IS COMPASSION DEAD?

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DINNER ON THE GROUND

I suspect that you cannot imagine a combination of the words dinner and ground, especially considering the entire prepositional phrase, ‘on the ground.’  Who knowingly eats food on the ground?  Right.  Except you may not have experienced the ‘good ole days’ of feasting outside with churchgoers from all over the community for worship, an associational meeting, a baptismal service (usually near a pond, lake, or river), or church musical, with dinner on the ground.

These were days before fellowship halls, when the only facility was likely to be a one room building with its ‘necessary’ facility outside and down the hill in a less obvious location.

People gathered to line the ground with sheets and other coverings upon which they would organize their foods for display and consumption.  So the phrase was a literal reference to ‘dinner on the ground.’  Congregations of means (and space) would bring chairs from the building to line them up for the display of the smorgasbord of delicious delights while human lines formed to make their choices of ‘sumtin’ to eat in this festive gathering.

Dinner on the ground has also been held among the trees between which were built ‘plank tables’ by the men of the church.  On these, the ladies would bring the boxes to their choice spot along the table, and there serve their goodies.  People generally knew which boxes held the best and most flavorful foods and would wander close to get their ‘piece of the pie.’

Sitting might not be an option.  You can’t eat in the sanctuary!  So, a chair outside was an option if they were available.  An old pew strategically placed outside was a comfort to enjoy your dining pleasures.  Or standing, perhaps near that choice box would have to work.

Bottom line, those dinner on the ground events were special.  Friends were made or cultivated during the festive sharing of food and love among those in attendance.  Relationships grew during wholesome conversation during dinner on the ground.  And the rustic conditions outside made it more special because people concentrated on the food and the fellowship.  It was real while engaging in laughter, love, and luscious foods.

And nobody was worried about food poisoning, salmonella, or food allergies.  It was simply a good time at dinner on the ground.

“And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”  Acts 2:46-47 ESV

AN UNDISCLOSED SOURCE

It has become common to use the phrase ‘an undisclosed source.’  Whether speaking of classified or top secret information, newsworthy information, or secret financial donations, or just plain old good gossip, ‘undisclosed’ is a word usually applied.

Isn’t there something wrong with these ‘secrets’ that hide individuals or institutions that seek influence or control in a free society?  If motives are legitimate and honorable, why hide?  And, those who are willing to publish the news without a disclosure regarding from whence this ‘information’ has come become suspect.  If the information is legitimate, why isn’t the source willing to be disclosed?’

To disclose is to open up, or make something known or public.  Undisclose(d) is not in the dictionary but is one of those words grouped under one heading with the prefix ‘un.’  Merriam-Webster identifies ‘un’ as meaning ‘not’ or the opposite of.  In other words, news information or donation sources are not disclosed or made known to the public.  No reason or explanation is offered usually.  And there are cases in which journalists refuse vital information sources and have to serve jail time for their refusal to divulge the ‘undisclosed source.’

Is the matter something rumored?  Who saw it happen?  Did it happen?  Why is there cover-up?  How much money from who?  The questions can go on and on and on without disclosure.

Of course, good gossip doesn’t usually come with a ‘disclosed source.’  Much of the time individuals are so happy to get the ‘news’ that it really doesn’t matter who said it.  It doesn’t matter anymore that we may be repeating a lie or an exaggeration.  And we’ve come to expect a little embellishment to go along with the best stories.  Right!

Well consider these matters:

  1. Witnesses are needed to establish credibility.  Witnesses are people who have seen something; a person who was present for an event and can say that it happened.  Who are the witnesses, where are they (if they exist)?  If the source isn’t available for examination, one has to question the credibility of the one delivering the information.
  2. The Biblical norm is stated in Deuteronomy 19:15 (NKJV):  “One witness shall not rise against a man concerning any iniquity or sin that he commits;  by the mouth of two or three witnesses the matter shall be established.”  It is repeated by the Apostle Paul in II Corinthians 13:1 (NKJV).
  3. The spirit of the 9th commandment is jeopardized by this undisclosed issue. It states, “Thou shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” (Exodus 20:16 NKJV).  How do we know if the information, news, etc. is false or true when its source is undisclosed?  Full disclosure helps to eliminate the possibility of false information.
  4. Who can you believe, the one bringing the information or the undisclosed source? But, we can’t ask clarifying questions because we don’t know the source.  The one reporting isn’t talking, but only repeating his/her claim(s).

It is no wonder that cynicism, skepticism, and doubt runs rampant everywhere.  We don’t know any more who to believe or trust when false information and misinformation have become common.

Are you one of those ‘undisclosed sources?

DESTINATION UNKNOWN

Every day, travelers head in most every direction in the skies with designated departure times with expectation of arrival to a destination at an appointed time.  The jet and its passengers move definitively and determinedly through the heavens to places unknown.

Those travelers are much the same as those on the ground, pondering their movements among people as they go here and there in cars, buses, trains, or trucks.  Destination unknown:  We can only wonder where they’re all heading.

Such is life.  As we make choices and decisions about our likes, dislikes, preferences, ambitions, hopes, dreams, we’re moving deliberately to somewhere developing and growing a life and legacy as we go on a fast track that quickly adjusts to the right or the left, up or down, or perhaps just straight ahead.  The destination isn’t clear, but we’re on our way!

Be careful how you travel though.  Excess baggage can ruin the trip.  Be careful what you pick up along the way.  Travel comforts can affect others.  Don’t create travel discomforts by insisting on your own comforts creating burdens for other travelers.  Be nice, assistance may be needed down the road.  Someone you neglect or ignore may be the one person with the very skill needed to help you to carry on with your journey.

Life has a way of returning favors.  Be sure to offer them as you travel because the journey will take turns without warning and there will be need for favor in your adjustments in those turns.  And the travel really does bring adjustments.  A gate change or seat adjustment, comforts, discomforts, physical challenges, or health issues can all make the journey so different.

The journey does end somewhere at a yet undisclosed location.  The means of travel does not matter, the journey ceases somewhere in time and space where travelers will get off of the bus one last time, leave the car parked for one last time, exit the train or plane one last time, or back the truck up for one last haul.  As was once said among the ‘mothers of the church’ or the elderly faithful, ‘when I’ve gone in my room to come out no more,’ that too will be a last.

Travel so that you can leave with dignity on the last ride.  Move along in life with meaning and purpose achieved only by interacting peaceably with others and helping others to journey to their end.  Because, at the end, everyone discover that this journey is not about us individually as much as it is about others that we can help, meet their needs and demonstrate caring concern.

The destination is determined by how we are willing to submit to someone bigger than ourselves to love other people.

Destination unknown?  Not really!  The treasures of the heart tell us where we’re headed.  They remind us daily whether we’re about ourselves or others.

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  Matthew 6:19-21 NKJV

NATIONAL SIGNING DAY 2015

Committing and decommitting is over now as National Signing Day is well underway all across the landscape of college football.  No more I will or I won’t.  No more I did or I didn’t.  Today is the final day of decision when commits become actual signed contracts between student-athletes and their college of choice.

Many of these student-athletes will have great opportunities to display their talents on and off of the field by choosing to focus on both their academics and athleticism while others will be distracted by the hype and hoopla of college life.  Some will make it to graduation and stardom on the field.  Others will fall by the wayside without either.  Perhaps others had better athletic skills but cannot meet the academic requirements of their school choice.  They will have to go the community college route to seek to meet those requirements.  Some will be discouraged by the intensity and high standards of it all and sadly do nothing.

But for today, they sign contracts, both the colleges and the student-athletes.  The students will be hailed as the finest available and looked upon as the future for their college teams.  It will be a good day for many with high hopes of success and perhaps even very nice careers in the NFL.

But they have to sign on the dotted line.  The commit has been evasive at best, illusive at times, and allusive from some, but not past today.  You have to choose, you have to sign the contract, and your choice is made public for everyone to know.  You have to get off of the fence, no more campus visits, phone calls from coaches seeking you out.  After today, it is clear who is where and with whom, without assumption, presumption, or conjecture.  This is it.  “. . . choose for yourselves this day . . .” (Excerpt from Joshua 24:15 NKJV)

Such is life.  We have to make choices that will have lasting effects upon our lives.  The choice will not allow us to bounce around any longer or second-guess ourselves.  We cannot merrily waltz our way through life without firmly stating and demonstrating our choices about life.  And really, no choice is a choice.  This is it.  Marriage, job, house, car, bills, civic duty, church and faith . . . all of these and more require decision or choice.  They require signatures . . . binding, obligating, contractual, all of the things that will not allow one to just walk away but hold one accountable to contract requirements.   The covenant works both ways.  This is it . . . “Commit your way to the Lord, trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass.   He shall bring forth your righteousness as the light, and your justice as the noonday.”  Psalm 37:5-6 NKJV

The Lord’s commitment is sure.  Where is yours?

COMMITMENT ISSUES? REALLY?

There seems to be trouble with the word ‘commit’ these days.  It is highlighted by the National Signing Day and all of the hustle and bustle for the best high school football players available by schools all across the land.  Many have committed (or so we thought) while some have decommitted (a new word I think).  Now we’re hearing of a university decommitting from their scholarship commitment to a young athlete, leaving the young man to search for someone else to commit to him so that he can commit to them.

These are the young man’s words:  “I felt lost and hopeless.  I mean, I had shut down my recruiting and basically gave everything to those guys – my commitment, my word and everything.  Now my commitment and your commitment isn’t the same thing.”

This is too much.  What happened to the phrase, ‘your word is your bond?’  What happened to a contract being sealed with a handshake?  What is the problem with the word commit?

It’s showing up everywhere!  More and more people have commitment issues related to their ‘love’ interests, friendships, business relationships, and even with relationship with God.  Longstanding institutions are finding it difficult to survive because of commitment issues.

I love you but I can’t commit (Isn’t that a misnomer?)  I want you on my team but I want to grayshirt you (after offering the scholarship).  We can do business together but . . .  I believe in the Lord, but I am not ready to ‘commit.’

It seems there is always but . . . not the one with two t’s, just one, which communicates ‘no commitment.’  There is always an underlying current, a risky possibility, a remote chance, a shred of doubt or something that keeps people from using the word or execute the action of commit.

Committed?  Really, are you all in with no holdouts, no hidden agenda, no reluctance, no hesitancy or doubt?  Really, because if you’re committed, doesn’t that mean to entrust something (That is a form of trust I think).  Commitment carries weight because each party realizes it is binding upon both of them. (Usually!  But, the language is in transformation, obviously.)  And, the agreement obligates (It did at one time!) parties to perform certain acts or to deliver on certain matters mentioned in the commitment.

Well, National Signing Day is almost here and we will see how these commitments pan out.

But every day presents opportunities to demonstrate our commitment to some things such as our relationships, our institutions, our businesses, values and principles without which our whole society will be in turmoil.  Do we really have society without trust or commitment?

That may explain some things.

MALCOLM BUTLER: The Undrafted Rookie!

They call him an undrafted rookie!  But, as an undrafted rookie, Malcolm Butler was prepared for the one moment that would catapult him into notoriety.  It didn’t matter that few knew his name or that he hailed from humble beginnings.  His was not a direct route to the NFL.  His promise was not obvious or noted.  But, Malcolm Butler was ready when opportunity was given him to come forth out of obscurity to contribute to the game and help his teammates on to victory.  His background didn’t matter, his size didn’t matter, his rookie status didn’t matter, and it didn’t matter that he was never drafted.

What mattered was that Malcolm Butler was there and he was ready!  His reaction to the initial reality of it all suggested that he was profoundly thankful that his ‘vision’ had become his reality.  Going in, he was not the expected game changer or potentially the most valued, the star, or the team’s branded name.  He only saw himself contributing to make a difference and was ready to play.  And his humble spirit is now the observation of proud family and friends from his home state of Mississippi, the University of West Alabama, Hinds Community College and countless others who’d never heard of him.  But, they know him now.  The masses know that Malcolm Butler caught the interception that sealed the game for the World Champion New England Patriots.

“Malcolm Butler’s Journey From ‘Good Employee’ at Popeye’s to Patriots’ Super Bowl XLIX Hero” is the headline in the Washington Post.  Now that is notoriety!  But, reading the article, one will soon discover that it is also testimony.  A testimony of struggle, disappointment, fortitude, determination, endurance and hard work.  Simply stated, it is amazing.

Many of us may have a similar opportunity to make a difference somewhere in life, perhaps not with so much coverage by the news media outlets, but a significant contribution to an individual or even to the world longing for something good, authentic or life altering.  That one contribution can make things better at a key moment in time and have far reaching consequences.  The question for many of us is simple, will we be ready when the opportunity presents itself?

And what is readiness?  It is fitness and form for making significant contributions.  It is steadfastness when opportunity seems aloof and afar off.  It is focus upon a vision or calling that may not draw attention or labeling for the ‘first draft.’  It is humility within that appreciates small things that may prepare one for the possibility of greater things.  It is working hard at every task and giving your best to every attempt at making a difference.  And when the time comes, you’re in place prepared to do or achieve what others may never imagine.

This 24 year old has an amazing attitude toward the simple things of life that have grown and developed through struggle.  Things haven’t been ideal, they’re still not ideal!  But, Malcolm Butler’s name is indelibly marked upon NFL history and in our conversation because of his readiness for the big game.

“Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize?  Run in such a way that you may obtain it.  And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown.  Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air.  But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.”  I Corinthians 9:24-27 NKJV

Be ye also ready!

IS THE CHURCH GUILTY OF ABANDONMENT?

Child Abandonment occurs when a parent, guardian, or person in charge of a child either deserts a child without regard for the child’s physical health, safety or welfare and with the intention of wholly leaving the child, or in some instances, fails to provide necessary care for a child living under their roof.  It typically involves physical abandonment – such as leaving a child at a stranger’s doorstep when no one is home, it may also include extreme cases of emotional abandonment — such as when a “work-a-holic” parent offers little or no physical contact or emotional support over long periods of time.  Unfortunately, abandoned children (also called “foundlings”) who do not get their needs met often grow up with low self-esteem, emotional dependency, helplessness, and other issues.

There are people coming daily to the knowledge of Jesus Christ through the church’s efforts in evangelism and outreach.  Many congregations have grown beyond their expectations.  And most of them have responded with building programs to accommodate the bodies that show up to join.  It can be an exciting time for pastors and their church leadership teams.  It can also be a real challenging time to accommodate people who for the first time in their lives are seeking to know God and give their lives to Him.  And too often the challenges are met with the same results as described in child abandonment.

Abandonment occurs when people come to church and are left to manage or maneuver for themselves through the maze of church jargon, church programs, worship forms, new people and involvement issues without the caring and nurture of someone who can help them to find their way.  In particular, there usually isn’t anyone to nurture the discipleship process.  New members become foundlings within the crowded congregation of people they don’t know and find it difficult oftentimes to communicate in ‘church language.’  The new members class isn’t enough!

Our Lord’s instruction to His disciples before His ascension was to “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you;” (Matthew 28:19-20) and someone has to take responsibility for ‘making disciples’ by teaching them to observe all things.  Someone has to care for individuals in small groups to ‘make disciples.’  Programs and strategies may work to some degree, but real discipleship takes place when people are nurtured through the instruction and personal interactions of everyday life by mentors.

The analogy of beautiful babies brought home by new parents is a good one to drive home this point.  No one would imagine bringing a new life into a new home to leave it in a nursery alone.  You cannot leave an infant in its room and expect it to get up and run to the refrigerator for its bottle of milk.  The infant cannot clean itself up.  In other words, this baby is totally dependent upon someone to take responsibility for its care, protection, growth and development.

It is the same with ‘babes in Christ’ who await someone to guide them by taking a personal interest in their growth and development.  New Christians need the care and concern of someone who can love them unconditionally, teach and instruct them in the Word, and guide them in achieving life-changing recovery.  The issues of the secular world alone are enough to distract or lure new believers back to old habits, addictions, or way of life.  The church must treat every new Christian as a ‘newborn’ in need of the intensive and loving care of an attentive discipler.

It is amazing how well the early church engaged in the teaching of the ‘apostles’ doctrine.’  Their focus was upon the teaching and preaching of the word daily.  Imagine a blossoming church of 3000+ members in one day.  They had to work passionately and with great intent to orientate people, teach the basic tenets of the faith, organize them into smaller groups, structure a leadership team around the apostles, keep mentors and instructors current on matters of faith, maintain the evangelistic outreach, accommodate new converts that were being added daily . . . the list goes on and on.  And this church did not experience the ‘revolving door’ of people coming in only to drift away shortly after arriving.  “Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them.   And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.”  Acts 2:41-42 NKJV

People were not abandoned in the early church because the instruction in the word was emphasized as a part of the conversion process.  It was not optional!  Fellowship was generated around the word of God by bringing people together into homes in which faithful, maturing Christians were found engaging new believers in the word and enjoying the fellowship of saints who were able to minister and mentor.  “So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church[h] daily those who were being saved.” Acts 2:46-47 NKJV

Unfortunately, today’s church is too busy for these kind of intensive interactions.  Work outside of the church takes the majority of the time so that what is left for the average church is time for general activities while ‘new converts’ usually have to find their way.  It may be that the real test of the 21st Century church is to reclaim those that went through the church without the benefit of real nurturing and instruction to spiritual maturity through discipleship ministries.

Someone must care for the babes in Christ with passion to not take lightly the new life that has come forth through the power of the Holy Spirit.  We are not called to produce members, but to make disciples for Christ.   Every believer is called to be a part of this process by themselves being disciple for their own personal possibilities as nurturers in the faith.   To do this, the church may have to rethink its current strategy to claim members under big roofs.  Ministers, teachers, mentors working in small groups designed to teach and minister will reduce the likelihood of the revolving door and the abandonment of ‘children’ in the faith.

Otherwise, members will be left alone to struggle in the maze of the church.  Most will not survive to full maturity as disciples that will be able to teach others.

“. . . be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.  And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”  II Timothy 2:2 NKJV

Should I Leave This Church?

Disgruntled, unhappy, and frustrated churchgoers are staying because this is my church.  Unfortunately, when it starts being your church, especially with the atmosphere being filled with general feelings of discord, it may no longer be God’s church.  He does remove Himself from confusion and non-glorifying circumstances.

When being edified is no longer the experience of the congregation or the individual, there should be some close scrutiny of the situation.  And here is how to do it.

First, begin by looking within!  Ask yourself,  ‘why am I having feelings of frustration?’ Often there are issues within or personal failures contributing to our loss of fellowship with God that has us frustrated.  Before we blame others, check to see what is going on within.  Make sure there isn’t sin ‘crouching at the door!’

Second, the problem may be rooted in being overly impressed with worship forms or preaching styles observed elsewhere.  Make sure that the prevailing consumer mentality isn’t making shopping around for something ‘better’ more appealing.  Don’t allow the appeal of secular ideas have you thinking that your church isn’t current or relevant.  You may need to stay where you’re planted.

Third, burnout from tedious ministry tasks or loss of a vision for what it is you have been charged to do may cause one to lose focus.  Make sure that there is time away to seek the Lord and refresh before leaving worthwhile responsibilities or duties in the church.  Your covenant with the Lord and the body of believers should not be easily breached.

Finally, if there is a problem, in the pulpit or worship ministry where ministering to the needs of the people of God and/or the worship is compromised by too many secular trends that do more to entertain than edify, then voice your concerns with someone in leadership in the same spirit of Galatians 6:1.  Meekness when dealing with sensitive issues will open doors to dialogue that may be fruitful toward improving preaching and ministry initiatives.  Go to your brother or sister and seek to engage them in a positive and spirit-filled discussion about your concerns.  Applying Matthew 18:15-17 may be appropriate to seek understanding.  But it should be applied with prayer before speaking to someone and preferably together with them once dialogue begins.  Prayer always helps to take the matter out of our hands and into God’s hands.

However, worship can be more about us than about God so much so that many leave with no sense of having been edified or exaltation to a higher consciousness of God and His presence in their lives.  Souls continue to hunger for a word because preaching is exciting and even entertaining with little or no food for thought or pondering.

When the worship center becomes filled with distractions, frustrations, and most importantly, heresies than worship encounters with God, an edifying word, or a fellowship wherein people may grow, it may be time to look elsewhere.

Don’t be guilty of staying because this is my church!  The Lord leaves when He is no longer welcome!

MOVING ON UP TODAY

The daffodils are pushing up . . . hurriedly and with determination to blossom forth with their beauty and presence in God’s created fields.  It is deliberate with the slightest hint of warm weather!  These bulbs are pushing upward to bloom.

Nature’s progress is ever changing with the seasons that come and go annually like clockwork.  Sometimes each season may be extreme in its strength and influence upon the conditions of the atmosphere and land mass.  They may have interruptions of warmth during the cold season and cold in the warm season.  But other elements of nature respond to what they feel and their nature dictates during these interruptions.  For these daffodils, its nature says it is time to push forth with new life to blossom with rich color, aroma, and classic beauty.

There is something in each of us that moves upon us to stand to contribute with rich and powerful meaning what has been planted deep within our souls.  There is a time for us to step into our destiny, to realize our possibility on a higher plane than our job responsibilities, or a deeper level than financial obligations, or even beyond our interactions and connections with family and friends.  Something should engage us and move us to a place of purpose and meaning in life that will offer us our greatest feeling of fulfillment and joy.

This drive within comes from something bigger than we are and more noble than we can conceive within our own minds.  The motivation is stronger than the constraints of environment or the limitations of conditions and circumstance.  This strength reaches beyond the reservations of our own hearts or boundaries of our minds to overcome shortcomings, feelings of insufficiency, or inabilities.  In fact, this urgency to produce or to contribute is divine . . . and we cannot help ourselves.

The daffodils, at the slightest hint of warmth, are decidedly and anxiously moving with deliberate velocity to bloom in a new season.  It may be a bit early, but whose to say that they won’t survive.  This drive is divine and a part of their nature.

What is there driving you onward and upward?

“I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.” Philippians 3:12b NKJV