A Lesson From The Pelicans!

God is a Great Teacher; the best ever.  I say this because He uses so many “styles” and “ways” of teaching the lessons we need in order to be equipped to live life the way it’s designed, by Him, to be lived.  In my journey, He has used our children, grandchildren, TV commercials, billboards, signs, and even my own life experiences.  Not just my good experiences, but especially the not-so-good experiences.

I have found, and continue to find that the world around me is God’s Classroom where timeless treasures and wisdom await my discovery.  This week is no exception.  We are on our annual summer spiritual retreat–at Ft. Morgan Beach.  Nothing like having the toes in white sand while listening to the waves to help us recharge our spiritual batteries–unless it’s at a cabin in the Smoky Mountains in the Fall.  God uses nature to teach me something about Grace and Life in His Kingdom through the pelicans.

I noticed them yesterday, and remembered other times when they would be in search of something to eat.  As they would be gliding over the water, they suddenly folded their wings and dived into the water–like an old World War 2 dive bomber.  No reluctance.  No hesitation.  Head long as fast as they could go into the water.  They saw their next meal and went after it with abandon and no hesitation.  I’ve never seen a pelican pull up out of that dive.  Not to say it’s never happened; I’ve just never seen it.  Watching them yesterday and thinking about seeing it happen so many times, it got me to thinking about what it should mean to us as followers of Jesus.

Here’s the Lesson He is teaching me:  We, as followers of Jesus, should pursue our purpose of bringing the Kingdom of God into hearts and lives with the same abandon as those pelicans pursued their meal.  When a pelican spotted a fish, it folded its wings, and without hesitation, pursued that fish.  What if we, when we see someone in need of life and God’s love, in desperate need of the Good News of the Kingdom, surrendered without hesitation, to reach out to them with the love that has reached out to us?  It seems that we are so good at excuses of why our effort will not make a difference.  And in those moments when we do let go, we find a reason to pull up at the last moment in fear that it won’t make a difference.

Here’s another thing I noticed about those pelicans.  Sometimes they were successful in catching their prey, and sometimes they weren’t.  And when they weren’t successful, they took to the air and tried again.  What if those pelicans decided, “Well, I missed that fish, I might as well give up.”?  They would starve; so they get back up and try again–with the same abandon and commitment as before.  And this is our lesson as followers of Jesus.

Any sense of reluctance or hesitancy on our part, needs to be surrendered to Him, and without focusing on will we be successful or not, we follow the example of Jesus.  Who dived headlong into our broken messes as one of us–from heaven to earth–in order to fulfill His purpose of redeeming us from our sins and transforming us into the life we are created to live.  Knowing that some of us would accept this new life and some of us would reject this life, He came anyway.

We need to abandon–give up–our reluctance to pursue this life of total surrender to Jesus and the purpose of the Kingdom of God.  Pelicans teach us how–fold back those wings and dive headlong to the water–with the love and compassion that Jesus shows us.  And if we fail?  Do what pelicans do.  Get back up and go at it again.  Not every attempt ends in failures.  Just ask those pelicans!

28 So we tell others about Christ, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all the wisdom God has given us.  We want to present them to God, perfect[a] in their relationship to Christ.29 That’s why I work and struggle so hard, depending on Christ’s mighty power that works within me.”  (Colossians 1:28-29 NLT)

Love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to Him.  Now, please excuse me, it’s time to go back to the Beach Classroom.

A Moving Journal-Day 5

 

Welcome to Jeopardy, Randy.  “Thanks, Alex, I’ll take Chaos and Stress for $1,000.”  And the answer is:  “This picture is what it feels like.”

48897152 - stressed businessman with broken mechanism head screams

Yes, Randy:  “What is the feeling you have when the moving truck will be here in 2 days?”  Correct!

Well, today started like usual.  Packing some more, taking some more to the curb, headed to the office, and the Funeral.  Debbie and I had visited Wynette in the hospital the day before she conquered death.  Watching her struggle to breathe reminded that about a month ago I watched my own Mother struggle to breathe.  God was faithful, not that I doubted Him, especially in a time such as this, and He gave me words to share with her Family and Friends that both honored her memory, her life and The Good News.  A trifecta, if you would.  The graveside portion was about an hour and a half away.

Then I returned to the church for one last team meeting before we leave.  It was the Finance Team.  Within my first year here, I was confronted with the fact that the accounting system was, well, what’s a word that I could use in a Christian blog?  Chaotic to the Nth degree.  Nothing illegal mind you, just poor accounting practices.  Nothing balanced and I promised the Finance Team that before I left, everything would be in order and balanced.  Thanks to my Office Manager, Samantha, she brought in a friend who loves accounting, loves numbers, loves problem solving (though I think this episode may have broken her from wanting to solve problems).  Jennifer committed and donated her time and skills for the past 6 months.  She managed to balance 2017, and set up a new system so they could say goodbye and good riddance to a system called Shelby and a new and easier to understand system (ACS) is up and running CORRECTLY.  I kept my promise.  I didn’t promise I would solve the problem, but would get the problem corrected!  Thank you Samantha and Jennifer.  After the meeting, I said goodbye to Samantha, who is more than a staff member, and she informed me I was like a big brother to her.  These words coming from an only child–priceless.  Samantha, you are like the younger sister I never had!  I wish I could get rid of my older sister and have Dad adopt you.

So, what have I learned today?  I’m so glad you asked:

  • Keeping your word is important.  Whether it is to a congregation, at work, with family, your neighbors, or even a stranger, keeping your word matters.  In this era, words of promise are casually thrown around, such as, “Oh yes, I’ll pray for you.”, only to never mention it in your prayers to God.  Well, maybe once.  When I make a promise, that is the same thing as making a commitment.  It’s true for you, too.
  • There’s always “stuff” that needs to be thrown away in our hearts.  Tonight I made more trips to the curb because tomorrow is pick-up.  I did not want to leave anything on the curb for my replacement.  And I didn’t want to just leave it here for someone else to deal with.  Cleaning out, or in a more biblical image, purifying the heart isn’t a one time thing.  And it’s more than a thing to do every 4 or 5 years.  Guard you heart from collecting stuff–stuff that doesn’t matter to the Kingdom of God–and matters even less to Jesus.
  • People matter and need to be appreciated–TOLD they are appreciated.  What else can I say about this?   Nothing!  If you can’t understand this….you are seriously messed up.
  • Even in dark times–there is still Good News!  Less than a month after Mother’s funeral, I would have had a good excuse to say no, or just put in a minimal effort into today.  But Jesus did not give his minimal effort for me, and it was infinitely more difficult for Him to do what He did, that what I was called upon to do.  The result was exactly what God promises–that good comes out of evil–for a time I forgot my own grief and God used my tears to bring hope to others.  Our circumstances do not dictate whether or not it is a time for the Good News.  Any time, especially dark times, is the perfect time for the truth that there is Good News.  Seems like that there’s a story in the Bible about the best news ever coming from a cemetery.

Well, it’s time to take my medicines, and hopefully sleep all night.  Now that would be great!  But if I don’t….God has this, and He has me!  Good night, John Boy.

Are We Reading Cultural Biases Into The Bible?

 

Lately I have been troubled, more so than usual, about an issue that surrounds the Bible.  And my troubled spirit revolves about this question:  “What does The Bible say about                                 ?  Simply fill in the blank with any topic or issue.  My issue is not about what The Bible speaks into our hearts, but what WE speak into The Bible as we read it.

I am seeing and hearing a lot of what I call “cultural bias” into what The Bible says.  For the sake of thought, allow me to define what I mean by “cultural bias”  Cultural bias is “the tendency for people to judge concepts and interpret ideas and truths through a narrow view based on their own culture.”  In other words, we read into The Bible the influences of our culture.  One of those influences, especially for the Western Church (by this I mean mainline U.S. churches), is what we have been told it means.  Sometimes this meaning is an age-old meaning.  It is what we believe, what our parents believed, what our grandparents believed, ad infinitum.  At other times, it’s the modern, more “enlightened” view.

Randolph Richards and Brandon O’Brien wrote a book, Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes.  In this book they point out 2 immediate dangers by reading the Bible with these “western eyes”.  First is making yourself the center of this search for the meaning of the Bible.  We tend to search for things we think are relevant us to and ignore the rest.  The other immediate danger they describe is, well I’ll just quote them:  “Second, and perhaps more seriously, a me-centered approach to the Bible confuses application with meaning. Simply put, I am not the focus of the Bible’s meaning; Christ is.”

While this may explain some of the issues, it does not address all of them.  Over the next few posts, I am going to look and speak into some of our “church cultural biases” into some issues.  And it may be that when we see how we have made “our” culture central in what The Bible says on these issues, there may be other, call them truths or principles of The Bible that we have read “our” interpretation into those passages to the exclusion of any other possible meanings.

I guess what I am attempting to do is to ask, “Where are we wrong when it comes to the truth of The Bible?”  And here is where you, the readers, can participate in this journey.  I am going to list some of what I see as “church culture biases” as it pertains to understanding what The Bible says.  I would like to invite you to post in the comments section other things that have been either long-hold or modern interpretations of what The Bible says about “life issues”.  So far here is my list in no particular order of importance, and please feel free to add to the list or share your insights.

  • What does the Bible really say about divorce?
  • Are those who have been divorced really excluded from church leadership?
  • Are ‘deacons’ and ‘elders’ to be considered clergy (pastors/preachers) or laity (the person in the pew)?  Who’s right?
  • Who is ‘authorized’ to administer (or serve) Holy Communion/The Lord’s Supper/The Eucharist/The Mass?
  • What does The Bible really say about women as teachers, pastors, or preachers?
  • What does The Bible really say about human sexuality?
  • Does The Bible approve of slavery?  What does it really say about it?
  • Which is a more accurate term:  Christian or Disciple?
  • What does The Bible say about “the church”?
  • Does God insist on us being a “Christian” nation, and does this fulfill our mission?
  • What is the “proper” way to worship?

Well, for right now, this is all I can think of; so if you have more ideas or questions, or arguments, share below in “Comments”.  Right now I am like the cat who ate some cheese and then went to wait beside the mouse hole.  “I am waiting with baited breath!”

Goodbye, Eddie

EddieThis week, the week of Christmas, has amplified my own “season of our discomfort” in the journey of life for myself and my wife Debbie.  A sneak peak of what this week would be like came last Monday evening, 18 December, when I received a call that my Mother had fallen, again and was at the emergency room.  This time she had a fractured elbow and it would take surgery to repair it.  Surgery would be scheduled on Wednesday, 27 December.  But Sunday, Christmas Eve, I had terrible sinuses and a sore throat.  I had to preach at the morning worship service and again that evening for the Candlelight and Communion Service at 5:00 pm.  After the morning service, I went to one of those “doc in a box” places with my request:  a shot of  antibiotics, a shot of steroids, and one of those prednisone dose packs.  That’s always worked in the past.  But after a swab, I was informed I had the flu, Type A.  No candlelight and communion, no Christmas morning with all my family (first one I wasn’t present in 61 years).  No being there for my Mother’s surgery.

On Wednesday morning the surgeon was able to repair my Mother’s elbow, but we received some very sad news that same day.  Our good friend, my brother in Christ, Eddie Phillips, life on this earth ended far sooner than I had hoped or wanted.  When Eddie was diagnosed with cancer he started writing a blog he called My Journey Up The Mountain.  I re-blogged his posts and encouraged you, my readers, to take some time to read about Eddie’s journey, but also his deep faith and profound wisdom.

I’ve often heard it said that many people who are facing their own mortality, live life with a richness that, well, that we all need to embrace every moment of every day.  Eddie’s thoughts–thoughts that came from him facing terminal cancer, have touched and continue to touch my life now.  I miss Eddie.  I miss his writing.  I miss his friendship.  I miss his encouragement.  I miss seeing Jesus through Eddie, because in so much of my world, there is more “world” than “Jesus”.  I could always count on seeing Jesus in Eddie.

So, this Saturday, Debbie and I will go to the “Celebration of the Life of Eddie Phillips” and love on his wonderful wife and our friend, Sherrie and their children and family.  I prayed hard for Eddie’s healing; I mean REAL HARD.  And right now, I miss my friend, my encourager, my spiritual brother.  I need so much more of that wisdom and insights for my journey.  But his journey up the mountain is completed.

But can I be honest with all of you?  I do not like it.  I do not like what is happening around me.  I am crushed and broken beyond words.  Tonight I was about to be really angry with God, I mean out loud angry with God.  All week I’ve been feeling hurt, broken, and a ton of other junk (including angry with God–and some others).  And now Eddie is gone.  And just when I was about to shout it out at God in and with that anger–great anger, I remembered something.  I heard a question:  “Do you remember how you close out the graveside services of followers of Jesus?”  There wasn’t a human being in the room I was in.

I stopped and said, “Well, of course.  I walk up to the head of the casket, place my hand on it and say, ‘Jesus said I Am the Resurrection and the Life.’ And now in full confidence of the hope of the Risen Savior, we do not say goodbye, but until then my friend, until then.”  So, I came to terms with myself, and said goodbye to Eddie.  And on Saturday, I will look at his casket and remember that Jesus is The Resurrection and the Life.  And I will say, “Until then, Eddie, until that day.”  But I still miss you.

Oh, that each of us could live by what Eddie taught us in his brief season of writing.  I just now remembered a country song, “Live Like You Were Dying”.  It is just a song with lyrics and melody, but a powerful message.  My friend Eddie made it more than a song, it was his life, his faith and is his legacy.  Thanks Eddie, but I will miss you.

Assumptions

Maker:S,Date:2017-10-3,Ver:6,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar02,E:Y

It is easy, so very easy, TOO easy, to read our assumptions into the Truths in the Bible.  I know, because I have been guilty of doing it.  The sign you see is one in front of a local church.  I know some of the people, and they love Jesus.  But something about this sign doesn’t seem right to me.  Now before you accuse me of “judging” them, or being a fundamental literalist, know that I am reading a really great book called 12 Steps For The Recovering Pharisee (like me).”  Here is what The Spirit is teaching me:  “Don’t Read Your Assumptions Into My Texts!”

The Shepherds did NOT follow the Star.  They followed the verbal directions of the Choir Director of Heaven’s Choir.  Here is the story found in Luke 2:8-16 (NLT)

That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, 10 but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 12 And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”  13 Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”  15 When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”  16 They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger.

Was that Star present?  Absolutely!  The “Wise Men” saw it and followed it.  Were they the only ones who could see that Star?  No, anyone who looked up at night could have seen that Star, but only those “Wise Men” knew what to do with it.  The Shepherds, on the other hand, received verbal directions on where to find the newborn Messiah:  In the stable at Bethlehem.  Being Shepherds, they would have known where that Stable was at; and if there were multiple stables in and around Bethlehem, they would have known their locations, too.  That’s what Shepherds do!

But this sign reveals something that, well, I want to talk about.  Again, I’m not criticizing or judging; just an observation.  Because the Wise Men followed the Star (that is in the Bible; Matthew 2:1-12) does not mean that the Shepherds (or anyone else, for that matter) followed the Star.  This person simply took their knowledge about that Star and applied it to the Shepherds.  There was a star and there were Shepherds!  Voila and Ta-Da!  The Shepherds MUST HAVE followed that Star.

It’s not just with the Incarnation Story that people take one part of the Bible and add it to another part.  The danger of “assuming” things about a passage creates damage; to people and to churches.  Our natural tendency (the one influenced by the Father of all lies) is to find ways to prove our point.  The Enemy is skillful and unfortunately, very successful, at helping us take the “text” out of its “context” simply to prove our point.

God has been taking me on an incredible journey of simplicity that is profoundly impacting both my faith and my life.  The Spirit has given me a, call it “Formula” or “Bible Reading Plan” that looks like this:

  1. First, I begin listening to some Worship music.  I use my earbuds so as not to disturb anyone, and to not be distracted in my personal worship time.  I also pour my cup of coffee and sit in front of the fireplace.  It helps me to stay focused on worshiping God.  Being ADHD, it’s easy for me to be distracted.  Finding this place helps me remind myself:  “Hey!  Dummy!  This moment is about God being honored for who HE IS, not what I need or need to be doing!”
  2. I read the Sacred Scriptures without any agenda or bias.  I ask the Holy Spirit to speak into my mind and heart.  I listen to the words I’m reading, pushing aside anything anyone has ever told me about the passage or what I think I know about the passage.  I approach it as if it is the very first time I’ve read it.  (By the way, I’m in my 3 consecutive reading of Ephesians, each time I start over, I treat it like it’s the first time I’ve ever seen it.  I found it takes me 6 to 7 days to read this letter.)
  3. I focus on the context of the passage.  When did God say or inspire those words?  What was happening in that culture, in that moment?  Sometimes there are other questions, but the last one I ask is important:  What does this say about God’s passion and desire to restore this fallen creation?  In other words, “How is God moving to make me (and others) into what HE originally intended BEFORE Adam and Eve sinned?”
  4. I ask this question:  “What is God saying to me?”  I write my answers down in a journal.
  5. Then I ask the second question:  “What does this say about me?”  This can get a little dicey and requires a lot more focus from me.  Sometimes it convicts me.  Other times it affirms me.  And there have been a few moments when I discover God’s view of me is different than my view of me–sometimes even better than I see myself.
  6. And now, I am moving into the third question.  This question is the one that  will determine if I will allow this Word to transform into who God says I am.  “What am I going to do about it?”

I am finding this approach helps to clear my head of any assumptions I may be bringing into the Story of God’s work of Restoration.  You see, when we ASSUME anything, it makes something out of “U and ME”.  Figure it out.  And if you ASSUME alone, it just makes you “it”.  What I’m saying is, “Folks!  Stop assuming YOU are the final authority on the Bible.  Stop assuming YOU are right.  Don’t read the Bible to prove your point.  Read the Bible to show where you are missing that mark of being all you are created to become, not so that you can point out where you think people are wrong.  Stop taking passages out of context!  Please!”  I remember something from my homiletics class.  Dr. Thompson said it many times:  “A text taken out of its context is only a pretext, and never the Truth.”

Love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to Him!  Amen and Amen!

Oh, here’s a post script, and it comes from the stories around the birth of Jesus:  God speaks to different people in different ways–but if we follow His directions, be it by a star or by the Choir Director of Heaven’s Angel Choir, we get to the same place.  But you have to follow HIS directions.