Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Pause

Happy Thanksgiving!
I love this truly American holiday!
As a family tradition, we try hard to guard Thanksgiving. We try not to let Christmas drown out the importance of this special holiday.
So I thoroughly enjoy my self-appointed role of Thanksgiving Police - in that role, it is my duty to be sure that we do not begin Christmas celebrations until after the last Thursday in November.
We don't really break out the Christmas music until that time - although both kids have been practicing for an upcoming recital which means we are regaled almost daily with "The Little Drummer Boy", "The Twelve Days of Christmas", and "Jingle Bell Rock!".
We have amassed a fair collection of truly great classic Christmas Movies (meaning most are in Black & White). Though this collection is aging and most of the movies are on Video-cassette, we love to drag them out; however this is restricted to at least the week of Thanksgiving. I prefer that we wait until Thanksgiving to even break them out, but this year I noticed that (like in some previous years) some pair of smaller hands had located the Christmas stash and had already gone through them.
We also do not decorate before Thanksgiving. This week I visited a department in my organization that had, for some time now, already decorated their entire area with lighted wreaths and frosted paint on the glass surfaces. That's just too early for me, I think you greatly diminish the value of the decorations by leaving them up too long.
We sometimes wait until the almost-blasphemous date of December 10th to decorate.
Anyway, all this holding off on Christmas is about giving Thanksgiving it's proper due.
Our Thanksgiving Day Celebration today served as most of them do - as a time to pause.
At some point we pause and think about the things for which we are thankful.
Sometimes that pause may come in the cold, clean air of Thanksgiving morning - in the solitude before the rest of the family is awake.
Sometimes that pause will come as the family is seated at the table -or as is the case with my family- poised to leap into the chow line . . . but it is at that moment that we stop the whole business and someone returns thanks.
For some it will come in a very deliberate way as families set aside a specific time for a brief devotion during the day.
The point is that before we enter the frenzy that is the Christmas season for most of us ... we should all pause, regroup, relax, think, and be thankful.
Thanksgiving is a nationally declared day, set aside for just that purpose.
When treated properly, the day can result in something of a cleansing. An Ebenezer Scrooge-like renewal can take place, priorities can shift and return to their proper place, and a new strength can be discovered - all resulting from a return to gratefulness.
It truly is the pause that refreshes.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Higher View

Sunday last, the gentlman who facilitates our Sunday School class read this scripture:

The LORD spoke to me with His strong hand upon me, warning me not to follow the way of this people. He said:

"Do not call conspiracy, everything that these people call conspiracy;
do not fear what they fear and do not dread it.

The LORD almighty is the One you are to regard as holy,
He is the One you are to fear,
He is the One you are to dread." Isaiah 8:11-13 NIV

These days I tend to look at too many things through the prism of current events and geo-political thought.

So I thought about H1N1 and the media frenzy that has surrounded this malady.

I thought about how fear pushed this nation's political leadership into making panicky decisions last Fall concerning our nation's financial institutions.

I thought about the whole man-made global warning hoax and how people are driven to support it based on fear.

I thought about how our President singled out particular media sources and personalities indicating that they were not legitimate.

And I thought:

"What a great verse!"

I always like it when God agrees with me.

Or rather, when the thing that I believe just so happens to be in agreement with God's view.

Anyway, I had to keep going. I had to read beyond the first part of that scripture about what not to do and read on to see what we SHOULD do.

God said - "Fear Me. Consider Me only as Holy. Dread only Me."

You see the problem with my attitude is that while I do pretty good with the first part of the passage; I tend to fail pretty miserably with the second part.

I spend so much time and energy focusing on the "ways" of those we are to avoid, that I forget to focus on Christ.

He is the only One I should fear, dread and revere as Holy.

It's all about seeing our enemies in front of us and then shifting our focus above them. Suddenly the things that were in plain view will fade away as Christ fills my entire field of vision.

The Psalmist said, "I will look to the hills, from whence comes my help; my help comes from the Lord."

RePost of The Science of Thanksgiving.

I ran across this blog posting recently on the Science of Thanksgiving.

I think it is real neat when science backs up what God has already said:

"a merry heart does good like a medicine!"

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Fumbling with Opportunity

As I have mentioned in earlier posts, we are going through the book, " When Helping Hurts" by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert (Moody Publishers, Chicago, IL. 2009) in our Sunday School class and it has really challenged me.

Since starting this book, I have had two opportunities and I want to share my reactions with you as a means of displaying my own spiritual ineptness and as a means of moving further into the changes God is working out in me.

On two occasions recently I have been approached by someone asking for help.

I think I am fairly approachable and therefore an easy mark for panhandlers and the like. That's why my guard automatically goes up almost immediately when approached by strangers.

In both instances, the gentlemen were in "desperation" and needed money for "food". Both had intersting stories each flavored with the aroma of alcohol.

The first little man approached me in the corridor of the hospital in which I work. After explaining that someone was in the hospital and his wife had not eaten, he chattered on. He told me he was an alcoholic, I believe I understood him to say he was "dying with cancer" and he just wanted to buy some french fries for his wife.

Here's the battle that ensued: immediately the red warning lights went off and I knew there was a good chance that this person's story was not completely true - maybe untrue in the whole.

Then my thoughts went like this -

"do I have any money?". . .

"how much should I give - how much is enough to say 'I know you're lying but I am a Christian and this is what we do'?"

"Wait a minute! What would Jesus do? Think -THINK!"

"Oh I can't think - he keeps talking - what did he just say? Ooooo what should I do?!"

"What if someone sees me giving this guy money? Will they think I am just doing it so that I look like I'm holy?"

"AM I doing it just so I look holy?"

"Wait a minute - is there any way possible that God would want me NOT to help this guy?"

"No, but perhaps He would prefer me to truly HELP him - not just get rid of him ... that would mean 'engaging' with him. I don't even know where to start with that . . . what does that even look like?"

"Am I just trying to get rid of him as soon as possible?"

"of course."

Do you see what kind of junk goes on in my mind and all in a matter of panicked seconds?

On the first occasion, I did a mental inventory of my wallet and remembered that I was cash poor. I decided I would go with him to the hospital cafeteria, let him pick up some fries and if I didn't have enough cash, I could use my credit card.

I pointed him to the french fries and waited at the register for him to return. When he got into the check out line, his french fry necessity had grown exponentially - it now included soft drinks, chicken strips and other stuff.

The cashier, realizing what was going on, grabbed a "free meal voucher" and used it instead of requiring money from me.

The guy said he wouldn't forget me. . . that would have been a good time for me to insert something that might have pointed the glory to Christ - I do not know what I said, but I'm pretty sure I wasn't pointing any glory anywhere.

The second instance occurred last week as I was approached in the parking lot by a man who said he "knew I was a preacher" (I get that all the time), and he had walked in from a town about twenty miles away. He said he had spent the night on a porch and it was cold.

He wanted money "for Wendy's".

The same mental calisthenics continued in my head.

Since our office was having a meal that day, I told him to wait there and I would bring him a plate.

As I headed inside, I heard him approaching someone else. A little later when I emerged with a plate, he was no where to be found.

In both cases I found myself at a loss for dealing properly with a request for help. I felt sure that I should not give what they were asking for, but was at a loss for what I SHOULD do.

As I thought on that this morning, I felt something of a peace about it. God has me in a state of change and He has to break things up in order for me to truly be useful to His kingdom.

I am like an egg. Things are intact and neat - comfortable. Unfortunately, an egg is just not worth much until the shell is broken and what's inside plops out. The contents may be new life or it may be something that nourishes or adds flavor.

You just never know until things get all messy.

God's change is messy.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Francis Asbury

..."Upon the whole, I believe we were speaking about four hours besides nearly two hours spent in prayer."

That's an excerpt from the journal of Francis Asbury in January of 1790. I am reading his biography by L.C. Rudolph (1966 Abingdon Press).

I am pretty amazed at the spiritual- and physical stamina of this frontier circuit rider.

His horseback mileage amounted to around four to six thousand miles a year and he said that he seldom mounted his horse when he did not travel twenty miles or more.

Through rain and in muddy ruts, through creeks and rocky paths, Asbury traveled.

He followed the pattern set forth by the founder of Methodism, John Wesley, and the circuit system of evangelism grew what later become the Methodist church in America exponentially.

I have long been curious about these rough and ready gospel-teers for some time by that interest has grown in recent years.

My Granddad, who I have spoken of before in this forum, was a "street preacher" in the early to mid 1900's and his ilk was modeled after the circuit riders. He traveled throughout the Southeast - not on horseback - but in a Greyhound (bus) or a train or by thumb... but mostly on foot.

Granddad was part of a movement that strongly advocated people setting themselves apart to God. And he preached anywhere an audience would stop a moment and listen.

He stayed in the homes of folks that would have him; some of his "regular" hosts would arrange prayer meetings in their homes for him to address. Sometimes though, he slept in barns or in tents; he might wash out his white shirt in a nearby creek and leave it hanging on a bush to dry overnight, so that it would be cleaned - if not pressed- for services the next day.

These conditions were harsh by my standards but not nearly as destitute as the conditions faced by Asbury and his crowd.

There have been a couple of things that troubled me about Asbury - and Wesley too for that matter.

One, they were strong adherents to the statist, Anglican Church of England. State run religion is very foreign to me, I would have thought it to be foreign to these fundamentalist but it wasn't. In fact, neither Wesley nor Asbury were comfortable with non-Anglican clergy administering the Sacraments.

My second discomfort with these fellows is the fact that they were not pro-American during the Revolutionary War.

I marvel.

I have this romantic vision of folks like Wesley and Asbury jumping on board with the rebellion as soon as its initial fires were kindled. In fact, as the war heated up, Wesley returned to England and encouraged all his ministers to do the same.

Asbury was the only one that remained.

He became a leader - maybe even a father-figure to the young American preachers that had recently taken up the call.

He stayed because he had a love for the people of this country, or because God had locked him into his call. But he never did endorse the Revolution, in fact he was considered a Tory by many and wasn't to be trusted.

Yet when the War was over and the Methodists returned they found a much larger and stronger congregation. Their numbers in fact had about tripled.

This disconcerting feeling I have had toward Asbury and Wesley has made me think and perhaps it is teaching me something about how God uses people in various stages of their walk and people that believe some things that are quite different from my own beliefs.

This point was driven home a few weekends ago.

Our church had set aside a weekend for "blessing"various ministries in our town. So on a Saturday, a large number of folks descended upon those ministries armed with a willingness to help in some way.

R. and I thought it a great opportunity for us to get involved outside the "four walls" of a church - and some great exposure for our children. So we were assigned to a ministry that provides food, shelter, clothing and support to people in crisis situations ... single moms, the homeless, people underneath whom life has pulled out the rug.

We were assigned to a mountain of donated clothing. There was an intricate system of sorting: first by age (adult or children) and then by gender, then by season (cold or warm) and by positioning (top or bottom). Similar items were then folded and packed into boxes.

Those things that weren't needed immediately were taken to a storage facility in another part of town.

This was where the lesson was taught, because I was immediately let down.

You see I have pretty strong ideas about the role of Christians and the role of government. And I think (as you probably already know that the government is carving out too big of a piece of the pie when it comes to "helping" folks.

Yes, I was somewhat "let down when I saw that to be transported, the boxes of clothing were loaded into a van with a prominent "Obama" bumper sticker proudly displayed on the back.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Incompetence on Parade

Now that Nancy Pelosi and all but 39 Democrats have rammed the nearly 2,000 page Healthcare Reform bill down our throats- we can all rest easy and just await the Senate.

Trouble is, I just read on Saturday that under the House form of the bill, people who willfully "opt out" of the coverage (in other words people who do not purchase for the government's healthcare plan) can be jailed.

What a unique marketing strategy for the government to utilize as it jumps into the healthcare insurance industry.

I am sure if Blue-Cross, United, or any other insurance companies that provide health insurance had applied that strategy years ago, we wouldn't have the problems we have today.

I can hear the nifty slogans now that could be employed: "Your in GOOD HANDS with Allstate; without it your BEHIND BARS!"

Oh that's right, individual businesses do not have the power to force people to buy their products at the point of a gun. They have to compel people to purchase their product/services by offering value, true customer service at reasonable rates.

Ms. Pelosi, please explain to me again the part about how this is going to increase competition?

So in the original scenario which our President laid out and the bankruptcy-bound press propagated - 47 million Americans are uninsured.

Of that number it has been determined that a substantial portion are uninsured by choice. They are either self-insured or they choose not to purchase health-care insurance.

So we are saying now that of these 47 million, people that we are contemplating changing an industry (and about 1/6 of our economy) to help - a substantial portion of them will be jailed if they do not choose the government's benevolent healthcare plan???!??

That seems to be rather common for our government and it is the very reason that the government should be limited at best: In most cases, when government tries to help, the "Baby Huey" affect kicks in and it ends up making matters worse.

Now, perhaps I am getting all bent out of shape for no reason. Maybe in all that last minute deal making in an effort to buy off votes - this provision was stricken. Maybe I don't really have to worry about my cost of healthcare expanding drastically or the fact that my taxes and the taxes of my children will be over-burdening or that I might be jailed for deliberately not accepting the governments benevolent gift of health care.

But I don't know that because I have not read the bill.

How could I - if it was available at all, it was changing right down to the moments prior to passage.

It is the epitome of incompetence and every American should say so. We are NOT children.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

More Along the Way

Here are some random thoughts which have inspired, challenged or piqued my thinking over the past few days:

"Many heroes lived before ... but all are unknown and unwept, extinguished in everlasting night because they have no spirited chronicler" - Horace

  • We need "spirited chroniclers" to record the feats of heroes in these troubling times so that future generations can know the heroes that paved the way... if I cannot be heroic, may I -at least - become a spirited chronicler!

"God, Who is a worker, ordained work so that humans could worship Him through their work" - Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert in "When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor and Yourself"

  • God is a "worker". I love that!!! We resemble Him when we work and we can worship Him through our work! Think about that as you head off to the daily grind tomorrow.

"For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. Colossians 1:16 NKJV

  • Did you get that: by Him, through Him and for Him . . . . all things were created. He is the originator of all things good - every good idea anyone ever had was by Him; there is nothing that I can accomplish that isn't accomplished through Him (Jesus said -"without Me, you can do nothing"); the value of any accomplishment rests in whether or not it was attempted for Him.