2009 – Will I Sin Less? #43

As I go into this year I am aware that what I need to do is what I know I should already be doing.

God has told me quite clearly…

  • What I should be: A person who desires, above all else, to live a life that brings God joy.
  • Where I am to begin if I do not want to sin: Thy Word have I hid in my heart, that I may not sin against thee
  • What I should do: Good works which the Lord has prepared for me to do
  • Which of the 10 commandments I should keep: All 10
  • How is sin defined: Doing what is not pleasing to the Lord. God does not distinguish between BIG SINS – little sins
  • How I should be: A person who demonstrates the fruit of the spirit: Love, joy, peace, gentleness, meekness…
  • How I should think: on whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy
  • How I should forgive: 7 X 7, keeping no record of wrong – as God has forgiven me
  • How I should work: Do it with all my might.
  • How I should love: With the same continual, unconditional love God loves me
  • How I should invest: Not to lay up treasures on earth, but by laying up for myself treasures in heaven
  • How I should give: Freely
  • How I should take care of my body: As His temple
  • How should I live during this next year? Doing what I know I should do, every time.

I know that everything the Lord asks me to do is for my own good – and none of what God asks me to do will be in conflict with God’s other guidance for me. To have a great year I must simply discipline myself to be God’s man.

So what brings this into focus as we enter this New Year?

I know I am a sinner – in thought, word, and deed. Only I know the extent of my sinful thoughts – and though I know I am often not evidencing the Fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control – there are also many times that I am not aware that I do not demonstrate this fruit. Even though my sins are forgiven, even though I have the guidance of and the enabling power of the Holy Spirit, I struggle not to sin,

Much of what happens in the world is clearly in conflict with what God tells us humans to be, to do. Nevertheless, the Bible cautions me about being critical of another person (judge not), it encourages me to reach out in love, compassion, and forgiveness. Sadly, even knowing my own struggle not to sin, I find it so easy to be critical of another person because of what I think are the other person’s sins. Thus I sin in my desire to “set another right!” The Bible tells me that if a brother offends me, I am to go to him, one on one. In reality, I seldom do this. I believe we are to proclaim God’s truths, but this is different from trying to convict another of sin – perhaps a fine line. I do not think there is a place in the Bible where I see demonstrated or taught that I am to try to convict another person of sin – or to try to control society.

In 2009 I will again work to live my life as Jesus Christ would have me live as defined by the Bible and the Holy Spirit, who never leads contrary to the Bible. I will again work at helping other’s know God’s way for us humans to live. I will seek to encourage those who know God’s way, to live God’s way. I hope not to spend time being critical of others who do not know, or chose to ignore, God’s ways for humankind.

I live as a forgiven sinner. I must focus on managing myself through the power of God’s spirit.

“How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.“ –Luke 6:42

My challenge, our challenge, is to go into the new year, 2009, prayerfully committed to Living In Partnership With God.

Daily Opportunities #42

One Sunday morning I put on my robe and entered the sanctuary. A little boy in the front row pointed at me and said: “Mommy, is that Jesus?”

When leaving Greenville’s Post Office late Friday afternoon I saw an elderly, very tired looking woman several yards behind me. I patiently held the door open for her and as she walked past me she paused and quietly said: ”Thank you. This is the first good thing that has happened to me today”

“Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” –Matthew 25:40

In reality, we are the only Jesus some people may ever meet.

Barriers to Relationships #41

When I went from Connecticut to Tennessee to select and buy a house that would be our family’s home, I found a very nice, modest house close to the university. Through our families we had the money available for the down payment – it would have been affordable. I took the pastor, who was putting together the university student/church educational ministry, to see the house. He told me he felt it was too nice a house for what we would be doing. I did not, for one moment, agree with him, but I could tell that if we bought the house, it would have created a barrier between us. We needed a solid working relationship if we were going to be able to have an effective ministry. I called Sally Jo and we agreed: a house was not the key to our happiness – and probably not the key to effective ministry. Thus it was that I bought a house that would be functional – but was not very nice…and in a not very nice neighborhood. The house with no air-conditioning or central heat…and the family room made from a converted attached garage.

During the summer before we moved to Murfreesboro we studied for three weeks at L’Abri in Switzerland, the organization that Francis and Edith Schaefer founded. L’Abri had a continual flow of students and other young people from around the world who were seeking answers in the area of the Christian life. The L’Abri fellowship had several chalets where these people could stay for very minimal cost if they would work about half of each day keeping the ministry going – gardening, cooking, maintenance, etc. The students also knew they would be free to attend the lectures and discussions lead by the L’Abri staff…who ran each chalet. Sally Jo and I got permission to come and we shared the care of our daughters so we could both participate in the program. During the second week the town water line broke and there was no running water in the town for about a week. Water for life’s essentials, except for cooking and drinking, was taken from a nearby swimming pool. Out of practicality I decided to grow a beard.

Thus I arrived in Murfreesboro with a beard. Soon after we moved in, one of the church elders asked to speak to me. He was a wonderful, gracious man…and I could tell he was struggling with something. Very hesitantly he reminded me that I was hired without a beard and….I smiled and said that if my beard was a problem it would be gone immediately. The tension was gone! Then he went on to say that the beard was a real problem to some of the church people – and so he volunteered to talk with me about it.

At such times I remember Paul’s words: Everything is permissible for me – but not everything is beneficial. I Cor. 6:12

I could have made the case for the nicer home: “better for our family”, and for the beard: good for relationships with the University students. I also knew that our family would do just fine in the house we bought…and the University students did not really care if I had a beard or not.

Living requires us to continually decide: ”what is most important?” We drive a car…someone starts to cut us off. Is it worth risking a smashed fender to defend my position? Something is said that is not exactly correct. What is said does not hurt anyone – but it is not really what happened. What will be gained if I try to set the record straight? What is the potential relationship risk if I do? Does it really matter? Much of life is “small stuff” – not worth fighting for, not even worth discussing. Does it really matter?

Sometimes what I would like to do is permissible for me…but in the long run, it may not be beneficial. Why build barriers when we can build bridges. Too often our pride causes us to stick to a given position – not our wisdom.

When we live In Partnership With God we are to be peace makers. We are to be people who carry burdens for another, not create them. When we live In Partnership With God, we are called to forgive and to love. Let us never create unnecessary tension!!!

Let us seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.

Abraham – Us – Others #40

In some ways Sally Jo and I can relate to Abraham and his family. The Lord said unto Abram “Leave your country, your people and your father’s house and go to the land I will show you. I will make of you a great nation and I will bless you. I will make your name great….so Abram left, as the Lord told him” Genesis 12:1.

When Sally Jo and I were married we left our area of the country and our father’s houses – and seven times we went to the land God would show us. This was never easy!!!! When we moved from Bakerville to Murfreesboro and Middle Tennessee State University we moved from “our” beautiful new home, complete with pond and view – to a house 1/3 the size, located 500’ from the entrance to the University – no pond, no view!! Our family room was the converted attached garage, and the only heat in the house was portable electric heaters. Imagine yourself moving from an incredibly wonderful church family the Lord had used you to bring together – to a town where you knew absolutely no one and to a job that was, in reality, only an idea. Mentally move yourself from a nice office in the church and a beautiful office in your home – to where there was no office for you, none at all. Imagine how Sally Jo felt when she arrived at an unfurnished house she had never seen. At least when Abraham went he was able to take his nomadic tent home and his large family with him.

God had made it clear to both of us: Go! God did not promise to make of us a great nation, that he would bless us, that he would make our name great. God’s directive was simply: Go! And we went. This was truly blind obedience! And so we began to build a new life for our family, to begin a ministry to college students, and to begin a co-operative Christian education program for seven scattered small and large, country and city churches – with people who did not know us and had no reason to trust us.

The beginning of our ministry in Murfreesboro was just the opposite of the beginning our ministry in Bakerville. In Bakerville no one welcomed us! In Murfreesboro when our furniture was moved into our house wonderful university students were at our door, and in our family room. Church members arrived with smiles, food, and a readiness to help in anyway they could.

Early one Sally Jo was able to begin a Bible study in the family room. No office? True. But there was a very large, old house on property purchased by 1st Presbyterian Church for an expanded parking lot. The house was not in great shape …but you go with what you can get. Permission was granted to put the office there. Burns Carroll, a church elder and father of one of the college students, stepped up to help…and he never quit helping. Quickly two rooms at the side entrance were emptied, painted, and two desks and a wonderful secretary moved in.

I do not remember how it happened – but the university students moved into the rest of the house. The large living room had a high ceiling and wide, varnished dark wood trim around the windows, doors, and up the open staircase. The room was painted by the students and the large fireplace, not used for years was readied for use. Comfortable furniture was brought in, a small stage was built, and the old kitchen was cleaned for use. The students named the building “The Morgue” in recognition that it most recently been a funeral home. A man in the church made a very large, symbolic fish to mount at the front door.

A room behind the office a room was organized for all of the Christian education materials from the seven churches. A conference table that could seat at least 30 people was built for an adjoining room. Upstairs two rooms were converted into meeting rooms for the church young people, and in the other two large bedrooms was placed a fully equipped ceramics lab managed by a church member whose daughter was in the student group. And up the outside of the building students lifted, with strong ropes, two donated, beautiful, old pool tables. Church members were excited by what was happening and opened their hearts to us. We were in business!

God continues to call His people to challenging situations!! Obedience may be rewarded with a very slow, painful beginning as ours did in Bakerville. Or quickly! Obedience to our Almighty, all knowing, all wise God is both wonderful and tough!

Let us remember God’s instructions to Joshua: “As I was with Moses, so I will be with you. Be strong and very courageous. Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night…do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful” Joshua 1:5-9

We must live In Partnership With God!

Orderly Transition #39

No person lives forever. Every leader chosen by God has the responsibility of fulfilling his assignment in a manner pleasing to God. Beginning in Genesis we see God’s plan for the transition from one leader to the next: father to son. God chose Abraham, whose oldest son was Isaac, whose oldest son was Jacob. To this point the transition from one leader to the next, from the father to his eldest son, flowed smoothly and Israel’s experience was generally positive. In Exodus we read that Moses was chosen by God, and Moses trained Joshua, and Israel remained faithful to the Lord. In the Gospels we see that Jesus chose the 12 and prepared them for servant leadership.

God chose me to become the pastor of the Bakerville United Methodist Church. As the shepherd of the flock, it was my responsibility to care for my/His sheep. We worshipped together, studied together, worked together, and laughed together. Together we celebrated God’s faithfulness, taught God’s word, cared for God’s people, built a healthy organization, and cared for the church facility. God guided and blessed what we did. Though I did not use the phrase, Sally Jo and I were living In Partnership With God – and increasingly others in the congregation did also. As servants of the Lord Jesus Christ we kept in mind that the ministry was not ours. If we should suddenly die, the ministry must be able to continue on without us.

When we were to be gone for several weeks one summer, I asked a fellow student who was from Japan if he would come and pastor the church. Toshi and his wife Shoko were warmly received by the congregation and served the members well. And there was a side bonus: Shoko taught Japanese Tea Ceremony and flower arranging. It was a great experience for this rural church and the Adachi’s. The church did fine without us!

When plans were made for the new parsonage, we made it very clear to the people that they should not build the parsonage for us. After three wonderful years we had no plans to leave the church any time soon, and my guess is that the church did not think we would be leaving soon either. The parsonage was completed debt free.

Four months after we moved into the parsonage, on the Sunday morning after Easter, I told the congregation we would be leaving in June. Emotionally this was a very tough morning: we suffered together. Every person in the sanctuary was there as a direct or indirect result of our ministry. Yet we all knew the decision was final – it was time for us, and the congregation, to move forward.

Who would the new pastor be? This was the United Methodist Church, and the District Superintendent was responsible for the appointment of the new pastor. I had received a letter from this District Superintendent asking that “I keep my conservatism more hidden and my evangelical fervor under control”. Things did not look good! I do not remember the details of how it happened, but George Smith was chosen to replace me. George was solid spiritually, biblically, and physically! His wife, Judy, was a gifted piano player. Both were delightful people.

To facilitate a smooth leadership transition, George and I planned to lead a week-long bicycle trip in August for the church young people. I am sure this was George’s idea – he had already biked across the United States with a group called Wandering Wheels. Sally Jo and I spent the summer studying at Labri in Switzerland and Capernwray Hall in England in preparation for the student ministry we would begin leading at Middle Tennessee State University. Then she headed for her family in Illinois – and I went back to the church for a bike trip in beautiful New England led by George. I should have known better!!!! Our days became increasingly challenging – and then George planned for us to bike, as I remember, 135 miles in one day. On that day we started at early day-break and finished in the dark.
Crazy, but we did it! Through this trip the young people got to know George as the very special person he was, and time and again they saw God’s care and provision.

George and Judy provided the leadership for the Bakerville church 34 years. Under their leadership church attendance grew from about 100 to over 400 each Sunday. Sally Jo and I were present on the Smith’s last Sunday: Judy led the worship team and George spoke and served communion individually to each of the 500 people present, taking the time to say a word to each. To God Be the Glory.

Deerfoot Lodge was able to make a similar transition from Sally Jo and me to Ron and Anne Mackey. God used Sally Jo and me to build a strong ministry and organization – and part of that building process included having Ron as a camper, Guide, counselor, head of tripping and as my assistant – and Anne worked with Sally Jo in the office for a summer. We became close friends. During the year previous to this leadership transition, the four of us met together each month to talk through a variety of subjects. Ron and Ann spent our last summer at DL with us. The 75th anniversary celebration marked an orderly transition from one couple to the next. Today Deerfoot Lodge remains solidly committed to the “building of Godly young men in a Christ-centered community through wilderness camping.” The camp is healthy in every measurable way. We are pleased, Mom and Dad Kunz would be pleased, and I feel confident that God is pleased.

Living In Partnership With God is our life long assignment, within which are temporary, God-given assignments. These assignments may include being a godly parent, a school board member, a construction worker, a pastor, a business leader, a camp director. Regardless of our God given assignments, God expects that we will do our very best work – which can only be done in partnership with Him. Ultimately there should be a smooth transition from this temporary life on earth to eternal life in the presence of God.

“Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:13-14