Friday, February 17, 2017

A Shepherd

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. (Psalm 23:1-3a)

Do you ever wear down? I watched a student writing his assignment with a pencil that was barely two inches long. I'm sure at on point the pencil was new and full length. But with use it wore down.

The lead wore down from being rubbed against the paper. The wood wore down from being cut away by a sharpener.

At times the pencil was sharp even as it was wearing down.

Once the process started, the inevitable end was that it would wear down. Wouldn't it be cool if the pencil could be restored to its original form instead of wasting away?

Technology can provide material that might last longer. Other writing utensils have been created. But the standard pencil will wear down.

I feel like the standard pencil. The rub of ministry is a grind although it is also invigorating. The sharpening of education, friendships, retreats, and quiet times help my usefulness and slow the wearing down. But the wearing is still happening.

That's why Psalm 23 is so special. Jesus cares for us as a shepherd cares for his sheep.

When I look to him for all I need I find that what he provides is all I want. When I follow him he gives me rest. When I obey him he refreshes me.

And, most importantly, when I realize who I am - one of the Shepherd's sheep - he restores my soul. It's my soul that recovers more slowly than my body. It's my soul that remains tired even though my body is back up to speed. It's my soul that is still hungry and thirsty after my body is fed and watered.

In the New Testament Jesus said, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled" (from the Beatitudes in Matthew 5).

If we connect the Psalm with the Beatitude I think we learn the key to overcoming the grind of living, the reality of emptiness, and the hurt of brokenness: our Shepherd takes care of us when we follow him.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

My Best

Why do people choose to as little as possible?

In a college English class the final exam was an essay. We were to bring paper and pen. That was all. On the last day of class prior to the final one student asked, "What is the minimum number of pages that the essay must be?"

The professor said he had no minimum because his minimum would become our maximum. From his years of experience, he knew student would do as little as possible.

The 7th and 8th grade writing classes I have subbed in the last three days had assignments of writing summaries. They were given an article with maybe 200 words. Their summaries were supposed to be no more than 80 words. Other rules applied, like including the relevant points.

As I told one class, "Yes, 10 is less than 80 but I don't think you can give an adequate summary in 10 words." They wanted to do as little as possible.

I even gave them the chance to expand their summaries if their work was a little light. Only one student (out of 6) chose to look again at his work. The others just wanted to play on the Chromebooks provided by the school. So I didn't let them. Those who put out little effort on the assignment could not use the class for a study hall or recess.

They wanted to do as little as possible. Now I'm not the teacher and I don't grade the papers but I'm pretty sure she won't be very impressed with some of the work.

But I can't just talk about students. I'm the same way sometimes. Some days the time I spend reading and studying the Bible is pitiful. And sometimes my prayers don't hit the 80-word mark, either.

I don't think God keeps a word count but I do believe he cares about the effort we put into spending time with him. I think he wants to hear you voice your praise, your concerns, your needs.

I don't think God keeps a stop watch on your study habits but I do believe an Olympic swimmer might be able to hold his breath longer than most of us spend reading the Bible. I think God wants to spend more time with us than we give him.

Did I read my Bible today? Yes.

Did I pray today? Yes.

But did I give God a minimum effort or did I give him my best?

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Beat of a Different Drummer

I thought that line about following the beat of a different drummer would be a good class motto for the Dardanelle High School Class of '82. It's not our motto. I'd have to look in the yearbook to find out what the motto is.

I think about that because I'm sitting in the teachers' workroom at school. The band room is next door. They are practicing and I can hear (and feel) the beat of the drum.

Have you ever felt the drums as the marching band goes by in a parade? That's what I remember most about the Christmas parades when I was a kid. That and Santa Claus making his appearance on top of the firetruck.

Even when you can't see the drummer you can hear the drum. Sometimes you can feel it.

Every day I'm reminded of how the culture I live in does not line up with my worldview. I try to see everything through the lens of God's Word and I try to live my life by the principles taught there. It's not an easy task but when I am able to do it I notice a clear difference.

Something needs to guide me along the path of godly living as the path winds through the world I live in because I'll stray without that help. I need a cadence to keep me in step. I need the reminder of a sound from somewhere else.

God gives the guidance. His Spirit whispers to my spirit about what I should do and decisions I should make. I'm never left alone. He is always with me. That's the promise of Scripture.

Along with the Holy Spirit, I have friends who are also believers who help me. The Proverbs tell us that one man sharpens another like iron on iron. We (believers) need each other. The Christian life is not meant to be lived in solitude but in community.

So I look forward to gathering with my church family. I cherish times of fellowship and Bible study with Christian friends. Don't you?

The nudging by the Holy Spirit and the reminders from believing friends are that drumbeat that helps me keep in line and in step. I believe God sends believers into the world to make a difference through relationships with all people. Lots of voices bombard you each day with attractive offers that will pull you away from the Lord. But there is a drummer tapping a cadence. Can you hear Him?

Monday, February 06, 2017

Be Still and Know

One of the hardest things to do is be still. I'm constantly fidgeting even when it looks like I'm still. I generally don't move too far from the podium when I preach but look closely and you'll notice I shift weight from one foot to the other frequently. Even when I drive it seems I do the same thing because I weave. A lot. Ask the policemen who have stopped me over the years!

The Bible says to be still before the Lord and know that he is God. Often we are just too busy. The constant movement of our schedules and routines keeps us from really knowing God. We run to him when we are in trouble nut don't give him much attention otherwise.

I suggest that a little quiet and still time with the Lord on a regular basis equips us for the hectic times that certainly come. Maybe a few minutes being still before the Lord in the morning will help you deal with some chaos that comes later in the day.

Be still. Be quiet. Listen. Read his Word. Agree with him. Thank him and praise him.

Friday, February 03, 2017

Misleading

Inside where it's about 72. Looking outside. Clear skies. Only vapor trails break up the blue. Flags stand straight out in the wind. The only hint that I have that it's colder outside than it looks is the jackets people who are walking by are wearing. That and I know it's February 3. But these days it's just as likely to be 72 outside on February 3 as it is to be 30.

Today the temperature outside is in the mid 40s. The wind makes it feel like upper 30s. From this table I might not think it's that cold. A few steps outside the door and I believe it. I'm wearing a long-sleeved shirt with a sweater vest. And pants. The run to the truck isn't too bad. I wouldn't want to be working the car line at school without a jacket, though. Maybe a hat, too.

Looks can be deceiving. Ever heard that? It applies to a lot of things.

How can we know if what seems to be an opportunity presented by God is really from God or a misleading look-a-like placed there to deceive us? You know, Satan will try to deceive us by making his option look as good as or better than God's option. So we can't just jump at anything that looks like it might be from God.

I have a friend who once said he would walk through any open door. I reminded him that Satan also opens doors in front of us - doors that God would never open for you. Not every open door is the way God wants you to go. We must be discerning.

Discernment is, according to Sinclair Ferguson, "the ability to make discriminating judgments, to distinguish between, and recognize the moral implications of, different situations and courses of action." Have you ever put a food into your mouth that you've never tasted before? Everyone was watching to see what you would do. You mouth twitched this way and that. Your eyes searched the air for an answer. Maybe your nose crinkled and your eyes watered. Maybe not. Then a smile. You tasted it and found out you liked it. It was good.

Discernment is tasting (or testing) to see if something is good. Not in the sense of enjoyable, sensational, or fun; but in the sense of right, true, fair, honorable, and godly. A discerning person, therefore, can tell the difference between something that is actually good and something that is not.

Everybody has a some ability to discern. Some people have a lot of ability to discern. That's a gift from God. But even if you don't have that special measure of discernment you are still required to be discerning. You are still required to test the choice, weigh the options. You have to decide whether God opened the door for your good or Satan opened it for your harm.

Your decision is more likely to be right if you'll do this: pray, weigh the choices against God's word, and consult the input of faithful Christians.

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Transitions

I'm working part-time as a substitute teacher. Today's assignment is to fill in for a teacher who is part of the Senior Field Trip. Several teachers are out and, of course, all the seniors are gone.

With the seniors out of the building the juniors are at the op of the heap.

I remember those special times. Like the first day after the seniors' last day of school when I was a junior. We called ourselves seniors even though some of us were still struggling to make the grade. And we let everyone on campus know that we had transitioned to the top of the pecking order.

There's just something about moving up, moving on, transitioning.

In reality there isn't much different about a person from one day to the next. He may have received a degree or an honor or a promotion. He's much the same but he has something like a diploma to tell him he's different.

When a person comes into a saving relationship with Jesus you may not see much different about them the next day. She wears the same clothes. She drives the same car. Her class schedule is the same.

But something is definitely different. It's on the inside. You can't see it now but you probably will notice outward changes soon.

The diffence is that God gives his Holy Spirit to each person who trusts Jesus for salvation. The Holy Spirit begins working on the person to change them from what they were to what they can be. The transition has begun.

Some inward changes surface faster than others but the changes are happening. I'm glad to know this because I sometimes expect changes to be seen right now. I have to remind myself that this is happening in other people, too.

Instead of being harsh like I am prone to be, I must learn to see others who profess faith in Christ as people who are on a journey of transition from who they were to who they will be. I am better at that than I used to be. Maybe that's the Holy Spirit working to change me.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Writing and Rewriting

Have you ever had to edit or revise and project? I've spent many years in classrooms working on assignments. I've written and delivered thousands of sermons and lessons. I have even written a few songs. And I've had to rewrite often.

Almost everything needs a rewrite or at least a tweak or edit. The best case scenario is to notice that before you publish or delivery it. I bet you have posted something on social media and immediately saw a typo or wish you had said it differently.

In a children's sermon I used the illustration of squirting out toothpaste then asking thr kids to put it back in the tube. You can't. Trying is messy.

It's best to think about what you say or write before you let it out for everyone to hear or read.

I think it is best to think about what you are about to do, revise your planned actions, before actually doing it.

Whether it's a delete key, a reset button, or an inner nudge, it's good to consider and reconsider.

I'm sitting in a class of seniors. Their teacher left these instructions for the day: revise your short story papers. They really wish the teacher wasn't sick today because they have lots of questions.

Revision requires help.

So let's talk about your life for a minute. Are you pone to putting something out there before thinking it through enough? Yeah, me too. I sometimes say or do things that I soon regret. How do we keep from doing that?

Some people remove themselves from possible situations. They become reclusive and deny themselves and those around them of what could be some great interactions.

Others choose not to care. They say hurtful things with little or no remorse. They treat people however they want without regard for those people. That kind of attitude eventually makes the person calloused to relationships.

A good way to keep from regretting what you've said or done is to revise,edit, rewrite. God has given us a great gift to help us do that. The Holy Spirit is God and he dwells with us, in part, to nudge our spirits to think twice before acting. He does that through truths we find in scripture; he'll point us in the right direction as we read and recall what the Bible says.

Why don't you give this a try. Read the Bible regularly. Pray before you read asking the Holy Spirit to help you understand the truths you'll read. Throughout the day ask the Holy Spirit to guide you as you make decisions, interact with people, and post things online.

The revisions prior to action can make a big difference in how the day goes.