Category Archives: Writing

Think On These Things

Earlier this morning, I was scrolling through Facebook, and happened upon a post from one of the pastors I follow about a politician who didn’t do things the way this person thought they should have done them. And several others, again, mostly pastors, chimed in with their opinions about how horrible they thought that leader was and expanded the discussion to others of that leader’s political party as well.

And I ALMOST entered the fray. I started typing MY opinion but then I felt a check in my spirit… and was reminded of something the Lord had spoken to me (not audibly… but you know) a few months ago.

It too was a day that started with my personal affront to what someone else had posted on social media that morning. I had started to respond, like today, and really felt the Spirit of God saying to me that I needed to pause and think (AND PRAY) before I responded.

So I closed my laptop and opened my Bible. I didn’t have any specific sense of where in the Bible to go, so I just opened it… and I was on the page which had Philippians 3:19 through the end of the book (chapter 4:23). And I simply started reading. When I got to Philippians 4:8, I felt like someone had hit me. I read these words (from the New Living Translation):
“And now dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure , and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.”

I felt so embarrassed… and convicted. I have my opinions (which I am CERTAIN are correct!!!) and I am organized and logical (and trained as a teacher), so I want to help educate those with different opinions (and since I’m sure MY opinions and beliefs are RIGHT, then they must be wrong…). I want to lay out my case in order to help them “see the light” and come around to MY right beliefs and opinions.

But the truth is, NOBODY convinces ANYBODY of ANYTHING on social media. And the prevalent mood of most who see something contrary to their thoughts on social media quite often read those contrary posts as PERSONAL ATTACKS. And so, a good intentioned post can be taken as hateful comments or even hate speech.

And there I am, with Philippians 4:8 staring me in the face… challenging me to make sure the things I say (verbally or in print) pass the tests Paul listed in this verse.

The things that I’m to give my thoughts and attention to are things that are: true AND honorable AND right AND pure AND lovely AND admirable AND excellent AND worthy of praise.

We so often wonder what God’s will is, and here Paul point blank tells us what we are supposed to be focusing on and thinking about. And it doesn’t give me much wiggle room for badmouthing people in politics or in the extended church or in my local congregation or in my neighborhood.


As a Christian, I’m hoping and praying that the people who hear me speak or watch my actions OR READ MY ONLINE POSTS, will see and read and hear JESUS. And that affects my social media postings. If I spend my online social media time ripping apart others, then I’m letting people know that I believe verbally fighting and attacking others is the way I show what I truly believe. And NOBODY gets to see Jesus through me. Which means I have failed in my number one job as a Christian.

John Wesley once shared with the clergy leadership of the young Methodist movement that they had nothing to do except save souls. I’m coming to understand that includes Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and all the other social media platforms. Not that every post or status has to be an altar call kind of statement, but they need to be positive and connected to real life as I live with Christ. Not potty humor, or negative stuff, or attacking others, or sexual comments… If everything I write or say was put together in a book, I hope and pray that readers of that book would be able to see Jesus throughout its pages.

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Filed under Church Leadership, Reflection, Response, Writing

Resurrection Sunday

This morning I was faced with a question of “What was a favorite moment of 2013 so far (as a pastor)?” After thinking for a few moments, this was my answer:

At the end of our Easter worship service I asked for folks to be praying for our 4 yr old grandson who was about to have surgery that next week. And I referenced the healing power of God and shared how my sister-in-law (that the congregation has been praying for) had actually ‘coded’ that week at dialysis and was literally brought back to life. If God can do that, then we can expect him to give REAL help as we face the things in our lives!

As I finished, a lady in the back row stood up and called for a nurse. I looked back and saw a man who looked unconscious and unresponsive and I saw his face dark and blackish. Four nurses and a retired doctor headed there and I simply started praying. I heard one nurse later say that she was convinced that he was gone. Less than a minute passed before he just started having color again and ‘woke up.’ And this was BEFORE they could even get him out of the pew to the floor to try CPR or any other intervention!

Easter is well called: “Resurrection Sunday!”

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Paradise Lost, Again

This was posted originally in September 2007 on my old blogger blog. It appears here just as it was then…

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My friend Bob Zilhaver is the one to blame really. Or perhaps I ought to thank him!

He loaned me some teaching CD’s of actual college courses from The Teaching Company and I got hooked. I’ve now listened through The Life & Writings of C.S. Lewis, Francis of Assisi, and The Life & Writings of John Milton. I liked the C.S. Lewis course so much I bought it and have selected some others for later. They make great company on those horribly long trips in the car.

I just finished the course on John Milton the week before last and decided that if it had really been a college course, I would be reading Milton’s poetry… at least his Paradise Lost, if nothing else. So I went to the library here in Reynoldsville and asked if they had anything by Milton. The librarian actually laughed. She had never been asked for anything by Milton before.

But as part of an old set of classics from the early 20th Century that had been given to the library, she found a book of Milton’s English poetry. So I checked it out.

I have literally struggled through as much as I can stand. I read every word of through all of his early works and actually appreciated his poem that dealt with time, his poem on his reflections on aging when he reached 23, and his short poem “On the Death of a Fair Infant Dying of a Cough” which seemed a healthy way to express grief.

But I confess that my best hope to enjoy poetry is probably if it’s set to music as lyrics. I just didn’t like reading the poems. And I forced my way through almost three pages of Paradise Lost (which is a fair way into the book since he didn’t write this epic poem until after the English Civil War and the time of the Protectorate).

My mind kept swimming. Now I was the one who was lost. I couldn’t focus and I had the same emotions I have had when I tried to make myself eat asparagus or cooked spinach… I know it’s supposed to be good for me but I just can’t convince my taste buds.

SO… I didn’t get much out of reading Milton’s poems. But I really liked the course about him and his writings. He was fascinating!

I especially appreciated the discovery that Milton had already gone blind by the time he actually wrote his most famous works. I find that almost impossible to believe. I, on the other hand, occasionally have trouble remembering details with the help of my eyesight, my Palm Treo and its alarms, and the church calendar. He not only kept the details straight, but knew exactly where he was as he was writing. A great example is line 666 of Paradise Lost is in the middle of a section where Satan is the focus… He knew where he was at all times. WOW! What mental discipline! That’s something I can admire about John Milton.

I was particularly interested in the way Milton so believed in the causes of his day that he actually set aside his poetry for awhile and wrote tracts and pamphlets to help defend his cause… which just happened to be the ouster and execution of King Charles I. He served in the Commonwealth government and when that eventually failed, and the new king was crowned, Milton could have been singled out for retribution. Blind by this point, the new King Charles (son of the one dethroned and beheaded some two decades earlier) spared his life and that’s when Milton went back to his poetry. Milton had actually laid aside his life goals, and knowingly hastened his oncoming blindness, in order to further a cause he truly believed in. Even though he knew that if the Commonwealth ever failed, it would probably cost him his life.

That makes me wonder. What causes am I willing to give my attention to, that I would knowingly risk my life for? I look back in history and don’t know that I would fare well if faced with the situations that confronted John Huss, William Tyndale, or Justin Martyr. They faced persecution and stood their ground… and paid for it with their life. I would like to believe I would stand up for Christ in persecution but I know the weakness in my own heart. That’s something I can admire about John Milton.

But I also found a couple of sad notes as well. He didn’t have a great family life. When he was 33 he married a 16 year old… but it was unhappy and she moved back home with her parents for a while. Milton then spent a lot of energy and time trying to influence the church and government to change their stand on marriage and divorce… claiming God’s law and the Bible as support for his argument. He wasn’t successful in this quest, and only his wife’s later death freed him from his marital vows. He married again and she died as a result of childbirth, and then the child died as well. A third marriage seemed better, but time and circumstances had changed him drastically by then.

As I reflected on this aspect, I wondered how many times we seem to go to Scripture only for support for our latest behavioral choice. Milton wanted desperately to get out of that first marriage and was able to find just the right passages to convince himself that God was on his side. Thankfully, the church of his day (and the government for that matter) didn’t budge in the face of attempt to ‘change God’s mind.’ How often, today, are we (especially us pastors) willing to do the same thing that Milton did back then in order to justify something we have already decided to do. I may not admire Milton for his choice there, but I appreciate the new awareness of my own actions.

I also recognized as I learned more about his family relationships, that I quite often am faced with moments where my outside interests and my ‘job’ can capture my time and attention more than my family… especially my wife. I don’t ever want my wife to feel supplanted by my career… and as a pastor that’s way too possible. I appreciate my study of Milton for the reminder and challenge about my own priorities.

Learning about John Milton (Jr.) and his relationship with his own father (John Milton, Sr.) served as a great reminder to me as well. My own father, Donald Mix, lives away from the rest of the family and is sort of a keep-to-himself kind of guy. And too often, I just let him… Unlike Milton who tried to please his father and seemed to allude to that desire for paternal approval, I have usually let my geographic distance be my excuse to leave that relationship on the back burner. Milton probably did this one better than I do. But I can still change that.

The other big insight I discovered as I listened, and learned, about John Milton, was that he had initially planned on heading to the Anglican Church as a priest. I don’t know if he had felt a ‘call’ and then didn’t follow it, or if he had been trying to please someone else and then steeled himself against the family pressure and decided to follow a different path or perhaps some other explanation. However, I do know that I have many times gone to God with a list of other occupational choices for which I wanted to be considered… Let’s face it: sometimes being a pastor isn’t very enjoyable. There’s a lot of stress. I personally fought against God’s call from age 17 until age 34. I sure do understand Milton opting for a different life.

From what I’ve supplementally read since finishing the course, it seems that Milton actually veered from what we would probably consider orthodox Christianity… it sounds like he believed something akin to Arianism… with a few twists. No matter how great his Biblical poetry was with the Fall (Paradise Lost), Jesus’ temptations (Paradise Regained) and Samson’s end of life struggles and final chapter (Samson Agonistes), I can’t simply trust him and his writing… because his writing and his characters really do reflect his beliefs… even the twisted ones.

Ultimately, I think the greatest thing I picked up from this study of John Milton was the way his writing reflected his written argument and conversation with the ‘fathers’ of his field. He wrote in response and reaction to Shakespeare and others… It was like they were in conversation at times. And that’s how I’ve found a way to truly appreciate studying Milton…

John Milton, thanks for the conversation!

Bob Zilhaver, thanks for the introduction!


Filed under Biography, Literature, Poetry, The Teaching Company, Writing