Wednesday, May 27, 2015

PONDERISMS (adapted)

If you agree that a mind is a terrible thing to waste, why not ruminate on a few of these for a while.  You may find yourself using brain cells you didn’t even know you had.  On the other hand, I hope nothing seizes up on you…

I used to eat a lot of natural foods until I learned that most people die of natural causes.

Gardening Rule:  When weeding, the best way to make sure you are removing a weed and not a valuable plant is to pull on it. If it comes out of the ground easily, it is a valuable plant.

The easiest way to find something lost around the house is to buy a replacement.

Never take life seriously. Nobody gets out alive anyway.

There are two kinds of pedestrians: the quick and the dead.

Health is merely the slowest possible rate at which one can die.

The only difference between a rut and a grave is the depth.

Whenever I feel blue, I start breathing again.

All of us could take a lesson from the weather. It pays no attention to criticism.

How is it that one careless match can start a forest fire, 
but it takes a whole box to start a campfire?

Who was the first person to look at a cow and say, "I think I'll squeeze these dangly things here, and drink whatever comes out?"

If Jimmy cracks corn and no one cares, why is there a song about him?

Why does Goofy stand erect while Pluto remains on all fours? They're both dogs!

If Wile E. Coyote had enough money to buy all that Acme stuff, 
why didn't he just buy dinner?

If corn oil is made from corn, and vegetable oil is made from vegetables, 
then what is baby oil made from?

Do illiterate people get the full effect of Alphabet Soup?

Does pushing the elevator button more than once make it arrive faster?

Why doesn't glue stick to the inside of the bottle?

Did you ever notice that when you blow in a dog's face, he gets mad at you, 
but when you take him on a car ride, he sticks his head out the window?

Now you have to admit, if you spend a lot of time pondering these things, you either are taking life way too seriously or you are just of a superior intellect, and most of us can’t relate on your level. But either way, because this ministry is trying to be a “safe place” for all types, we’re going to keep you.  Now that’s something to really ponder.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             tad  

Monday, May 18, 2015

Memorial Day 2015 - A tribute in praise of the fallen

He cried at the grave of one he loved.  Fully God, and yet as a man, Jesus chose not to bypass the valley of grief which we all experience at the loss of one dear to us.  And how much more profound is the loss (and love) when that one has chosen to sacrifice his own life for others...specifically for us.  Jesus said it best:

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.  - John 15:13

This weekend, our nation pauses, if ever so briefly, to honor just such persons. In America, much of what we have come to appreciate about “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” has come at the expense of others far nobler than ourselves.  These heroes, even in death, stand head and shoulders above the rest of us.  The rest of us, whose main instinct is self-preservation, often live for that which benefits us, for that so-called American dream which can be viscerally experienced right now. It is the rare few who choose cause over comfort, the greater good over self-gratification.  It is for those we pause and offer praise and thanks this weekend.

Countless words of wisdom have been penned to give voice to the dignity of such giants and the nature of their task.  Here are but a few:

On thy grave the rain shall fall from the eyes 
of a mighty nation.
Thomas William Parsons

This nation will remain the land of the free only so 
long as it is the home of the brave. 
Elmer Davis

Courage is contagious. When a brave man takes a stand, 
the spines of others are often stiffened. 
Billy Graham

A hero is someone who has given his or her life to 
something bigger than oneself. 
Joseph Campbell

A hero is no braver than an ordinary man, 
but he is brave five minutes longer. 
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Who kept the faith and fought the fight; 
the glory theirs, the duty ours.
Wallace Bruce

Aspire rather to be a hero than merely appear one. 
Baltasar Gracian

So as you go into battle, remember your ancestors 
and remember your descendants.
 Publius Cornelius Tacitus

If our country is worth dying for in time of war, 
let us resolve that it is truly worth living for in time of peace. 
Hamilton Fish

It doesn't take a hero to order men into battle. It takes a hero
 to be one of those men who goes into battle. 
Norman Schwarzkopf

The brave die never, though they sleep in dust: 
their courage nerves a thousand living men.
Minot J. Savage

Peace to each manly soul that sleepeth; 
rest to each faithful eye that weepeth... 
Thomas Moore

The patriot's blood is the seed of Freedom's tree.
 Thomas Campbell

Cover them over with beautiful flowers, 
Deck them with garlands, those brothers of ours, 
Lying so silent by night and by day 
Sleeping the years of their manhood away. 
Give them the mead they have won in the past; 
Give them the honors their future forecast; 
Give them the chaplets they won in the strife; 
Give them the laurels they lost with their life.
Will Carleton

They hover as a cloud of witnesses above this Nation.
 Henry Ward Beecher

We come, not to mourn our dead soldiers, but to praise them. 
Francis A. Walker

Scripture teaches us that as bad as war is, and as great its distortion of God’s original intent for humankind, there is a time for it.  A wise king once wrote in Ecclesiastes 3:

There is a time for everything, 
and a season for every activity under the heavens: 
a time to be born and a time to die, 
a time to plant and a time to uproot, 
a time to kill and a time to heal, 
a time to tear down and a time to build, 
a time to weep and a time to laugh, 
a time to mourn and a time to dance, 
a time to tear and a time to mend, 
a time to be silent and a time to speak, 
a time to love and a time to hate, 
a time for war and a time for peace. 
I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. 
He has made everything beautiful in its time. 
King Solomon

In fact, there are things worth fighting for…worth dying for.  It is no accident that Jesus led the greatest battle ever fought against the dominion of darkness, sin and death, and willingly laid down his own life so that we could be truly free.  Sometimes battles must be fought, wars must be waged, and, yes, lives laid down.  This weekend, as we remember those who gave their lives up for us, let us resolve to not let their sacrifice be in vain.  And let us be reminded that as costly a price as Jesus paid for our liberty, it is trampled afoot if we choose not to accept His grace and follow our truest Hero.       

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Power of Words (quotes from this article adapted from other sources)

A wise king once wrote: “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” It seems a direct contradiction to a perhaps more familiar proverb which says, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”  Oh, really?  Words don’t hurt?  Try telling that to the families of children who have been bullied into isolation, depression, even suicide.  In fact, words are very powerful and carry with them the potential to render great harm or good to the recipient. 

I once had the misfortune of squandering an entire semester in an English Lit class, simply because of poor choices to procrastinate and avoid reading the material. The result: failing a college English course in my sophomore year—and English was my minor!  As a junior, I transferred to a new school, retook the course I had failed, and met a new teacher.  Personally, I struggled with whether or not I was really as unintelligent as getting an F would normally suggest. You can imagine the shock when I got back my first paper in my new class with a big red A atop the page and this simple comment from my new prof:  “Your superior talent is quite evident.”  In six simple words, I shed my shame of being a loser to really believing something was working upstairs after all.  I never forgot it, aced the class, and went on to teach English for ten years upon graduating from college.

Do words matter?  Consider the thoughts of greater minds than mine…

Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. -Jesus

Half the world is composed of people who have something to say and can't, and the other half who have nothing to say and keep on saying it. -Robert Frost

There are two types who say very little: the quiet type and the gabby type. -Unknown

Wise men talk because they have something to say; fools, because they have to say something.

Do not be quick with your mouth; do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.  As a dream comes when there are many cares, so the speech of a fool when there are many words. Much dreaming and many words are meaningless. Therefore stand in awe of God. -King Solomon

Most conversations are simply monologues delivered in the presence of a witness. -Margaret Millar

Women speak because they wish to speak, whereas a man speaks only when driven to speech by something outside himself; like, for instance, he can't find any clean socks. -Jean Kerr

After all is said and done, more is said than done. -Unknown

The words we say will teach if we practice what we preach. -Unknown

When you are arguing with a fool, make sure he isn't doing the same thing. -Unknown

If it takes a lot of words to say what you have in mind - give it more thought. -Dennis Roth

The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug. -Mark Twain

Don't speak unless you can improve on the silence. -Spanish Proverb

Never miss a good chance to shut up. -Will Rogers

Don't use words too big for the subject. Don't say "infinitely" when you mean "very"; otherwise you'll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite. -C.S. Lewis

Man does not live by words alone, despite the fact that sometimes he has to eat them. 
-Adlai Stevenson

One half the troubles in this life can be traced to saying yes too quickly and not saying no soon enough. -Josh Billings

If you think little of a person, you ought to say as little as you think. -Benjamin Franklin

The bitterest tears shed over graves are for words left unsaid and deeds left undone. 
-Harriet Beecher Stowe

Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man. -Colossians 4:6

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer. -Ps. 19:14

Couldn’t have said it better myself.  Speak life into those around you today.  You never know when it just might be a lifeline. 


Wednesday, April 29, 2015

You say tomato...

Ah, the beauty of the human race.  Like snowflakes, God has not made one of us a copy of another.  And like an inexhaustible catalog, it was His design that we come in all shapes and sizes, different colors and temperaments. It’s what makes clunking around on this planet together so challenging and yet, at the same time, so rich and rewarding.

But how much energy is devoted to trying to persuade others to be like us—think like us, feel like us, to like what we like and hate what we hate.  If you don’t agree, just try listening to 10 minutes of most talk shows (there’s a reason they’re not called listen shows).  It’s “I think blah, blah this and blah, blah that.” Unfortunately this pursuit of group think is not restricted to the world out there…you know, the secular world of education, politics, and entertainment.  It can also be found rearing its ugly head smack dab in the middle of the body of Christ.

One of our core values in the worship and arts ministry of our church is pretty simple: Celebrate diversity. Just two words.  One a verb, an action word.  The other a noun, a person, place or thing. Put them together and they give us a compelling, God-pleasing formula for building up the body of Christ through the arts.  For the purposes of this article, let’s limit our focus to style rather than substance. No one is advocating a watering down of systematic, Biblical theology to accommodate alternatives to orthodox Christianity. Jesus never proposed an expansive highway leading to His kingdom but rather a narrow path.

But in our life together as God’s people, in what areas might we celebrate our diversity? Start with the word celebrate. It suggests an act of intentional affirmation, to hold up or play up in a public way, to honor or value in a deliberate way. What it does not imply is tolerating or observing in a token, even patronizing way. It is, as we have said, intentional, deliberate, positive, and public.

Then there’s the current cultural buzzword: diversity.  Try obtaining a corporate or educational grant these days without a boatload of evidence that you are culturally diverse, and you may as well try to convert the pope.  But how does one define diversity?  I know the government must have a definition.  But what is helpful in constructing a ministry which reflects the heart and mind of God? 

Paul writes to the church at Corinth: “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit.  There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord.  There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all people.” (1 Corinthians 12:4-6)  Our first clue as to what will characterize a healthy church is that it recognizes and allows differences.  God isn’t into cloning.  He likes originals, not copies.  In musical terms, He knew unison gets old, so He created harmony. 

So what are some examples of diversity in the church which we should be witnessing to celebrate the diverse nature of God?  Start with the obvious in the contemporary church in America.  How about different styles? I remember the days when what separated us from the church down the block was mainly doctrine.  Today, we have created niche churches to appeal to a plethora of style preferences. 

A recent church sign I passed actually bragged “We Still Sing the Good Ol’ Hymns.”  So who is right? The traditionalists or the contemporaries?  The Bible actually mentions very little about the “how-to’s” of corporate worship, choosing to use descriptive language rather than definitive.  Check out Psalm 150, I Corinthians 14: 26ff, Ephesians 5:19-21, and so on.  Paul’s summary statement that “there are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all people” suggests that God can actually be expressed through more than one style or language.  We needn’t fight over it or form new fellowships around it.

Other forms of diversity in the body which can find expression through the arts:

·         cultural history (also usually associated with musical styles)
·         how we dress (Before you complain about the casual dress of the contemporary          
      church, don’t   forget how upset your grandma got when you stopped wearing hats 
      and suits to worship.)
·         different types of instrumentation (Do you know that when the organ was first 
      introduced to the church in Europe, it was considered a godless, secular instrument?  
      So also, the drums, guitar, keyboards in our day)
·         use of the body in worship (clappers, hand-raisers, kneelers, those who prefer a more 
      stoic, if not statue-like aspect)
·         expressions which speak more to the thinker 
·         ditto for the feeler
·         people who like to sing
·         people whose gift to the world is not to sing
·         artsy types who love pushing the envelope
·         traditionalists who get nervous when everything appears to be changing
·         the lovers of the loud
·         the root-ers of the reverent
·         and on and on it goes.

Can we begin to hold a big enough view of God and a loving enough attitude toward one another that we actually can celebrate our differences.  It will say to the world that the God, in whose image we are made, has many facets to His beauty, and we who reflect His glory desperately need each other.  At the end of the day, if I say tomato and you say to-mah-to, let’s just keep listening to each other.  The world has enough talk shows.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Come together right now…over Me

Years ago, I sat in my father’s living room, listening to him as he faced the final days of his life.  I remember struggling for words to comfort him as he grieved the loss of his health, two wives, his ministry, his self-reliance, and worst of all—the vitality of his faith. After listening to him for several hours, I chose to read a portion of Psalm 71 to him:

I will come and proclaim your mighty acts, Sovereign LORD; 
I will proclaim your righteous deeds, yours alone. 
Since my youth, God, you have taught me, 
and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds. 
Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, my God,
 till I declare your power to the next generation, 
your mighty acts to all who are to come. 
Psalm 71:16-18

Note the irony.  Here I was, the “next generation”, declaring to my dad (the previous generation) the mighty acts of God.  And in my mind, turnabout was fair play.  I can’t count the number of times in my life he had instructed me in the faith, encouraged me to trust God, and to trust Him fully with the uncertainty of my future.  It only seemed fitting in his last days for me to remind him of what he had taught me.  It was a “passing of the baton” moment, but it also served to remind me that God’s Word is equally powerful and applicable for all generations.  But in order for each generation to encourage the other along the way, I believe we need to pursue a common life—at least on some level.  In other words, we can’t always separate into generational groups and still hope to learn from one another.  Unfortunately, this is exactly what’s happening in many churches across our land.

The way of the world is to isolate or group according to affinity, interest or demographics.  Add to that our consumer driven culture and “have it your way” mentality, and we find many churches caving to this pattern and allowing Sunday morning to appeal to a very narrow demographic.  Many local bodies of Christ have basically given up trying to do anything intergenerational, especially worship, charting one of two courses instead:  
1) narrow the target to a particular age group or segment of our society or 2) serve up a smorgasbord of worship styles on campus each weekend, allowing attendees to pick and choose based on personal preference.

At Hope, are asking if this is not another example of letting the world squeeze us into its own mold (Rom 12:1, 2).  Let’s be clear.  There is nothing wrong with individuality and organizing around common interests…nothing, that is, until it begins to contradict your basic message of love and unity.  So have your golf tournaments, your youth retreats, your MOPS groups or Empty Nesters community.  It’s all good.  But also remember the power of a love that transcends common interests, ages, or styles.  Jesus told us exactly how the world would know that He had come—that we have (genuine) love for one another.  How does that love happen?  Not without dialogue.  Not without understanding or empathy.  And not, on occasion, without compromise.

It reminds me of the old Beatles song “Come Together.”  All kinds of theories exist out there over the real meaning of that’s song’s message, but the hook line has stayed with me to this day:  Come together, right now, over me.  What if we received that as God’s deep desire for His church related to its corporate worship life.  “Come together (My beloved), right now (don’t put it off), over Me (remember, worship is about Me first).”

In the worship community, we have a unique opportunity to lead the charge on this vision.  Each week we are entrusted with the privilege and chance to help lead God’s people in the most unifying (potentially, at least) event of their week.  We don’t all dress alike, listen to the same music, have the same amount of education or income, attend the same movies or prefer the same political candidates.  But worship is that one experience which is supposed to center us on the One in whose very image each of us has been made and for whose very glory we have been created. 

Think about that: each of us—young and old alike, Republicans and Democrats, rich and poor, black and white, sick and well, technical wizards and technical illiterates, has been made to reflect God. Jesus called us the very salt of the earth, the light of the world.  Can you think of a better way to be reminded of that than to engage in a regular activity which celebrates what we share in common, not what distinguishes us? 

Want a big dream? Then imagine Hope church being known as a place where all generations worship together, demonstrate a growing love for each other and an increasing respect for one another’s life view.  It’s part of the vision of Hope’s staff and elders for all of us to begin living out a more common life together as a witness to others.  It’s definitely not the way of the world.  But it is, we truly believe, the way of the Word.  Hope each of you will join us on this adventure.


Thursday, April 16, 2015

Light or Heat

A Mother was preparing pancakes for her sons, 5-year-old Kevin and 3-year-old Ryan. The boys began to argue over who would get the first pancake. Their mother saw an opportunity for a moral lesson.  She said, "If Jesus were sitting here, He would say, 
'Let my brother have the first pancake, I can wait.'  Kevin turned to his younger brother and said, "Ryan, you be Jesus!"

Whether you are Kevin or Ryan in this story, one thing will always be true.  Someone needs to be Jesus! The world has grown quite acquainted with the fallen version of humanity—the first Adam, to use a theological concept. What they desperately need to meet is the last Adam, Jesus, to hear what he has to say, and experience His supernatural love.

The apostle Paul describes him like this in 1 Corinthians 15: The first man, Adam, 
became a living person. But the last Adam—that is, Christ—is a life-giving Spirit.  
And just what did this “last Adam” have to say to us who represent him? Among other things, this:

“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”  Matthew 5:14-16

If we are to be candles for Christ in this increasingly darkening culture, I would propose our witness be characterized more by light than heat.  Said another way, I believe those seeking an encounter with the divine are more likely to be drawn to Jesus by a loving, Christ-like example than through the friction of a heated argument, in which we seek to defend Him. This is not an original idea.  Consider a few quotes:

"My position is that I write songs, I'm in a band and I just hope that when it's all over for U2, that in some way we made the light a bit brighter. Maybe just tear off a corner of the darkness."   - Bono

“It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.”   - Joseph Conrad

"To be a witness does not consist in engaging in propaganda, nor even in stirring people up, but in being a living mystery. It means to live in such a way that one's life would not make sense if God did not exist.”  - Madeleine L'Engle

“Being salt and light demands two things: we practice purity in the midst of a fallen world and yet we live in proximity to this fallen world. If you don't hold up both truths in tension, you invariably become useless and separated from the world God loves.” - David Kinnaman

And finally, from the famous theologian Charles Schulz:

Jesus approach to converting people from one ideology to another was not through confrontation or coercion, but by being compelling, and this was mainly achieved by radical, inexplicable love.  Sure, he put the religious super-saints in their place repeatedly, even befuddled a rich young ruler…because he saw their hearts.  He knew they had no intention of changing their point of view and following him.  But until you and I are supernaturally gifted to see inside a person to discern their true motivations, 
much less destinations, we probably would do best to err on the side of humbly seeking to listen to, love and serve those outside the faith who are inside our reach.  Not saying we should never challenge, enlighten, or even correct.  But like the original Light of the World, let’s lead with building a relationship first, and saving the heat for the appointed, appropriate time. My guess is that effective listening beats a swinging lunchbox every time.


Thursday, April 9, 2015

The Power of Forty

In 1932, the American psychologist Walter Pitkin published the self-help book Life Begins at Forty
Pitkin stated confidently: “Life begins at forty. This is the revolutionary outcome of our New Era. Today it is half a truth. Tomorrow it will be an axiom.” The fact is that prior to the turn of the 20th century, death usually began at forty. It wasn't until the early 1900’s that one’s life expectancy began to creep up into the 60’s and today is somewhere between 75 and 80 in most developed countries. Still the saying holds, since it suggests a natural period of time before life begins to make sense and one can begin to live a more informed and intentional life.

Actually, the number 40 has been significant long before Mr. Pitkin penned his book.  
In fact, the Bible seems to suggest an almost divine or supernatural significance to this number. It marks a period of completion or completeness. Do you realize how many times in the Bible God made major changes and transformations take place after the period of 40 something? Consider these:

•           It rained for 40 days and 40 nights when God wanted to cleanse the world and start over. (Gen 7:12)  And the rain was upon the earth forty days and forty nights.

•           Noah waited another 40 days after it rained before he opened a window in the Ark. (Gen 8:6) And it came to pass at the end of forty days, that Noah opened the window of the ark which he had made.

•           Moses was on the mountain with God for 40 days (TWICE). (Ex 24:18) And Moses went into the midst of the cloud, …and Moses was in the mount forty days and forty nights. (Ex 34:28-29) And he was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights; …and he wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the ten commandments.

•           It took the spies 40 days to search out the promised land and bring back fruit. 
            (Num 13:25) And they returned from searching of the land after forty days.

•           The Israelites spent 40 years in the wilderness, one year for each day they explored the Promised Land. (Ex. 16:35) And the children of Israel did eat manna forty years, until they came to a land inhabited; they did eat manna, until they came unto the borders of the land of Canaan.

•           Goliath intimidated God’s people for forty days before being killed by David. 
            (1 Sam. 17:16) For forty days, twice a day, morning and evening, the Philistine giant strutted in front of the Israelite army.

•           Elijah strengthened by one angelic meal went forty days to Mount Horeb where the Lord passed by and he heard the voice of God. (1 Kings 19:8) And he arose, 
            and did eat and drink, and went in the strength of that meat forty days and forty nights unto Horeb the mount of God.

•           Jonah warned the City of Nineveh they had 40 days until God would overthrow the city. The people repented in those 40 days and God spared the city. 
            (Jonah 3:4 and 10) And Jonah began to enter into the city a day's journey, 
            and he cried, and said, Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown. 
            And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not.

•           Jesus fasted for 40 days in the wilderness. (Mat 4:1-2) Then Jesus was led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was hungry afterward.

•           Jesus was seen in the earth 40 days after His crucifixion, before He sent the Holy Spirit. (Acts 1:3) After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.

With all the talk these days of “60 is the new 50” and “50 is the new 40”, it seems significant that the idea of “Life begins at forty” has still hung around. But maybe 
real change begins at 40” would be more accurate. At least our Maker seemed to think so.