Monthly Archives: February 2016
He was someone I respected and was staying with us for a few days as a guest speaker at our church. One evening as we sat in the living room watching a ball game, a commercial came on the air. I no longer recall what they were advertising, but they compared their product to their leading competitor. When it was over he said “That commercial was so good it was hard to tell if they were selling Brand A or Brand B.”
I laughed and said “You know, you’re right. For a moment there I almost thought they were selling Brand B.” He laughed and said “They were.” Whoops. Yes, they were good! Continue reading
We use to work out in a gym during the same lunch hour. After a few weeks she asked me what I did for a living. Knowing she would never guess, I said “Why don’t you guess.”
The guessing game went on for weeks. Was I in construction? A teacher? Did I run my own business? And one I hear a lot, was I retired?
After saying she could not think of any more vocations, she asked me what I did. I told her I pastored a church. She was shocked. After all, according to her “You do not look like a pastor.” I took that as a compliment. Continue reading
One cannot be conscious of God 24/7. Too many other things demand our attention. We need to pay attention when people talk to us and when we speak to them, and of course when we are driving. And then there is the need to sleep. To just sit and do nothing but think about God will result in a lifespan of maybe seven days.
But to be thinking about God on-and-off-continually is a different matter. It’s not easy, but it is doable.
Recently I had a couple of events take place that most folks would not think were out of the ordinary. I did not speak to anyone about them, but even if I did, no one would raise an eyebrow. They were trivial matters, but I felt I needed to see some things happen, so I prayed. And when they happened I paused and prayed again. Continue reading
The man came in wearing a heavy jacket and stomping his snow-covered boots. He shook a little in the heat of the room and unzipped his coat. But what you noticed was his smile. It was freezing out and the ground was snow-covered and crusty and this guy was enjoying it.
He said something positive about the weather and was met with looks of incredulity. My sense was that if it was put to a vote, summer would be back and this guy would be shipped off to Outer Mongolia.
But then it dawned on me that if we took another vote, one on who was the most contented person in that room, that guy would win hands down and everyone else would be sent to sit in the corner. Continue reading
I recall reading about someone trying to explain sin. No small task. Among his various illustrations and analogies was his saying that trying to separate sin from a sinner was similar to trying to separate a dance from a dancer.
I don’t know why, but that picture stayed in my mind. There is no sin in the abstract. There has to be someone disobeying the will of God, overtly or covertly, for there to be sin.
Further complicating things is how similar sin is from that which is not sin. Without even noticing it, eating can become gluttony; admiring can become lusting; caution becomes fear; praying becomes complaining, and concern can become worry. The lines are razor thin and invisible. Continue reading
Addressing the subject of the crucifixion can be difficult for a pastor. It is such a gory ordeal that speakers either just gloss over it so as not to offend or delve into each of the gruesome, ghastly details to tear at the emotions. Even those who do not attend church are familiar with the whole horrible process through movies such as The Passion of the Christ.
In March, 1998, I had the opportunity to spend a couple of weeks in Israel on a study tour. I recall one place we visited had a facsimile of the cross of Christ between two other crosses as described in the gospel accounts. What surprised (and confused) me was their height, or lack of it. The crosses were relatively short. Someone nailed to one of them would only be a few inches off the ground, not the 10-12 feet pictured in my children’s Bible.
As I thought about it, it dawned on me that just as someone can drown in an inch of water, so they can die crucified an inch off the ground. But the thought that really captured my attention was that I would be almost face-to-face with someone nailed to a cross at that height. I suddenly had a different understanding of Mark 15:27-30,
“And with him they crucified two robbers, one on his right and one on his left. And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, ‘Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!’” Continue reading
You ever know someone who was not well, or at least did not look well, but would not see a doctor? Their symptoms are evident to everyone, and sometimes they have deeper symptoms you can’t see. And yet, when you ask them if they’ve been to a doctor, or suggest seeing a doctor, they dismiss it with an “I’ll be fine.”
Such a response is frustrating and unsettling. Clearly there is something wrong. And if the individual is someone close to you, it can be heartbreaking. You know that if they would just go see a doctor and get a diagnosis, the condition could be treated, if not cured. But there they sit, getting sicker and sicker, until it’s too late.
In his book the Problem of Pain, C. S. Lewis has a chapter entitled “Human Wickedness.” As one might expect, it’s a chapter on the doctrine of sin. Lewis opens the chapter by stating the obvious; it is remarkably difficult to get someone to see or acknowledge their sinful state. He observes it wasn’t always this way. He writes, Continue reading
It remains one of the strangest moments in the history of the Catholic Church and it happened to its greatest theologian. One authority describes it this way,
“On the feast of St. Nicholas [in 1273, Aquinas] was celebrating Mass when he received a revelation that so affected him that he wrote and dictated no more, leaving his great work the Summa Theologiae unfinished. To Brother Reginald’s (his secretary and friend) expostulations he replied, ‘The end of my labors has come. All that I have written appears to be as so much straw after the things that have been revealed to me.’ When later asked by Reginald to return to writing, Aquinas said, ‘I can write no more. I have seen things that make my writings like straw.’”1
Three months later Thomas Aquinas died while on his way to the ecumenical council of Lyons. Continue reading
If going to church services has been part of your upbringing, you’ve no doubt experienced a wide range of the ways people pray. Some people pray loudly, others softly; some stand up and others sit or kneel; some have their hands folded while others wave their hands in the air.
I’ve been with people who cried while they prayed and others who, yes, actually laughed. I’ve smiled when someone was confused and prayed for a wife when it was the husband who had the need. And I’ve been with children who prayed for a sick pet. Continue reading
It can be an unsettling passage. “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman . . . so that your prayers may not be hindered.” (1 Peter 3:7). I’ve seen the bumper sticker that reads “Life is fragile. Handle with prayer.” It turns out prayer is equally fragile.
I don’t profess to understand all this passage means; how much ununderstanding can I get away with without gumming up all things vertical? Certainly differing over what we have for supper or what we watch on television is not the same as where we invest our life savings. Or is it? Continue reading