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July 27

Tuesday, July 27th, 2021

For the past couple of years I have often thought that if I was to ever start a church (which I have no desire to do), I would call it “Second Chance Church.” I know. Even as I write that it sounds a bit cheesy. Corny. But please hear me out.

Having been a pastor for close to 50 years, I have seen many broken lives. Train wrecks. Twisted beyond recognition. Mangled. Messed up. Even hopeless (as in giving up). I will even admit to being close to that feeling a time or two myself.

Getting broadsided in my car- as I was recently- does not carry the same picture of a car wrecked so badly it is unrecognizable and the “jaws of life” have to be used. There are some people whose lives are dented, smashed into, even put on the shelf temporarily. Then there are those whose lives are truly a disaster. Addiction. Poor choices. Loose morals. Alone. Destitute.

No matter which…we all need second chances (in some cases third, fourth and fifth). One of the biggest roadblocks to that second chance is shame. I want to be able to help people get past shame. I want them to realize there are always second chances. Shame doesn’t have to hang around and keep us where we are; God wants to take us “onward and upward” (to borrow C.S. Lewis’ words in the Chronicles of Narnia).

Second Chance Church. Sounds like a great name. But even without that name, that is exactly what a church should be about.

“Father, my life is a testimony to second chances. May I be your church here on earth offering that to others in Your Name.”

July 12

Monday, July 12th, 2021

Back in the ’80s I saw a movie that I haven’t been able to forget the main point.  It was about a young man who wanted to serve God but always saw himself doing it on a “big screen.” I don’t mean the “big screen” as in movies, but in doing big things. Like a big evangelist preaching to thousands (think Billy Graham big). The crux of the movie is that he realizes that to serve God and make an impact does not always mean b-i-g.

I’m not sure of the movie title (although I think I know it) so I’d rather not say it here. But I’ve never forgotten the premise of the movie.

A lot of Christ-followers think they have to do big things for God. They seem to always be scheming for their “next big venture.”

Two things seem to happen there. One, they keep striving for that big thing, and two, others feel inferior because what they do for Jesus seems so small. The Bible says we are all gifted differently. Some are gifted with those “up front” gifts, while others are gifted with more of a “behind the scenes” one. When it all shakes out, every gift is just as important. Go look at I Cor. 12 if you doubt that.

Long story short: we are all necessary. God’s kingdom and God’s work are not limited to the “biggies” and those up front. Where would the main actors be without the make-up artists, the stagehands, etc?  I have gone to several plays and shows where the props were moved by all those involved. Where would the pitcher who throws a no-hitter be without the other 8 players? That speaks volumes (or should) to the pastor, missionary, or Christ-follower who thinks its all about him.

“Father, help me to realize living for You and serving You is not a one-man team. It is a total effort of all involved.  Help me not to get too big for my britches.”

May 18

Tuesday, May 18th, 2021

In my journey though the NT, I cracked open Ephesians this morning. I know Ephesians is filled with good stuff since I have read through it countless times. But the prayer Paul prays in chapter 1 has always “hit” me- even more this morning. I think it might be because the elders of the church here made a commitment to pray for the people of OVCF.  So each morning (except for weekends) I pray for a certain group of people for a month. We are on our second way through the directory as I write.

Anyway, Paul prays for the Ephesians (verses 15-23). Broken down here is what he prays for:

  1. He thanks God continually for them.
  2. He prays for them to be given spiritual wisdom and insight so they might grow.
  3. He prays for their hearts to be flooded with light (enlightened) so they can understand the hope they have been given.
  4. He prays they will understand the greatness of God’s power. Jesus was raised from the dead and is seated at God’s right hand.
  5. (My summation): He prays they will understand God’s authority in all creation, especially His church.

Paul’s concern is more than “God bless them today” or “God be with them.” To run the race and finish well we have to go deeper.  And Paul challenges me to pray that way for others.

Why not join me in praying “deeper” for people.

“Father, may I see Paul’s guidance in prayer. May I pray more ‘meaty’ prayers for the people I pray for. May their faith-and mine- grow as they are prayed for.”

May 17

Monday, May 17th, 2021

I have been slowly reading Paul David Tripp’s book called Leadership. When I say slowly, I mean slowly. It is not one to bust through. I have read a chapter and had to stop. Sometimes for weeks. The latest has probably been a month.  Recently I read the following:

There is no doubt about it: servanthood is the thematic biblical description of every follower of Jesus Christ. How much more, then, is it true of those who are called to be leaders? (p.140)

But then a bit later he wrote this gem:

“Hypercritical theological arrogance is not the fruit of a servant’s heart. Looking for people to troll on Twitter is not what occupies the heart of a servant. Pride of accomplishment contradicts servant humility. Disrespect of the vital gifts of women to the health of the body of Christ fails to mirror the servant heart of Jesus. Treating your church or ministry as if it belong to you denies your servant calling. Resistance in the face of the loving advice, concern, watchfulness, and rebuke of fellow leaders is resistance against your servant position. Exercising your leadership position in a way that is more political than pastoral does not flow from a servant’s heart. Treating staff members as if they are there for you rather than together with you serving the Lord happens when you forget your servant calling. Any dismissive, disrespectful, impatient, angry, bullying behavior is a failure to joyfully embrace the lifestyle of a servant. Ministry leadership conversations that are regularly marked by complaint are the fruit of entitlement, not servanthood. To get mad at little ministry inconveniences when we have been called to follow our Savior in His suffering, demonstrates how easy it is to drift away from what our Master has called us to be and do. ” (pp.141-142)

I know that is a lot to take in.  Now you can see why I wrote about why I’m slowly reading this book. I know many of my readers are not pastors or “people in professional ministry.”  If you have been mistreated, bullied, or taken for granted, I am sorry.  I know I have done just that in the past.  I wish I could do a traveling “forgiveness show” and go back to all the churches and tell them I’m sorry for not being a servant. But I can’t. But I CAN change now.

Perhaps you can as well. Professional or not. We are all servants, not here for ourselves, but for others.

“Father, help me to be a servant. As I struggle with that, help me to change.”

April 16

Friday, April 16th, 2021

One of the phrases we heard a lot of during the pandemic -ad infinitum, ad nauseum- was “we’re in this together.” I know. I know. It was supposed to be true. And yes, I know what it was supposed to mean.

But if I want to be cynical (Who me?) I would say this: if we were supposed to be in this together, why was 2020 a year of unrest and riots and upheaval and hate speech and vitriol? We may have been going through the scourge of the pandemic together, but we weren’t really together.

But I digress. The point I really want to get to is found in I Cor.12: 22-26. Take a moment, please, to read it. Several points stand out to me:

  1. Those who think they are the most important very often are not.
  2. We need to take special note of those who seem less important. I’ll call them the “behind the scenes” people.
  3. A real “in this together” body laughs and cries together. They experience life together.

This pandemic has done several things to the church. One has been to separate people. The church is a body, uniquely put together and made up of different people. We were designed to need each other and no amount of zoom meetings, or even cards or phone calls, can take the place of personal, in-person contact. I’m not delusional enough to think all will come back-at least not right away.  Maybe never. But when we do and when we do see each other I pray we will “honor” each other; know our place, and laugh and cry with each other.

I don’t think that’s asking too much. Do you?

“Father, may Your body- the church-truly be an example of being in this together.”

March 26

Friday, March 26th, 2021

If there is one word which has reached epic proportions today in weight it is “tolerance.” Although most often not in a good way. I have said over and over: “Those who want and preach tolerance become the most intolerant of all when you disagree with them.”

Today, intolerance has become the worst sin in the world’s eyes and tolerance the highest good (if and only if you agree with them). To be principled or to have informed moral convictions is to be declared intolerant, out of touch, and above all, mean-spirited. Those who are “tolerant,” those who will tolerate anything and everything, take the high moral ground. And please! Don’t disagree with them! You become an intolerant bigot.

In the OT there is a great story and a great illustration to this whole mess. It is in Numbers 25.  Thanks to Balaam’s word to Balak, the people of Israel began to intermingle and intermarry with the Midianite women. This resulted in the acceptance of and worship of foreign gods, particularly Baal. One incident stands out.  God is extremely angry and Moses is confronting the people and many of them are in repenting of their sin. Zimri comes into the midst of the people repenting and takes a foreign women into the tabernacle and lays with her.

The scene is shocking to say the least. But when Phinehas, a grandson of Aaron sees what is happening, he goes into the tabernacle, and filled with the Holy Spirit and holy outrage, kills them both with a spear through their belly. J.B. Phillips once said, “It’s not for nothing that the Spirit God has given to us is called the Holy Spirit.

If that happened today, there would be outrage. It wouldn’t be holy and it wouldn’t be for God’s cause. People would be outraged that Phinehas stood up for a righteous and holy God. He would have been cancelled or black-balled or bullied (or all three) because he dared to take a stand for what he believed to be right. I’d say it is time for the church- pastors, leaders, and individuals- to stand up for the truth and righteousness. To be called “intolerant” just very well might a badge of honor worth wearing.

“Father, like Phinehas help me to take a stand for the righteous and holy God You are. Help me not be concerned about  the consequences but to be willing to stand for You.”

March 19

Friday, March 19th, 2021

I read a funny illustration the other day. This Huey Cobra helicopter, practicing auto rotations during a military night-training exercise, landed on its tail rotor, separating the tail boom from the rest of the aircraft. Fortunately, the aircraft wound up on it skids, sliding down the runway doing 360s in a shower of sparks. As the Cobra passed the tower, the following exchange occurred:

  • Tower: “Sir, do you need assistance?”
  • Cobra: “I don’t know, tower. I ain’t done crashin’ yet!”

I chuckled.

We would say that training flight was a failure. But was it really? The pilot would probably not make the same mistake again. The testers would know what went wrong and would do all they could to fix it, especially if it was mechanical.

We often have this crazy idea that people-leaders especially-need to be near perfection. We know that can’t be because no one fits that bill. Mistakes and failures are part and parcel of life.

But imagine if you will an application for a job. Skills: offending people. Philosophy of life: the way up is the way down. Life goal: give my life away. Would you hire that person? Probably not. We want confident go-getters as our leaders.

And, of course, I don’t need to tell you that you turned down Jesus to be your leader for the job.

Jesus doesn’t equate leadership with lordship. Always being right. Getting to the head of the class. Doing the better job. Knowing exactly what step to take next. Jesus equates leadership with servanthood.

Some leaders need to fall off their pedestal: self-made or others-made. Jesus had trouble with the Pharisees not the outcasts.  Maybe it’s time for us to look down for leaders instead of craning our necks to look up.

“Father, help me to see people as you see them. Help me to be a leader who chooses to be a servant not a ‘lord.’  And oh yeah…help me to learn from my mistakes.”

March 8

Monday, March 8th, 2021

Yesterday was the first Sunday of the month. During the pandemic there were a certain group of folks who refused to come to the corporate worship of the church (or anywhere else for that matter) where masks were not required. I respect their decision even though it is not mine. After almost 9 months of distance and finally dialogue, we decided to offer a masked service the fist Sunday of the month. The only caveat was those who attended must wear a mask. Our first service brought 16 people (counting me and Jo) and each subsequent month has been about the same. We missed one month because of being virtual for 3 weeks due to Covid. So on a day like yesterday, I take part in three church services.

This third one is abbreviated since we have no singing. Announcements. Prayer time. Communion. Sermon. Since we offer communion at each service (every week) and I was the one who gave the communion thought/meditation, I had to guard against going through the motions.

That’s easy to do, you know? Going through the motions.  It is so easy for that to become rote. Just “doing church” by habit rather than by allowing the Spirit to move within me. But it isn’t just communion! No, it’s just about everything: Singing. Giving. Listening. Even greeting one another can be perfunctory. No heart. No soul. No closeness.

“Doing church” is a problem we all face. Programs and policies take precedence and begin to take on a life of their own. I’m thinking of Jesus in the Temple with the sellers who took advantage of the pilgrims who ventured to Jerusalem for the Passover and to offer a sacrifice at the Temple. Jesus was livid. A total disregard for the people was something that got “under His skin.”

We can get the same way. Being in worship is no longer about meeting God but “getting it right” and “fulfilling my duty.” Shame on us when we can enjoy the sweetest of all relationships: experiencing a oneness with the Father.

“Father, forgive me when I place meeting with You in the ‘gotta do’ department. Help me to not allow worship become a ‘do church’ thing. Please help it to come alive where I sense Your Presence in my worship.”

March 4

Thursday, March 4th, 2021

Several years ago-around 2006/2007-I read a book which changed my perspective on people. More specifically, on how I saw people and reached out to them.

In retrospect, I have always “prided” myself in accepting people as they were. You know, like the old song says, “Just as I am without one plea…” My thinking was if God could accept me as I am/was then surely I could do the same. And I thought I did. But I was stopped in my tracks and forced to reevaluate my ways and actions.

The book was NO Perfect People Allowed by John Burke, a pastor of a church in Austin, TX. And while I now realize some of it was the attractional church message, some of it was on the money. People can’t be expected to change before accepting the Gospel message.

Jesus never did that. He didn’t tell the woman at the well to get her act together, leave her current live in, before He would talk with her and give her hope. He didn’t tell the woman caught in adultery to “Repent sinner!” before He came to her defense and then sent her away a free and forgiven woman. He went to Zacchaeus’ house to eat without demanding a life change. That came after his encounter with Jesus. The same goes for all He came in contact with (except maybe the arrogant, self-righteous Pharisees).

No, when Jesus exhibited “Come as you are” it was genuine and sincere. Can I do any less? Do I expect people to change first or do I accept and let God change them? The latter is preferable.

“Father, You accepted me as I was and am. Can I do any less? Please teach me and help me to do as You have done for me and countless others.”

February 10

Wednesday, February 10th, 2021

As I think ahead to Sunday, I can’t help but reflect on what I read and what I’m going to preach about. Sunday’s sermon is about worship. It is about religion revisited but its focus will be on worship. I’ll be talking about the purpose of worship-is it for me/us or is it for Him? Is it for my/our pleasure or is it to honor and adore Him?

You see, the American church finds itself in a dilemma. We have become so much of a touchy-feely church (what  makes me feel good and happy) that we have lost sight of why we worship. No? Why then do we ask ourselves or tell ourselves, “Well, I didn’t get anything out of that today.” Granted, there are churches which are dead and empty and talk a lot and say nothing. Vacate them. But on the other hand, if all we do when we get together is wonder what we are getting out of it, then we are worshiping for the wrong reason. In fact, maybe I ought to say we are worshiping the wrong person.

Keep this in mind: God inhabits the praise of His people. When we-either collectively or individually-worship Him with heartfelt praise, He is honored and finds a welcome home in our hearts. The celebration of Who He is should be uppermost in our minds and hearts. Let’s stop asking, “What did I get out of this?” but instead start asking, “What does God think? Did I give Him praise? Did I give Him proper honor and adoration?” That is guaranteed to change our perspective toward worship.

“Father, You are to be my focus of worship, not me. It does not and should not matter what I got out of it. It should be what did I give You.”