Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Choosing the Path to Survival and Success

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

Looking for the King

"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

Is Jesus Lucky to Have Us as His Disciples?

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

Prayer Request

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

Celebrating Independence Day

I have celebrated American Independence Day in a variety of venues and ways. In 1978, I sang with a group as part of the National Celebration on the Washington Mall. It was not televised then as it is now, but the newspaper said that three hundred thousand were there. In other years I have mingled with hundreds of others to watch civic fireworks displays. Last year, I ran in an overseas shadow race of the Peachtree Road Race 10k in Kabul, Afghanistan. I've worshiped with other Christians, often engaging in meaningful times of reflective prayer and singing when Independence Day fell on a Sunday or Wednesday. This year, I remembered that the previous three days were the 150th anniversary of a great battle in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, that shaped the definition of freedom in the United States. Abraham Lincoln's speech dedicating a memorial to that battle included these words: "It is for us, the living, rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us - that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave last full measure of devotion; that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation, under God shall have a new birth of freedom; and that government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth." Amen, President Lincoln. His words define also why we celebrate, and why we should remember what we celebrate, on Independence Day.