Monday, May 27, 2013

It's Memorial Day and I'm Home

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

Growing in Godliness

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

Keeping the Path Cleared

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

Leaving the Tomb

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

Praying on the Run

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?