The Pondering Pastor

These "Ponderings" originally appeared as articles in our church newsletter or bulletin or just as the musings of one bald pastor. I place them here to encourage you, my fellow blogite and maybe to help us all in our pondering.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

It's Supposed to Be Hard

WHILE CRANKING OUT a few miles on the treadmill this past week I said under my breath, “This is hard!” At once I responded to myself, “DUH! This is supposed to be hard!” I reminded myself that is why I chose to do interval training on the treadmill that day, to push myself hard. So, sweat in the eyes, labored breathing and an increased heart-rate were part of the equation toward better health.

A few weeks earlier during an online chat with my daughter Trinity, while she was serving in with the Haitian earthquake relief effort, she mentioned how hard and difficult it was being there. My compassionate fatherly response was, “It’s supposed to be hard.” In fact, were it not I would wonder if she really had a grasp of the situation. Fortunately, she did and she rose to the occasion with the strength the Lord provides.

This week marks an important series of dates on the Christian calendar commonly known as Passion Week. A week which begins with Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem and follows Him through event-filled days, last supper garden of prayer, His crucifixion, and thankfully, His resurrection! It is not an understatement to say that this was an incredibly hard week for the Lord. Jesus even admits to the difficulty as He falls to His face in prayer, seeking His Father to release Him from the coming cross. Even upon the cross He calls out, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?” It was hard week! It was supposed to be hard! For in His death He bore upon Himself your sin, my sin, the sins of all! He bore them so we would not have to.

He bore the hardness of the cross to destroy the hardness of our sin and to set us free to a new life in Him. A life marked by grace and peace and joy! Life as it was supposed to be!

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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

ONE WORD WONDERS

[DISCLAIMER: The following is written with tongue firmly placed in cheek, but of course every tongue speaks some truth. And for "full-disclosure" I was once involved in a youth group who choose the original name of "Thursday Night." And I have overseen such youth groups called "The Place" and "Breakaway." Enough said...on to the blog!]

When I was younger the churches that surrounded me had such long names that we would often refer to them in abbreviated form such as GGCC or LHCC or EVFree (of whatever city).

Over time the names of local religious establishments have been shortened so as to make it easy to remember and to focus their intent. For example: Vintage Faith or The Creek.

Today, two word names are too long. If you want to be cutting-edge (emergent?) then you can only have one name, and it can't sound too "Christian." For example: Resonate (actually a few churches using this. New denomination?) or Elevation. I believe these churches are much needed and I encourage their growth (note I did link to their websites!), but these new names got me thinking about what other names I could use in starting a new church in my community? The rule is it has to be one name long and it must describe who we are or what we do, so here's my list... (and I welcome your own ideas as well.)

"Regurgitate" -- Where we read other people's blog-posted sermons out-loud.
"Subliminal" -- We get the message to you while you're not looking.
"Impressive" -- It's all show for the Savior.
"Plausible" -- We believe because it's plausible.
"Relationship" -- Find your next one here.
"Believe" -- Because it's better than not.
"Yes" -- We're positive we wouldn't say no.
Well, I suppose the list could go on and on...and I suppose it will. The nagging question for me is if we are down to the One Word Wonders...where do we go from here? I wonder what will emerge next? Numbers? (We're #1!?)
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Patron Saints

GOT A PROFESSION, HOBBY OR INTEREST and there is a patron saint for you. If you’re a nurse and into bell-making then St. Agatha is for you. If you herd swine or drive a car (is there a connection?) then St. Anthony the Great is your man. If you’re an accountant, then St. Matthew is your guy (and you might want to start praying since April 15th is around the corner.) And the list goes on and on and on.

I realize that I should not make light of another person’s religious beliefs, and usually I don’t except I came across an article in Thursday’s edition of USA Today which told of the patron saint of drug-traffickers; Saint Jesús Malverde. (Malverde translates out to: ‘Green Evil.’) In the city of Culiacán, Sinaloa, Mexico there is a chapel that has been erected to this saint and many who are involved in the illegal drug trade come and pray and request safe passage during their forays. When they come back and forth in safety they come back to the chapel and leave a gift of thanks.

I guess we could call this religion gone awry. It must be noted that not all these “saints” carry the beatific blessing of the Pope. Whew! Glad to hear that! But, is there a greater lessen for us in all this? Yes, I believe there is. The question is this; in whom are you placing your trust and for what reason?

The Word of God declares that we can each boldly approach the throne of grace to find mercy in our time of need (Hebrews 4:16) and that is Jesus, the Son of God, who intercedes for us directly. (Hebrews 7:22-25) We do not need a patron saint to intercede for us, and especially one that would pray for us to succeed in doing evil (green or otherwise). No, we have a Savior, who is also our High Priest and Intercessor, the very Son of God, standing before God the Father on our behalf. Whom else do we need, and for what more could we ask?

Shall we pray?

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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

What's in a Name?

ACCORDING TO THE SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION my name has never made the top-five list of boys’ names, ever! What are the most popular, based upon SSA Card applications? Michael, James and Robert. Oh well, I guess that makes me special. J

What we name our children is important. We want to make sure that their name speaks well of them, cannot be used as a taunt, and gives them a sense of meaning and pride. The truth is parents often spend long hard hours sweating over the proper name for their child. The proof can be seen just in the number of websites given to picking the “correct” name for your child.

Throughout history the naming of a child could set the course for the child’s future. This is seen over and over again in the Scriptures. Even the early chapters of Genesis show that reality. Take for instance the naming of Shem, whose name means “name,” (pretty original) will start the family line that will become known as the Semites from which Abraham, the father of the Hebrews (those who bear the “name” as God’s children) comes. I am sure that when Noah named his son, he had little idea of the place he would play and the meaning in his name. Naming his kid, “Name” had some far-reaching effects, even without knowing it.

Now, here’s an exciting truth; for those of us who have responded to God’s grace in Christ Jesus, and have chosen to trust in His Name and in Him as Lord, Savior and God, we are given a new name, His. (Revelation 3:12) His Name will be written upon our foreheads to tell the whole of creation, that our heritage is in Christ Jesus, the Son of God. Now, that’s a great name!

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Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Walking On Water

ONE OF MY FAVORITE FISHING SPOTS is a creek off the south fork of the Smith River that my fishing buddy and I called “Slayer.” (So names because of all fish we caught with ease.) The reason that the fishing was so superb was because access to the creek required wading across the Smith River which at that location is rather deep and very swift.

On our first trip we scouted high and low for the best place to cross. The best location we could find would take us into chest-deep fasting-moving water and some very treacherous footing. On that day there were three of us endeavoring to make the crossing, and thankfully we all made it safely. The trick was holding hand with each other above our heads. I am sure if anyone would have happened down that deserted dirt road they would have thought, “Now there go some really stupid fishermen!” And they would have been correct in their assessment, except for the fact that we did make it across and entered into some of the best wild cut-throat trout fishing I have ever done.

There was one time I went back to the creek on my own and tried to cross the river by myself, but I couldn’t make it. In fact, I lost my footing and almost got swept away. This was definitely a three-man-crossing! Some things are better done with a cadre of good friends. I suppose this is what God the Holy Spirit had in mind when He led King Solomon to write,

Two are better than one,

because they have a good return for their work:

If one falls down,

his friend can help him up.

But pity the man who falls

and has no one to help him up!

Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.

But how can one keep warm alone?

Though one may be overpowered,

two can defend themselves.

A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12)

Who’s holding your hand today?
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Monday, March 01, 2010

Grasping at Thorns

ROSES ARE BEAUTIFUL FLOWERS. Pleasant to the eyes and many emit a fragrance that brings delight to the soul. Then there is the grand variety of roses; sizes, hues, bushes, trees and climbing vines. They are cultivated in hot houses and grow wild in the jungles and even thrive in the gardens of our neighbors, (that is if the deer don’t get them first!) Roses are truly a gorgeous part of God’s creation. Then there are the thorns!

At our home we blessed with a number of rose bushes. Each of them contain thorns that no matter how careful I am will prick, grab, stick and even slash at my hands, arms and legs. If you’re going to enjoy the beauty of roses in your garden, then the grasping of thorns will be the inevitable reality. The cultivating of roses demands that blood is spilt.

What is true in my garden is also true in the greater garden that comprises my life. If I am to enjoy the beauty of life around me, and to cultivate the beauty of that life, it will also demand that I deal with the thorns; it will require that some blood be spilt. This can be seen in carrying out God’s work in our “gardens” whether it is here in the San Lorenzo Valley, or in Port au Prince, Haiti. We would love to cultivate God’s beauty in the lives of those we meet without pain or cost, but that is not the way it works. The shedding of blood, whether spiritual, emotional, or physical will be demanded of those who respond to working in God’s Garden.

Even the Master Gardener Himself knew about the “dangers” of cultivating God’s creation. To bring out the best in God’s creation would demand, did demand, the shedding of blood. (Hebrews 9:22) Not just the pricking of a finger, but blood that oozed and gushed from wounds caused by nails, spear, and even a crown of thorns. Jesus willingly grasped a hold of the thorny branch in order to bring to us the life that we needed. As followers of Jesus and thus, gardeners in God’s creation, we too must be willing to grasp at thorns. There will be blood spilt for the bringing of God’s cultivated beauty.

The bringing of salvation and future growth will demand that we be willing to shed blood for the sake of others. The life of Christ was not easy, and neither is the life of those who choose to follow Him. This is not to say that there are not experiences of great beauty and wonder (just check out what’s taking place in Haiti), but let us remember that often to encounter that beauty we might be required to grasp at thorns and bleed.

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Finish What's on Your Plate

WHAT’S FOR DESSERT? A common phrase around many an American dinner table. One of the common responses is, “Finish what’s on your plate and then we’ll talk about dessert.” It’s a common malady for us for it always seems like we are wanting more; wanting what’s next. I have found this true in our spiritual diets as well. We seldom seem satisfied with what’s on the plate, always desiring more, searching for the next thing we can partake of in the Christian life.

Desiring more is not totally wrong. It is alright to desire more, but not when we have not even completed that which the Lord has already laid upon our plates. This truth struck home with me this past week while preparing for our weekly men’s Bible study groups. The members of the Sanhedrin, (Jewish rulers of Jesus’ day) were questioning Jesus about where He received the authority to do the things He did. Jesus’ response came in a form of a question about where John the Baptist got his authority (Mark 11:27-33). Their inability to answer led Jesus to state in essence, then I will not give you any more information that you cannot handle.

The point was; Jesus was not going to give them more information since they did not handle correctly the information they already possessed. In John 7:17, where Jesus’ teaching is brought into question, He replies, “Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.” The issue seems to be that God has already given us enough on our plates to do (obey) and we best not ask for more until we finish what’s on our plate.

Sure, dessert is always more enjoyable than succotash, but at God’s table, and in His economy, He does not give more until we are faithful to use that which He has already given, be that time, treasures, talents or knowledge.

What’s on your plate?

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