Wednesday, November 20, 2013
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
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 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
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.
Monday, September 23, 2013
James R. Greer (1904-1995) preached in Helenwood, TN, near Oneida when I was in elementary school and my father preached at Oneida Church of Christ. Brother Greer would have young boys like myself stand beside him sometimes as he (we) led singing so we could get the feel of it. Other than sitting beside my mother at church and listening to her beautiful alto voice, James Greer probably influenced me to love singing in church at an early age more than anyone else. In the mid-80's, I preached the homecoming gospel meeting at Oneida. James Greer came from Nashville, now in his eighties, accompanied by his wife, a long-time college librarian at what is now Lipscomb University, who had not always been able to accompany him to Helenwood years earlier. He directed singing on Sunday night. He needed help getting to the podium, but then remarkably he straightened up and that booming, beautiful voice led the congregation. During the breaks in singing for prayer and, of course, preaching, he feebly made his way to the pew behind the pulpit. But while singing, it was as if thirty or forty years fell away from him. His love for Christ was obvious in his service to the church as a domestic missionary, preaching to small church plants and inspiring their members through word and song. Today would have been his birthday. I remember him, and breathe a prayer of gratitude to God for this man who took the time to teach young boys how to stand before the church and learn to lead and to learn to love singing praises to God.
Wednesday, August 28, 2013
Memorials remind us of what we value. They preserve memories of heroes or moments that changed history. This past week I ran on a trail alongside the Potomac River. As I ran, I could see the dome of the U.S. Capitol, the Washington Monument, and the Jefferson Memorial on the side of the river. George Washington's courage and dedication to his people still resonate today. Jefferson's writings still inspire. I walked the halls of a building whose walls feature paintings and plaques that describe heroic acts by American military personnel. I stood in a room and read the names of men and women who died suddenly as a terrorist-piloted airplane plowed through that building at that very spot. That tragedy and other similar events the same day shocked our nation and changed our attitudes toward liberty and security. The memorial, however, speaks to the loss of human beings who were dearly loved and highly valued by their co-workers and families. I said a prayer for those families as I stood there. These memorials challenge me to treasure each day and to use those days more wisely. They tell stories of pain and terrorism overcome by courageous acts and a determined spirit. They remind that tragedy scars the soul even as it strengthens the survivor. Our decisions and our actions lay foundation for memorials to our lives. What lessons will your memorial teach?
Saturday, August 24, 2013
Several weeks ago I asked for prayer. Since then, a short-term work assignment has kept me quite busy as I adapt to a senior supervisory role. During that time, I've also grieved as I've read news stories telling senseless violence - teenage boys killing an aged World War 2 hero; different teenage boys killing an Australian college athlete who was a student in our country, killing him because they were bored; and allegations of chemical warfare in Syria. I've also notice what appears to be an increasing militant opposition to Christianity and its values. This opposition sometimes presents itself in ways that threaten the free expression of religious practice by Christians. While Coptic Christian churches burn in Egypt, in America actions by churches are scrutinized for failures in political correctness. I've been discouraged also by Christians who act, speak, and write with apparent hatred for those who disagree. That is not my goal here. Jesus taught his disciples to love their enemies. As Christians, we should act with compassion and listen carefully to those who seem to oppose, to make sure that we understand correctly what they say. We should examine our actions, and the motives for those actions. We should avoid following in the steps of the prophet Jonah, who after preaching to a pagan city that its citizens should repent of their sins, camped outside the city so that he could watch God destroy it. Jonah, you see, didn't want his audience to hear his message. Elijah, who we remember because fire from God consumed his sacrifice, prayed that God would change the hearts of his audience. Elijah cared for the people who heard him. Love, however, does not always translate into tolerance. I might love someone who is determined to kill me, but I would seek separation from such a person. Neither Elijah nor Jonah tolerated the sins of the people to whom they preached. Elijah, however, loved them as he loved God, and because he loved them, sought to persuade them to change. Persuasion is a key words. Biblical Christianity persuades; it does not coerce. I ask again for prayer - for those Christians who are attacked by those who do not share our beliefs or values; for those Christians who act in hatred or fear feeling justified in doing so; for people who commit senseless acts of violence; and for those who seem to hate the cause of Christ and his values. May God turn their hearts back to him. That was Elijah's prayer. It is my prayer, too.