Friday, March 28, 2014

Lessons from the Waterfalls

PRINCIPLE: “When thinking of tomorrow, focus on today.”

It would be a long walk down to the falls, but we had been told it was well worth it. So we parked the car and began the trek down towards the falls. And it was long – and it was worth it! All along the way were beautiful views of God's majestic creation.

After spending a fair amount of time soaking in the beauty, and snapping plenty of pictures, we began the journey back to the car. After just a few steps it dawned on us – if it was all downhill to get here, it will be all uphill to get there! It's amazing how such a thought flavors the whole climb back! Once we realized it, the trek seemed harder and longer – and the beauty didn't seem quite so glorious. Our conversation lessened and, in fact, became a series of “Are we there yet?” queries. To make matters worse, we kept looking ahead, up hill, to see how much further we had to go – not a good idea! The end never seemed to be in sight. We finally concluded that the best strategy was simply to watch our current steps, to focus on one step at a time, and let the parking lot, in a sense, come to us. It certainly gave new meaning to 'on step at a time.'

Jesus taught the same lesson. In the Sermon on the Mount, after assuring his hearers of His Father's continual, adequate, loving care He said But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” If we believe in and trust our Father's loving care, then we need not worry or fret about tomorrow and what is to come. So “When thinking of tomorrow, focus on today.”

Jesus was not saying that we should never makes plans or provisions for tomorrow; He was saying that we should never let those plans and provisions rob us of seeing and grasping the opportunities of today; we should not become so absorbed in planning and providing for tomorrow that we fail to handle the stresses and challenges of today. So “When thinking of tomorrow, focus on today.” It makes me wonder how many times, under the guise of 'good time management', I've missed opportunities to give and receive love. It makes me wonder how often, under the illusion of being a good planner, I've failed to see or seize an opportunity that could have been life changing, for me and others. I wonder about all the stresses and challenges that have frustrated and sometimes even defeated me – could I have been been better prepared to handle them if, instead of looking up the hill to come, I had simply been taking one step at a time?

I'll never know. That's all in the past. I can't change any of it. But I can change how I live today. I just need to remember that the next step is most important; so focus on it. I can make some plans and provisions for tomorrow, but unless I take one step at a time today, I will interrupt and undo all those plans and provisions I made yesterday for today. As someone once said, 'Today is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday!” Perhaps you, too, will approach today differently. “When thinking of tomorrow, focus on today.”

Friday, March 21, 2014

Some Thoughts on Tools

PRINCIPLE: “To do the job right, use the right tools.”

We had a metal bar stool in our kitchen. One of its feet had lost it's protective cap which meant it was now capable of scratching or otherwise marking up the floor. It was too nice a stool to just discard – but how to fix the uncovered foot? My wife discovered the solution – a plastic cap from a very small bottle. Its circumference was precisely that of the stool foot. All it needed was a little trimming and, since it was clear and the other caps were black, some black coloring. A black Permanent Marker worked just fine. The stool now has all its feet protected, the floor is safe, and all is well. All that was needed was the right tools. “To do the job right, use the right tools.”

It's not a new or startling principle; in fact, it's very common. No job can be done without the right tools.
A carpenter cannot build a house without the right tools. A seamstress cannot sew a gown without the right tools. A mechanic cannot repair a motor without the right tools. A musician cannot make music without the right tools. “To do the job right, use the right tools.”

But while it may not be a new or startling principle, I wonder if we've taken the time or made the effort to apply it to other areas of life. For example, when faced with a decision, how do we decide? What principles guide us? When we're trying to decide what's right in a given situation, how do we determine what's right? When we're in need of training, where do we turn? When we want to help another person whose life is seemingly falling apart, where are our resources?

The apostle Paul gave the answer (2 Tim. 3:16): All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. When we need to teach or be taught, Scripture is our tool. When we need to rebuke or be rebuked, Scripture is our tool. When we need to correct or be corrected, Scripture is our tool. When we need to train or undergo training in living godly lives, Scripture is our tool. When we need help, guidance, or strength for doing good works, Scripture is our tool.“To do the job right, use the right tools.”

No carpenter would think of building a house without the right tools. No seamstress would think of sewing a gown without the right tools. No mechanic would think of repairing a motor without the right tools. No musician would think of making music without the right tools. But I wonder – how often do we act without first using the right tool, the Word of God? What truly guides us – our emotions, our instincts, our habits, our feelings? Do we take the time to breathe in the truth and power of God's Word? In all honesty, how often have we failed to do the job right because we failed to use the right tool?

As for me, now every time I see the bar stool in our kitchen it reminds me that whatever the decision or job is, “To do the job right, use the right tools.”

Friday, March 14, 2014

The Meeting of the Birds

PRINCIPLE: “At the rising and the setting, remember the birds.”

It was a wonderful condo. Positioned on a golf course and a small river outlet, it was quiet and peaceful – except at sunrise and sunset. That's when the birds flew in and squealed in one mass chorus. Everyday, without fail. Morning and evening; sunrise and sunset. At first I thought it was a nuisance, an unfortunate disturbing of the peace. But then I began to ponder their congregational gathering.

I have no idea what these birds were saying to one another – or if they were speaking, singing, or hollering. But at the beginning and end of each day they came together as one community and shared a common voice. Not a bad idea for communities and families! At the beginning and end of each day, get together, touch base, and share a common voice. Just think what it would do for our families and communities. “At the rising and the setting, remember the birds.”

I also wonder if perhaps these birds were singing in praise of their Creator - everyday, without fail. Morning and evening; sunrise and sunset. I began to realize that these squealing birds were pointing me to the Psalmist who wrote (113:2-3 CEV). “Let the name of the Lord be praised now and forever. From dawn until sunset the name of the Lord deserves to be praised.” Nighttime is for rest – but the daytime is for praising the name of the Lord. Beginning and ending the day with a common voice of praise frames the living of our days. “At the rising and the setting, remember the birds.”

Historically monks and monastic communities understood the importance of this common voice; they gathered at the beginning and end of each day to share in praise and worship (and usually during the day at appointed times was well.) The early church in America had an inkling of this importance. The tradition of the Sunday evening worship service was based partially on this concept. Families gathered from miles around to worship on Sunday morning, then they shared a meal, and before they took off for the long trip home they would worship again. It was, in a sense, the beginning and end of their Sabbath day. It provided a pattern for all other days. “From dawn until sunset the name of the Lord deserves to be praised.” I wonder what we have lost with the elimination of our Sunday evening worship? Perhaps not just another service of worship, but a pattern for living. “At the rising and the setting, remember the birds.”

While I believe more gathering together in our congregations would be of inestimable value, I also recognize that where and when this does not or cannot happen, we, as individuals, can still follow the pattern and habit of the birds - everyday, without fail. Morning and evening; sunrise and sunset. Consider the Psalmist: “In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly.“ (5:3) “I think about you before I go to sleep, and my thoughts turn to you during the night.” (16:3 CEV) Everyday, without fail. Morning and evening; sunrise and sunset.“At the rising and the setting, remember the birds.”

If indeed, beginning and ending the day with a common voice of praise frames the living of our days, what are you doing? Or more importantly, what will you do? Whether it be in community or congregation or family, or as an individual, how will you frame your day? When you see your next sunrise, what will you do? When you see you next sunset, what will you do? “At the rising and the setting, remember the birds.”

Friday, March 7, 2014

Sticks and Stones

PRINCIPLE: Sticks and stones will hurt some bones.”

The toughest thing for me to control in my life has not been my budget, my circumstances, my ministry, my mind, or even my behavior. It has been my tongue. As Proverbs 18:21 bluntly states: “The tongue has the power of life and death...” How we use our tongue, the words we say and how we say them, is literally an issue of life and death. Our tongue can destroy life. In James 3:5-6 we read: “Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.” Have you ever been burned by the tongue of someone who, with a few choice words, cut us to the quick? How many of us as parents have not, at some point in time, said something that burned and harmed our children? The tongue, like fire, does lasting damage. Proverbs 18:8 says of words, “They go down to a man’s inmost parts.” The image is that words, like food, are internalized, digested, and carried around forever; they live on long after they have been spoken. James even goes as far as to say the tongue, words, can kill (3:8): “It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” Growing up I learned to say, “Sticks and stones will hurt my bones, but names will never hurt (kill) me.”  It is nice to have a positive attitude, but I have learned that it is not that simple. I have ministered to too many broken Christians, and have been wounded enough myself, to know words can maim and kill. A talkative woman once tried to justify the quickness of her own tongue by saying, “It passes; it is done with quickly.” To which evangelist Billy Sunday replied, “So does a shotgun blast.”  And the damage is not limited to those who are the targets of the words – it reaches those who speak them. Proverbs 13:3: “...he who speaks rashly will come to ruin.” A quick tongue damages everyone in its wake. That’s why Proverbs 10:19 (TLB) states, “Don’t talk so much. You keep putting your foot in your mouth. Be sensible and turn off the flow.”

How many words of sarcasm have you uttered this week? How many insinuations have you made? How much blame have you pushed off on others? What about those “jokes” that caused more hurt than laughter? And what about the name-calling you did in jest? Or the gossip you passed along? How have you spoken to your mate, children, parents, coworkers, church leaders and members?

However, the same tongue can be a positive instrument – it can build life. Paul wrote in Colossians 4:6: “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” The tongue can offer grace. It used to be said of old sailors, “They use such salty language”, and it was meant as a negative, because it referred to their foul language. But Paul says we are to season our words with the salt of grace. Some people care enough about others to say the right things while other people care only about releasing their venom. As someone said, “The difference between a gossip and a concerned friend is like the difference between a butcher and a surgeon. Both cut the meat, but for different reasons.”  How many words of praise have you uttered? How many words of thanks? How much love have you expressed? How much affirmation have you given?

We must lead the way in healing bones rather than hurting them. Paul wrote (Eph. 4:29): “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” So let us bring our hearts under the captivity of Jesus Christ. Let the Holy Spirit speak to us before we speak to others. As Beth Day wrote back in 1855 we must always ask three questions before we speak: Is it true? Is it needful? Is it kind? And to that I would add a fourth: Is it of God? William Norris has penned it cleverly: “If your lips would keep from slips, Five things observe with care: To whom you speak; of whom you speak; And how, and when, and where.”

With the Psalmist we need to pray (141:3-4): “Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips. Let not my heart be drawn to what is evil...”