Saturday, December 29, 2007

Thoughts for a New Year

“The Brain that Changes itself” … the title of a book dealing with brain plasticity – keeping the brain functional and fresh.

One of the pieces of brain plasticity is moving out of our comfort zones – to branch out, delve into something new, experiment and challenge ourselves.

I’ve been thinking about comfort zones – prisons actually and alluring. One of the most tempting prisons is called Yesterday! The older we grow, the bigger Yesterday becomes, and the more power it exerts over us.

It could be as simple as an unkindness someone did to us, and we can’t shake it. We relive the experience and recall the hurt a thousands times a year. As painful as it may be, it’s one of our comfort zones – we know it well, and within it, we live and have our being, so to speak.

Perhaps it’s our success at age of 55, and from that point on, our children and grandchildren have to hear our “war stories,” the same old jokes and tired platitudes.

Religiously, it might be a conversion story: retelling the same story, with a few embellishments added over the years, forges another chain in a prison called Yesterday.

Many years ago, I vowed: “When I become an older pastor, I will never say to a younger pastor, ‘When I was your age…’.”

Several year ago, I officiated at a funeral for a dynamic woman who lived well into her 90s; one of her favorite sayings: “Was was and is is!” Though confined to bed in her latter years, she remained bright and eager, whispering last words to her son, “Oh, how I want to live.”

Yesterday beckons us with its comfort, but life remains ahead of us – “Come and follow me,” said Jesus, to new horizons and daring ventures. Leave you nets and boats where they belong, travel light with me, and I’ll show you the world.

Stay fresh with Christ … “set your hand to the plow and don’t look back” … keep the brain agile … travel unexplored roads, find a new restaurant, brush your teeth with the opposite hand, make new friends, clean out a closet and get rid of some stuff. Give thanks for Yesterday, but keep on walking and greet tomorrow! Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Never Ending Story

Hebrew 101, 8:00 AM, Professor Lester Kuyper came bounding into the classroom, all smiles and chuckles.

“Students, I have to tell you something,” he said with a face-busting smile. “This morning, I solved a translation issue that I’ve been working on for twenty years” and he proceeded to explain in detail his victory. It was a small thing, but in the history of translation, even the smallest piece is critical.

This memorable moment occurred early in my first year of seminary, and it wasn’t long before we all discovered just how fine a man was Dr. Kuyper with his insatiable love of learning.

We nicknamed him The Student!

“I want to be that kind of a man,” I said to Donna. To honor that pledge, I bought more books than I would ever read, subscribed to journals and professional magazines, attended conferences and did my best to stay current.

April, 2006, I ended 36 years of installed ministry to begin interim ministry. I gave away thousands of books, threw out 40 years worth of sermons, and discarded a four-drawer file cabinet of cross-referenced articles and notes. Donna and I would be traveling light.

But every day, new books appear – younger theologians making their mark, conferences and workshops exploring the kingdom of God, old paradigms giving way to fresh expressions of the faith, a changing world and Presbyterianism rethinking/remaking itself.

Always something new - the infinite love of God never fully understood, the discipleship-life never finally accomplished!

Buildings are finished, but building the heart remains a life-long experience, and then some. Our delight and joy, when we enter eternity, will be as here: a ceaseless discovery of something new. Every day of eternity will be a day of discovery, because God is infinite.

Here on this earth, we anticipate eternity when we survey the world with the wide-eyed wonder of a child, when we read a challenging new book about the Christian life, when we keep the fires of mind and heart alive with good fuel (what we bring) so that the Holy Spirit (the fire and the wind) has something to burn!

The story is never-ending! Stay with it, keep on growing in Christ, expand your boundaries and enlarge your mind with good thoughts, good reading, much prayer and ceaseless appreciation for the life you have.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Roaring Success!

“I’m a failure!” I’ve heard it ten thousand times, and I’ve said it myself!

How easily we translate the experience of failure into a sweeping assessment of our character – “I’m a failure!”

YOU are not a failure.

You go back to the drawing board. You retreat and try another pathway. You learn and grow.

Anyone alive at 30 is already a roaring success, having weathered hundreds of storms, come through conflicts and difficulties, and overcome obstacles.

We get up in the morning, and we have all that’s needed to succeed. We have Christ in our hearts, Scripture beside us, the love of others and the hope of heaven.

At the end of the day, we come home and wipe our brow: “I made it. That means I’m a success. What I did well today, hip, hip, hooray, and thanks be to God. What needs redoing, I’ll try again tomorrow. There’s always a way through, around, above or beneath, and God is at work in all things for good.”

Whatever comes your way, you face it.
Whatever needs to be done, you do it.
However long it takes, you finish it.

You’re a roaring success!

Tuesday, December 4, 2007


Not a day goes by without some impression of bravery.

Whether it be Brad Pit helping rebuild New Orleans or a daughter caring for an ailing parent – bravery!

The human spirit is a remarkable creation – strong, resilient, filled with faith and determination – created in the image of God!

Everyone of you is brave – you face the challenges of life and death and bear the burdens of responsibility with grace and dignity, though the knees weaken now and then, your hands tremble, and you wonder just how much you can bear.

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).

Our LORD fed the five thousand (Matthew 14:19) after two hard blows: 1) rejection in His hometown (Matthew 13:53) – it says, “they took offense at him,” and 2) the death of John the Baptist, beheaded by Herod at the request of a young girl prompted by her angry mother.

The Text says: “Jesus withdrew privately to a solitary place.”

Even the great Son of God needed time to recover.

But alas, as so many of you know, “time off” was not to be had. The crowds learned where He was and followed Him, and of Jesus, the Text says, “He had compassion on them.”

By the end of the day, when the crowds were hungry, He fed them.

Bravery … He was very brave … and so are you!