|H.B. London Ministries|
|─ A Heart for Pastors ─|
|Memorial Day, formerly known as Decoration Day, originated after the American Civil War to commemorate the Union and Confederate soldiers who died during that war. By the 20th century, Memorial Day had been extended to honor all Americans who had died while in the military service. But, also by the early 20th century, Memorial Day had become an occasion for more general expressions of remembrance as people recognized and honored their deceased relatives, whether they had served in the military or not.
When we talk about remembering, honoring, and commemorating those who have passed away, what we are really discussing are their legacies. What did these people do with the life God gave them? How did they use that gift to help or hurt the world? How did they serve the One who gave them life?
Several years ago, I was invited to Shreveport, Louisiana, to participate in the 65th anniversary of a church that was planted by Dr. James Dobson’s and my grandparents. It was a marvelous experience.
Through good times and bad, this church’s faith has remained strong. Time and time again, references were made to our grandparents — the Dillinghams — and their legacy that has carried on through some six or seven decades.
I stood at my grandparents’ grave site and thanked God for my heritage and the godly influence they displayed. They were never famous people. I don’t believe they wrote books or experienced fame beyond the churches they pastored. But they had a passion for the lost souls in their town, and a heart for people that was contagious.
In reality, that is where most of our legacies, what we do for God, will be played out — where we have been placed. I beg you not to downplay your value by attempting to estimate or analyze your own success. Just remain faithful. I promise you that your contribution will not go unnoticed by the One who matters most.
“Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands” (Deuteronomy 7:9).
|“It’s as American as Mom and apple pie.” You have probably heard a number of such comparisons in your life, including those for baseball, hot dogs, and Chevrolets. But the standards in all of these associations are Mom and apple pie. Well, last Sunday was Mother’s Day, and I just discovered that Monday is/was National Apple Pie Day. Coincidence?
May 13, 2013, is National Apple Pie Day
Apple pie is the quintessential American dessert! However, apple pie wasn’t even invented in the U.S. Rather it was invented in Europe sometime during the 14th century. The first apple pie recipe was printed by Geoffrey Chaucer in 1381 in England. The ingredients in the recipe included apples, spices, figs, raisins, pears, saffron, and cofyn (a casing of pastry).
Dutch apple pie recipes date back to the late 15th century. These recipes were similar to the English recipes except they included a scoop of ice cream placed on top of the pie before it was served. This tradition — apple pie à la mode — was eventually brought to America, where most people continue to enjoy their apple pie topped with ice cream.
I also discovered that, even though apple pie dates back to 14th century Europe, it became a symbolic icon for America when WWII soldiers repeatedly voiced that they were fighting for “Mom and apple pie.”
I think people worldwide enjoy celebrating. And it seems we will celebrate just about anything. Note these “Reasons to Celebrate” that are also found on the punchbowl.com page mentioned above and a few others:
May 13 — National Apple Pie Day / National Fruit Cocktail Day / Frog Jumping Day / Tulip Day
May 14 — National Dance-Like-a-Chicken Day
May 16 — National Sea-Monkey Day
May 17 — National Bike-to-Work Day
May 18 — Armed Forces Day
May 19 — National Devil’s Food Cake Day
May 20 — Be a Millionaire Day
May 21 — National Strawberries and Cream Day
May 22 — National Vanilla Pudding Day
May 23 — World Turtle Day
May is National Hamburger Month, National Strawberry Month, and National Bike Month.
So, you see, we have a lot to celebrate today and every day!
William Purkey wrote, “Dance like no one is watching, love like you’ll never be hurt, sing like no one is listening, live like it’s heaven on earth.” I’m a bit unsure of the theology, but challenged by the words. Enjoy life!
Too many of us clergypersons are filled with worry and anxiety. Much of the way we live is on the defensive and, at times, we forget that this world is not the end, only a short stop along our eternal journey.
Our Lord told us there would be tribulation, but that we should not despair. He is in charge. Trust God! In spite of the chaos around us, we must face each day with hope and promise. Be positive! Job cried, “Why have you made me your target?” (Job 7:20), but later exclaimed, “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him” (Job 13:15). Do not despair! In Jeremiah, the Lord says, “For I know the plans I have for you ... plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11).
He has it all figured out. So, my colleague, in the Spirit of Christ — dance, love, sing, and live. Celebrate!
“Do not worry about your life. ... Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? ... Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself” (Matthew 6:25, 27, 34).
|Without bringing me dreams
Of that wonderful mother of mine;
Of that wonderful mother of mine.
— Walter Goodwin (music) and Clyde Hager (lyrics), “That Wonderful Mother of Mine”
For most people, thoughts and memories of mothers produce some of the warmest, most intimate emotions possible. There is a special place in our hearts for mothers. If your mother is still living, honor her this Sunday. If your wife or daughter has had children, honor her this Mother’s Day. If you are a mother, we all praise you and ask for God’s blessings on you in this most honorable relationship and responsibility.
How did we come to celebrate Mother’s Day in the United States? According to Wikipedia, the first attempts to establish a “Mother’s Day” in the U.S. came from women’s peace groups, where a common early activity was the meeting of groupings of mothers whose sons had fought or died on opposite sides of the American Civil War.
In 1868, Ann Jarvis — mother of Anna Jarvis — created a committee to establish a “Mother’s Friendship Day”, the purpose of which was “to reunite families that had been divided during the Civil War.” Jarvis — who had previously organized “Mother’s Day Work Clubs” to improve sanitation and health for both Union and Confederate encampments undergoing a typhoid outbreak — wanted to expand this into an annual memorial for mothers, but she died in 1905 before the celebration became popular. Her daughter, however, would continue her mother’s efforts.
Various observances honoring mothers existed in America during the 1870s and the 1880s, but these never had resonance beyond the local level. These included Julia Ward Howe’s attempts in the 1870s to establish a “Mother’s Day for Peace”, the Protestant school celebrations that included “Children’s Day” amongst others, and the traditional festival of “Mothering Sunday”. But Anna Jarvis always claimed that the creation was hers alone.
In its present form, Mother’s Day is credited to Anna Jarvis following the death of her mother, Ann Jarvis, on May 9, 1905. A small service was held on May 12, 1907, in the Andrew’s Methodist Episcopal Church in Grafton, West Virginia, where Anna’s mother had been teaching Sunday school. But the first “official” service was on May 10, 1908, in the same church. Jarvis wanted to accomplish her mother's dream of making a celebration for all mothers, although the idea did not take off until she enlisted the services of wealthy Philadelphia merchant John Wanamaker, who celebrated it on May 8, 1910, in Bethany Temple Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia, Penn., of which he was the founder. The next year the day was reported to be widely celebrated in New York.
Jarvis then campaigned to establish Mother’s Day first as a U.S. national holiday and then later as an international holiday. The holiday was declared officially by the state of West Virginia in 1910, and the rest of states followed quickly. In 1912, Anna Jarvis trademarked the phrases “second Sunday in May” and “Mother’s Day”, and created the Mother’s Day International Association. She specifically noted that “Mother’s” should “be a singular possessive, for each family to honour their mother, not a plural possessive commemorating all mothers in the world.”
On May 8, 1914, the U.S. Congress passed a law designating the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day and requesting a proclamation. On May 9, 1914, President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation declaring the first national Mother’s Day as a day for American citizens to show the flag in honor of those mothers whose sons had died in war. In 1934, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt approved a stamp commemorating the holiday. The Grafton church, where the first celebration was held, is now the International Mother’s Day Shrine and is a National Historic Landmark.
Carnations have come to represent Mother’s Day since Anna Jarvis delivered 500 of them at the first celebration in 1908. Many religious services held later adopted the custom of giving away carnations. This also started the custom of wearing a carnation on Mother’s Day. The founder, Anna Jarvis, chose the carnation because it was the favorite flower of her mother.
The commercialization of the American holiday began very early and, only nine years after the first official Mother’s Day, had become so rampant that Anna Jarvis herself became a major opponent of what the holiday had become, spending all her inheritance and the rest of her life fighting what she saw as an abuse of the celebration.
However, Mother’s Day is now one of the most commercially successful American occasions, having become the most popular day of the year to dine out at a restaurant in the United States and generating a significant portion of the U.S. jewelry industry’s annual revenue, from custom gifts like mother’s rings. Americans spend approximately $2.6 billion on flowers, $1.53 billion on pampering gifts — like spa treatments — and another $68 million on greeting cards. Mother’s Day is also the biggest holiday for long-distance telephone calls. Moreover, churchgoing is also popular on Mother’s Day, yielding the highest church attendance after Christmas Eve and Easter. Many worshipers celebrate the day with carnations, colored if the mother is living and white if she is dead.
A pastor’s wife once told me what she would like most from her family. Do you know what it was? A love note! That’s right — a love note! I encourage you, my colleague, to take a moment to write your thoughts to the wonderful wife and mother who contributes so much to your ministry and life. Let her know how you feel. Let your children, in their own words, also express to their mom just how much they love her and why.
Caution: In your worship service will be many women whose experience is painful — abortions, broken marriages, prodigal children, widowhood, infertility. So be prayerful and sensitive as you approach your Mother’s Day sermon. Let the Lord guide your words and your message so that you don’t cause more pain to those who may be hurting. There are so many challenges we face as the clergy in setting the proper feel and putting the right emphasis on Mother’s Day. But you can do it.
Paul wrote to Timothy, “I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother ... and in your mother ... and ... now lives in you” (2 Timothy 1:5).
|I’m exhausted! This was a busy weekend. I pushed myself to the limits. I’m worn out. I’m tired, but in a good way. I really need some rest. How about you?
Getting a good night’s sleep could be one of the smartest health priorities you can embrace. Too little or poor sleep can affect your cardiovascular, endocrine, immune, and nervous systems. Between 50 and 70 million Americans suffer from a chronic sleep disorder, such as insomnia or sleep apnea.
According to news.yahoo.com, research has shown:
o Insufficient sleep appears to tip hunger hormones out of whack.
o Leptin, which suppresses appetite, is lowered, and ghrelin, which stimulates appetite, gets a boost.
o When you’re sleep-deprived, you’re more apt to make bad food choices, resulting in a diet higher in cholesterol and saturated fat. Women are especially affected.
o Those getting five or fewer hours of sleep each night are 2.5 times more likely to be diabetic.
o Women who sleep five or fewer hours per night are 45 percent more likely to have heart attacks.
o Blood pressure may also increase as a consequence of insufficient sleep.
o Nearly 20 percent of serious car-crash injuries involve a sleepy driver, and that’s independent of alcohol use.
o Older folks who wake up at night and are drowsy during the day are more likely to fall due to being off balance.
o Adults, adolescents, and middle-schoolers plagued by lack of sleep report more symptoms of depression and lower self-esteem. Also, more behavior problems are seen in these kids.
o There is approximately a 15 percent greater risk of dying for those who routinely get five hours or less of sleep per night.
It should be obvious by now that sleep is important for all of us. Are you getting enough sleep?
“I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the LORD sustains me” (Psalm 3:5).
|The news lately should make us all clearly aware that evil exists in this world. Often, even seemingly good people do terrible things. We need to be in constant prayer for those around us, near and far. But how about you? Could you soon be that good person who makes a serious mistake? What can you do to protect yourself?
Each of us is just one decision away from failure, and none of us is immune to temptations and weaknesses. I am no paragon of virtue, so I built several habits into my life as a pastor that helped me stay accountable:
During my three decades as a pastor, I found a man in each ministry who was willing to enter into a covenant with me. Like Jonathan did with David, this friend “made a covenant ... because he loved [me] as himself” (1 Samuel 18:3). We promised each other to meet once a week, pray for one another by name every time we prayed, and ask each other the big questions.
The third point of accountability was Beverley, my wife. She asked me the big questions. She also addressed little weaknesses or concerns along the way that were potentially dangerous to us and to my ministry.
As you probably noticed, being accountable means asking ourselves some hard questions, searching our hearts, and being honest with ourselves and our Lord. It requires taking the time to think deeply about where we are in our spiritual walk.
Here are the hard questions someone should ask you regularly, according to Chuck Swindoll:
Have you been with a member of the opposite sex anywhere lately that might be seen as compromising?
Have any of your financial dealings lacked integrity?
Have you exposed yourself to any sexually explicit material?
Have you spent adequate time in Bible study and prayer?
Have you given priority time to your family?
Have you fulfilled the mandate of your calling?
Have you just lied to me?
I deal every day with members of the clergy and their families who are facing their own dilemmas — forced terminations, unrealistic expectations, false accusations, moral failures, doubtful calling, mistakes in judgment, and spouses who just do not want to be in the ministry any longer. The list seems endless.
There are those at Focus on the Family who are still available for pastors and their families. They listen to these folks when they call. They may offer advice, if it is requested. They pray with them. Just call the Pastoral Care Line at (877) 233-4455.
Each person must face his own issues in his own way. Asking yourself the hard questions can help you gauge where you are in your walk with the Lord and where you need to pay extra attention. Have an accountability friend ask you the hard questions often and answer honestly. They may just spare you and your family some pain.
“But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come” (John 16:13).
“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (James 5:16).
|His name was Jack Roosevelt Robinson. He was born on January 31, 1919, to a family of Georgia sharecroppers and died on October 24, 1972, as one of the most famous Americans to ever live. In 1947, Brooklyn Dodgers president Branch Rickey approached “Jackie” Robinson — an all-around excellent, multisport athlete who happened to be African-American — about joining the Dodgers. Major League Baseball had not had an African-American player since 1889, when baseball became segregated. When Jackie first donned a Brooklyn Dodger uniform and started a game at first base on April 15, 1947, he pioneered the integration of professional athletics in America. By breaking the color barrier in baseball, the nation’s preeminent sport, he courageously challenged the deeply rooted custom of racial segregation in both the North and the South.
Robinson wasn’t the first black to play baseball — that was Moses Fleetwood Walker in 1884 — or even the best player in the Negro leagues — typically credited to Josh Gibson — but he was the first with the strength to withstand the pressure and remain, the first of an irreversible wave that changed the game, our nation, and the world forever. While his baseball career spanned the years from 1947 through 1956, it was the nature of Robinson’s character and his unquestionable talent that challenged the traditional basis of segregation.
Over ten seasons, all but the first positioned at second base, Robinson played in six World Series and contributed to the Dodgers’ 1955 World Championship. He was selected for six consecutive All-Star Games from 1949 to 1954, was the recipient of the very first MLB Rookie of the Year Award in 1947, and won the National League Most Valuable Player Award in 1949 — the first black player so honored. Robinson was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962.
In 1997, 50 years after Jackie Robinson had erased the modern-day color barrier, Major League Baseball “universally” retired his uniform number, 42, across all major league teams. He was the first pro athlete in any sport to be so honored. Then, in 2004, the league proclaimed every April 15 to be “Jackie Robinson Day.” And, finally, in 2011, every MLB baseball player on every team wore No. 42 to honor Robinson, a tradition that continues through this week. (By the way, if you haven’t already done so, please make an effort to go see the new box-office leading movie about Robinson’s story, “42”. It is excellent!)
It should be noted that there were others who stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Robinson. Mere weeks after Robinson made the jump to the Majors, many other black players followed, such as Larry Doby (the second African American in MLB and first in the American League) of the Cleveland Indians. And there was Dan Bankhead, a pitcher who played alongside Robinson on the Dodgers, as did catcher Roy Campanella and pitcher Don Newcombe a year or so later. Also notable were Hank Thompson (third black player) and Willard Brown of the St. Louis Browns, with Thompson soon moving to the New York Giants, where he played with Monte Irvin (fourth black player) and eventually Willie Mays in the first all-black outfield. Satchel Paige, the oldest rookie ever at 42, pitched for the Cleveland Indians and St. Louis Browns. Also look up Sam Jethroe (fifth black player) of the Boston Braves and Luke Easter of the Indians.
Each of these young men and many others made a decision to be bold and courageous. They faced the challenges and trials that come with showing initiative. And they made a difference.
When was the last time you stepped out of your comfort zone in your assignment? If there is to be renewed attention on the church, its leaders must be strong and courageous. We need men and women who will take some risks, who will preach with great authority.
It seems that the church is often lulled into complacency. It appears we can turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to the crises around us. Please don’t be guilty of that, my colleague. Equip yourself with facts and figures. Be compassionate — but never compromise on the critical issues. Refuse to tolerate sin in your leadership. Take a stand on cultural issues that might be unpopular. Refuse shortcuts. Maintain a high level of prayer and study. Serve as a servant-shepherd. And most important, never compromise your call.
You have been called, equipped, anointed, and assigned. You are God’s spokesperson and, in many ways, His only avenue to the people who desperately need to know how much He loves them.
I hope that we, as clergy around the world, are constantly motivated by the words of the Great Commission: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). The world grows smaller, but the urgency is ever greater. Share God’s love, my colleague, both at home and wherever man is found. Do it with boldness and courage.
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).
|There have been a number of high-profile deaths in the past week. Among them were Britain’s former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, movie critic Roger Ebert, and original Mouseketeer Annette Funicello. But the death that has the Christian community abuzz was that of Matthew Warren, the 27-year-old son of Pastor Rick Warren.
Matthew Warren took his own life late Friday at his Mission Viejo home. He had struggled with mental illness, deep depression, and suicidal thoughts throughout his life, Saddleback Valley Community Church said in a statement, after his body was found Friday night. “Despite the best health care available, this was an illness that was never fully controlled and the emotional pain resulted in his decision to take his life,” the church said. Tom Holladay, teaching pastor at Saddleback Church in Orange County, said Sunday the congregation would face the tragedy together, “as a church family.”
Rick Warren and his wife had enjoyed a fun Friday evening with their son. But their son then returned home to take his life in “a momentary wave of despair.” Warren posted a message on both Twitter and Facebook Sunday saying he was “overwhelmed” by the love and support the family had received after the apparent suicide of the youngest of his three children.
How do you help the sorrowful or depressed person? When was the last time you read Psalm 88? I’m telling you — that writer was a man who was really going through some rough water. I think you will agree that the psalmist suffered from mood swings.
From 5 to 12 percent of men suffer from clinical depression at some time in their lives, along with 10 to 25 percent of women. Those who do suffer depression will most likely not seek treatment, even though it is a treatable illness.
I have been, at one time or another, in that percentage of men who have suffered from depression. Many type-A personalities do. The sadness and darkness were miserable, and I have prayed for that veil of sadness to lift. I have carried on a schedule that was filled with smiles and joy on the outside while, on the inside, I was dying. When the veil lifted, it was wonderful.
As a pastor, you have probably counseled members of your congregation suffering from depression. My colleague, please do not overlook those under your care who live their lives in sadness.
But what about you? Are you floundering in the depths of depression? If so, what should you do?
The first steps to wellness are a physical examination by a physician, prayer with a colleague, and openness with your spouse. Don’t be too proud to admit that you need help and the support of others.
One of the most painful expressions from Scripture is found in Psalm 88:18: “The darkness is my closest friend.” I pray that never becomes your expression.
Here’s a list of scriptures that might help you yourself and/or other people touched by your ministry as you guide them back to wholeness:
“The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18).
‘‘A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones” (Proverbs 17:22).
“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair” (2 Corinthians 4:8).
“We wait in hope for the LORD; he is our help and our shield” (Psalm 33:20).
|Marriage, as we know it, and the wedding ceremony, as you perform it, are in jeopardy. The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments last week in a historic legal battle over gay marriage — specifically reviewing the fate of Proposition 8, California’s 2008 voter-approved gay marriage ban, and the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman. The court must decide the two cases by the end of its term in June.
The consensus among legal experts is that the court leans toward invalidating the federal law, perhaps because it interferes with states’ traditional role in marriage laws by denying benefits to same-sex couples legally married in states that permit gay nuptials. And it appears inclined to avoid the main issue in the Proposition 8 case by finding that the measure’s sponsors do not have a legal right to defend the law, a procedural result that may leave lower court rulings intact and allow gay marriages in California.
The question I ask is, “What are you as a clergyperson doing to properly inform your congregation of the value of marriage and the danger it would pose to our nation if we just opened the door to same-sex unions or, for that matter, any combination of men and women — even polygamy?” Are you helping them stay informed on this important issue?
I am sure you have carefully read the text of the often-used marriage ceremony. If you have not, you should review it. Think deeply about the meaning and significance of phrases like these:
- “gathered in the sight of God” — He is a witness.
- “to join this man and this woman in holy matrimony” — The union is sacred, not careless or immoral.
- “instituted of God” — Marriage was not an idea of man or the media or any political party. It was God’s idea. We must, therefore, respect this honorable estate, not tamper with it.
We should never tolerate either unelected judges changing our societal values or politicians, for the sake of reelection, undermining God’s intent. Please hear me! You can make a difference. Stay abreast of what’s going on in our nation and your community, and encourage your people to get involved. You, as God’s anointed, have the authority and responsibility to take a bold and biblical stand on the marriage issue.
“But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’” (Mark 10:6-8).
|On Easter Sunday, the women visited the tomb (Luke 24:1-8), the disciples gathered (John 20:2-10), and the resurrected Lord appeared (Matthew 28:5-10). He is risen!
Next Sunday is Easter. Resurrection Day! We have the silence of a Saturday to contemplate its meaning and, then, like a sunrise or the beauty of a freshly blooming garden, it is Easter!
In truth, there is a time for everything. Solomon’s words ring loudly to all of us this Easter season: “A time to be born and a time to die” (Ecclesiastes 3:2). That one phrase sums up the human predicament. We will all, in His time, move from this world into eternity.
Yet, what about the afterlife? Is that not one of the major messages of Easter? What if we gain the whole world in life, but lose our souls in death? To the believer in Christ, “Death has been swallowed up in victory” (1 Corinthians 15:54). Paul wrote, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. ... If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied. ... But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead” (1 Corinthians 15:17, 19-20).
It is estimated that 40 percent of those who will sit in your sanctuary on Easter do not have a personal relationship with the resurrected Lord. You have an unprecedented opportunity to offer life to those who live in death: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26). What a privilege to show these lost souls the way to eternal life! Your people need to remember that Easter was and is for them.
“The angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: “He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.” Now I have told you’” (Matthew 28:5-7).
|Next Sunday is Palm Sunday, the Christian celebration that commemorates the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem (Matthew 21:1-9), when palm branches were placed in His path to honor Him. It marks the beginning of a busy week — typically referred to as Passion Week or Holy Week — before His arrest on Maundy Thursday, His crucifixion on Good Friday, and His resurrection on Easter Sunday.
So much of who Jesus was, as well as the nature of man, was revealed in the course of that one week. Jesus cleansed the temple for the second time, then disputed with the Pharisees regarding His authority. He gave His Olivet Discourse on the end times and taught many things, including the signs of His second coming. He ate His Last Supper with His disciples in the upper room, then went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray as He waited for His hour to come. It was here that Jesus, having been betrayed by Judas, was arrested and taken to several sham trials before the chief priests, Pontius Pilate, and Herod. (Click here for a PDF timeline of the week.)
While the week ended in dark tragedy for Him, the mood of the people on Palm Sunday was joyful and triumphant. They could hardly contain their excitement. It was a day of victory and celebration.
What will it take to ignite the church and our people? What will it take to experience a Palm Sunday kind of excitement in which our congregations are truly filled with praise and our lives are vibrant with enthusiasm about the resurrection reality?
You can be a catalyst if, during the next several days, your messages are bold and your joy contagious. Challenge your people to lift “Holy Hurrahs” and give God credit for all things. Urge them to give witness to the power of their faith and to live with a sense of victory in a world of sorrow.
In short, you hold the key, my colleague! Through your very countenance, you can let your flock see how blessed you feel to have an Easter message to deliver and eternal hope to anticipate.
“As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!’” (Romans 10:15, KJV).
|The attention of the world will be on the Vatican this week — specifically on a humble, copper, two-meter (six-foot) high chimney that will pipe out puffs of smoke to tell the world if there’s a new pope. Black smoke means, “not yet.” White smoke means, “new pope elected.” The process that begins this week will mark the 10th time a new pope has been selected since 1900. It has occurred less than seven times during the lives of most of us reading this.
Roman Catholic cardinals will start their conclave Tuesday to elect a successor to Pope Benedict XVI, who surprised the world last month when he announced his abdication, the first pontiff to do so in six centuries. He served as the 265th pope from 2005 to 2013.
A total of 115 cardinals will be locked in the Sistine Chapel early Tuesday after morning prayers and mass to take part in the elaborate ritual, which continues until one man receives a two-thirds majority, set at 77 votes. The cardinals have made it clear they want a quick conclave to make sure they can all return to their dioceses in time to lead Easter celebrations — the most important event in the Roman Catholic calendar.
The Sistine Chapel and its magnificent ceiling have been made off-limits to tourists. Two metal stoves have been installed in a far corner, away from the chapel’s altar and the area where the cardinals will write out their picks for the next pope on slips of paper. Once the ballots have been counted and bound together, they will be burned in a special iron stove, with the smoke escaping through a small chimney visible from St. Peter’s Square.
The ballots from an unsuccessful vote are burned along with a chemical compound to create black smoke — fumata nera. (Traditionally, wet straw and damp wood chips were used to produce the black smoke, but this was not completely reliable. So, in 2005, for the conclave that elected Benedict pope, the Vatican added a second stove that produces smoke from a chemical compound developed by the Vatican’s own technicians. The smoke from the burned ballots in the first stove and the colored smoke from the second stove are funneled together up one pipe that leads to the chimney and the outside world.) When a vote is successful, the ballots are burned alone, sending white smoke — fumata bianca — through the chimney and announcing to the world the election of a new pope.
The cardinals who enter the papal conclave on Tuesday will walk into the Sistine Chapel in single file, but beneath the orderly display, they are split into competing lineups and power blocs that will determine which man among them emerges as pope. The main divide pits the cardinals who work in the Vatican, the Romans, against the reformers, the cardinals who want the next pope to tackle what they see as the Vatican’s corruption, inefficiency, and reluctance to share power and information with bishops from around the world. This conclave is far more unpredictable and suspenseful than the last because the church landscape has shifted in the last eight years. The next pontiff must unite an increasingly globalized church paralyzed by scandal and mismanagement under the spotlight in a fast-moving media age.
How different is this situation than what we find in the Protestant church in our country? The American church has money. She has talent and exposure. She has massive buildings and gifted leadership. She knows how to get her message out better than ever before. She has variety and acceptance. She speaks nearly every language, and her story is in print virtually around the world. Men and women attend to her every need. It would seem that the church would say, “Oh, don’t bother. I have everything I need.” But, not so.
In reality, the church needs a cleansing. She is not as radiant as she should be. She is stained, wrinkled, and blemished. She desires to be holy and blameless (Ephesians 5:27). She calls for her pastors to be faithful and bold, and to proclaim her message with clarity and passion. She cries for her members to love one another and cast aside those things that divide. She weeps over the multitudes around the world who know about her, but don’t really know her. She longs for a revival of the apathetic, and a stirring of the comfortable. Why? Because she is aware the time is short and, whether they know it or not, the people of the world desperately need her.
What can you give the church? Yourself — in a renewed commitment to her cause and her message. For God so loved the world ...
“Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Timothy 4:15-16).
|I hope you are aware of and have begun watching the new mini-series, “The Bible,” that debuted Sunday evening on the History Channel. (Lifetime will air a repeat each week after a new episode appears on History.) Created and produced by Mark Burnett and his wife, actress Roma Downey, this five-week, 10-hour docudrama features an international cast as it explores some of the sacred text’s most significant episodes, including Noah’s journey in the ark, the Exodus, and the life of Jesus. It uses modern computer-generated graphics to bring new life to images like Moses parting the Red Sea on screen.
Instead of being all-encompassing, the producers tried to concentrate on a few major stories in depth and on characters who would emotionally engage the audience — especially a non-religious one. Downey and Burnett are attempting to portray an interconnected grand story rather than a series of disconnected “Bible stories.” In particular, it seems that they have selected some rather dramatic scenes from the Bible in which certain men and women come “face-to-face” with God — divine moments.
Our lives are filled with divine opportunities. What I mean is, there are times when you and I confront moments that only God could arrange. Think about it! Those are the times when you cross paths with a person or a situation that, as you reflect on it, could have happened only by divine appointment.
Once I was on a flight from Cincinnati to Chicago. It was scheduled to take 56 minutes. It took nearly five hours! It was one of the most frustrating days I have had in a long time. But during those five hours, I was seated next to a lady from the East Coast who was going through marital problems. During the long delay, she shared some heartbreaking information about her family. I mostly listened. She needed someone to hear her out. To be honest, I feel God had me on that plane for that lady. Maybe it was for more hours than I had wanted, but nevertheless, it was a divinely directed moment.
With so much pain in our world, and so many people needing to be helped to their feet, you as a Christian leader need to be even more aware of such divine moments. Those are the moments when God places you in the right place at the right time to represent Christ to someone who needs “a cup of cold water” in His name.
Many of my most meaningful ministry moments have occurred outside the pulpit and in the marketplace, where people live who may never enter the doors of a church. How about you?
So — be alert! Be available! Be sensitive! Be prepared! God has some divine appointments set for you. They may appear subtle at first, but, in eternal terms, are life-changing.
“Be very careful, then, how you live — not as unwise, but as wise, making the most of every opportunity” (Ephesians 5:15-16).
|By now, you have seen the reports and images of the spectacular multicar crash that occurred Saturday, February 23, on the final lap of the NASCAR Nationwide Series Drive4COPD 300 race, on the same Florida track where Sunday’s Daytona 500 was held. A massive 28-car pile-up sent flying debris into a packed crowd at Daytona International Speedway, injuring ten drivers and at least 33 fans, and leaving a 14-year-old boy and a 53-year-old man in critical condition. (Thankfully, both are now stable and out of danger.)
Twenty-year-old driver Kyle Larson’s car was catapulted from the crash, flying high into the catch fence, which separates the track from tens-of-thousands of fans. The entire front end was sheared off Larson’s car, and his burning engine wedged through a gaping hole in the fence. Chunks of debris from the car were thrown into the stands at speeds nearing 190 miles per hour, including a tire that cleared the top of the fence and landed midway up the spectator section closest to the track. A forklift had to be used to extract his engine from the fence.
One minute, racing fans were cheering excitedly as a close race was coming to an end. The next, people were screaming and running, calling for help or trying to assist those who had been hurt. Very unexpectedly, everything changed in a moment’s time.
I have been witness to many events that suddenly and forever changed the lives of those involved. One moment, life was normal — the next, it was not.
Suddenly! The world is complicated and, at times, laced with fear. Suddenly, a baby dies. Suddenly, a marriage is over. Suddenly, a job is lost. Suddenly, a diagnosis is made. Suddenly, a ministry ends.
Yet, on the other hand, suddenly can also be positive and liberating. Suddenly, a baby is born. Suddenly, a marriage is reconciled. Suddenly, there is good news. Suddenly, a ministry is given new hope.
How do we as clergy react to those moments in our personal and professional lives when we are confronted with the unexpected? Are we ever really prepared for such times?
I would suggest that one can better cope with “sudden moments” when one is living consistently close to the Lord. I would further suggest that the rain and the sunshine touch all of us. I am reminded that this world is fallen, and we are admonished to be thankful, regardless of the situation. I believe we can be assured that the circumstances of our lives — difficult or pleasant — in no way change how God feels about us. I also know life is tough and, often, the greater witness for our Lord is in times of adversity.
So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man [suddenly] do to me?” (Hebrews 13:6).
On Tuesday evening last week, President Barack Obama delivered his fourth State of the Union address to Congress and the nation. As expected (based on the elections last November), half of the country was thrilled and half of the country was disenchanted.
The State of the Union is the address presented by the President of the United States to a joint session of the United States Congress, typically delivered annually. The address not only reports on the condition of the nation, but also allows presidents to outline their legislative agenda (for which they need the cooperation of Congress) and their national priorities.
The practice arises from a command given to the president in the Constitution of the United States: “He shall from time to time give to Congress information of the State of the Union and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient” (Article II, Section 3). Although the language of the Constitution is not specific, by tradition, the president makes this report annually in late January or early February.
While not required to deliver a speech, every president since Woodrow Wilson has made at least one State of the Union report as a speech delivered before a joint session of Congress. Before that time, most presidents delivered the State of the Union as a written report. Since Franklin Roosevelt, the State of the Union has been given typically each January before a joint session of the United States Congress and is held in the House of Representatives chamber of the United States Capitol. When a presidential inauguration occurs in January, the date may be delayed until February.
What began as a communication between president and Congress has now become a communication between the president and the people of the United States. Since the advent of radio, and then television, the speech has been broadcast live on most networks, preempting scheduled programming. To reach the largest television audience, the speech, once given during the day, is now typically given in the evening, after 9:00 p.m. Eastern Time.
For many years, the speech was referred to as “the President’s Annual Message to Congress.” The actual term “State of the Union” first emerged in 1934 when Franklin D. Roosevelt used the phrase, becoming its generally accepted name since 1947.
So, how does all of this apply to you? Well, here’s my thought. Do you deliver a “state of our church” summary each year? If so, what does your message entail?
The Bible presents a template for us to consider. How does your congregation or organization measure up to the following?
Acts 2:43 — “Many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles.”
Acts 2:44 — “All the believers were together and had everything in common.”
Acts 2:47 — “The Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
1 Thessalonians 5:12-13 — “Respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work.”
1 Thessalonians 5:19, 22 — “Do not put out the Spirit’s fire. ... Avoid every kind of evil.”
Ephesians 5:27 — “Present [to Him] ... a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.”
Perhaps such an annual summary borders on the ideal in our fickle world, but the goal is worthy, don’t you agree? If you’ve never done so, I encourage you to give it a try. I believe it will bring greater unity to your congregation. May the state of your church and home be blessed!
Jesus Christ said, “I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18).
|Where and when did Valentine’s Day originate? The correct answer would seem to be that no one knows for sure. There are more theories, legends, liturgies, traditions, practices, and beliefs than anyone would guess. Here is a summary I compiled from Wikipedia.org and History.com that only shows a few of the more Christian notions.
St. Valentine’s Day began as a liturgical celebration of one or more early Christian saints named Valentinus. The most popular martyrology is associated with a Saint Valentine who lived near Rome sometime around 270 A.D. He was imprisoned for providing sacraments and performing clandestine Christian weddings for soldiers — who were forbidden to marry by Claudius II, who had decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families. He also ministered to and helped escaping Christians — who were persecuted, imprisoned, and harshly beaten under the Roman Empire. ... According to legend, in order to “remind them of God’s love and to encourage them to remain faithful Christians,” St. Valentine is said to have cut hearts from parchment, giving them to the soldiers and persecuted Christians — a possible origin of the widespread use of hearts on Saint Valentine’s Day. ... During his imprisonment, he is said to have fallen in love with and healed a young blind girl who often visited him — perhaps the daughter of his jailer. Legend says that, before his execution, he wrote her a farewell letter which he signed, “from your Valentine.”
The day was first associated with romantic love in the circle of Geoffrey Chaucer in the High Middle Ages, when the tradition of courtly love flourished. By the 15th century, it had evolved into an occasion in which lovers expressed their love for each other by presenting flowers, offering confectionery, and sending greeting cards (known as “valentines”). ... In 1797, a British publisher issued The Young Man’s Valentine Writer, which contained scores of suggested sentimental verses for the young lover unable to compose his own. Paper valentines became so popular in England in the early 19th century that they were assembled in factories. Fancy valentines were made with real lace and ribbons, with paper lace introduced in the mid-19th century. ... The reinvention of Saint Valentine’s Day in the 1840s was traced by Leigh Eric Schmidt, who, as a writer in Graham’s American Monthly, observed in 1849, “Saint Valentine’s Day ... is becoming, nay it has become, a national holyday.” ... Since the 19th century, handwritten notes have given way to mass-produced greeting cards. In the United States, the first mass-produced valentines of embossed paper lace were produced and sold shortly after 1847 by Esther Howland (1828–1904) of Worcester, Massachusetts.
In the second half of the 20th century, the practice of exchanging cards was extended to all manner of gifts. Such gifts typically have included roses and chocolates packed in a red satin, heart-shaped box. In the 1980s, the diamond industry began to promote Valentine’s Day as an occasion for giving jewelry. ... The U.S. Greeting Card Association estimates that approximately 190 million valentines are sent each year in the U.S. Half of those valentines are given to family members other than husband or wife, usually to children. When you include the valentine-exchange cards made in school activities, the figure goes up to one billion, and teachers become the people receiving the most valentines. Valentine’s Day is considered by some to be a Hallmark holiday due to its highly successful commercialization.
The rise of Internet popularity at the turn of the millennium has created new traditions. Millions of people use, every year, digital means of creating and sending Valentine’s Day greeting messages, such as e-cards, love coupons, or printable greeting cards. An estimated 15 million e-valentines were sent in 2010.
Whatever the traditions, February 14 gives us a chance to reaffirm our love and support for our spouses. Have you made any special plans to recognize the contribution your spouse has made to your life and ministry on Valentine’s Day?
Here are some thought-provoking questions for you to consider and perhaps talk about with your husband or wife:
Please take some time just to be together and laugh out loud. If you have some negative stuff going on, this would be a great time to do what it takes to live peacefully together.
“Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:12).
|I am a huge fan of my wife, Beverley, and I want her to know it. But sometimes there is a language barrier. Do you know what I mean? Consider the following (just having some fun).
When a wife says:
“FINE” — This is a word women use to end an argument when they are right, and a husband should not say anything more.
“NOTHING” — This is the calm before the storm. This definitely means “something,” and a husband should be on his toes. Discussions that begin with “nothing” usually end in “fine.”
“WE NEED TO TALK” — What this means is that a husband probably will not be saying anything for a long time.
“OH, GO AHEAD” — This one is tricky. It may be a dare, not really permission.
“JUST FIVE MINUTES MORE” — If she’s getting dressed, this could mean “I’ll be down in 30 minutes.”
“THANKS” — If you are thanked, do not question or faint. Just say, “You’re welcome.”
Express your love genuinely.
“Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and everyone that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God” (1 John 4:7, KJV).
|It’s a beautiful winter day in Colorado Springs, but our weather can change dramatically from one day to the next (or one moment to the next). We, in our city, are blessed by a sight we sometimes take for granted — Pikes Peak. It stands majestically along the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains. When you look to the west, it is nearly always visible. But there are days when the clouds hang low and the 14,000-foot peak is hidden.
It seems strange when you can’t see “The Peak,” but I am reminded of a truth I heard from an old pastor years ago. He said, “Remember, son, even when the clouds hide the beauty of the mountains, the mountains are still there, and that is what makes the difference.”
What a comforting thought for folks like you and me. Sometimes trouble, distress, setbacks, or sickness overwhelms us to the point where we feel separated from God. During those times — behind the clouds of despair, beyond the fog of doubt — we know God is there, and that is what makes the difference. That is what we call faith.
In writing her little daily devotional book, Jesus Calling, author Sarah Young “listened to God with pen in hand, writing down whatever I believed He was saying.” Her devotionals, therefore, reflect what Jesus might say to us in first person. Open your ears of faith as you read one of her entries:
J a n u a r y 28
I AM WITH YOU ALWAYS. These were the last words I spoke before ascending into heaven. I continue to proclaim this promise to all who will listen. People respond to My continual Presence in various ways. Most Christians accept this teaching as truth but ignore it in their daily living. Some ill-taught or wounded believers fear (and may even resent) My awareness of all they do, say, and think. A few people center their lives around this glorious promise and find themselves blessed beyond all expectations.
When My Presence is the focal point of your consciousness, all the pieces of your life fall into place. As you gaze at Me through the eyes of your heart, you can see the world around you from My perspective. The fact that I am with you makes every moment of your life meaningful.
MATTHEW 28:20; PSALM 139:1-4
“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1).
|We now know which two National Football League teams will face each other in Super Bowl XLVII on February 3 — the Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers. The Super Bowl will also feature a headcoaching showdown of brothers, with Jim Harbaugh leading the 49ers and John Harbaugh in charge of the Ravens. The game marks only the second time brothers have faced each other in NFL history, with the previous game also including the Harbaughs on Thanksgiving night in 2011, when the Ravens defeated the 49ers by a score of 16-6.
Meanwhile, the National Hockey League finally started a shortened season this past weekend after a collective bargaining agreement was ultimately reached. It took 113 days. A total of 625 regular-season games were sacrificed, or over half the 2012-13 season.
And the National Basketball Association is already at its midseason, with more strong teams than ever in the race and more individual players standing out each night.
It’s a professional sports fan’s greatest time of the year. I love it!
There are many faith lessons to be learned from sports. Here is some advice from Hall of Fame basketball coach John Wooden.
Get in Shape: A team must be conditioned to perform at its peak.
POINT: This lesson speaks to you and those you serve. Have you put on the whole armor of God (Ephesians 6)? Have you prepared yourself to fight the good fight?
Learn the Fundamentals: Teams do not win because they can dunk the basketball. They win because they play defense, pass the ball, rebound the ball, and play their positions.
POINT: The fundamentals of the faith, such as prayer, Bible reading, stewardship, and a heart for the lost are essential if we are to mature as a body of believers.
Play as a Team: The game of basketball is a team sport. We hear repeatedly that there is no “I” in team.
POINT: This is especially true in the church. Pastors will come and go. The look of a congregation will change over the years. The one constant in a successful church is unity. The second chapter of Acts becomes our playbook.
“May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 15:5-6).
|I can think of very few things that overwhelm my mind like the concept of Imago Dei — the image of God. This is the theological doctrine in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam which asserts that human beings are created in God’s image and therefore have inherent value independent of their utility or function. It would seem that this understanding is so basic that it would permeate every aspect of our existence. At the heart of it, this truth is the origin of our value, our meaning, our purpose, our life path.
When anything happens to diminish or challenge this most basic truth, chaos results. The world is turned upside down. Everything begins to unravel. I have seen this occur during my lifetime. Some will point to the elimination of prayer in our schools as the critical event. Others might suggest the sexual revolution. For me, the greatest hit to our dignity came with the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade in 1973. It seems that, at that moment, America decided life was no longer sacred, that we humans were no longer really characterized by Imago Dei.
January 22, 2013, marks the 40th anniversary of that decision. It seems to me, my colleagues, that you have no choice but address this issue next weekend and to remind your people that, indeed, we are created in God’s image and that we are sacred and creatures of value and dignity. These cannot be removed simply because men decide reject them.
I want to share with you an excerpt from a special Web site created to remind us of this anniversary, how it has impacted us all, and how we can lead our churches. The link to the site is http://www.rememberingroe.com/.
Remembering Roe is an opportunity for our nation to come together to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the insidious U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion.
As we mourn the lives destroyed by Roe, YOU are invited to join together in solidarity on January 22, 2013, for a national day of prayer and fasting to end the violence of abortion. From 3:00-4:00 p.m. EST, you can pray with the National Pro-Life Religious Council* in a very special “hour of prayer” webcast.
Yes, make a visible sign of prayer by going to your knees wherever you are at 3:00 pm, Tuesday, January 22, 2013. For those who already pray to end abortion, go to your face! That’s right, wherever you are, lie down at 3:00 pm, January 22. For many pro-life advocates who have been mourning the Court’s decision on the anniversary of Roe for many years, that will mean lying face down on the steps of your statehouse.
Please sign up today to show your commitment to join with the Body of Christ in prayer as we go to our knees together to end abortion.
Remembering Roe is also an opportunity to tell others where you were when you first heard about Roe v. Wade, and to share about memories from other Roe anniversaries.
Designed to be a unifying memorial to honor life, this site is also a place for posting your prayers and sharing how you plan to Remember Roe on January 22, 2013.
Fasting, along with prayer, is the most powerful armament in the spiritual battle that now rages over the future of our country, and the future of humanity.
Consuming only bread and water is the recommended fast for this particular day of remembrance, although special dietary needs always take precedence. In which case, you are free to determine other things to deny yourself.
*The National Pro-life Religious Council is a Christian coalition which acknowledges Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and is called to affirm and witness to the Biblical standard of the value, dignity, and sanctity of human life.
Whether you choose to join in with this effort to remember the court decision that stripped unborn babies of their God-given dignity, sanctity, and value, please do something special. Honor the millions of innocent lives that have been lost over the past 40 years.
“Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’ So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:26-27).
|So, what are you going to do in 2013? What plans do you have in your endeavor to serve the Lord? Will you attempt to maintain the status quo? Will you try something new? What are you looking forward to in this new year? “So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him” (2 Peter 3:14).
I want to challenge you to think outside the box. Dream a bigger dream, and risk a bit where before you have chosen to play it safe. Only a small percentage of our colleagues will go out on a limb. When I ask them why, they always say there is too much at stake ... too much to lose.
Many of us just continue along the same old trail, looking at the same scenery and encountering the same people day after day, settling for what is rather than striving for what might be. I admit that stepping farther out on the ledge is often chancy, but the pastors I know who seem most fulfilled are those who test the limits and trust God for His guidance and protection.
When you dream of ministry and those things you have always wanted to accomplish, what do you see? What excites you? If the Lord is the Author of your new adventure in faith, then go for it! It is not about throwing caution to the wind. Rather, it is about continuing to grow, stretching your courage, and moving beyond the norm to keep your dreams alive.
I challenge you to stretch yourself beyond the realm of the comfortable, to live life on the cutting edge. Be courageous. You will be amazed at what you can do with God’s power and might as your source and a courageous spirit as your motivator.
The Psalmist declares, “Sing to the LORD a new song” (98:1). The Lord said to Isaiah, “Do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing!” (Isaiah 43:18-19). Go for it!