Wednesday, August 3, 2016

To Do Justice

Abraham. He is acknowledged as the “father of nations.” Muslims, Christians and Jews all claim him as their patriarch—an ancestor to be respected, admired and highly esteemed. God singled him out for a special relationship. God promised to bless Abraham; but not just for the good of Abraham and his family. God promised to bless Abraham so that through him the whole world would be blessed.
One way to imagine Abraham fulfilling that purpose might be to picture Abraham as the person designated to distribute all the good gifts of God—spiritual and material—to the rest of the inhabitants of the world. God makes deposits into Abraham’s account; and then Abraham writes checks to disburse the funds. That might have been fun for Abraham; but it would have probably not been fun—or effective—for long.
You really don’t have to wonder what God meant, though. God is quite clear about his intention: “I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just” (Genesis 18:19). The way the world will be blessed through Abraham is that he will teach all the members of his family to do what is right and just.
When Moses was instructing the people of Israel before they entered the Promised Land, he was clear, “Follow justice and justice alone, so that you may live and possess the land the Lord your God is giving you” (Deuteronomy 16:20). Even the queen of Sheba recognized the most valuable role Solomon played in God’s plan: “Because of the Lord’s eternal love for Israel, he has made you king to maintain justice and righteousness” (1 Kings 10:9).
In spite of this consistent theme—this command to tell the truth, to ensure the rights of the poor are respected, to guard the welfare of foreigners, to be generous with those who have experienced hard times; the people God set apart to bless failed their primary purpose. Repeatedly God sent messengers to remind them in one way or another of the desire of God’s heart: “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). It is difficult to express how utterly God’s people failed to live out this standard—or how their failure set them up for the disappointment they experienced.

God still longs for those he calls his own to do what is right and just; and we still fall short. The good news is that God still extends his mercy, shows us patience, and welcomes us when we turn toward him and seek the Spirit’s guidance to live as champions of righteousness and justice. 

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Accentuate the Positive!

If you have the responsibility of supervising employees, you might want to check out an article I stumbled across a few days ago.  The author acknowledged that being the boss can be a real challenge—especially coping with employees who do their jobs well; but are equally skilled at annoying both you and their colleagues. This article shared one consultant’s list of the six most common problem personalities: The Gossip, The Grump, The Overachiever, The Suck-up, The Slacker, and The Clown.
If any of these people were not performing adequately, the author admits the easiest solution might be to fire them. You might be tempted to think that you would just be better off without them. As much as you might wish you could do everything yourself, the truth is you need other people to help you complete the work.
While the advice for how to deal with each of these different personality types was slightly different, the consistent theme was to redirect each person’s energies toward a specific task that would benefit them and the rest of the team. Encourage employees to talk about the things they have in common to strengthen relationships with one another. Make sure people who seem unhappy or insecure feel heard and that their contributions are recognized. Find ways to give people tasks that connect with their passions and interests so they have a reason to be more engaged and less disruptive.
Years ago Johnny Mercer wrote a song several artists made popular, “Accentuate the Positive.” You may remember the chorus:
You've got to accentuate the positive,
Eliminate the negative,
Latch on to the affirmative,
Don't mess with Mister In-Between.
Telling people only what you don’t like about what they are doing is rarely effective in altering their behavior. When you can show them a better way to accomplish their objectives, everyone benefits. That strategy works personally, as well. If you spend all your energy punishing yourself for some persistent bad habit without identifying a positive alternative, you are most likely to end up disheartened and discouraged, if not defeated.
Lent is an appropriate time to consider any habits you might have that are keeping you from becoming the person God created you to be. It is also a great time to adopt a discipline that will put you in a better position to accept the freedom and power God wants to give you, so you can experience every blessing God has prepared for you.  

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Finding the Courage to Say "No!"

A friend was sharing his frustration the other day. He confessed that he might not be making the best use of his time. A lot of his work is done on the computer, and he uses the internet to access some of its resources. His concern was that there seemed to be more and more times when something would distract him and take him to another site where he would find something else that seemed interesting; and much too quickly, thirty minutes—or an hour—had passed and he still had not completed his original search. He asked me to pray for him.
When Jesus left his disciples for the last time, he gave them pretty clear and concise instructions: “Make disciples.” They had been following Jesus down a very particular path for a few years. They had heard Jesus teach others about God’s love and God’s intention that people love one another. They had heard Jesus invite others to follow him. They had witnessed Jesus sacrifice everything to demonstrate God’s love. From its first days, the church has embraced the mission to make disciples—people who faithfully follow the way of Christ.
Like my friend there have been times when the church has been distracted from its primary purpose. It has become fascinated with different media and methods, with a variety of liturgy and architecture, with nuances of theology and doctrine.
Individuals who make the commitment to follow Christ also find themselves wandering off the path from time to time—chasing after other pursuits that seem to promise profit, prestige, or power.
Sometimes the best way to get back on the path is to recall the commitments you made when you began. During Lent, the church has focused on teaching persons how to follow the path of Jesus. The keys to avoiding distraction and staying focused are central to the baptismal covenant. That’s why focusing on living out those vows in our everyday life can be a meaningful practice during the season of Lent.
I pray this will be a season for you to reflect on the path you are following. Are there things that are distracting you from keeping the commitments that are most important to you? May you find the courage to renounce and reject those things, so you may walk in the way that leads to life. 

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Love One Another

Valentine’s Day is coming up in just a couple of weeks and there are lots of marketers aiming for your wallet. They hope to convince you that spending a few dollars to purchase their product will touch the heart of your true love.
Showing your love for others is important—and not just to those whom you might expect to return the affection. Jesus says a lot about love: love for God, love for our neighbor, even love for our enemies. And when you think about the love Jesus demonstrated, you begin to understand that Jesus is not just talking about having a positive regard for others. He is talking about doing something practical to improve the quality of their life. Jesus fed people who were hungry. Jesus healed people who were sick. Jesus people welcomed people who were left out. Jesus restored the hope of those who were drowning in despair. Furthermore, Jesus says that the way everyone will be able to tell if we are really committed to faithfully following him, is when we love each other (John 13:35).
John Wesley found a slightly different way to talk about how important love is: “In a Christian believer love sits upon the throne which is erected in the inmost soul; namely, love of God and man, which fills the whole heart, and reigns without rival.” For Wesley, too, this love had real world ramifications. Reflecting on Chapter 13 of Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, Wesley writes, “The love of God, and of our neighbour for God's sake, is patient toward, all men. It suffers all the weakness, ignorance, errors, and infirmities of the children of God; all the malice and wickedness of the children of the world: and all this, not only for a time, but to the end. And in every step toward overcoming evil with good, it is kind, soft, mild, benign. It inspires the sufferer at once with the most amiable sweetness, and the most fervent and tender affection.”

This kind of love goes way beyond stuffed animals, bouquets of flowers, heart-shaped boxes of chocolates, or frilly cards. It is also much more costly. But without this kind of love, all the other is just claptrap and garbage that will be discarded in a few days. Loving others the way Jesus has taught us will make an everlasting difference in us, in those we love, and in the world. 

Thursday, December 10, 2015

A Voice in the Wilderness

There are two stories I remember hearing while I was a child that I must admit influence the way I listen to anyone who steps forward to announce some momentous event. One of those stories was about the boy who cried, “wolf!” The other was the story of “Chicken Little.”
The first story was about a boy who was not happy with the job he had guarding the sheep. The work was not that hard, but he got bored with the long hours and wondered whether anyone appreciated the job he was doing. To break up the monotony he raises the alarm and is delighted when the people from the village rush out help him protect the sheep from harm. Discovering there is no threat, they return to their work in the village.
After a similar sequence of events occurs several more times—with diminishing fervor from the townspeople on each occasion; a wolf does actually attack the flock. When the boy raises the alarm this time, people pause, look up from what they are doing, shake their heads, and then go back to their work. The flock (and in some versions, the boy) is lost.
In some ways Chicken Little is more successful in raising the alarm. She is struck on the head by an acorn as she is pecking around the farmyard, and mistakenly concludes that the sky is falling. As she goes from one resident of the farm to the next, she is quite convincing. With each voice adding to the alarm, the anxiety becomes even more palpable, and leads the whole crew to fail to see the very real danger of following “Foxy Loxy” into his den (from which they never return).
When a voice breaks through the noise today, I have to admit that I filter what they say through a skepticism that had its genesis in these stories from my youth. But I also face a more personal challenge when I am the one who is charged with raising the alarm: How do I call the community of faith to take seriously the challenge “to prepare the way of the Lord”?

He has come and he is coming again. “And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God” (Philippians 1:9-11).

Monday, August 31, 2015

Remembering Jerry

Scarcely a week goes by when we are not reminded that we live in a troubled, broken, and violent world. This week the evidence has been particularly personal and profound. On Monday morning Jerry Kaiser was the victim of a catastrophic collision on Lyne’s parkway.
Brenda and Jerry were returning from a trip to Savannah when they were hit by a car being driven the wrong way up I-516. The impact shredded the passenger’s side of both vehicles from the headlights to the rear axle. Skid marks, stains from engine fluids, and gouges in the concrete are evidence of the severity of the event. Most bitter of all, our friend and brother suffered injuries that abruptly ended his life.
Remarkably, Brenda’s wounds were much less severe—at least physically. Still what she, Jerry’s other family members, and all those who knew and loved Jerry carry is a deep and powerful sense of loss as we grieve this tragedy. Our hearts ache and our minds long for answers. Trials like this take us to our limits.
If there is anything we should have learned from Jerry, it was how to face adversity. He had anticipated quite a different life in retirement than he got. Still he never resigned to his disability; rather he continued to push himself to accomplish all that he could and to make the most of every opportunity to witness to his faith.
I don’t know how many miles Jerry covered in his power chair; but I do know that this neighborhood is one of the most prayed over areas in the county. Jerry knew that many in this world do not love God or follow God’s ways; still he devoted his energies to praying, not only for those who live in the vicinity, but for all who have not yet made the decision to follow Christ. He befriended strangers. He invited people to join him in worship. He encouraged people who were struggling with their own issues. In the face of great trials, Jerry demonstrated extraordinary perseverance and an unrelenting commitment to love and serve others.
I pray his endurance will inspire us to ask God for the strength to press on through this trial—and through the many trials that will continue to confront us—as we seek to live faithful lives in this troubled, broken, and violent—but ultimately, redeemed world.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

When Your Heart Hurts

Receiving the news of the death of someone is never easy. Whether you are close friends or merely acquaintances; whether the news comes at the end of a long illness or as a complete surprise; whether they lived an exemplary life or spent their years as a prodigal; there is a finality in the news that they have died that feels like a punch to the gut.
Unfortunately, such news has become commonplace. Widespread disease, recklessness and distraction on our highways, armed conflict and terroristic attacks, outbursts of violence, and even personal despair take their toll on great numbers of people each and every day. At times, it can seem overwhelming.
Indeed, you may be tempted to adopt a strategy of denial. If you don’t think about it at all, maybe you can move on as though nothing significant really happened. While that might serve as an effective short-term strategy, it rarely proves helpful to becoming the kind of person God has created us to be.
Grief is a natural response to loss, particularly to the loss of someone who has died. While it has an emotional component, it involves every part of who we are as persons created to be in relationship with others. The process of grief involves not only mourning, but also the acknowledgement (even the celebration) of all blessings we received because we were together (if only briefly) in this life.
When David received the news that King Saul and his son, Jonathan, had been killed in battle; one might think that it would have been easy for him to discount the loss. After all, he and Saul had been at odds for quite some time; and his relationship with Jonathan had been deeply stressed. Nevertheless, David acknowledged the greatness he had witnessed in both of them, and gave thanks for all they had done for him and for the nation of Israel.

Having a heart for God means more than having the faith to face great challenges; it also means allowing yourself to feel the hurt of significant loss. It is a sign that we are not only grateful for the ways God blesses our lives through others, but also that we trust God to continue to bring people into our lives who will show us the promise and potential of a life well-lived.