"Preach the gospel at all times, if necessary use words." - St. Francis of Assisi

Friday, April 15, 2011

Lent Day 19 - Sunday, March 27

“I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go into the house of the Lord.” (Psalms 122:1)

Today is Sunday. A Holy Day. A day of rest. A day to fellowship with God. And fellow believers. A day to separate from the world (as much as possible). This morning I joined millions of other believers around the world and went to church. And it was good.

Many years ago, I read a book titled, “Mister God, this is Anna.” The main thing that I remember from this book is Anna’s take on the day of rest. Paraphrasing a bit, Anna made the point that “God didn’t rest on the seventh day. He’s God and doesn’t need to rest. By His calling it a day of rest, God created rest for us. We need to have that day away from the hectic life, to rest and visit God.” Isn’t that an interesting take on the seventh day? Still a day of creation for us…a day of rest?

Yet, what do so many of us do, whether we are on church staff or not? We try to cram as much as possible into that one day, in the name of God’s work, that we wear ourselves out and come to almost dread Sundays because of the busyness. Been there, done that, burnt myself out from church. Many churches start at 8 a.m. or earlier with worship services, bible studies, lunches, meetings, visitations, training classes, choirs, programs, programs, programs. And we wonder why people get burnt out and drop away after a season.

In my own personal walk, I have had to make a conscious choice about what I will and will not be involved with. Even though, I enjoy church stuff and love to be involved, I’ve just learned that I can’t do it all…..as much as I wish I could. As a general rule these days, keep my afternoons and evenings free for family, friends, reading, basically quietness. Avoiding the office or other working. Even though I’m writing, it is in my home office, watching the birds in the woods out the windows and enjoying the music from my iPod/Bose system. Resting. As the day was created to do.

Let me encourage you to at least try and simplify your day of rest. Realize that you and your family might need to be hanging out together rather than running all over the county trying to do things that could really wait until the next week. Use Sunday as a day of rest, and, go back to the verse from earlier in this Lenten season, “Be still and know that I am God.”(Psalms 46:10).

Thanks be to God for his indescribable GIFT!

Lent Day 18 - Saturday, March 26

“The Son of Man (Jesus) did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as payment for many.” (Matthew 20:28)

“What’s in it for me?” “I’d be glad to help, but are you buying me lunch?” “Yeah, I can loan you a few bucks, but you’ll owe me big time!” “Leave me alone – I have rights!” How many times have you said, or thought, these or similar words? Somehow, society has acquired the mindset that we are all owed something from everyone else. We’re willing to do and help, but want to be repaid in some way. Again….”what’s in it for me?” The truly sad thing is that this attitude has even affected Christians, the ones who are supposed to be all about turning the other cheek and denying oneself.

Part of my Lenten journey, and hopefully yours, is getting out of our “selves” and focusing more on others. How and who can I help that needs unconditional help, which means that I don’t expect anything in return? In other words, volunteers. I can be very quick to write a check to a non-profit and/or charity so they can provide help….but how often do I actually plan to get my hands involved in the work? Am I willing to put my mouth where my checkbook is?

I could begin to list local organizations where our physical presence is needed, almost as much as financial donations are welcomed. The problem is that some would be left out, so for that, I apologize in advance. The ones I mention below are groups that I am, or have been, a part of in times past and still feel strongly about their support. Even though many are in my own Henry County, most other counties have similar organizations, too. So, take a Saturday afternoon, a weekday evening, a couple hours here and there to volunteer. Your heart will be blessed as much as those to whom you minister.

Assistance for women and children (Haven House, A Friends House), Food Banks (Helping in His Name), Pregnancy Resource/Crisis Centers, animal shelters (local humane societies, Noah’s Ark), Feeding the hungry in our own area and those around (Love Ministries), providing housing and shelter (Fuller Center Project – McDonough). See? I know I’ve left others out, but do your homework and find something that interests you and get involved.

Maybe this still isn’t what you can do, so look at your local church for opportunities. I have never known of a church that doesn’t need volunteers for community efforts (again, feeding the hungry, apartment ministries, assisted living or nursing home programs, packing shoeboxes for children overseas), to work with children and teenagers in sports programs, sending postcards or making telephone calls to those who are shut-in and cannot regularly attend church, spending time in the prayer room and sending a prayer-gram to someone in a difficult time or illness, greeting those who attend your church with a smile and an open door…it just takes a wee bit of effort to find somewhere to give of yourself.

Part of this season (for me) is to give time for others. Focusing on others. More about you. Less about me. More about God. Less about Jimmy.

Jesus did not come to be served as the Son of God. He came to be a servant. To serve others. To wash their feet. To teach us…you and me… how to be a servant. To not expect to get anything in return. Pray and look for ways you can do the same.

Blessed be the name of the LORD!

Lent Day 17 - Friday, March 25

“Oh, sing to the Lord a new song! Sing to the Lord all the earth.” (Psalm 96:1)

With no offense intended to any preachers and speakers….my primary means of personal worship has always been through music. Music has been, is and will always be my primary means of giving back to God and is the medium through which God blesses me. From the time I cannot even remember, my mom says that I would go sit at the piano and tap at little nonsensical melodies and rhythms….never banging, just intentional playing. So, when I hit second grade, I began piano lessons. From the first Tuesday when I entered Mrs. Stephens living room and sat down at her piano, I fell in love with music. Through the next few years, I learned popular songs, classical and jazz, but my heart responded and my fingers fell into the natural rhythms of God’s music. Of course, in those days, hymns reigned supreme and the most daring of contemporary Christian music belonged to the Imperials.

When I was 13, I began to fill in at my church, and when I was 15, I went to my first church as their full-time pianist. Except for a couple years, I’ve served as a church musician for about 40 years. One of the most excited times of my life was when a contemporary Christian group of which I was a part, sang at the National Quartet Convention in Nashville along with the great names of the Gospel world...the Goodmans, LeFevres, Speers, and on and on. I grew into the contemporary music when it began to permeate our churches, and found a whole new way to worship in music. Still love the traditional, but can certainly appreciate the new styles and blends. After all, it is all about the worship for God, isn’t it?

Music is what I have playing when I write, read, walk or sleep. Music is playing when I work and the style of music usually is determined by the mood of the day. Sometimes country & western, other times classical, Christian, gospel, jazz, show tunes, and celtic. Music has a massive effect on my spirit and attitude.

What is your worship trigger? Music, sermons, prayer, Bible study? What draws you closer to God in your personal time? In your corporate time? I know of folks who are always late to the worship service because they don’t care for music (in general), but just want to hear the preaching. Well and good, but I feel sorry for them missing out on part of the whole worshipping experience. I emphasized the word late because they were late in meeting God….who was already there through the music. You don’t need to sing, just sit or stand and feel it. Hear the words of praise. Feel the rhythms in your soul. Even tap your foot.

Think today about how you worship. What inspires you the most. Also, consider how all parts of a corporate worship service are designed to draw you closer to God. Don’t get hung up on the traditional or contemporary words…it’s okay to have a preference, but it is all God’s music.

Blessed be the name of the LORD!

Lent Day 16 - Thursday, March 24

“But, no one can tame the tongue. It is an uncontrollable evil, full of deadly poison.” (James 3:8)

When I was an eighth grader, I got mad and told our preacher’s daughter to go to hell. Yeah, bad choice. But, she made me mad and I wanted to really, really hurt her, so I thought I would condemn her to eternal torment. And, for that moment, I wanted that. Plus, I was an eighth grade guy and that sounded so cool. However, with the sight of her face scrunching up and the tears starting to flow, my feeling of superiority dwindled. I began to hurt for her and feel really sorry for what I had said. Now, folks, bear in mind….this was, like, 1966 and that phrase was not as widely used as it is now. I have no idea where I even learned it, but it sure came flying out of my mouth easily.

That day, a Sunday (I actually said that on a Sunday? And to a preacher’s daughter?), I began a lifelong struggle with controlling my tongue and my determination to always have the last word even if it was harmful to someone else.

As far back as I can remember as a child, it seems I always had a bar of soap in my mouth for talking back to my mom and/or accompanying it with a slobbery raspberry…Bronx cheer….you know. Again, bad choices. Real bad. My grade reports from elementary school always had unsatisfactory grades in behavior…because I couldn’t keep my mouth shut.

Now I have a laptop computer and access to the whole world via the internet to get last words. I’m sorry to say that I have used that medium to do that once or twice and have immediately felt worse than the condemnation of the preacher’s girl. I could delete the post, but the harm was done. Thanks be to God that as I have grown physically and spiritually, I have also learned to man up and say, “I’m sorry.” And mean it. My prayer has also been that I not do harm by anything I say or write, but that God be glorified and I think (with His help), I am winning that battle. This is biggest problem I deal with as far as my tongue goes. Thank goodness, I’ve never been inclined to gossip a lot. (Note that I said a lot. That doesn’t mean at all.)

Now, enough of me…how about you? How’s your tongue doing? Do you have a smart mouth? Do you hurt people with your words when you lash out in anger? Is your language inappropriate (and inappropriate language can be more than just profanity)? Pleasing to God? Do you gossip about people? Are you friends as long as you are together, then talk about them as soon as they walk off?

The scriptures talk in several places about the danger of an untamed tongue. I’ve seen how much harm can come from one word spoken in an emotion other than Love (as in, God’s Love). I continue to struggle with that tiny little slimy, gooey thing in my mouth and it is harder to control than anything I’ve battled in my life. How about you? Is it a battle, or do you just let the words fly?

Spend today honestly thinking about your words, spoken or written. Do they build someone up or tear someone down? Do they build God up or tear Him down. Ultimately, it will build your witness up or tear it down.

Blessed be the name of the LORD!

Lent Day 15 - Wednesday, March 23

“For there is only one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and people. He is the man, Christ Jesus.” (I Timothy 2:5)

All signs pointed to the kid being guilty. Witnesses, evidence, prior behavior. The kid didn’t think he had done it, but wasn’t sure because he had been under the influence at the time. A confession was finally coerced through intimidation, but there was one man who didn’t accept it. He stood with the kid against everyone else. He stood with the kid through intimidation, jeers, threats and ridicule, but finally proved him innocent. The man was Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs of N.C.I.S. Once again, Gibbs followed stood firm for his charge and prevailed against all the worldly influence against him. Gibbs served as a mediator between the kid and the evil Director Vance.

If my life were on the television screen, it would certainly be an entertaining show (except for me). Lying to parents, smoking, ‘absconding’ with a school bus in the 11th grade for a joy ride to McDonalds with some buddies during the school day, questioned by police at 2 a.m. about why a few of us were rolling a soft drink machine through the streets of Decatur, picking up a hitchhiker (the last time) who held a knife on me as I drove him into the wilds of Bulloch County while my roommate in the backseat tried to spray him in the eyes with Fix-A-Flat, running over Seth McKay’s bare foot with a Ford Explorer (not a good result)….and on and on and on. I want even go into the adventures with Gabe Walker and the rest of the gang.

My point is, looking back at my life, I’ve made, and continue to make, lots of mistakes. And I’ve had to reap the consequences of them. Some painfully physical, some painfully financial, some painfully humiliating. I have been remarkably lucky to not have ended up in court on several occasions, but if I had, hopefully I would have found a good lawyer to mediate for me.

I could have probably made more appropriate choices in my life and not gotten in so much trouble. However, I have no choice about whether I sin or not. That is a guaranteed action in all of our lives. “For all have sinned and come short of the Glory of God.” (Romans 3:23). If I had to stand before God and be held accountable for my, oh so many, sins….I would have no hope. No excuse. No chance of getting out of it. Nada. However, because of God’s Love for us (back to Day 2), he sent Jesus Christ to be our mediator. That is, to stand between my pitiful self and almighty God and plead my case….not for innocence, but for forgiveness and a cleansing of the slate. That’s the Grace you hear about so much. Do I deserve it? Heck, no! Do you? Heck, no! But, God does it out of love.

On this day, think about the fact that Jesus is constantly standing up for us before God. “You know that Jimmy, Father? Well, he is quite a sinner, but he believes in us, in me, and in the fact that I died for Him. So, we’ll erase these last things from his record and it’ll be like he never did them.” Oh, how wonderful it is to have that mediator! Be sure to thank Jesus today for standing up for us and for the forgiveness we receive.

Blessed be the name of the LORD!

Lent Day 14 - Tuesday, March 22

“I have hidden Your Word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” (Psalm 119:11)

Way back in the day when my student pastor first mentioned the observance of a Lent Season to us, he talked about the many ways we could participate. As I mentioned in an earlier post, there is the traditional way of fasting, denying oneself, etc. That is always a good route to take. However, Rob also spoke of options by taking on more each day or periodically during the Season.

One of those options is spending extra time in God’s Word. It sounds rather odd to encourage Christians to spend more time in God’s Word, when we should be spending tons of time….however, if truth be known, I think most of us spend about as little time as we can (three fingers pointing back to Jimmy). Do you have some type of devotional book that you read in the morning, evening or both, read a few verses that it suggests, and then count yourself done for the day? Not to take away from that, because that is certainly a good thing, and it does begin or end your day with thoughts of God. How many of us may read our Sunday school lesson for the next week and look up all the scriptures and really, really study them? Do you ever use the cross-reference notes in your Bible to follow a theme or idea throughout the other books? Or you may be someone that does some serious Scripture reading and studying each day, or every day or two. Good for you….but, don’t feel so smug. There’s always more time to read and study.

My thoughts and suggestions to you involve actually giving up time that you might normally use for a television show, a computer game, a wii game, reading other materials and put the Bible in place. After all, is playing “Teen Dancing Queen on Roller Skates” for two hours going to draw you closer to God and learning His way for your life. Give up some time for God’s Word. Write some of your favorite verses on sticky notes and put them on your bathroom mirror, your kitchen cabinet, your car dash, your desk at work, your computer monitor. Wherever you will see them and be reminded all during the day. Since I graduated from college and got my first job, I’ve always kept a little piece of paper taped to the tape dispenser on my desk that “We are more than conquerors through Him that loves us.” (Romans 8:37). Just the reminder of that promise has gotten me through many difficult days. Even since I retired, that same little verse that I wrote down in January of 1975 is still taped on my desk here at home in my study. And believe me that I’ve (once again) claimed that promise over the past few weeks.

Find your verse(s) and keep them close…on paper…but, especially in your heart. Let me encourage you to work hard in bringing God’s Word closer to your heart and life.

Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift.

Lent Day 13 - Monday March 21

“God is our refuge and strength. A very present help in trouble.” (Psalm 46:1)

Today’s thoughts began very early this morning and was almost complete when my sails were knocked for a loop. Because of the public forum, I cannot go into many details, however, I had made a stand for Christ and my beliefs a little over a week ago and refused to stand down. This caused some ripples which led to bigger Ripples which finally led to a series of rather large waves. I had to stand by what I believe God was telling me and that led to some actions which were not well received. So….anyway, around lunchtime today, I received an email which was rather harsh and ultimately stated that “you obviously do not believe what you write in your own religion writings.”

Folks, that devastated me. I am human. I make mistakes. Big ones, at times. Sometimes my mouth gets me in trouble, but I have dealt with that issue a number of years ago. I honestly try to live by James 1:19, to be “be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.” I take my writing very seriously and try to only do what God wants me to do. But, this unwarranted slam kinda sent me into a spin. I know it isn’t true in my head, but my heart was hurt.

I also know that when we are doing God’s work, that Satan takes every opportunity to try and defeat us. Using our own emotions. Using other people. Using life circumstances. Using anything possible that he knows will stop us.

So, for today, I am attempting to pray for this person and that God will open their heart to His love and to His understanding and peace. As for me, I’ve spent enough time in licking my wounds and am picking myself up in God’s strength to keep going.

My words for today are for you to always be on guard when following God. And be aware that Satan is going to do his best to destroy your efforts, using the sneakiest of means that are hard to recognize. However, when the hurt comes, God is your refuge and strength. Your help. Your hiding place. Your reason to keep going. I’m praying for you as the storm buffet you while following God. I pray that you will always feel His presence.

Okay, enough of this. I’ve got a day of more important things to do for God rather than letting Satan keep me down.

Blessed be the name of the LORD!