Thursday, May 27, 2010

"Set a guard over my mouth..."

The Psalmist(Psalm 141) is praying for God's deliverance from evildoers (verse 9) and for his response to the pressures around him--including accepting the rebuke of a "righteous man" (verse 5)...not an easy thing to do.

But what gets my attention is verse 3, "Set a guard over my mouth, keep watch over the door of my lips".

I acknowledge in my life the need to be quiet, and to watch how I respond. There are multiple opportunities in a normal week to brag about how hard I work, to defend myself against the accusations of others, to cry out against someone who has hurt me, to complain about how I am being treated, etc.

But that is not my desire. I want to guard my mouth, watch my lips, and choose my words carefully.

And sometimes, choose to be quiet.


Tuesday, May 18, 2010

surveys and questionnaires

I often ask myself when wondering how to fill a volunteer gap or how to plan ahead for an event, “What about a survey and/or a questionnaire? Do they work? Do they get read? Are they returned? Are they informative?” To all of the above the answer would be appear to be a resounding “no!” They are seldom returned. So we are not informed and they obviously don’t work. Whether they are even read or not cannot be determined due to my woeful lack of omniscience.

Recently, I included an “Is there any way I can serve…?” bulletin insert. Not one was returned. We ran it again a week later and I received seven out of the three hundred printed and place in the weekly bulletin. For five months off and on we have been trying to compile a church e-mailing list. To date about 25-30 of our 250-300 families have provided the information we requested.

It probably sounds like I’m griping…but I’m not. I am wondering aloud why people don’t want to respond to a survey or fill our a questionnaire? The government has to hire a legion of census takers each year to go door-to-door based on the fact a significant number will not fill them out. They will either protest “I forgot”, “I lost it”, or, “It’s really none of your business…”

I am not sure which of these best describes my dilemma as a pastor. All I have, I argue with myself, is a legitimate “need to know”. So, where do I go from here?

Joab, a commander in David’s army, responded to the Ammonites who seized some of David’s men shaving them, and cutting “off their garments in the middle of their buttocks…”, and thus humiliating them. David was angry, and the Ammonites sensing this, gathered a large army together, along with the Arammeans, hemming in David’s forces in front and behind. Joab said, “Be strong and let us fight bravely for our people and the cities of God. The Lord will do what is good in His sight”. They won a great victory that day as the enemy fled before them—from both sides. Almost 50,000 were killed on that day! (Read I Chronicles 19) Not much strategy in those words, but a total reliance upon God.

“The Lord will do what is good in His sight”. I think that was a huge testament to Joab’s faith in the God who had proven Himself throughout Israel’s history. I am guessing I want to have better control of situations by seeking to fill in all the blanks, preparing for the exact circumstances, etc. That, in and of itself, is certainly not wrong, but it does reflect a tendency on my part to want to have better control of what is going on a round me. So a survey to fill the gaps or a questionnaire to help me prepare better gives me a better sense of what to expect…or not.

I have not sent out my last questionnaire nor have I inserted my last survey into a Sunday morning bulletin. But I am learning that God is in control, and though my information-gathering efforts may continue—with mixed results at best—in the end I must agree with Joab, “The Lord will do what is good in His sight”.

If you liked this devotional, please complete the following survey…just kidding!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

what can we be sure of?

I visited this afternoon with an elderly woman who was diagnosed 20 years ago with cancer. She has survived a number of surgeries with amazing resiliency and even though she is battling congestive heart failure, is still "alive and kicking"!

She told me the story of a young relative who was tragically killed in a work-related injury this week--not even forty years old. He was in good health and he and his wife were expecting their first child.

Of this seeming paradox, James writes,
"Now listen, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go do to this or that city'...why you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, 'If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that...'" 4:13-16

It is a matter of quiet confidence to know that our days are numbered. "the length of our days is seventy years--or eighty, if we have the strength; yet their span is but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass and we fly away". These words from the 90th Psalm really say we are uncertain about the length of our lives--but we know they will "quickly pass".

What is our response to this? Psalm 90:12 admonishes us "teach us to number our days aright that we may gain a heart of wisdom". The MESSAGE paraphrases it this way, " Oh! Teach us to live well! Teach us to live wisely and well!"

In a recent sermon I heard from John MacArthur he observed, "I don't what to live one day longer than God intends...or die one day sooner!"

Whatever we think about life and the extent of our days, we need to live wisely and well, because we do not know what tomorrow may bring...or if tomorrow will come. Whether 80 or 40, we must be ready for the moment God calls us, with the confidence we are ready to meet Him because we have exercised faith in what Christ has done for us. "For the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." Romans 6:23.

Friday, May 07, 2010

two buddies and breakfast

One of the things I value most in my life is my relationship with some long-time friends. I met with two of them for breakfast this morning and we spent most of the morning talking about our lives--mostly our stuff,and the fact that we had more than enough, and that we are committed to spending our lives wisely as we "round the final turn for home".

We have been influenced by the book, THE HOLE IN OUR GOSPEL, as well as our mutual concern for the spreading of the gospel to the spiritually and physically poor.

I had two eggs, hash browns, corn beef hash and an English muffin for breakfast, half of which I left on my plate. I have been thinking about the pure waste in that alone. Thankfully, one of my buddies paid for my my guilst is assuaged a little!

It is good to have two buddies like this--and a good breakfast in my belly. It reminds me how blessed I am...and how much more we can do with less stuff, a smaller breakfast, and a fully-committed heart for ministry!

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Living in a state of perpetual forgiveness...

"Be ye kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God, for Christ's sake has forgiven you", Ephesians 4:32.

At a recent prayer meeting at our church a young woman prayed aloud that couples would learn to live with a forgiving spirit towards one another. What a great idea! And there is a scriptural basis for it--Ephesians 4:32, which states that Jesus lives in a perpetual state of forgiveness with us--knowing our sins and failures--and still loves us. We are instructed to treat one another similarly.

What's the problem in marriage? Why can't we "just get along?" A critical issue is unrealistic expectations and non-existent grace. I have spent hundreds of hours in marital counseling and when adultery and physical abuse are not the issues, more often than not, the point of contention is unresolved conflict, i.e. unkind words spoken, an angry exchange, a misunderstanding, an unkept promise, etc. These mushroom into a mountain of misery and a seemingly insurmountable obstacle when unaddressed over time.

What if we lived in a perpetual state of forgiveness with one another? The foundation for that would be acknowledging that is how Christ lives with us and what He calls us to do with one another. How would that work? I am offended, hurt, ignored--I say in my heart, "I can forgive him for that because I knwo he is not eprfect and I know that he loves me." And he responds, "I can't believe she responded that way; she must love me. No wonder I love her so much. I need to do better!" There is a contagious affect when we live this way.

For the skeptics out there who find this suggestion pollyannish and idealistic, let me confrim your worst suspicions. You are right! This flies in the face of conventional human wisdom and is humanly impossible.

It is only possible through the God who forgives us and enables us to forgive others as He has forgiven us. Isn't it worth a try?