Friday, April 27, 2012

Preach or Witness?

"I speak the truth in Christ -
I am not lying, conscience confirms
it in the Holy Spirit..."

Romans 9:1

Have you ever faced a moment when someone said something to you and you ended up feeling really put down? Where one minute you felt like you were riding high and someone did something that tended to burst your personal balloon?

I've had that happen more than I like to think about, but that's life. Particularly when I've tended to feed my ego. And I've subjected a few people with downers as well.

Many years ago, during a church witnessing function that I was leading, a man came up to me at the end and said I should check out the Bible passage I've referred to above. I though I had done an adequate leadership role during the weekend and yet the passage was troubling to me - had I fallen short in leadership? Did he sense something about my leadership or witness that did ring true? However, I have kept that passage in mind over the years asking God if what I have said or done has rung true?

I wrote a book on Christian witnessing many years ago and it ended up being used for many years. When I submitted the manuscript to the publisher it was accepted in its entirety - not a word was changed. I had spent a week trying to write the book and couldn't even get the first page done until, in desperation I prayed for the words and the words just flowed. Feeling an emotional high, I proceeded to write another book and felt assured that it would be better than the first. But the editor of the publishing house said it had potential but that it had a big difference from the first: "It was preaching, not a witness to God's power and influence". I can say without question two things: I had not prayed over the project, and I had allowed the book to become a "me" book.

I have since asked myself, again and again, am I preaching or am I witnessing? I've asked that about sermons I shared. In the process I tried to understand what the motive of he sermon was. Was I trying to entertain my audience? Or was I trying my best to convey a message of real inspiration - something that offered as heartfelt as possible something of how I experienced and experience God. Did what I shared truly encourage listeners to come closer to God? Did people leave church with a sense of Christian hope, encouragement, and inner peace in a time of turmoil?

I'd like to think that I've tried to be true to God. I would like to think that my years were not filled with self but with  desire to share Christlike love and optimism and the reality that we are loved by God in spite of moments when we don't measure up to God's hopes for our lives. And I have taken to heart the Scripture passage above and times when people have reminded me of the truth that it's a whole lot better to put self on the back-burner and think more of God's hopes for how we might influence the world with Godlike actions and words.

I think of an interview many years ago where one of the committee asked a question: "When you die, what would you like on your gravestone?" My reply: "He served Jesus." With that in mind, what would you like to see on your gravestone?

Forgive me Lord,
When I spent to much time focusing on self
and not enough depending on you

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Oops - Goofed Again

"Aim for perfection,  listen to my appeal,
be of one mind, live in peace.
And the God of love and peace
will be with you"

2 Corinthians 13:11

We often hear the words, 'Hey, that's great; perfect; right on the money' Or maybe we get a grade on a test where we feel we aced it and got a perfect score. But what is perfect?

My dad was an extremely talented person. He created wonderful artwork. He wrote interesting stories. In many things he was way ahead of his time. But he always bemoaned, maybe even emphasizing, his failures over the years. Instead of rejoicing in his creativity he tended to emphasize how much of an ego trip he was on and that his ego was his worst enemy. So if you were ever to have asked him about perfection in his life he would have said, 'Not me, far from it.'

My uncle Ralph was another one. In many ways a practical joker, he was a very quiet person who hid his talent under a bushel basket. He collected jokes and humorous thoughts and kept wishing he could collect them together to produce an anthology of humor. He never got around to doing it and he would admit his shortcomings. But he was talented in photography, was skilled at his work in color management in producing decals, and was skillful in financial matters. Were you to ask him about perfection he would look you straight in the eye and ask, 'Who, me? Never happen!'.

And there's those who have a talent for writing but never finish even a letter because they have to keep going back to edit what they wrote. Their writing never measures up to what they want and so they strive to make a perfect writing effort out of what they perceive as substandard and quit when it never measures up.

I love to write but I never seem to fall in the trap of perfection. I sit down, start writing and what comes out comes out. I look for obvious mistakes, I use my computer spellcheck mode  and let it go. What happens happens - it's just an expression of how I felt about the subject and that's the way it is. I just like to express feelings - I know it's not perfect - but it is just fun to do.

Years ago we attended a church where membership, to some degree, depended on profession of perfection. However, if one looked around at others in the church we would see ordinary people like ourselves who had moments when they missed the mark. Moments of frustration - perhaps anger - doubt - ordinary every day frailties we all share. I would never have made the grade in that church because I have not achieved perfection.

But in the ordination ceremony for being a pastor in my denomination, there is a question we must answer as honestly as possible. It is not "Have you achieved perfection?" Instead, the question I have had to answer was, "Are you striving for perfection?" I was, without hesitation able to say, "I've got a long way to go - and I will probably never achieve it in my lifetime - But I'm trying to live a Christlike life the best I can. The scripture passage above is a really great guide and summation of life as Christ would have it. And I have peace in my soul.

 Lord Jesus....
Remind me each day that I have a long way
to go and to recognize that
perfection is extremely elusive.
Fill me with joy when I try.