On Using A Smart Phone

I’m relatively new to the smart phone world, having used a basic phone for many years. When my son-in-law upgraded and offered the gift of his old phone, I determined the price was right and the opportunity good to try it out. He insisted it would change my life. It’s been fun to learn some new things I couldn’t do before.

Until last week.

I found myself at a traffic stop, so it was a good time to pull out the phone and start a voice text. A church member called earlier with a request and I’d not yet had time to respond. The light changed, and I laid the phone aside. However, the line of cars in front of me was backed up and I couldn’t proceed. The driver behind me tried to blow me out of his way, though he couldn’t go anywhere either. I made the “palms up” signal as a way of non-verbally asking, “What am I supposed to do?” But he continued to blow his horn. I muttered an accusatory noun under my breath. In a few seconds the line of cars moved and we were on our way.

Imagine my surprise a few minutes later when I picked up the phone to hit “send,” only to discover that at the end of my sweet note to our church member was the word “idiot.” I’m glad I didn’t send the message prematurely! I was also ashamed that the voice text picked up a word I shouldn’t have said.

I got to visit the Richard Nixon Library a few years ago. One interesting feature is the White House tape recording exhibit. Visitors can put on headphones and hear some of the actual recordings from Nixon’s presidency—the tapes that brought about the only presidential resignation in our history. Former Texas Gov. John Connelly urged Nixon to burn the tapes, but he didn’t, and they came back with vengeance after the Supreme Court ruled Nixon had to give them up.

Jesus said, “What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs” (Luke 12:3). God warns us in scripture to be careful of the words we say since they’re being divinely recorded for judgment.

It’s also true that we mustn’t be quick to condemn others. In responding as I did to a rude driver I let him set the agenda for my response. I lowered myself to his level.

I guess the smart phone has, indeed, begun to change my life. Last week I prayed, “Lord, keep watch over the door of my lips” (Psalm 141:3).

When Life Hits Us Head-On

On my recent visit to Superman’s hometown of Metropolis, Illinois, I purchased several pieces of Kryptonite. The store had a barrel full of this mineral. I asked the attendant if it was real. She assured me it came from genuine meteor fragments! Whether this is true or not, at least I now have a conversation piece, though I wonder why a place to honor the Man of Steel would stock the substance that makes his knees buckle.

We remember Kal-El (aka Clark Kent) was born on the Planet Krypton, and the fragments of the now-destroyed planet make him as weak as the rest of us.

I’m convinced that all of us are vulnerable to a Kryptonite-like substance called life. Life often hits us head-on and our knees buckle, too.

I visited with a nice couple lately who told me about the death of the lady’s mother and the recent cancer diagnosis of her dad. She also told me her younger sister had died, and that she and her husband took in the sister’s son to raise. The young man is now grown and gone and living a profligate life.

Life hit them head-on.

We struggle with the tragedies of life. I’ve often remarked to our congregation how most of us take on the care of aging parents, though this is an area we’re not instructed in nor often prepared for. Sometimes these duties include dread diseases like the afore-mentioned cancer, or dementia. And there’s often financial challenges when dealing with senior parents.

We struggle with bad choices. I had a relative who died prematurely due to his addiction to cigarettes. I’ll never forget watching him with a cigarette in one hand and an oxygen mask in the other. Even at that stage he couldn’t quit his habit.

We struggle with our mortality. Death stalks us. Young people don’t think much about death, but seniors think about it when our bodies won’t do what they used to do. Death is among the top three fears people have. Even believers who have the assurance of Christ’s friendship shudder at the thought of death, feeling that we have much remaining to do in our lives.

The apostle Paul wrote in the New Testament about his mysterious “thorn”; a bodily affliction or a tortured memory, we’re not sure. He said he earnestly prayed for God to remove it, but the Lord determined not to do so. Instead God gave him more of his presence to endure and survive. Paul lived his life in partnership with God despite his weakness.

Life often hits us head-on. We should hear the triumphant testimony of Paul and seek God’s partnership to endure and survive just as he did.

You Deserve A Break Today

I attended the biennial convention of the American Political Items Collectors in Springfield, Illinois recently. This group enjoys political memorabilia including buttons, ribbons, books, autographs and 3-D items, and share a passion for history. I got acquainted with the club many years ago and have attended some meetings over the years, but never one this far from home. The location this year afforded opportunity to see the sites associated with President Lincoln who called Springfield his hometown. He lived there 20 for years before moving to the White House, and his tomb is in Springfield, too. The new Lincoln Museum is a spectacular place as well.

The APIC has a number of sub-chapters. I’m treasurer for the Republican Political Items Collectors, and vice-president and newsletter editor for the Jimmy Carter Political Items Collectors. The Carter group has had a banquet meal with the Carters every year for the past 20.

I wish I’d known about these groups years ago and had opportunity to learn history and make friends outside my normal circle. Everyone needs a diversion. On one occasion, Jesus told his disciples to turn aside and rest (Mark 6:31). As the late Vance Havner used to say, “We need to come apart and rest, or we’ll come apart!”

A biographer of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy told of a visit by Ambassador Joseph Kennedy to the Oval Office, accompanied by his son, Bobby. Learning that the lad also collected, President Roosevelt called Bobby to his desk, showed some of his albums and gave him stamps for his collection.

How striking that the president who directed the course of World War II and held the weight of the world on his shoulders found some respite with his stamps.

I think about FDR when I read the media criticizing presidents taking time for rest and relaxation, such as Reagan retreating to Rancho de Cielo or Bush 43 to Crawford or Obama to the golf course. Everyone needs a diversion, especially those who carry nuclear codes in their pockets.

I’ve met scores of displaced ministers over the years through the Ministering to Ministers organization. Their stories of crisis are heart-breaking. Many have been through involuntary termination and have exhausted hope, options and finances. One recurrent theme in their stories is how they worked relentlessly, neglecting families and health. Therapists who guide these discussions often chide ministers and spouses for not finding healthy diversions and making friends outside their congregations. After all, if you lose your congregation, those friends outside the church may be the only ones left.

The reformer Martin Luther once told his friend Philipp Melanchthon, “Come, Philipp. Let God run the world today. Let’s you and I go fishing!”

The Good Ol' Summertime

It’s a great time of year, except for the bugs!

Or so says a survey once reported in "USA Today." Insects are the most often mentioned detriment to backyard outings and picnics. But there are other irritations. Fifty-one percent of respondents don’t like flimsy paper plates, 36 percent don’t like unsteady lawn chairs, 35 percent don’t like plastic utensils and 31 percent don’t like the squeeze bottles with mustard and ketchup drippings on them.

The survey even included the hard core complainers, since 15 percent of men and 10 percent of women don’t like checked tablecloths!

In spite of all these negatives, summer is a great time. A time for family and friends and travel and baseball. For grandparents it's a time to take the young ones to the zoo or fishing or to the beach. Grandparents enjoy these outings as much or more than the grandchildren.

But, alas, summertime is not usually a good time for our churches since attendance plummets and finances falter. I’ve never really understood why attendance goes down in the summer. If our members went to church when they were out of town, the out-of-town churches would have good attendance, and the churches back home would have good attendance from the out-of-towners who were visiting. I’m afraid the truth is many of us simply take vacations from church when we travel.

So, a few suggestions to keep your church healthy in the summertime.

First, attend church someplace while out-of-town. We can be encouraged and refreshed worshiping with another congregation while traveling. And it does us good to see what other churches are doing--we might learn some new ideas we can bring home with us. Be sure to pick

up a worship bulletin and give to your pastor or music minister when you return. They usually like to look these over for new ideas, too. Many ministers don't get to visit other churches very often and they enjoy knowing how others are doing things. (Just be sure not to brag too much on the sermon you heard while on vacation).

Second, be sure your responsibilities are taken care of before you leave. Enlist someone else to usher or teach or count money. Nothing is more disconcerting than having tasks go undone when no one is aware of a planned absence.

Third, leave your tithes and offerings with your church before you depart. Expenses go on even when you’re not there. 

Enjoy your trip, but don’t take a vacation from God. We need him and his church-- even in the summertime.