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.
Thursday, August 01, 2013
Let me begin by saying that I love sports. I thoroughly enjoy watching baseball and college football. I like to bowl and play basketball, but rarely have time to do so. As I've mentioned, I run several times a week. My favorite baseball team is having a great season so far; I'm hoping they make it through the playoffs and win the World Series. Several years ago, I yielded to my curiosity and put together a team in a fantasy baseball league. It was fun, but not necessarily tied to the actual teams playing on the field, just the performance of individual players. I realized after two seasons that that the fantasy league was taking time away from my marriage and preparation for my job. The fantasy league was just that - fantasy! Yet it asserted an impact on my real life. I stopped playing fantasy sports. A lot of people still play fantasy sports. Whole magazines and radio stations are devoted to helping them succeed. If people can manage their time and relationships well, no problem exists. Be alert, however, to what happens in real life. I don't usually quote from The Message paraphrase of the Bible, but its rendition of a passage in Galatians 5 hits the mark in this discussion:
"It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life. Just make sure that you don't use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom. rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love; that's how freedom grows. For everything we know about God's Word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself. That's an act of true freedom."Pay attention to relationships at home, in your community of faith, and at work. Keep fantasy under control. Focus on helping real people in concrete and appropriate ways. Get real!
Tuesday, July 30, 2013
I sometimes parody Robert Frost's old poem by saying, "Two paths diverged in a wood, and I, I blazed a new trail between them." One should never let tunnel vision limit their achievements. Just because three options present themselves does not exclude the possibility of a fourth. Creatively pondering what other paths one may take may just prompt recognitions of a new trail. Sometimes, however, our trails reach a dead end. A deep chasm looms ahead or a wall blocks our progress. What shall we do? One possibility is to turn around and go back to our starting point. We also might choose to give up. When some people reach this situation in their lives, they attempt suicide. Almost always, other options exist than surrendering. One may try to climb the wall or build a bridge across the canyon. If a wall, we may look to the right and left to see if passageways exist in those directions. We may even be able to build a door in the wall. Seriously, even when it seems that there are none, options usually exist in life. They may not be our first choice; they may require giving up a long-cherished goal. Sometimes the new path leads in a better direction. Psalm 37 gives several insights to surviving and thriving when it seems opposition cannot be overcome or that we have run out of options. These include: "Do not fret" (verses 1 and 8). "Trust in the Lord and do good" (verse 2). "Commit your way to the Lord" (includes prayer, verse 3). "Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him." "Refrain from anger" (verse 8). Keep the word of God in your heart (verse 31). Follow good role models (verse 37) "Take refuge" in God (verse 40). Maintaining calm and trusting reliable counselors (to include God) greatly increase odds for survival and success. Restraining anger and panic are critical. Fear breeds failure. Having a sustained pattern of behavior, especially in scripture study, prayer, and association with other believers, helps but one also needs to learn to wait and to build flexibility. Rigidity paralyzes people when unexpected situations arise. The message of Psalm 37 is that even when situations seem to require new solutions, some basic truths and practices will sustain us. When multiple options exist in life, God's word will help us navigate the better trail to our destination.
Saturday, July 27, 2013
"They were all looking for a king To slay their foes and lift them high: Thou cam'st, a little baby thing That made a woman cry. O Son of Man, to right my lot Naught but thy presence can avail; Yet on the road Thy wheels are not, Nor on the sea Thy sail! My how or when Thou wilt not heed, But come down Thine own secret stair, That Thou mayst answer all my need - Yea, every bygone prayer." - "That Holy Thing" by George MacDonald (1824-1905)When Jesus began to preach, many of his contemporaries detected a difference in the way he taught and related from other itinerant teachers, rabbis, and religious authorities. Some theorized that he might be the long-awaited Messiah. Others scoffed. He did not fit their expectations. On at least one occasion someone, not realizing that Jesus had indeed been born in Bethlehem, rejected him because he was from Nazareth and not from Bethlehem, where they understood the prophet Micah to have said that the Messiah would be born. He did not satisfy the militaristic expectations of others, although they still, as in the aftermath of the feeding of the five thousand in John 6, tried to take him by force and make him king. We still try to force our expectations on Jesus and define him by our experiences. As first century Jews theorized about the coming of the Messiah, we speculate about the second coming of the Messiah. Most of them missed it badly; their example should warn us to avoid being dogmatic on this issue. When he returns, however, how we lived in his absence will affect greatly how we receive him when he returns. Let us study his teachings closely about how to relate to one another and to him. Let us, like early disciples, "devote [ourselves] to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer" (Acts 2:42). We cannot control how Christ will return. We can however control how we prepare ourselves for his arrival.
Friday, July 19, 2013
Robert Burns wrote:
O wad some Power the giftie gie us To see oursels as ithers see us! It wad frae mony a blunder free us, An' foolish notion: What airs in dress an' gait wad lea'e us, An' ev'n devotion!In our vernacular, "would some Power the gift give us to see ourselves as others see us.It would from many a blunder free us, An' foolish notion: What airs in dress an' gait would leave us an' even devotion!" The picture with this entry came to my attention when a Catholic priest posted it. The chart aptly portrays what he sees when he considers the vast array of non-Catholic churches. I come from a background that the priest might consider a good fit for the cartoon. We try to be Christ's church. At times we may forget that Christ determines the parameters for inclusion in his body and that we do not. So we say things that earn the response, "So, you think you're the only ones going to heaven." Actually, it's not my call who goes to heaven. God makes that call. You and I study his message to us (the Bible) and listen to discern what he wants. Jesus prayed for the unity of his disciples in John 17. As the chart on the board in the cartoon depicts, we have not done a good job at maintaining that unity. In part that division has arisen because of personality clashes, in part because of doctrinal disagreements (a few of them actually critical), in part because of disagreements about what was most important, in part (sadly) because of ethnic boundaries. Ephesians chapter two teaches that Jesus came to break down barriers, not to erect them. Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except by me"(John 14:6). Another biblical passage, Hebrews 12:1-3, affirms this when it directs reader to fix our eyes on Jesus, the author (or trailblazer) and perfecter of our faith. If we want to be Jesus' disciples, we must focus on how he walked and what he said. The experience of the early church as described in the New Testament also gives us insight into what a group of people that belong to Jesus look like (Christianity in the New Testament is lived in fellowship with other believers, not in isolation.). They met together for prayer, communion, and teaching. They sang and encouraged one another. They corrected those who had lost their focus. They considered themselves, as Jesus had, one group (or body or church) belonging to him. There were no franchises. Is Jesus lucky to have us as his disciples? No, we're the blessed ones. He has called us out of darkness into the light of the path he cleared. Let's follow him. It won't be easy, but we will do better if we realize our relationship to him and let him lead the way.
Wednesday, July 10, 2013
The last few months have challenged me to study and pray hard. Returning from an overseas deployment and realizing that I now had to determine what I would do "now that I've grown up" has proven stressful. My military ministry responsibilities continue and grow, though on a part-time basis. The Soldiers and their families inspire me and humble me with their sacrificial lifestyle, faith, and patriotism. My wife inspires me too with her love for Christian missions, her passion, and her ability to keep me halfway organized. We've moved to a different city; it's good to live at home after several years of living in "other people's houses" (renting). I write regularly on this and another blog (see links; I have to confess I write more regularly on the other page, which has to do with a book I'm writing about prayer.). This county has a great system of running/biking trails that have given me variety on my runs and so helped me keep moving and praying. Some opportunities have arisen for increased "civilian" ministry. Please pray that they will develop in ways that will glorify God and help me to grow as his servant.
Thursday, July 04, 2013
Friday, June 28, 2013
My journey of faith began in a family of faith and a family of worshipers (the Bible often calls the church a "household" or "family."). My parents loved God and made assembling with other lovers of God a priority for us. They reminded us often that it was a privilege to assemble with other Christians, that in some nations it was definitely not a right to do so. While I have discovered that some communities of faith may be more toxic than healing, healthy faith develops best in community. There are times when we may need to go alone in prayer to express our pain and hurt to the Lord, but sometimes the occasions when we hurt the most are when the church that we thought didn't care awakens to its responsibilities. Singing with a congregation, even listening if the pain is too great to sing or the song evokes particularly emotional memories, allows other believers to speak words of grace and love. Even when one's presence challenges others, ability to forgive or to consider whether they should allow you to participate, growth in relationship to God and his people occurs. We all sin (Romans 3:23). We all need forgiveness. Assembling together allows others to bear one another's burden (Galatians 6:1-2) and remember that being a part of Christ's saved people is not an exercise in isolation nor about feeling good all the time about other Christians. Romans 15:1-3 says, "We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: 'The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.'" We worship together to praise God, but also meet together to encourage one another (Hebrews 10:24-25). We should not gather as a church to hear a speaker verbally scourge suffering people, but we should search the scriptures together and pray fervently that we may help the damaged person heal and return to active service. If a person's (or group's) presence threatens the spiritual stability of the congregation, then we meet and discuss face-to-face how their actions endanger the health of the community while remembering to check our preferences to see if they align with the word and will of God. Because my parents encouraged me to make assembling with Christians a priority, when I encountered a difficult time in my life when it would have been easy to suffer alone and stop "going to church," I kept going. I found it hard to pray at that point in my life and it was difficult to sing some songs. Some sermons were harder to hear and some well-meaning brethren just did not understand what I was experiencing. Still I kept assembling and I continued to read the Bible regularly (Strange, I think, that I found it hard to talk to God for a while but still was willing to listen to him). The small congregation embraced me and helped me to heal, using me when I was willing and my work would help others. Some told me that my presence encouraged them. I survived spiritually because that church and my family of origin loved me. Some hurting people have hurt themselves, and as part of the healing process, must realize and articulate the part they played in creating their pain. We call this repentance and confession; both acts are essential for spiritual healing. If they haven't done so already, they will need to follow the example of the Apostle Paul in washing their sins away in baptism (See Acts 22:16). Some may be unable to reverse the effects of their actions; just as a physical amputee learns to function without a hand or with a prosthesis, they can learn to function in their new reality. Other hurting people have been abused - verbally, physically, or emotionally. They don't need more abuse. They need love, and lots of patience. So, if you're hurting spiritually, don't try to solve your problems in isolation. Reach out for help to a community of faith, a church that takes God, Christ, and the Bible seriously, but that remembers also that it is the family of God and the body, the church of Christ, an entity that heals rather harms. If you're within such a group, and someone confesses difficulty, pain, or sin, don't rush to ostracize. Pray and study to learn how you may help this person to heal and to grow up to become the healthy disciple God wants them to be. As Paul the apostle wrote, " Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God" (Romans 15:7). In the end, we all have fallen short, and that is why we need a family, a church, where we may heal and feel safe. .
Saturday, June 22, 2013
When I run the trails I review my trials; I thank you, God, for caring, Showing me that pain of sharing Supersedes the easy path, by daring To excel, while denying my power, I rely on you, my rock and tower. Thunder roars, torrents descend, Lightning flashes; can we mend, Can we recover, emerge from the mud, Sally forth unscathed, cleansed by the flood? When I run the trails I review my trials; I remember and I return to daring For in darkest storm, You still are caring. -Michael Summers, June 2013
Sunday, June 16, 2013
Happy Father's Day! My father died several years ago, but I still treasure my memories of him as a father, coach, mentor, teacher, and friend. He was several inches taller than I, and much stronger. I remember well the first time that I thought I was doing my full share of the work when we lifted something together. He was sixty-three years old and I was thirty-eight. Dad was a people-person; others sensed that he genuinely cared for them. Another preacher observed on a social media site today that Waymon Summers had been a "Barnabas" (the name means encourager) to other preachers. A young school-teacher remembered that while her father had often failed in that role, her childhood minister (my Dad) had emerged as the hero who helped her find her way. Dad could see the possibility of success in a person when others could or would not. Another preacher noted that Dad was the mentor who made him be the person God wanted him to be. Dad wasn't perfect, but he worked hard, believed strongly, and took care of his family. He modeled well how to be an good father, but he was a superstar as a grandfather; his grandchildren both loved and respected him. He believed strongly in God and looked forward to Heaven. His final words to me were (and he called me back into the room as I was leaving), "See you later!" Indeed!
Monday, June 10, 2013
Lord, We lift our eyes to the mountains and the skies. We see their beauty. They testify to your power. We thank you for life. We thank you for love. We thank you for making us a little crazy. We mourn when we cry out for justice for the persecuted and oppressed; We drop to our knees and repent when we fear you will act in justice against us. We thank you for life. We thank you for laughter; We thank you for love, shown so clearly through your Son, In whose name we pray, Amen.
Saturday, June 01, 2013
Cutting words questioning my judgment Knife through my soul, sear my spirit. Fatigue slows my reaction, sparing hurt From rash response hurriedly spoken. Grant me wisdom, O Lord, help me heal Their pain that challenges authority. Silence my raging scream; awaken love. Bruised, I crave to return brutal shove. Comfort me; stem the bleeding, Let my vision see those needing Hope, not contempt; an ear, not rebuke. I breathe deeply, direct at myself a look. Spur my courage, reveal slander's source And from my response, my pride divorce.
Monday, May 27, 2013
It's Memorial Day and I'm home. Last year, I was in Afghanistan. Already, I had prayed over the bodies of Soldiers assassinated in their offices and worked alongside medical teams from two other nations in trying to identify remains after a helicopter crash. Soldiers had committed suicide, leaving stunned comrades and grieving families behind. I'm home and I'm glad to be alive. I rejoice that finally I can eat steak again. Elsewhere, families still grieve and comrades still grapple with the absences of those with whom they worked. I pray for those families and friends who grieve that God will comfort them. Sometime today I will call a cousin whose father died in Vietnam. I pray for peace. Most of all, I pray that all will be reconciled to God through Christ. I'm home. I don't see my grown children as much as I would like, but we're all alive. My wife is here with me. It's Memorial Day and I'm home.
Thursday, May 23, 2013
Individual Christians and churches should aim to grow in godliness. When we look at Titus 3:8-14, we discover in the concluding paragraph of a letter from a spiritual mentor to his evangelist protege several insights as to how to become more like God. When we examine the entire letter to discern what strengths and weaknesses the evangelist Titus and the church on Crete had, we discover that what Paul the mentor encouraged and what he said to avoid probably reflected what was happening there. We discover also that those Christians were like many of us today. Some Christians' lifestyles had not changed much since their conversion, and they should have! Older men had not earned the respect of younger men. Older women slandered. Servants conspired against their masters, did as little work as possible and stole. In response, Paul set down principles for godly living so that "those who have believed in God might take care to practice good works" (Titus 3:8). Christians must concentrate on doing what is good. We must make a conscious effort to do the right thing. If you have tried to catch a football that was thrown to you, you know that the football was not drawn to your hands by electromagnetic force. Growing in godliness is like that. You have to decide to do it, whether the good work is sharing food with the hungry, taking care of your children or telling someone about salvation through Jesus. To grow in godliness, Christians and especially evangelists, must avoid controversial questions. That does not mean that they tolerate heresy or promote lax behavior. Christians should focus on positive aspects of following Christ rather than arguing about every little thing that comes up. Paul warns Titus here to go out of his way to avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, quarrels and disputes about the law. He says that these activities are useless and idle. They do not produce growth in individuals or churches. Christians must avoid enforcing traditions as God's law and arguing over unimportant issues if they are to grow in godliness. Paul had left Titus on Crete for two reasons - to appoint elders and to set in order the things that were lacking (Titus 1:5). One might infer that Titus had been so busy trying to resolve every little dispute that he had not taken the time to what Paul had told him to do. To grow in godliness, Christians must correct divisive personalities who threaten to disrupt the unity of the church. Remember that Paul wanted Titus to appoint elders and set in order the things that were lacking. Elders, as mature spiritual leaders, would possess the credibility to address such problems. Paul told Titus, as an evangelist, to " convince them rigorously so that they might be healthy in the faith." Sometimes even the most patient counseling and thorough, sound teaching by well-grounded elders and evangelists fails to correct a problem situation in the church. IN this concluding passage of Titus, Paul tells what to do when troublemakers refuse to heed the warnings of the evangelist and elders. First, warn the troublemaker. If he refuses to repent, warn him again. If he still keeps on causing problems. drive him out before he cause more hamr to the body of Christ. His own actions have testified that he is not a godly person and that he intends to hurt the church. Divisive actions within the body of Christ are like cancer in the human body; if not treated early, they prove fatal. Note that the expulsion occurs only after several attempts to reason with the individual. Loving biblical discipline seeks first to restore the sinning Christian. Then all Christians can concentrate on doing good. But why this emphasis on doing good? Why avoid controversial questions? Why discipline divisive personalities? Paul writes in Titus 3:14, "Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good in order that they may provide for daily necessities and not live unproductive lives." Older men will deserve and receive respect; older women will win the respect of younger women who will follow their examples in living for Christ. Younger men will use common sense and accomplish far more. Employees will earn respect from supervisors. We don't do this to earn salvation, but to demonstrate that we have received it and are grateful to the God who "saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life" (Titus 3:5b-7).
Monday, May 20, 2013
Several weeks ago, I heard and saw several announcements about a new "prayer trail," a path that had been built through a wooded area near a church building. Several markers, each bearing a quote from a passage in the Psalms, lay along the trail; their presence would prompt prayer-walkers to pause and pray on a topic suggested on the marker under the biblical quote. A grand opening ceremony welcomed people to start using the trail. Yesterday, for the first time, I walked the trail with several friends. We were impressed with the markers; they encouraged prayer and reflection. The serene setting of the woods helped, also. However, no pavement, gravel, or wood chips had been laid on the trail. Sections were a little muddy; one could tell that the trail would be impassable when it rained. My training in military land navigation came in handy in a section where the trail was hard to detect; grass and weeds had grown and now obscured it. Attractive signs periodically reminded us that we were on the right path; unfortunately, we needed the signs. My take: The prayer trail is a good idea, provided that it receives regular use and maintenance. Its state reminds me that any plan needs follow-through to succeed. The prayer trail is like other paths that emerge and then disappear in our lives. We have great ideas, but then having begun, fail to do the maintenance work that our plan needs to succeed. Hopefully, people will continue to trek the trail and they (we?) or others will do the mowing, digging, or paving that the trail needs to remain viable. Meanwhile, I plan to keep on praying. I hope that you will do the same.
Thursday, May 16, 2013
An empty tomb welcomes tourists and pilgrims in Jerusalem. Located at the foot of a rocky knoll that looks so much like a "place of the skull," if it is not the place of Jesus' crucifixion, burial and subsequent resurrection, it certainly evokes thoughts of those events. While it inspires interest in the events around the death of Jesus, it does not preach the word by itself (One stills needs a preacher, or at least a friend, for that). It does not feed the poor or heal the hurting. It does not visit those in prison or give water to the thirsty. This place does not baptize or sing or pray. Only people who believe that God loved the world enough to send his Son to die for us can perform those acts. Sadly, sometimes we do as much as the empty tomb. We may do less, since the tomb does teach by symbolizing the place where world-changing events occurred. After the resurrection, Jesus instructed followers to "Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age" (Matthew 28:18-20 NIV84). We need to leave the empty tomb and direct a spiritually starving world to the Risen Messiah, Jesus. It is time to obey; it is time to go.
Wednesday, May 08, 2013
I pruned trees and bushes in my yard this morning. One tree had two dead limbs and several dead branches. I lopped these off while trying to preserve branches with live leaves. Some bushes and trees had sprouted new branches that threatened to interfere with sidewalk passage or brushed up against windows. Pruning dead branches usually results in a healthier plant. So it is with us in regard to our activities and thoughts. Overcrowding our schedule produces stress and decreases effectiveness. It becomes necessary to remove activities that have outlived their function or that no longer enrich our lives. Cautionary point: one limb had both live and dead branches. I did not cut off the entire limb, but removed the dead branches. Removing the dead branches may make struggling branches healthier. Sometimes, too, difficult or unpleasant activities strengthen us physically and spiritually by causing us to build muscle or to increase moral and spiritual discipline. Engaging in harmful activities or wallowing in negativity endangers our health and our relationships with other people. I anticipate that the plants that I pruned today soon will show signs of increased health and beauty. I pray that I (and you) will have the wisdom to know where to prune in life.
Thursday, May 02, 2013
I pray while I run. I run often, five or six days a week, usually for distances ranging from four to eight miles each day. I run on trails that, while paved, traverse hills. Animals also cross these trails. On a recent run, I encountered a family of screaming humans whose recreational walk had been halted by a snake slithering slowly across the trail. The trail runs along a narrow ridge between a river and man-made ponds. For these reasons, I run and pray with my eyes open. I thank God for the beautiful environment he created. Majestic trees form a canopy over much of the trail. Cardinals, mallard ducks, and herons fly and swim alongside it. Beavers work in the ponds; squirrels and rabbits scurry along the trail's edges. I pray for my wife and our children. I pray for our nation, especially for our leaders and about issues confronting our military. I pray that soldiers may serve with integrity; I pray that God also will help me to do so. I pray for those who disrupt our national life with crime, terror, and slander, asking that their hearts may change. I pray that I may serve with an attitude of wanting God's will done, even when it does not match my own desires. Sometimes it is hard to imagine a Venn diagram that accurately depicts the relationship of my will to God's will. If I think I have the details mastered, but promote God's will with hatefulness and arrogance, I hurt myself, and others as well. I pray while I run. When do you pray?
Tuesday, April 30, 2013
I observed two milestones last week. I celebrated yet another birthday. Birthdays are still occasions of celebration for me. Their approach does not ignite flames of fear in my heart. Life is an adventure and I still yearn to see what lies around the next turn in the trail. The odometer in my car reached 140,000 miles last week. It was the first automobile that I had purchased new (or that had been registered in my name, for that matter) to survive that many miles. It has endured three major repairs, one provoked by another driver backing his vehicle into the side of mine. During the last repair decision, I seriously considered purchasing a new car. Perhaps because I have been the only owner, this car doesn't seem as old as other vehicles I have owned that had fewer miles. Although it is what rental companies generously call a "full-size" vehicle, it still gets twenty-eight miles a gallon on long highway trips. I enjoy driving it and, although occasionally I covet some of the technological advances of the last eight years, enjoy driving it. I feel safe. Those are a few of the reasons I hold on to this car. Both I and my car are growing older. But we still can move down the road together in relative comfort. It gets me where I'm going. Comfort does not require the most recent technological gadgets or the latest fashions. It can even survive appearing "dated," which seems to be the ultimate insult on some HGTV house hunting programs. Comfort does require some degree of familiarity and the ability to use with knowledge of what will happen next. Human relationships share many of the characteristics of my relationship to my car. We are comfortable with our friends and our spouses despite their eccentricities and their ages. We feel comfortable where we worship when we know what to expect and sense that leaders act responsibly. In both cases we make adjustments or repairs when radical change requires it. In both cases, loyalty and love require giving the opportunity to make the repair work. We continue to move down the road (or the prayer trail) together. We celebrate our milestones; they remind us that we (and our relationships) still survive.
Wednesday, April 24, 2013
Way back in 1976, I travelled to England with a choral group from what is now Freed-Hardeman University. We spent a week in Aylesbury providing support to a local church for an evangelistic campaign. Our troupe of singers went out two by two to knock on doors each day to invite local citizens to the religious service that night, where they would hear Elvis Huffard, one of our own professors preach, and to a concert by us after the service. Another singer, like myself a Bible major, and I stayed with the local preacher and his wife. The wife treated us to tea each afternoon, a major treat for me. One night, we also had a time where people in the audience could ask us questions about the United States. I answered a question about our secondary education system. At a farewell supper, the local church members treated us by serving us an "American" dinner, boiled hamburgers on buns. We hated to break it to them that those were not American hamburgers. One of the local teenage girls would enroll at our college later. Besides the friendships we forged with the English people we met, we also deepened our friendship with Elvis Huffard. His daughter was in our singing group, but I had been unaware that he had sung with a quartet at Freed-Hardeman when he was a student. He preached messages that encouraged, but also introduced Jesus as one who deserved, required a response. Today would have been Elvis Huffard's birthday. So I pause to honor a man who comforted God's people and encouraged me in my faith.
Saturday, April 20, 2013
In light of recent events, I found these statements and questions thought-provoking, 'Each day you and I make decisions that contribute to constructing one kind of world or another. Are we caught up in faddish worldviews? Or are we helping to build a new world characterized by the truths of the Bible and the message of Christ?"-Ralph Hawkins in his book "While I Was Praying," p. 12. I also saw an article describing the growth of Islam in America and noted that while there have been conversions, most growth is due to immigration. The challenge for us as Christians is to study the Bible and live our lives in faithful discipleship to Jesus in such a way that we will persuade others to follow him. I'm more concerned about the rise of secularism and agnosticism, which actually is a threat to both Islam and Christianity. As Christians, we can be more effective by speaking as informed followers of Jesus, knowing the Bible but also knowing the facts about the political situation and those who oppose the teaching of Christ. Some people share slanderous comments on social media sites without verifying them on a fact check site first. Other people make comments against the contents of the Quran when they have not read it. When it's discovered that either group's comments were based on a lie, they lose credibility. Because we all are emotional beings, we must also conduct a "fact check" on our own beliefs and feelings. Do we hold an opinion because we believe in Jesus as the Christ, or because we belong to a certain political party or espouse a particular ideology? Are we uncomfortable in a setting because something is morally or religiously wrong, or because the setting is unfamiliar and we do not understand its cultural background? We can defend our faith most constructively by addressing issues rather than attacking personalities. We can persuade others to follow Jesus more effectively by living like we believe his teachings. That requires us to study the Bible and to associate regularly with other believers (Translation: Go to church.). We can conduct business matters ethically and promptly. People should be able to say of us, "He (or she) speaks the truth and treats all fairly." Helping others and forgiving those who slight us will also mark us as followers of one who said of those who were executing him, "Forgive them, for they do not know what they do." Certainly, worldview, or how we think things work, affects the decisions we make. We have to realize as we share our faith that others may not share our worldview. However, some truths remain true whatever the context. I have lived most of my life in a middle-class American context. However I have lived at least six months in two other countries, one of which had a markedly different economic, cultural, and religious foundation. I met people who saw some issues much differently than I did because of those different foundations. But I discovered that some of those same people shared convictions with me on several topics. These Muslims believed in one God. They believed in the power of prayer and practiced it regularly. They practiced hospitality and treated me with respect because they saw me as a religious leader. They believed that eating a meal with someone and listening would build relationships. Writers of the New Testament also lived in a nation (the Roman Empire) that did not share their worldview. Missionaries adapted some practices as they traveled into different locations and spoke to different audiences. Paul ate with Gentiles in Antioch. He preached, quoting Greek philosophers in the public arena to Greeks and Hebrew scripture to Jews in synagogues. He preached, however, the same message to both: "Christ and him crucified." He maintained his own identity as a Jewish Christian as well. We live in a society which respects individuals freedom to practice their religious beliefs. We must practice ours faithfully if we are to build a better world and convert others to what we believe is true.
Tuesday, April 16, 2013
In less than a minute, hundreds of runners and many more family members or friends had the reaching of a lifetime goal transformed into a memory of horror in Boston. Having run in a marathon, having trained two weeks in a trauma center, and having counseled and helped identify the dead in the aftermath of two helicopter crashes, I have some sense of the physical, emotional, and spiritual turmoil many must be experiencing now. I also pray for them and for members of the Massachusetts National Guard, some of who were on the scene. I served alongside Massachusetts Guardsmen in Afghanistan; they will do well, as they did yesterday, running to rescue and assist those injured by the explosions. We don't know yet who executed this horrific act, but many have rushed to assert their speculations. Some, I think rather strangely, have expressed their opinion that the government is considering them as suspects. In time, evidence will emerge and hopefully perpetrator(s) identified. However, even then, regardless of how concrete the evidence, some will cling to their pet theory, their favorite specter of evil. Why do some people seem to relish conflict, to enjoy speaking evil of others, to deny truth when it does not match their imaginations? Why do others (and there may be some overlap in the two subsets) love to harm others, rejoice in the death of innocent bystanders, and clamor for recognition as murderers even when they did not perform the act? One truth I know: this is not a new phenomenon. When a tower fell and killed others in the time of Jesus, some assert that the dead surely had sinned against God. Jesus rebutted their claim (see Luke 13:1-3). Most people who experienced the explosions in Boston or were affected directly by them will bear emotional and perhaps also physical scars for a long time. Some of them, like a father whose eight year old son died¸ whose wife and daughter were severely injured will grieve and second-guess themselves about their presence there that day. Sights, smells, and sounds will linger and haunt. Many will recover as they help one another, as they search for meaning in life, as they learn to love again and to forgive. Still, some people will gloat. They will celebrate horror, death, and amputations of people they never met. Others, much like them, will grieve if the actual murderer is not from the group they suspected. How may we help? Pray. Love. Forgive (It will help us heal.). Serve. Search for true answers. Be patient with others while doing our best. Whether the explosions were set by a foreign or domestic terrorist, a deranged individual who didn't understand what they were doing, or a prankster (Let us pray it was not the last.), horrible evil has happened. We must not allow the evil to envelop our own souls. As we seek justice, we ourselves must avoid hurting the innocent and slandering the investigator. We do not have to become terrorists to overcome terrorism. We must however act, not cower, as we go forward. Comfort the suffering. Honor the dead. Live with courage and integrity. Be agents of good in a context clouded by evil.
Friday, April 12, 2013
Several years ago, one of my children had surgery. I spent two weeks sleeping at night in a chair beside his bed. He didn't want to be alone at night. However, he let me leave each day for a couple of hours to go to the McDonald House next to the hospital, where I would take a nap, shower, and eat delicious food that volunteers had brought to the house. These and other resources at the McDonald's house eased the stress for me. During my time in military service, I became aware of a similar facility near large military installations: Fisher House. Though I never had to use them, I met families who benefited greatly from the houses' availability during a difficult time in their lives. I thought about the Fisher Houses today when I read an article about the U.S. president's tax return. The Obamas had donated more than one hundred thousand dollars to the Fischer House Foundation last year. My reaction: "Thank you, Mr. President." No political statement here, just gratitude from a parent who was blessed by a similar facility once. McDonald House and Fisher House comfort many, many families. If you're looking for an opportunity to help in a great way and live near one, donate your time if you can't afford to donate money. If you do, know now that I also thank you.
Tuesday, April 09, 2013
A book entitled Praying for Strangers recently caught my eye. Its author, River Jordan, discovered that when she prayed more for others, even strangers, than for herself, she felt much happier. Now she searches for people for whom she may pray. Her discovery comforted her. It also made her a blessing to others. Most people experience a small burst of joy when told someone is praying that something good will happen to them. To be sure, some might regard it as spiritual intrusion. Pray for them anyway. Praying for others elevates our prayers beyond focus on ourselves. The world around us gains clarity as we discover more people for whom to pray. Prayer for strangers reminds that we do not live alone; we truly are God's ambassadors when we pray for those who believe that no one cares.
Saturday, April 06, 2013
Few things compare with the joy of seeing a family member excel. I've cheered on brothers and sons at athletic events and thrilled when they hit a game-winning basket, broke loose for a long touchdown run, scored a soccer goal, or made a score-saving tackle. So tonight when B.J. Upton tied the game for the Atlanta Braves baseball game with a long home run, then pumped his fist in joy when his brother Jason, also a Braves player, hit a game winning home run two batters later, I understood the joy and love they demonstrated towards each other. Families have enormous potential for encouraging their members. Not all families function well in this regard. However, enough families do that we understand why the church is called the family (or household) of God and why New Testament disciples of Jesus call one another "brother." Family member know too well their relatives' faults, yet find a way to love and encourage. Sometimes love is acted out through discipline, which though painful, produces personal growth and stronger relationships. Your family (physical or spiritual) may not perform in the public arena like the Upton brothers, but your encouragement will create similar success in your own family.
Tuesday, April 02, 2013
Much has happened since my last post - several months in a combat zone, the death of an expected grandchild, the beginnings of a new ministry opportunity, a move to a different part of the country. Some things have not changed - I still run and actually run farther, I still worship with other Christians regularly, I still read voraciously, and I still love my family. I learned to pray more often last year. I've always listened to God regularly, but I realize now that it is important to talk to him if I am to have the healthiest relationship with my Creator. I realize my own mortality more. Part of that comes from seeing others' lives end prematurely, and part from some experiences that could have caused mine to end. So, as I re-enter this blog, I ask you to join me in deciding to pray more, to worship with others regularly, and to study the Bible daily. And if you are estranged, reconnect with your family if it is safe to do so. Realize the comfort that comes from loving God and loving the people He has put in our lives.