Sunday, February 21, 2021

The Pause That Refreshes


The Pause that Refreshes

Genesis 31:49

Dear Readers,

            In 2008 (as best I can remember) I began writing a column for the Tunica Times, a weekly newspaper published in Tunica, Mississippi.  At the time I was serving a church in that town as interim pastor.  I continued writing the column until I moved to my current church, Graceland Christian (Disciples of Christ) in Southaven, Mississippi.  I didn’t feel comfortable writing for a newspaper located in a town I no longer had a direct connection with, so I switched to blogging.  I’ve been doing this ever since, writing every week unless we were out of town on vacation.  For a while I even wrote then, until I figured out that vacations were supposed to be a rest period from ordinary activities.

            I’ve referred to this blog as my therapy.  Writing is good for me.  It helps me organize my thinking.  I’ve worked out a lot of my own theology by sitting down each week at the computer and wrestling with a topic or a passage of scripture to try to decide what I believe.  I’m not sure I understand God any better than when I started writing, but I feel more confident in many of my beliefs.

            Recently this writing has become more of a chore than a pleasure.  It’s time for me to step away for a while.

            Some of you may remember the product for which the title of this piece was once a slogan.  I will not mention that product in case using its name might involve copyright infringement.  This phrase represents my thinking and feeling at this moment.

            How long will this pause last?  I’m not sure.  It may be a week, or a month, or longer, even much longer.  The simple answer is, I guess, until I feel refreshed.

            This is not an easy decision, nor one quickly arrived at.  I’ve been considering this for a while now.  I will spend this week as I do every week.  I write my first draft on Monday or Tuesday, then review it each day for the rest of the week, making changes, and, I hope, improving my work.  Lately I’ve found myself putting off writing until Wednesday, a sign, I think, that I need a rest. 

            I’m writing this on Tuesday.  I’ll review it throughout the week.  If by Sunday I still believe this is the right decision, I’ll publish it.  If not, I’ll make some excuse for not writing this week and begin again next Monday.  I think that’s the fairest I can be to myself.

            This may come across as self-serving, and perhaps it is.  But perhaps that’s all right.  One thing I’ve learned over the past year is how wonderful retirement can be when I let go of things.  I think the lesson I’m learning is that sometimes it’s okay to be self-serving, to let go of things and enjoy a slower pace of life.  At least that’s where my thinking is right now. 

            And so I press the pause button.  To you who have been with me on this journey, thank you for your companionship and your attention. 

            May the Lord watch between thee and me while we are absent from one another.

Sunday, February 14, 2021

The Unchanging Christ


The Unchanging Christ

Hebrews 13:8

            “We are not the same persons this year as last; nor are those we love.  It is a happy choice if we, changing, continue to love a changed person.”  (William Somerset Maugham)

            This past year has brought about huge changes in situations, in people, and, inevitably, in relationships.  We know that enforced—and necessary—isolation has changed most of us in some way.  Some of us have discovered skills and interests we never knew we had.  Others have found that being cut off from friends and family has been disturbing, even depressing.  Some couples have found they had little in common, or really didn’t like each other.  Others have found their love for their partner becoming deeper and more rewarding.

            My wife and I are fortunate to be in this last category.  Time alone together—no escape from each other—has brought us closer.  We laugh more, enjoy each other’s company more, and generally get along with each other better than ever.  We are grateful for the increased time we’ve spent together.

            Maugham, writing more than half a century ago, could not have anticipated how well his words applied to the challenges of this last twelve months.  As correct as his statement is for any place and any time, it is considerably more apt now than when he wrote it.  We have proved the correctness of his view of humanity.  In any given year, under more or less normal circumstances, people change.  We are not stagnant.  Human growth and development is physical, psychological, and emotional.  In a situation of world-wide trauma, the changes deepen and widen.

            One of the humorous statements that has been making the rounds is that getting dressed up these days means putting on clean sweatpants and sweatshirts.  Our church’s clothes closet, which freely gives donated clothing to anyone in need, has seen far fewer clients in the past twelve months.  We’ve discussed this, and feel it is due both to people’s fear of being around those they don’t know and a reduced need for new clothing.

            In this season of increased change what a joy it is to know that our God is unchanging.  The writer of Hebrews states it succinctly: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today and forever.”  In the church where I grew up we sang a chorus that contained the line, We may change but Jesus never, glory to His name. 

            As we read through the Bible we find the same loving, caring, gracious, merciful God over, and over, and over again.  We have proven in our lives that even when we fail God, God will never fail us.

            Some changes that occur in us are for the better, but not all.  There are times when we fall short of the mark God has called us to.  When this happens we can be sure that the God who created us, and who loves us, understands and forgives.  We will never exhaust God’s grace.

            We know that the pandemic which has attacked humankind so thoroughly and so cruelly has not yet reached its end.  We know there are days, and weeks, and months—perhaps even years ahead of us before we can conquer this virus and bring it under control.  We know that long after that point is reached changes will continue to happen in us physically, psychologically, and emotionally.  Some of our families have been changed forever because loved ones have been lost. 

            Praise God that in the midst of all these changes, past present and future, we serve a God who will not change, a God who will remain faithful, merciful, and grace-full in the years ahead.  Our God—our Savior—is the same yesterday, and today and forever.

            Glory to His name.

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Open Hearts, Open Hands


Open Hearts, Open Hands

Leviticus 15:7-11

            “The test of a democracy is not the magnificence of buildings or the speed of automobiles, or the efficiency of air transportation, but rather the care given to the welfare of all the people.” (Helen Adams Keller)

            During Jesus’ final visit to Jerusalem, when he would be tried and executed, he affirmed the lack of importance of buildings.  Israel was not a democracy, and Jesus said nothing about automobiles or airplanes, but he had plenty to say about buildings.

            Jesus was leaving the temple at the end of the day when his disciples commented on the beauty and seeming permanence of the buildings.  It’s good to remember that the temple grounds covered about thirty-five acres and contained multiple buildings.

            In answer, Jesus said, “You see all of these, do you not?  Truly I tell you, there will not be left one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” (Matthew 24:1-2)

            In A.D. 70 Jesus’ words came true when Rome crushed a Jewish rebellion.  As part of the retribution, the temple was completely destroyed and has never been rebuilt.  Jerusalem itself was decimated, and the remaining revolutionaries were massacred.

            A government does not consist of buildings anymore than a family consists of a house.  Buildings are important for carrying on the work of a government, but they are not essential.  Nor are the latest technological advances so important that they cannot be done without.  What is important in any government is people.  Without people, no government—no nation.

            Democracies are not the most efficient forms of government.  Dictatorships are much better at getting work done.  The dictator issues the orders, and the workers carry them out. 

            Democracies, on the other hand, are supposed to be compassionate.  In this country we have just seen what happens when a less-than-compassionate pseudo-dictator is in charge.  The people who suffer the most are those who can least afford to suffer—the poor, the underclass, the ones who have the most difficult time finding justice and equality. 

            Keller’s words remind us that these are the people who most need protection, encouragement, and assistance.  Only as the welfare of those on the lowest rungs of society is respected and achieved can all people secure the rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  Our Pledge of Allegiance ends with the words, “With liberty and justice for all.”  Keller reminds us how important these words are, especially the final two:  for all.

            God understood the need to care for all people.  In the wilderness God made sure the poor would receive liberty and justice as the nation of Israel was being formed.  God wanted to assure that there would be no systemic poverty; so we have the words of Leviticus 15:7-11. 

            If a person became poor, his neighbors were not to ignore his condition.  Instead, his brothers—those who resided in the same town, not just members of his family—were to open their hearts and their hands to help.  The mechanism for this help was the Sabbatical Year.  Every seven years all debts were cancelled.  Debtors had the chance to begin over with a clean slate.  If someone needed help to get back on his feet again, his neighbors were to willingly provide.  The troubles of one generation were not to be visited upon the next generation.

            Can we observe this law as stated in Leviticus?  With the complexity of our economy, probably not.  Should we find a way to enact the principle and so do away with generational poverty?  Absolutely!

            God has spoken, and we must obey.