Thursday, November 07, 2019

Social Media Chiasmus

To demonstrate chiastic structure in Hebrew poetry (ABCCBA) for my Old Testament Survey class, I created the following chiasmus:

Social media ranting (A)
Wastes time, (B)
Makes enemies. (C)
To make friends, (C)
And redeem time, (B)
Post social media blessings (A)

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

How Scripture Gets into the Heart

"Why does the Torah tell us to place the words upon your hearts?  Why doesn't it tell us to place them in our hearts?," a student asked the rabbi.

The rabbi replied, "It is because our hearts are closed, and we cannot place the sacred words in our hearts.  So, we place them on top of our hearts.  And they stay there until, one day, our hearts are broken and the words fall in."

Saturday, November 02, 2019

A Word to Young Adults from Parker Palmer

In his recent book about the aging process, On the Brink of Everything, Parker Palmer, the poetic educator from University of Wisconsin, recounts the following challenge he gave to a group of young people half his age:

"I feel like I am standing partway down the curvature of the earth, while you're close to the top of that curve looking at a horizon I can't see. I need to know what you're seeing, because whatever's on that horizon is coming at me as well.  Please let me know what it is -- and when you do, speak loudly and clearly so I can hear what you're saying!"

Friday, November 01, 2019

For All the Saints

For all the saints who from their labors rest,
who thee by faith before the world confessed,
thy name, O Jesus, be forever blest.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

Thou wast their rock, their fortress, and their might;
thou, Lord, their captain in the well-fought fight;
thou, in the darkness drear, their one true light.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

 O may thy soldiers, faithful, true, and bold,
fight as the saints who nobly fought of old,
and win with them the victor's crown of gold.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

 O blest communion, fellowship divine,
we feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
yet all are one in thee, for all are thine.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

 And when the fight is fierce, the warfare long,
steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
and hearts are brave again, and arms are strong.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

The golden evening brightens in the west;
soon, soon to faithful warrior cometh rest;
sweet is the calm of paradise the blest.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

But lo! there breaks a yet more glorious day;
the saints triumphant rise in bright array;
the King of glory passes on his way.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

From earth's wide bounds, from ocean's farthest coast,
through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
singing to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

-- William Walsham How (1864)

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Joy is Serious Business!

Joy is serious business! It is the natural state of the soul. Joylessness is like a toothache, which indicates an internal cavity -- or worse.

When we realize the joy has evaporated -- it's time to do some inner heart examination. Where did it go? What toxins have entered my soul, resulting this negativism? What must I do to recapture the joy? Leaking seems to be a part of the human condition. We're all a bunch of "joy leakers!"

One lady tearfully prayed, “Please fill me with joy again!" Her husband, overhearing her request, prayed, "Don't do it Lord! She leaks!"

It might be a good idea to patch up the holes.  Perhaps we need a spiritual root canal.

Holding a small perspective towards life will drain the joy right out of your heart. As the hero in Red Badge of Courage stated, "elfin thoughts made cowards of us all."

Ancient desert fathers spoke of "logismoi", the dark thoughts -- the false thoughts and desires that lead us to despair.

If you want to rekindle the joy, you have to declare war on "logismoi!" What false thoughts have been hammering your mind? How have dark thoughts clouded reality? The truth will set you free!

Gordon MacDonald, in "Monday Morning Restoration", spoke of the "Seven Deadly Siphons. These are the things that drain our positive energy, faith and joy.

1) Words without action.
2) Busyness without purpose.
3) Calendars without a Sabbath.
4) Relationships without mutual nourishment.
5) Personality without self-examination.
6) Natural giftedness without spiritual power.
7) An enormous theology without an adequate spirituality. 

From such things, Oh Lord, deliver us, and help us plug the leaks!

Thursday, September 26, 2019

How to Find a Better Life

Dr. Maxwell Maltz, an acclaimed plastic surgeon once wrote a best selling book, New Faces, New Futures, describing the tremendous changes in individuals' lives after having plastic surgery.  He told many stories about "ugly ducklings" who were given a new life by receiving a new face.

Unfortunately, after the publication, Dr. Maltz discovered he had made some serious errors.  A careful study of all his patients revealed that people were generally no more happy with life after a plastic surgery than before.  He found that a face lift did not automatically bring a better life.

So, Dr. Maxwell Maltz quite the plastic surgery business and devoted the rest of his life to helping people find inner beauty.  He discovered that true happiness comes from the inside.  It isn't obtained with a new face.

This is not a new concept.  The Bible has lots to say about inner joy and peace.  Building a better life is an inside job.

Many people miss this point.  A quick Google search for "Better Life" brought the following results:

"The Better Life Health Spa will take your problems away!"  
"Take our herbal vitamins daily for a better life!"  
"55 and retired --Now, that's the way to a better life!"  
"SWF, 29-45 seeking relationship with SM, 29-45, I want to give you a better life!"  
From a rock group -- "A better life means more noise!" 
Finally, my favorite:  "For a better life -- try cheese!"  (Wow!  What a breakthrough!  When life unravels, all I need to do is run the refrigerator.)

Actually, the only way to a better life is to become a better person -- and the only way to do that is to let the Perfect Person (Jesus) direct it.

He can transform you into a better person --with better thoughts, attitudes, and actions.  It's an inside job.  He, alone, can bring the better life."

Friday, August 16, 2019

Ten Suggestions for Effective Ministry in Small Communities

A young pastor once contacted me, seeking suggestions for effective ministry in his small community.  Here is my response:

1.  Think Big and Little.
Too many rural pastors suffer from myopia -- small vision.  "How can anything significant happen in a little place like this?"  However, it pays to remember that Jesus launched the greatest mission in human history from rural context.  If you have the right perspective, you can touch the world from the end of it!  Refuse to be small minded.

Do something special with what you have.  Go the extra mile and put some "wow" into it.  It doesn't take much more to make a huge difference.  Remember, in a small community, you don't have to be great to be spectacular.

Take a risk and do something big.  Plan a significant event and invite the whole community.  (A few ideas: a dinner to honor veterans or rescue workers, a fun outreach for children, a hunting or fishing expo, a concert, the sky's the limit!)

On the other hand, don't discount the little connections along the way.  I once listed the ten most significant ministry moments of the 26 years I spent pastoring in Hayward, Wisconsin..  All of them were either one on one or with a small circle of friends.  The most important moments happen through interpersonal relationships.  Spending an afternoon with a frightened family in a waiting room could be the wisest use of your time.

2.  Think Long and Short
Rural folks are suspicious of flash in the pan preachers.  They are much more impressed with faithfulness for the long haul.  Ask yourself, "What kind of church would I love to pastor ten years from now?"  Then, start moving that direction -- one little step at a time.  Bring people along with you. As Phil Cooke says, "If you are one step ahead, you are their leader. If you are ten steps ahead, you are their target."

While mindful of the big picture, it is important to redeem the present moment and steward your energy.  Make every day count for somethin, and live in the moments of each day.

3.  Pastor the Whole Community and the Individual
Don't think of yourself as the pastor of a congregation, but of the entire community.  Get out to where the people are.  Become friends with the mayor, superintendent of schools, postmaster sheriff, health workers, judge, funeral director, business leaders, and other pastors in town.  The whole place is your parish and you are there to serve them.  Get out of your office and into the community -- the view of the world is extremely limited from behind a desk.

At the same time, make sure to keep track of your flock.  Who is hurting and needs a special touch?  Who is discouraged?  Who needs a visit or a call?  Ask God.  He will show you who needs you most.  Each person matters.

Schedule times to visit those who are sick and shut in.  If you don't put it on your calendar, it won't happen.  One visit to an elderly person in frail health brings a blessing of many layers, and impacts far more people than you will ever imagine.

4.  Pray and Do.
Take substantial time at the beginning of each day to hear from heaven and get your soul happy in Jesus.  When you seek God's face first, you will have grace as you face people through the day.  Demands from the ministry load will consume every waking moment, unless you are intentional about carving out solitude.  You must fight for these times alone with God.  Your life depends on it!

Ministry is rich and rewarding when we serve from the overflow.  It is grueling and frustrating when we serve from an empty tank.  Keep your tank full and you won't burn out.

Our love for God drives us to our knees -- and then His love compels us to get off our knees and out into the world to bring a blessing.  Prayer is not a substitue for going -- it is our motive to do so.

Have a bias for action.  Don't just sit around hashing.  Get something done.

5.  Disciple Through Evangelism
Your job is not to run church programs, but to disciple people.  However, many have a misconception about discipleship.  They believe "going deep" means turning inward.  That's the wrong approach.  If we deeply love Jesus, then we will love who He loves -- lost, broken, hurting people.

Deep people will go deep into the harvest field.  It requires sacrifical commitment to share God's love with others.  Otherwise, it's not deep -- just muddy.

6. Be Wise and Generous.  
When we demonstrate generosity, we show the heart of Jesus.  Be as generous as you can with your own life, maintaining a bias for "yes!"  When it comes to decisions, follow the rule of faith and generosity.

Of course, you must be wise in how you handle resources.  They need to see that you use common sense when it comes to financial matters.  Perhaps the best way to approach church budgeting is by following John Wesley's adage, "Earn all you can.  Save all you can.  Give all you can."  Joy always accompanies generosity.

Do the minutes from your church board over the past six months reflect joyful generosity?  Do the people in your community consider your congregation a joyful, generous church?  If not, what is one small step you could take to challenge them in this direction?

7.  Lead by Sharing Leadership.
Pastoring a rural church is like herding cats.  My wife, Cathy, once said, the only way to herd cats is to get them chasing the same mouse.

The best way to lead in a small community is through consensus.   Let them own it!  You're not Moses, so they will be highly suspicious when you come down from the mountaintop with a new vision and direction for the church.  Shared leadership requires shared vision.  You are not the only one qualified to speak about what Christ wants for His church.   Give the people freedom to express what they sense from God.  Let them answer this question, "How does Jesus wish to fulfill His Great Commission through us in this community?  How can we multiply disciples?  How can we touch the whole community and make a difference with the love of Christ?"  Then get out of the way and let them dream!

8.  Plan Ahead and Be Available.
One secret to effective ministry is planning your major activities ahead of time.  Use a month (or maybe two) as the hub of your calendar, then plan your weekly and daily events backwards from there.  If you start with the day or week, you will never get around to what you hoped to accomplish next month.

However, in your planning, make sure to include plenty of margin for the unexpected divine appointments that arise.  These spontaneous surprises are not interruptions.  Consider them as gifts sent from God and embrace them without resentment.  You will find great blessing there,

If you plan priorities with a breathable daily and weekly schedule, you will accomplish far more than you could ever imagine.

9.  Preach, Pray, Lead and Love Well.
And not necessarily in that order.  These four duties comprise a pastor's job description, and should be the measuring stick for all your activities.  Run everything through the grid.  Will this help me love more, lead better, pray deeper, or preach stronger?  Do whatever it takes to strengthen those four priorities.  Your overall ministry impact will be graded on how well you do them.

10.  Work Hard and Honor Sabbaths
Nobody succeeds in ministry without a strong work ethic.  If you waste time in trivial pursuits, the health of the whole church will suffer.  Give it 100% effort and commitment.  Do whatever it takes to get the job done.  Make sure you tackle the most important things first.  Many pastors keep busy with unimportant, low priority items.

A essential part of your work is to take time for personal sabbath.  Ministry work is never done, and if you are undisciplined, you will find yourself overworking and not pausing for essential rest.  Build space into your weekly schedule for this; there's a reason God commands it.  This is not just a "day off", but an extended time (24 hour) to rest, refresh your spirit, reconnect with God and loved ones, recreate, and replenish.  Also build breathing space between your scheduled responsibilities, providing the the opportunity for your soul to catch up with you.

Finally, don't let your phone be your master.  It is there to serve you -- not the other way around.

Sunday, August 04, 2019

Half Mastings

The flags in town are half mast today. It seems we've had more than our share of "half-mastings" recently.

The flags represent our hearts -- they're at half mast too.

As the flags go down, our prayers go up.

Monday, July 08, 2019

What Did You Mean By That?

 "Half the harm that is done in the world," said poet, T.S. Eliot,"is done  by people who want to feel important. They do not mean to harm. There  are absorbed in the endless struggle to think well of themselves."

 I've discovered that most of the time, people mean well. Even when  they speak or behave in troubling ways that makes us wonder -- they  mean well.  It's best to give the benefit of the doubt whenever possible.

 Yet, at the same time, it is also beneficial to examine our own motives, and try to understand more deeply how our behavior effects others.

 Sometimes, winning the argument loses the fight. A marriage counselor once asked a distraught husband,  "Do you want to be happy, or do you want to be right?"

 After a frustrating conversation one day, I thought, "What he said spoke so loud, I couldn't understand a word  he meant!"

 Perhaps, the best path is mapped out by St. Francis of Assisi, who prayed:

 Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
 Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
 Where there is injury, pardon.
 Where there is doubt, faith.
 Where there is despair, hope.
 Where there is darkness, light.
 And where there is sadness, joy.

 Grant that I may not so much seek
 to be consoled as to console;
 to be understood, as to understand,
 to be loved as to love;
 for it is in giving that we receive.
 it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
 and it is dying that we are born to eternal life.

Monday, July 01, 2019

Lead, Kindly Light: Words of Comfort in the Darkness

Cardinal John Henry Newman, who will be canonized on October 13, wrote the beautiful and haunting hymn, "Lead Kindly Light" when he was kept far from home due to an unexpected illness and transportation issues. It has been a source of comfort to many, including soldiers in the trenches of World War 1, Betsy Ten Boom (Corrie's sister) in the Nazi concentration camp. and a group of 26 frightened miners who were trapped underground in the 1909 Stanley Pit disaster, where 168 men and boys died in an explosion of poisonous gas. Perhaps it will be a comfort to you in whatever darkness you may be facing.:

Lead, Kindly Light, amidst th'encircling gloom,
Lead Thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home,
Lead Thou me on!
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene; one step enough for me.

I was not ever thus, nor prayed that Thou
Shouldst lead me on;
I loved to choose and see my path; but now
Lead Thou me on!
I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears,
Pride ruled my will. Remember not past years!

So long Thy power hath blest me, sure it still
Will lead me on.
O'er moor and fen, o'er crag and torrent, till
The night is gone,
And with the morn those angel faces smile,
Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile!

Meantime, along the narrow rugged path,
Thyself hast trod,
Lead, Saviour, lead me home in childlike faith,
Home to my God.
To rest forever after earthly strife
In the calm light of everlasting life.

Here is a rendition  by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.  While I certainly do no embrace their theology, I appreciate the beauty of their performance.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

A Prayer of Good Courage

"Lord God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrod, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen." 
(from Daily Prayer by E. Milner White & G. W. Briggs).