Friday, November 17, 2017

"Trees and Me"

This week's blog is by Dr. McKechnie's
daughter, Sheri Joseph.

I guess the answer might depend on who’s in charge of raking your yard, but is it me, or was this fall gorgeous?  The way the colors changed in the trees: gold, red, shades of purple, yellow, bright orange, I thought it was beautiful.  I loved watching the children throw leaves at each other and play tag using a huge pile as “base”.  But eventually, I get a little bummed out when I see the foliage is gone and Charlotte’s trees seem stripped.  As I had this one sad, deep thought while staring out the kitchen window eating the remnants of a burned pop tart, I noticed one of our neighbor’s huge oak trees was missing a limb.  I’d forgotten that last spring the dead limb had to be trimmed and now, with all the foliage gone, saw the scar.  The tree stands tall and proud just like a lot of others trees in Charlotte – always seemingly at risk of the dreaded Canker Worm, concrete or careless developer, but standing nonetheless.  My husband, Michael, and I had to make some decisions regarding a huge dead tree in our yard.  It was once a real stunner, but now, its slow sad death has caused us to shell out some serious dough to have it removed and pay extra to grind the stump.  Super.  I asked Michael if that was going to be my Christmas present and he just laughed.  But since its one ice storm away from making our house a memory, I’ve gotten over it.

Why do I tell you about all this?  I’m not a tree hugger.  I just see a parallel in the trees and the state of our world right now.  We’re entering into a “season of giving” as it’s usually called and the predictions are grim. Not many people seem like they’re in the mood to give or celebrate.  I can’t blame them, everywhere we go, the doom and gloom follows us. It’s enough to make us turn inward and hunker down and suffer through, but I look at the trees around us in this great city and I wonder if there isn’t a real lesson there.  When we are laid bare, all the pretty leaves gone, who are we?  Are we more giving, compassionate and kind?  Are we selfish, negative and angry?  What scars are exposed?  What needs healing?

I received an e-mail the other day about some 2nd grade teachers in Billingsville Elementary who pulled two volunteer moms aside and told them that a lot of the children were coming to school with no underwear or socks. The teachers were asking the volunteer moms to forgo plans for a class holiday party and find a way to get underwear and socks instead. That news brought me out of my own personal fear-fest and broke my heart.  All around us, people are struggling.  There is always blame and uncertainty to go around, but I believe our greatest strength is shown when we come out of ourselves to help others.  CS Lewis said, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

As we go into the Advent season and put up the Christmas tree, I wonder what God is trying to shout at me.  What message was I ignoring in all the “good times” and when I finally hear God, will I even stop to listen?

My prayer for me, for you, our children, for our city, our country and our world is that we will hear God speak to us and when our lives and the lives of others are laid bare, allow God to re-plant the true joy of this season in our hearts.  Merry Christmas!

Peace,

Sheri Joseph

Friday, November 10, 2017

"A Baker's Dozen"

Whenever I hear the word DOZEN, I think of eggs and donuts.  No doubt you have heard the phrase, “A baker’s dozen”. A baker’s dozen refers to not twelve donuts but thirteen.  Why the extra donut?
Seven hundred and fifty years ago, the King of England, Henry III, discovered that bakers were cheating on the weight of their products.  The laws regarding weight were strict. If a baker was found not be in compliance, the law said, a first offense meant that the baker would be dragged by horses through the dirty streets.  The second offense meant that the baker would be pilloried for one hour with garbage while held in the stocks.  The third offense meant that the baker’s ovens would be destroyed!
In order for the baker to stay within the law, he would add a thirteenth donut to the first dozen to be sure there was enough weight to the purchase.

Galatians 6:10 says, “Do good to everyone.”  Jesus said if somebody asks for your shirt, give them your sweater too.  If somebody asks you to help carry their stuff for one mile, carry it for two.  Jesus would probably suggest that if somebody asks for a dozen anything – give them thirteen, the baker’s dozen.

It is Stewardship season.  For the cause of Christ let’s do something extra, not out of fear of punishment, but out of gratitude for God’s grace in Jesus Christ.


Blessings!


Friday, November 3, 2017

"Will You Allow God To Use You?"

To be a Christian is to anticipate God’s surprises.  God chooses to use ordinary people to do extraordinary things.  In the Old Testament, David hardly looked like royal stock.  Yet, God allowed him to serve as King of Israel.  He even referred to him as a man after his own heart.  Imagine that – a murderer and an adulterer!

St. Paul was no saint!  He abused Christians before his Damascus Road experience.  Yet, God used “the chief of sinners” to spread the gospel over Asia and Europe.
Peter did not deserve a halo!  He cut the ear off of the High Priest’s servant and denied his association with Jesus three times.  Yet, God saw fit to use him as a witness to the transformational power of the Holy Spirit.

If you claim to be a “new person in Christ”, you are a catalyst in the Kingdom of God.  God wants you to fulfil a role that is uniquely yours.  We do consist of knowledge, will and emotions.  The will is important.  Will you allow God to use you?

I Corinthians 1:26-29 states, “Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God.”  God does not just tap the wise, the powerful, or the privileged on the shoulder for Christian service.  Rather, the Lord chooses the foolish in this world to shame the arrogant, the weak in this world to embarrass the strong, and the despised to put the powerful in touch with humility.

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  These nine characteristics of the Spirit-filled person are enough to make a difference in this world.

Blessings!


Friday, October 27, 2017

"A Sacred Trust"

As a Christian, I attempt to begin each day with an expression of gratitude to God for another new beginning. I pray, with a sense of anticipation, that I will be a catalyst for the sake of the Kingdom of God.

Ephesians 1:3 & 4 reads, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love.”  How many times is blessed used in some form in these verses? The root of “bless” has to do with that which is GOOD! We do have it good. We are blessed.

These verses sight two specific gifts of which we are recipients. Mind you, these are good gifts! First, acceptance is on our label. What is the opposite of acceptance? Rejection! To experience rejection is common and the accompanying feeling of alienation and loneliness is devastating. In Jesus Christ, we are embraced by a love that never gives up on us. No matter where we are, what we are doing, or who we are the love of Christ persists.

The other gift sighted in Ephesians 3 is that God has big plans for us. “Chosen” on purpose for a redemptive purpose. We are not on this planet just to pursue comfort, control and consumption. We are to be Christ-like in all we do and say. A sacred trust is our agenda. To begin each day with gratitude and praise is our privilege.

Blessings,


Friday, October 20, 2017

"Reformation Sunday"



Sunday, October 29, 2017 is Reformation Sunday.  That day we celebrate the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.  In 1517, Martin Luther led a theological revolt against the abuses and the totalitarian control of the Roman Catholic Church. Martin Luther was a stubborn monk and a brilliant intellectual.  He published his 95 theses of complaints against the Catholic Church by nailing them to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany.  Others like Hus, Zwingli, and Calvin were also leaders for the Protestant Reformation.  “Protest” and “Reform” are key to understanding this movement.

This 16th Century cultural, intellectual, political, and religious upheaval splintered the church in Europe.  It was a momentous religious revolution, the consequences of which we live with today.  It transformed millions of people’s understanding of their relationship with God.

In addition, the Reformation argued for a redistribution of power that impacted art, music, education, politics, and economics.  There were numerous positive repercussions – the music of Bach, the art of Rubens, the university systems in Europe, and the capitalism of the Dutch Calvinist merchants.

Salvation by good works was rejected along with indulgences and the Bible only being available in Latin.  Luther translated the Bible into German.  People read the Word in their own language for the first time.  No longer were priests the only authority for Biblical interpretation and understanding.  This disruption triggered persecution and even wars.  Luther’s creative use of the printing press was the technical catalyst for the movement.

Lutheranism became the state religion of Germany.  Its influence spread to Switzerland.  John Calvin in Geneva gave intellectual credence to the movement.  Through his influence, Protestantism then spread to Scotland, beyond, and ultimately to America.

Happy 500!


Blessings!

Friday, October 13, 2017

"The Principles of God’s Word"

The Principles of God’s Word keep me affirmed and disciplined. The Principles apply to all the decisions that we make on a daily basis.

These are the questions I ask myself. I encourage you to ask these questions for your own affirmation and discipline:

1. Can I do this in the name of Christ? Colossians 3:17

2. Can I imagine Jesus doing this? 1 John 2:6

3. Will my action glorify God? 1 Corinthians 10:31

4. Am I an embarrassment to the Savior? 1 John 2:28

5. If my body is the Temple of the Holy Spirit, is what I am doing OK in God’s sight? 1 Corinthians 6:19-20

6. Does my behavior hinder my spiritual maturity?  Hebrews 12:1

7. Am I tripping up other Christians? Romans 14:21

8. Do my decisions make Christianity unpalatable to non-Christians? Matthew 5:16

Wow! These questions sobered me up. How about you?

Blessings!


Friday, October 6, 2017

"Every Human Is Unique"

I really believe that every human being is unique. There is no one else exactly like you. Your DNA says that. Your fingerprints say that!

Psalm 139 is one of my favorites. Without hesitation, the Psalmist affirms that God is omniscient. God knows us. Could it be that you are irreplaceable? We are fearfully and wonderfully made. Verses 13 and 14 make the point, “For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.

God formed you in your mother’s womb. The Hebrew word for this concept is “embroidering”. It suggests you were sewn together by the hand of the Lord. Through the cross of Calvary, we were bought with a price for a redemptive purpose.

God has given us life – the ability to develop our potential and use it creatively. Could it be that even our strengths and weaknesses do not surprise God? In spite of bad choices, laziness and sin, the Savior is up for giving us another chance, another opportunity to pick up the pieces and go on. That allows us to embrace humility. God loves us enough to correct us and not reject us.

The hinge of history says that the love of Jesus Christ will not let us go, is not diminished and does not give up on us.

I Corinthians 13:13 puts life in proper perspective, “Faith, Hope and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

Blessings!


Friday, September 29, 2017

"Repentance"



Why do we need a weekly time set aside for confession? Because we need to repent of our sins. For Christians, to maintain a mature relationship with the Lord, we need to clean up our act and repent of our sins.

Luke 13:3 says, “Unless you repent, you will all perish.” Harsh, isn’t it?  No diminishment of the cost of Calvary. Repentance is so much more than regret. Even remorse does not capture the essence of repentance.

In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word SHUB is use for repentance – it means turning back, retracing one’s steps to get back on the right track. In the New Testament, the Greek work METANOIEN is used for repentance – it means a change of mind that culminates in a new way of thinking.

Repentance for the Christian today means an about face, a 180° turn. There is nothing temporary about it. In the eyes of Jesus, we are all sinners, in need of repentance. It is important for the cleansing of our psyches. It leads to forgiveness.  In order for our Christian faith to have credibility, we must turn away from our sin. Repentance is an ongoing prerequisite for peace of mind – for that peace that only the Prince of Peace can provide, that surpasses human comprehension.

Blessings!

Friday, September 22, 2017

"World Communion Sunday - A New Beginning"

The sacrament of Holy Communion has a variety of names; The Lord’s Supper, The Agape Feast, or The Eucharist.  On the first Sunday in October, the Christian community around the planet celebrates World Communion.

The elements are carefully prepared, presented and served.  The Holy Table is set for us.  The Lord is present and ready to welcome us with love and forgiveness. To break the bread and drink the cup means laying aside the cycle of condemnation.

The body broken and the blood shed remind us of the costly grace through the cross of Christ extended our way.  By the power of the Holy Spirit we are accepted, forgiven, and granted peace.  The raw material of our future is transformed, shaped into something “significant and splendid.”

The first Sunday in October, World Communion, is a new beginning, a fresh experience of unconditional love.  We dare not live apathetically with these riches.  Hoarding leads to moral deterioration.  We cannot build a different world with indifferent people.  The good news of the gospel of Christ must be shared.

Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

The Holy Table is a healing place, physically and spiritually.  We dare not leave the table the same as we came.  We conclude the celebration of Holy Communion with the experience of Christ at work in us.  The Lord does make all the difference in this world.  Because of him, we live with more conviction, with transparency, and with authenticity.

Can the Lord make a difference?  Only if we invite and allow him to make a redemptive difference through us.


Blessings!


Friday, September 15, 2017

"How Important is Preaching?"

To be a successful pastor, one must have the mind of a scholar, the heart of a child, and the hide of a rhinoceros.” - Stuart Briscoe

There are days in ministry when I am convinced Briscoe is right! There is a price to be paid emotionally, spiritually, and physically, to be a successful pastor. The confession of sin is a prerequisite for pastoral leadership. As leaders in the Body of Christ, we must be candid about our need for grace, forgiveness, openness, and flexibility. Pastors are constantly working on an accurate understanding of God’s calling, self, and circumstances. In ministry, we must remember that not all flack is routine criticism. In truth, it may be a gift, a fresh opportunity to reflect, retool and reinvigorate.

How important is preaching? There are at least three ways people absorb knowledge:              
1.  Visual
2.  Auditory, and
3.  Kinesthetic

Adults can listen with understanding for ninety minutes, but can only listen with retention for twenty minutes. Studies indicate that after three days, recall is down to about ten percent of the message. I always say that after Sunday’s sermon, by Tuesday, the congregants cannot even remember the humor or the illustrations.

What does all that say? The sermon is important! Communication is 10% words, 40% tone, and 50% non-verbal. To expect retention and application – that demands creativity and diligent preparation on the part of the pastor.

Yes, all of us pastors need your affirmation, counsel, and prayers.

Thanks!


Friday, September 8, 2017

"Getting the Ratios Right"

Rich Karlgaard said, “Success is often a matter of getting the ratios right.”  The creator of the universe certainly understood that.  Edward Wright, the astrophysicist from UCLA said the Big Bang would have fizzled in the first second had the neutron-to-proton ratio been just a wee bit more or less than it was.

Ratios are important to each of us.  Life is a matter of key ratios being exactly right.  We live with a perfect balance of water, nutrients, gases, gravity and solar radiation to sustain the inhabitants of planet Earth.  Those ratios must be precise.  We are just the right distance from the sun so that we do not freeze or fry!  Could it be that these ratios do not exist anywhere else in the universe?

Could it be that ratios are not only important for us economically but also physically?  We need to check our ratios regarding work-to-play, prayer-to-pace, calories-to-exercise, strength-to-weight, and isolation-to-community.

Sabbath rest is not just Biblical.  It is also logical.


Blessings!


Wednesday, August 30, 2017

"Danger and Opportunity"



As a student of leadership styles and materials, I have always appreciated fresh insights. One that has been around for a long time is this; the Chinese word for CRISIS combines DANGER and OPPORTUNITY.

We all face tough challenges. There are those experiences of emptiness. It puts us in CRISIS mode. Does every crisis bring an opportunity with it? Not necessarily. Some scholars suggest that the opportunity aspect of each crisis may be more akin to – how do I save my own neck?

There are 360,000 Christian congregations in America. Sixty thousand are thriving. Three hundred thousand are plateauing or declining. Does this crisis for the vast majority of congregations present both danger and opportunity? Maybe saving one’s neck is not the only option. Is there higher ground to be conquered in some new way? For many of the three hundred thousand congregations, it is difficult to even catch a whiff of optimism.

We focus on the three C’s; comfort, control, and consumption. Christians are no different from the culture protagonists all around us. We too are seduced by the consumer culture. Yes, we know consumption is bankrupt. Psychological enslavement to MORE is all too common.

Congregations need an epiphany. Maybe our focus needs to be less on money, sex and power, and more on courage, generosity, wholeness and wisdom.

Romans 12:19-21 says it all. “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ No, ‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

What a marvelous formula for CRISIS that embraces both DANGER and OPPORTUNITY!

Blessings!

Friday, August 25, 2017

"A Transformation"



If you visit Jericho today, the guides will show you a sycamore tree. Similar to the one that Zacchaeus climbed to get above the crowd in order to see Jesus. He was short of stature.

In Luke 19 we quickly learn two things about Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and he was rich. Tax collectors worked for the state and preyed on the Jews.He was viewed by the Jewish community as a traitor. His wealth came by skimming off his take for the state. Evidently, he was skilled at his trade.

When Jesus came by, he spotted Zacchaeus in the tree and said, “Zacchaeus hurry down. Today is my day to be a guest in your house.” I would bet he practically leaped out of the tree. Wow! Jesus is going to spend some time with me! The crowd was indignant. Why is Jesus cozying up to a crook?

We do not know what Jesus was served at Zach’s place. We do not know what was discussed over lunch. What we do know is that a transformation of character took place during that brief encounter.  Suddenly life started to matter to Zach. He wanted his life to count for something more than negative recognition and materialism.

What evidence do we have of a transformation? He promised he would give half of his possessions to the poor, and those that he defrauded, he would pay back four times as much.

Then follows the blessing. Jesus said to Zach, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”  Luke 19:8-10

Blessings!

Friday, August 18, 2017

"Transgression"



Guilt can make us physically ill, depressed, loaded with anxiety or mentally unbalanced. To stay balanced in life, we must come to terms with grinding guilt.  Forgiveness is God’s invention. Forgiveness is not a feeling but an act of grace.

Psalm 32 lets us get a glimpse into the heart of David.  “Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.” David speaks from personal experience. His adulterous relationship with Bathsheba and his attempted cover- up by having her husband Uriah sent to his death on the battlefield were cause for his anguish. No doubt, Psalm 32 was written after his confession, forgiveness by God and his peace of mind finally surfaced.

David uses the word transgression – we know it as intentional disobedience. He mentions sin – which means to miss the mark or fall short of the target God has set for us. Thankfully, David moved beyond self-deception and dealt with his sins. He arrested that downward spiral through confession.

Having had intimate conversations with thousands of people, I can attest to the fact that countless folks harbor hidden sins. Secret sin does not coexist with peace! We experience the peace of God only when we trust the acceptance of God, confess and experience forgiveness. The cross of Christ is the hinge of history. Then that peace that surpasses human comprehension is our experience. The joy of sins forgiven – what a relief.

Jesus said in John 10:10, “I have come that you might have life and that more abundantly."

Blessings,