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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

On Less is More

I was asked to publish the devotions that I led in faculty prayer meeting last week. We gather each Tuesday-Friday morning at 7:45am in order to start the day with reflection and prayer. We take turns leading the 15 minute devotion and it was my turn. 

Faculty Devotions
March 5-8, 2013

Theme for the week:  Less Can be More
Series Theme:  Each day, we will look at a “cannot make this stuff up” story (which I call NOTW) in light of lessons that can be learned from the connection between the story and a Scripture passage.

Tuesday:          Careless Association
Wednesday:     Groundless Anxiety
Thursday:         Mindless Presumption
Friday:             Needless Narcissism

I am a bit of a collector of things bizarre.  I love stories that come from real life but that are so surreal, so unbelievable, so funny that the usual reaction is “you just can’t make this stuff up.”  I call my collection of stories NOTW (Not Of This World).  Each devotion will be introduced by a NOTW story and hopefully make an association with a truth from Scripture. Be sure to follow the link to get the story!

Tuesday:    Careless Association
NOTW:     Pharmaceutical Fish
Text:          Psalm 1
Main Idea: Are we influencers or are we influenced?

    According to a story in the New York Times, fish behavior is altered when humans take anti-anxiety drugs and when nature takes its course, these drugs end up in the ecosystem via wastewater and ultimately into the habitat of fish.  The residual of those drugs causes an environment that makes the fish. . .well relaxed.  This makes their natural instincts dull and more susceptible to predators  (“look perch dude–it’s a shark”). Read about the study here:


The Psalmist speaks of the impact of environmental influence. 

       1 How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, Nor stand in the path of sinners, Nor sit in the seat of scoffers!
    2 But his delight is in the law of the Lord, And in His law he meditates day and night.
    3 And he will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, Which yields its fruit in its season, And its leaf does not wither; And in whatever he does, he prospers.
    4 The wicked are not so, But they are like chaff which the wind drives away.
    5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, Nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.
    6 For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, But the way of the wicked will perish.

    I sometimes get careless with my environment, my association. I don’t change the channel even when I know that what I am watching is not helpful or edifying, even if it is not vile or vulgar. I don’t always walk out of movies that just aren’t good, walk away when someone starts in on a joke that I know will not end well.  I don’t always associate with pure people.  Sometimes that gets me in trouble (volunteer at fraternity at Tulane and there was a drub bust there this past week.  Even though only one of the guys was truly doing and dealing, the DEA arrested 8 young men just because they were in the frat house. 
    Unlike the pharmaceutical fish, I have a choice and a will and a calling.  I may choose to associate with some folks and not with others, invest time in some things and not others and I feel like part of our calling is to take some risks in relationships.  We cannot be careless in our associations, but we cannot refuse to go where Jesus might go.
    Are we influencers or are we influenced?”

Wednesday: Groundless Anxiety
NOTW:       Felix Baumgartner (ultimate skydiver)
Text:            Matthew 6:25-34
Main Idea:   Will we miss out on a God thing because I insist on the safe thing?

    I was coming back from the Youth Specialties National Youthworker Conference in San Diego back on October when the pilot of the plane told us to look out the window if we were on the left side of the plane. I was and I did and I saw a silver speck that was high above us.  It was the balloon that Felix Baumgartner would jump out of to become the record holder for the highest parachute jump (128,000 feet) and the only human to break the sound barrier without the aid of machinery.  We could see the balloon even though it was far, far away because it was really big. Once the daredevil jumped from his capsule (which weighed as much as a VW), the balloon automatically deflated and drifted to earth, landing 50 miles from where he did. It took crew members 45 minutes to gather the 40 acres of material weighing 3,708lbs and load it into a large open truck.
    The jump, however, almost didn’t happen.  The pressurized suit that Baumgartner had to wear in order to survive at altitude caused him to become claustrophobic.  Now I am not saying that a fear is invalid just because I don’t have.  I am saying that it is strange that a guy who wasn’t afraid to jump from a balloon was afraid to be in the suit.  Read about it here:


    25 "For this reason I say to you, do not be anxious for your life, as to what you shall eat, or what you shall drink; nor for your body, as to what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body than clothing? 26 "Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? 27 "And which of you by being anxious can add a single cubit to his life's span? 28 "And why are you anxious about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, 29 yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory did not clothe himself like one of these. 30 "But if God so arrays the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more do so for you, O men of little faith? 31 "Do not be anxious then, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'With what shall we clothe ourselves?' 32 "For all these things the Gentiles eagerly seek; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 "But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you. 34 "Therefore do not be anxious for tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

    Sometimes I worry groundlessly. I have no legitimate reason for my anxiety, but I worry about traffic or bills or imaginary opponents.  My wise wife says I “borrow trouble.”  I wonder if my anxiety keeps me from taking appropriate risks.  Do I hesitate when I should act? Do I stand pat when I should take another card (hypothetically speaking of course). Is there some thing I need to try that I HAVE to see God at work or do I go through ministry doing things that I admit (if I am really honest) that I can do on my own strength?
    Will I miss out on a God thing because I insist on the safe thing?

Thursday:    Mindless Presumption
NOTW:      Penelope Soto (flipped off a judge)
Text:           Luke 12:13-21
Main Idea:  Will we learn to be more respectful for those who lead us, and for God as our ultimate authority?

    Penelope Soto was a young lady who forgot her boundaries. When brought before a judge in Florida on drug charges Ms. Soto (maybe still a little stoned) was too flippant (pun intended) when she appeared for a bail hearing.  The video of her giggling, playing with her hair and ultimately dropping a profanity bomb and giving the judge the universal hand signal of disrespect went viral on the internet. The judge responded by calling her back and giving her a much stiffer sentence. Read her story here:


    13 And someone in the crowd said to Him, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me." 14 But He said to him, "Man, who appointed Me a judge or arbiter over you?"  15 And He said to them, "Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions."  16 And He told them a parable, saying, "The land of a certain rich man was very productive. 17 "And he began reasoning to himself, saying, 'What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops?' 18 "And he said, 'This is what I will do: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 'And I will say to my soul, "Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry."' 20 "But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?' 21 "So is the man who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God."

    I need to apologize occasionally for offending people because I have ignored boundaries of respect, courtesy or decorum.  Sometimes I forget that I am not the center of the universe (though I touched it in Jerusalem).  I am probably not alone and if you are a pastor, you have a church full of people who are pretty sure they can do your job better than you.  Any leader of any organization must live with the knowledge that many of the people in the food chain, and especially the really little fish, believe that if they were in charge, things would be different around here. I repent.  I deserve to get called back to the judge and be given a stiffer sentence.  I blur boundaries and occasionally have to be reminded that I am not in charge. I need to admit that God is God and I am not. I need to learn better how to “lead from the second chair.”  Fortunately the story of Penelope Soto ended with grace when she sobered up and had dialog with the judge. 
    Will we learn to be more respectful for those who lead us, and ultimately to honor God as our ultimate authority?

Friday:     Needless Narcissism
NOTW:   Professor Emlyn Hughes (stripped to his underwear)
Text:        Matthew 12: 35-37
Main Idea: Will we carefully weigh whether the words we speak are the right words for the moment?

    How far will we go to make a point?  How much will we subject our words–especially our illustrations–to the lens of discipleship? A professor at Columbia University went a little far in his attempt to try to say that we had to get rid of our old preconceptions in order to learn new things. In his words, we have to strip away our prior thoughts to make room for new ones. And strip he did.  In front of his quantum mechanics class, he stripped to his underwear to prove his point.  I am not making this up. Read his story here:


    35 "The good man out of his good treasure brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of his evil treasure brings forth what is evil. 36 "And I say to you, that every careless word that men shall speak, they shall render account for it in the day of judgment. 37 "For by your words you shall be justified, and by your words you shall be condemned."

    I may need some latitude with the NT scholars, but v.36 has always haunted me. These verses are found only in Matthew. Jesus just talked about “blasphemy of the Holy Spirit”  which I am pretty sure I will never understand. Now He talks about our words.  We know we are not saved by our words, but because of what our words represent (Rm 10:9, “if we confess with our mouth...). “Careless" refers to words that we might think insignificant--idle or worthless words. I believe the teaching is that we should self-examine our words spoken, promises made, vows exchanged, and commitments verbalized.
    But I don’t think it is a stretch to ask a room full of wordsmith preachers to think about the impact of our words as much as the words themselves. Are our words necessary, appropriate or edifying?  Do our words represent Applied to our preaching and teaching, I used to regularly have a conversation with a friend and accountability partner. When I ran an illustration idea by him, he asked, “Is that the best way to communicate what you are trying to communicate? Is the meaning lost in the story? Will they remember the biblical truth or the edgy illustration?”
    I am a lifetime youth minister who knows that nothing gets a middle schooler’s attention like setting something on fire or showing a video clip of which their parents wouldn’t approve. Yet, when I have said something in the interest of being “hip” it rarely turns out well. It might not cause damage to a teenager (or it might) and I might not lose my job (or I might), but I am usually left feeling like I chose a path of mediocrity rather than a road of excellence.
    Will we carefully weigh whether the words we speak are the right words for the moment?