The Mid-term Results – A Reflection

Why I am Encouraged by Last Night’s Results

So, the Democrats regained control of the House, but the Republicans gained seats in the Senate. I suppose this election result will spawn angst and disappointment, mixed with joy and celebration in the hearts of many, regardless of party. Mixed outcomes are bound to produce mixed emotions.
 
Some may find it strange, but I see this through the eyes of encouragement.
 
While I would have liked a different outcome in some of the contests, the split results are not unexpected. To me, they are a strong indicator that our representative republic is not quite yet on life support. The tides of political forces ebb and flow in natural waves, washing the shores of public policy with the cleansing power of change. Too much power in too few hands inevitably sours into a mess of poisonous corruption if not challenged by opposing forces. Parties and Presidents are all human, and power corrupts them all if held too long.
 
The genius of the American system is the self-correcting wisdom of “the people.” I have seen this evidenced in every election cycle of my lifetime. I think we saw it again last night. But, lest any should rejoice too much, beware. The next election is always just over the horizon.
 
Live with integrity. Serve with honor. Love the people.

Empowering the Saints for Service and Ministry

 

(Note: 10/24/18: I wrote this article following the defense of my doctoral dissertation in 1998 at Andrews University. It was originally published in Ministry, April, 2000. The focus of the article is equipping the members of a local congregation through biblical principles of organization and Holy Spirit-led leadership. However, in the light of recent denominational developments in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, it seems appropriate to share it once again.)

EMPOWERING THE SAINTS FOR SERVICE AND MINISTRY
© Loren L. Fenton, D.Min.
Ministry/April 2000

Business leaders face the ever-daunting challenge of inspiring their employees to maximize production and enhance the company’s bottom line. Many wise managers have discovered that their success is dramatically increased when they empower the people closest to a task with (1) broad, autonomous decision-making authority, (2) enough resources, and (3) all the appropriate training needed to do the work. Business firms founded and operated on these kinds of principles are creating shockwaves of productive change in the world of commerce.1

Although the church is by no means a business per se, church leaders can learn much from the experience of successful business operations. The single most difficult task confronting a local church pastor is to put the members to work in an effective, meaningful ministry. The purpose of this article is to explore how that can be done in such a way that members are inspired and empowered for a lifetime of service and ministry.

Historically, evangelism, witnessing, and giving Bible studies have been the focus of “putting the members to work.” In recent decades, a spiritual gifts-based ministry has become popular. NET events and witnessing by videotape are currently in vogue, allowing skilled professional evangelists to do the preaching via projector and VCR. But despite promotions ad infinitum, worldwide satellite seminars, “how to” clinics, classes, and impassioned calls for commitment, the laity has yet to take up the gospel torch en masse for a last-day Pentecost. The question must be asked, Why are we still languishing in the doldrums of lukewarm Laodicea? Could it be that we preach but not really practice the doctrine that all believers are the priests of God? Are we perhaps unwittingly obstructing the work that God would do through His church by disempowering members instead of empowering them for service? What would happen if we could find away to release the power of the laity, the true priests of the New Testament of grace, instead of trying to control it? To accomplish this, it is necessary for us to radically change our way of thinking about ministry in general, and church life in particular. In this article I am writing specifically about the internal relationships within a local congregation, and our need to release the necessary components of empowerment back to the people.

As Protestants, we believe that every member is a priest of God, a dispenser of grace to a world filled with ungrace and towering need. This is a key biblical concept. At Mt. Sinai God declares to Moses and the nation of Israel, “Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exod. 19:5b-6a, NIV). In the New Testament, John proclaims that Jesus “has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father” (Rev. 1:6, NIV), and the apostle Peter, writing to God’s elect scattered throughout the world, says, “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9, NIV).

The “priesthood of all believers” doctrine taught by Martin Luther and other founders of Protestantism focused primarily on the right of every individual to confidently approach God’s throne of grace “so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Heb. 4:16, NW). This Reformation doctrine was indispensable to the success of the movement. Sweeping away the medieval system of lay bondage to professional priests and prelates, the message of individual spiritual freedom fueled a gospel fire that could not be quenched. Through the centuries since the beginning of the Reformation, the “priesthood of all believers” has remained a cornerstone in the belief structure of all Protestant churches and continues as such today.

Little emphasis, however, has been given to the other side of priestly function. A priest also dispenses God’s gifts to the people. The New Testament priesthood makes every believer everywhere into a primary delivery conduit, anointed by the Holy Spirit to dispel the darkness of the world through living God’s love in service to others and in ministry to their needs. A church is composed of two or more believers (New Testament priests) who assemble themselves into a unified body for worship, fellowship, ministry, evangelism, and discipleship.2

In the early 1960s, a Quaker named Elton Trueblood described the church as “the company of the committed” in a book published under that title.3 In this landmark book, Trueblood developed the concept that every Christian is called to a vocation of witnessing for Christ. The believer’s primary calling is to ministry and service in behalf of the waiting world, for bearing witness to the saving power and grace of God. The church, Trueblood contended, is thus a gathering, or fellowship, of ministers. In a later book, The Incendiary Fellowship, Trueblood develops the idea further.4 Trueblood’s view of the church is that it is a society of ministers working from a base, going out into the world to serve the needs they find there, and returning periodically to the base for renewal and rest.

The question we are faced with is how to create and nurture an empowering church environment where members are energized for ministry and pastors can fulfill their biblically mandated role as equippers and coaches, as Ephesians 4:12 describes. Before this question can be answered, however, we first need to understand the nature of power itself, and what constitutes true empowerment.
Ultimately, all power comes from God, the Creator. In the creation of the universe, and more specifically our planet, God imbued the elements with power to function according to His design. “He spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm” (Ps. 33:9, NIV). By the same creative power, He filled the earth with life in all its many forms. He defined each “kind” by placing unique powers within them to act in distinct, definable, and predictable ways. In His crowning act of Creation, to a limited degree, God gave human beings the Godlike power to give other people power. He empowered us to empower others.

Three dimensions of empowerment can be identified: (1) The granting of authority; (2) Providing resources and raw materials; and (3) Giving the education and training necessary to use the authority and resources properly and effectively.

First, to “empower” means to grant decision-making, problem-solving authority to the holders (stewards) of responsibility. Jesus spoke of this kind of empowerment when He said to His disciples, “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth” (Matt. 28:18). The NIV translates the word “power” in this text as “authority.” It is the Greek word exousia. People placed in positions of responsibility, but who have no authority to make decisions or execute plans are powerless puppets, only acting out someone else’s agenda. Nothing is more pitiful, or more frustrating, than to have straw men and women filling church offices but afraid to move without first getting permission from some authoritarian person or board who holds the reins of power. Effective, empowered ministry requires the freedom and authority to make major decisions relative to the conduct and success of the ministry. True empowerment grants authority equal to the responsibility.

Second, to “empower” also means to provide adequate resources for the work. Raw materials are essential to empowerment and success. Workers who run out of spare parts on an assembly line are forced to shut down production. They have to have the right supplies, or they simply cannot do the job expected of them.

The story of the Israelites enslaved by the Egyptians is an example of this. An irritated Pharaoh commanded his foremen, “You are no longer to supply the people with straw for making bricks; let them go and gather their own straw. But require them to make the same number of bricks as before; don’t reduce the quota” (Exod. 5:7, 8, NIV). The heartless demands of Pharaoh created an intolerable condition for the Israelite slaves, calculated to distract them from their desire to worship their God. The effect, however, was not what Pharaoh expected or wanted. His rash requirement stirred up even greater resistance and rebellion against his rule in the hearts of all the Israelites. The result was the greatest mass labor walkout in history.

In stark contrast to Pharaoh’s treatment of the Israelites, the empowerment received by the disciples of Jesus on the Day of Pentecost was full and complete. On the Mount of Ascension, Jesus told the disciples,” ‘But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8, NIV). The word dunamis is used here to convey the meaning of dynamic, explosive, earth-moving power. The implication in this promise is that the Holy Spirit will supply whatever it takes to accomplish the goal of carrying the gospel message to all the world. The second chapter of Acts describes the fulfillment of this promise. The disciples were given all the resources necessary to accomplish that purpose. They were empowered by the Holy Spirit.

A third aspect of “empowerment” is the provision of education and training for a task at hand. Popular wisdom accepts the maxim that “knowledge is power.” Authority in control of resources but devoid of knowledge is either totally powerless or totally dangerous. God says through the prophet Hosea, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee” (Hosea 4:6).

On the other hand, authority supplied with resources and endowed with knowledge can accomplish anything. King Solomon declared, “By wisdom the Lord laid the earth’s foundations, by understanding he set the heavens in place; by his knowledge the deeps were divided, and the clouds let drop the dew” (Prov. 3:19, 20, NIV). It was God’s knowledge that enabled Him to create the earth. In human endeavors, it is the presence of knowledge that enables people with authority to make effective use of whatever resources are at their disposal.
Thus, true empowerment for church members means giving them whatever Authority, Resources, and Knowledge (the “ARK” of empowerment) is needed for the job they are asked to perform. If there is not enough money in the budget to cover the costs of a project, give them permission to raise it. To empower the saints for service and ministry means to support them in every way possible, including staying out of their way so they can work effectively without interference or micro-management from above.

A good leader-coach doesn’t play the game for the team on the field. Instead the players are invested with whatever they need to reach the goal. A good pastor-coach must be a person of integrity, vision, and personal spirituality, someone who lives by the deep values of a character ethic. Living and working from a principle-based philosophy creates authenticity and fosters trust.

The truth is that trust is the single most important element affecting the entire process of empowerment for every-member ministry. When doubt and distrust prevail through domineering attitudes, then discouragement, discord and entrenchment soon follow. The weeds of fear and protectionism choke out the Christian graces of love, acceptance, and forgiveness. As trust dies the church dies. If the church is to revive and survive, trust must be revived and restored. Trust is an absolute necessity for organizational life and health.

Trust cannot be created. It can only be cultivated. Trust flows from trustworthiness and reliability. An atmosphere of trust within a church will thrive as pastors and other church leaders cultivate the principles of empowering ministry, showing themselves to be trustworthy and reliable. Trust is multiplied by trust. Within a networking, member-empowering church, all information related to whatever ministry of the moment must be shared with everyone involved in that ministry. The empowerment process moves forward driven by the engine of trust, fueled by openness. It allows unrestricted access by all to all information relevant to the mission.

Many church members truly want to make a difference. God has inspired them with genuinely worthwhile ideas and has given them wisdom to make right decisions. When church members see that they can contribute to deciding the focus of ministry they respond with enthusiasm. The people who are doing the work usually have the most direct knowledge of the needs and challenges they face. They must be given the freedom to meet those needs with their own vision. When teamed up with other member-ministers who have similar interests and passions, the rank-and-file church members work tirelessly for the cause.

There is need, however, to bind the church members together in a common vision of purpose. Michael C. Armour and Don Browning, in a book written to address the problem of unifying congregations filled with people who all have different ways of thinking, put it this way: “Because an empowerment model, by its very nature, disperses decision making, the absence of a uniting vision invites every ministry to go its own way. Like Israel in the days of the judges, everyone does what is right in his or her own sight (Judges 21:25). The result was chaos and anarchy in Israel. The same thing will happen in the church.”5

Here is where a praying, visionary pastor, or other local church leader, becomes indispensable in the empowerment process. It is their calling to lead the congregation, perhaps steeped in local as well as denominational tradition, through the process of change so that the church becomes a robust, permission-giving body.

This ministry calls for dedication, vision, patience, understanding, love, and abundant grace. The pastor must first clearly understand the path the church needs to follow, and then present a clarion call, a blinding vision of what can be. Inspiration gained through personal Bible study, prayer, and wide reading must fire the soul of the church leader, who then can touch the lives of the people in the congregation.

True empowerment comes from God. Nevertheless, even as the life force God gave to Adam continues to flow through generation after generation of human beings, so the ability to empower other people with Authority, Resources, and Knowledge also flows through generation after generation of believers. The challenge of leading congregations to become centers of empowerment for individual members and ministry teams is a calling worthy of a lifetime. To reach this divine purpose, God empowers pastors to release the energy He has given to the saints for ministry and service.

Footnotes
1. For example, see Peter M. Senge, The Fifth Discipline; The Art and Practice of The Learning Organization (New York: Doubleday Publishers, 1990); and James A. Belasco and Ralph C. Stayer, Flight of the Buffalo: Soaring to Excellence, Learning to Let Employees Lead (New York: Warner Books, Inc., Publishers, 1993).

2. These five arenas of church life are explored in depth by Rick Warren in The Purpose Driven Church: Growth Without Compromising Your Message and Mission (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Publishing House, 1995).

3. Elton Trueblood, The Company of the Committed: A Manual of Action for Every Christian (San Francisco, Calif.: Harper & Row Publishers, 1961; Harper’s Paperback, 1980).

4. Trueblood, The Incendiary Fellowship: How the Church Can Be Set Aflame Today as it Was in the First Century of Christianity (San Francisco, Calif.: Harper & Row Publishers, 1967; Harper’s Paperback, 1978)39.

5. Armour, Michael C., and Don Browning. Systems-Sensitive Leadership: Empowering Diversity Without Polarizing the Church (Joplin, Mo.: College Press Publishing Company, 1995).

Are Hierarchies Evil?

Re: Hierarchies

(Note, 10/14/2018: I decided to copy and paste this article into this blog from where it was previously posted in our “Things We Love to Share” blog. These are two different blog sites with two different purposes. In the future, opinion/viewpoint article will be posted here, while other miscellaneous things of interest will be posted at the other site.)

Are Hierarchies Evil?

(Note 10/15/2018: This is an article I wrote in February, 2006. It was published at that time in our church newsletter. In the light of the vote taken yesterday at #GCAC18, it seems timely to share it once again. LLF)

Are Hierarchies Evil?
© 2006 Pastor Loren L. Fenton
Canyonville Seventh-day Adventist Church
            A few weeks ago, I made an “off-the-cuff” statement in the Sabbath School class that meets in the back of the sanctuary, which seems to have stirred up quite a bit of discussion here and there.  I don’t remember the exact discussion that precipitated my remark, but as I remember it I said something like “I believe hierarchies were invented by the devil.”  It is amazing how something like this can be taken out of context and changed quite dramatically as it flows along the grapevine.  (Did you ever play the game of “telephone” at a party?)  Now, I don’t deny that I made the statement, but I thought maybe it would be profitable for us all if I commented a little more on the subject here.
First, I want to apologize for causing distress for some of our people.  I guess it was assumed by my statement that I do not believe in church organization.  Let me assure you that is not the case at all.  I very much value and respect the way the Seventh-day Adventist Church is organized, and I am thrilled to know how God has led this denomination in its organizational history.  It is a blessing to me personally as I receive my monthly paycheck from our Oregon Conference headquarters, and I count it a great privilege to return a faithful tithe, and give additional offerings, for the support of God’s work, not only here in Oregon, but around the world through the General Conference and related entities.  Yes, I am loyal to the Seventh-day Adventist Church and its organizational structure!
As I have thought about this question of organization and hierarchies, I suppose a more accurate representation of my thoughts would be that I object to the abuse of power so often found in hierarchical organizations.  A study of the history of secular hierarchies reveals that they are characterized by one dominant element: control of the many by the few.  The early Christian church of the Dark Ages absorbed this spirit when Roman authority was imposed on all believers under its influence.  In some places such as Ireland, however, the church flourished for centuries outside of the Roman influence.  The result was an entirely different organizational structure, which, although eventually overwhelmed by the power of Rome, became the seedbed for the Protestant Reformation.   If you would like to read more about this, a good reference is The Celtic Way of Evangelism: How Christianity Can Reach The West . . . Again, by George C. Hunter III, published by Abingdon Press, 2000.
In sharp contrast to this abuse of power through top-down, command-and-control authoritarianism is the example of Jesus, the teachings of Paul, and the example in the Old Testament of Moses and Jethro.  Jesus taught and lived by the principle of “whoever is the greatest among you, let him be your servant.”  Paul declared, “I will glory in my weakness that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”  Jethro’s counsel to Moses to organize the people into tens, fifties, hundreds, and thousands (see Exodus:18)  was not for management or control of the masses, but to effectively serve their needs.  Thus, it is plain to see that the purpose of any church organization, whether hierarchical or otherwise, is to serve the needs of the people and to give glory, worship, and honor to God.
The church is neither a kingdom (in the classical, human sense) nor an oligarchy.  Rather, it is the body of Christ, empowered by the Spirit of God, and called to a holy purpose.  The purpose of church organization must ever, and always, be to effectively empower the people of God to live their calling.

Leadership and Authority

David and Goliath book cover

I’ve been reading a book by Malcolm Gladwell, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, which my daughter sent to me as a Christmas gift.

Here’s a quote from pp. 207-208 I thought was very insightful, especially in the light of numerous situations in the social/political arenas of our contemporary world:

Gladwell says,
          When people in authority want the rest of us to behave, it matters – first and foremost – how they behave.
This is called the “principle of legitimacy,” and legitimacy is based on three things.
First of all, the people who are asked to obey authority have to feel like they have a voice – that if they speak up, they will be heard. Second, the law has to be predictable. There has to be a reasonable expectation that the rules tomorrow are going to be roughly the same as the rules today. And third, the authority has to be fair. It can’t treat one group differently from another. (All bold and underline emphases mine.)

Can you name any situations in the forefront of today’s news cycles where this might be profitably applied?

Please share your thoughts!

A Philosophy of Success

079

Achieving Success

I saw this sign hanging on my doctor’s exam room wall today. I immediately knew I had to share it with you.

He has achieved success who has lived well, laughed often and loved much; who has gained the respect of intelligent men and the love of little children; who has filled his niche and accomplished his task; who has left the world better than he found it, whether by an improved poppy, a perfect poem or a rescued soul; who has never lacked appreciation of the earth’s beauty or failed to express it; who has looked for the best in others and given the best he had; whose life was an inspiration; whose memory is a benediction.

Attributed to Mrs. A.J. Stanley

What I Learned From Drying Dishes

Drying a dish

What I Learned From Drying Dishes

By Loren L. Fenton, D.Min.

A Sacred Ritual – Every Day – Every Meal!

I honestly don’t remember how old I was when someone first put a dishtowel in my hands.  Doing the dishes was a sacred ritual at our house.  Absolutely every meal – breakfast, dinner, and supper – ended with Mama running hot water into pans she placed in the kitchen sink, then start gathering dirty plates, bowls, silverware, and other items from the table.

Everybody had a job

Mama directed the subsequent events like a master choreographer, spelling out instructions to her crew with precision and clarity.  We all had our assignments.  One child would wash, one would sweep the floor, another would deliver the dirty stuff from the table to the washer.  My job was to dry.

Fifty-some years later I’m still drying dishes!  I never knew it way back then, but apparently it was one of those life commands that forms our character and determines our destiny.  I was thinking about this the other day and realized that, in fact, I’d learned many important things from this humble activity.  With apologies to Robert Fulghum, since I didn’t go to kindergarten, everything I really needed to know I learned while drying dishes.

The Lessons of Life from Drying Dishes

Here are a few of those life lessons:

  • Working together is better than working alone
  • Big bowls stack better on the bottom
  • Order is better than chaos
  • Organization doesn’t happen by itself
  • The dishes don’t wash or dry themselves, either
  • Even monster jobs can be completed one step at a time
  • Accidents happen. Don’t worry if something breaks.  Just get the broom and clean it up.
  • It feels good to finish the job.

My 7 Daily Prayer Requests – Edited Edition

praying sillouette

My 7 Daily Prayer Requests

By Loren L. Fenton, D.Min.
© 2014

(Note: It came to my attention the previous posting of this blog entry did not show the entire article with the link I provided. Hence, I am reposting it here in its entirety for those who may wish to read the full article. Thanks for your understanding. LLF)

Introduction

Many years ago I learned that prayer is a conversation with God. We can talk to him just as we talk with a close friend. We can share our heart’s deepest needs. But that’s not all! God is also always there to hear our prayers and respond with mercy and  grace.

The seven daily prayer requests I list in this article are basic to my personal spiritual survival. I share them not because I think I’ve “got it all together” spiritually, but because I need God to give victory, hope, and healing in all these areas of my life. I hope (and pray) that you also will be blessed and encouraged as you read.

1. Purity in My Mind

Living in a Moral Swampland

It doesn’t take much to realize we live in a moral swampland. The social environment of our society is pretty much a garbage dump of sleaze, hyper-sexed movies and TV shows. No matter where you turn you can’t find an escape from it. Of course, this isn’t anything new. It has been around ever since sin started in the Garden of Eden. However, even in a fallen world, the Bible’s call to Christians is to live “unspotted from the world” (James 1:7). How  in the name of the Lord (I ask this reverently) are we supposed to accomplish that?

The Truth is that We’ve all Drunk the Swamp Water!

The first thing we have to do is admit that so long as we inhabit these earthly mortal bodies we simply can’t escape the swamp on our own. Even as hard as we might try, it is impossible to bring purity out of pollution . . . and we’re all polluted with the sludge of sin. The Apostle Paul said, “There is none righteous, no not one,” and “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:10, 23). A thousand years earlier the Old Testament prophet Isaiah said, “All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). Yep, that’s us. On our own, we’re dead meat if we want purity.

How to Survive in the Sleaze

Survival is possible! Paul speaks again, this time to the believers in Philippi. “Let this mind be in you,” he says, “which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5). Jesus was “tempted in all points as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). By asking, we can receive Christ’s purity in our mind. Just like salvation, the Holy Spirit gives us this gift freely to all who ask and choose to follow. Once again, Paul tells the Philippian believers, Brothers and sisters, think about the things that are good and worthy of praise. Think about the things that are true and honorable and right and pure and beautiful and respected (Philippians 4;8 NCV).

Our lives are literally the product of what we choose to think about, so out of my own deep sense of need I begin my daily prayer time asking God to give me purity in my mind. Without this gift I am totally at the mercy of the evil in the world around me, and there is no mercy.

2. Righteousness in My Heart

An Awesome Promise for Hungry Hearts

As I noted above, the Apostle Paul is pretty specific when he says, “There is none righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10). And Isaiah chimes in again with, “We all have wandered away like sheep; each of us has gone his own way” (Isaiah 53:6 NCV). Still, there remains a “God-shaped hole” in the spiritual heart of every person that can only be filled by Him, and here’s the good news: in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” (Matthew 5:6 NIV; Emphasis mine).

How the Hunger Works

According to Jesus, then, if we hunger and thirst for righteousness in our heart we can have it! But how? How do we get righteous when we are altogether unrighteous according to Paul and Isaiah? The key is choosing to recognize and embrace the hunger.

What is that unsettled feeling I have when I choose to do something or go somewhere I know isn’t what God would approve? I believe it is a spiritual anxiety produced by my willful separation from God’s will. I chose to disobey the convicting voice of the Holy Spirit, insisting instead to do what I wanted to do just because that’s what I wanted to do! But what happens almost immediately following my act of rebellion? Guilt! Big time guilt. But it is good guilt – righteous guilt. Why is this guilt good? Because it makes me aware of my wrongness and creates in me remorse, repentance, and the hunger for wholeness, i.e. “righteousness.” Embracing (owning) the guilt is the first step toward experiencing the wholeness of restoration that God alone can provide.

This Promise is for You (and Me)

What a thrill it is to realize the truth of Jesus’ words, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled!” That promise is for us! I want it, I need it, and I can’t live without it! I don’t want the damning distortion of unrighteousness dominating my life. That is nothing but slavery to the evil designs of the devil. NO! The promise of Jesus is for freedom! Freedom to choose the wholeness and restoration He offers for daily living.

Yes, I hunger and thirst for the righteousness of Christ to be a reality in my life. I can’t survive a day without it. Jesus also says, “Ask, and it will be given to you” (Matthew 7:7 NIV). So today, and every day, I take Him at His word and ask for His righteousness in my heart.

3. Integrity in My Life

What is Your Life’s Purpose?

Wouldn’t it be cool to have your own motto, something like those ancient Latin maxims on European family crests? I’ve always thought so, so a few years ago I did a little research about heraldry on the Internet. A quick Google search revealed some great examples of the family mottoes:

  • A Deo et rege “For God and king”
  • Dant vires gloriam “Strength gives glory”
  • Facta non verba “Deed not words.”

There are literally hundreds of these family mottoes. Every coat of arms has one. Except, in all my looking I could never find one for my ancestral family that I liked! I’m a “melting pot” American, so my ancestry is a mishmash of many streams, some of which are quite unknown or indefinable. Scots-Irish, English, and Welch, and maybe some Dutch and Norse thrown into the mix for good measure! None of the mottoes that I saw ever really clicked that said, “Yes! That’s me!” After a while I decided to just write one for myself . . . my own personal motto for life.

Not a bad idea, right? Right. So . . . What should this motto say?

Searching for Just the Right Words

I have to admit, that question really forced me to do some deep dredging in the riverbed recesses of my soul. Who am I? What am I about? How do I want to live? What guiding principle, expressed in only three or four words, would capsulate the defining purpose of my life?

I thought about that for a long time. Eventually, I settled on this:

To live with integrity

And, just for fun, I looked up how to write my motto in Latin. Here it is:

Vivere Cum Integritas

Cool, huh? Well, I think so anyway.

Getting Serious about Transparency

But, honestly, I’m not so interested in “cool” as I am in the serious truth of my chosen motto. I do genuinely want to live with integrity. I want to be a “what-you-see-is-what-you-get” person in all my relationships. No hidden agendas. No secrets or cover-ups. No trying to manipulate others into compliance with my ideas about decisions they should make. Just be real!

And then, once again, I realize my own weakness and inability. In my own carnal life I simply cannot reach my heart’s desire to live with true integrity. Thus, once again, I must pray for strength, wisdom, consistency, and focus that comes from outside myself. That’s the only way. I claim the promise of Philippians 4:13, “I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (NIV).

4. Joy in My Spirit

Grumpy’s Got to Go!

Have you ever known someone who is always grumpy? Those negative people have a way of raining on everybody else’s parade. I don’t like being around people like that, and I doubt that anyone else does either. Furthermore, I don’t want to BE one of those people! Instead, I want to touch the lives of people with cheer! I can’t really do that if I trundle through life with a sour spirit.

One of life’s great discoveries is that we get to choose our attitude every day. I once knew an elderly lady who looked in the mirror and said, “I don’t look happy! Christians should be the happiest people alive. I’m going to choose to be happy!” After that, I never saw her without a smile on her face. She had a lot of aches, pains, and other physical problems of old age, but that didn’t stop her one bit. Her broad smile was a bright ray of sunshine for everyone. You couldn’t be around her for one minute without feeling a little more positive.

That’s the Kind of Person I Want to Be, Too!

The Old Testament prophet Nehemiah nailed it when he told the people, The joy of the Lord is your strength (Nehemiah 8:10)! The Lord’s joy is a deep, abiding positive force that flows as constantly as a massive river draining a continent, and continues even when bad things happen. I believe that’s what Jesus meant when he told the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well, “The water I give [you] will become in [you] a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14 NIV).

Yes, Lord! Please give me this joy, this water of life, today . . . and always!!

5. Strength for My Body

Ah, For the Days of Youth!

When I was a young teenager I was in pretty good shape physically.

  1. My abs were rock hard. Once I challenged several of my classmates in P.E. class to punch me in the belly as hard as they could. They did. One time. No one tried again.
  2. I could toss an 80-100 lb. hay bale to the top of a stack several feet above my head. Piece of cake.
  3. Walking was just normal everyday life for farm kids. I thought nothing of walking 3 or 4 miles just to visit friends. To get there faster I would sometimes run the distance of two telephone poles and walk one, run two, walk one, run two, walk one. That way we’d have more time to play our favorite game of “kick the football” (our version of “kick the can”). Of course, I’d have to walk the same distance later when I had to get home to do my evening chores. No problem. It’s just how we lived.

My, oh My, How Things Have Changed in the Last 5 Decades!

Yes, I’m knocking on the door of “old age” now. I’ve had a good life. But aches and pains associated with advancing years now get my attention much more often! Old injuries from 9th-grade football and wrecks with bucking horses let me know they’re still lurking in my body. A knee replacement and lower back fusion (to relieve that horrible sciatic pain) solved some issues but left others. I can walk a mile if I have to, but not quickly. The dog likes to go, and I like to take him. We’re growing old together!

Praying for Physical Strength

So, more and more these days I pray for physical strength. I’m thankful I can still drive my truck, mow the lawn, lift and propel a wheelbarrow filled with bags of wood pellets, work in my shop, and walk the dog. But I’m not going to get on the roof to clear rain gutters, or try running for exercise. Some things just aren’t wise.

God’s Great Promises

I am truly blessed to serve a personal God who knows and understands the strengths and weaknesses we each live with every day. The Bible tells us that He knows our frame, that we are created from dust ( see Psalm 103:13, 14). But here is another verse that also contains an awesome promise:

If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who lives in you (Romans 8:11 NIV).

Wow! I love it! I believe the gospel story in the Bible that says Jesus was raised from the dead after his crucifixion. And I believe the promise he made to the disciples, that he would send the Holy Spirit to be their comfort and guide. So, I believe I can also pray in faith, “Lord, please give life and strength to this (aging) mortal body!”

And he does just that.

Every day.

6. Wisdom for My Counsel

Wise King Solomon Says . . .

  • Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom(Proverbs 4:7).
  • The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline (Proverbs 1:7).
  • Wisdom will enter your heart and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul. Discretion will protect you, and understanding will guard you (Proverbs 2:10, 11).

20-20 Hindsight

It seems to me that down deep inside we all wish we could be truly wise all the time, but way too often we just go ahead and choose stupid instead. How many times have you done something you know you shouldn’t, but you did it anyway, simply because you wanted to? I confess, I’ve “been there, done that!” – and usually paid a dear price later.

Wisdom is Needed Every Day

But, what do you do when you are faced with a fork in the road? Sometimes difficult choices have to be made when there simply is no good answer. When you’re forced into a situation where you absolutely must decide a question one way or the other, what do you do?

Choices inevitably produce results – for good or bad – a  reality Robert Frost expressed so eloquently in his 1920 poem “The Road Not Taken:”

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

So, how do you know which road to take? That’s when you need divine guidance.

God Has the Answer!

God has an abundance of wisdom just waiting for you to ask for it. Check out this awesome Bible promise: If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him (James 1:5 NIV).

I Need It!

I’ve lived long enough on this planet to know that I need divine wisdom every day, all day, without fail! I love that promise from James quoted above. It gives me hope and encouragement. Furthermore, I have claimed that promise countless times and found that God is faithful. I don’t claim to be a Solomon, or anything like that, but I do know that I have been blessed when I actually listened to God’s still small voice prompting me in the right direction. Ask. Believe. Claim.

7. To be a Godly Influence in the World

What’s Left When We’re Gone?

I heard this poem read at a memorial service I attended recently, and was struck with its profound message:

Afterglow
By Helen Lowrie Marshall

I’d like to leave an afterglow of smiles when day is done.
I’d like to leave an echo whispering softly down the ways,
of happy times and laughing times and bright and sunny days.
I’d like the tears of those who grieve to dry before the sun
of happy memories I leave behind when day is done.

Our Influence is Our Only Real Legacy

I asked myself a question a while back . . . and came to a rather startling awareness: The only thing we leave behind us when we’re gone is our influence – either for good or evil. Nothing else remains, at least for very long. A generation or two passes into eternity and those who follow know little or nothing about them. Maybe some names, vital records, or places of origin, but not much more. Real people who lived and loved and laughed and cried are reduced to a few lines in some dusty archive of a genealogical record. If we’re lucky we might be able to find a few documents from their lives, such as a grandfather’s last will and testament, immigration records, or affidavits of property ownership. But especially after several generations have disappeared into the dust bins of history they are gone and long forgotten. Except for one thing . . . their influence remains . . . and that influence ripples through the lives of their offspring generation after generation after generation – even when subsequent generations have no idea where many of their ideas, emotions, or values originated.

You Can’t Unspeak a Word

So it comes down to this: once a word is spoken it can’t be unspoken. Once an act is performed it can’t be undone. Sure, apologies can be made afterwards, damages often can be repaired, relationships may be healed. But every word and action will carry some influence, large or small, good or bad, out into the wide, wide world, and there is absolutely nothing you can do to control when, where, or how far it goes. The only control we have lies in choosing what we say and what we do BEFORE we say it or do it. 

Placing Our Influence in God’s Hands

The trouble is, many times it is impossible to know the effect of our words or actions on the lives of people around us. We might say something with all good intentions, and have what we said taken in totally different ways by different individuals. One has a positive impression, another finds it negative. There is no way we have any control over that. All we can do is give our influence to God, and ask Him to use it for His purposes, as He sees fit, in the lives of everyone it eventually reaches.

So, my list of daily prayer requests ends with, “Father, whatever my influence might be today, I pray that it will only count for Your Kingdom.”

Truly, this is the deepest desire of my heart of hearts.

To God be the glory. Amen.

 

Once You’re a Farm Kid . . .

IMG_1068
The Retired Preacher Who Was a Farm Kid Once-Upon-a-Time

She said she’d like me to go help pick some prunes for canning. Our pantry supply is running a little low. Prunes are on right now. Gotta go pick while the pickin’s good!

Okay. So we headed out to Brosi’s Sugartree Farm at Winston, Oregon to their “you-pick” orchard. Trees LOADED with purple fruit! With both of us filling buckets hung around our neck by small ropes we soon had our tubs and boxes filled. One-hundred-fifty-five pounds worth!

IMG_1070

 

In verity, it was a wonderful outing which we both thoroughly enjoyed.

The whole experience got me thinking, however. Reflecting on life, etc. I got to wondering why I enjoyed that little excursion so much. I think I know.

You see, in my early years (pre-college) I grew up on a farm near Outlook, Washington. We didn’t have a fruit orchard, but some of the neighbors up the road a ways did. I related to Ruth how I had picked prunes for that neighbor and got paid 25¢/box. If I filled 40 boxes/day I would earn $10.00. I could usually get my 40 boxes filled in about 8 hours, making $1.25/hour. That was good money for a teenager in the early ’60s, and I was happy to get it!

Farm work was my life, and the life of nearly everyone I knew. Every season had its own tasks that came around every year. Summers were filled with haying, irrigation, weeding, trucks, tractors, and machinery. Fall brought harvests of corn, sugar beets, mint, onions, and other crops. Winter also often found us in the fields husking field corn and filling our corn crib with the harvest. (I don’t think I’ve ever had colder fingers!) Early Spring signaled the time for plowing, discing, harrowing, and seeding the fields for the new crop year. Asparagus season began in mid-April and lasted until the end of June.

And, of course, caring for the animals (horses, cows, chickens, and an occasional sheep) was a year-long, every day responsibility. There was always something to do!

I’m old now. Well, getting there at least. I’ve retired after 40+ years of ministry. I’ve been a pastor, evangelist, missionary, youth leader, and gospel music vocalist. I have few regrets regarding my choice of life’s vocation. But the old adage is absolutely true: You can take the boy off the farm, but you can’t take the farm out of the boy!

And I realized that again yesterday in the prune orchard. I was completely surprised by the emotion I felt as I carried our fruit from the trees to the boxes in the trunk of the car. I walked on real dirt on a real farm, doing something akin to real farm work. Yes, I know, that tiny slice of time hardly qualifies to be worthy of notice compared to what real farmers do every day all the time. But the experience seriously felt good to me. Farming is in my blood, and there’s still an echo of familiarity somewhere deep in my soul that aligns with the fields.

It feels like home.

 

Praise God For All The Rainbows!

Praise God For All the Rainbows

This song has inspired and blessed thousands of people since Loren first wrote and recorded it in the early 1980s. It has been sung in concerts, worship services, informal jam sessions, funerals, and memorial services for audiences large and small.

We hope you will enjoy listening to Praise God For All The Rainbows today!

Click HERE to listen!

And . . . if you know someone who will also enjoy hearing this wonderful song and its message of hope . . . please share it by clicking on one of the links displayed at the bottom of this screen!

Thanks, and God bless! Keep looking for HIS rainbows!