Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Self-Discipline is Always a Stretch

It seems that self-discipline is getting more difficult.  If you don't have to be accountable to anyone for the discipline, it is even worse.  If I am the only person who cares if I actually achieve any of my desired outcomes, it is too easy to throw in the towel.

Entertainment often trumps self-discipline.  Lent allows
us to re-focus and choose the less popular but
more life-giving option.
Wednesday will begin the Lenten season.  This will be forty days of reflection not including Sundays counting down to Easter.  Much of the time, people seek to give up something for Lent.  A lot of the time, people give up some type of less healthy food choice.  This has the added benefit of serving as a diet for many.

While losing weight is not the focal point for Easter, it might be a nice addition to the consequences of your actions.

The main objective for any Lenten discipline should be growing closer to God.  This takes discipline and reflection, both of which may be difficult for people to achieve.  I've known Christians who avoided looking at their own spiritual lives because it was too painful.  For others, it may be intimidating, especially if the person has guilt over a lack of spiritual activity such as prayer or Bible reading.

As a Wesleyan, I always start with grace.  When we embrace the grace of God for our lives, it allows us to move forward rather than being stuck in a past incident.  Following our embracing the grace in Christ, we then seek to respond with faithfulness of our own.

Lent can be a time when we pick up a spiritual practice rather than simply giving something up.  One of my disciplines has been writing during Lent.  This year, I will be posting daily devotions featuring the Gospel of John.  We will start tomorrow and move forward each day, finishing the gospel on Easter Sunday.

Since I am finishing my sermon series on the Sermon on the Mount at the 7 pm Ash Wednesday service, I will look at our journey with Jesus to the cross on Sunday mornings.  We'll be looking at the lectionary gospel readings which feature various people that encounter Jesus.  We'll begin with the temptations of Jesus in the wilderness in Matthew 4:1-11.

Our congregation will also be collecting food and money during Lent for Skyline Urban Ministry which helps people in poverty with their basic needs.  The money we are collecting will go for a freezer which will allow Skyline to purchase and offer frozen foods for pennies on the dollar.

Even though disciplines are difficult, it does feel good when you not only set a goal but accomplish it.  I would encourage our Sunday school classes to share their Lenten disciplines because accountability makes them much more likely to be achieved.

Check back with this blog tomorrow for the beginning of John's Gospel.  It will be posted very early so that those who rise before the sun should be able to engage.

In Christ,


Photo by JohnPaulRichards via Flickr.com.  Used under the Creative Commons license.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Judgment-Free Zone

Dana Carvey played the Church Lady
on NBC's Saturday Night Live in the late 1980's.
"Well, isn't that special?"

This was the catch-phrase of the Church Lady played by Dana Carvey during Saturday Night Live in the late 1980's. Church Lady would say this phrase in a sarcastic, mocking voice that indicated that the behavior in question was not special at all.

The recurring character was a big hit for the show - possibly because she represented an archetype that many Americans had experienced at some point in their lives.

Dana Carvey supposedly based her on older women that he had grown up with in church.

One of my favorite episodes was one of the first where the Church Lady was interviewing Jenny Baker played by Victoria Jackson.  Jenny was a girl from the Church Lady's congregation and had attended worship consecutively for 200 times before she missed. Rather than applauding the girl's attendance, the Church Lady's response was, "Well, I guess some people only come to church when it's convenient!"

The girl replied that the reason she missed was that her grandmother had slipped and fallen in the tub.

Instead of apologizing, the Church Lady remarked that this accident left Jenny and her boyfriend unchaperoned at the house.

Do you ever feel like you can't win with some people?

This Sunday, we will be looking at Matthew 7:1-12 from the Sermon on the Mount which contains the oft-quoted, "Judge not, lest ye be judged!"  from verse 1.

We've all experienced being judged and we've all made snap judgments against other people.  Our hope is that this characteristic doesn't define us or our church.  Yet at the same time, good judgment is needed to preserve our safety and the well-being of those we love.  Where do we draw the line and what is appropriate when it comes to our judgment of someone else?

Join us for a subject that we all need to revisit from time to time!

In Christ,


Photo is the property of NBC and used by fair use under United States copyright laws.

Monday, February 13, 2017

I'm Not Anxious, I'm Just Imaginative!

One of the most peaceful experiences of my life followed a period of great anxiety.  This happened while Sheryl and I were vacationing in Mexico before we had Kyla and David.
Sheryl and I are the ones on the bottom right
corner.  This was a sunken ship off the coast of
Jamaica on our anniversary in 2014.

My wife Sheryl is a certified scuba diver.  One of her favorite activities if we go near an ocean (it also has to be warm) is to strap a large tank of oxygen to her back and swim under the water for long periods of time.  She insisted that I would love it too.

Being an adventurous sort, I decided to try the beginner’s dive.  This involved an hour of instruction in a classroom-type setting.  They give you all of the hand signals you need to know while you are under the water – evidently, they can’t hear you while you’re screaming into your oxygen mask!  Some of them are a little confusing.  For instance, if everything is okay, you do not want to stick your thumb up.  This is the sign that we need to swim to the surface.  After the not-so-lengthy instruction, they strapped us up and shoved us into the water.

“I’m not getting enough air!” was my first thought.  I had snorkeled before and assumed (falsely) that it wouldn’t be much different as far as the breathing went.  As I began to thrash around in the water, my next thought was, “You are panicking.”

My third thought was, “They are not going to refund your money at this point.”  My cheapness won the day and I began to take slow deep breaths.  After a while, I began to feel okay about this new venture.  Then we began to descend along the bottom of the ocean.  We swam toward the wreckage of an old airplane which really is neat to swim around.  Then we moved toward some coral reefs.  The coral and the fish were simply amazing.  It went from really frightening to really peaceful within a handful of minutes.  As you swim along, you hear your own breathing slow and steady in your ears.  It is very relaxing.

Sometimes in life, we have to move past our anxieties to really enjoy the peace that is at hand.  Jesus Christ calls us to do this quite often.  We may be experiencing some great worry but as we face it, we often find that we were more able than we realized.  As Christians, we see that God gives us strength to move past our fear into life.  God wants us to know this peace and I believe it comes at all levels.  It can be personal.  This peace may take place in our families.  It sometimes takes place on a national scale.  Peace is even God’s plan for the world.  This Sunday, we will continue to look at the Sermon on the Mount and the particular passage that deals with worry: Matthew 6:19-34.  Join us for worship and breathe deeply!

In Christ,


Monday, February 6, 2017

Can You See the Real Me?

As a pastor, I have sometimes run across posers in my ministry.  By posers, I mean people who are posing as someone they are not.  Posers don’t reveal their true selves by intent.

Once, I was teaching Sunday school when one of the men of our church interrupted me and told me that there was a visitor who desperately needed to speak with me.  I asked someone else to take over the lesson and went to visit with him.

We went to my office and I discovered that this man had a brother who had died rather suddenly in St. Louis.  He was leaving behind a wife and little boy.  This man needed airfare to get to St. Louis that afternoon to help his family cope.  The little boy especially would need his uncle during this awful time.

I felt terrible for this man’s situation but I also felt like his story wasn’t quite adding up.
I got some details from the man and told him that I would need to see his driver’s license so that I could put his identification on the check.  Strangely enough, he didn’t have it on him but told me that he would return shortly with it.

After he left, I called the airlines to verify the flight time and price.  There was no flight at the time he gave me.  I also called the funeral home to check on his brother.  They had no man listed by the name he gave me. 

The man never returned to our church.  He was obviously running a scam, coming during Sunday morning hours, hoping that the pastor would be so busy that he would just write him a check or better yet, give him cash.

All of us put on masks from time to time.
Jesus reminds us that God knows who we really are.
This kind of behavior can make a person suspicious.  It makes it difficult to take people at their word.  However, it also shouldn’t keep me from treating people with dignity and respect if they have a need.  I should follow my due diligence as I did but I should also continue to help where I can.

As I reflect upon this story, I recognize that all people have a public self and a private self.  Sometimes the two line up and sometimes they don’t.  We all have our own “make up” that we put on in some way or another.  Sometimes this is because our inner feelings betray a doubt or a callousness that we wouldn’t want others to see. 

So if we are really honest with ourselves, all of us are posers once in a while. 

This Sunday, we’ll be continuing with the Sermon on the Mount with Matthew 6:1-18.  This passage includes the Lord’s Prayer and instructs us to have integrity with our piety.  If we are pious so that others may praise us, it may be that we are no different than the con artist seeking to cheat the church.

This is a subject that we all need to examine once in a while.  Even good intentions can get lost in the shuffle.  Keeping our own intentions in line is something that takes work and discipline.  I know those two words are not popular with an over-worked and under-disciplined society but they are more likely to give us peace than continuing to fake it.

In Christ,


Photo by Victoria Pickering via Flickr.com, used under the Creative Commons license.