Monthly Archives: July 2014

Four Responses?

It was the first day of basic training.  Behind us–two decades of family , community and work relationship memories.  Ahead of us–two years of military obligation which none of us wanted.  We were, as they said, ‘grunts’, ‘bush-beaters’, ‘foot soldiers’ and ‘infantrymen’.  According to the spokesman who met us at Fort Leonardwood, Missouri, we had a NEW father/mother: our Drill Sergeant.  And a new family: our fellow draftees.  We were told that life was changing for us (duh).  Now, he said,  we would be told what to eat, when to get up, how to wear what hair would be left after a quick (you think) visit to the barber, what clothes to wear, when to go to the ‘latrine’, what gun to carry, what to do every second of the day, when we would sleep and a host of other restrictive (ooops–training) boundaries.  As he continued yelling out his speech (yes they do yell), he stopped to glare at a new recruit who had the unmitigated gall to raise his hand to ask a question.  Think of it: someone had a question!  Go figure.

Well, without so much as the slightest gesture of common courtesy which to most of us seemed to be a quickly shrinking image in the review mirror of our life, Drill Sergeant told us that from that moment on we would be allowed (whoa) four responses to use in any situation: ‘Yes Sir’, ‘No Sir’, ‘Sir I do not understand’ (that was my default setting) and ‘Sir I do not know’.  These were to be utilized, regardless of the setting and regardless of the  question.  Now possibly you can see where we’re going with this.

To illustrate, Drill Sergeant stepped up ‘nose to nose’ (literally) to a new recruit and in a syrupy condescending tone asked, ‘Soldier do you think I’m pretty?’.  There was momentary silence.  (Now remember you only have four possible responses).  Which one would you have chosen?  You see the dilemma?  The recruit chose ‘No Sir’…!  Now that opened the door to Drill Sergeant’s response.  And he gladly burst through it with all the gentleness of an angry Holstein bull with a headache.  After a 3 minute tirade, Drill Sergeant walked away shaking his head and muttering something about ‘girls and look at what they’re sending us these days’.  🙂

Now, I have a new commanding officer.  One Who is vastly unlike my old ones.  Like Paul, I receive the counsel to ‘live to please not ourselves, but our commanding officer’.  II Timothy 2:1-4.  And though our Lord is infinitely good and all comparisons to men of rank are absurd, I still offer four responses to the Lord of glory.  In prayer, I say that by His grace I will serve ‘any way’, ‘any where’, ‘any time’ and to ‘any one’ if by it I may bring gladness to His heart and glory to His Name.

Let’s lift Him up with our responses.

The Bird House

It’s just a bird house.  It’s 8 inches long, 6 inches wide and 6 inches high to the tip of the roof.  It’s black metal with stars cut out on all sides and in several places on the roof to allow candle light (the purpose of the decorative house) to sparkle around the deck in glowing star shapes.  Nice touch.  Pretty decoration.  But this morning it was the site of an all out battle among determined birds.

No less than 7 female house sparrows were attacking one another with the hope, it seemed, to be the occupant of our little black decorative bird house.  As I watched, each of the sparrows flapped, swooped, pecked, chirped, perched and stretched out menacingly to threaten away any would be squatters for the right to nest in the bird house.  One problem though, as each sparrow fluttered around  the ledge on the house, none could get in.  You see, each star that permitted light from the candle to filter out was covered by a metal mesh screen spot welded on the inside of the structure to prohibit birds from getting in.  No amount of hopping, pecking, straining or pushing would allow even one of the birds to find a nesting home.  As I watched, with not a little bit of curiosity, an applicative thought crossed my mind.

We can scurry about, spiritually speaking, trying in vain to seek a resting place for our souls.  We can try all kinds of methods to gain entrance into God’s rest but only find frustration because we neglect the One means by which His rest is won.  He said Himself through Jesus, ‘Come to Me all you who are weak and heavy burdened and I will give you  rest’.  Matthew 11:28f.  Blessed offer.  Gracious invitation.  Mercy extended.  But…

His offer is not a ‘carte blanche’ admission.  It’s only offered to those who have concluded that they have no other plea than the plea of Jesus.  So many live life seemingly content to live as if they could purchase, provide, produce or procure rest in some other means than that of Jesus.  But that’s just pride talking.  They try power, popularity, pleasure and possessions to provide contented rest.  But, usually, attempting to get on top of the world to find rest only gives the world space to get on top of you with its frustrating postponements, broken promises and its empty delivery;

The humble heart, the type God seeks, lives convinced that ‘nothing in my hands I bring, solely to thy cross I cling’.  They are the ones that find rest.  They are the ones that find no barriers to access to the throne of grace.  They are the ones that find rest.

How are you seeking Him today?  The little birds teach us that we come on the basis of His grace and never in the strength and virtue of our own lives.



A Quiz

Here’s a little mind teaser.  What do an 1809 A.D. Frenchman, a musical instrument, Napoleon, the Civil War, General Dan Butterfield, all soldiers, evening time, funerals and you ALL have in common?  The answer–TAPS.

This 24 note melody written by a Frenchman in 1809 was Napoleon’s favorite bugle call.  It fell out of use in America just prior to the Civil War but was revised by General Butterfield and adopted back in to use at evening time to remind soldiers that it was time for ‘lights out’.  We commonly hear it played at funerals for servicemen or special dignitaries.  I can still remember hearing that ‘quivering lip bugle call’ at President Kennedy’s funeral.

O.K., but what does that have to do with me, you ask.  Simply this.  King David, in Psalm 145, says this: ‘I will exalt you my God the King; I will praise your name for ever and ever.  Every day I will praise you and extol your name for ever and ever’.  He means, by this, that each of his days included in it a prepared time for personal praise:  a practice that he intended to extend throughout the length of his lifetime and beyond.  In other Psalms you read of David’s use of morning, evening and even night times of praise.

Now, if we followed David’s example, and employed the word ‘TAPS’ as an acronym, we can find a practical way of preparing and offering praise to God everyday.  Let’s take each letter and form a word that we can use to help remind us of the preparation and participation of our souls in daily praise to our God.

First, ‘T’ reminds us to pick a specific ‘TIME’ to praise the Lord.  Morning or evening matters little.  It’s the DOING that matters.  ‘A’ reminds us to choose a specific ‘ACTION’ in praising God.  We might offer praise in prayer or perhaps in written form or in some musical way.  The point is to be specific with ‘an action’ of praise.  Next, the letter ‘P’ reminds us to select a special ‘PLACE’ to worship.  Often private worship affords us a more intimate setting in which to meet with the Lord.  We find there fewer distractions–watching eyes, normal crowd noises, cell phone interruptions, etc.–to lure our minds away from the simple exaltation of the Lord.  Finally, the letter ‘S’ reminds us to find a ‘SONG’ or a ‘SCRIPTURE’ to use in our action of praising God.  With so many excellent praise songs and inspired scriptures to use, there is virtually an endless supply of praise material to choose from as you select your offering to the Lord.

So, let’s make our choices and sometime each day play ‘TAPS’ to our God and Savior.

Shortest sermon ever!

Matthew 20:28: ‘…the Son of Man (Jesus) did not come to be served but to serve’…!

Desiring to help teach the congregation he served a lesson about selfless service in the church, a pastor hit upon a novel idea.  Beginning several weeks in advance and continuing until the day he preached the sermon, the pastor mentioned not only in pulpit announcements but also in printed ones that he would be preaching the shortest sermon ever preached.  Granted there is no Guinness Book of World Records category that chronicles the lengths of the world’s shortest sermons.  But if there was such a category, this pastor’s sermon would likely have taken first place in it.  Excitement grew as the chosen Sunday approached.  And true to his word, on that Sunday morning, the pastor stood in the pulpit and made this announcement.  ‘Today, I will be preaching the shortest sermon ever preached.  My title and sermon will simply answer this question:  “What does Jesus say when I say what’s in it for me”?‘.  With the declaration of those 13 words, the pastor turned, exited the pulpit area and sat down.  The sermon was complete.

In stunned silence, the gathered congregation sat motionless and began to consider his words.  No closing remarks were made, no song was sung, no further announcements were made and no benediction was given.  However, the powerful truth of the message began to ‘stir’ and ‘ring’ in the ears of those who had the heart to hear it.  And the message was simply this.  Jesus is not interested in patronizing anyone’s desire to be made much of.  He focuses His attention on those who with humble hearts come saying: ‘Whom may I serve today regardless of the personal cost to me?’.  If Jesus was in our culture, He would not likely be looking to find a church nor would He attend a church where He could ‘get served’.  Wherever He was and in whichever church He chose, He would be there to ‘serve someone’.  Should it be any different for those of us who have been saved by Him, who claim to belong to Him and who represent Him to others?

As a people, let’s look for someplace to serve others rather than seek someplace where others can serve us.  Remember that Jesus did not come to be served but to serve.


We’re all connected, but…

Paul declared in I Thessalonians 2:17: ‘…out of our intense longing we made every effort to see you’.

A couple of years ago a friend of mine sent me a link to a video segment excerpted from a Bill and Gloria Gaither concert.  In the video, guest Wintley Phipps recalled the history of and then sang ‘Amazing Grace’, one of the most recorded songs of all time among all vocal artists.  During his description of the song’s origin, which left both a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye, he reminded the audience in the sold out music hall that we, regardless of national origin or race, are ‘all connected’.  His reminder, received with loud applause approval from the gathered crowd, stuck with me: we’re all connected’–‘we’re all connected’.

Now, fast forward to two weeks ago.  While leaving a local hospital, following a visit to a friend, I walked through the large turnstile and saw a row of people sitting next to each other along a long bench.  The sight of the people sitting there reminded me, somewhat, of a perennial Fall sight of large flocks of birds all facing the same direction nestled wing to wing while perched on a telephone or electrical transmission wire.  None of the people were talking to each other, facing one another or even actively noticing one another.  No doubt they knew someone was seated near them, but all heads/eyes were focused on the screens of their electronic devices and all thumbs and  not a few fingers were tapping out messages.  I wasn’t trying to be ‘nosey’, but I did notice.  To be fair, messages relaying glad tidings, relief or prayer requests could have been being transmitted.  However, it could also be that each person was ‘talking’ with someone not present who themselves were sitting near someone else, all of whom were ‘text messaging’ with limited focus on those sitting nearest to them.  I acknowledge the help these devices offer us.  But I still wonder to myself:  We are all connected, but are we any closer.

Connected as these devices keep us, they are still limited in their use if closeness is our goal.  For example, at the same hospital, ONLY a person takes an ice water soaked swab and moistens the parched tongue of a friend.  ONLY a person prays with a family whose loved one is not responding to treatment.  ONLY a person can hold the hand of a friend turning from life and entering the physical presence of our Lord.  Devices don’t bring closeness at nursing homes.  People do.

Electronic devices have their place.  They provide a valuable service to most of us.  However, ONLY a person provides the priceless gift of thoughtful, loving presence.  Let’s all remember that devices can help us stay connected, but ONLY you can help us stay close.