Tuesday, 22 January 2013

of Wishing Our Lives Away

Recently I was thinking about those, Monday morning “Blah’s.” You know the ones I mean. Those, “I can’t believe the weekend is over already,” blah’s. Those, “I wish it were Friday already,” blues. Ever been there? I know you have. I’m sure we all have at one time or another. Perhaps that has even become your weekly ritual.

As I reflected on this “hurry up workday” mentality that many of us have, I couldn’t help but wonder if we aren’t just "wishing our lives away." Have you ever thought about that? Could it be that many of us are just "wishing our lives away?" Now that's kind of a depressing thought, isn't it?

Why are we so anxious to speed through five workdays in order to enjoy (presumably enjoy) two days off? That hardly seems like a fair trade to me! Does our workweek suck that badly that it has become nothing more than a drudgery to be endured in anticipation of the all-glorious weekend? The fact is, not all weekends are "glorious" either. So where does that leave us?

Are we missing something?

What if we were to make a genuine concerted effort to treat each and every day as “the day the Lord hath made” and to genuinely seek to “rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24), regardless of what day of the week the calendar says it is? What if we started to really believe that today, regardless of where in the week our “today” really falls, we might just be God’s answer to someone else’s prayer? What if our goal for today, regardless if today is a workday or not, is to BE a blessing to someone else (Romans 12:14)? Would that change our perception of the day? I wonder.

What if we went to work each and every day with the attitude of being a “Christian in a secular workplace” rather than just being a person who “works in a secular workplace who also happens to profess to be a Christian?” Would that change anything?

Suppose we really did conduct all our activities, be they work related or pleasure, as “working for the Lord, not men” (Colossians 3:23).  Would that change our outlook on the week? What if we were to “really” take our Christian faith to work with us? Would that change anything?

The older I get, the more I’ve come to notice that days race into weeks, weeks race into months, and months race into years. Now combine that truth with the proverbial “Monday morning blah’s,” and I would argue that we really are, “Wishing our lives away.”

Perhaps, instead of bemoaning the start of another work-week, we would do well to see each day as a divine gift and opportunity to bless and minister someone else. Perhaps the secret to slowing down time is to use the time we’ve been given in a more God-honoring way. Perhaps the secret is to not just give Jesus a once-per-week lip service, but rather to seek to really serve Him each and every day. I cannot help but wonder what would happen if we were to spend as much energy getting excited about daily serving Jesus as we do bemoaning the workday and length of time before the next weekend. 

But then again, if that is too much trouble, we can always just continue on the present course of “Wishing Our Lives Away.” Now that I think about it, I suppose even that can be a blessing for someone else; the undertaker.

Careful what you wish for; you might just get it.

Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons

Friday, 18 January 2013

A Case for Daily Bible Reading

Allow me to share with you what has become a very special and personal part of my life. For many years now I have enjoyed my early morning time of Bible reading. It begins in the wee hours of the morning, usually around 4:30 or 5:00 am,  with a pot of my favourite coffee, and them curling up in my favourite chair. The odd time that my ritual is missed, usually seems to create a disjointed day for me. I have come to rely on that quiet time and cannot imagine starting my day without it.

Daily Bible reading was simplified for me when, years ago, I discovered The One Year Bible. This is a system that divides the Bible into 365 daily readings. Each day you read through a portion of the Old Testament, the New Testament, some Psalms, and some Proverbs.

What makes this system so great?
  • It is easy to follow
  • There is no need to flip back and forth through the Bible
  • There are no awkward Bible reading charts
  • The Bible is read through cover to cover during the calendar year
  • It is available in several popular translations
  • It helps to create a daily discipline of Bible reading
  • It forces the reading of less well know sections that may otherwise be missed
  • It helps to create an overall greater familiarity with the Bible
For years I had two different versions, the NIV and the paraphrased Living Bible. I would alternate versions from one year to the next. Then, when the ESV became available in that format, I added it to the rotation as well.

This year I am trying something a little different again. I received "The One Year Chronological Bible" as a Christmas gift. So far it is proving to also be an enjoyable experience, and it has also exposed me to yet another translation that I was formerly unfamiliar with; the NLT.

What makes this Bible different? Consider the following, as taken from the back cover of the Bible:
"Now you can gain a better understanding of the order of biblical events and the historical context in which they unfolded. The One Year Chronological Bible arranges the Bible text in the order the events actually happened. 
In The One Year Chronological Bible, prophetic books are interwoven with the historical accounts they accompanied. Psalms follow the events about which they were written. Proverbs are placed in the time frame in which they were complied. The life of Christ is woven into one moving story. And Paul's letters to the young churches in the first century are integrated into the book of Acts."
It truly does give Bible reading a new perspective. I will have to remember to revisit this post at year's end to share any other insights from this experience.

The eBook enthusiast might want to consider one of the Kindle versions. For those who prefer to do their reading online, there is of course an online version as well. Not having tried either of these electronic versions yet, I cannot comment on them. However, I imagine they're quite good as well.

So if you are looking for a way to discipline yourself into daily reading a portion of the Bible, I would strongly recommend The One Year Bible.

Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Liturgical Dance?

When I first saw this cartoon I thought, “Wow, this ought to stir up a hornet’s nest!” At first I didn’t know whether to laugh or be offended. In my case, laughter won out. Perhaps you’re also wrestling with the same sentiment. If offence wins out in your case, I ask your forgiveness. But the more I thought about it, the more I saw something else in it besides the “Liturgical Dance.” Maybe the artist wanted us to see more in it too.

Consider for a moment the caption beneath the cartoon. For some reason, it really speaks volumes to me. It says, “We’re finding that a lot of men are coming back to church, now that we’ve introduced liturgical dance.”

Now read between the lines.

The message being presented (or at least the one I’m receiving) is that ultimately, what matters most, is getting people (and in this case, the dirty-minded old men?) back into the institutional church pews. The method by which it’s done doesn’t really matter, for as everyone knows, the ends justify the means. But do they really?

Now let’s take this one step further.

How many other things has institutional Christianity done over the years in an effort to lure outsiders into her midst? Well, I guess the answer depends in large part on whom you talk to.

For some it might have to do with music and worship styles. Who hasn’t heard some of the former arguments against modern worship styles of bands and loud music versus the more traditional organ and piano accompaniment to the (now archaic?) hymnbook? For some in previous generations, this was a big deal. One of the responses they often got when questioning the change was, “… are coming back to church, now that we’ve introduced …”

I remember the flack I took at the last institutional church I was a part of when I decided to move the heavy wooden pulpit from center stage off to the far side. What was my reason for doing so? I did so simply to open up the stage for liturgical dance. No, just kidding. But I confess that I did do so as a part of a larger plan by which I hoped to be able to one day say, “… are coming back to church, now that we’ve introduced …”

For others, it might have to do with their perception of acceptable dress. While for many today the focus is off the legalism of what to wear versus what not to wear in church (unless you're scantly clad as in the cartoon), for some traditions this continues to be an issue. Who doesn’t remember a time when people spoke of “wearing your Sunday best” when you went to church? Why were many of those dress regulations relaxed? Perhaps it is so that the church could say,  … are coming back to church, now that we’ve introduced …”

I remember another time when I was still serving as an institutional church pastor. I was also a member of a local Christian motorcycle fellowship at that time. One Sunday the quiet church neighborhood was awakened to the roar of several motorbikes, as their riders came to church dressed in full leathers and filling two entire pews. Needless to say, they turned a lot of heads, not to mention breaking a few dearly held traditions. I, for one, was happy with the extra “numbers.” By turning aside some of the age-old traditions, we were also able to say, “… are coming back to church, now that we’ve introduced …”.

At the risk of sounding too critical, the point is that the goal of much of what is done on any given Sunday by any given institutional church system, has to do with numbers. I know there are some who will take exception to that. However, survey the participants of most pastoral conferences, and they will tell you, if they’re honest, that sooner or later the discussion often turns to numbers. “How many people in your church?” asks one pastor of the next. “Oh, we average  *** on any given Sunday,” comes the reply. I have not only witnessed that first hand, but have been guilty of it myself as well. The numbers game says, “… are coming back to church, now that we’ve introduced …”.

The fact is, many people do “shop” for just the right church. This became evident again as I read some of the testimonies in the book, “Finding Church” (Civitas Press, 2012). In and of itself, this is not wrong. After all, who doesn’t want to worship and fellowship in comfortable surroundings with like-minded Christians? Church leadership knows this, and so a lot of thought goes into programming and style in an effort to be as palatable as possible to as many as possible, to lure as many as possible, and to retain as many as possible.

I am certainly NOT suggesting that pole dancing (or as the cartoon facetiously calls it, “Liturgical Dance”) by loosely clad women is even remotely justified in Christian ministry. Yet it is interesting that the Bible too has a story in which at least one person, the king’s wife, thought her husband’s dancing before the Lord was a little too revealing and risqué.
As the ark of the Lord came into the city of David, Michal the daughter of Saul looked out the window and saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, and she despised him in her heart … And David returned to bless his household. But Michal the daughter of Saul came out to meet David and said, ‘How the king of Israel honored himself today, uncovering himself today before the eyes of his servants’ female servants, as one of the vulgar fellows shamelessly uncovers himself!’” (2 Samuel 6: 16, 20; ESV).
I guess what it really all comes down to is that maybe it would be wise for each of us to check our motivation for doing the things that we do in the name of our version of Christianity. If the bottom line isn’t truly caring for one another with the love of Jesus, without any ulterior motives, hidden agendas and number games, well then maybe we do have a problem. Maybe then “liturgical dance” is all we’ll get. But on the bright side, at least we’ll be able to say, “… are coming back to church, now that we’ve introduced …”

So here are a few questions to promote discussion:

  • Where do we draw the line between the pragmatic (if it works to bringing the masses in, it must be OK view), versus recapturing God’s true plan for the church?

  • What is God’s true plan for the church?

  • Do ends justify the means when it comes to church growth?

  • What do you make of the so-called “numbers” game?

  • Have you ever witnessed “liturgical dance?” Just kidding. Don’t answer that.

Photo CreditDavid Hayward (nakedpastor.com) Used by Permission.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

The Witness

I remember someone once telling me a story. I don't know if it is true or not, but it went something like this:

Apparently there was an individual on his way to church one Sunday who suddenly found himself being cut off by another driver. Road rage quickly ensued and the church-goer found himself racing to come up beside the offending driver, at which point he quickly gave the guy the infamous one-finger salute. A little while later, in church, the pastor asked everyone to take a moment to stand up and greet the people around them, and wouldn't you know it, but there on the same pew both drivers suddenly came face to face once again.

Talk about awkward!

The psalmist once said, "Not a word from their mouth can be trusted; their heart is filled with destruction. Their throat is an open grave; with their tongue they speak deceit" (Psalm 5:9; NIV).

Likewise Jesus once said to a bunch of people, "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, pretenders (hypocrites)! For you are like tombs that have been white-washed, which look beautiful on the outside but inside are full of dead men's bones and everything impure. Just so, you also outwardly seem to people to be just and upright but inside you are full of pretense and lawlessness and iniquity" (Matthew 23: 27-28; Amp).

Sometimes I cannot help but wonder if Jesus would say the same to us from time to time.

Do you ever stop and think about your witness? What do people see in your life? I'm not trying to be legalistic about this, but think about it. Our actions speak a lot louder about who we really are than all the eloquent Christianese that we speak. People around us hear our actions before they ever hear our words. As such, I would argue, our actions are a bigger testimony of our faith than anything we could ever say about our faith.

Some will no doubt be quick to want to remind me that "who we really are" is born-again sons and daughters of the most high God, joint heirs with Jesus Christ, new and forgiven creations, etc, etc, etc. While all true, it is also true that sometimes the old nature still rears its ugly head, and when it does, those caught downwind cannot help but smell the cesspool we've found ourselves in. Yes, we can repent, and yes, God will forgive us. Anyone who doubts that need only to look again at the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15: 11-32).

Still, the Christian is called to be a witness to the world. The question is, what kind of witnesses are we? Are we witnesses that cause others to want to come and know the Lord we profess to follow? Or are we witnesses that cause others to want to call out "hypocrite," as they quickly run the other way?

As for the picture in this post, I hope it's not real, but you never know. It does, however, illustrate my point.

Photo Source: unknown (via Facebook) 

Thursday, 3 January 2013

A Watchman Nee Nugget

"Be very careful, then, how you live - not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil." (Ephesians 5: 15-16; NIV)

Recently I rediscovered an old daily devotional book tucked away high on one of my book shelves. It's by Watchman Nee and is called, "A Table in the Wilderness." (Apparently it is still in print).

If you are not familiar with Watchman Nee, here is a nugget to tempt you into discovering him. My copy of this book is old, tattered and worn, and several of the pages are loose and falling out. I guess that is a sign of a well-read book.

Here is today's selection. May it be as much of a blessing to you as it was to me.
In God's appointed course for you, it may be that today was to have been the greatest day of your life; yet you would let it slip as if it were any other day. The man whose today is like his yesterday lacks a sense of God's timings. No servant of the Lord should be content with present attainment; for to be satisfied with what is, is to be a loser of opportunities. 
Let us suppose that on January 3rd the Lord puts it into my heart to go and seek out a certain person who, in His providence, is destined to become five years hence a mighty instrument in His hands for the salvation of souls. To obey may be the greatest single act of service in my life. But suppose on this day I am afraid of the cold, or something equally trivial, and I do not go. I have let slip an opportunity, and perhaps lost thereby a powerful instrument for God. And the trouble is, such occasions do not wait for us. They pass swiftly by. So when God moves, let us move with Him. No divinely set opportunity must elude us. 

Is God sending YOU to speak to someone today? Will you be obedient? Peace.

Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Let's Rewrite the Bible ... or Not.

"And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book" (Revelation 22:19)

I used to love preaching through entire books and chapters of the Bible. Why? I enjoyed it because it forced me to deal with difficult and unpopular texts.

By way of example, suppose you support and believe in the doctrine of Free Will. By preaching through the Bible, sooner or later you will be forced to dealing with some of the many texts that teach Predestination, often a stumbling block for many in the Free Will camp. The fact is, though, the Bible teaches both.

Or suppose you are a staunch supporter of a government’s military campaigns and related policies concerning weapons and their use. Preaching through the Bible by chapter and verse forces one to consider some of the many pacifist-type teachings of Jesus. Now what are we going to do with that?

Likewise, consider economics. Many today have no problem with a capitalistic approach to finances in which the rich get richer, and often by default, the poor get poorer. That’s all fine, except then Jesus comes along and says, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15). And then in other texts, Jesus actually gives us a responsibility to care for the less fortunate, even if it means selling our possessions to do so. Many of us quickly bypass Scriptures such as these because they make us uncomfortable. After all, as someone has joked, “he who dies with the most toys wins.”

Apparently, though, there is now another solution to dealing with uncomfortable texts; simply delete them.

That appears to be the route that a new Bible translation from the Netherlands has taken. While I haven’t personally looked at this translation, according to an article I just read in the Christian Examiner, a spokesman for the new translation said,
"Jesus was very inspiring for our inner health, but we don't need to take his naïve remarks about money seriously. He didn't study economics, obviously," and, 
"We don't use them anyway! There's no single Christian selling his possessions and giving them to the poor."
So, apparently the message then is that, if we don’t like something in the Bible, or if we choose not to use certain texts because they clash with our lifestyles and other dearly held beliefs, then it is perfectly OK to rewrite the Bible to suit your own accepted form of depravity (oops, did I say that out loud?). I mean, why not? If I do not “want” to help the poor, and prefer rather to simply care for my own self-interests, then I can either, grab a marker and cross out the verses I don’t like, or, I can rewrite the Bible to say what I’m comfortable with it saying. Makes sense, doesn’t it? (Yes, I’m being facetious).

But then again, maybe the new Bible’s translators are on to something. According to the same article,
"Many Christians accept the Western lifestyle, including the degradation of creation and the injustice of our trade, and they only take the easy parts of the gospel,” he said. But it isn't until we publish this gospel with holes, that they get confused!"
Hmm, a "gospel with holes." There is probably more truth there than we would like to admit. I guess the alternative would be that we rethink our lifestyles in light of what Jesus said. Maybe the alternative would be for us to "really" start to obey the one we call Lord. Hmm, how's that for a New Year's resolution? If nothing else, it would save everyone an awful lot of trouble deleting all those troublesome verses.

That's the way I see it anyways. Peace.

Photo Source: unknown