Thursday, March 23, 2017

"Listening Is A Gift"

The cacophony of our culture makes it hard to listen. Hearing is a faculty but listening is a gift of God. When someone is in conversation with me, I really have to focus on them and what they are saying.

I have resolved to be a better listener. In truth, I know I am a better talker than listener. Five thousand words in a day is normal for me. So, here are six things I am trying to do to be a better listener.
  1. Focus on the person with whom I am conversing and not just their opinions.
  2. I try to be attentive to reading the other person’s verbal and non-verbal communication. I deliberately avoid looking around, sighing or checking my phone.
  3. Before responding, I make myself wait until the other person is finished speaking. In that way, I put my analysis and judgement on hold. There will be a moment when my response is welcome.
  4. Can I hold the impulse to interrupt?
  5. Hopefully, I am really listening to what is said instead of mentally preparing clever comebacks.
  6. The most helpful insight I have gained is that when the other person is finished talking, I make an attempt to summarize their insight, argument or position.
O Lord, let me be a better listener to others and to you.  Amen.

Friday, March 17, 2017

"The Privilege of Choice"

One of the greatest gifts we have is that of choice. Americans take for granted the privilege of choice. Half of the people on this planet don’t have that privilege.

Galatians 5:1 says, “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”

As a Presbyterian, I believe that God alone is Lord of the conscience. Laws that bind the conscience must be distinguished from civil and ecclesiastical regulations. The Christian conscience is bound to God. God alone determines what is necessary for salvation.

In Christ, the Christian is set free from the concept that perfect obedience to the law is necessary for salvation. The forgiveness established at Calvary really means we are set free by the grace of God from the penalty of sin. Forgiveness is not a feeling. It is a fact!

Christian freedom means that we do not live under the burden of the law, rather we freely choose to live according to the will of God. We can obey the law without living in fear that our salvation is determined by perfect obedience to the law. We need not live frightened lives before God. However, a Christian must not exercise freedom if it is an offense to another person.  Our freedom is always subordinate to the love of Christ.

Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God – not the result of works, so that no one may boast.”


Thursday, March 9, 2017

"How Much is Twelve Legions of Angels?"

When Jesus, the Son of God, was crucified – nature convulsed. The ground shook, rocks cracked open, and the sky went black. It was as if an arrow had been shot into the heart of hope. How do we fathom the indignity of it all? Should the son of God be expected to endure that kind of shame? It is hard to envision – Jesus stripped and whipped, spittle on his face, and his head garlanded with thorns. The mocking and the derision must have been deafening.

There was amazing self-restraint shown that dark Friday in Jerusalem. How much is twelve legions of angels? The answer is seventy-two thousand. With every demeaning act, every crack of the whip on his back, Jesus could have called on twelve legions of angels for protection.

Instead of making a spectacle of relief, Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Luke 23:34. A prayer not for himself but for others; abusers, mockers, doubters, and persecutors. What about us?  In a sense, we participate in that crucifixion scene in every act of sin in which we engage. We are the ones in need of reconciliation with God. Christians are not people who are good; rather we are people who realize painfully that we are not good. We all need the Savior. Thankfully, we do not live absorbed in despair but start each day with a fresh sense of what it means to live redeemed! At Calvary, Christ covered all those hurts you don’t deserve.


Thursday, March 2, 2017


During Lent, many Christians embrace a spiritual discipline. I have friends that have given up Coca-Cola, wine, chocolate, coffee, desserts, and bread for Lent. I have no idea whether that has enhanced their spiritual maturity.

The Bible is clear, Jesus fasted. He taught others to fast. At the beginning of his ministry, Luke 4:1-13, he went on a forty-day fast. Giving up food for someone who usually consumed about 3,000 calories a day – now that is a challenge! There are at least three impediments to fasting – comfort, consumption, and control.

Jesus was tempted by appetite, “Turn these stones into bread”, by the spectacle, “Throw yourself off the temple”, and by power, “I will give you all the kingdoms of the earth”.

In Matthew 6, Jesus included fasting, giving, and praying in his list of spiritual disciplines. The purpose is to focus on the things on God. Could it be that these are three tools to enhance our fellowship with God?

My pastor friend, Dave Peterson, has fasted one day a week for over twenty-five years. He said, “Fasting is not about convincing God of anything or obtaining anything from God.”

Fasting helps us get sensitized to our fragile humanity. It teaches us the corrective power of saying no. Through fasting, our sensitivity to global suffering is enhanced. Could it be that the most important asset to fasting is a renewed hunger for God’s presence?

Psalm 63:1 reads, “My soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you.”


Thursday, February 23, 2017

"Do You Remember Phil Donahue?"

Do you remember Phil Donahue? He was a big personality on CBS and very popular. Years ago, CBS got a scoop on a mine disaster. It was cold, late at night, and plenty of snow blowing around. At the minehead were gathered many friends and relatives of the trapped miners. They huddled around smudge pots that gave off feeble heat.

Somebody started to sing, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.”  The crowd joined in. It was emotional. Fears and tears were all too common. “What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer.”

A local pastor stepped to the front of the ragged circle and began to pray. The prayer surged from his mind and his spirit. Aesthetically, it was beautiful! Emotionally, it was profoundly moving. Phil Donahue said he had goose bumps, not from the cold, but from the emotion of the moment.
Donahue and his crew tried to capture that moment. However, the camera batteries failed. When they finally got the camera working, Donahue asked the pastor if he would do his prayer again. It would reach 260 stations – millions would hear the pastor’s prayer. The pastor refused!  “I have already prayed to God and to do it again for TV would be wrong.”

Donahue pleaded with the country preacher. No, was the answer. It was a demonstration of moral courage. The man would not show biz for Jesus! He refused to sell his integrity for TV, not even national TV, not even for CBS. Praise the Lord!


Monday, February 20, 2017

"That Country Song"

I can’t get that country song out of my mind.
                God is great!
                                Beer is good!
                                                People are crazy!

In the first century, Corinth was a hotbed of hedonism and materialism. Above the city, at 1200 feet, was the Temple of Aphrodite. At night torches lit the path up to the Temple where allegedly prostitution prevailed. Drunkenness and debauchery were in Corinth’s label.

The Apostle Paul felt that if Christianity could take root in Corinth, it could take root anywhere.  Paul, with his tent-making skills, showed up around AD 50. For two years he shared the gospel of Christ. A church was formed. However, it was not only an amazing mix of people, but also a mess! He had to emphasize that the believer’s body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, not a vehicle for the satisfaction of lust.

The New York Times says that our busyness is self-imposed. We are loaded with ambition, anxiety, and drive. We are addicted to busyness because we dread what we might have to face in its absence.  That’s where the country song cuts in.

Effective love is rarely efficient. People take time. Relationships do get messy. Repairs are needed on occasion. Humility is required. Forgiveness is a choice.

What sustains me is the knowledge that in Jesus Christ, I am loved passionately, personally, and powerfully. How do I know that? My benchmark is the cross of Calvary.