Thursday, February 26, 2009

Three Lonely Men

This week in my work and ministry, I talked to over 2 dozen different men. They ranged from a lawyer to a recovered drug dealer. In the midst of these contacts I found three lonely men; two pastors and the recovered drug dealer.

In days like these, I think all men are lonely in some way. The pressures of economic times, a culture of hyper negativity, the license to spew forth criticism without of thought of the implications has put a heavy load on our lives. Some of the men told me that their wives are lonely also. Some just don’t fit in to the community where they live. Some feel they are too busy to have relationships with one another. Time seems to be an ever decreasing commodity for all people. Connectivity is the highest ever (email, Facebook, etc.) but we have overloaded schedules, full bellies and yet we have lonely, empty hearts.

What I found this week was gut-wrenching loneliness; so lonely that one has contemplated suicide. Oh, he knows that much of the pain in his life was self-inflicted. Viet Nam got him into drugs; he didn’t kick them until he was 52; Jesus freed him from the bondage. He has no relationship with any of his children and has no one he can call a friend. He has a good job, lives a life of service to his fellowman but he is afraid to re-establish his relationship with his estranged children. It will not be easy to re-establish those relationships but it took over 30 minutes to convince him that his children may be just as lonely as he is. He can’t comprehend that any of them would want a relationship with their Dad.

We prayed about the hope of reconciliation and the hard work involved. He said they are going to bring up a lot of bad things. I said “yes, but I bet they won’t be any worse than the truth you have continually told yourself over the last twenty years.” He smiled and agreed that he won’t be surprised as he’s been very hard on himself. We are going to meet and pray for God’s guidance to develop a reconciliation plan for him and his children. This brother needs our prayers; please play for Ricky; he needs a friend.

The last two lonely men are pastors, actually pastors and their wives. I’ve always said that the two loneliest people in town are the pastor and his wife. One pastor said, “When I enter a room, it’s as if I have a ten foot bubble around me and no one dare enter.” One problem seems to be that we hold pastors to such high expectations (entertain us, look good and always do it well) that when we begin to see the “real” man behind the image, we become critical rather than understanding. Yes, a pastor has a high calling, but he is a sinner just like us.

We expect our pastor to be at our beckon call whenever we need or want him, but he should not be too intrusive to cramp our style. We get bucky when he seems to be spending too much time with Bubba and not enough time with us; oh, we’re good at keeping track. The pastor and his wife and children cannot have the same depth of relationship with everyone in the church; it is not physically possible. Jesus is our example. Jesus worked with twelve men; he was very close to three, Peter, James and John; and he called one His dear friend—John.

Get off your high horse of criticism and allow your pastor and his family to have a life. It floors me to see how picky people are about pastors, and I don’t mean spiritual things. It’s everything from “his damn dog” to the color his wife dyes her hair or the way his kids dress, Oh how petty we are.

I must admit some pastors like being on the pedestal. They relish the adulation and attention. If they have no one to hold them accountable, trouble can be on the horizon; we’ve seen this all too often. They know all too well that adulation and attention is fleeting and they live in fear of the day when the other shoe will drop.

Some people have shared with me that they feel pastors don’t live in the real world. Some feel the pastor doesn’t work as hard as the rest of us, they have “not so” free rent and a good benefit package. Some feel pastors do not speak about real issues. I ask, how can they know what the real issues are when we are critical and keep them at a distance from our real, everyday lives? Pastors and all of us as well, must minister to a hurting world. Go and minister! Sad to say, most of us, pastors and church members alike, are out of touch with the real world.

Pastors and their wives hide out. Past experience has taught them to be cautious, even distant. If they trust you with a deep hurt, keep your mouth shut. Many deep hurts are the result of broken trust. The hurt they experienced has become covered with large scabs; they don’t want to hurt again so they are distant. We don’t work for true healing and reconciliation. We criticize some more and the chasm between the pastor and his people becomes wider than ever. We stand and point fingers and look stupid.

On several occasions we have been out with various pastors and their wives. If we meet someone we know we introduce them without identifying them as pastor. Have you noticed that when women meet, the second question they usually ask is “Do you have children?” Men’s second question is “What do you do?” When the answer is “Pastor,” I see the walls go up.

I’m sure I’m sounding like the whining old coot I’ve been criticizing. I am! But our pastors and their wives and children are lonely. Let’s control our critical spirit; let’s minister to them and then we can minister to the world. When we minister to a hurting world, we won’t have time to be whining, picky, critical old codgers or codger-etts.

I don’t want to see any more “empty eyes”. Lonely men and women will always be with us but let’s not accept the status quo; let’s move up the bar. Love one another; forgive one another; let’s start over. Christ did that for us. Let us do it for one another.

Some ideas but the list could be endless—:
• Ask your pastor to help you with something such as moving to a new house, pouring concrete, clean out your woods
• If you are a friend, be a trustworthy friend
• Baby-sit the pastor’s children; give them a night out.
• Take the pastor & his wife out. Pay for the night out.
• Share a joke with him—laugh together.
• Plan an outing with his wife—coffee, lunch, shopping, whatever.

Please share your ideas or what you have done. May God bless your ministry.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Let Scripture speak in days like these…Trudge on Pilgrim

We are bombarded daily with negative news; even the President says things that are dire. Unemployment continues to rise while upper management of bailed out banks and Wall Street firms pocket million dollar bonuses. After a while it begins to wear on us.

As I trudge through life, some days I become disheartened. Please don’t be disheartened. Trudge beside me through God’s wonderful word; may it lift up your head and spirit.

Daniel 4:34-35, 37: "At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever. All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: "What have you done?" Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble."

Jeremiah 22:13-15a: "Woe to him who builds his palace by unrighteousness, his upper rooms by injustice, making his countrymen work for nothing, not paying them for their labor. He says, 'I will build myself a great palace with spacious upper rooms.' So he makes large windows in it, panels it with cedar and decorates it in red. "Does it make you a king to have more and more cedar? Did not your father have food and drink? He did what was right and just, so all went well with him."

Micah 6:6-8: "With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God."

Speaking of Jesus coming in Luke 1:68-75: “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come and has redeemed his people. He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago), salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us— to show mercy to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath he swore to our father Abraham: to rescue us from the hand of our enemies, and to enable us to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.”

Luke 24:25-32 (after Jesus’ resurrection): “He said to them, "How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?" And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus acted as if he were going farther. But they urged him strongly, "Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over." So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, "Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?"

I John 1:8-10: “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.”

I Corinthians 1:18-19, 26-31: "For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate. Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: "Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”

I John 3:16-17: "This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?"

I Peter 1:6-9: "In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls."

II Corinthians 1:3-6: "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer."

Psalm 107:42-43: "The upright see and rejoice, but all the wicked shut their mouths. Whoever is wise, let him heed these things and consider the great love of the LORD.”

Zephaniah 3:17: "The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing."

Jude 24-25: "To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen."

In spite of these “momentary” troubles, the Good Lord will welcome home all of us fellow trudgers. Trudge on to the Glory of God. Thank you, Jesus. Amen.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Experiencing glee at the sin of another appointee

It was early this morning when I heard that President Obama’s cabinet appointee for the Department of Labor has tax problems. How many of President Obama’s appointees have had tax problems, four or five? As I heard, this I chuckled to myself. These liberals are getting what they deserve. When you have no God, then all things are permissible. Yes, another one bites the dust (The rock group Queen had a song entitled “Another One Bites the Dust.”) and inwardly I enjoyed it. I experienced a moment of private glee; bad for them, good for me. At least I haven’t been caught or is it because I have a better accountant? I enjoy seeing other people squirm, especially if it is people I do not like. Oh, really? Is that how I should feel?

My “glee” was short lived. What kind of sick glee is this that I would have a private moment of hubris over the failings or sin of another person? How sad am I, joyful over the sin of another?

The prophet Nathan confronted King David about his sin with Bathsheba in II Samuel 12. As I see it, Nathan’s mission was to call David to account not view his failure with glee or derision. Nathan’s mission was to get David to mourn for his sin, to be accountable. David’s mourning would not appease a Holy God but all sin is to be mourned. David’s, President Obama’s appointees, and yes, even mine.

What right do I have to experience private glee at the expense of the sin of another? God help me! To a pure and Holy God, all sin is reprehensible. So left to myself, I am reprehensible to a Holy God! Without Christ, I could not stand in the presence of God; I should mourn, face down in the dirt, a sinner no better than anybody else!

Oh, but my Savior comes by my side, extends His nail pierced hand to mine and says “stand up”. I stand in the presence of a Holy God only because of what Christ has done for me. Jesus paid for all my sin once and for all at the cross. Amen.

How sad can I be—judging others, relishing with glee their misfortune, even if my relishing is in private!

How happy I am! I am forgiven of my sin not through any merit of my own. I live in grace, an undeserved gift from my Savior. When I am found on my face in the dust, may it be in worship not disgrace. May I mourn not only for my sin but for the sin of my nation. May we strive for holiness.

Lord save us from ourselves. Amen.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

The Miracle of Flight 1549 or for some, an opportunity to wallow at the trough of victimization

I’m sure we have all heard of the miraculous nature of the ditching of U.S. Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River in New York. Many things had to go right. The perfect pilot was in place; a Texan by birth, a crop duster at age 15 (anyone in agricultural areas knows the potential danger a crop duster faces on a daily basis) and an Air Force pilot who flew fighters in Viet Nam. Yes, Chesley Sullenberger was by God’s sovereign choice the right man at the right place at the right time. From all accounts, the rest of the crew also exhibited exemplary behavior and expertise.

More miracles: the river had to be clear of tugs and boats. People saw the plane struggling, 911 knew of the problem before the plane ditched in the river. The tug boats were manned by people who made the proper decisions at precisely the right time. The rescue boats and tugs were on the scene within minutes. What a blessing for all involved.

U.S. Airways gave each passenger $5,000 for lost luggage and other incidental costs due to the ditching. The passengers were also upgraded to the highest customer status for one year. They had an opportunity to fly to Europe at highly reduced rates. By all accounts, U.S. Air and all the other people involved acted in a truly all around professional manner. On all fronts, a high level of expertise and sensitivity was displayed.

Yet, some of the passengers are complaining. They feel they have not been compensated enough. “What about my stress?” “I flew last week” one said “and the tension and stress were present.” Yes, I think tension and stress would be present but get over it. Why in America today do we think any stress or tension we experience should be compensated for by someone else?

We have become a nation of whining, money grubbing victims who at the drop of a hat wallow up to the trough of “woe is me” and now you must really pay. Yes, owe me something (preferably a lot of money) for my so-called suffering.

Listen people, on take off, U.S. Air could do nothing about the geese in the air at precisely the right time and right altitude! The response to this encounter by all accounts was superb to the last detail. People were compensated for their inconvenience and given future privileges and benefits and yet they complain.

Listen up you whiners, YOU’RE ALIVE! Yes, you are alive; isn’t that reward enough? Because the actions of everyone involved, you are alive when in most cases you should have been dead. You ungrateful louts! Do you value your life so little that the preservation of your life was not reward enough? How sad.

I guess if we think about it, in America we do not value life very much whether it is the unborn, the aged, the young, the deformed, the developmentally disabled, or even our own! Oh America, how bankrupt we have become. The passengers of Flight 1549 should shout for joy; they should dance in exhilaration; they are alive! We should dance with them.

It is easy for me to point my finger at the passengers of Flight 1549 but how would I have reacted? Do we value the every day God sovereign, protecting love that He shows to us? In reality, many times we are unaware of that from which He has saved us? (Were we spared an accident, a fall, a fire, a lost child, etc?) I must be grateful for all things.

God bless the aircraft crew and all the boat operators and all the unnoticed, unrecognized people who worked together to make the survival of all 155 passengers and crew possible.

Forgive us Lord, for our ungrateful whining.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow. Amen.