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Archive for February, 2018

Not long ago, the church where our son Jeremy is pastor completed a major renovation of their sanctuary. As you can imagine, not every change was celebrated by every person. We all know: you can’t please all the people all the time—even at church.

 

 

One recent Sunday a long-time member named Mike* was asked to pray during the Sunday worship service. Only he didn’t pray; he addressed the congregation instead.

“Most of you know I didn’t approve the remodeling of our church,” he began. “I liked it just the way it was. In fact, the beauty of the sanctuary was one of the reasons my family and I made this church our home in the first place.”

Jeremy’s heart sank.  How much damage would this reproach cause among a congregation that was rejuvenating and growing?

Mike paused and took a deep breath. Every eye was focused on him; not one program rustled.

“BUT!” he said in a louder voice. “This isn’t about me; this is about God. This is not my building; it’s God’s. And I can’t speak for you, but I’m going to worship in this church no matter the changes in structure or decor.”

Mike paused again, and then announced, “Now let us pray.”

Mike gets it: Worship is not about us.  It’s about God.

 

 

In our consumer culture, however, we’ve unconsciously fallen into viewing worship with a consumer attitude:

  • “I need a church where I feel comfortable.”
  • “I need worship to lift my spirit, especially after a hard week.”
  • “I need sermons that will give me guidance and strength, especially with all the issues I face right now.”

And when these expectations aren’t met, we feel cheated somehow.

But the word worship has nothing to do with our needs. It means worth-ship.

Worship is something we do to express our awe, love and respect for God—not something we receive.

 

 

When I make worship about me—my preferences and my desires, I’m putting myself in the place of God.

Ouch.

So how might I focus my attention to truly worship God and not drift into Me-Mode? Several possibilities offer a place to begin.

  1. Empty myself of me.

With Jesus as my role model, I can pray to empty myself of my own desires (Philippians 2:7):

Father in heaven, during worship today may: 1) my eyes be fixed on you with undistracted focus (Psalm 141:8), 2) my meditation be pure and pleasing in your sight (Psalm 19:14), and 3) my heart be humble, tender, and responsive to your Spirit (James 4:10).

 

 

  1. Determine to be an enthusiastic participant.

We’re not meant to be an audience as we sit or stand in church. We’re meant to be performers of praise and instruments being tuned for obedience. Our audience is God—an audience of One**.

 

  1. Seek after God, not an emotional experience.

Sure, there are times when worship lifts me into spiritual euphoria. But it would be a mistake to expect such moments every week.

However! I can enter worship with the expectation of blessing my Heavenly Father with gratitude, praise, and adoration. And I can expect to experience joy in his presence (Psalm 16:11).

 

 

In addition to joy in worship, God also promises other benefits including his goodness (Psalm 31:19), rest and refuge (Psalm 91:1-2), strength (Psalm 138:2-3), and peace (Isaiah 26:3).

Isn’t that just like our Heavenly Father? We seek to bless him with our worship, and he blesses us many times over with what we really need.

___________________________

 

*Name changed.

** Big Daddy Weave composed a meaningful song by that title (2002). You can access it here.

 

Art & photo credits: Nancy Ruegg with http://www.canva.com (2); http://www.flickr.com; Nancy Ruegg with http://www.canva.com (2).

 

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(In honor of Black History Month)

 

(Mary McLeod Bethune)

 

Mary turned over in her bed for the umpteenth time seeking a restful position, even though she knew discomfort was not the cause of her sleeplessness–excitement was. Tomorrow morning, October 4, 1904, she would stand in front of her first class of children in her own school: The Daytona Literary and Industrial School for Negro Girls.

Mary smiled, remembering the miracle of learning to read for herself when she was a girl of ten—miraculous because: 1) the provision of education for African-American children was rare in 1885, and 2) out of the seventeen children in her family, she was the one chosen to attend.

 

(Cabin where Mary was born, the fifteenth child out of seventeen)

 

The school was five miles from home, and she had to endure harassment and assault from white children on her daily treks. But Mary knew: this opportunity meant God had purpose for her life.

In 1886 a Quaker missionary financed the continuation of her education at Scotia Seminary in North Carolina.

Seven years later she entered Moody Bible Institute in Chicago as the only African-American among hundreds of white students. Instead of harassment and assault, however, Mary encountered acceptance, proving that “blacks and whites could live and work together with equality” (1).

While at Moody, Mary sensed God leading her to Africa as a missionary. But when it came time to apply, her denomination’s mission board denied her request because she was black.

The disappointment was deeply painful, but Mary soon turned her attention to those of African descent in America, and became a teacher—first in Augusta, Georgia and then in Sumter, South Carolina. She worked tirelessly, not only for her students but also for the surrounding black communities.

Thank you, Lord, for those nine years of teaching experience, Mary prayed. You prepared me well to found this new school.

Granted, there would only be five little girls greeting her in the morning, but it was a beginning. And Mary was confident God would make her school grow.

She chucked to herself. Of course, Lord, you left an awful lot of work for ME to do!

First she found a community in need of a school: Daytona Beach, Florida. Numerous African-American families were moving there, in order to be employed by the newly formed Florida East Coast Railroad.

 

(Workers on the East Coast Railway Extension, 1906)

 

Next Mary found a run-down cottage to rent for eleven dollars per month.  She convinced the owner to accept $1.50 as a down payment.

To supply her school with furniture and other necessities, Mary foraged at the city dump and behind hotels for anything useful. Old peach crates became student desks and chairs, an old barrel became her teacher’s desk.

She retrieved discarded linens, kitchen ware, and cracked dishes for the homemaking and skilled trades she would teach. Everything was scoured, mended and repurposed. Even charred wood had value as substitute pencils.

To cover expenses, Mary sold sweet potato pies and fried fish to wealthy tourists. She canvassed neighborhoods, spoke to church groups and clubs, and distributed leaflets.

Now, opening day was hours away.  And as she finally drifted off to sleep Mary wondered, What might the future hold?

If God had told her, even Mary’s strong faith would have been stretched.

That tiny handful of students in 1904 would grow to almost 250 by 1906, requiring more teachers, an advisory board, and a bigger facility. Among the influential men (black and white) on the board was James M. Gamble of the Proctor and Gamble Company.

 

(Mary and her students, ca. 1905)

 

In 1923 her school would merge with the Cookman Institute, a co-educational school for African-American students in Jacksonville, Florida. Mary was chosen as the first president. Later the Bethune-Cookman Institute became a college and then a university. (Today, nearly 4,000 students attend the school.)

 

(Faith Hall, built in 1907 to accommodate Mary’s growing school;

now part of Bethune-Cookman University)

 

In 1935 Mary helped organize the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW) “to connect African-American women across the country and establish a national voice for them” (2).   Mary served as the first president.

A White House Conference of the NCNW met in Washington, DC in 1938. Then president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, offered her the position of Director of the Division of Negro Affairs of the National Youth Administration.

Mary met one-on-one with President Roosevelt several times a year and became good friends with Eleanor.

 

(Eleanor in the middle; Mary to her right)

 

Her participation on various government committees actually spanned the terms of four presidents, from Calvin Coolidge to Harry S. Truman.

 

(Mary’s home in Washington, DC)

 

Mary often said:

 

 

The impossible events of Mary’s life offer ample proof.

 

(Mary McLeod Bethune, 1875-1955)

 

Notes:

(1) http://www.talbot.edu/ce20/educators/protestant/mary_bethune

(2) https://savingplaces.org/stories/mary-mcleod-bethune-bethune-cookman-university-hbcu-history#.WnzP3pM-e8U

 

Sources:

http://www.talbot.edu/ce20/educators/protestant/mary_bethune

https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ969859.pdf

https://savingplaces.org/stories/mary-mcleod-bethune-bethune-cookman-university-hbcu-history#.WnzP3pM-e8U

http://www.wciujournal.org/journal/article/mary-mcleod-bethune-an-agent-of-change-and-leadership

 

Photo credits:  http://www.flickr.com; http://www.wikimedia.org (2); http://www.flickr.com; http://www.wikimedia.org (2); http://www.nationalparkservice.org; http://www.wikimedia.org, http://www.canva.com

 

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‘Ever drive on a highway carved out of a mountainside or high hill where craggy cliffs border each side? Signs along the way warn drivers: Beware of falling rocks.

 

 

I wonder how much good those signs accomplish. Is it really possible to stop in time, should a rock come plummeting down the hillside right in front of your car?

When falling rocks do cause accidents, insurance companies usually categorizes the event as an “act of God.” It’s considered an unavoidable natural disaster that no amount of cautionary measures could have prevented.

Not that God would deliberately cause such an accident. Every good gift comes from him (James 1:17).  But he has set into motion certain natural consequences and laws that govern his creation. Erosion and gravity would be two examples at play in the case of falling rocks.

So what are we supposed to do when the road from Point A to Point B includes potential danger? (And doesn’t it always?)

 

 

For that matter, what are we supposed to do when the road of life includes potential danger? (Again, doesn’t it always?)

Many of us allow worry to niggle in our minds:

  • How many rocks do you suppose have fallen along this stretch already?
  • Does the Corps of Engineers check regularly for erosion?
  • Is that jutting rock up ahead breaking loose?
  • What’s up with that pile of rocks by the side of the road? That can’t be a good sign.

How do we steer clear of such thoughts? A good way to begin:

 

 

  1. Replace fearful thoughts with faith-filled thoughts.

“The only happy way to deal with [falling rocks and other such adversities] is the way of faith: faith in the purposes of God, in the presence of God, in the promises of God, and in the power of God” (Peter Marshall*).

  1. Affirm that God does indeed have loving purpose in it all. 

Even when rocks fall?

Yes, because God is sovereign (Psalm 103:19) and God is good (Psalm 145:9). Many saints through the ages have endured pain, suffering, and calamity, yet came to understand that God accomplished positive purpose(s) through it all.

 

 

Just one such saint out of many: Elizabeth Elliot.  Perhaps you already know the story. Her young husband, Jim, was one of five missionaries brutally murdered by Auca Indians in Ecuador, 1956. Their daughter was just ten months old. Yet Elizabeth was able to write this:

“I am not a theologian or a scholar, but I am very aware of the fact that pain is necessary to all of us. In my own life, I think I can honestly say that out of the deepest pain has come the strongest conviction of the presence of God and the love of God.”

And no doubt, those two realities in Elizabeth’s life, the presence of God and the love of God, were precious treasures indeed.

In addition, hundreds of young men and women vowed to become missionaries as a result of the example and inspiration of those five young martyrs.  Most amazing of all, numerous members of the Auca tribe eventually became Christians, including the killers of Jim Elliot and the other four missionaries with him.  (You can read more of the incredible story here.)

 

  1. Decide like the Apostle Paul: the only thing that really matters is exalting Jesus (Philippians 1:19-21).

 

 

And exalting Jesus can be achieved in any circumstance.

 

  1. Understand that tests and challenges are “sheer gifts” (James 1:3 MSG).

Why? The testing of faith develops perseverance. And perseverance leads to maturity and strength of character (vs. 3-4).

I like the sound of that: maturity and strength of character. So when I’m the victim of falling rocks and start to give in to self-pity, worry, or complaining, please remind me of these principles.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     * 

Thank you, Father, for providing the way of faith on the treacherous road of life.  We can trust your purpose for all things, your presence in all situations, your scripture promises of hope and comfort, and your power to see us through.  Hallelujah!

 (Romans 8:28; Hebrews 13:5b; Psalm 145:13; Matthew 19:26b)

 

(1) Author, pastor, and chaplain of the United States Senate in the late 1940s.

 

(Art & photo credits:  http://www.wikimedia.com; http://www.pixabay.com (2); http://www.pexels.com & Nancy Ruegg;  http://www.inspirationalchristians.org; http://www.pixabay.com & Nancy Ruegg.)

 

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On May 30, 1778, eighty-three year old Voltaire lay dying. His had been a writerly life, as he produced plays, poetry, essays, historical and scientific works, over 21,000 letters and over two thousand books and pamphlets.

Now he would never pick up his pen again.

Some of that writing criticized the Christian faith and the church. He had no use for them personally, asserting that a person could achieve moral character through reason. Wasn’t that what Christianity was all about anyway?

But Voltaire had also decided the way to dissolve the tight alliance between the self-serving state church and the totalitarian government of France was to discredit God and the Bible. Then the people would abandon Christianity and the church would become useless.

To that end he wrote in 1758:

 

 

Those twenty years passed. God was not in a pretty plight.

Voltaire made a new prediction around 1775: “Fifty years from now the world will hear no more of the Bible.”*

Of course, Voltaire was eighty years old by this time. He had no hope of being alive to see if his prediction came true.

Three years later on his deathbed, however, Voltaire was not concerned about his predictions. It would seem he was reconsidering if the Christians and their Bible may have been right after all about the importance of faith in Jesus.

Voltaire’s last words, as reported by his doctor, were these:

 

“I am abandoned by God and man! I shall go to hell!

O Christ, O Jesus Christ!”

 

Such a sad end for a brilliant man. We can only hope his last thoughts expressed the faith he fought against for so long.

But what about dying saints? Are they too tortured by doubt, fear, and aloneness?

Far from it.

“The very happiest persons I have ever met with have been departing believers,” said Charles Spurgeon. As a pastor to thousands over thirty-eight years of ministry, he must surely have visited many.

 

(Charles Spurgeon preaches to a crowd in 1858.)

 

In reality, the last remarks of saints most often offer hope, encouragement, and affirmation.

We can look forward to death, like Sir David Brewster (1781-1868)—a Scottish physicist, mathematician, astronomer, inventor of the kaleidoscope, and writer:

 

 

“I will see Jesus; I shall see Him as He is!

I have had the light for many years.

Oh how bright it is! I feel so safe and satisfied!”

 

Willielma Campbell (1741-1786), patroness of missionary work in Scotland and elsewhere, expressed complete contentment:

 

 

“If this is dying, it is the pleasantest thing imaginable.”

 

And John A. Lyth (1821-1886), a minister who served as a missionary in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), died with his heart bursting with joy:

 

“Can this be death? Why it is better than living!

Tell them I die happy in Jesus!”

 

Another missionary, Adoniram Judson (1788-1850), created a delightful visual with his last words:

 

 

“I go with the gladness of a boy bounding away from school.

I feel so strong in Christ.”

 

And the famous evangelist, D. L. Moody, gave us a brief but bright glimpse of what awaits us beyond death.

Moody had been sleeping, although fitfully. When he awoke, Moody said, “Earth recedes. Heaven opens before me!” His son thought his father had been dreaming. “No, this is no dream, Will. It is beautiful. It is like a trance. If this is death, it is sweet. There is no valley here. God is calling me, I must go.”

 

*     *     *     *     *     *    *     *     *     *

 

O Father, thank you for this wonderful record of  joy-filled hope for the day when we, too, must go.

Even better, thank you for your great promises that you will be our refuge, even as we die. You will be our guide beyond death. And though we must walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we have no need to fear for you are with us. Hallelujah!

(Proverbs 14:32b; Psalm 48:14 (GW); Psalm 23:4)

 

 

*Fifty years after Voltaire’s prediction, the Geneva Bible Society was printing Bibles in the house where Voltaire had lived. They even used Voltaire’s printing presses.

 

(Art & photo credits:  http://www.wikimedia.com; Nancy Ruegg; http://www.wikimedia.com (2); http://www.wikipedia.com; http://www.wikimedia.com (2); http://www.flickr.com.)

 

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