Like a Broke Clock

I heard a guy at a baseball game last weekend complaining about an umpire. He said quite loudly to the man in blue, “You’re worse than a broke clock! Even it is right two times a day.”
If you can overlook the poor grammar and somewhat disrespectful attitude, you get the point. Even a “broke clock” is right sometimes, unless of course that clock is digital. But who wants to quibble about details when you’re yelling at an umpire.
Still, I’m not sure if our standard of excellence and consistency should be an instrument that is right just two minutes out of 1,440 in a day. A clock’s purpose is to tell time, which is always on the move, and when the hands of that clock don’t move, time doesn’t stand still just because the clock is not doing its job. What you have is a clock that is failing at what it is supposed to do.
Ultimately, what we want from a clock is consistency, just as we want the same from so many other things in life. I don’t want a refrigerator that runs five days a week, or a car that starts up half of the time, or a bank that occasionally keeps up with my money. I expect those things to do what they do with consistency. With faithfulness, even.
“Who can find a faithful man?” Proverbs 20:6 asks, implying that it is truly a difficult task. But the Bible speaks much about the virtue of faithfulness–about following through on our commitments, about doing what we say we are going to do, about being diligent and loyal and dependable.
Likewise, the Scripture addresses the issue of those who are not dependable. “Like a broken tooth or a lame foot is reliance on the unfaithful in a time of trouble.” (Prov. 25:19) In other words, counting on someone who is unfaithful is a real pain, not unlike a toothache or a bad foot.
Whether in your job, at home with your family, or in the ministries you serve in the church, there’s hardly a more important and much-need character trait than faithfulness. Others may be smarter, more talented or skilled, or more winsome in personality, but when you get down to it faithfulness and dependability are always a choice. And the truth is, we all want someone with integrity that we can trust, instead of someone we can’t count on who is a pain.
The good news for us is that we have as our model a faithful God, who by His very nature cannot be unfaithful, because “He cannot disown Himself.” (2 Tim. 2:13)  He is faithful to love, He is faithful to save, He is faithful to forgive.
So, don’t be like a “broke clock,” or a broken foot, or even a bad umpire for that matter. Seek to reflect the character of the One who has been faithful to you as you serve Him in whatever you do this week. I am so grateful for those of you who are so very faithful as you serve the Lord in and through our church body, and I look forward to seeing you on Sunday.

How Big Is Your God?

John Bertram Phillips was an English Bible scholar, author, and pastor who lived and ministered in and around London in the 20th century. He is most noted for his translation of the Scriptures, called The New Testament in Modern English (also known as the J.B. Phillips Translation).

During World War II, Phillips found that the young people in his church were having a hard time understanding the King James Version of the Bible. So during the blitz of London, when the Nazis bombed the city for weeks on end, Phillips used his time in the bomb shelters to begin translating the New Testament into more contemporary language. He began with the epistle to the Colossians and went on to translate all of the New Testament and several books of the Old Testament as well.

Phillips also wrote nearly forty books on Christianity until his death in 1982. It was a book he wrote in 1953 that was one of his most popular, and it always intrigued me, if only because of the title. It was called “How Big Is Your God?” I will admit I have never read the book, but I did get the implied message from the title alone. And it brings up a good question that is usually answered by the way we live our lives.
So, how big is your God? Big enough to handle the problems you face this week? Big enough to be trusted with the minute details of every day life? Big enough to do miraculous things, fit for a powerful and awesome Creator? Big enough to deserve submission because He is Lord?
Just check out your life, and you’ll see how big you really think God is. It shows.

I heard a story about a little girl who, on the way home from church one Sunday, turned to her mother and said, “Mommy, my Sunday School teacher’s lesson this morning confused me.” “Oh. Why is that?” asked her mother. The girl replied, “Well, she said that God is bigger than we are. Is that true?” “Yes, that’s true,” replied the mother.

“She also said that God lives within us. Is that true?” Again the mother replied, “Yes.” “Well,” said the little girl, “if God is bigger than us, and He lives in us, wouldn’t He show through?”

The obvious truth is, God does show through our lives when we allow Him to be “bigger than us” and to “live in us” in all that we do.  The problem occurs when we think we are bigger than God and try to run our own lives–and He lets us. Not only do we experience the frustrations of our own self-sufficiency, but we also hinder people around us from seeing our big God who lives within us.

My prayer for each of you this week is that God would be HUGE in your life, and that all those around you would see Him show through. I look forward to seeing you this Sunday, as we worship our awesome God together.

On Shamrocks, Bonfires and Green Doughnuts

Today is St. Patrick’s Day. I hope you are wearing green, lest you fall victim to the vicious Irish pinch. If you don’t know much about the day, you probably don’t have any Irish heritage. For those who are uninformed, St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated on March 17 each year, the date of Patrick’s death in the fifth century. In Ireland it is both a national holiday and a holy day.
The day was first celebrated in America in the 1700’s by Irish immigrants in Boston, and spread among cities with large Irish-American populations. Today it is celebrated around the country, with many customs and traditions associated with the day, including the wearing of green clothing. There are parades and parties and the Chicago River is famously dyed green for the occasion, and of course, McDonald’s brings us the Shamrock Shake each year. Even Krispy Kreme is getting in on the celebration this year, selling “O’riginal Glazed” doughnuts–that are green–all day today. (#greendoughnuts)
I am not sure where the leprechauns came from, or the rainbows and pots of gold, but the emphasis on the color green was a way of remembering the beautiful green countryside of Ireland. The ancient Irish were also noted to have burned green leaves each spring to make the soil richer. Green is also a reminder of the three-leaved shamrock that grows all over Ireland, which Patrick used in his sermons as a visual aid to teach about the Trinity.
As the patron saint of Ireland, Patrick was credited with bringing Christianity to the Irish.
He was actually born in Britain, but was captured by pirates at age 16, and enslaved in Ireland for six years before being freed and returning to Wales. He was a self-professed pagan who came to know Christ during a stint in prison. Patrick later studied in a monastery in present-day France, where he found his life’s passion, and became a priest, missionary and “church-planter” for almost 30 years in Ireland. He converted Celtric Druids to faith in Christ and baptized tens of thousands of new Christians.
It is hard to separate fact from fiction, truth from tradition, or legend from “fake news” in the stories and myths about St. Patrick. You have probably heard the legend that Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland, but there doesn’t seem to be any evidence that there were snakes there to begin with. (Or maybe he just did a real good job!) Many believe that story probably served as a metaphor for bringing Christianity to the land and driving out the pagan Druids.
One of my favorite stories about Patrick was passed down through the generations in Ireland. It is supposedly true, and is reminiscent of the Old Testament account of Elijah’s showdown with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. It happened at Easter time, when Patrick lit an enormous bonfire on the Hill of Slane as part of a vigil to commemorate the resurrection of Christ.
He lit the fire in spite of the High King of Tara, who had chosen the same night to light his own druid festival fire. The king had prohibited the lighting of any rival fires in the country. But when night fell, there were two sources of light that broke the darkness: the druid festival fire, and the bonfire of St. Patrick.
Outraged, the High King commanded his men to extinguish Patrick’s bonfire, but try as they might, they would not put out the flames. St. Patrick’s fire miraculously could not be extinguished. Eventually, the High King surrendered his armies and surrendered his heart, in awe of Patrick’s God. And they worshiped God that very day.
What an incredible testimony of faith, and faithfulness, and you don’t have to be Irish to celebrate God’s “showing up and showing out” through the life of Patrick. My prayer is that in this increasingly pagan world in which we live today, our faith and our mission would reflect that of St. Patrick, and the fire in our lives would burn bright for Christ.
Have a blessed St. Patrick’s Day. I look forward to seeing you on Sunday.

Eagles and Hippos

Author Carl Sandburg once said, “There is an eagle in me that wants to soar, and there is a hippopotamus in me that wants to wallow in the mud.”
Whether he knew it or not, he was in many ways describing the Christian life. It’s our dual nature, as the apostle Paul described in Romans 7, that makes life so hard sometimes. You can hear the frustration in Paul’s words when he writes: “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” And again, a few verses later: “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” (verses 15 & 19)
I don’t know if you can identify, but I sure can. It is a daily struggle to do the good that I intend to do, while it seems so very easy to gravitate to the bad that I don’t want to do. I can relate to Paul’s exasperated conclusion at the end of that chapter: “What a wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (verse 24)
The reality is, however, that it’s not just about living with good intentions. We all know the cliche that the road to Hades is paved with good intentions, that it doesn’t count if you mean well. Every day you and I have choices. Will we live according to the new nature, or the old? Will we soar with the eagles, or wallow in the mud with the hippos?
Certainly, the biggest decision that any of us make is to surrender our lives to the Lordship of Christ, and receive from Him redemption for our sinful lives. In doing so, we “put to death” the old nature which is corrupted, and live according to the Holy Spirit, who lives within us. Still, walking with Christ and living righteously is not just a one-time decision, as most of us have discovered. It’s a choice we have to continue to make every day, as long as we are wearing flesh. That’s why Paul said in Corinthians, “I die daily.”
Paul’s prescription a few chapters after his frustrated words in Romans 7 was about daily surrender and sacrifice. “I urge you brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices,  holy and pleasing to God–this is your spiritual act of worship. (12:1) No doubt Paul’s original readers in Rome must have chuckled when they first heard this read to them. Living sacrifices? Everybody knows that you have to kill a sacrifice; if you were to put a living animal on the altar as a sacrifice, it would get up and crawl off. But that was the point; we lay our lives down on the altar every day, submitting to Christ, offering Him our lives, feeding on His word, and being “transformed by the renewing of our minds.” He changes us, and transforms our nature along the way.
Part of that process of sanctification still comes down to the decisions we make, day by day and moment by moment, in the big things and the little things, as to whether we will succumb to the sinful fleshly nature or choose to live by God’s standards, by His grace. Those decisions determine everything: How we greet the day. How we direct our thoughts. How we talk to–or talk about–our co-workers. How we spend our spare change and how we spend our spare time. And on and on.
Every day–every moment of every day–you have the power to choose your environment: the clear blue sky or the local mud hole. It just depends on where you prefer to be. May each of us this week soar among the eagles, and avoid those smelly hippos. I promise you’ll be glad you did.
I’m praying for you, as I hope you are for me, and I look forward to seeing you on Sunday.

A Return on Your Investment

Father O’Malley answers the phone…
“Hello, is this Father O’Malley?”  “It is.”
“This is the IRS. Can you help us?”  “I can.”
“Do you know a Ted Houlihan?”  “I do.”
“Is he a member of your congregation?”  “He is.”
“Did he donate $10,000.00?”  (pause)
“He will.”
Someone sent me that joke a while back and I was reminded of it when we distributed our statements for your 2016 charitable contributions to our church last month. Now, let me say up front that I will not be talking to the IRS on your behalf, and I have no idea what your statement said and how much money you gave our church. I’ve always tried to follow the Biblical decree to stay away from the “filthy lucre” (King James) when it comes to church money. But as Jesus reminded us in the sermon on the mount, God knows. Your right hand may not know what your left is doing, but He’s paying attention. And He who is keeping up with what you do in secret also promises to reward your faithfulness.
One thing I can tell you with confidence, however much you may have given, is that your investment into the Kingdom through the ministry of The Church at Shelby Crossings brought a very good return. Just as many of you got end-of-the-year financial investment statements in the mail in the last few months, I thought I’d remind you of some of the dividends paid on what you gave to our church.
To begin with, we can celebrate that more than two dozen people trusted Christ and testified to their faith in believer’s baptism last year. Dozens more moved into deeper levels of discipleship than they had ever imagined. Families were changed, and a number of marriages restored. There were teenagers and children who grew in their knowledge of God’s word, and learned to live out the principles of Scripture. The hungry were fed and their homes kept warm. Then there were the precious little ones who were adopted into new homes.
Outside of our walls, the impact of your investment was felt literally around the world. As you heard in last Sunday’s Missions Moment, our partnership with missionaries like John and Minori Lucas of South America Mission is making an impact. There are churches that are being planted in at least four continents outside of North America because of our church’s mission support. There are orphans who have a roof over their head, food in their bellies, and loving care the year round, not to mention the opportunity to hear the Gospel. There are ministries that are making a difference–some in very hard places, and others in fruitful missions where the work is joyous and the reports exciting. There are unwed mothers and unborn babies whose lives are preserved, and homeless men who are fed in the name of Jesus.
Thank you for your continued faithful “investment” into the ministry of The Church at Shelby Crossings. May we each be trustworthy managers of the resources God provides us, and may He be honored with the way we invest that which already belongs to Him to change the lives of others for eternity.
I’m so excited to be a part of The Church at Shelby Crossings, and I look forward to seeing you on Sunday.