up in a much darker and desperate place than where we started.

The Bible knows all too well that we are all vulnerable to trading for immediate pleasure while sacrificing something of enduring value. Esau is the poster child for this kind of hasty decision making. The author of the New Testament book of Hebrews uses him as an example of what not to do - Watch out for the Esau syndrome: trading away God’s lifelong gift in order to satisfy a short-term appetite. You well know how Esau later regretted that impulsive act and wanted God’s blessing—but by then it was too late, tears or no tears. (Hebrews 12:16–17, The Message).

It’s not too hard to fall into the Esau Syndrome.

So be careful, especially when you’re under pressure. Be thoughtful before you make significant decisions. Hold your tongue and think through your words before you let them fly. Remember that life is a marathon and not a sprint. Practice denying self and resist the appeal of immediate gratification.

Don’t fall into the Esau syndrome!

 

Friday, February 26, 2021

Preparation is key

(Written during one of the coldest spells in Texas in a long time. Millions lost power and water for extended periods of time.)


I’m writing this on Tuesday in the midst of an unprecedented cold spell here in Texoma. At our house we have lost electricity and are fighting freezing water lines. As we suffer through this cold I’m wishing I had been more prepared. Looking back there are plenty of things I could have done to have made the conditions more bearable.

A Facebook friend of mine asked what we will buy after we get through this season. Some said generators. Others indoor propane heaters. Other are longing for more firewood. But it’s too late for that. Maybe we can prepare ourselves better for the next storm, but it’s too late now.

Preparation is a key to survival and I wasn’t prepared.  The weather forecasts told me it was going to be bad, but I just shrugged it off. Certainly the predictions were more alarming than they had to be. And no disrespect to weather forecasters, but they’re not always right and, to be honest, I really didn’t want to believe them. I was told, but I failed to prepare. It’s sad to be warned and dismiss those warnings only to find yourself in a terrible mess. I start play the “woulda, coulda, shoulda” game.

Of course, we can never know everything that is going to happen, and we can’t prepare for every possibility. But what a tragedy to be warned and to not prepare.

The Bible is a lot of things. It’s the story of God. It’s the story of man. It’s the story of God’s love and mercy and grace. It’s all that, but it’s also a warning. The Bible is a forecast of what is to come. The Bible gives us a glimpse into the future. It’s kind of like watching a weather forecast.

You know when you watch those forecasts the meteorologist will normally give you some advice to weather out the storm. Like a weather forecast the Bible gives us advice to be prepared for what is coming. It’s then our choice. Shrug off the warning or take them seriously and make preparations.

The gist of the Bible’s forecast is that one day we will see another unprecedented day. The day will be a day of accounting for our lives. It’s sometimes hard to believe because it will be like no other day we’ve ever experienced. Sort of like this week.

But the Bible is pretty certain on this one. It’s calling for a 100% probability. And the good news is that we can be prepared. If you are not prepared there will be an eternity of the “woulda, coulda, shoulda” game. And what a tragedy it is to be warned and to not prepare.

So be ready. Embrace faith in Jesus Christ.

Preparation is key.

 

Thursday, January 07, 2021

Loyalty


This weekend is usually an exciting time for me. You see, I’m a Patriots' fan and for the better part of the last two decades my New England Patriots would be set to enter the NFL playoffs - most likely one of the favorites to advance to the Super Bowl. 

But not this year. For the first time since the 2000 season my team ended the schedule with a losing record. No playoffs. No hope for another title.  But they are still my team. (And by the way, I am not rooting for Tom Brady. He is not a Patriot. He’s nothing but a traitor. In fact, I hope Tampa Bay loses in the first round. But I have no hard feelings about this).

The Pats were my team long before this incredible run and they will be my team even if the next two decades bring nothing but mediocrity. I’m not like those front-runners. People who switch from team to team depending on performance. Those people really annoy me. One year they’re sporting Chief’s gear. The year before that they were Warrior fans. The year before that they were all about the Broncos.  And on and on it goes. Every year a new team.  That’s not my style. Pick a team and stick with them. It’s called loyalty.

I may be way off target with this loyalty to sports thinking, but I do think I’m onto something. Even if you are one those dreadful front runners, shouldn’t there be some things that we remain loyal to? Aren’t there some things that we should pledge our devotion to and, no matter what, maintain that devotion? Aren’t there some causes, institutions, and people that we should stick with even if they have an occasional slump, or even a bad decade or two?

Years ago, in one of my first real jobs I was offered a retirement plan. The company would match a portion of my contribution and I was promised that in time the money would grow. If I remained loyal, I would have something saved for retirement.

That sounded good. But I remember getting my first quarterly report. It was a small amount, but I had lost money. This was not what I was promised. My money was supposed to grow, not shrink. Panicking, I called the number of the agent. I can still recollect his calm and reassuring voice telling me that these things happen. Sometimes you will make money, sometimes you will lose money. But no need to jump ship. Your loyalty will pay off. In short, he said, “Give it time.”

What loyalties in your life are being challenged? Are you ready to give up on someone or something? Are you about ready to change team jerseys?

I’m not saying that we need to be loyal to everything and everyone for ever and ever. But loyalty to the right things, right causes, and right people often have a way of delivering huge dividends. Stay loyal to those things.

 

Friday, December 18, 2020

A Week Before Christmas


It’s one week before Christmas.  Seven days. One hundred sixty-eight hours. The countdown is on. Presents still need to be bought and wrapped. Meals need to be planned and cooked.  Decorations better be up, but if not, there’s still plenty of time for those last-week touches.  What do you do seven days before Christmas?

I wonder what Mary and Joseph were doing the week before Christmas? Had the edict to return to Bethlehem been issued yet? Were they packing their bags for the trip? As they lay in bed that week before, was Joseph gently holding his hand on Mary’s now large belly and feeling the baby kick? Was Mary being constantly bombarded by questions like, “When do you think the baby’s coming?” Was Joseph, the carpenter, putting the finishing touches on a crib for his expectant son? They knew the baby would be arriving soon, but did they know it was only one week away?

How their lives would change in seven days. And oh, how things changed when Jesus came. And not just for the expectant parents, but for the whole world.

In that one holy moment just one week away God would breath into his lungs the first molecules of the air he had created. His human eyes would see the first rays of light he had called into existence. His nose would smell the not-so-pleasant aromas of the animals he fashioned. His skin would feel the first touch of a human hand. The holy, infinite, divine spirit encased in flesh.

The whole world changed when God became man - and that’s exactly what happened. As mysterious and incomprehensible as it may be, the Bible makes the claim that Jesus was fully God and fully man. John puts it well in his reflection of the coming of Jesus as he simultaneously declares Jesus to be God and human. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” wrote the beloved apostle.

It all would happen in just one hundred sixty-eight hours.

But it really goes back much further than that.  God had been planning this day for millennia. This birth was centuries in the making.  The countdown started long before Gabriel let Mary in on the plan.

God dropped the first hint in the Garden of Eden shortly after mankind rebelled. The great deliver Moses caught a glimpse of the plan when he promised the coming of a prophet like him.  Isaiah saw through his prophetic eyes that not only would a special child be born, but the man he would grow to be would die a sacrificial death. Prophet Micah even pinpointed the town he would be born in – O Little Town of Bethlehem.

Did Joseph and Mary know that in seven days the dreams and visions of prophets would come true?

His birth may be just one week away, but the plan was conceived of even before time began. When God created us he determined to become one of us. He came to us so we can come back to Him.

It’s one week before Christmas.  Seven days. One hundred sixty-eight hours. In one week we celebrate His coming. The arrival of God to planet earth as a man. A coming that assures for us an eternity of weeks, days, and hours we can be with Him.

 

 

Friday, November 13, 2020

Home is calling


Remember that movie about the animals who amazingly found their way home after thinking they had been abandoned by their owners? They survive the dangerous mountain terrain, ferocious wildlife, and several other dangers but made it home! It’s been made and remade and recently I confirmed that the movies were based on actual events.

The instinct to return home is so powerful. There is something about the security, love, and belonging of home that calls us back, even through dangers and troubles.

Church leaders have been wringing their hands with worry at church buildings that have gone from maximum capacity to 50%, and that’s a generous estimate. We know many have been watching from afar online, but we’re concerned. Will those unable to attend in-person find their way back home, whenever that will be?

I believe they will. There’s something about home that calls us back. The faces, the voices, the communion, the passing of the peace – these are calling out to our spiritual instincts leading us back to our spiritual home. I long for that day.

But we also know that whenever people wander there will inevitable be those who forget. There will be those who get lost. There will be some who have trouble remembering the comfort and peace and security that church should be and, in most cases, is.

Pandemic or not, people do tend to wander. And even before these days of masks and quarantines, the wandering had begun.

Jesus told a story about a young man who wandered. The man prematurely took his father’s inheritance and went to a far country where he thought he could find something better than home. And for a while, he thought he did. He lived the life he dreamed of, but before long he woke up and realized it was really a nightmare. His instincts kicked in and he remembered home. What he thought was oppressive was really liberating. What he thought was restrictive was really freeing. In his wanderings he came to know that home was the place he was looking for, and he decided to come back. He really didn’t know if he would be received back, but, to his surprise, his return was not only accepted but celebrated. The father had been waiting for him all along.

Home won the day.

Jesus told that story to remind us all that no wanderer has wandered too far. He told that story to remind us that home is always calling us back. Jesus told that story to remind us to follow our spiritual instincts and come back to the place where security, love, and belonging is found.

Maybe you have wandered. Maybe you’ve gotten lost. Maybe you’ve have felt abandoned. Maybe you’ve been lured away by what you thought would be better. No matter the reason, there is a path back home. And, like the wandering son in Jesus’s story, your return will be celebrated.

Home is calling you back.