Monthly Archives: February 2016

No Need To Defend

About six years ago, a death row prisoner was given a new trial and then actually released to a homeless ministry about 20 miles from where I lived back then. When the announcement was made that he would be coming to our area, people in that community organized protests and verbally began to attack the ministry for bringing ‘that kind’ of person to their town. Threats were mailed, slanderous names were called, and picket lines were formed in protest.

The pastor that runs the shelter chose not to respond in like kind.

Later, the local news actually got to the place where they talked directly to the pastor and he politely answered their questions and reviewed their underlying purpose of feeding the hungry, helping the needy, and housing the homeless in an effort to share Christ with them.

He pointed them back to God!

Today’s passage from Daniel 3:16-18, in the New Living Translation, reminds me of that situation that ministry and pastor faced.

Now, I believe that while it is easy to see how the Scriptures apply to others, I’m even more convinced that God wants to speak to me, personally, about how to apply His word to my own life, as well.

As I read those words “we do not need to defend ourselves before you,” I recognized that far too often I respond to whatever comes my way defensively. It’s almost like I want to convince others about how wrong their comment or criticism or accusation is wrong. Or perhaps I’m trying to convince them, and me, that I’m not wrong.

These three Hebrews were in Babylon, but not of Babylon. They had positions of authority in the world, but knew EXACTLY where the line was between being IN Babylon and becoming a part OF Babylon. And they would not cross that line.

Instead of responding with defensiveness, they responded with an explanation of God’s will and calling on their lives that superceded all others and then willingly dealt with whatever consequences might follow.

     Oh God, when I feel attacked or threatened, help me to follow the examples of the homeless shelter and these three men of faith. AMEN.

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Accidental Evangelism

I originally shared this in another setting several years ago. The events described occurred in October 2006.

My daughter Sarah and I were in an accident this past week.

It was Tuesday night and we were on our way to pick up my 2 year old son from the babysitter. Sarah, 16, for some reason had decided to sit in the middle seat in our mini-van, and I, of course, was driving.

We came to the spot on route 322 where I needed to turn left onto Thunderbird Road. There was a lot of traffic coming from the opposite direction, so I stopped and waited for them to pass. Another car came from behind, unaware that the traffic ahead of her had come to a stop, and she rammed into the rear of our van. She apparently had been busy with a cell phone or maybe the radio, because there was no braking at all… She just drove into the back of our stopped car.

Both cars are probably totaled… although the insurance companies are still working on that end of things. As for us, we had seat belts on and, other than a bit of neck strain and some soreness, Sarah and I are fine. The ambulance trip and a couple hours at the ER confirmed that. The girl that hit us had a few more injuries, but I saw her later as she was being discharged, so I know she too is OK.

All of that is merely background.

Because when I saw her, when she was being discharged, she came to my ER room (I was last to be discharged), she again apologized and then she thanked me!

I was blown away! She simply thanked me for “being so nice.”

It’s moments like that that remind me that God really is still working on me. Family and friends can tell you that there were times in the past when my anger would have flared up and I would have expressed that anger… in not necessarily kind ways. But it didn’t even enter my mind this time… I knew that Sarah and I were pretty OK… but this girl (and her car) had taken the brunt of the damage. I literally was scared that there was something wrong with her… and afraid she might go into shock (or worse) at any moment.

Other than a praise for safety during the “giving thanks” part of our prayer time, I didn’t really bring my experience into the sermon today. Instead, we focused on the Scripture text from Acts 16 where Paul and Silas have a bad day. They had been harassed by a slave girl with a demon for days on end, until Paul finally turned around and cast the demon out of the girl… which upset the slave owners who had been making money off of her ‘talents.’ Paul & Silas were hauled in front of the magistrates, were stripped, were beaten with rods, and were thrown into the inner prison, bound and in stocks. To me, that would really be a bad day!

Frankly, I imagine I would be somewhere between loudly protesting and whining, moping, and crying. But according to Acts 16:25, Paul & Silas were “praying and singing hymns to God…”

WOW!

The thing that caught my attention even more was the next phrase: “… and the other prisoners were listening to them.” And a few verses later, after a Divine intervention occurs, the jailer himself notices the godly behavior of these men of God… and asks them how he might have what he notices in them. He says “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And we read in verse 31, their answer: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved…”

Paul & Silas, in the midst of a bad day, were godly. They prayed and they worshipped God… even in the midst of the ‘stuff’ of life that was going on around them. And everyone around them was noticing!!!

My pastor, right before I entered ministry, was Rev. David Bunnell, and I once heard him use an analogy of a teacup. He said that each of us are like a teacup… possibly ornate or ordinary, delicate or rugged, fancy or plain, small or large… but it doesn’t really matter what kind of teacup we are… it matters what our cup is filled with.

He then said that you can never really tell what’s in each other’s teacups… until your cup is bumped. When something happens that upsets you or messes up your day… then it’s like your cup gets bumped… and whatever is inside spills out a bit.

Many of us, when our cup’s bumped, have rage, bitterness, or sarcasm spill out. I’ve been guilty of this myself at times. But Jesus Christ offers us the chance to be ‘refilled’ by His Holy Spirit continually. You know this is reality when your cup gets bumped and people around you can see what you’ve filled your cup with.

This week my cup got bumped… and some of the love and grace of Jesus spilled out… But unfortunately that isn’t always the case. If it were a bigger bump, and more spilling occurred, I’m afraid the sludge and YUK that’s in the bottom of my cup might have spilled over too.

That’s why we need to make sure we’re allowing Jesus Christ to continue to fill us. It’s not enough to ‘be filled’ when we get saved and then we walk through life and the dust and dirt and debris of life settle into our cups. That’s why we need to be in a constant refilling, like a cup that’s attached to a garden hose… even if dirt falls into the cup… it’s swept away by the constant infilling from the hose…

That’s what I want. Not to be filled with Living Water or the Filling of the Holy Spirit like it was some one-time event in the past at which I can wistfully look back and remember. NO! I want to filled and refilled and renewed all the time… so the sludge of life doesn’t have a chance to settle in… and even the stuff that was already there is eventually washed away.

Guess I’ll know even better how that’s going the next time my cup gets bumped. How about you? It’s absolutely vital that we get this right, because as my week showed and Paul & Silas learned… the world around us will notice!

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Learning to be a Better Parent… from my Kids?

I was the speaker for the Spring Banquet for one of the other Protestant churches in DuBois in 2006. Here are my notes:

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

My kids have been teaching me how to be a parent. I thought I knew, but bit by bit and day by day I encounter situations that I just have to learn some new parenting skill… whereas before I had any kids I was pretty sure I knew how children ought to be raised… Now I just hope that we all live through it. And we look for the memorable moments along the way. And I’m not alone in this either, am I?

Chuck Swindoll tells a story of when his son Curtis was 6 and his daughter Charissa was 4 when he found himself in one of those memorable moments. He says that he suggested before supper that Curtis serve his little sister before he served himself. Chuck says:

Naturally, [Curtis]wondered why, since the platter of chicken sat directly in front of him… and he was hungry as a lion. I explained it is polite for fellas to serve girls before they serve themselves. The rule sounded weird, but he was willing… as long as she didn’t take too long.

… After prayer, he picked up the huge platter, held it for his sister, and asked which piece of chicken she wanted.

She relished all this attention. Being quite young, however, she had no idea which piece to take. So, very seriously, she replied, “I’d like the foot.”

He glanced in my direction, frowned as the hunger pains shot through his stomach, then looked at her and said, “Uh… Charissa, Mother doesn’t cook the foot!”

To which she replied, “Where is it?”

With increased anxiety he answered ( a bit louder), “I don’t know! The foot is somewhere else, not on this platter. Look, choose a piece. Hurry up!”

She studied the platter and said, “OK, just give me the hand.”

By now their mother and father were biting their lips to refrain from laughing out loud. We would have intervened, but decided to let them work it out alone. That’s part of the training process.

“A chicken doesn’t have a hand, it has a wing, Charissa.”

“I hate the wing, Curtis… Oh, go ahead and give me the head.”

By then I was headed toward the bathroom. I couldn’t hold my laughter any longer. Curtis was beside himself. His sister was totally frustrated, not being able to get the piece she wanted.

Realizing his irritation with her and the absence of a foot or a hand or head, she finally said in an exasperated tone, “Oh, all right! I’ll take the belly button!”

That did it. He reached in, grabbed a piece, and said, “That’s the best I can do!” He gave her the breast, which was about as close to the belly button as he could get.”

We laugh… and Chuck Swindoll laughed. But it illustrates a really important point. Kids will try their best to face new situations, but they’ll still only understand as much as they’ve been able to see and hear. Little Charissa didn’t know much about anatomy… of a chicken, at least. But she knew a little bit about her own anatomy. There were feet, hands, head, and belly button.

She started with what knowledge she already had…

That’s part of what I think Jesus had in mind when he was talking to the disciples in Mark chapter 10, verses 13-16

Then they brought little children to Him, that He might touch them; but the disciples rebuked those who brought them. But when Jesus saw it, He was greatly displeased and said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.” And He took them up in His arms, laid His hands on them, and blessed them.

The children that day started with the knowledge that Mommy or Daddy brought them to the nice preacher… and they learned that he was nice… Gently, and kindly, he held them and blessed them.

Can you imagine as the years went by and those parents talked to that child about that day?

When I’m in the middle of a frustrating parent/child lesson, sometimes it’s hard for me to hear Jesus’ words that I’m to learn from these kids… and if I want to even enter the kingdom of Heaven I have to do it like the little children. So what can my kids, and your kids, teach us about approaching God, approaching Christ, and entering into the kingdom of God?

I think they have two ways.

First, they listen and observe and watch and hear…

Our little children are always watching and listening aren’t they?

They are learning by watching and listening to us… their parents… their mentors… their Sunday School teachers…

A child cannot learn to do something new unless they have first heard what is expected… they need an example. They watch for what we do so that they can make sense out of what is being asked of them in the new situation.

My daughter Michele is in the process of getting ready for her learner’s permit for driving. But she had to start with watching her mother and I drive first… And a decision on her part that she, too, wanted to learn this new skill. She had to learn the basics and the rules from the driver’s manual before she even had the right to TRY to get the permission to learn to actually drive the car.

And that brings us to the second way that children learn. First they witness what ought to be, by watching, listening, reading, and questioning… and then they learn by doing.

I learned a whole lot more about driving the day my mother let me drive the family vehicle the one mile from our house to the high school… I had watched my grandparents and parents drive our standard shift cars for years… I knew one foot went on the pedal on the far left and one foot went on the pedal to the far right.

Except the truck I was driving that morning was an automatic… and there I was with one foot pushing on the brake and one foot pushing on the gas… Almost thirty years later and my mother still talks of the fear and panic I brought into her life that day. She never rode with me again until years and years later.

In the process of doing, I learned something new about driving…

I saw this again the other night at Gabbie’s birthday party over at Playtime Pizza. Gay was at IUP for classes and I was the parent on duty. Gabbie had invited Josh to the party so off the two of us went.

I watched him as he played… Alone at first, but trying everything. He played a little bit with some of the other smaller children in the toddler play section… but he saw the bigger kids playing on the jungle gym (or whatever that thing was called). He watched… he listened… he started to try and follow their example.  He tried to actually do what those other kids were doing… climbing the rope ramps and burrowing through the sea of little balls, crossing the webbed bridges and getting around the obstacles. He wasn’t as fast… but he was determined. He watched and listened and got a picture in his mind of what he ought to do… but then he did it!

But then he saw some of the bigger kids sliding down this huge tunnel. He followed them over to the top and looked… and ran away… then he climbed around some and went and looked again… and then ran away again. He finally got to the top alone and just looked. And at that point I got down on my hands and knees at the bottom so that he could see me and said Come on down, Buddy!

He smiled when he saw me, he laughed and down he came!

And he loved it! For 20 more minutes, he climbed and crossed, and crawled, so that he could slide down… to the point where I had to make him stop and get a drink because he was so hot and winded and sweat was rolling down his head.

Josh learned by watching… and then by doing…

That’s why we have toy refrigerators and toy stoves, toy building blocks and toy hammers and saws, toy cars and toy trucks, and even toy babies and toy children… So that our children can watch us and learn how to use those things and then, with their toy versions, they can learn by doing.

That’s how I think we’re to learn when it comes to the kingdom of God as well… we come like children, little children in fact, and we watch & listen, to the word that was written and the Word that was born and lived with us… and then, after seeing his example and hearing his call, we learn to be his disciples by doing… trying out the things we saw him do in the gospels and he told us in his word… Sometimes hesitatingly and sometimes not doing such a great job… but we learn to be his disciples as members of His kingdom just like little kids learn anything: we watch & listen… then we try to do on our own.

I think that’s part of what James is talking about when he says that we are to “be doers of the word, and not hearers only.”

Yes, we’re learning to follow Christ more completely, but it’s not enough to just read and study and listen and attend… there comes a point where we have to get around to the trying and doing… or else we are guilty of just being hearers only…

It would be like Josh at the top of that slide and watching how other kids do it and yet, him choosing not to ever try to slide down.

What an experience he would have missed… what fun he would have lost… and never even known what he was missing.

Folks, some of us in the church of Jesus Christ have watched our pastors and Sunday school leaders, our youth group directors and our small group mentors for years. We’ve read the Bible, we’ve heard the sermons and the lessons, and we’ve watched men and women of faith show us how to be a man or woman of integrity… being a follower of Jesus Christ.

And yet the church, especially in the United States, is still full of people who sit back and just watch and listen… but never try to put into practice what they’ve seen and heard. The American church is full of hearers… but not full of doers. Our churches are full of childish people… who cry when they don’t get their own way… but they’re not childlike… willing to be hearers and doers approaching God with an open, childlike, teachable spirit.

I don’t attend your church, I only know a few of the people who attend your church, I’ve only known your pastor for a couple of years and then only seen and talked to him a couple times a month…

But I know that God Almighty has tried to use the men and women of faith around you, including your pastor, to show you and teach you what God Himself wants in your lives…

I don’t know what He’s asking you for… I don’t know what He’s asking you to do… But I know that with so many rich examples and teaching and preaching, the Holy Spirit has been trying to get you to do something…

Now, will we just be hearers? Or like little children, will we be the hearer who then, with as mush gusto as they can muster, step into the trying and doing part of learning?

If we can trust that Jesus really knew what he was talking about, then our answer to that question determines our place in the kingdom of God.

What’s God trying to teach you? Have you seen His people give you the examples to follow? Are you listening to how His Word relates to Your own personal life situation? Or does Harold just preach to someone else?

And if you HAVE heard what God wants to teach you, are you stepping into it? Are you learning by doing?

How do you learn to worship? By starting to worship…

How do you learn to pray? By starting to pray…

For many of us, it’s how do we serve in the role of the mentor… giving our children and the new Christians in our life an example of what a Christian is like… Sometimes when I realize my kids are watching me, it scares me to death.

I’ve had the lessons and the teaching, the preaching and men and women of God showing me how to be a faithful follower of Jesus Christ… Now, as I step out and try to do that which I’ve seen and heard, and do what I’ve been shown, now I learn even more…

How about you?

Little children learn by hearing and doing… and Jesus says we come into the kingdom of God that same way.

Are we doers? Or just hearers only?

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Stand in the Gap?

I originally shared this when it was my turn to share devotions with a mens prayer breakfast on March 21, 2007. 

“Fed up, God decided to get rid of them— and except for Moses, his chosen, he would have. But Moses stood in the gap and deflected God’s anger, prevented it from destroying them utterly.”

— Psalm 106:23 (The Message)
“I looked for someone to stand up for me against all this, to repair the defenses of the city, to take a stand for me and stand in the gap to protect this land so I wouldn’t have to destroy it. I couldn’t find anyone. Not one.”
—Ezekiel 22:30 (The Message)
     Oh God, how many times are we, your chosen people in this day and age, the very ones you’re waiting for so that we can “stand in the gap” to turn away your anger like Moses did? Like you kept wanting someone to do in Ezekiel’s day, and you never did find someone who would do that?

 

Is this the explanation of how it is that you could “change your mind” in the Old Testament stories? I wonder if in every situation where people faced Your judgment, that it was always your intention to grant mercy to them IF someone would simply “stand in the gap” in order to “turn away your anger.” The judgment is deserved, but you’d rather offer grace and mercy and forgiveness… if someone would just intervene and intercede.

     You judged the people in the desert and they deserved to die…but Moses intervened, he stepped in and pleaded desperately for them… and for his sake, you showed them mercy. You didn’t give them what they really deserved….
     You judged the people in Ezekiel’s day and sent Ezekiel with your message and kept waiting for someone on the receiving end of that message to step in and plead for mercy for your people… and no one did… and so the judgment was carried out.
     Today, the world around us clearly has walked away from your ways. If you’re truly a righteous and just God, then You have to judge us… our people, our land, our nation… You’ve sent your warnings. Is the seeming pause we sense just a God-given chance for us, your chosen people, to “stand in the gap” and plead for our friends and neighbors and relatives? To plead for mercy? To pray for forgiveness?
     O God… we modern American Christians are more likely to condemn those around us than we are to be an advocate for them. We see their sin and think “God’ll get you for that!”
     We are SO wrong! Forgive us O God and change our wicked hearts! Give us the compassion and love of Moses that he felt for his friends and neighbors and relatives. Teach us to stand in the gap!

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Franciscan Morning Prayer

For the last couple of years, I have been reading and learning about St. Francis. One of the books I picked up was called the Secular Franciscan Companion.

This morning I came across the Franciscan morning prayer. Let me share that with you:

“Jesus Lord, I offer you

this new day because

I believe in you, love you,

hope all things in you

and thank you for

your blessings.

I am sorry for having

offended you and

forgive everyone who

has offended me.

Lord, look on me and

leave in me

peace and courage

and your humble wisdom

that I may serve others

with joy, and be

pleasing to you all day.”

— From the Secular Franciscan Companion, compiled and edited by Marion A. Haif, O.F.M. (Franciscan Herald Press: Cincinnati, Ohio) 1987.

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