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The Fighting Spirit

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

On the southwest corner of a courthouse square in a small midwestern town, three churches occupy three corners of the intersection.  Each pastor posts the next Sunday’s sermon title on the sign in front of the church.  One Monday morning the Presbyterian pastor’s title said, “The Kingdom of God.”  Later that morning, the Methodist pastor put up his sermon title: “Enter the Kingdom Here.”  That afternoon, the Baptist pastor, whose church was between the other two, posted his title: “Main Entrance.”

                Ah yes – the spirit of competition!  I imagine most find such distasteful.  And certainly, such displays are quite rare in our day and age of ecumenism.  It is no longer “kosher” to broadcast religious differences between groups all claiming to be Christian.  In fact, it seems most such religious arguments and have inside, within the walls of the various churches.  We fight amongst ourselves, in other words, about even less important matters.

                The preachers of the olden, golden days are accused from this safe distance of exhibiting a “fighting spirit.”  Tsk, tsk, we say, from our modern high horse.

                And yet, has the fighting spirit really died down?  Has it not simply shifted indoors?  Which is worse?  Which is better?  Is either healthy?

                I am reminded of Paul’s colorful turn of phrase to the Galatians, who apparently suffered from internal squabbles – “But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another” (Galatians 5:15).  It would be good to recall exactly what precedes and follows this verse as well:  verse 13 – “through love serve one another” and verse 16 – “Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.”  The kinds of actions Paul addresses in verse 15 are not loving nor are they spiritual.

                James gives us the ultimate insight into all this in James 4:1.  Consider the power of these words:  “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you?  Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?”

The problem, you see, is within me.  Not you.  Not them.  Me.  It is the war within me that leads to the war with you, and with them.  I need to remember that next time I try to fix blame upon another.

Don't Tear Paper!

Friday, April 07, 2017

               Comedian Mel Brooks told a story about a man who suffered from a compulsion to tear paper.  After several years of psychoanalysis, he was no better at all.  His family was losing hope.  So the man’s parents took him to a new therapist.  Instead of listening to the troubled man for hours, the therapist walked him around the room, talking quietly to him.  In one session, the man was cured.  One year later, he was still ok.  Overcome with curiosity, the man’s mother called therapist and asked what he said to her son in that one turning-point session.  The therapist said, “I told him, ‘Don’t tear paper.’”

               There is certainly something to be said for plain talk, isn’t there?  It might not always in every situation be what is called for, so we must exercise wisdom, but eventually, it comes down to speaking the truth (in love).

               If you study Jesus’ approach to people, he was often quite forthright, even blunt!  I hear echoes of things He said:  “You MUST be born again...be PERFECT...he that believes and is baptized will be saved...love your enemies...DON’T be anxious...judge NOT...beware of FALSE prophets...REPENT!...woe to you who are rich...get behind me, Satan!”

               We live in a culture that more and more is less and less tolerant of such clear statements.  The slightest offense causes people to crumble and run for cover.  Don’t fall for such cowardice.  The disciples of Jesus must be tough.  We are a people under command.  We have a King.  If Jesus learned obedience (Hebrews 5:8), who are we to expect not to have to learn it?

               Sometimes we just need a little straight talk.  Sometimes our world needs the same, whether they tolerate it or not.  Learn from the Lord, who loved people more than we will ever be able to.  “Don’t tear paper!”

Hear This Parable!

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

               On a dangerous seacoast where shipwrecks often occur there was once a crude little lifesaving station.  The building was just a hut, and there was only one boat, but the few devoted members kept a constant watch over the sea, and with no thought of themselves went out day and night tirelessly searching for the lost.  Many lives were saved by this wonderful little station, so that it became famous.  Some of those who were saved, and various others in the surrounding area, wanted to become associated with the station and give of their time and money and effort for the support of its work.  New boats were bought and new crews trained.  The little lifesaving station grew.

               Some of the members of the lifesaving station were unhappy that the building was so crude and poorly equipped.  They felt that a more comfortable place should be provided as the first refuge of those saved from the sea.  So they replaced the emergency cots with beds and put better furniture in the enlarged building.  Now the lifesaving station became a popular gathering place for its members, and they decorated it beautifully and furnished it exquisitely, because they used it as a sort of club.  Fewer members were now interested in going to sea on lifesaving missions, so they hired lifeboat crews to do this work.  The life-saving motif still prevailed in this club’s decorations, and there was a liturgical lifeboat in the room where the club initiations were held.  About this time a large ship was wrecked off the coast, and the hired crews brought in boatloads of cold, wet, and half-drowned people.  They were dirty and sick, and some of them had black skin and some had yellow skin.  The beautiful new club was in chaos.  So the property committee immediately had a shower house built outside the club where victims of shipwreck could be cleaned up before coming inside.

               At the next meeting, there was a split in the club membership.  Most of the members wanted to stop the club’s lifesaving activities as being unpleasant and a hindrance to the normal social life of the club.  Some members insisted upon lifesaving as their primary purpose and pointed out that they were still called a lifesaving station.  But they were finally voted down and told that if they wanted to save the lives of all the various kinds of people who were shipwrecked in those waters, they could begin their own lifesaving station down the coast.  They did.

               As the years went by, the new station experienced the same changes that had occurred in the old.  It evolved into a club, and yet another lifesaving station was founded.  History continued to repeat itself, and if you visit that sea coast today, you will find a number of exclusive clubs along that shore.  Shipwrecks are frequent in those waters, but most of the people drown!

                           - as told by Richard Wheatcroft; found in Leading the Congregation - Roger Heuser and Norman Shawchuck, pp. 232-233

Got Rhythm?

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

       Rick Ezell writes: “In the Challenger space shuttle disaster, key NASA officials made the ill-fated decision to go ahead with the launch after working twenty hours straight and getting only two to three hours of sleep the night before. Their error in judgment cost the lives of seven astronauts and nearly killed the U.S. space program.

       When we ignore our need for rest and renewal we do so at the peril of others and ourselves.

       Because we do not rest, we lose our way. We miss the compass points that show us were to go. We make faulty judgments. We miss the solitude that gives us wisdom. Consequently, because of our lack of rest, our lives are in danger. Error in our judgment may cost us, too, our lives.

       How have we allowed this to happen? How did we get so terribly rushed in a world saturated with work and responsibility, yet somehow void our joy and delight?

       Rest and relaxation are not optional. Rest was never meant to be a luxury, but a necessity for growth, maturity, and health. We need rest because our physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being demands periodic breaks. The old proverb is true, “If you don’t come apart and rest awhile, you will come apart.”

       In the relentless busyness of modern life, we have lost the rhythm between action and rest. We need to regain that rhythm.

       When you listen to an orchestra, all the parts work together in harmony. The music has balance and rhythm. Without rhythm, the music is awkward and out of sync. It just doesn’t flow right.

       Have you ever felt as if your life isn’t flowing right, as if you’ve lost the rhythm? To have rhythm in your life, four ingredients are necessary: rest, worship, play, and work. Too many of us change and reverse these ingredients and end up with work, work, work, and perhaps a little play.

       Gordon Dahl wrote, ‘Most middle-class Americans tend to worship their work, to work at their play, and to play at their worship. As a result, their meanings and values are distorted. Their relationships disintegrate faster than they can keep them in repair, and their lifestyles resemble a cast of characters in search of a plot.’ Or to keep with our metaphor, their lifestyles resemble a song in dire need of rhythm.”

                                                                                           - Michael Duduit

Random thoughts on teaching

Friday, March 03, 2017

               I love to teach!  I think it is part of my gift-mix from the Lord.  It is a wonderful challenge to open up new worlds of learning for eager students.  It certainly has its ups and downs, though.  Here are some things I have learned from teaching:

               Sometimes when you think they are getting it, they are NOT getting it.

               And a corollary to that:  Sometimes when you think they are not getting it, they ARE getting it!

               Never underestimate a particular student’s ability to learn.

               Staying current and fresh and up-to-date is vital to making a connection with students much    younger than you.

               Another corollary:  Current/fresh/up-to-date does not mean “hip, cool, their age.”  They know                you’re an old guy (gal).  They also know when you are trying to fool them into thinking you are one of them.

               Truth matters.  Especially to millennials.  How about being one of the very few willing to share it with them?

               Don’t bother to ask students to study if you are not studying.  In particular, do not ask them to read if you have stopped reading.

               If you don’t love people, please don’t teach.

               Jesus was the greatest teacher of all.  Learn from Him.

               A wild thought:  consider an Eastern approach at times, instead of always defaulting to Western modes of instruction.

               One time I had one of my great teachers break decorum and give me a high-five in class when I remembered something he thought we had all forgotten (some detail about ancient Egyptian history).  I never forgot that.  Be memorable in surprising ways.

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