Thursday, June 25, 2015

Life Lived "On the Other Hand" by Greg York

Life Lived “On the Other Hand”: Some Meditation on What Happened in Charleston Last Week                            


Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.  – Paul, in Romans 12.21


I cannot imagine that the minds of many in the Emanuel AME church, the friends and family of those nine killed in the shooting, did not turn in the direction of anger, vengeance, and retribution, at least at some point.


Maybe that says more than anything else something about the pathetic limits of my imagination.


But I cannot imagine that thoughts of retribution did not flash through their minds.


After all, that’s just human nature. And if there is anything our current society trumpets as “good” it is to go with how you feel, go with that nature, do what you feel, be “authentic.”


Certainly a great deal of the initial reaction I read and heard in our social media-saturated age in the first few days was, naturally, of the “angry retribution” kind. And, certainly, if anyone ought to be in the way of folks righteously throwing verbal stones it is those who are hate-filled racists. Let them know what it is to be on the receiving end of hatred and ostracism. I can go there so easily.


It just comes naturally, doesn’t it?


An aside: It comes so naturally, that in the Law of Moses, God set a limit on retribution [maybe at that point, a full stop on retribution would not have been possible; maybe the people just couldn’t have lived up to it]. One of the very first articulations of that limit is found mere verses after the Ten Commandments. Exodus 21.23-24: If any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe. The temptation is always to let retribution become a “plus one” situation: “You hit me, I’ll hit you harder…and twice.” That’s just natural, isn’t it? But God says, in a word, “no.”


And, then, as we’re absorbing the horror of this event and reacting to it, there comes a new wrinkle last Friday morning. There were members of that church, family members of five of the nine people killed, standing there less than two days after the shooting. Clearly grieving, but also clearly expressing their commitment to forgive the shooter.


To forgive the shooter.

The one who had murdered their relatives and friends. The one who had shouted racial epithets as he shot their relatives and friends. The one who still shouted racial epithets as he stood over the dead bodies surveying his “work” of slaughtering their relatives and friends. It is a hellish scene to contemplate if there has ever been one.


And there these folks are, expressing the desire, expressing their commitment, to live up to the call of Christ even in this moment of sheer, damnable hellishness. They thrust into the darkness of this event a shaft of God’s light.


And they were doing this at the initial bond hearing of the confessed shooter. It was not a theoretical moment. I understand from media reports that they saw him (on video feed, at least) as they offered forgiveness.


Jesus said this right before he said that to be like God involves learning to love your enemy: You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. That’s Matthew 5.38-42. And that’s not what comes naturally. At least not for me.


It’s as if Jesus says, “Yes, retribution is natural, and God made provision for it in the old law, but on the other hand, here’s an even more godly way to live.”


When Paul is trying to get churches to work on and work out their differences so that they can work for their common cause, he says things like this:


Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. (Ephesians 4.31-32)


Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. (Colossians 3.13)


Truth to tell, we have trouble doing that well among ourselves, even in a good church setting. Bitterness and anger and complaining just come so naturally, don’t they? But, on the other hand…


I know that this whole issue — the specifics of the Emanuel Church shooting, the struggle to come to terms with what Jesus says in Matthew 5.38-42, the stomach-turning ugliness of racism (even latent, hidden racism), perhaps even the factor of mental illness and how it is treated (ignored?) in this society — is incredibly complicated. And, unlike many in the blogosphere, the world of Facebook and other social media, and water-cooler type conversations, I don’t think there are any easy, obvious answers.


So, here’s a meditation, not an answer.


I want to hang on to that image of people standing to offer forgiveness in the face of horrible evidence of evil’s power.


There will be times as this process plays out when the commitment to forgive will be sorely tested for those people. That is because that commitment will always stand over against what comes naturally to our divided hearts. But they have said the words, they have made the commitment, they have taken the first step of a journey to life “on the other hand.”


I’ve quoted G. K. Chesterton on this before: “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult, and left untried.” Thank God for these people in Charleston who will at least commit to “try.” What an inspiration for us.


My journey will not be the same as theirs; my struggles with what comes naturally will be different. But if I am to consider myself a follower of Christ in this sad, dark age I will have to pursue life “on the other hand.” What other option represents him so well?


May Southeastern be a church that seeks with all our collective heart to see “the other hand” when tempted to act naturally and then to live “on the other hand.”

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Forgotten Dreams by Mike DeCamp

Forgotten Dreams

By Mike DeCamp

Psalm 126

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,

we were like those who dreamed.

Our mouths were filled with laughter,

our tongues with songs of joy.

Then it was said among the nations,

“The Lord has done great things for them.”

The Lord has done great things for us,

and we are filled with joy.

Restore our fortunes, Lord,

like streams in the Negev.

Those who sow with tears

will reap with songs of joy.

Those who go out weeping,

carrying seed to sow,

will return with songs of joy,

carrying sheaves with them.


As a young, idealistic man, I had some spiritual dreams catch ahold of my heart.  Recently, as I attended the “Celebration of Life” of a friend who passed away, I was reminded of those dreams.  It was brought back to my mind as we sang a song that is popular within the International Churches of Christ called “Men Who Dream” by Sherwin Mackintosh and Steven Johnson.  The song is based on the Psalm that I have shared above.  (If you want to hear the song, you can bring up versions of it on YouTube.)  The idea is that just as the captives that returned from the Exile into Zion were “like those who dreamed” because of the joy they felt as God blessed them, so we too can feel that same dreamlike joy as God blesses us as we fulfill His mission in our lives.

My life has changed a great deal over the years.  I’ve passed through seasons.  Some bright and spring-like.  Others, carrying the chill of winter.  Some lazy like a summer afternoon, and others as colorful as Brown County in October.  But, as I think back on some of those dreams, some of them have waned.  Can you relate?  Even so, I think some of them were very worthy to hold, and I want to take a moment to share some of those dreams with you as they find revival in my soul.

Fulfilling the Great Commission – Matthew 28 tells us to “go into all the world” in order to “make disciples of all nations.”  We can think of this as an abstract command—as something that someone, somewhere ought to go and try to do.  Or, we can take it as a personal mandate, and make it our dream.  For some of us, that might mean Honduras or Ghana.  Maybe India or Nepal.  But, for many of us, it really means Acton or Avon, Zionsville or Greensburg.  Or, maybe just that person in the next cubical or in that house next door.  Make a friend, make a disciple.

Loving God is the Most Important Thing – My dad was the first to tell me what Jesus told the “expert” in the law in Matthew 22.  Loving God is the most important thing.  If we don’t make that our first priority, it won’t matter how many great programs we have, or whether we redo the foyer.  Forget youth ministries, children’s ministries, and worship teams.  If we don’t love God first, what are we even doing here?  If not for this one key thing, I think a pontoon boat and a cooler would be a much better use of a Sunday morning.  Maybe that’s why so many folks are actually doing that instead.  Hmmmm.

A Church of JOYful Christians – I have written about this before, but as a child riding the church bus, I was taught that JOY is an acronym.  J = Jesus first, O = Others second, and Y = Yourself last.  It may be sort of counter-intuitive, but this prioritization of life actually works.  Our society disagrees, and it has bled over into all of our lives.  We’ve begun to think that our own opinions, needs, and desires take precedence over any other factors that may call upon our attention, but I’m going to say it—they don’t.  Not if we truly hold to the teachings of Christ.  “Seek first the kingdom of God…”-Matthew 7.  “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.  Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others.”-Philippians 2.

A Church without Regard for Race – All of us who have been clothed with Christ are “children of God.”-Galatians 3.  We are one body.  If that is true, why do we not worship and work for God together?  Why are there still congregations that are primarily white or primarily black?  Do we not speak the same language?  Has not the blood of Christ cleansed us all?  Folks, we are way too pale at Southeastern.  The church should set an example to the world of how the love of God can bridge all gaps and break all barriers—even the barriers of race.  I have no doubt—we would stand opposed to intentional racism in our midst should it happen to arise.  But, let’s also take action to deal with the residual effects of the past by being intentional in our embrace of brothers and sisters of all racial and ethnic backgrounds—now.  Let’s build bridges.  Let’s encourage diversity in our spiritual family.  Let us build a congregation that can shine like a lighthouse of hope to our society.

Overflowing Worship – “Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord,…”-Ephesian 5:19.  This verse is commonly used in our family of churches as an argument about the use of musical instruments.  To do that is to miss the point and gut the meaning of the passage.  It is not about instruments.  It is about your heart—allowing your heart to overflow into your singing of joyful songs of thanksgiving to God.  We don’t talk about it much, but did you realize that this verse is a command?  It isn’t just a nice suggestion.  Paul instructed the Ephesians to sing.  And, he instructed them to sing from the heart.  As a Christian, singing really isn’t optional, and even more so, singing from the overflow of the heart isn’t either.  Of course, this assumes that we have a thankful heart, and that the joy of the Lord rests within us.  If that is not the case, then please take the time to call one of the ministers or one of the elders, and let them help you find that sweet spot in your heart so that your spirit can overflow in joyous song.  Our worship times should be a joyous celebration of our walk with God.

So, those are some of my dreams.  I don’t think they are unreasonable.  Do you?  I think if you help, and with a bit of unified effort, we can make a dent in some of them.  And, we can make a difference for God in our world, changing lives and growing hearts along the way.  But, maybe you have your own set of forgotten dreams that need to be re-fired and revived.  What are they?  Please share.

Perhaps, if we pool those dreams and stir those fires, then one day we can share in the joy expressed by the psalmist:

Our mouths were filled with laughter,

our tongues with songs of joy.

Then it was said among the nations,

“The Lord has done great things for them.”

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Proverbs, Pride & a Crazy Deer Story by Terry Gardner

Proverbs, Pride & a Crazy Deer Story
By Terry Gardner
Every culture has proverbs that warn of the dangers of human pride.  The Persians have a proverb on the subtleties of pride:  Thou shalt sooner detect an ant moving in the dark night on the black earth, than all the motion of pride in thine heart.”  The Italian proverb on pride reminds us “If pride were as art, how many graduates we should have.”  The Bible warns us about pride more than almost any other sin.
Pride is one of the devil’s three great tools. “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.”  I John 2:16.  Men and women that lust cannot defeat are easily destroyed by their pride.
How does pride lead us into sin? Believing there are some sins that I simply CANNOT commit.  Paul said he beat his body daily lest having preached to others he might become a cast-a-way.  I Cor. 9:27.  There is no temptation except those common among men.  I Cor. 10:13.  If David could lie, commit adultery and murder a just man, who are we to think we are immune from certain sins.  This is the reason that a smart man flees sin … he runs away from it.  “But flee from these things, (loving money, desiring to get rich) you man of God, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness.”  I Tim. 6:11.  Paul rebuked the Corinthian brothers and sisters because immorality had made them “arrogant” when they should have mourned over their sins.  I Cor. 5: 2.  “Now flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.”  2 Timothy 2:22.  “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.”  I Cor. 10:14.  When pride comes, then comes dishonor, But with the humble is wisdom.”  Prov. 11:2.  Are you too proud to run away from sin?  If so, pride will catch you and destroy you.
Pride leads us into sin when we refuse to listen to the wisdom and counsel of others.  We think that no one can tell us what to do or as Billy Joel famously sang, “It’s my life, leave me alone.”  We all need the wisdom of others.  We especially need the wisdom of those who are older and wiser than we are.  True wisdom is not in learning from our own mistakes but rather comes from learning from the mistakes of others.  There is a way which seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death.”  Prov. 14:12.
Pride equals a lack of faith in God.  Everyone who is proud in heart is an abomination to the LORD.”   Prov. 16:5.  In the garden of Eden, it was pride that sealed the deal for the devil.  He told Eve if she ate she would be as wise as God.  Eve trusted in her own pride rather than in what God had actually told her.  We live in a world where men in their pride think they are wiser than the God who created them.  The great Babylonian King Belshazzar “exalted” himself and gave not thought to the God who made the Universe at all.  Then came the “handwriting on the wall.”  Daniel delivered the message of God to the King … he had not only exalted himself but he had “praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron wood and stone, which do not see, hear or understand.  But the God in whose hand are your life-breath and all your ways, you have not glorified.”  Daniel 5:23.  No human being can avoid death.  It comes to us all very quickly and there is no pride in death.
Pride distorts reality.  Pride goes before destruction, And a haughty spirit before a fall.”  Prov. 16:18.  Pride tells me I am indestructible when I am not.  Pride tells me I can’t be caught, that I am smarter than anyone else.  Pride tells me that if “I am not cheating, I am not trying.”  Pride can tell us not to listen to our spouses when they only want what is best for us.
I have sometimes suggested that if the Gardner family had a coat of arms and a motto that our motto should be “Certain but seldom right.”  Many years ago I had an argument at work.  The chief point of contention was if deer shed their antlers annually and then re-grew them.  This concept struck me as totally preposterous.  I could just see some poor little deer in the forest wrinkling up its little deer forehead and trying really, really hard to grow a new set of antlers.  I had a very good time mocking this ridiculous concept.  One problem.  It is true.  May the worst thing that happens to you be that your pride makes you look like a fool.  Do not be deceived pride usually leaves only death and destruction in its wake.  Think on these things.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Health Ministry Newsletter-June 2015 by Lisa Fleetwood

Men’s Health Facts

Percent of men 18 years and over in fair or poor health: 12.1%
Percent of men 18 years and over who currently smoke cigarettes: 21.2% (2010-2012)
Percent of men 20 years and over who are obese: 34.6% (2009-2012)
Percent of men 20 years and over with hypertension: 31.6% (2009-2012)
Leading causes of death are Heart disease, Cancer, and Accidents (unintentional injuries)
And some other scary findings:
According to a study conducted at Duke University, about 1/4 of all men have ZERO CLOSE FRIENDS. This study is significant because good health is closely tied to social support. In fact, a study at Brigham Young University found that social isolation is twice as bad for your health as obesity. Friends serve as our support structure when we are down. They encourage us to be our best and inspire us to more than we thought we could achieve.
Read Solomon’s writings in Ecclesiastes.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 (ESV)
9 Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. 10 For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! 11 Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? 12 And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.

The average man watches three hours of television PER DAY! Think about spending nearly a full day watching TV per week. We often lament that we are too busy to accomplish important activities that lead to better health, things like exercise, food preparation, or socializing. Clearly, we are busy, we are just not making the best use of our time. Identify your priorities, shave off a little couch time and substitute some healthier habits. 
*Source Bureau of Labor Statistics

Two out of three men spend less than 20 minutes to finish dinner, according to a study at Columbia University. That’s bad news because men who eat quickly are 84% more likely to be obese that those who take their time.

Men spend an average of 101 minutes driving every day according to research conducted at the University of California, Berkeley. Why does it matter? Massachusetts Institute of Technology discovered that city driving is more stress inducing than skydiving and that stress is linked to a rise in cancer and obesity. Driving may well be one of the most unhealthy habits you have! Consider a carpool, walking, or riding your bike when you can.
*Source Men’s Health

What should you know?
Heart Disease is the number one killer of men yet half of all the men who die from the disease didn’t even know they had a problem. Your risk doubles every decade after the age of 45 and those with high blood pressure, cholesterol, or a family history of heart disease are more susceptible. Knowing the signs and seeking help early can help you live a longer, healthier life.
Signs of Heart Attack
  • Squeezing, pressure or pain in the chest
  • Sudden pain in either or both arms, your back, shoulder, jaw, or neck.
  • Sudden shortness of breath or rapid heartbeat.
  • Sudden cold sweats or nausea.

Prostate Health
If a man doesn’t know what his prostate is or what it does, he is not alone; most men don’t! Knowing some basics could save your life. Besides skin cancer, prostate cancer is the most common form of cancer in men. According to the American Cancer Society, 220,800 new cases are diagnosed each year. That’s one in seven men diagnosed during their lifetime (1 in 38 men will die from the disease). Know the symptoms and when to seek medical treatment.
Problems passing urine or the need to urinate more often, especially at night.
Blood in the urine
Pain in the hips, back (spine), chest (ribs), or other areas from cancer that has spread to bones.
Weakness or numbness in the legs or feet, loss of bladder or bowel control from cancer pressing on the spinal cord.

Talk with your doctor about early screening methods like the Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) blood test or a digital rectal exam.
*Source American Urological Association

Mental Health

While depression affects nearly 6 million men in the United States, many still go undiagnosed. A potential reason for this may be that men express symptoms of depression differently than women. While depressed women express sadness, men tend to display irritability, hostility, or become withdrawn. While women can feel anxious or scared, men may become suspicious and guarded. Some men even experience unexplained physical pain like frequent backaches, headaches, or stomach pain. Depression may be triggered by stress at work, marital or money problems, or a recent death. It is important to recognize the symptoms of depression as it can have devastating social and physical effects. Depression is a medical condition and requires professional intervention. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it is important to talk honestly with a friend, family member, or doctor. Once correctly diagnosed, there is plenty you can do to successfully treat and manage depression. For more information, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or Mental Health Association of Indiana at 1-317-638-3501.