A Psalm of Thanksgiving

Psalm 100

A psalm. For giving grateful praise.

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
    Worship the Lord with gladness;
    come before him with joyful songs.
Know that the Lord is God.
    It is he who made us, and we are his[a];
    we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving
    and his courts with praise;
    give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
    his faithfulness continues through all generations.

BEEPING Smoke Detector

Our bedroom’s smoke detector began chirping in the middle of the night. The device insisted the backup battery needed replacement NOW. I covered my head with a pillow, but the eardrum-piercing shriek pierced the down filling.

I grumbled out of the bed and stumbled into the garage. Banging shins and walls with a stepladder, I placed it under the offending detector. A glance revealed that the twelve-foot tall ceiling measured six feet higher than the ladder.

Male bravado overcame common sense. I perched on the penultimate rung and stretched to reach the ceiling. The ladder swayed like a sapling in the wind. My fingers brushed the plastic shell, and I twisted the cover. The entire assembly tumbled out of the drywall, dangling on electrical wires.

The next step in my brilliant plan involved balancing on top of the ladder while inserting a battery into the detector. My longsuffering wife mentioned my advanced age and diminished sense. She expressed a strong aversion to calling 911 in the middle of the night.

Abandoning my machismo midway between floor and ceiling, I reluctantly descended the ladder. My antics somehow jostled the dangling smoke detector into temporary silence, which I assured my spouse was the master plan all along.

Mischief managed, crisis averted, and manhood restored.

The church’s building director brought a 10-foot tall stepladder to the parsonage the following morning. I supervised from floor level as he replaced the battery. Informed knowhow and proper equipment quickly completed the project, but I assured myself that the scene didn’t provide the death-defying entertainment of my previous night’s escapades.

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About Time

A church leader introduced me to the Franklin Covey Day-Timer in the 1990s. The paper-based planning system appealed to my sense of discipline and order. The daily planner incorporates prioritized tasks, daily notes, monthly calendars, personalized sections, and address books. The leather binder contains a significant portion of my world!

My work with large staffs eventually caused me to adopt an Outlook calendar. It syncs with my phone to constantly update my schedule. The share feature enables people to coordinate meetings and to send reminders.

Time management experts encourage the use of a single calendar. Despite technological advances, I remain an analog native in a digital world. I enjoy opening the leather binder and viewing an entire month. The two-page daily calendar provides space for daily tasks and notes. Checking “Done” on the “To Do” list grants an endorphin high!  

Last month I received the 2023 refill pack, which includes a two-page, monthly calendar for the coming year. The white pages gleamed without mar or mark. I envisioned a world with no obligations, responsibilities, or appointments. Then reality reasserted itself.

Next year’s calendar already bears the marks of pencil, pen, and marker. Sometimes it feels overwhelming; but I realize what ties us down also frees us up for God’s work.

A critic gave this review to a mediocre play, “A great way to kill time for those wishing it dead!”

We receive each day as a gift from God’s gracious hand. Therefore, seize the day and redeem the time. We don’t have a second to waste.  

Rejoice!

Paul encouraged the church in Romans 12:12, “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” The verse has inspired my devotional life in 2022.  

“Rejoice in hope.” Paul reveals a vital connection between the attributes of joy and hope. Christians rejoice in the present because of our hope for the future. The Holy Spirit exhorts my soul with a two-word refrain, “Choose joy!” Christians possess an eternal perspective that enables us to claim Frederick Buechner’s reminder, “Resurrection means that the worst thing is never the last thing.”

“Be patient in tribulation.” A meme on a clergy site declared, ‘Being a pastor is easy. It’s like riding a bike. Except the bike is on fire. You are on fire. And the committee for fire suppression needs a quorum!” Everyone faces troubles and trials. Patience recognizes that this too shall pass.  In the interim, we listen for God’s voice in the midst of the storm and in the aftermath of the stillness.

“Be constant in prayer.” Constancy means spending specific times and all times in God’s presence. Devotional discipline sets aside daily times and places for divine appointments. However, sanctified spirits experience the Holy Spirit’s presence in every time and place.

Join me in committing Romans 12:12 to memory. Recite the verse as a devotional aid. Repeat the words as a breath prayer. Claim the passage every moment of the day and night.  

Joy. Hope. Patience. Tribulation. Constancy. Prayer. Here, we find God, and God finds us.

Rejoice!

Stained Glass and Gift Cards

Last month I preached a sermon on the “full armor of God” in Ephesians 6:10-18. Paul challenges Christians to take up the “sword of the spirit.” A stained-glass window in the Northside sanctuary depicts the apostle’s conversion. A panel portrays a sword with the caption “Spiritus Gladius,” or “Sword of the Spirit.”

I challenged the students in the worship service to locate the stained-glass. I promised a $10 Chick-Fil-A gift card to the first person to find the window. It seemed like a great idea . . . until fifteen children arrived at the same time to claim the prize!

Solomon threatened to cut a baby in half as a legal solution, but I suspected the restaurant might reject fifteen pieces of plastic. A few children offered to forego the prize. The rest divided into two groups of boys and girls who were willing to share the card. Thankfully, I had a reserve tucked in my pocket for a later service. Mischief managed, and crisis averted.

Lessons learned:

  • Children listen during worship
  • Never underestimate the power of a Chick-Fil-A gift card
  • Always remember the law of unintended consequences
  • Boys and girls are born with a sense of equity and fairness
  • Some in every group will sacrifice for the greater good
  • Adults are grown children with a surface veneer of maturity
  • The children will never forget the location of the stained-glass window

For some reason, I’m feeling the urge to get a chicken sandwich, waffle fries, and a chocolate shake!

Boss Day

This week our nation observes National Boss Day. The greeting card industry has designated October 17 to honor those who supervise our labors. Employees reply, “EVERY day is Boss Day!”

Patricia Bays Haroski created the annual observance in 1958. Four years later the governor of Illinois signed a proposal observing the date state-wide. The idea spread across the nation and world.

It turns out that Patricia Haroski worked for her FATHER! She appreciated his gentle, thoughtful manner with the staff. Therefore, she designated his birthday as an annual Boss Day.

The holiday leaves me in a quandary. I’m not sure WHO my boss might be. A district superintendent oversees United Methodist clergy, and a bishop supervises the superintendents; but none of these people manages my daily work.

Jesus said that leaders serve in God’s kingdom.  The congregation I serve has 5,000 plus members on roll. Maybe I work for all of them; but I cannot afford that many gift cards.

Therefore, I’ve decided to honor God on Boss Day. I aspire to love the Lord with all of my heart, soul, mind, and strength. When I do a poor job, a new day dawns to try again. After all, EVERY day is Boss Day.   

Columbus Day

Columbus Day during my childhood celebrated the intrepid explorer. Each October our class recited, “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” We learned about Christopher Columbus discovering America while seeking a new route to India.

Columbus erroneously believed that he found an alternate route to India; and he called the native people “Indians.” The sanitized history of the 1960s taught that Chris and his crew brought the gift of Western civilization to a savage, untamed continent.

Historical “facts” morph over time. Columbus probably didn’t discover the New World first. Evidence suggests Leif Erikson among others visited the land centuries earlier.  

Then there’s the use of the word “discover.” The indigenous people occupied the land for generations. They would have been surprised to learn their home needed discovering. If an intrepid member of the Powhatan tribe sailed a dugout canoe across the North Atlantic, would historians give him credit for discovering England?

This raises another point: the history we learned dealt primarily with Western civilization. Granted, American history emerges from European history. The exploration and colonization of the Americas primarily involved Portugal, England, Spain, and France, although Russia did make inroads on the western coast.

Today’s historians take a global approach to world history. Highly developed civilizations evolved in Central and South America, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia long before Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492. Students now learn about Mayan mathematicians, Arabic philosophers, Chinese chemists, and Japanese poetry.

And what to think of Christopher Columbus? Did he bravely set forth on unknown seas to discover a New World? Or did he serve as a chauvinistic agent of the Old World who left pestilence and privation in his wake? The truth rests somewhere between the two extremes. Columbus was neither an unsullied saint nor a stained sinner but a mixture of the two.

Columbus sailed into the unknown on a 70-foot ship. He risked life and fortune on a radical notion of a round world. This week we honor his intrepid spirit of exploration, recognizing that even the best of intentions can have the worst of consequences.

Extravagant Generosity

“You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity.” (2 Corinthians 9:11)

Bishop Robert Schnase published Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations in 2007. He identified principles that growing churches embrace, including Radical Hospitality, Passionate Worship, Intentional Faith Development, Risk-Taking Mission and Service, and Extravagant Generosity.

During our October stewardship emphasis, Northside Church is exploring how to practice Extravagant Generosity as Christian disciples. Schnase wrote,

“Growing in the grace of giving is part of the Christian journey of faith, a response Christian disciples offer to God’s call to make a difference in the world.” He added, “Giving is always extravagant, life changing, and joyous.”

Most stewardship programs stress the church’s need to receive, but the Bible emphasizes the giver’s need to give. Devoted disciples practice financial faithfulness, giving generously and proportionately of their income. I’ve discovered as a pastor that freeing people to give enables them to grow in grace.

God calls us to give a tithe or tenth of our income. Both the Old and New Testament share this principle. cannot negotiate the terms, but we do choose between faithfulness or disobedience. Tithing teaches the lesson that all of our possessions belongs to God.

Jesus said where our treasure is there our hearts will be also. We often think Jesus said just the opposite; but our souls naturally follow our money. We can buy stock in a world going out of business, or we can invest in God’s kingdom that endures forever.

Join us onsite or online during October at Northside Church as we practice Extravagant Generosity.

Little Things

A friend recently shared a poem entitled “Small Kindnesses” by Danusha Lameris. The verses trace the ripples caused by small gestures of love.   

I’ve been thinking about the way, when you walk
down a crowded aisle, people pull in their legs
to let you by. Or how strangers still say “bless you”
when someone sneezes, a leftover
from the Bubonic plague. “Don’t die,” we are saying.

And sometimes, when you spill lemons
from your grocery bag, someone else will help you
pick them up. Mostly, we don’t want to harm each other.

We want to be handed our cup of coffee hot,
and to say thank you to the person handing it. To smile
at them and for them to smile back. For the waitress
to call us honey when she sets down the bowl of clam chowder,
and for the driver in the red pick-up truck to let us pass.

We have so little of each other, now. So far
from tribe and fire. Only these brief moments of exchange.
What if they are the true dwelling of the holy, these
fleeting temples we make together when we say, “Here,
have my seat,” “Go ahead — you first,” “I like your hat.”

These three remain: faith, hope, and love; but the greatest of these is love.

Fall Equinox

The fall equinox occurs this year on Thursday, September 22. The sun crosses the celestial equator into the southern hemisphere as the North Pole tilts away from Sol. The date marks the advent of autumn in the northern hemisphere.  

Most people do not calendar their lives by astronomical dates. We ease into the season, experiencing fall on an installment plan. Consider some extended signs of fall’s arrival.  

  • The first day of school
  • The start of the college football season
  • Labor Day weekend
  • Exchanging shorts for blue jeans and sandals for shoes
  • The burnt-dust breath of a furnace awakened from its summer slumber
  • The scent of fireplace smoke in the air
  • Maple trees blushing bright red
  • Piping-hot chili and cornbread
  • Jack-o-lanterns adorning porches
  • First frost coating lawns in gossamer silver
  • Pumpkin spice flavored food and drinks
  • Homecomings at high schools and colleges
  • Trees shedding brown leaves like unwanted burdens

The Lord calls us to appreciate and enjoy every season of life. Taste, touch, smell, hear, and see that God is good, all the time. All the time, God is good.