Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Remember Those...

*Textual Tuesdays will be days when the Bible or another text will be examined for spiritual examination and encouragement.

Today's reading is from Hebrews 13:3
"Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering." (NIV)

I like the New Living Translation slightly better...
"Remember those in prison, as if you were there yourself. Remember also those being mistreated, as if you felt their pain in your own bodies."

Reading this verse, first of all I am struck by the idea that I am far from perfect in following this sentiment. I hear of people in prison, or those being mistreated and feel sorry, but feel very disconnected from their situations.
This passage would have us move beyond our "who cares" attitude to a connected, caring one. Not just sympathy, mind you. Sympathy means feeling sorrow for another's situation. No, this verse calls us to something deeper...it calls us to empathy.
Check out this definition from The American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition:

empathy [(em-puh-thee)]
Identifying oneself completely with an object or person, sometimes even to the point of responding physically, as when, watching a baseball player swing at a pitch, one feels one's own muscles flex.

I pray that God gives me a more empathetic heart; one that feels sorrow and pain along with others to the point of moving me to help care for them instead of remaining aloof. I pray that God moves among Christians to give us this kind of caring heart for one another, and for the world...that the world may know we are Christians by our care, by our love.

Friday, May 22, 2009

A Sense of Adventure

*Family Fridays contain tips to maintain a strong sense of family and to pass your faith on to your children.

A major component is missing in the spiritual lives of our young people...a sense of adventure!
Parents feel at a loss in the spiritual training of their children. They think they must KNOW everything before they can teach their kids. This is so far from the truth! If all we do is teach...how boring is that?
The problem is that parents don't PRACTICE their faith WITH their kids. Parents, be encouraged to DO "faith stuff" with your children.
Take them to help feed people at a local shelter.
Make gift baskets for underprivileged children.
Visit a hospital just to pray for those inside.
Help an elderly person carry groceries to their car.
Let your children see you in a Bible study or teaching.
Encourage your children to be friends with your neighbors.
Make an adventure out of your faith-life! And live out those adventures with your kids, one day at a time.
Nothing guarantees vibrant faith for your children, but this will greatly increase the chance of them growing their own faith.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The In-Laws

Today I am thankful for my parents-in-law. They are staying with us this week. My mother-in-law is always willing to help watch the kids. She has a genuine concern for other people and prays every night for many. Oh yeah, her cooking is phenomenal (after this post, I'm headed for the chocolate meringue pie in the fridge!)
My father-in-law is the hardest worker I know. His family yells at him to stop and rest constantly. This week he has mowed my front yard, cooked pork chops on the grill and helped us install a retaining wall on the side of our house. I also enjoy our little on-going golf competition. So far, the best I've done is tie him. This week, he beat me by four strokes.
Great times with great people. Not everyone enjoys their in-laws!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Textual Tuesday

Today's reading is from Luke 1:

13But the angel said to him: "Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John. 14He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, 15for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth. 16Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. 17And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord."

It's amazing to see that John was among the first in "family ministry." One of the main reasons he was sent, we are told in verse 17, was "to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children."
The problem is not a new one. For centuries, fathers tend to get busy with "business" to the neglect of their children (and wives.) Sometimes, they don't mean to...it's just the way men are wired! Once we get something in our heads, we want to finish it...we want it to be accomplished.
I've been told one of the best things we do in our youth ministry is to provide times for families to be together. Our last series of events was called, "Chillin' With the 'Rents." (For you old fogeys, that's "spending time with your parents!")
It is always heart-lifting to see dads talking, playing and connecting with their children. This is one of the most important ministries of all.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Thankful Thursday

Today, I am thankful for good health...something that has eluded me for the past 24 hours. I haven't been this sick to my stomach since I was a kid.
I usually take it for granted when I'm in good health. What a blessing from God!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Textual ___day

Sorry I'm a day late! And now, to the scripture this week...! (two, actually)

Jesus left the temple and was walking away when his disciples came up to him to call his attention to its buildings. (Matthew 24:1)

This is where many of our churches are today. "Look at our building! Isn't it great! We have ample parking, and plenty of restrooms. We have a gym and a kitchen. This is all new carpet, isn't it plush? Check this out...in our auditorium we have state-of-the-art audio/visuals!! You probably came in today because of our sign..."
OK, so maybe we don't actually SAY that. But can we admit that we are awfully proud of our buildings sometimes?

Let's see what happened to the disciples LATER...

One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer—at three in the afternoon. Now a man crippled from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts. When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money. Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, "Look at us!" So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them. (Acts 3:1-5)

What did the disciples notice during this trip to the Temple?
It wasn't the grandiose temple. It wasn't the temple gate called Beautiful (I would have loved to see that gate!)
This time they weren't sucked in by the pomp and pride of the temple.
This time, they noticed...a beggar.
And they didn't just notice him, they stared at him and refused to leave until he interacted with them.

Why the change? I think it was because of the difference Jesus made in their lives. They had seen the resurrected Jesus and finally realized that He came to this world not to show off and become its king, but to die for its people.
And when we make this realization, we too will start to notice people...who Jesus came to save. And our buildings won't be the most important things for our deacons to fix...

Friday, May 08, 2009

Family Friday

The Blessing of Words

You hear them all day. Some are positive and some are not. Some are long and some are short. Some represent God...many do not.
What you do with your words can be a positive force in your family. Positive words can:

Affirm love
Prove forgiveness
Give hope to a failing relationship
Inspire someone to try harder
Heal wounds inflicted by another
Boost self-esteem
Bring about the most joyous sound on earth...laughter
Bond a family together
Envision a positive future for a loved one
Bless a starving soul
End family feuds
Make a friend of a perceived enemy
Introduce someone to Christ
Change someone's day...maybe even their outlook on life
Make the world a better place

In the midst of your family, use words to be a powerful force for good!
"Encourage one another, and build each other up..." (1 Thessalonians 5:11)

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Thankful Thursday

Today, I am thankful for our home church...the Southwest Church of Christ!!
Let me share a few things that have made this church special to us...

This past Sunday, one of our shepherds (elders) was making a really long announcement. I was wondering where he was going, when he finally broke the news that one of our couples was reconciling! This couple had struggled in their marriage for years and lived apart for most of that time. Many members had counseled with them, cried with them and reasoned with them. And so imagine the reaction! First, it was applause with a few whistles. Then, the minister and I noticed that everyone was standing to applaud them!

Another one of our shepherds asked me how things were going the other day. He listened and affirmed me for the job I was doing. He told me to pass on his appreciation to my wife, too! (Wives of ministers usually get overlooked.) And then, he did the BEST thing a shepherd could do for a youth minister: He said, "Franklin, can I pray for you?" (And this is a common occurence here!)

And of course, I could talk about how our church responded when our Sam Thomsen died in a tornado last year. There are some churches that would let the ministers do all the comforting of a bereaved family. Not Southwest! By the time I arrived at the Thomsen home, there were at least 30 people there! For the next two days, people were in and out of that home, checking on the Thomsens. This church truly understands that EVERY member is a minister!

If you're ever coming through Omaha, Nebraska...come by and visit Southwest. It's a very special family!

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Textual Tuesday

*Sorry to those of you who heard my sermon on Sunday...this is a rerun!

From 1 Chronicles 4:9-10
9 Jabez was more honorable than his brothers. His mother had named him Jabez, [c] saying, "I gave birth to him in pain." 10 Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, "Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain." And God granted his request.

I've never been sure what to think of this passage. At first glance it looks terribly rude and self-centered. Plus, I'm not a real fan of the "fame and fortune" preachers and their lessons.
Is it OK to ask God for a blessing? Can I ask God to bless me?

Here are some other passages that have helped me to embrace the prayer of Jabez a little better, and understand maybe what he was thinking...
  1. The LORD had said to Abram, "Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. (Gen. 12:1-2) Did you catch the last phrase? "...and you will be a blessing." I believe the Israelites understood that when God blesses you, you pass the blessings on to others (and don't hoard it for yourself.) This makes it a little more palatable to ask for a blessing.
  2. Blessed is the man who finds wisdom, the man who gains understanding. (Prov. 3:13) The Bible also mentions health, long life, and children as blessings. Most Americans think of a "blessing" as money or material wealth. God gives us so many blessings other than material things!
  3. And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them. (Mark 10:16) Almost every "blessing story" in the Bible has the "blesser" laying hands on or touching the one being blessed. To ask God for a blessing is to ask to be close to God or be touched by Him. And what better blessing could exist?!

These verses make me think that it's OK to ask God for a blessing if I have the right mindset. May God give you a special blessing today!