Reflections on the last few weeks…

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit”; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.” But now you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. (James 4:13-16)

What a month!  It all stated with what I thought was severe gout, but actually turned out to be a foot infection.  That, coupled with a sinus infection and some severe migraines kept me feeling pretty bad for a couple of weeks.  In fact, for the first time I actually had to preach while “under the influence” — I had to take some migraine medication to get through Sunday morning.  Unbelievably, that morning was also the morning of our “thrice annual business meeting!”

Then, in what will be likely remembered for a generation, was “the storm.”  Wind gusts up to 69 miles an hour.  Trees down.  Power outages that lasted for serveral days for many people.  But it gave us a chance to minister!  We fed and warmed about 35 church related and 15 non-churched people that weekend.

Another church meeting, a call to fill in at a Bridges event, changes to our Youth program, filling in at Sunday School…I’m waiting for that after summer slow down!  Maybe in January!

We never know what the future may bring.  We can have it in our heads that one thing will happen a particular way, and it may end up being entirely different!  That’s why I try to remember the above passage, as well as what it says in Acts 16:6-7: Now when they had gone through Phrygia and the region of Galatia, they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia. After they had come to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit did not permit them.

How often are our schedules rearranged by God Himself so that we can accomplish something or something more for His kingdom?  Do we really believe that God allows things to happen to us because of something we have to do or to learn?  How frequently do we get aggrevated by our circumstances when they are God ordained and we need to pay attention to His leading?

It seems trite, but we should always remember that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).  I know that it’s a lesson that I need to keep reminding myself of…

…especially since the pace of our lives continues to go at breakneck speed.  This weekend we have Fall Fest and we are helping Val’s parents with their basket booth.  Upcoming minstry events include the GLBC annual meeting, a working vacation (where I officiate at my nephew’s wedding), the possibility of some new ministries starting, two church wide dinners…whew!  We’ll see what lessons and surprises God may have in store for us in the weeks ahead.

Thoughts and Links

A few weeks ago I talked about doubt and depression.  Last Saturday night I was reading from Spurgeon’s “Morning and Evening” devotional and came across a neat thought.  I’ve included it below.

I also read two articles recently that I found interesting regarding pastoral ministry and preaching.  First, a tongue-in-cheek article on “How to Get Rid of Your Pastor.”   The second article answers the age old question, “Why should I go to church this morning?”  ( How to Get the Most Out of Your Pastor’s Preaching)

“Evening wolves.”
Habakkuk 1:8

While preparing the present volume, this particular expression recurred to me so frequently, that in order to be rid of its constant importunity I determined to give a page to it. The evening wolf, infuriated by a day of hunger, was fiercer and more ravenous than he would have been in the morning. May not the furious creature represent our doubts and fears after a day of distraction of mind, losses in business, and perhaps ungenerous tauntings from our fellow men? How our thoughts howl in our ears, “Where is now thy God?” How voracious and greedy they are, swallowing up all suggestions of comfort, and remaining as hungry as before. Great Shepherd, slay these evening wolves, and bid thy sheep lie down in green pastures, undisturbed by insatiable unbelief. How like are the fiends of hell to evening wolves, for when the flock of Christ are in a cloudy and dark day, and their sun seems going down, they hasten to tear and to devour. They will scarcely attack the Christian in the daylight of faith, but in the gloom of soul conflict they fall upon him. O thou who hast laid down thy life for the sheep, preserve them from the fangs of the wolf.

What do you say to your daughter on her wedding day?

Well, my wife and daughter tag teamed me, and I ended up preaching for Roxanna’s wedding.  I would have much rather walked her down the aisle and sat down next to Valerie, but that was not to be.  So, there I was, an emotional wreck, and wondering what to say.

Roxanna had always complained that her mom and I were preaching at her, so I probably needed to be careful about that.  I was also told that we were scheduled to cry at 2:06, six minutes after the ceremony started.  What do you do with that!?!?  Now if I don’t cry, what does that mean?!?!?

Well, I did cry, but it was when I went to tell Roxanna that we were ready.  I teared up a little during the ceremony, but made it through.  I decided to keep it short and sweet; after all, it was garden wedding and the families were the only ones there.  Besides, I wasn’t sure how much I could get through!  This is what I said:

Val and I have always talked about this day with great anticipation.  We’ve always believed in marriage based parenting rather than child based parenting, so we’ve looked forward to the empty nest time of our lives.  But as this wedding has gotten closer, I’ve had more trouble with it than I anticipated.  You see, I’ve always been the one Roxanna would call on when she needed help.

“Dad, I need a ride. Dad, I missed my bus.  Dad, I need help with my taxes.  Dad, help me fill out this form.  Dad, I dropped by phone/laptop/iPod again and it’s not working.  Dad, I was just in an accident.  What do I do?”

A lot of her requests have been about computers: “Dad, my computer won’t turn on.  Dad, my computer has a virus.  Dad, my computer cord is broken.  Dad, my computer won’t connect to the internet.”

But my favorite happened while we were living in NYC.  Roxanna was about an hour away on the other side of the city, and she called and said, “Dad, I’m lying in the middle of a field, and I can’t get up!”

Now, as annoyed as I was when some of these things happened, it did let me know  that Roxanna needed me and that I was the one she would naturally call on for help.  That’s not going to be the case anymore, and it kind of makes me sad.  But that’s the way it’s supposed to be.  Scripture teaches that, “For this reason (marriage), a man (and a woman), will leave his father and mother and be joined (be glued to) his wife.  And the two will become one flesh.”  The only person you should be closer to in this life is God Himself.

Are you ready to make this commitment to each other, and do you pledge to be glued to one another for the rest of your lives?

The Dark Night of the Soul

Some of you may have noticed that I haven’t been on Facebook or Twitter as much for the past few months, and that the blog posts have been somewhat haphazard (well, to be honest, that’s probably true much of the time!). The truth is that since the beginning of the year I’ve been experiencing what some have called “The Dark Night of the Soul.” The metaphor was first used by a Catholic mystic in the 16th century, and is often used to describe a time of great spiritual turmoil. Some believe that Christians should never be down, or depressed. However, most understand that faith has its mountaintops and its valleys. R.C. Sproul has this to say about the issue:

The dark night of the soul. This phenomenon describes a malady that the greatest of Christians have suffered from time to time. It was the malady that provoked David to soak his pillow with tears. It was the malady that earned for Jeremiah the sobriquet, “The Weeping Prophet.” It was the malady that so afflicted Martin Luther that his melancholy threatened to destroy him. This is no ordinary fit of depression, but it is a depression that is linked to a crisis of faith, a crisis that comes when one senses the absence of God or gives rise to a feeling of abandonment by Him.

Spiritual depression is real and can be acute. We ask how a person of faith could experience such spiritual lows, but whatever provokes it does not take away from its reality. Our faith is not a constant action. It is mobile. It vacillates. We move from faith to faith, and in between we may have periods of doubt when we cry, “Lord, I believe, help Thou my unbelief.”

We may also think that the dark night of the soul is something completely incompatible with the fruit of the Spirit, not only that of faith but also that of joy. Once the Holy Spirit has flooded our hearts with a joy unspeakable, how can there be room in that chamber for such darkness? It is important for us to make a distinction between the spiritual fruit of joy and the cultural concept of happiness. A Christian can have joy in his heart while there is still spiritual depression in his head. The joy that we have sustains us through these dark nights and is not quenched by spiritual depression. The joy of the Christian is one that survives all downturns in life.

I also came across a wonderful sermon that Charles Spurgeon preached on Job 35:10 that he entitled “Songs in the Night.”  His great insight and understand comes from the fact that he himself suffered from severe depression.  Here are some excerpts from that sermon:

Man, too, like the great world in which he lives, must have his night. For it is true that man is like the world around him; he is a little world; he resembles the world in almost every thing; and if the world has its night, so hath man. And many a night do we have—nights of sorrow, nights of persecution, nights of doubt, nights of bewilderment, nights of anxiety, nights of oppression, nights of ignorance—nights of all kinds, which press upon our spirits and terrify our souls. But, blessed be God, the Christian man can say, “My God giveth me songs in the night.”

It is not necessary, I take it, to prove to you that Christian men have nights; for if you are Christians, you will find that you have them, and you will not want any proof, for nights will come quite often enough. I will, therefore, proceed at once to the subject; and I will speak this evening upon songs in the night, their source—God giveth them … their matter—what do we sing about in the night? … their excellence—they are hearty songs, and they are sweet ones … their uses—their benefits to ourselves and others.

I. First, songs in the night—WHO IS THE AUTHOR OF THEM? “God,” says the text, our “Maker:” he “giveth songs in the night.”

Any man can sing in the day. When the cup is full, man draws inspiration from it; when wealth rolls in abundance around him, any man can sing to the praise of a God who gives a plenteous harvest … It is easy to sing when we can read the notes by daylight; but the skillful singer is he who can sing when there is not a ray of light to read by … Let all things go as I please—I will weave songs, weave them wherever I go, with the flowers that grow upon my path; but put me in a desert, where no flowers are, and wherewith shall I weave a chorus of praise to God? How shall I make a crown for him? Let this voice be free, and this body be full of health, and I can sing God’s praise; but stop this tongue, lay me upon the bed of languishing, and it is not so easy to sing from the bed, and chant high praises in the fires. Give me the bliss of spiritual liberty, and let me mount up to my God, get near the throne, and I will sing, ay, sing as sweet as seraphs; but confine me, fetter my spirit, clip my wings, make me exceeding sad, so that I become old like the eagle—ah! then it is hard to sing.

It is not in man’s power to sing, when all is adverse. It is not natural to sing in trouble—”Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me bless his holy name:” for that is a daylight song. But it was a divine song which Habakkuk sang, when in the night he said—”Though the fig-tree shall not blossom,” and so on, “yet will I trust in the Lord, and stay myself in the God of Jacob.” Methinks in the Red Sea any man could have made a song like that of Moses—”The horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea;” the difficulty would have been, to compose a song before the Red Sea had been divided, and to sing it before Pharaoh’s hosts had been drowned, while yet the darkness of doubt and fear was resting on Israel’s hosts. Songs in the night come only from God; they are not in the power of man…

II. Thus we have dwelt upon the first point. Now the second. WHAT IS GENERALLY THE MATTER CONTAINED IN A SONG IN THE NIGHT? What do we sing about?

Why, I think, when we sing by night, there are three things we sing about. Either we sing about the yesterday that is over, or else about the night itself, or else about the morrow that is to come. Each of these are sweet themes, when God our Maker gives us songs in the night. In the midst of the night the most usual method for Christians is to sing about the day that is over. “Well,” they say, “it is night now, but I can remember when it was daylight. Neither moon nor stars appear at present; but I can remember when I saw the sun. I have no evidence just now; but there was a time when I could say, ‘I know that my Redeemer liveth.’ I have my doubts and fears at this present moment; but it is not long since I could say, with full assurance, ‘I know that he shed his blood for me; I know that my Redeemer liveth, and when he shall stand a second time upon the earth, though the worms devour this body, yet in my flesh I shall see God.’ …

Remember, it was not always night with thee: night is a new thing to thee. Once thou hadst a glad heart, a buoyant spirit; once thine eye was full of fire; once thy foot was light; once thou couldst sing for very joy and ecstacy of heart. Well, then, remember that God, who made thee sing yesterday, has not left thee in the night. He is not a daylight God, who can not know his children in darkness; but he loves thee now as much as ever: though he has left thee a little, it is to prove thee, to make thee trust him better, and serve him more…

He who can sing songs in the night, too, proves that he has true love to Christ. It is not love to Christ to praise him while every body else praises him; to walk arm in arm with him when he has the crown on his head is no great deed, I wot; to walk with Christ in rags is something. To believe in Christ when he is shrouded in darkness, to stick hard and fast by the Saviour when all men speak ill of him and forsake him—that is true faith. He who singeth a song to Christ in the night, singeth the best song in all the world; for he singeth from the heart.

I am pleased to report that I am doing much better – there was a time when I don’t think that I could have done much worse!  I still have some moments, but the things that are helping me through it the most are the Word of God and prayer!  Remember, Romans 10:17 says that “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.”  The Bible is God’s precious gift to us, and it helps us to have and increase our faith: “but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:31).

Friendship, Facebook and the 21st Centry

Ok, I know.  It’s been quite a while since my last blog post.  I really should do this more frequently, but I’m not going to promise anything.  Every time that I think that I’m going to do better, I do worse!

Anyway, I just got back from vacation — an almost Facebook free vacation.  There was only one place where we were staying that we even had internet access, so our email, twitter, and facebook time was severely limited.  And you know what?  It was okay!

While we were away, someone wondered on Facebook why people would just delete their accounts and not tell anybody.  I think that I may actually have insight into that…

Facebook isn’t really a place for intimate friendships.  It mimics intimacy while actually breeding superficiality.  You touch base in a few sentences, and people may get the gist of what’s going on in your life, but you can never get very deep.  Intimacy requires time and conversation.  Facebook doesn’t really offer either.  I made the mistake of offering a full dossier of my life to some old college and high school friends who got back in touch with me on facebook, only to find out that they really weren’t that interested!  Most people would rather just have you as a “friend” and get an occasional update.  The problem is as you collect friends, even this superficiality can be overwhelming, and it becomes tempting to just turn it off so that you can work on real relationships.

As an aside, I also spent some time trying to talk to three people sitting on my couch, and all three of them were on their smart phones sending text messages and checking Facebook.  How’s that for Facebook affecting intimacy!?!?!?

Facebook can also be a painful experience.  It can be difficult getting some updates.  Sometimes it’s like watching a train wreck coming in slow motion, and you can’t really do anything about it.  The temptation then is to just stop tuning in.

Some people also post a lot.  Some people are preachy.  Some people put political opinions up constantly (something I’m tempted to do, but don’t — if you only knew all the things I wanted to say but didn’t)!  Some people share inside jokes with their friends, leaving everyone else to feel left out.  All of this can make you feel that Facebook is just too much to deal with.

Facebook, just like the internet at large, can also suck you in.  It can become a huge time waster.  Sometimes you don’t even realize how much time you’re spending, and, when you finally do, you are tempted to just stop doing it!

So, with all the negatives, what could possibly be good about Facebook?

Well, for close friends and family, it can be a way of keeping up on the day to day, especially because you can share photos with others.  Ironically, this is the opposite of the superficiality that I spoke of earlier.  But in the context of an ongoing relationship, Facebook can actually foster growth and intimacy, especially for family that is far away.

Facebook is also something neat to be a part of as a Christian.  We can know what is going on with people, and we can pray for difficulties they are experiencing  and praise God for the good things that He’s doing in their lives.  It’s especially nice because I’m a pastor.  People can know a little bit more about me, and I can know some of the difficulties they are experiencing and be available for them.

So, there you go.  The good and bad of technology in the 21st century.  We work with what we’ve got, and use it for the glory of God.  And, if some people become more than we can handle, we can always just “hide” them rather than deleting them from our friends list or deleting our accounts!

A Memorial Day memory…

Well, life seems to be settling down a little bit, so I will hopefully be able to get back to normal blog posts again.  Look for some this next week!  Until then, here is a Memorial Day memory from two years ago that you may enjoy…

“Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale,
A tale of a fateful trip,
That started from a Northern port,
Aboard two tiny ships.”

Andrew and I decided to go kayaking on Monday afternoon.  We had a pleasant drive to Cold Spring Harbor, and set out in the kayaks about 1:30pm.  It was about 78 degrees, gorgeous, and there was no wind.  About 200 feet from shore a boat’s wake caught me and the kayak went over (first time ever), but I was able to climb back aboard without too much trouble (gotta love the sit-on-top kayaks).  For some reason I had the car keys in my pocket with the chapstick, instead of in the waterproof pouch with the wallet and the phone.  Chapstick lost, keys safe.

I scheduled the journey so that we would go out as the tide was beginning to come in, thereby making the trip back more pleasant.  It was a hard paddle, but we went about 4 miles in an hour and twenty minutes, and almost made it to the point where we would have officially entered Long Island Sound territory.

Andrew wanted to go a little further, but, since the wind was beginning to pick up, I decided we should turn around.  Now we were going with the tide, but the paddling was especially difficult in the face of the waves and wind we were coming against.  We struggled, and an hour and twenty minutes later we were about halfway back.  At this point Andrew was really tired, sore, and he had to go to the bathroom.  Being a
civilized child he wanted to get to shore to take care of his business, so I prayed that the wind would stop.  Andrew started to worry about me
then, because I was giggling hysterically.  The minute I prayed, the wind started blowing harder and had gusts up to 45mph (I know, because when I got back to shore I called a friend and had him look it up).  We were going nowhere!

We turned to shore, and, after a struggle, made it!  After taking care of business, we decided to try to portage the kayaks along the shore.  Unfortunately, the Northern Shore of Long Island is very rocky, and difficult to traverse.  We tried to walk in the water and float the kayaks in front of us, but that was treacherous too.  The rocks were slippery, some were very large, and the agitation of the water made it difficult to see where you were going.  After I stumbled into a small boulder and cut up my leg and foot, we went back to the shore and struggled along until we got to a breakwall and a cliff.  There was nothing left to do but get back in the kayak and take to the water again.

Lest I forget, we had witty repartee all during the journey.  Things like, “If I die, tell your mom that I love her.”  And, “Dad, I can’t make it, just leave me here and go on without me.”  And my personal favorite: “Son, don’t worry,  If we collapse, I’ll use the blood from my leg to leave a message on the kayak, and people will know how we died.”

We did finally struggle along the breakwall, through two piers, and landed at a private yacht club.  At this point we could see where we had parked and entered the bay!  We walked the kayaks through the club (One nicely dressed young man who worked there did come over and ask, “Can I help you?” meaning, “What are you doing here?”  Make up your own reply.)  I abandoned Andrew at the side of the road, walked the last mile to the car, and the journey was over.

I sure hope that Andrew makes it home soon…

Anyway, not quite a “three hour tour,” but a four hour adventure.  6 miles by sea, and 2 by land.  It was actually kind of fun, but I don’t think that we want to repeat it anytime soon!