Monday, November 29, 2004

Consumed With Consumerism

Once there was a man, or a woman, or a child who made a long, long Christmas list! I want …, I need…, I saw…, My friends have … began the lines of desire that filled the college-ruled notebook sheet. When Christmas morning came, it was all there! Every request, regardless of value, was under the tree, waiting for its turn to be unwrapped and used! Everything!

The man, or woman, or child said, “Cool! I got everything I wanted! I’m going to have to clear out some closet space for all my new stuff! I might even have a garage sale to see if any poor people want the toys/tools/trinkets that I got last year! Now I can eat, drink and, finally, I can be happy!

What if, on the day after Christmas, we hear this the trumpet call of God, and the voice of the archangel announces that the return of Jesus has come? What will he say to us about how we’ve spent the weeks between Thanksgiving and December 25? What will he say you about what you thought about the things that were or were not under your tree? We certainly don’t want him to call us fools!

If you don’t want to come across as foolish, keep in mind what Jesus said before he told the Parable of the Rich Fool, “Life is not about the things that you possess” (Luke 12:15). Maybe those words will help us resist the temptation to become consumed with consumerism. Maybe this year we won’t spend ourselves into the slavery of debt. Maybe this year our families and friends will see real life at work in us, and Jesus will say, “Good, job you faithful and wise servant!” That’s Life at Work!

Monday, November 22, 2004

Give Thanks in All Circumstances

“Give Thanks In All Circumstances, For This Is God’s Will For You” (1 Thessalonians 5:18)

This Thanksgiving season, be attentive to the need to express and share an attitude of gratitude. You’ll have to be vigilant. Thanksgiving certainly hasn’t been commercialized like some of the other holidays, but the theme is often neglected. Maybe the theme has been neglected when the paramedics who have been called because you are lethargic find that you have a “gravy blood level” of eighty percent. It is a good thing to be grateful for overflowing food, football, and early bird specials at the Thanksgiving sales, but there are many other things for which we should express our thanks. Here are two things I really want to encourage you to do in Thanksgiving: (1) Pray a lot - more often than before the major meal. Seriously, commit to praying when you first are up and around; before you go to bed; when you find that you are all in the same room; when you’ve heard someone express a concern about something. Go ahead and pray alone if you are by yourself or together if you are with family. (2) Tell other people some of the stories you have that give reason to be thankful. The people around you, especially the children around you, need to know the stories about God blessing you so that they are more aware of the array of blessings they have.

Can you do those things for the remainder of the week? Pray more than you’ve ever prayed in a four day period. Tell the stories that build an attitude of gratitude in the people who spend some time with you this Thanksgiving. That’s Life at Work!

Thursday, November 18, 2004

The People We Meet

It was like Saul/Paul used the death of Stephen as the catalyst to destroy the church. He went on a rampage, conducting a house to house search for disciples so he could drag them to prison. He led the way, but he wasn’t the only one out to persecute the disciples. Though the apostles stayed, many of the Christians in Jerusalem got outta Dodge.

Still, they didn’t leave just to survive. One thing they learned watching Peter, John, the rest of the Apostles, and Stephen – don’t forget Stephen – was that people need to hear about Jesus. They scattered with hearts full of good things and the saying of Jesus came true in their lives, “Words from your mouth are the overflow of your heart” (Matt 12:34).

Philip’s heart was overflowing. Luke tells the story about Philip’s preaching in Samaria and along a lonely road. We learn a lot from Luke’s account of Philip’s travels, including the kind of people that we are likely to encounter as we live and allow the overflow of our hearts reveal what Jesus has done for us.

You will encounter people who have a need that you can help meet, and who pay attention to what you say because they see power working through you. You may help them overcome defeat from sickness, financial struggle, family breakdown, lonely times, emotional crash, tough temptation, or moral failure. Because you care, and because you can help them, they listen with softened hearts to the words about Jesus that come from your mouth.

You will encounter people who have a hard time renewing their minds. When we’ve been brought up in a particular way, when we’ve lived by the same code for a long time, it is hard to change. Even when people really want to change, it is hard. If a man has lived his life for the attention of others because that attention brought power and wealth, it is hard to shake that drive for attention. You will likely say things like “With God everything is possible.” Philippians 4:13 will be overflowing, no doubt. You will patiently, sometimes sternly perhaps, one decision at a time, help someone in their metamorphosis to Christ likeness.

You will encounter people who know that the Bible says something about their situation and need some help understanding the text. Philip dealt with an Ethiopian who, very possibly, was reading the Isaiah scroll where it was written, “He was led like a sheep to the slaughter” because he wanted the context of a passage that spoke to his situation:

"To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths,
who choose what pleases me
and hold fast to my covenant--
to them I will give within my temple and its walls
a memorial and a name
better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
that will not be cut off.
(Isaiah 56:4-5; NIV)

Philip began where he was, and told him the good news. Man, people need that! They’ve got that tune in their heads from when they were young, “My Jesus knows Just What I Need” but they need some help finding Jesus’ answer and you can help.

Sick, struggling, and searching – those words describe people who we encounter who need help getting well, overcoming, and finding the answers to their important questions. You’ve been where they are. Can Jesus count on you to help?

Monday, November 15, 2004

What's Inside

There is a sense of fairness, justice, and moral obligation that is on the inside of normal people of all generations in every part of the world. Different cultures drive on different sides of the road, but all cultures recognize that there are rules of fair play, issues of loyalty, and principles regarding truth. C. S. Lewis says specifically that we expect people everywhere to understand the standard behind a statement like, “I was sitting there first.” Everybody knows that you don’t desert you comrades in battle. All societies understand that you don’t lie. Selfishness is perceived across generations to be immoral.

Think about a couple of things while those thoughts cross your mind this week. Think first about the implications about our creator from the morality that the creation possesses. God created us with a sense of right and wrong and a conscience to guide us in choosing the right even when powerful natural instincts would lead us toward the wrong decision. That says something about what kind of God made us. What do you think that says about him?

Second, think about the importance of allowing that moral sense in you to have its way. Paul told Timothy about some hypocrites whose consciences have been seared (1 Timothy 4:2) If you kick a dog every time he comes to your feet for some petting, he’ll quit coming so often; and, eventually, will quit all together. Your conscience is like that. If you beat it away as it moves you to the right choice, it will quit coming so often. Eventually, it will quit all together. Like the dog, your conscience will still exist, it will have just been burned so much that it has hardened and has become useless. Don’t let that happen to you. That’s Life at Work!

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Veteran's Day Prayer

Yahweh-Sabaoth, God of Hosts, commander of Heavenly armies, we beg you to guard the men and women who are serving in dangerous fields in effort to punish evildoers and provide freedom to the oppressed. We beg you to give peace, comfort, health, and joy to veterans who have served in prior days. As we give honor to whom honor is due today, please give your favor to American soldiers, past and present. We look forward with longing to your everlasting peace. Amen.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

You're Holding My Heart

Clair, a nurse, was telling her new friend Daniel that while she was at work, a man who she was helping keep alive with heart massage suddenly looked at her and said, “You’re holding my heart.” Later, when Daniel was trying desperately to get to Helen, the love of his life, he was protected from the authorities who were after him by Clair. He knew he would not get away from those who were pursuing him without Clair’s help. He told her, “You’re holding my heart.”

That great line, “You’re holding my heart” from Forever Young (1992, Warner Brothers) expresses the feelings we have about those things that are in our core. Our heart keeps us alive. Those precious things in our hearts are what we live for – and would die for.

There are things – more than one thing – that are in our center. Those things include other people and the relationships that tie us to them. Those things include values like loyalty, love, and virtue. For men like Polycarp and Justin Martyr and women like Anne Askew, those things included faith. They all died – execution style – because their faith was more at their center than was life itself. Christian history is full of their stories. Books so old they are available in full text online like Foxes Book of Martyrs and newer books like dc Talk’s Jesus Freaks or John MacArthur’s Twelve Ordinary Men tell us the stories of people who have given up the breath of life for Jesus because to give up faith would have been to give up their soul – their entirety.

Stephen was such a man. He couldn’t accept God’s grace, yet hold his tongue. He wouldn’t keep the Spirit silent within him though he knew stones would be thrown at him. Faith oriented his eyes to see the Son of Man standing in concern and confirmation. Faith molded his heart to forgive those who were throwing stones. Faith was fundamental.

Your salvation is so important to God that he “gave his one and only Son.” If getting you to be in his presence forever is so important to him, shouldn’t it be to you? Furthermore, if Jesus is who he says he is and can do what he says he can do, doesn’t it make sense that we should say with Paul, “For me to live is Christ”? Would you give up your breath to hold on to your faith? When threatened with the wild beasts, Polycarp said, “Let them come. My purpose is unchangeable.” He meant that he couldn’t deny his faith, it was too much of who he was. How can we have that kind of faith?

Monday, November 08, 2004

How Then Can Anyone Understand?

It was the week before Halloween in 1999 when my family and I moved to Yukon. Before we even got completely moved in, we were in Piedmont in a hay-filled wagon being pulled by a tractor when someone whispered to me that a man from our church had passed away that evening. Every October, I think about moving here and about the Christian lady who became a widow that very first week.

I preached recently, near the end of October, from several texts in Proverbs that educate us about God’s plan and purpose for the world, and his involvement in the daily events of life – your life and my life. We ended with this proverb, “A man's steps are directed by the LORD. How then can anyone understand his own way?” It’s a given, in this wise saying, that God directs things from above; so the question is rhetorical. We won’t always understand his way. God moves in mysterious ways. His ways are above our ways. We know those things.

But wisdom, insight, and reflection into our own experiences can help us sometimes to understand where we are and what God has done in and through the events in our lives. I know that because as I preached that sermon on God’s plan, purpose, and involvement I noticed a lady sitting with her new husband on a different pew than she occupied five years ago. I noticed her because she was nodding and smiling with one of those “I understand” kinds of smiles. I smiled, too, when I saw her. She gets some of it – now – five years later. You probably already get that she is the lady that I think of every year about this time. How has God worked in your life? Have you done any reflection today? That’s Life at Work.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

"So the Word of God Spread"

“So the Word of God spread” (Acts 6:7) I really need that assurance. I know I am not the only one who thinks about failure when I here complaint. Samuel Johnson wrote, “The usual fortune of complaint is to excite contempt rather than pity.” My own experience reveals that complaining, whether I’m giving or receiving, often ends with frustration. Even some of the Bible stories that we tell reveal the connection between complaint and relationship brakes. How many people died between Egypt and Canaan because they complained?

Why did this complaint from the Grecian widows result in good when so many complaints bring frustration at a minimum and sometimes downright evil? Here are a couple of my ideas about that:

First, it was the first complaint. I’m aware that there could have been some things that caused friction in the early days of the church that Luke doesn’t reveal, but this is the first time someone in the church grumbled about the way something was happening as he tells the story. Complaining doesn’t seem to have been a prominent part of the Christian’s linguistic experience in these early days, neither as a whole or individually. If you will be heard, you have to be sure you are not constantly making a grumbling sound. People who complain constantly are major turnoffs both to the subjects of their complaints and to any others who are in position to deal with the complaint. Like the boy who cried wolf, those who constantly complain often find their words falling on deaf ears.

Second, it was a legitimate complaint. The Israelites wanted to go back to Egypt thinking their best days were behind them. They were so wrong. They saw an approaching army, or faced other scary circumstances, and did not consider the salvation of the Lord. Actually, the best days were yet to come. God and Moses knew. The Israelites would not listen. They grumbled because they were not seeing what was real. Likewise, sometimes a complaint is couched in terms like “he always” or “she never” and it is dismissed immediately because those terms don’t reflect reality. The Grecians were right apparently. There was unbalanced attention given to the Hebraic widows. That’s what they grumbled about. Legitimate complaints, expressed in reasonable language, get deserved attention.

There are other things about the approach and about how the complaint was received that contributed to the positive result though the “grumbling” was negative. What do you see in the passage that you would include in an explanation for this super turn of events? What would you suggest to people, or what would you adopt for yourself, as part of a good conflict management style?

Monday, November 01, 2004

What's Important?

Shor Toots was a popular restaurant owner in New York City and a Giants Fan, when the Giants were a baseball team in New York. One night, Alexander Fleming, the inventor of penicillin came for dinner. Toots and Fleming were chit-chatting when an employee walked over and whispered in Toots ear that the Giants' manager, Mel Ott, had just arrived. Toots glanced over toward the door and said to Fleming, “I’ve got to leave you. Somebody important just came in.”

Importance, to us, is relative. To a healthy Giants fan in New York, Ott is more important than Fleming. One of the rules of communication is that the importance of an issue is directly proportional to the proximity of your audience. We will walk away from a TV news story about an earthquake in Croatia that killed five thousand people to watch the local fire department get a cat out of a tree down the street. Importance, to us, is relative.

So when is Jesus important? When your family is disintegrating? When you’ve heard the doctors say how sick you are? When your drinking has gotten out of control? When your finances are in shambles? When you’ve been caught in an embarrassing sin? When your kids start running with shady friends, their grades plummet and they’ve developed an attitude? Yes, Jesus is important at these times!

But Jesus’ importance is not to shift with the winds that spin your head around. Jesus is important when your family is healthy, you are healthy, you drink water at dinner, you have the ability to be generous, you are practicing self-control, and your kids are walking straight paths. Jesus is always important!

If you are in a spot where you realize you need Jesus, he’ll take you as you are. Don’t wait for the disaster to see his importance, though. He’s not a tool to fix your problems, though he can. He is to be the King of your life, every day!

“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matt. 6:33). That's Life at Work!