Sunday Bulletin Inserts
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My eleven-year-old son asked me the other day what the difference was between a command and a demand. I don't remember exactly what started the conversation, but I'm sure it involved complaints about unfair parental practices and ended with someone in time out!
I told him, only half jokingly, that a command is issued by someone in a position of authority, like a parent, who has the right to expect a directive to be followed. (Okay, I used words which were more kid-friendly, but you get the idea.) A demand, I explained, is something used by children or terrorists who are whining to get their way when they know they are wrong. Strangely, he didn't have a snappy come-back for my definitions.
The next day I was on the phone with a friend and he interrupted, telling me I had to do something or other. After reminding him he was being rude, I relayed my command/demand definitions to my friend and she was quite amused. I guess it's a mom thing. (She has a twelve-year-old boy.)
Just for fun, I decided I should see what God has to say about demands and commands. I was aware of many of the occurrences in scripture, but was surprised to find that there were only three occurences of the term demand or demands. and see what God does with me.
Back in the late 80's I attended a seminar in which the leader asked a very interesting question. "If you know everything that other people know who are successful in their fields could you do their job?" He proceded to show us a number of examples which illustrated that even to the point of shoving a straw through a potatoe. He then demonstrated a very important truth.
The word "try" should not be in our vocabulary. He set a chair in front of us and called a volunteer to come and help him. He then stood and looked at the chair and told us, "This is not picking up a chair." He then grasped the chair by its back and picked it up from the floor. "This is picking up a chair," he said. Then he looked at his helper and asked them to try to pick up the chair. The helper picked up the chair and the leader pointed out the obvious.
He repeated his command. This time the person did not pick the chair up from its position but just put his hands on it. "No," replied the leader, "that is not picking up the chair. Try to pick up the chair." The helper responded that it was impossible. The leader then told us, "There is no middle ground in things. You either do them or you don't do them."
There is no middle ground in Christ. You either serve Him or you don't serve Him. Attempts or good intentions are of no use. Christ and the cause for which He died are not advanced if we make attempts and do not follow through. We make excuses, saying that we don't know enough, or that we aren't blessed a certain way, or that we are afraid of failing.
"I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." which are reaching the lost and serving their communities. The bottom line is, do we want to? Do we want to do all things through Christ? If you truly want to serve Him, "try" will not be a part of your vocabulary.
I'm back. Bet a lot of you didn't even realize I was gone. I did receive a number of phone calls and, from what I heard from some close friends, some e-mails asking what happened to me. Truth be told I got caught up in the swirling mass that is the internet. I was swept away by the impersonal manner in which some Internet Service Providers (isp) dealt with their clientele.
America Online, good old AOL, busted me for sending what they called "objectionable material" over the internet. This was early in my life with Study Light. The "objectionable material" was too many e-mails at one time. But I was made to feel like what I was sending was vile or repugnant simply because what was communicated to me was that my subject matter was offensive. This was explained to me the day I dropped AOL and went with Bell South.
Bell South just kind of left me cold. Their software couldn't compete with what I had with AOL. Then the funniest thing happened. I couldn't even get back on the internet. Every time I tried I received a message that said something like Bell South does not recognize the screenname and password I gave them. So I flirted with high speed internet through our cable provider and found out my computer was rife with viruses that wouldn't allow the software to identify my USB ports. So here I am with a new computer and back on AOL.
Interesting isn't it? We are waiting for the return of a Savior who was told that the content of His teaching was not right for Jewish society. What He spoke was labeled as "blasphemy", which is a really fancy term for "highly objectionable to God". In truth, it was just offensive to the Jews who saw Jesus as a boat rocker, especially when He called the Jewish leaders "blind guides" and a "brood of vipers". They decided that the best thing they could do was to kick him off the earth.
So they crucified Him. Before this took place, Jesus assured His disciples with these words: "I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to myself; that where I am there you may be also."
Disclaimer: You would expect this (or I would anyway, if I were reading it) to be a Christmas-oriented column. However, that's not what inspired me this week, and since I wrote about holiday things the last two times, here's what I have to offer.
My three-year-old has developed a large ego. A couple of week ago he put a bucket on his head (a hat in his mind, I suppose - hey he's got a weird sense of humor), marched into the living room and told his grandpa, "I'm in charge of the weather!"
Whether he came up with this idea on his own (probable), or had it put into his head by his big brother or one of his uncles (plausible), he was sincere. He does like to be in charge and can be relentless in trying to wear down the grown-ups in the house until he gets what he wants. You know, the type of child where the distraction method doesn't work. You finally get him to sleep and just know he'll have forgotten when he wakes up. But he opens his eyes and immediately begins the same request as before.
I'm not sure if we've convinced him he's not in charge of the weather, but we haven't begun to agree with him yet, which must be a good sign!
It sounds like he is a rude and spoiled child, which I pray he is not. But he is determined to get his way. It reminds me of me with God. So many times I think I know what's best and I pray for God to help me do it my way instead of being still before Him to find out what His way might be.
I struggle with this on big and small issues. And I don't even want to be in charge of the weather. I'd be happy just to get an accurate forecast most of the time. (But as we say in Illinois, "If you don't like the weather, wait a minute.")
I know that God is in charge of the weather. My son knows it too, but he hasn't accepted it yet. Perhaps I can learn from him. When it comes to the storms of my life, the climate of my household, a sunny disposition, I don't always wait for God to send healing rain, or even to calm the storm.
There's a song called "Little Flowers" which talks about how the flowers never worry when the wind and rain come, because without it they wouldn't grow. Like those flowers, I can choose to be "down in the dirt", "comin' on up" or just "pretty bloomin' good".
So if we get some snow for Christmas (There, I managed to work it in!), I'll out playing in it. But whatever the actual weather, I will let God provide my forecast.
I had quite the emotional week last week. Who would have thought it? Me in love. Well, he's absolutely amazing and he has blown my mind! It's like he can read my thoughts. He has been after me for years and I kept him at a distance out of fear. But he listens to every word I say and never interrupts (I know that's hard to believe, I talk a lot). He writes me love letters (who would have thought I would have liked that?). Sometimes he points out the most disgusting parts of my character and even when I'm at my worst and most annoying he still accepts all of me (in those moments, I want the ground to open up and swallow me whole from embarrassment). He doesn't get board with me and doesn't lose interest (my biggest fear nullified). He continues to make time for me even in his busy schedule despite his work helping other people; he's in global human services. He makes me feel unique and special each time we hang out. We never run out of things to talk about and I feel so respected and honored in his eyes that it leaves me at a loss. He told me he loved me a long time ago but it took me a while to really believe it and I can't believe he stuck around this long.
So you want to know who he is, where he is from, and what his name is, right? And if you're a single woman you want to know if he has a brother? Well I have good and bad news for you. The bad news is that he is one of a kind. The good news is that he feels this way towards each of you, even the men. Yep, I'm totally talking about God. Are you disappointed or relived? Did you think I was talking about a man? I don't blame you if you did. I would probably think the same thing. So, take a second right know and pause, evaluate what you thought and felt when you first saw the title of this column and read the first paragraph. Why did you choose to read this column instead of any other? Who popped into your mind and heart as I described this "man"? How long did it take you to get to even think it might be God?
bsessed with relationships. One of the first questions people always ask me in conversation, whether they know me well or not, is relationship status related. No matter what our deepest fears may be and how much we protest, we still all desire intimate relationships because that is how God made us. But so often we can either desire them more then Him, letting them distract us from Him, or our fear of an intimate relationship reveals our lack of trust in God and His love for us.
When I get insecure, Satan starts playing on my thoughts, and I'm having an emotional roller coaster type of week, like I have had, I need to sit down and re-evaluate my first love. It helps me to write down all the things that helped me fall in love with God in the first place and put him back where he belongs in my mind and heart. It helps me to reminisce of how he courted me. In his eyes I am priceless. No man will ever love me like this, although I hope someday one will come along and have the courage to try. This love affair with God is true for each of us and I hope this can encourage you when you're beating yourself up, feel unloved, broken, numb, or simply inadequate on any given day, week, or month. You are loved by a powerful God- revel in it!
Since my arrival I have learned one valuable lesson over and over again, and continue to learn it; Sudan runs on IBM. ' Inasha Allah'- if it is God's will, 'Bokra'- tomorrow (equivalent of the Spanish manana), and ' Malesh'- sorry. IBM can take on many forms. For instance 'we will find you a placement immediately, Inasha Allah,' really translates into 'within the month you will be placed at your teaching site, maybe, but not likely.' IBM can also be, 'the bus you need to take home broke down, malesh,' which translates into 'sorry, that's life. Good luck figuring it out; no nothing is being done about this and you might as well walk.' Or my favorite ' oh yes, you will get paid, Bokra' meaning 'eventually, maybe if you stalk me enough, just keep coming back and things will get done at some point. It will work itself out.'
It is too ironic how slow and ridiculously laid back Sudan is. It's like God really brought me out to the dessert to teach me patience because he knew there was no other way. I have a new motivation for patience. It's the 'there-is-absolutly-nothing-you-can-do-about-it-so-you-might-as-well-be-patient' motto and there isn't even a hint of the illusion that you can indeed do anything about it. You really can do nothing else but surrender to God's will, no not, 'Inasha Allah,' but really surrender everything in prayer and release it. If more people in the US ran on IBM the world would not end and chaos would not break out like I once thought it might, but instead there might be a little less heartburn and a little more faith.
Praying through enough problems of its own. I had never much about it until my eyes were opened to it in the past few days. Even now as the country advances and develops its infrastructure, accessibility to modern technology and much more, IBM is still so engrained into it. See, if you miss the train or bus anywhere in America (even in 'nowhere' America) you can almost always be sure there is another one coming. You can also almost always be sure that if you work you will get paid and if you don't you can sue and definitely get paid; and, honestly, there is always someone to gripe or complain to--there is a false sense of control and security. That does not exist where I am. Life is too simple, in the best possible way, and therefore people accept it and enjoy it a heck of a lot more as a result. The entire situation also brings God into such focus. I have always known that I am an impatient person, but when control is taken entirely away, no amount of my frustration and motion can change it; if anything, all I will get is hot, sweaty and tired as a result.
The hardest part about praying through
Sometimes when it comes to spiritual growth I feel like the Cowardly Lion from The Wizard of Oz. I honestly desire to deepen my relationship with the Lord but I am afraid of what that next challenge will be.
I may hide behind the excuse of not having time for a strong daily prayer life. I may cover my eyes with the good deeds I have performed, peering out timidly to see whether I have done them as God's will or for my own accolades. I may even back off from my involvement with people and programs as I curl up into a ball, not wanting to alienate anyone in order to assert the truth.
I am a spiritual coward and I have no reason to be. In Romans Chapter I Paul writes, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: 'For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.' No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us."
Yet overcoming my shortcomings means trading one "cross" or temptation for another. At least my current sin is familiar. I usually know when it will creep up on me, hoping to find me in a vulnerable state. What will happen if I rise above today's temptations? What if I conquer this affliction only to be given a tougher challenge? What if my new cross to bear involves someone else's suffering as well?
I must remember that, like the Cowardly Lion, I have the power within me to overcome. This power has nothing to do with me, but Christ in me. The Holy Spirit dwelling within my sinful outer skin. God working through my unclean flesh.
Unlike the Cowardly Lion my hopes do not lie in a man aspiring to be a wizard, but in the Creator of the universe. My faith does not require that I muster enough courage to battle the world, only belief that Christ, who is in me, has already overcome the world.
"Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be people of courage; be strong." - I Corinthians 16:13
Surviving cancer is one of those things you enjoy being around to talk about. However, it's not without its frustrations. During the months of chemo, radiation and the inability to swallow well and then the surgery and twelve days in the hospital, I lost eighty pounds. Due to the type of surgery I had, it is not likely that I will add much more than another ten to fifteen pounds. That means that the size 50L suits I wore in December of 2006, and even the size 46L suits I wore this past summer, are all too big.
I returned to the pulpit this past Sunday and bought a new suit to wear for the occasion. The size? 42L with 34 inch waist slacks. The last time I wore that size suit was as a junior in high school when I went to the prom. One of my prize possessions, a University of Kentucky athletic jacket, wraps around me like a sarong now. It's an XXL. Right now I have one suit that fits and three pairs of jeans and slacks that fit. Most of my shirts are XL and are a tad baggy on me.
So here's my problem; when I dress in my old clothes I look like a refugee from the Salvation Army. My wife is consistently asking me, 'Where did the rest of my husband go?' All of my doctors have pretty much assured me that I will not ever be as big as I once was. In December, 2006, I weighed a robust 260 pounds. Yesterday, at my doctor's appointment, I weighed 182. I have no old clothes that truly fit. That's an important word...'fit.'
A man once told Jesus, 'Lord, I will follow You, but let me first go and bid them farewell who are at my house.' But Jesus said to him, 'No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.' makes us not able to wear the world's cares any more. We are fitted with new clothes. We have 'put on Christ.' He is the only thing that fits those who are redeemed by His blood under the grace of God. If the Christ fits, wear Him...proudly.
This past weekend one of my favorite golfers finally won a golf tournament after almost fifteen years without winning. Joey Sindelar is one of the honest-to-goodness nice guys on the Professional Golfers Association Tour. He had not won a golf tournament since 1990. The riches of the upper echelon of the tour's elite had escaped him. Yet, at age forty, he's still out there plugging away at what he loves.
Joey Sindelar is from Horseheads, New York, a community nestled in the Southern Tier of Upstate New York. His college days were spent at Ohio State University where he was a solid force on an outstaning golf team. When he turned pro following college many predicted that he would be a contender week in and week out. He was...for a little bit. Competition is tough on the tour.
Joey has been one of the non-entities over the past ten years. He has been able to remain on the tour through grit and determination even though the younger, stronger, longer golfers have passed him in ability. His win this past weekend is as much a testimony to perseverance as it is to his ability to swing a golf club. You don't play on the PGA Tour unless you are among the 150 best in the world. And you don't win unless you beat the other 149 any given week.
I met Joey briefly back in the early eighties in Johnson City, New York, at a shoe store. He was surprised to even be recognized. He was a very polite and unassuming young man back then. The only reason I knew him was because I was following the OSU golf team at the time. I asked him if he was going to turn pro following college. His response was interesting. "If the good Lord lets me," he replied. "You never know." If the good Lord lets him.
"Come now you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit'; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, 'If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that."
the Second Week after Epiphany