Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veterans Day Thoughts

Happy Veterans Day to all who have served. We've had tragic reminders of the risks that our soldiers experience during the last few days. A soldier appears to have killed his fellow soldiers at Ft Hood. Soldiers have died in helicopter crashes in combat zones. Other soldiers have died in tragic accidents or by their own hand. I've participated in memorial ceremonies and in exercises intended to increase safety of our soldiers when they are home this last week. Please pray for our soldiers that they may grow in resilience and that each one may grow in faith in a way that will ultimately produce mental, emotional, and spiritual health.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Still More Pursuing Peace

Ephesians 5:15-20 gives more guidance on finding peace. Rather than finding a temporary peace in drunkenness, the apostle Paul instructs to be filled, not with spirits that you drink, but with the Spirit of God. Wisely make the most of every opportunity; Christians are people of action for good in a world in which many act for evil. Note: Act wisely. Carefully examine charges against others. Avoid gossip. Also, he says encourage and seek encouragement from other Christians by instructing one another in song. When we sing, we do so to teach and encourage, not just to enjoy a pleasant melody or to rock to a pulsing rhythm. This speaking to one another in song also conveys an implied task, assembling to worship with other Christians. It is when we meet together in worship that we speak to one another in song. We do not find peace in isolation. Adopt an attitude of gratitude, “always giving thanks to God for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” When we search for problems or mistakes, we will find them. When we search for evidence of God’s grace, we will find peace.
John 6:51-58 also gives guidance in our search for peace, but the words of Jesus there may frighten or even disgust us at first, just as they did many of those who first heard them. Jesus says here in riveting terms what he says more mildly in John 14:6, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except by me.” Follow Jesus and you find the path to peace. This is not an easy path. It is not for the faint of heart. The words of Jesus here led early opponents to accuse his disciples of cannibalism. Those accusations were false. These words also have significance for us when we partake of the Lord’s Supper, something early Christians made a point to do when they met together. But eating the bread and drinking the cup of the Lord’s Supper do not exhaust the meaning of these words. Jesus calls us to follow him with fervent faith and intensity of spirit. We obey his will, whatever the consequences. I give a word of caution here: We always must beware of thinking what we want is what God wants. Study hard, pray hard, and determine God’s will after careful consideration of the facts. Then act in faith with trust in God. Jesus says here that if we follow him with a consuming faith, we will find life - we will know peace. Many people left Jesus when he spoke this call to radical discipleship. Peter however understood, and told Jesus, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “When Jesus calls a man, he bids him come and die.” When we give everything to Christ in faith, when we die to sin, and are buried in baptism, we arise into a new life, Romans 6 says. In that Christ focused life, we find peace. To be sure problems remain. Like David, like Peter, like Paul, we will still stumble as we go forward. But if like them, we maintain our focus on our Savior, we will reach our goal.
I began by talking about international, community, and personal searches for peace. Most of our lesson has concentrated on the personal search. I submit to you, however, that peace in the community, in the nation, and in the world, begins as each individual finds peace and seeks to help others find the way. Pursuing peace does not mean avoiding conflict, letting people abuse others, or refusing to interact with others because after all, they are not perfect. The passages and examples we have examined counsel us to pray for wisdom and the ability to distinguish right from wrong, to tell truth, to avoid slander, gossip, and to make the most of every opportunity, to assemble and sing songs of instruction and joy with other Christians, and to adopt an attitude of gratitude. Our course of action is to follow Jesus with an intensity and fervent focus that may frighten our friends until they realize that we have found a peace that they too can share. So today, we stand before Jesus. Are we focused? Will we act for him? Now is not the time to cower or to say, I can do nothing. It is the time to say, “Just as I am, Lord, I come.”

Friday, October 23, 2009

Still Pursuing Peace

Yesterday I started to write about pursuing peace. Next we turn to the perspective of a Hebrew poet, perhaps King Solomon’s father David, in Psalm 34: 9-14. Do you seek peace? Seek the Lord. Fear him, abstain from slander, and tell the truth. Aggressively seek peace. The admonition to “Seek peace and pursue it” is quoted in the New Testament. We cannot accept continual conflict. We must keep on searching for answers. We reach the goal of our quest, Psalm 34 insists, by speaking truth, by treating others fairly, and by avoiding evil and doing good. We reach our goal however not merely by doing good deeds, but by living with direction – We seek the Lord. As Jesus said (Mt. 6:33), “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Pursuing Peace

We seek peace, but peace eludes us. It slips away just when we think it firmly in our grasp. Whether that peace is internal, a local community’s, or international, all of us know the frustration of searching for harmony in a discordant world. For decades, world leaders have labored to achieve peace in Palestine, to bring unity to Afghanistan, to forge territorial integrity, governments that respect people and use resources wisely in Africa. Those efforts continue. In our own nation, opposite ends of the political spectrum profess to fear greatly what will befall our society if the other side pursues their agenda fully. Tensions continue between races and between people from different economic, educational, and religious backgrounds. In our homes, anger, cynicism, distrust, and harmful lifestyles disrupt domestic bliss. Even within ourselves, we find ourselves echoing those words of the apostle Paul in Romans 7:15: “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” Where can we find the peace that eludes us? I want to examine passages of Scripture that identify paths that lead away from peace and roads that lead to it. I want to conclude by describing a course of action that will lead us to an enduring peace.
Let’s look first at a young man who has just assumed a position of national leadership: King Solomon of Israel, son of David. 1 Kings 3 describes how after the king had spent a day in worship to God, the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Ask for whatever want me to give you.” In response, Solomon asked for a discerning heart to govern his people and to distinguish between right and wrong. In his dream, God looked favorably upon his response and promised him that if he would walk in his ways and obey his commands, he would grant him long life. Solomon, however, did not always do that. Several biblical passages describe how he strayed from the course in his latter years. The book of Ecclesiastes, many believe, describes his spiritual quest for peace. The writer, perhaps Solomon himself, describes how he searched for peace in wealth, in education, in all kinds of pleasure, and in excess. It all was in vain. Solomon’s search is reflected in the choices we and our contemporaries make. People crave wealth. They gamble, steal, invest, and work long, hard hours of overtimes to achieve it. Scholars go to school endlessly and then seek to stay one step ahead of rivals in research and publishing. Soldiers push for perfection in fitness, or seek peace in the freedom of speeding on a motorcycle. They drink too much alcohol or try to out do their peers in terms of sexual conquests. We too fail. Financial recklessness produces the kind of economic wreckage plaguing many of our countrymen. Too many soldiers are dying in motorcycle accidents. Alcohol abuse contributes to spouse abuse; suicide rates increase on our military posts and among our youth in general. Solomon concludes in the final verse of Ecclesiastes, “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man, for God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil." I will continue this subject in my next posting.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Thoughts on Gospel Meetings

I went to gospel meetings as a child. I very vaguely remember one when I was four when my father told me the preacher was named N.B. Hardeman. I also heard Guy Woods and a host of others. I remember sitting in congregations where Christians expected someone to come down the aisle for baptism. I confess that I took my infant daughter to two gospel meetings in the first month of her life. Reuel Lemmons held her in his arms; Guy Woods shook her little hand. I know about the RVers who sacrifice their time and give it to the Lord. I was part of a congregation last year that though known as a progressive church regressed (I'm joking here) in having them and had more baptisms that week than in the rest of year: people who weren’t going to church anywhere, who came from very different economic strata, and were of various races. Those gospel meetings of my youth, if nothing else, added to my knowledge of the God’s word, and to my love for congregational singing, and to my awareness that there are people in the world who truly are lost, who need an excuse and a venue to hear good news, who sometimes are the people who are there every time the church door opens, looking for a crumb of gospel. It troubles me that some people disparage congregations who give their members and their community extra opportunities to hear a message about Jesus. I truly regret that some belittle Christians who travel hundreds of miles (when perhaps older in poor health themselves) to walk down the streets of strange cities and talk to people they don't know about Jesus. Let’s look for the grace of God at work in our churches and our history. Let's give our neighbors a chance to know Jesus and how we relate to him. Gospel Meetings or Revivals may not be the best way to present the Gospel in our time. They are however one method that can strengthen congregations by renewing evangelistic zeal, by increasing the biblical knowledge of members as well as visitors, and by introducing preachers from other places (which might actually build unity).

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Taking Time to Play

A visit to Disney World this last week impressed on me just how stressed I had allowed myself to become. It took two days for me to relax enough to enjoy playing and learning as my wife and I visited three of the resorts. The most restful day was the last one, which we spent at the Animal Kingdom. Seeing a variety of animals, walking through educational venues, and enjoying such comedic animated shows as "It's Hard to be a Bug!" really rejuvenated me. While it is critically important to work, we also must take time to laugh and to love.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Visits to Freed-Hardeman University and the Diana Singing

My wife and I took a road trip into Tennessee this past week. Our first highlight was visiting the place where we first met thirty-two years ago – Freed-Hardeman University in Henderson, Tennessee. The school’s appearance has changed some since then. The Milan-Sitka Building, constructed in 1897 and site of several of our favorite classes, has been leveled, as has the old Art Building where, somewhat incongruously, although some describe preaching as an art, I was a student in Preparation and Delivery of Sermons (Prep n’ Del) with Dr. Tom Holland. My “battle buddy” in that class, Samuel Jones, is now the Academic Dean. He actually was the first person who greeted us when we arrived on campus. After talking with him, we visited my wife’s college roommate, who now is secretary to the President of the University. The tennis court where my wife and I met is now the site of the campus bookstore. Despite that change, what impressed both of us is how attention to landscaping and green space has greatly improved the appearance of the campus. New dormitories and academic buildings also contribute to a more beautiful campus. We sat on a swing outside Dixon Hall, just as we did in 1977, and reminisced. Students still attend chapel each day; the beauty of their singing and the level of participation impressed us. If these students are in any way a barometer for the future of the church and the nation, we can be quite optimistic. After we left FHU, we traveled to a small church’s grounds in Diana, Tennessee. Twice each year, thousands of Christians converge on a large shed there to sing praises to God from 7:30 in the evening until early the next morning. We left at 1:30 and people were still singing. My old preaching teacher Tom Holland helped start this singing in 1969 and still is one of its masters of ceremony. In addition to singing (all a cappella and all congregational), attendees commemorated the terrible events of 11 September 2001 and honored the oldest (90 for women and 87 for men), youngest (three weeks), and one who came the farthest to sing (from Alaska; an attendee from Hawaii left before the presentation) of those present. Attendance was greater and more persevering this year than last year; several hundred remained as late as 1:00 in the morning. The website for the singing is If you love singing and the Lord, it’s a great experience.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Hope on Labor Day Weekend

Labor Day! It has always intrigued me that so many celebrate work by taking the day off. I hope to do that as well, but since I'm on call this weekend, I may very well work on Labor Day. I'm unsure whether my desire is selfish or altruistic, but I pray that families may avoid conflict, that celebrations may remain times of joy marked by moderation in consumption of drink and food, and that drivers will focus on safety rather than careen from lane to lane with a cellphone to their ear while they argue with a spouse. My "holiday" weekend began with holy behavior this weekend, giving hope (and food) to people who didn't have enough of either to feed their families. Over the past few weeks, I noticed a concern for the poor in several seemingly unrelated Bible passages: Acts chapters 2 and 4 rejoicing that there were no poor among the earliest followers of Jesus because the rich sold possessions and gave to the poor, Ezekiel including a lack of concern for the poor as a primary reason for the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Deuteronomy's entreaties to leave grain behind in the fields for travelers and the poor, and the apostle Paul's campaigns to raise funds for the poor. The Bible records caring for the poor by practicers of religion, but also in the Old Testament especially states that nations should help their less fortunate citizens. This Labor Day, I know that some who want to work badly have no job. Others who are ill cannot afford treatment. Let's work to find a path to hope for these people.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Remembering Who I Am

I have the most problems when I forget who I am and whose I am. No, I don’t suffer from short-term memory loss. At least I have no memory of such loss. Troubles accumulate when I approach a decision and forget that I am a Christian, a member of the family of God. When my brothers and I left home as adolescents, our father would often exhort, “Remember who you are.” Besides belonging to God, he wanted us also to remember that we came from a family where we had learned to respect others, to obey the law, to make ethical decisions, and to love one another. When the moment of decision looms, practicing those values solidifies my identity. When I forsake them, my moral amnesia leaves me gasping in fear, all too aware of what I have lost. Family, of origin and of God, fortifies me against all that is wrong in the world.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Seeking the Salvation of our Nation

I've been reflecting on 1 Timothy 2:1-3 lately. There the apostle Paul writes, "I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone - for kings and all those those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior." We live in tempestuous times, as did Paul. The emperor for whom he told Christians to pray was pagan religiously and a persecutor of Christians. Rather than frontal assault by protest marches, the Christian writer advocates prayer for this ruler. He offers this prayer, later verses reveal, in the context of God's desire to save humanity. A prayer for a ruler includes prayer for his health, for his family, that he will govern in the way that will best serve his nation's citizens, and that he too will know the saving grace of God by obeying God's will. I have read and heard (on television and radio) caustic attacks on our nations leaders (both Democrat and Republican). Some of the most bitter attacks came from professed Christians, and at times simply were false. We can work for good causes without slandering our leaders. Let's pray for our President and other leaders of our government and military. If we want a particular course of action to succeed, let's do our homework, learn details of the situation, write letters to our leaders, participate as informed, well-mannered citizens in town hall meetings, and present to the public and leaders the gracefulness and joy that comes with being a servant of God. Let's lift up holy hands, in prayer, without anger and disputing (check out 1 Timothy 2:8). Let's seek the salvation of our country, our leaders, and ourselves with behavior that God approves.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

When Others Misunderstand

Isakson’s awkward contortions on end-of-life counseling

Posted using ShareThis

Sometimes it just seems like no good deed goes unpunished. In the article attached, the discomfort of a Senator after an amendment he sponsored is first expanded by the other party and then attacked by his own, illustrates that. I'm sure that the congressman wanted to encourage senior citizens to take positive steps to help themselves and to remove stress from their loved ones. Now he has to defend or renounce what he did, it seems. While this situation is more intricate than I have described, it does resemble what often happens in life. Someone tries to do a good deed for others, then another misunderstands his action and denounces him. If you have never been there, I rejoice for you. It is a most uncomfortable place. It reminds us to examine ourselves before we act. When we consider the consequences of what we do, when we believe we act for the good of others and are in the will of God, we should move ahead boldly. If others misunderstand, lets stand by our action. If our action was based on misunderstanding, then we should apologize and try to correct what we have done. And in all things, seek to see evidence of the grace of God at work.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

I'm back!

I've taken a break from blogging the last year or so. I have decided to revive my blogsite. The focus will continue to be encouraging and searching for means to reconcile in our society where so many seem intent on dividing. Whether in marriages, religious disputes, or political dialogues, cultivating the art of listening is crucial. Patience also is, in that sometimes one must take the time to conduct research and determine whether a claim about an individual, institution, or legislation actually is true. I'll admit that sometime a story in the media will catch my eye and I will be livid about an outrageous action or belief that someone allegedly has taken or has espoused. Too often, when I investigate, I discover that the charge was false. What I try to do (It's difficult at times!) is think the best of people and treat them the way I would want to be treated. Hmm, didn't Jesus say something about that being the summation of the Law and the Prophets? Well, I'm back, and in the future hopefully will return more to my previous format.