Monday, October 09, 2017

4 ways to keep anger from mastering you

Photo via Visual Hunt

In my Sunday message, "When Anger is Your God," I reflected on the value of Romans 12:9-21 for guiding us in Christian living. We live in a culture in which anger is distinctly present. Anger is used to justify any action that asserts our own way or gives expression to our dissatisfaction. I see it among Christians frequently...but we are not called to live this way. We live with a love that counters the culture of selfishness and anger.

Paul is clear in saying in Romans 12 that living with this kind of counter-cultural love requires a change in our thinking...a transformation in the way we see the world that God is happy to help us with (Romans 12:2). We are partners in this process. What can you and I do to help this transformation along when it comes to the ever-present temptation to let anger master us? I see four ways:

REFLECT: Identify the circumstances and the people that you find trigger angry responses in you. Consider the ways in which anger has affected relationships at your work, your school, in your family, and at your church. Make yourself aware of the things that lead you to be mastered by anger.

REPENT: This often misused word is important here. Do you need to seek forgiveness for times when anger has mastered you? Most important to the repentance process is the commitment to live God's way. Make a commitment to loving others as Paul teaches (who follows Jesus' teaching on the matter).

REFRESH your fervor! Paul speaks of having zeal. The literal meaning of the word is "to be set on fire." Allow the Holy Spirit to set you on fire. Basic Christian practices like worship and prayer allow the Spirit to move in us. Reading the Bible stories about Jesus' life help you pay attention to Jesus' way of loving.

RELATE to all in love--recognizing the value and dignity of every person.

We can overcome the culture of anger with the culture of love...God helping us!

Monday, June 26, 2017

Patience While Under Construction

Patience Three-Hour Self-Guided Retreat Guide download here

Photo credit: CIFOR via Visual hunt / CC BY-NC-ND

And [Jesus] told this parable: “A man had a fig tree that was planted in his vineyard. He came looking for fruit on it and found none. He told the vineyard worker, ‘Listen, for three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it even waste the soil?’

“But he replied to him, ‘Sir, leave it this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it. Perhaps it will produce fruit next year, but if not, you can cut it down.’”
Luke 13:6-9

Ruth Bell Graham, late wife of evangelist Billy Graham, once saw a sign along a highway that she thought would be fitting to put on her gravestone. It said, "End of construction. Thank you for your patience."1 She had latched onto an important truth: As long as we are living, we are under construction. We are always learning and being shaped. And for that patience is required. Patience with ourselves. Patience with and from our family, friends, coworkers, and church family. Patience, even, with God!

Thankfully, God is patient. Jesus’ parable from Luke 13 declares that Good News to us. When most would be ready to be done with us for our fickleness and flaws, God is willing to patiently work with us and enrich us…coaxing growth and fruitfulness from us. This is the meaning of the Greek word Paul uses in Galatians 5:22 that is translated as “patience.” Patience has a sense of steadfastness and staying-power. Patience is being “long-tempered” instead of short-tempered. This quality in God contributed to our salvation. It is a quality in us that will save many a relationship.

Patience is important for our own peace of mind. As disciples of Christ, we are works-in-progress. Be patient with yourself in your progress as a Christian. Bono, lead singer of the rock group U2 captures the need for patience in our spiritual life perfectly:

“Your nature is a hard thing to change; it takes time…. I have heard of people who have life-changing, miraculous turnarounds, people set free from addiction after a single prayer, relationships saved where both parties ‘let go, and let God.’ But it was not like that for me. For all that ‘I was lost, I am found,’ it is probably more accurate to say, ‘I was really lost. I'm a little less so at the moment.’ And then a little less and a little less again. That to me is the spiritual life. The slow reworking and rebooting the computer at regular intervals, reading the small print of the service manual. It has slowly rebuilt me in a better image. It has taken years, though, and it is not over yet.2”

For further reflection of the role of patience in your life I invite you to take this month’s Three-Hour Retreat on Patience available for download at this link.

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Joining God's Peace Movement (includes retreat download link)

3-Hour Self-Guided Retreat on Peace download

Then Peter replied, “I see very clearly that God shows no favoritism. In every nation he accepts those who fear him and do what is right. This is the message of Good News for the people of Israel—that there is peace with God through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. (Acts 10:34-6, New Living Translation)

As Peter proclaimed to a Roman family, God initiated a great peace movement through Jesus Christ, who went to the cross to die so that, by his sacrifice, we were given forgiveness of our sins. In Romans Chapter five, the apostle Paul pointedly states that we were once enemies of God, and that God made peace with us through the death of Jesus Christ. Christ’s broken body and spilled blood . . . Christ’s death, removed God’s wrath from us. And if Christ’s death removed our enemy status . . . in fact, it made us part of God’s family . . . then Christ’s resurrected life assures us that we have life and peace with God. This is the great Good News: Peace with God . . . forgiveness of sins . . . a relationship with God that will last forever . . . are all a reality for those who have faith in Christ.

God initiated the peace movement. Peace moves into your live through Jesus Christ. Peace, from the biblical perspective, is a sense of wholeness or well-being in individuals and groups, that comes from a real relationship with God.

The great Good News is that peace can move into the lives of every single person. God accepts every kind of people. What shakes up our world, like it shook up Peter’s, are the consequences of God’s acceptance. If God finds all people acceptable, well it’s quite possible that our view of the world is going to get shook up a little, too.

I write these words as Britain is reeling from a terrorist suicide bomb attack that killed 22 people leaving a concert. The world we live in is not a very peaceful place. Even finding personal peace is getting harder to come by. Christians have the challenging call of conveying the Good News of God’s peace through Jesus Christ to people . . . even to the people we consider untouchable. We’re called to join God’s peace movement. And like Peter with Cornelius . . . our actions may just speak louder than our words.

Joining God’s peace movement means change at a personal level. It requires some personal rewiring. All the things that separate us one from another—jealousy, envy, a critical spirit, stubborn pride, comfort, tradition--anything that alienates us from others . . . they’ve got to go if we are going to be meaningful members of God’s peace movement.

One of the most powerful testimonies to the power and peace of God is a community of faith that is modeling acceptance and forgiveness. We’ve been caught up in God’s peace movement and it has been our salvation! It’s God’s forgiveness and acceptance that has been extended to the world. Let there be God’s peace on earth and let it begin with you, let it begin with me, let it begin with us.

3-Hour Self-Guided Retreat on Peace download

Thursday, April 20, 2017

The Joy of the Lord is Our Strength (includes retreat download)

Joy 3-Hour Retreat download here.

Then [Nehemiah] said to them, “Go and eat what is rich, drink what is sweet, and send portions to those who have nothing prepared, since today is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, because the joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10)

I have been told that the joy of the Lord is my strength since I was a small boy. I wanted to be a strong and faithful person then…and I still do. One problem—no one ever explained what joy was and how one received it! I might even have it and not know it! Joy is a Christian term we toss around a lot but rarely gets clearly defined.

The joy that that Israelites experienced in Nehemiah’s day was based on getting reacquainted with God’s law. The people of Israel had been in exile for decades and God’s Law had been lost. They returned from exile to Jerusalem, a ruined city. During reconstruction, the scrolls of the Law were found. A large gathering was arranged for the Law to be read to the people again. Priests were secured who would help the people understand what they heard. The result was a collective repentance and grieving that they had strayed so far from God’s law. Nehemiah, Ezra, and other leaders encouraged the people to celebrate rather than grieve. They were taking big steps to live rightly in their relationship with God. As they rejoiced in the rebuilding of Jerusalem, they could also rejoice in the rebuilding of their relationship with God. The peace, stability and comfort that came from living rightly with God is the essence of the joy that would strengthen them.

The joy of the Israelites is just one facet of biblical joy. There is joy that comes with experiencing God’s salvation (Acts 16:16-40; Psalm 51:10-12). Joy springs from the help and mercy we receive from God (Psalm 28:6-7). Jesus taught and guided his disciples so they might experience complete joy (John 15:16; John 17:13). Joy is even possible when God corrects us (Job 5:17)! Ultimately, biblical joy is not an emotion but a state of being.

Joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit’s presence and power in our lives. Joy is also a product of our willingness to live in sync with Jesus’ commandments. May our joy increase as we strengthen our faith in worship and reflection this month!

Joy 3-Hour Retreat download here.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

3-Hour Rest Stop: Rest

Rest Retreat Download

Rest Like Jesus

“News about Jesus kept spreading. Large crowds came to listen to him teach and to be healed of their diseases. But Jesus would often go to some place where he could be alone and pray.” (Luke 5:15-16, CEV)

In my seminary training it was impressed upon me the pastor’s need for rest and retreat. Professors warned us that ministry was demanding on every facet of life. It impacted our relationships with family, friends and neighbors. Henri Nouwen, a wise writer and spiritual guide, said that to be with people well, one needs times of rest and solitude. The wisdom of these voices has stayed with me. Then there is the example of Jesus…

Jesus was an observant Jew. The rhythms of Jewish life were his rhythms. Jesus kept the Sabbath in its true spirit. But, as the scripture above shows, Jesus took other times of rest as he needed and he taught his disciples to do the same. The demands of his life moved him to seek times of rest and prayer.

On a recent personal retreat day of my own I recognized how much others would be helped by retreat time if they could take it. Each of you has a demanding life and you are feeling its effects. Fatigue, anxiety, cynicism, and dangerous levels of stress can be the consequences. With little rest, our lives become physically, emotionally, and spiritually unhealthy.

We all need rest stops along the journey of life. I want to invite you to a time of retreat this month and months into the future. There is a link at the end of this column that will connect you to a rest-themed retreat you can do in three hours. Look at your calendar and identify a three-hour chunk of time where you can get away to read, rest, reflect and pray. Make time for it! Perhaps you could retreat by simply sitting on your back porch away from your phone or computer. Your spouse could take the kids out for a few hours so you can have the place to yourself. Find a picnic table in a quiet park or grab a seat in your favorite coffee shop during off-peak hours. There are a lot of possibilities! I think the time is most helpful when you are where you won’t be disturbed by others or distracted by text messages and social media accounts.

On Tuesday, April 25 we will hold a pot luck supper in the basement Fellowship Hall of Gower Christian Church at 6:30 PM to talk about what you learned and experienced. Each month there will be a new retreat guide based on the theme of the monthly pastor’s column “For Our Common Journey.” If something grabs you, give me a call and we’ll talk!

Jesus invites his disciples to pause on their journey to go away with him for rest and prayer. His invitation still stands. Give it a try, won’t you?

3-Hour Rest Retreat Download

Monday, November 02, 2015

Steep your life in God

"If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don't you think he'll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I'm trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God's giving. People who don't know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don't worry about missing out. You'll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.

"Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don't get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.” (Matthew 6:30-34, The Message)

That word “steep” immediately conjures up, in my mind, making a cup of tea. To make a proper cup of tea, you pour the hot water over the leaves or the tea bag. And then you let the hot water do its work. The heat and the currents and eddies that are created by the slight variations in the temperature of the water serve to bring out the very best flavor the tea has to offer. After about five minutes of steeping the tea and the water have achieved a lovely balance of flavor and warmth. The dry tea, by itself, isn't much. But when surrounded and infused by the hot water, it becomes quite extraordinary.

So it is with our lives. When we give God our entire attention, when we turn over the security and cares and worry of our lives over to God, surround ourselves with God, if you will, then we'll find that our needs are met and our concerns are addressed. When we let God's presence surround us and permeate our lives, God draws out of the very best...our lives achieve a beautiful balance.

How do we steep our lives in God? I think it looks a little different for each person. Worship allows us to express our love for God and hear the Good News of our Savior Jesus Christ. Worship is also the place where we are reminded of the ways God has been taking care of us…we are reminded of God's faithfulness to us. Reading the Bible and regular times of prayer can help God's presence infuse our lives with hope and confidence. Fellowship and serving together make God's presence known in our lives and in the lives of others. One other powerful “steeping” practice is simply paying attention to how God has provided for you in the past. Keep track of God's gracious giving and respond with thanksgiving.

Jesus is offering us a choice…not a hard one to make...but a hard one to live out. Will we live our lives enveloped by worry or let our lives be surrounded and steeped in God? God created us...God loves us...God knows what you and I need. May you and I live conscious of God's gracious giving and steep our lives in God's presence!

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Taste the good life

“But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.” (Hebrews 2:9, English Standard Version)

One Sunday, as a church prepared to receive the Lord's Supper, the pastor was talking about communion during the Children’s Sermon. He told the kids the Bible talks about Holy Communion being a "joyful feast". Then he asked: "What does that mean? Well, "joyful" means happy, right? And a feast is a meal, right? So a "joyful feast" is a Happy, Meal. And what are the three things we need for a happy meal?"

He never got to finish the Children's Sermon because one little boy sitting in front hollered out, "Hamburger, fries, and a regular soft drink?"

There is much in our experience of the Lord’s Supper that should make us happy!

The writer of Hebrews tells us that Jesus, the very essence and reflection of God, came to us as a human being, so that by the grace of God, he might taste death for everyone. The Lord’s Supper is a taste of the good life of grace.

The Greek word that is translated as “taste” is a figurative word. It means literally, “come to know.” So a rewording of the verse would be “so that by the grace of God, Jesus might come to know death for everyone.” Jesus came to know death so that we would not have to taste death ourselves. That is, because of Jesus’ willingness to suffer on the cross, we do not have to suffer the consequences of our sin. Jesus removed that cross from us by going to the cross himself. We get to taste the good life of grace because of Jesus’ sacrifice.

Because Jesus tasted death for us we can live the good life of freedom!
• We can be free from the guilt and shame of our past mistakes.

• We can be free from the discouraging sense that we are unloved.

• We can be free from the cynicism that grips so many because we have an assurance that God is present and ultimately in control.

• We can be free from our fears about the future because we have tasted the life of hope that assures us of a never-ending relationship with the Lord.

Jesus tasted death . . . came to know death . . . by God’s grace so that we would not have to taste the power of death in our own lives. Jesus tasted death so that we might come to know the good life of freedom, no longer weighed down by guilt or shame. Jesus tasted death so that we would have the good life of hope based on Christ’s presence with us now and an assurance that we will never, ever be separated from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

The taste of communion is tasting the good life Christ our brother gave us though his suffering, death, and his glorious resurrection. That makes our communion meal a happy one! Come to worship for your taste of the good life!