Apr 24, 2015

On Knowing the Will of God

An alert reader, Anonymous, once brought me a copy of the Fort Worth Star Telegram. One of the newspaper articles was by Jim Jones, entitled “To Know God’s Will is No Easy Thing.” Jones discussed Chuck Swindoll’s book, The Mystery of God’s Will. After writing more than twenty-five books (many of them best sellers) Swindoll is a respected and trusted preacher. He is currently senior pastor at Stonebriar Community Church, in Frisco, Texas, and also has a wide following through his nationally syndicated radio program Insights for Living. Clearly Swindoll is a pastor listened to and highly regarded by many people in the United States and beyond.

I appreciated what Jones wrote about Swindoll’s book. In it Swindoll cautioned against what he termed “voodoo theology.” Jones wrote of Swindoll, “While he [Swindoll] doesn’t know all the answers, Swindoll says that God’s will is mainly revealed in searching the Bible and following God’s wisdom.” Swindoll goes on to say that, “Finding God’s will is a complex, mysterious endeavor. It requires wisdom, clear thinking, and old-fashioned common sense.”

It occurs to me that if faith is a lifelong proposition, then shouldn’t we have a God that takes AT LEAST a lifetime to explore and discover? Those who have a “blinding light” experience of God and then know all of God’s mysteries leave me cold. I am happy that they believe they have all knowledge of God cornered. But as for me I feel fortunate that I learn a little about God and other people each day. I suppose it gives me something to look forward to next week as God and I continue to get to know each other better and better. I hope this trend continues for many years to come. After all, “Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 John 4:8).

Perhaps there is a great deal about love and God we can still understand—and then practice.

Come, Worship
Stay, Learn
Go, Serve

Apr 17, 2015

Bowling Alone?

We used to have a church member around here named Jim Fulgham. He once asked me if I have ever read Bowling Alone. Funny thing was I had. It is an important book by which we can understand a bit about our American culture’s shift over the last fifty years or so.

Mark Chaves, a professor of sociology at the University of Arizona, recently wrote a book review article on Robert D. Putnam’s book, which carries as its full title: Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. What Chaves wrote affects everyone who loves the PTA or service clubs or the church. This is what he wrote:

The phrase “bowling alone”—the title of an article Robert Putnam published in 1995 in a relatively obscure academic journal—quickly became shorthand for the arresting claim that civic engagement is in decline. Putnam’s point was that though we may be bowling as much as we used to, we are much less likely to be doing it in organized leagues. The article did not, of course, rest mainly on bowling statistics. It pointed to evidence of declining participation in a variety of civic arenas—politics, churches, labor unions, parent-teacher organizations, and fraternal organizations. 

As civic participation in these arenas declined, Putnam claimed, so did America’s stock of social capital—the connections between people that foster cooperation and trust. To be sure, social capital can be used malevolently—to restrict employment opportunities for those outside one’s own group, for example, or to battle real or imagined enemies. But because it also serves as a resource for many benevolent activities, we should be concerned about its decline (The Christian Century, July 19-26, 2000, p. 754).

I find this analysis helpful because too often we in the church beat ourselves up because so few people participate in the church’s activities. This is not just our problem. It is every organization’s problem. The only way to counteract the general drift away from community is for those in the community to take an active role in helping people find a place and a way to participate in it.

Invite a friend to church. Include someone in your Sunday school class. Bring your schoolmates to UMYF. Invite people to become a part of your significant group—youth, choir, Bible study, whatever. This issue of social drift is one that can only be solved with the help of EVERYONE—and of course--God!

Come, Worship
Stay, Learn
Go, Serve

Apr 10, 2015

Easter: Is it Worth the Climb?”

As many of you know, Easter Sunday here at FUMC of Arlington, Texas was a wonderful experience. We heard the gospel from Paul’s vantage point and we listened to a wonderful array of choirs. In a sense, the whole of our Christian year points toward Easter. It seems like a long and arduous journey for only one day that emerges as a whole liturgical or worship season. Yet as mountain climbers respond when someone asks, “Why do you climb mountains anyway?” The answer for them is simple: “Because it is there!”

Several years ago on television I watched a National Geographic program about the climbing of Mount Everest. What struck me most was that the expeditions to the top of the world’s tallest peak had a lot in common with people like us trying to help build God’s realm through the church’s ministries—whether a One Mile Mission or 5,789 Mile Mission!

In church pursuits like these, missions and many, many other quests, leaders make mistakes and followers get both fatigued and disheartened. The result of successful missions, however, is worth the price. We participate in the Kingdom or Realm of God because that is why God created us.

As we continue to celebrate Easter which is both a day and a liturgical season, may we get a sense of just how counter-cultural our community of faith is!

Apr 3, 2015

Easter for All Seasons

My friend, Tom Butts, who is the Pastor Emeritus at FUMC, Monroeville AL once sent me the following article. I think so much of him that I want to share with you, my church family, of whom I think a lot of as well:

Religion developed around those areas and aspects of life we do not understand, not around aspects we do understand, or think we understand. When our world is manageable we may tip our hats toward some sort of higher power in a conventional fashion. Some people do not feel they need anything religious to help negotiate life when they are doing all right on their own. But, when life breaks open at the seams and we are standing before some mystery that is larger than life and beyond comprehension, we begin to look at and think of life in a different way.

It is no accident that when we are looking for spiritual insight and power, we walk up a hill outside Jerusalem and stand as close as we dare to the tragic scene of a crucifixion, where a gaunt figure hangs between heaven and earth and between life and death, and we hang on to every word we hear. "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do" – "This day thou shalt be with me in paradise" – "Father, into your hands I place my spirit." What tragedy! What mystery! But, we are drawn to it like a magnet.

When our souls are empty and our hearts ache and we do not understand life, we walk on out to a graveyard, to a tomb, that is open and empty. In the presence of that tremendous mystery, which nobody can begin to explain, where by some divine alchemy, death and tragedy get transformed into light and life, we find hope, encouragement, and the will to go on.

Every now and then, just when we think we cannot go on, something strange, sometimes simple, happens and we get a quick glimpse into the heart of God’s eternal mysteries. A stranger says or does something and then disappears forever. A tragedy turns into a triumph; a miracle happens before our eyes; a child is born or dies or says or does something; and our eyes are opened, our hearts are melted with love and for a few seconds the mysteries of the universe are laid bare before our very eyes.

Sometimes Easter happens on a dark Tuesday afternoon in December, and for a moment we feel "in touch" with someone or something important with which we have been "out of touch" for a long time. Sometimes an angel touches your life in mid-summer and suddenly you see and understand things gloriously different. You stop being afraid of old ghosts that have haunted you ever since you can remember. You quit caring about all the wrong things and learn how to empty your life of junk. After all, Easter is a day of miracles for the dead, and all of us are or have been or will be dead. Whenever that happens we need an Easter happening.

Thanks, Tom!

Come, Worship
Stay, Learn
Go, Serve

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