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Saturday
Dec152018

Bishop Rodney E. Clark

“Then the king said to his servants, “Do you not know that a prince and a great man has fallen this day in Israel?” 2 Samuel 3:38 (NKJV)

It still seems unbelievable.  Vibrant, animated, laughing and loving Rodney Clark loomed larger than life to us all, especially to his grandchildren.  The whirlwind has taken our breath away—and given us a feeling (though not a reality) that our foundation has crumbled—leaving us with our impressions, musings, analyses—tempted to doubt, but taught to trust—we can do nothing else but rise up slowly and walk on numbly.  Today’s mission, at the very least, is clear: remembering the past, reluctantly acquiescing to the present, and reaching for faith in a God-ordained, and God-enlightened future.  

Bishop Rodney Clark was an anomaly.  From Port Arthur, Texas, an oilfields and refineries town on the Gulf, just south of the Piney Woods region of East Texas, home of sweltering humid heat in the summer and cold, wet winters, somehow he ended up in the snowbelt of America, southwest Michigan, where you have to shovel snow on the average of three times per snowfall just to get out of your driveway.  Many Texans stick one big toe into Kalamazoo winters and head south just as fast as their bowlegs can carry them. 

But Bishop Clark was different—extremely so.  You would not expect him to be so intimately acquainted with Macbeth or Julius Caesar in the writings of Shakespeare.  It seemed strange for someone with his background to quote the Canterbury Tales—in Middle English!  He could talk for hours about the intricacies of gourmet food and how it should be prepared.  And then, he could switch on a dime and talk about cutting, milling and shaping steel, or obscure word usage, or planting trees, or describing vintage automobiles, or Elvis Presley songs, or deep theological conundrums, or the antics of his grandchildren, or paving parking lots, or the amazing victories or agonizing defeats of the Michigan Wolverines, or how to correct a slice.  He had an expansive repertoire of myriad subjects, and a voracious appetite for news and politics—which he didn’t mind sharing if you would just ask him. 

Rodney Clark, the man, was tall, strong, smart, athletic and handsome.  He could regale you with story after story of his teenage capers, brawls in the neighborhood and schoolyards, fast cars and fishing trips in the Gulf with his father.  He was ornery, as his father-in-law, my uncle Bill Oakleaf could tell you—like the times he would grab the steering wheel while riding with Bill, making it impossible to steer the car and almost running it off the road, laughing the whole time.  He often hid his talent behind shyness.  I mentioned Elvis, because it was uncanny how Rodney could sing like him, yet he hated to sing just to show off.  He retained some of his Texas drawl, and often complained mightily about the weather—I wish you could have seen his grin when he called home from the Caribbean and found out about a huge snow storm hammering Michigan—but his call and his heart was solidly planted here in the frozen north.  You cannot fully understand Bishop Clark without sensing the depth of his call.  I’ve thought about this: 

“God’s call is more than a common burning to succeed or the driving power of pure ambition.  Although romantic, these factors never enter into a genuine call to the ministry.   The true calling of God comes from something outside of you, not from within your own mind.  You may have been responsive to it, but you didn’t concoct it.  You are drawn, not driven.  It is as though God has tied an invisible leash to your heart (as gauche as that may sound) and pulls you along.  At the same time, you do not feel helpless, or powerless to resist.  You go willingly. The call takes you to places where you would not have chosen to go, but, having been taken there, you sense that it is precisely where you ought to be.” 

This place, this field, this harvest ground is precisely where Bishop Clark was supposed to be.  Here, he put down his roots, raised his family, worked his jobs, sowed the seeds of the Gospel—here is where he fully embraced his ministry.  You who knew him as pastor, knew his boundless passion, his unalterable convictions, his unwavering loyalty to his own heritage, his insistence on scriptural aplomb. 

To all those who prayed for healing and recovery, do not despair.  Your God did not let you down.  If you think He did, it’s understandable.  But we all speak, tethered to a finite, mortal mooring.  Know this: God’s omnipotence operates as a function of His omniscience.  He knows; therefore, He acts! When He acts, it is because He knows that’s the best action to take. When He doesn’t act, it is because He knows that the action is wrong or ineffective.  We don’t have access to that kind or that level of knowledge.  In fact, the more I understand God, the less I understand God.  Our problem is that we fail to come to grips with our limited and/or faulty understanding.  We lament, as did the sisters of Lazarus, why Jesus didn’t show up earlier, why He allowed someone to die, why He seemed to disregard the feelings and welfare of others, or why He didn’t follow our line of reasoning instead of His own.   

We often question God’s actions.  Instead, we must learn to accept and rejoice in what He does because He acts out of his omniscience.  We can’t take offense that God didn’t tell us why He acted a certain way.  We wouldn’t have understood anyway.  Take comfort in the idea that He knows what is best.  Remember, His omniscience and omnipotence, as well as all His attributes, exist in perfection.  If my life is in the hands of a perfect God who loves me, then my only recourse is trust!   

‘Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus,

Just to take Him at His Word;

Just to rest upon His promise; 

Just to know, “Thus saith the Lord!”

Now, I must say that not only is this Southwest Michigan the place he was called to be, I’m convinced that the place he occupies today is precisely the place where he is supposed to be.  He was a thoughtful, brilliant and perceptive man.  When he realized that his body would no longer work the way it was supposed to work, when he thought that his daily life would be a burden to others, he must have turned his eyes heavenward and said okay, it’s time. 

To re-phrase a Scripture: “And all the days of Bishop Clark were seventy and one years: And Bishop Clark walked with God: and he was not; for God took him.” Genesis 5:23-24. 

Thursday
Nov082018

The Call

MY MOTHER HAD A LITTLE WOODEN SEWING BOX shaped like a pulpit.  I can’t remember doing this, but they tell me that I knelt behind it and pounded the top, mimicking my dad and all the preachers who came by our store-front church.  It was apparent to my mother—not so much my dad—that I was destined to be a preacher.  That may have been cute as a toddler, and even okay as an adolescent, but I disabused myself of the notion as I progressed into my high school years.  My sophisticated (self-diagnosed), somewhat cocky teenaged mind had little place for preaching.  What a droll, provincial idea that was!  I fancied myself suited for a much more refined role to play in the world.  My debate class experience, as I explained in the preceding chapter, slanted my thinking toward the legal profession.  I really liked making speeches, and I would like to think that I excelled at it.  I also enjoyed wrestling with broad social and geopolitical questions.  I know it may be weird, but I got an adrenalin rush from building a persuasive case for or against a resolution, digging up evidence and substantiating facts, and engaging in oral polemics.  I exuded confidence that my natural skill set equipped me to be a lawyer. 

After graduation, the debate class environment came to an end, and subsequently, my enthusiasm for the law dissipated.  I was no longer surrounded by future attorneys, and the influence of my coach ceased as well.  Church and summer camp activities once again claimed the lion’s share of my time.  At the same time, the pressure for deciding my future education began to build.  Would it be community college? State university?  Did I want to stay home and go to school or trek across the country to a distant location?  Would I take a year off and work to make some money?  I was truly one of the “multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision.”  (Joel 3:14) Finally, Bible college, a choice I had never seriously considered, floated across my mind.  But that possibility meant that I had to come to grips with something that terrified me.  Was God calling me to preach the gospel?  Surely not!  How embarrassing!  What would all my university-bound friends think?  What about all my teachers who had charted out a course for me that would have taken me to a law partnership, an academic profession or a political office?  What would they think?  It would be a let-down of the first order. 

But I couldn’t shake the idea that I might be called to preach.  Finally, I did the only thing I knew to do.  I was—and am—a much too private person to spill my thoughts out for the world to hear, so I went to the church on an off night.  I had the empty sanctuary to myself.  Had anyone else been there, it would have ruined it for me.  That night, I started out kneeling at the altar, but the magnitude of the thought proved to be too great to pray a tidy, controlled, restrained prayer.  I soon fell over on the floor and lay prostrate groaning, weeping and driving my fist into the carpet for an hour.   The prayers that I pray today without compunction were much more fraught with meaning, much more difficult for my untried mind to capture with words in that hour.  To use a well-worn cliché, I was treading where angels feared to tread. 

Suddenly, for the first time ever, I seemed to be transported into a different dimension.  Looking up from my prone position on the floor toward the front of the sanctuary, I didn’t see the baptistry.  Instead, I saw the crucifixion of Jesus, the His blood running in rivulets from His brow, palms, side and feet, and dripping on the ground below.  It was on par with the scripture, “He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light.” Matthew 17:2 (NKJV) That vision shook me to the core.  I couldn’t get it out of my mind.  Now, there was no denying it.  The call was real.  I had to receive it. 

Strange thoughts can enter the mind of someone in the throes of an epic decision.  I was still too embarrassed and too overwhelmed to share this experience with anyone.   I remember thinking, “Well, if I’m going to do this, then I had better be a flaming evangelist who will set the world on fire!”  I prayed (more like shouted) into my pillow that night that I didn’t want to do this if I couldn’t be as effective as the Apostle Paul!  It was all or nothing.  Of course, in my more rational moments, I knew that such an expectation was ludicrous, but the sheer enormity of becoming a preacher blew my world apart.  I knew that I didn’t want to settle for mediocrity.  All I could do was give it my best shot.  The results had to be left up to God. 

The call of God differs from a burning to succeed, or the driving power of pure ambition.  The energy generated by a secular motivation comes from within, and it seems to be self-aggrandizing and fueled by a competitive spirit.  I’ve personally seen friends whose compulsion for a worldly position made them sell their souls for promotion, recognition or another zero added to their income.  Those who enter the ministry based on sheer ambition usually crash and burn in the process.  I’ve seen that happen too.  Sam Keene begins his book, “Fire in the Belly,” with this verse: “A man must go on a quest / to discover the sacred fire / in the sanctuary of his own belly / to ignite the flame in his heart / to fuel the blaze in the hearth / to rekindle his ardor for the earth.”   

Such carnal elements, as romantic as they may be, never factor into a call to the ministry.   The true calling of God comes, not from within your own soul, but from something outside of you.  You many have been responsive to it, but you didn’t concoct it.  You are not driven; you are drawn.  It is as though an invisible leash (as gauche as this may sound) is tied to your being and pulls you along.  At the same time, you do not feel helpless, or powerless to resist.  You go willingly. The call takes you to places that you would not have chosen, but, having been taken there, you sense that it is precisely where you ought to be.  Paul expressed it this way: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” Romans 12:1-2 (NKJV).  In writing to the Philippians, Paul equates his call to being “apprehended” by Christ. It connotes that he fully intended to go his own way, but God overtook him and pulled him in another direction.  

The call of God has taken me to out-of-the-way places.  It has landed me in small, fledging congregations of four or five people.  It has led me to troubled churches, to dysfunctional homes, to unresponsive memberships, to rowdy teenagers, to nursing homes where residents sat around in near-vegetative states, to uppity crowds who could barely tolerate my carryings-on, and to shallow groups who grooved to my music, but dismissed my preaching. Eventually, the call pulled me into receptive congregations who responded positively to my ministry.  Regardless of the setting, however, I have always felt that I was in the right place at the right time.   

The core calling into ministry must be the voice of God, but there are ancillary forces at work that vary with the individual.  Some depend on an emotional appeal; some rely on the force of their personality; some pursue excellence in administration or presentation; some devote the bulk of their time and energy to doctrinal orthodoxy or the craft of the sermon; some gravitate toward locations or demographics.  We are all different in some way, and I thank God for it!  We can discern this variety as we study the styles of those who wrote the Holy Scriptures.  Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel were all God-called and anointed, but they each had their own unique way of expressing the voice of God to us.  Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were night and day in their style and purpose.   

I would like to think that I possess a sliver of all of the above in my particular brand of ministry, but I’m probably too close to the forest to see the trees (or is it vice-versa?).  At my age, I should have it figured out, but I still consider myself a work in progress.  Because I’ve been around so long, many may look at me as a permanent fixture in the church—staid, well-defined and pretty much a block of granite.  Surely the Master Sculptor has a few more features to chisel in the finished product before He’s through.  It’s the call.  The relentless call.

Saturday
Oct062018

Identifying Frenemies

The 7 Classic Signs You Have a Frenemy is a guest post by Lawrence W. Wilson. He writes frequently about the challenge of leadership in today’s world. Connect with him through his blog or on Twitter.

Here Are Seven Indicators You Have a Frenemy. 

1. Constant Attention 

Frenemies often crave intimacy in relationships and want to be your bestie five minutes after you meet. They ask for a lunch date, friend you on Facebook, and start texting all in the same day. Friends understand that building a relationship takes time. Frenemies want to be too close too soon. 

2. Over Sharing  Frenemies will tell you their life’s story, including highly personal details, over your first coffee. They will volunteer to pick up your kids at school, help with your big project, or take the check every time you go for lunch.  In the back of your mind, you realize there is an imbalance in the relationship – and you’re right. The frenemy will expect that attention to be repaid, with interest.  Friends keep some things about their personal life private and allow you to do the same. Frenemies thrive on relational entanglement. 

3. Criticism Given as Humor  Frenemies love the put down, usually given in front of others. When challenged, they generally claim it was intended to be lighthearted, opening the door for a second slam. “Gee, I was only kidding. Some people just can’t take a joke.” Frenemies love sarcasm, and they are masters of the “Who, me?” expression. Friends may engage in good-natured ribbing, but they respect your feelings. Frenemies use humor as a cover for dealing body blows. 

4. Left-Handed Compliments  Frenemies are effusive with praise at the beginning of the relationship but begin to mix it with mild criticism and, eventually, insults. Don’t mistake this for the constructive critique of a mentor. Frenemies say things like “That’s not bad writing, especially for a person with your education,” and “Well look who’s on time for a meeting. Seriously, I’m glad you could make it.” Friends dish out unqualified praise and offer criticism gently, privately, and rarely. Frenemies often mix the two. 

5. Digging Up Dirt  Frenemies feed on negative information and always dig for more. If you say you’re feeling a bit down, they’ll want to know why. Was it a fight with your spouse? Are you depressed? Tomorrow, they’ll press further. “How’s it going with your sister, still not speaking?” At first it will feel good to have someone who remembers what’s happening in your life and seems to care. In time, you’ll notice that this is a purely negative exercise and every conversation becomes an interrogation. Worse, this behavior will be spiritualized with statements like, “I just want to know how to pray for you.” Friends show concern about your personal problems but allow you a measure of privacy. Frenemies look for the sore spot in your life put their finger on it every time. 

6. That Nagging Feeling  If you have the persistent feeling that someone in your relational web cannot be trusted or has an ulterior motive in seeking your friendship, pay attention – you’re probably right. Friends disarm your fears over time by proving themselves trustworthy. Frenemies produce a feeling of apprehension. 

7. Sabotage  A frenemy’s goal is not to help you succeed but to ensure that you fail, or at least feel miserable in your success. This will eventually take the form of passive-aggressive resistance or outright sabotage. The frenemy shows up five minutes late on your big day, signaling to the team that their agenda is more important. The frenemy will ask you to clarify an embarrassing misstatement in public rather than in private, saying that they “just want to be sure we’re all hearing the same thing.” 

Friends care about you and help you succeed. Frenemies care about themselves and feel best when you are at your worst. I am convinced that frenemies are often unaware of their true motive, which may be fueled by feelings of jealousy, inferiority, or resentment. Even so, it is best to identify these destructive relationships and deal with them quickly.

Friday
Aug242018

Character vs. Characterizing

Let’s get character straight.  When a house has character, it means that it has a unique charm or a stately presence that evokes awe or nostalgia.  If you call a person a character, you mean that he or she has a magnetic personality, is unpredictable, or acts like a clown.  When you have character, it means (among other traits) that people see you as a principled person.  When people characterize someone, it means that they either have keen insight into the motives of others or else they have the capability to portray other people in the most derogatory way.  

Decency (and brains) demand that you take care of your character.  No holes in your integrity, no skeletons in your closet, no questionable associations, no long-ago statements to come back to haunt you, etc., etc.  You should strive to be honest, authentic and squeaky-clean.  These are the imperatives of social interaction.  If you maintain this kind of character, you’re fine.

Except, you’re not. 

As long as there are detractors who seek to characterize you as someone you’re not, then the horrors of vilification remain a distinct possibility.  Your slightest mistake will become a mortal sin.  Your bumbling will be intentional destruction, your mumbling will show that you are an imbecile, and your stumbling demonstrates your ineptness at life.  These spinmeisters can so twist facts and turn reality inside out that they can create a whole new persona for you. 

No less a personage than Abraham Lincoln suffered attacks from these editorial mercenaries.  Mark Bowden of the Atlantic writes, “Sure, we revere Lincoln today, but in his lifetime the bile poured on him from every quarter makes today’s Internet vitriol seem dainty. His ancestry was routinely impugned, his lack of formal learning ridiculed, his appearance maligned, and his morality assailed.”  For adoring fans 150 years later, these pejorative assessments of the most admired president in history seem unthinkable.  Bowden continues.  “No matter what Lincoln did, it was never enough for one political faction and too much for another. Yes, his sure-footed leadership during this country’s most-difficult days was accompanied by a fair amount of praise, but also by a steady stream of abuse—in editorials, speeches, journals, and private letters—from those on his own side, those dedicated to the very causes he so ably championed. George Templeton Strong, a prominent New York lawyer and diarist, wrote that Lincoln was ‘a barbarian, Scythian, yahoo, or gorilla.’ Henry Ward Beecher, the Connecticut-born preacher and abolitionist, often ridiculed Lincoln in his newspaper, The Independent (New York), rebuking him for his lack of refinement and calling him ‘an unshapely man.’” www.theatlantic.com

So, what if Lincoln had succumbed to his critics?  What if they had convinced him that he was indeed a “barbarian,” that he had nothing to contribute to the welfare or healing of a nation in turmoil?  The Emancipation Proclamation, the Gettysburg Address, his Second Inaugural Address, his conduct of a winning war to keep the union intact—none of these historic accomplishments and events would have happened.  Lincoln proved that character trumps characterizations. 

Long knives were out over other renowned historical figures in American history as well.  Ulysses S. Grant was soundly rapped as a lucky drunkard as a General and an unsuccessful President.  Historians say W. T. Sherman, was “a bundle of contradictions” and “one of the most irritating men of the times,” along with charges of racism and cruelty.  Dwight D. Eisenhower’s critics blamed him for ramping up the cold war and pinned the role of “appeaser” on him because he failed to censure Joseph McCarthy, the communist scaremonger.  Ronald Reagan came under heavy fire for allegedly being in bed with big business, showing hostility to the environment, getting America involved in Afghanistan, and bungling the Iran-Contra arms affair.  Writers often ridiculed Reagan for falling asleep during cabinet meetings and security briefings.  “Reagan’s reputation for snoozing even invited a protest: In 1983, steel and auto workers marched on the White House at 4 a.m. to “wake up the president” to the effects of his economic policy. Reagan said he slept through that, too.” (Daniel Engber, www.slate.com). Indeed, if the opponents had their way, few noteworthy people would remain standing. 

Of course, Jesus Christ holds the all-time record for receiving harsh and malicious criticism.  His enemies characterized him a winebibber, an associate of sinners, a law-breaker, a blasphemer, an insurgent, a rabble-rouser and an evil-doer.  In one discourse with the Pharisees, they resorted to vicious name-calling to His face.  “Then the Jews answered and said to Him, ‘Do we not say rightly that You are a Samaritan and have a demon?’” John 8:48 (NKJV) They were not merely engaging in artful rhetoric.  They had murder in their hearts. “Then they took up stones to throw at Him; but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple, going through the midst of them, and so passed by.”  John 8:59 (NKJV) Their choice of Barabbas over Jesus proved that they operated out of personal animosity against Jesus, not their purportedly noble intentions of pursuing truth and justice. 

Unfortunately, your public reputation is subject to manipulation, political agenda, popular opinion and spin.  You are not who you are.  You are who people say you are, at least as far as your reputation goes.  The worst outcome to false characterizations happens when a person caves or changes position to appease his or her enemies.  (The catch is that flipping is met with equal or greater derision!)

True nobility reveals itself when the literary storm rages on but does not succeed in destroying its subject.  Instead, the strong person stands resolute and unbending despite the blows—and often because of them.  I have observed that people of character live on a higher plane than those who would demean them.

Moreover, I have noticed that most complainers have neither the talent or fortitude to take the initiative, forge the strategy, lead the movement or make the substantial difference in the world that the one they carp at does.  And old saying goes, “Those who can’t do, teach.”  I would modify that to say that those who can’t do, complain. 

Invest in character.  If you do, the false characterizations will eventually fall apart. 

Tuesday
Aug212018

Surgery Prep

When they insist that you arrive thirty minutes before your first appointment for physical therapy, you know it’s so they can slam you with paperwork.  You will rack your brain to recall all the medications you take.  You will have to answer yes or no to whether you have (or have had) hundreds of medical conditions (is “maybe” an acceptable answer?).  Had any major surgeries?  The one that stumps me every time is the date I had my gallbladder removed.  ’03? ’05?  Who cares? But that question at least started me thinking about a spiritual application: how does one prepare for an operation?

Yes, living the Christ-life means going under the proverbial knife.  There’s the heart transplant, the new tongue, the new brain, new eyes and ears, the feet replacement, the thorn insertion, plus, the implantation of a set of eagles’ wings.  But, in spiritual as well as physical surgeries, you must endure all the offensive unpleasantries of preparation.  You have to sign the consent form, shed your stylish outfit, don the dreaded drafty gown, stretch out on the gurney, surrender control of your body to the anesthetist and trust the surgeon.  The surgical suite staff cannot force an unwilling patient to succumb to an operation.  Doctors and nurses will not chase you down the hospital corridors, tackle you and drag you kicking and screaming back to the carnage chamber.  Only you can decide your fate.

In the sense of risk, all surgeries are equal—some are just more equal than others.  If you’re scheduled to have a heart transplant, you have days (or maybe weeks) of prep time ahead of you, plus a team of surgeons needs to participate in the operation.  Open heart surgery is a big deal, and the recovery time is long, slow and painful.  But that’s only to add a few years to your natural life.  When the Great Physician oversees a spiritual heart transplant, why should it be any less traumatic?  Yes, your old flesh will suffer, your ego will hurt, and your pride will die, but we’re not talking just a few more years for a less-than-quality life.  We’re talking eternity with Christ!  

Figures for surgical no-shows are reported to be 34% in the US, but higher worldwide, and as high as 60% in some countries.  Reasons given range from miscommunication and/or misinformation to personal problems.  Exorbitant cost, irrational fear, unwillingness to be inconvenienced and a general lack of trust in the medical system may also motivate cancellations by the patient.  The hospitals or clinics, however, can cancel surgeries.  Most of the time, they cite incomplete or no preparation as the cause. 

Are you serious about a spiritual overhaul?  Do you pray about change, but “chicken out” when you approach the deadline?  Are you more like Demas who loved this present world than Paul who crucified the world to himself?  Do you think you can just go to sleep one night and wake up the next morning as an entirely different person?  As long as you run away from the preparation stage, you will never take the victory lap. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.”  2 Corinthians 5:17 (NKJV)

Climb up on the table.  Submit to the procedure.  You’re in good hands. 

Friday
Aug172018

The Intangibles

Confession alert.  Sometimes (actually, very often) I look around at my life and just say, “Wow!  I don’t deserve any of this.  I can’t even figure out why or how I am this blest!” It’s not that I’m worth much financially (ask my tax guy), or that I own multiple properties (I don’t), or that I have an assortment of vintage cars in a huge garage (nope).  It’s just that I have incredible assets like love, joy, and relationships, that may not bump the financial needle forward, but nevertheless profoundly enhance the quality of my life.  Remember, the intangibles are unquantifiable. 

But, we still don’t believe it. We like cold cash. Dollars and cents.  We measure (or we try to measure) everything material and tangible in financial terms.  (By the way, you’re worth about $4.65, maybe more if adjusted for inflation. Don’t be too depressed.  “According to a recent article in Wired magazine, a body could be worth up to $45 million — Calculated by selling the bone marrow, DNA, lungs, kidneys, heart … as components.”)  www.datagenetics.com.  Anyway, Blue Book helps you to estimate the value of your vehicle; surveying eBay approximates the value of your antique Roseville Pottery collection, and your local numismatist will tell you how much your 1900’s pennies are worth.  In fact, it’s possible to comb through your entire holdings and come up with how much money you’re worth.   

Going further, there is even a position known as a Cost Estimator whose typical job is to identify factors affecting costs, such as production time, materials, and labor; read blueprints and technical documents in order to prepare estimates; collaborate with engineers, architects, clients, and contractors; calculate, analyze, and adjust estimates; recommend ways to reduce costs; work with sales teams to prepare estimates and bids for clients; and maintain records of estimated and actual costs.  Everything, it would seem, has its price. 

You would be crazy, however, to let this compulsion to quantify everything you own bleed over into assessing the intangibles of life. “Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies.” Proverbs 31:10. “For the price of wisdom is above rubies.” Job 28:18. And then, consider this stark question: Was the real price to betray Jesus thirty pieces of silver?  Even if Judas had received thirty trillion pieces of silver, it would not have been enough for the Master. 

Here’s the thing: If you gauge your net worth in dollars and cents, you are setting yourself up for a freefall into depression. Even if you’re doing okay, one dip in the stock market, one unfortunate contraction of a malevolent germ, one pink slip in your time card slot, one slip on the ice, one tragic moment on the freeway, two idiotic clicks on your computer mouse, and BAM!  Your meticulous compilation of units of value, all of your bean-counting fussiness, all of your excessive orderliness can come crashing down. 

To pastors and church leaders, don’t obsess so much on income and budgets, on attendance numbers and productivity goals, or on vision-driven strategies and stringent personnel training that you run roughshod over the intangibles of discipleship and loving God.  The more you base your hopes on political-campaign style programs, corporate-world techniques, and public relations tactics, the less you rely on the Holy Spirit, and the further you distance yourself from the warm glow of loving fellowship and the compassionate care of the body of Christ.  Those qualities don’t show up on the bottom line of your financial report. 

But, you say, what about the 3000 people who were added to the church on the Day of Pentecost?  Somebody must have been doing some quantifying!  You’re right, but it was after the fact! Going forward into the event, nobody had a clue about the outcome.  Moreover, I submit to you that the 120 disciples in the upper room didn’t know what this was all about.  They didn’t even know that they were going to speak in tongues!  They were simply were immersed in the worship of God and the devotion to the parting words of Jesus.    

If you live by the numbers, you’ll die by the numbers.  If productivity is the measure of your success, then it will also define your failure.  Slow down.  Drink in the divine presence.  Breathe in the mists of the glory of the King.  The intangibles of loving God transcend the external trappings of Christianity and escort you into a deeply satisfying relationship with God.  You can’t put a price on that. 

“And Jesus answered and said to her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.’” Luke 10:41-42.  NKJV 

Wednesday
Aug152018

Minimalism

As we advance further into the twenty-first century, minimalism continues to gain popularity in décor, style and architectural schemes.  Millennials fight relentlessly to rid the world of clutter, confusion and complications.  They despise walls crowded with hangings that cover every square inch of available space.  They much prefer empty shelves over loaded curio cabinets.  The bare, clean look is in. 

This may not be my taste in decorating as much as it is in life, but I will say this.  Getting rid of clutter takes courage.  We live with far too many hitches, snags, anxieties, hang-ups and special considerations in our lives that do little else but restrict mobility and hamper productivity.  We carve out niches for this person, pockets for that kooky idea, nooks and crannies for favorite nuisances, concessions for otherwise impossible people and baggage rooms for problems that we can’t figure out how to solve (so we keep walking around them.)  What a relief to our bewilderedness when some courageous soul strides fearlessly into our lives and screams “Enough!  This is going, that’s history, and no more of something else!” We may feign protest, but secretly, we breathe, “Thank God!”  (Have you ever seen an estate sale?  When all is said and done, someone is going to come in and get rid of your clutter.  It’s not a pretty sight!)

There’s nothing like a good scare to force you to re-evaluate your priorities in life.  Gillian Mohney says, “An intense scare can do more than elicit a good scream; it can physically affect the body as the neurological system releases intense chemicals in response to a threat. For most the response to a fright is more or less harmless, with the body becoming primed to fight or flight its way out of a bad situation.”  abcnews.go.com. 

There’s one cliché I love and continue to use: “Cut to the chase!”  Get out your sword, your scissors, your utility knife and your wastebasket and start ridding yourself of time-wasters, problem-generators, redundant routines that accomplish little, and stressors that cause more aggravation than amity.  You can de-complicate your life if you try.  Simplify your existence.  Less is more. 

Wednesday
Aug082018

Command Condemnation to Go! 

“Just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men.” Romans 5:8-11. 

When you were saved, you were released from guilt feelings.  Occasional bouts with the old life sometimes made you wonder if you had really changed. During these struggles, you momentarily gave in to the former desires and committed sin.  Immediately, you were overwhelmed with remorse, and a feeling of condemnation began to haunt you. At first you blamed this on immaturity in your Christian walk.  Eventually, you believed that the problem was much more basic.  Chronic condemnation set in, a feeling that you were totally unworthy, a lost cause, a hopeless case, a discredit to God, church and self.  Self-condemned, you withdrew from active participation in the church, became uncommunicative and distant and lost your testimony.  The less you openly professed, the less guilt you seemed to feel. 

Condemnation results from guilt and rejection, as though you were under sentence.  For the believer, however, there is no bona fide condemnation.  “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” John 3:17. The Apostle Paul emphasized this truth in his writings to the Romans.  There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.” Romans 8:1. 

There is, however, a feeling of condemnation that wields enormous power to influence behavior.  It can cause: deep depression from constantly blaming oneself; chronic fatigue, psychosomatic illness; self-degradation; paranoia (the sense of being criticized, spied on; tendency to constantly complain or criticize others; casting oneself into greater sin with abandonment.  This feeling can be self-induced, or it can result from a demonic attack. Just remember that it is not a legitimate feeling.  But what about a person who commits sin after he or she is saved?  Does this constitute condemnation before God?

The answer is that God looks at saints and sinners as the government looks at aliens and citizens. (Ephesians 2:11-17).  Aliens may be deported if they commit a crime.  They have no access to the protection of our laws.  Citizens, on the other hand, must pay for their crimes, but they have access to a legal system through which they can get justice.  Believers have access to God’s forgiveness.  “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:7-9. 

Believers must understand that forgiveness of sins and the reconciliation of man to God lies at the core of redemption’s story.  It is Christ who bears the punishment for the penitent’s sins.  He will not refuse, avoid, recoil at or limit your sins, or block your access to his atoning grace. There is absolutely no reason on God’s part why you can’t be forgiven! 

Be confident, therefore, of your salvation.  Claiming salvation equals denying condemnation.  When a jury returns a verdict on a defendant, the person is either innocent or guilty.  He cannot be both.  “And such were some of you: but you are washed, you are sanctified, you are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.” 1 Cor. 6:11.