Wednesday, May 26, 2010

like butter scraped over too much bread

There’s a great line in The Fellowship of the Ring (I’m a big LOTR fan) where Bilbo tells Gandalf that he feels:

All thin, sort of stretched… like butter that has been scraped over too much bread.

Life can sometimes leave us feeling that way.  Our calendars are too full.  Our budgets are too tight.  Our bodies are exhausted.  We feel like butter scraped over too much bread!

That was never God’s intention.

Jesus said:

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, 
and I will give you rest.
Matthew 11: 28

In the familiar words of Psalm 23 we are reminded that:

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
He leads me beside quiet waters,
He restores my soul. 

He guides me in paths of righteousness 

for His name's sake.
Psalm 23: 1 – 3

Where are the places where you “lie in green pastures” and sit “beside quiet waters.”  When you feel like butter scraped too thin what restores your soul!

Monday, May 24, 2010

What’s working and how can we do more of it?

When facing challenges we often begin by asking:

What’s broken, and how do we fix it?

We have a problem-seeking mindset that psychologists suggest fits with a predilection for the negative.  We might not think of ourselves as negative people but study after study affirms that we tend to focus on problems rather than "bright spots."

For example a “learn English at home” website lists twenty-four of the most common words used to describe our emotions:

Angry, Annoyed, Appalled, Apprehensive, Ashamed, Bewildered, Betrayed, Confused, Confident, Cheated, Cross, Depressed, Delighted, Disappointed, Ecstatic, Excited, Emotional, Envious, Embarrassed, Furious, Frightened, Great, Happy, Horrified.

Notice anything about the list? 

Only 6 of the 24 most commonly used words to describe our emotions are positive.

One psychologist did a more exhaustive survey and found 558 emotion words – 62% of them were negative.

It shows up in study after study:
  • When people are shown photos of bad and good events – they spend longer looking at the bad.
  • When people learn bad things about others – it sticks more than the good stuff.
  • Customers are more likely to share a bad experience with others.
So when we face challenges our first response is:

What’s broken and how do we fix it?

But what if we began from a different starting point:

What’s working and how can we do more of it?

In a letter to the church in Philippi, Paul wrote:

whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
Philippians 4: 8

What in your life is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy?

Take a moment today to consider what’s working and how you can experience more of it!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

If you want a revolution

It’s that time of year when the NBA playoffs have my full attention  –I actually do “love this game” (my Orlando Magic started the playoffs 8 – 0 before collapsing to the Celtics – who I have to admit and admire are playing great ball).

Anyway, this year’s playoffs are heavily sponsored by Gatorade and their new evolve commercial seems to air at almost every timeout.  It sounds like old school R&B – sort of an Otis Redding feel – but it’s a new song by a vocalist named Kermit Quinn.  It’s an effective commercial – the lyrics stick in your head:

If you want a revolution, the only solution: evolve….

Many would suggest that today’s church is in the midst of a revolution – one that takes places about every 500 years (and it’s been 500 years since the Protestant Reformation).  In her book The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why, Phyllis Tickle puts it this way:

Every 500 years the Church holds a giant rummage sale and casts off the things that restrict its growth.

That doesn’t sound easy – and those of living in the midst of an evolving church know that it isn’t.

But lately, as I see more and more signs of the ways God is on the move, I’m convinced the church will emerge from a season of change ready to embrace a world in desperate need of a revolution.

PS – The Celtics are blowing out the Magic again in Game 3 – the Magic offense needs to evolve!!!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Time for a Do Over

There’s a great scene in the 1991 movie City Slickers.  Three friends Mitch (Billy Crystal), Phil (Daniel Stern) and Ed (Bruno Kirby) go on a cattle drive in response to each one’s version of a mid-life crisis.

One night along the trail Phil confesses that he feels as if he’s wasted his life.  Mitch reminds him of when they were playing as kids and a ball would get stuck in a tree, they would call a “do over.”  Mitch tells Phil that if he wants, his life can be a “do over.”

I love Phil’s response:

You know you were right, Mitch. My life is a "do-over". It's time to get started.

In Psalm 51  (our text for this weekend) David cries to God for a “do-over:”

Have mercy on me, O God,
       according to Your unfailing love;
       according to Your great compassion
       blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity 
and cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions, 
and my sin is always before me.
Against You, You only, have I sinned 
and done what is evil in Your sight, 

Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; 
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness; 
let the bones You have crushed rejoice.
Hide Your face from my sins 
and blot out all my iniquity.
Create in me a pure heart, O God, 
 and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

That’s a cry most of us could echo and it’s a cry answered loudly through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  We will celebrate that answer as we celebrate communion in worship this Sunday.

Because of Jesus our life can be a do-over.  It’s time to get started.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Kelli's Graduation

I was in Clemson yesterday, where it seems like Kim and I just graduated so its a bit surreal that this morning I am getting ready for my daughter’s college graduation.  Later today our eldest daughter Kelli will graduate from Auburn University.

It’s been an amazing four years for Kelli (and yes she made it through in four – and without any summer school).  I’ve watched her faith, leadership and calling grow through her experiences and friendships.  She will graduate today a confident young woman, eager and prepared for the next chapters of life that await her.

Way to go Auburn and even more congratulations Kelli.  War Eagle!  (Clemson begin an home and home series with Auburn next year so that might be my last War Eagle for a while).

Graduations are the sort of occasions that tend to make me reflective.  This morning I’ve been reflecting on all the changes that have taken place in Kelli’s life and how those changes have shaped her.

Kelli was born in my hometown – Mt. Pleasant, SC – but since  her father was a wandering Aramean (Deuteronomy 26: 5) a hometown beginning wasn’t a hint at her journey.  Along my career as an architect and pastor she’s lived in Columbia, Orlando, Atlanta, Baton Rouge, back to Mt. Pleasant, Menlo Park and Houston.  She attended 3 different elementary schools, 2 middle schools and 2 high schools.

At each stop she’s made friends, faced challenges (some at far too young an age) and grown into a remarkable young woman that I am proud to call my daughter.

I can vividly remember when we dropped her off her in Auburn 4 years ago.  Kim and I wept as we drove back to Houston.  I’m anticipating more tears today (I can already feel them beginning to well up) – this time they will be tears of pride and joy.

Kelli’s final semester at Auburn was back in Orlando where she was a Child Life Specialist Intern at Arnold Palmer Children’s Hospital.  That experience was a vivid reminder to me of just how much she has grown and thrived during her Auburn years.  Next week she will get back to the job interviewing process (pray for open positions at Children’s Hospitals) but today is all about celebrating Kelli and God’s faithfulness in her life.

So time to go get dressed and head to the graduation and celebration.

Congratulations Kelli! 

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Abounding and Abiding

I’m in Clemson, South Carolina where I am spending a day of rest, reflection, shopping for all things orange and perhaps getting in a little golf before picking up Kim and Jamie this evening in Atlanta (and heading - along with Jennifer - to Auburn for Kelli’s graduation - War Eagle).

After a busy weeks of abounding it’s a good day to stop and abide.

When I was at Menlo Park we used to talk about the tension between abounding and abiding.  1 Corinthians 15:58 tells us to devote ourselves to God’s work:

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, be steadfast and immovable; always abounding fully in the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

We are commanded to abound.

Abounding in God’s work is important – and for many of us driven work-focused people this is an easy command to obey.

But though we are called to abound, Jesus also challenged us to abide. In John 15:4, He said:

Abide in Me and I will abide in you. No branch can fruit by itself; it must abide. Neither can you bear fruit by yourself. You must abide.

We are commanded to abide.

Abiding doesn’t come nearly as easy to many of us driven work-focused people this is difficult command to obey.

We convince ourselves that abiding is lazy even decadent – we’d rather abound.

But if we want to abound we have to learn to abide – to stop and rest and rather than “do” simply “be.”

Here’s are some ways that help me (when I let them) find balance between abounding and abiding:

1. Focus on what matters most.
2. Be fully present to God’s call in the moment.
3. Build in rhythm of abiding and abounding..
4. Plan for things that are life-giving and joy-producing.
5. Seek to abound where God has gifted and placed you.

We spend lots and lots of time abounding - what would it look like for you to spend time today abiding? 

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Words with Nerds

Recently my daughter Kelli introduced me to an iPhone game app – Words With Friends.  Basically it’s the game of Scrabble played between two people over their iPhones.   Since players alternate turns – and since you only play during the free moments of your day – a typical game can go on for days.  I’m actually in a game with Khartis, which we began on April 20 at 10:47 p.m. (and it’s her turn to play a word)!  You can also have multiple games going on at the same time.  Right now I am in a game with one daughter KMFerg, three staff members Khartis plus Aaaaasmith, and awadesimpson a few friends, Mhands, Mrichterweagle! CoolDadRichter, Merebear41 and LilRicher (you can tell this is big in the Richter home since 4 of my games are with their family).

Scoring is just like Scrabble – various points for different letters (vowels are 1 point – special consonants like J, Z and Q are with 10 points).  There are double and triple letter and word squares and so the game requires both strategy and vocabulary.

Most of all its an highly addictive game – especially if you are just a little competitive.  I find that "free moments of the day" might include - time at traffic lights, standing in line at Starbucks or even riding the elevator three floors (I said it's addictive)!

I didn’t realize how addictive until I played a word at 1:30 a.m. and almost instantly received a response from CoolDadRichter.  It was that moment that I became convinced the game isn’t Words With Friends – its Words With Nerds - and I'm one!

I wonder if it’s improving my vocabulary?

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Let us pray

In his wonderful book Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire Jim Cymbala writes:

If we call upon the Lord, He has promised in His Word to answer, to bring the unsaved to Himself, to pour our His Spirit among us.  If we don’t call upon the Lord, He has promised nothing – nothing at all. It’s as simple as that.  No matter what I preach or what we claim to believe in our heads, the future will depend upon our times of prayer.  This is the engine that will drive the church.

Prayer is the engine that will drive the church.

  • ·      That’s why our staff at Grace begins and ends each weekday praying together.
  • ·      It’s why our elders gather at 6:30 each Tuesday morning to pray.
  • ·      It’s why we are committed to expanding our prayer ministries so that Grace will be a house of prayer.

The future depends upon our times of prayer.  Prayer is the engine that will drive the church.

Today our nation is called to a National Day of Prayer.  That’s a great reminder that we are all called to pray (and as some of our adult classes have been discovering, we are too busy not to pray)!

Take time today to pray for our nation.  You might visit National Day of Prayer to find resources to help guide your prayers.

Take time every day to continue to pray for our nation and the world, our city and our neighborhoods and for Grace Presbyterian Church.

Specifically I ask people to pray 5 things for Grace:

Provision:  we put our trust in God who richly provides us with everything (1 Timothy 6: 12).  Ask God to provide the resources needed for the ministries of Grace.

Protection:  the psalmist reminds us that the LORD is our strength and our shield (Psalm 28: 7). Ask for God to guard our hearts, minds and bodies.

Vision:  in the Old Testament God led His people in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire (Exodus: 13: 21).  Pray that as God continues to lead us we will have eyes to see and ears to hear.

Courage:  God told Joshua to be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go (Joshua 1: 9).  Pray that we will follow where God leads with that same boldness and courage.

Unity;  The Apostle Paul prayed that the church in Colosse might be encouraged in heart and united in love (Colossians 2: 2).  Jesus prayed that we might be brought to complete unity (John 17: 23).  Pray for the unity of God’s church.

Prayer is the engine that will drive God’s church.  On this National Day of Prayer (and in the days to come) -  let us pray!

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Runaway Bunny

In 1942 Margaret Wise Brown wrote what has become a children’s classic – The Runaway Bunny.  The amazing illustrations of Clement Hurd (together they also produced Goodnight Moon) help tell the story of a mother’s relentless love for her little bunny. 

I’m working this morning on this Sunday’s Mother’s Day message on Psalm 139:

Where can I go from Your Spirit? 
Where can I flee from Your presence?

If I go up to the heavens, You are there; 
if I make my bed in the depths, You are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn, 
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there Your hand will guide me, 
Your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, "Surely the darkness will hide me 
and the light become night around me,"
even the darkness will not be dark to You; 
the night will shine like the day, 
for darkness is as light to You.

I can’t read those words without thinking about the Runaway Bunny and the Mother Bunny who will follow him to the heavens, the depths and the far side of the sea.

It makes all the difference in the world knowing that no matter how far we run there is someone – and more importantly Someone (read God) who will never leave us alone.