Monday, December 07, 2015

Prayer as a Response to Crisis

King Asa of Judah prayed as he prepared to lead his army against a more powerful military force: “Then Asa called to the LORD his God and said, ‘LORD, there is no one like you to help the powerless against the mighty. Help us, O LORD our God, for we rely on you, and in your name we have come against this vast army. O LORD, you are our God; do not let man prevail against you” (2 Chronicles 14:11). The king appeals to God’s covenant with his people but also notes God’s love for justice with the observation that God will “help the powerless against the mighty.” He calls for God to remember his relationship with the people of Judah and the lineage of David. We remind both ourselves and God of our relationship when we pray. This past week, as many stated that they were praying for families of the victims of the shooting in San Bernadino, California, others scoffed at the concept of prayer as a response to crisis. The Bible testifies that prayer indeed is an appropriate response, when combined with faith, genuine concern, and faith-based action. Terrorists and other criminals often attack the vulnerable and people engaged in activity (like celebrating at a Christmas party) that compromises their alertness. When we pray, like Asa we confess our helplessness, but also ask for guidance so that we may respond effectively and appropriately. When we pray, we call upon God to remember his zeal for justice. We ask him to make right what has been violated. We pray in the name of Jesus Christ, and that fact must remind us that whatever we do from that point, we must remember that we act as Christians. Some seem to perceive all prayer in response to crisis as glib and meaningless. Perhaps some do say they are praying or will pray as a reflexive response, much as we say, "I'm great!" in response to a greeting of "Hi! How are you?" even when we may be having a very bad day. However, I'm convinced that many pray in challenging times with a conviction that our creative God will find a way to execute justice and bring right to an scenario that is entirely wrong. Let us be sure to pray if we say we will pray, and be sure to follow our prayer with positive actions. Our response will impress others as the way that Christians react, whether we respond well or poorly. May we pray and act in response to crisis and injustice in ways that testify to our neighbors about the power of God and the love of Christ.

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Taking Time to See the Greatness of God

God’s spectacular creation has overwhelmed me at times. The total darkness of an overcast night in the Mojave desert far from any light, the snow-capped mountains that surround Kabul, Afghanistan, the crystal blue of the Adriatic sea, and the myriads of stars visible in the sky above Arizona’s Sonora desert have all awakened in me a sense of awe. On the other hand, hiking trails in Arizona and Tennessee mountains or running on German forest trails confronted me with vibrant green foliage punctuated by brightly blooming flowers. A deer pausing as it attempted to avoid my notice or a squirrel scurrying up a tree reinforced my wonder at God’s creative power. I understand, however, all too well the point that some rabbis suggested when they said that God had trouble getting Moses’ attention because he was too focused on the sheep. I wonder how many of us have the same focus on everyday responsibilities that distract us from a burning bush equivalent, a sight or experience that would envelop us in awareness of God’s otherness and nearness if they would only pause to notice. I have been distracted in that way. Besides my running, my reading has also reminded me that God’s glory surrounds me. One story that has helped me to regain my bearings is Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Each year I search for a new film version of it in hope of a fresh reminder of proper priorities. Occasionally, I encounter people who I expect to appreciate God’s wonder because of their experiences, but who seem to have a spiritual twin of tone deafness. It takes me aback, and usually jolts free a memory of my own obtuseness in the presence of wonder. I have had trouble lifting my eyes to see the beauty around me after several jarring events in my life. I’m thankful for the times I have opened my eyes to behold the wonder. “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1). Pause and marvel at the wonders God has created.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Preparing for Disaster

I return after an absence of several eventful months. My chaplain ministry continues to give me opportunities to serve those who give themselves to serve others. At the same time, I hope for opportunity to serve more. The rough draft of my book on prayer nears completion even as I intensify my search for preaching and teaching opportunities. This last week I was reinvigorated by hearing speakers discuss preparation for and ministry to people overcome by natural disasters. Illness and unexpected loss of a house or business damages one's spirit. One survives the storm through prayerful preparation, attributing proper value to material possessions, and by having the right amount of insurance. Insurance may be flood, fire, or earthquake related; it also can be soul-directed when one evaluates his or her relationship with God and acts to improve it. 1 Peter chapter three describes how Noah survived a world-wide flood and compares it to Christians being saved through baptism that confesses one's allegiance to God and faith that realizes the implications of Christ's resurrection from the dead.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Lincoln's Gettysburg Address: A Reflection

Though he said that the "world will little note nor long remember," we still recall the speech that Abraham Lincoln delivered at Gettysburg 150 years ago. He honored Soldiers, most whom we would call "citizen Soldiers" today, who perished in combat in and around that small town. I visited the Gettysburg battlefield three years ago. It remains a somber reminder of what price we may pay when we fight for principles in which we believe. We have a responsibility to know what we believe and how important those beliefs are. Some beliefs are in fact based in falsehood; they survive only when fed with erroneous information and emotion, or when lack of information allows their sustainment. Others have little consequence; in the big picture of history, it makes little difference whether the Boston Red Sox won the World Series this year or if the Atlanta Braves will do so next year. Some beliefs are philosophical: The nature of freedom, economic theories, the meaning of love. Sometimes they are difficult to establish as true or valid, but still their means of execution has a lasting impact on our lives and our history. A copy of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address hangs on the wall in my office at home. It reminds me that some principles are worth defending. Lincoln's words remind me that the man who spoke them endured merciless ridicule and cruel slander as he navigated our nation through its most tortuous years. We forget the bitter opposition he experienced even in the North when we regale him as perhaps our greatest President. Abraham Lincoln called the nation to action with him speech. He admonished his countrymen to engender "a new birth of freedom." He implied that freedom best survives in a democratic republic. We have opportunity to influence events in our nation. We may speak and write; we can assemble and we can vote. Our freedom has its best opportunity to survive when we use those privileges with respect for truth and the right of others to express their opinions. Suppressing the rights of others historically has a tragic trend of sad consequences when the other party gains power. Let us resolve that we will treat one another with respect and that we will listen to one another. Some principles are worth defending with our lives. We will thrive as a society when we defend truth, life, and freedom.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Regaining Spiritual Balance

I read an article recently entitled "You Can't Run on Pop Tarts." It was a great article about living a balanced spiritual life. I read it as a fifty-ish person who runs 20 to 30 miles a week, usually fueled by a breakfast of a banana and two Pop Tarts. I watch what I eat more carefully at other meals, having reduced intake of red meat and regulating caloric intake. I replied to the article; this post is an expansion of my response. As we run the race of life, we encounter obstacles that we must resolve. Activities, relationships, and work may slow our pace. We pause to work on these distractions (some of which have inherent positive value) and may have trouble returning the path we want to run. Sometimes work demands our attention. Supervisors want to increase productivity; that may mean that employees work harder or longer. It may also invite ethical challenges - taking a short cut that reduces value but increases the volume produce, stealing a competitors formula to enhance our own product. We wake up one morning and realize that we run the race of life with the goal of getting promoted, getting a raise, or earning a pension. Values have vanished from our metaphorical wardrobe; family, faith, and integrity have diminished roles when we make choices in time use or moral choices. The same dilemmas may emerge in regard to recreational activities and relationships. We have a sense that we have lost our way. How may we regain our spiritual balance? First, we identify the distractions that keep us from living a spiritually healthy life. A biblical passages that urges running with our eyes fixed on Jesus (Hebrews 12:1-3) precedes that admonition by telling us to get rid of what holds us back or obscures our focus. A husband may have to cut down the number of hours he spends watching sports on television or playing with friends to improve his marriage. A teenager may have to distance herself from a "friend" who tempts her to compromise her values. Second, we associate regularly with other believers in worship and study activities that will help us improve our focus (Hebrews 10:25). It's hard to run alone; although I frequently run trails alone, the time goes much faster and I run faster when I run with others. The same principle applies to living for Christ. Although time in prayer alone is critical, the affirmation received from worship and fellowship in Christian assemblies helps bolster faithfulness to Christ and to the values contained in his teachings. We become more accountable through such association and so make decisions in a more thoughtful manner. Third, taking in regular amounts of Bible study seasoned with prayer will greatly increase the probability of our crossing the finish line and receiving the prize laid up for us in heaven (2 Timothy 4:1-8). Reading all the Bible systematically will decrease your straying from your path. It will keep you from focusing on a sliver of truth rather than the Christ who empowers. We can't live a spiritually balanced life that is fueled only by televangelists and contemporary Christian music. These "spiritual Pop Tarts" may have some value in pointing us to Jesus and the Bible, but they cannot replace the accountability and affirmation gained by regular attendance at Christian worship assemblies and Bible studies. Regular Bible study and prayer remind us where the boundaries lie and help us to stay on the path to a life that is eternal in quality now as well as in duration.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Veterans Day A Year After Deployment

Veterans Day this year is much different for me. A year has passed since my return from Afghanistan. The picture was taken near the time of my departure. My replacement and I posed on the steps of our office building for the picture. When I arrived there, I had a vision for my ministry. I accomplished that mission with the help of a gifted and highly experience Chaplain Assistant. Randy had been there before. He had a sense of what was safe in planning our travels that I admired. We worked with Chaplains from other branches of our nation's military and Chaplains from Coalition Forces allied with us as well in providing religious support to brave men and women who had traveled thousands of miles from home. That responsibility for training many of those Chaplains and counseling those men and women helped me grow as a leader. I returned to a different world. Going from monitoring a large number of diverse worship services, preaching two to four times a week, teaching and training, planning with a highly skilled group of fellow staff officers every day to trying to explain that leadership experience to potential employers whose concept of I did there is much simpler than what actually happened has been difficult. I have maintained the running regimen I followed in Afghanistan. Running has made the transition easier. Writing a book has also helped (It's almost ready.). Singing and Bible study in a congregational setting has kept me spiritually balanced also. My wife's support has been phenomenal. Veterans return from their war experiences transformed. Some are scarred; all have changed. We all need prayers, love, and occasionally help in reintegrating. So on Veterans Day, express your gratitude. It helps the veteran to hear someone say, "Thank you." But also search for a concrete way you can help a veteran succeed in the next chapter of their story.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

A Fulfilling Week

Last week I participated in several events from which I gained great inspiration. A week ago, I spoke about Jeremiah's prayer in Jeremiah 12 as an example of "The Power of a Praying Man," a truth that might at first glance seem ironic given the content of his prayer. Missionaries to Scotland and Brazil also participated in the event; their insights helped me tremendously. This past Monday morning, I attended a church history workshop at the old Mars Hill (Alabama) Church of Christ building. It was constructed in 1904; Evangelist T.B. Larimore preached there numerous times. In addition to learning about the history of churches of Christ in Mississippi and the life of a student of Larimore's who had great influence among rural churches in Middle Tennessee and Northern Alabama a hundred years ago, I also got to lead those assembled in singing "Where the Gates Swing Outward Never," a rousing hymn that eagerly anticipates Heaven. On Tuesday Night, I participated as an alumnus in an event for prospective students at Harding School of Theology (http://www.hst.edu), meeting with the prospective students at a dinner and then sitting on a panel to discuss how attending the school has affected my ministry. Among the insights I left with them was not to assume that they know how their life will unfold, but to lay a foundation by their choice of schools and courses that would allow them flexibility and the optimal opportunity for ministry.