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One of the phrases I used to say to people going through tough times was a common saying I had heard many others use as well:  “God will never give you more than you can handle.”  It was a way of saying that no matter what happens, a person can get through it.  But then one day I read an article in which the author said: “I guarantee you God will give you more than you can handle.”  Now, before I go any farther with this thought, let me say that I do not believe that God sends affliction upon us.  I do not believe that God gives someone cancer or heart disease or diabetes or a broken limb.  God does not cause wrecks, suicides, or the death of infants.  So, even in saying “God will not give you…,” I interpret that more as saying “You will not go through….”

Regardless of the phrasing, though, as I read the article I realized how wrong I had been in saying this statement even though it was well-meaning.  The author who wrote that she guaranteed God will give us more than we can handle talked about how if it was not for the power, presence, love, and grace of God in her life in her time of great struggle, there is no way she would have made it through that time.  The point of the article was that while there are times in our lives in which we will go through more than WE can handle, we will never go through something too great for GOD to handle.

Now, I will also say that while in the midst of the struggle, such words can sound like empty platitudes.  In the midst of great pain and sorrow, words can sound hollow.  And yet, IT’S TRUE!  Even when it is hard to accept, even when it seems impossible to understand, even when it seems like you are going to drown in the situation, and even when you express your anger to God, God is always there.  God never abandons you.  God understands.

What I have discovered in my own life, and what I have witnessed in being with others in the midst of the darkest valleys of their lives is that God’s grace and God’s strength sees us through to the other side.  It is not easy.  It is not simple.  And there is great pain along the way.  But God has a way of carrying us through these times and giving us resources to deal with difficult times which go far beyond our own capacity to handle them.

I remember a mentor of mine, the late Rev. Guss Shelley, telling a story about a professor in seminary giving the class an assignment in which they were shown a picture of a horrible car wreck, and they had to answer the question:  “Where is God in this tragedy?”  He said that while he gave some sort of answer at the time, he didn’t really have a solid answer until several years later when he was at the bedside in ICU of a church member who was near death.  That question “Where is God in this situation?” came back to him and he realized that the answer was, “God is right here, grieving with this family and all who love this man.”

While it may sometimes seem like an empty platitude, it is a deep truth of the magnitude of God’s love and care for us that God is present with us giving us the strength, sustenance, and resources we need to make it through the joys and trials of life.  We only have to lean upon Him, and we can trust that God will be there because God loves us that much.

While it seems in many ways as if the summer just started, the calendar says differently!  Today, August 1, marks the first day for teachers in the public schools in our area to return to school.

In our area of Neshoba County, the conclusion of the  Neshoba County Fair, which ran from July 22-29, marks the unofficial end of summer and the resumption of normal work and family schedules.  While in the church we have been working as a staff to get ready for the fall season, those preparations for the fall and for the coming year will kick into high gear in the coming weeks, and will continue through Christmas.

In the midst of all that is going on around us, the temptation is to get in such a rush that we meet ourselves coming and going.  There are lot of details to cover with school supplies, new clothes, fall sports and other activities, etc.  Even if you don’t have children or your children have long since left the household, we still gain a sense of this activity and this stress as we go to the stores and as we observe the increased activity of those around us.

We are a society that places value on keeping busy.  Time spent doing nothing is seen as lazy, so we get into a habit of rushing around from one activity to another.  If we are not careful, we get so caught up in the rushing around that we forget why we got involved in all of this stuff in the first place!  This unsettledness, this hectic pace of life that is all around us also has a way of spilling over into our spiritual life.  We tend to be impatient with God.  We want God to operate on our timetable. We want God to be there at the snap of our fingers instead of remembering that what God wants is for us to be patient and operate on God’s timetable.

In talking about God’s timing and being patient, Harry Emerson Fosdick, a famous early 20th century preacher, once wrote the following words in a book entitled  Deep is the Hunger:

“I need thy sense of time.  Always I have an underlying anxiety about things.   Sometimes I am in a hurry to achieve my ends and am completely without patience.  It is hard for me to realize that some growth is slow, that all processes are not swift.  I cannot always discriminate between what takes time to develop and what can be rushed, because my sense of time is dulled.  I measure things in terms of happenings.  O to understand the meaning of perspective that I may do all things with a profound sense of God’s time.”

The biblical writer James put it this way: “Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord.  The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains.  You also must be patient.”

In this time of preparation and rushing around, let us pray for patience for one another and for ourselves, trusting in God’s timing.  Let us take the time to spend with God and listen for God’s voice in our lives.  Let us enter into this season with a “profound sense of God’s time,” so that even in the pace of the physical life journey, we may be calm in spirit because we have that assurance that God is with us.

The following reflection was my article on the front page of my church’s newsletter this week.  There is so much more that can and needs to be said, so even if you read this reflection and agree with a lot of it, but think that it just scratches the surface and is woefully incomplete, know that I agree with you.  However, I think we have to start somewhere.  This reflection, which is a long one for a newsletter, is an opening attempt.

We live in tense times.  Like many of you, I have struggled to put my finger on exactly why and now it seems as if our country is having such fits of violence.  Those who are willing to place blame are many, and the supposed causes of the violence are also many.  Some blame protest movements, and to be sure, there have been protests which started out peacefully but erupted into violence.  However, we are a country in which peaceful protest has been a part of our sacred values since the beginnings of our country.  There were peaceful and violent protests leading up to the American Revolution, Civil War, World Wars I and II, the Great Depression, Civil Rights Movement, and many other causes of a smaller scale, and positive change has often come from peaceful protests which highlight injustice.

Others blame a culture of guns and a culture of overzealous law enforcement.  However, we also have to acknowledge that the vast majority of gun owners are responsible citizens, and the vast majority of law enforcement officers perform heroic work as they put their lives on the line for our safety and protection.  There is never any justification for violence against law enforcement officers regardless of whether or not there may be bad cops out there. In fact, it is so self-evident a statement that I feel a bit foolish having to write it, but sadly, there are those who are taking out their anger against bad cops or perceived bad actions by police officers by randomly shooting those in law enforcement.  Families are being orphaned and widowed because of the misplaced rage of a handful of deranged people, and it is beyond tragic.

Others blame media, and especially social media.  I think there is no doubt that the advent of social media and internet technology in general has made it possible for passions to be inflamed more quickly than before.  And yet, it seems that many who blame the news media and social media aren’t willing to take responsibility for their own actions and responses in such settings instead of taking responsibility for the fact that each of us is responsible for what we post, transmit, forward, “like,” and otherwise endorse vial social media and other means of technology.  I am often disheartened when I get on Facebook, Twitter, etc., at the absolute junk which good people post.  The amount of vitriol, falsehood, and outright bile frankly astounds me.  I have someone whom I love very much with whom I had a strong disagreement recently because of the false e-mails this person was sending to me.  This person thought I was offended by the e-mails because we have differing political views.  However, I was clear that while I was not offended by the opinions expressed, what did offend me was the bearing of false witness by someone whom I know to otherwise be a person of great integrity and honesty.  And yet, this person was willing to send out stories of an inflammatory nature which were easily proved to be a lie, and was unwilling to send out a retraction once the lie was demonstrated.  I think this person sent things out believing them to be true, but my disappointment was the refusal to then acknowledge the error when the e-mail was shown to be a lie.

I think in this area many of us who call ourselves Christian have to repent of what we have said and done, and we can no longer hide under the guise of being clever, cute, or trying to be funny.  I implore you that if you use such media, please fact-check everything you send instead of thinking it must be true simply because what you post agrees with your particular point of view.  A lie is a lie no matter whether you agree with the opinion behind it, and we damage our witness as Christians when we advance falsehoods.  It is not a matter of politics.  It is a matter of honesty and integrity in all we do.  With regards to news media, there are niche news networks we can tune to which will re-enforce what we already believe, and the news networks are often more than willing to slant accepted facts to the interpretation which they believe will get them the highest ratings.  It is our duty to inform ourselves, to use our own minds to think and reason, and to then apply what we learn and believe in a productive manner.  News networks thrive by keeping us upset and on edge because we will then keep watching.  It is up to us to have a diet of the mind and heart in what we put into our minds and hearts, and how we choose to respond.

There are other sources of blame, the other large group being politicians, but I will simply say that we are the ones who elect them, so we have to take responsibility there as well, and also we have to remember that we have had great and lousy politicians throughout our entire national history, and we have survived as a country.  We have to be careful to not overreact to any one person or group, and place the blame for our ills on that one person or group.  If the country was going to be ruined by one person or one political party, we would have ceased to exist and thrive as a nation a long time ago!

So, what are we to do?  In my own prayer, reflection, and discernment, I have had to resolve to be careful in who and what I choose to listen to; re-commit myself to responding to hatred and lies with kindness, forgiveness, and speaking the truth in love; and resolve that I will seek to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem.  The Christian life calls us to stand up for what we believe, but to stand up not with violence of words or actions but rather with love, mercy, and justice.

A few years ago, I saw a suggestion that before you write or say something, THINK.  THINK is an acronym for us to ask these questions:  is it True, Helpful, Inspiring, Necessary, and Kind?  If not, then let it be!  Don’t let the emotions of a moment hinder your Christian witness or hinder your relationship with someone else.

Let us resolve in these days to model the example of Jesus.

Peace in Christ,

“There’s a difference between interest and commitment.  When you are interested in doing something, you do it only when it is convenient.  When you are committed to something, you accept no excuses, only results.”   -Kenneth Blanchard

I saw this quote on a friend’s Facebook post a while back and thought it was interesting, especially as we are getting at the beginning of a new year.  There is something about a new year that promises a fresh start.  Whatever the previous year brought, both good and bad, this year is a NEW year, one filled with new opportunities and possibilities.  Maybe that is the reason why so many people make New Year’s resolutions.  The list is pretty familiar.  People want to lose weight, exercise more, eat better, get more sleep, spend more time with family, be more consistent in a prayer/devotion time, read the Bible more, etc.  The hard truth, however, is that most people are more interested in these things than they are committed.  They do these things up to the point that it becomes inconvenient or a bit challenging, and then they stop.  The ones who follow through on the new year’s resolutions are the ones who are committed, who keep doing that good thing when it becomes hard and even tedious at times.

God calls us to not just be interested, but be committed.  I would like to offer, then, some new year’s resolutions that in some ways are much simpler than the one’s listed above, but in other ways are more challenging.  Each of them reflects a commitment to God that God will honor when we follow through on making a true commitment to Him.

1)      Recognize that your body is a “temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 6:19-20), and commit to honoring God through how you treat your body.  The actions may involve losing weight or exercising more, going to bed earlier, etc., but instead of focusing on the particular action, look at the overall goal of how you can honor God.

2)      Commit to honoring God in your heart and soul.  Recognize that God has blessed you through His daily presence with you, the sending of Jesus Christ, and the presence of the Holy Spirit.  We find ways to spend time with the people who are important to us.  Is God one of those whom you will find it important to spend time with in the coming year?

3)      Commit to honoring God through your relationships with others.  We are powerful witnesses of God through how we treat one another.  Do others see God’s presence in us when we are around them? What are ways we can be active in our church and community that show the love of Christ?

4)      Commit to love more, forgive more, and grumble less.

As I noted above, these resolutions are simpler than a laundry list of items we want to improve in the new year, but they are also more challenging as well.  The benefit, though, is that these commitments can become more than temporary resolutions and instead can become holy habits we continue throughout our lives.

Are you merely interested, or will you make a commitment to honor God in all of your life in this new year?

I recently began serving on the Emory Alumni Board.  I served on the Candler School of Theology alumni Board, which is my graduate school’s board, but am now one of two representatives for the seminary on the larger university alumni board.  I was very surprised and quite honored to be asked to serve, but was nervous about the first meeting and the commitment I had made to serve on  the alumni board of a university recently ranked as one of the Top 20 universities in America.

So, I went to my first board meeting and met several of the other members.  One guy is a neuro-radiologist who has his own practice and also teaches at Yale University.  Another fellow is a senior vice-president for player marketing for the National Basketball Association.  A new member i met the first day is a CPA and also has an MBA and a law degree.  She was a CPA, stayed home to raise two daughters, then went back to school at both Emory and later at SMU in Dallas.  Her daughters attended Emory and SMU respectively, so she also went to college with them!  A remarkable lady.  Another guy operates a center for human rights and civil rights in Atlanta, and they are currently working on building a museum in downtown Atlanta.  Another lady was asked by her boss to essentially take over the daily running of a law firm in which she was a partner, and in the midst of taking on this task also was going through surgeries for a serious illness.  I could go on like this for quite some time, but I think you get the point.  Folks on this board live in Atlanta, New York City, Dallas, San Diego, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Seattle, Boston, etc.  They are highly successful people in highly responsible jobs.

When it came time for me to introduce myself, what was I going to say?  “I have been a United Methodist pastor for the last 20 years in Mississippi and I currently serve a church in Hattiesburg, MS.”  Next.

Well, when I left that meeting, I was physically tired from the trip, and I felt WAY in over my head.  I was humbled as I listened to these stories, and I left feeling inadequate and out of place.  Now, let me say that everybody was very kind, they listened to what I had to say during the committee times as much as they listened to anyone else, and I never felt as if anybody was looking down upon me.  The inadequacy I felt was internal.  I wondered if I belonged as a representative on this board.  That feeling was my first dose of humility.  Later that evening, I was reflecting on the day, my place as a member of the board, and what I could say to these highly successful, driven people that would be a positive contribution.

And that’s when the SECOND dose of humility came.  I realized that I was falling into the same trap that I have warned people against for my entire ministry, the same trap that threatened to ensnare me when I was younger in ministry.  That trap was measuring my worth and value as a pastor and even more fundamentally as a person by how our society measures worth and value.  I realized that I was focusing on earthly things and not heavenly things, and how dismissive I was being of God’s blessings and call in my life.  I was humbled as I began to think about all the people I have been privileged to serve over the years in all of those different churches I have served ranging from 15 members to 1,700 members.  I thought about how God has placed me at the intersection of people’s lives, people such as those mentioned above who in their times of grief, trial, illness, etc., have turned to those who have been called to be at the crossroads of their lives when the security of the  job prestige, money, position, and possessions prove to be inadequate and false.

I realized how incredibly blessed I have been and how incredibly grateful I am that God called me to serve God in the particular way He called me.  I realized how foolish I was to be jealous, envious, or intimidated by these people who are so successful in their professions.  It was foolish in part because that was my projection onto them and not reflective of any way they carried themselves during our time together, and it was foolish because I was being dismissive of what truly matters in this world and in the world to come.

I am thankful for the amazing people I met and will be serving with on the Emory Alumni Board, and I am thankful for what I will learn from them as my understanding of the world is broadened.  I am thankful, too, that God has called me to serve in the way God has called me, and I am thankful for the amazing people I have met during my time in ministry.  They have enriched my life and the life of my family immeasurably.

My prayer is that I will not fall prey to the temptation to measure myself against the standards of society, but instead will continually seek God’s direction in my life, seeking to serve God in response to God’s gracious love and blessing in my life.

Two doses of humility in one evening for contrasting reasons.  Thanks be to God for God’s patient working in my life and in this world.

It seems that everywhere I turn the question of worship comes up in conversation.  It may be discussions with other ministers, both in this state and across the country about what constitutes worship or the essential elements in worship or whether it is possible to attract new people with traditional worship when contemporary worship seems to be so popular.  We debate about the style of music and whether or not the Apostle’s Creed is necessary.  Screen or no screen, and if you have a screen how much do you put up there?  The balance of visual vs. auditory is a big discussion.  Is only a piano needed or do we need guitars and drums? The list of debating points goes on and on.

I am perfectly willing to engage in those discussions and I certainly have my own thoughts along those lines, namely that where possible I think it is good to offer both more traditional forms of worship as well as more contemporary forms of worship.  Some new churches that have started do only contemporary forms of worship, and that is great, and some older established churches prefer to have only the traditional forms of worship, and that is great as long as you do each of them well and with authenticity.

Having said that, I think we do a disservice to the Church and to each other when we limit discussions about worship to such matters that revolve primarily around style and form.  In fact, we seem so often to forget that what we are talking about is WORSHIP.  We substitute discussions about the worship service times on Sunday mornings for discussions about what it means to worship the Lord in spirit and truth

I have known many people over the years who attended a church that did not offer the style of worship service that they most preferred, and yet they were able to come and worship on Sunday mornings because they came with open and expectant hearts before the Lord.  They worshipped on Sunday morning regardless of the style of worship because they did not confine their worship of God to that one hour of the week.  Rather, they worshipped in their Sunday School classes, small groups during the week, private prayer/devotion time daily, and in their job or other setting in which they spent most of their week.

In other words, the gathering with their church family was part of a continuation of the worship that went on throughout the week through prayer, devotion, acts of service to and with their neighbor, and in their work and home setting.  Even if certain elements of the worship service did not appeal to them at a deep level, they understood when they came into the sanctuary that object of the worship was God.  They did not see themselves as the consumers of worship or the recipients of a worship service planned by a group of church leaders.  Rather, they were with the gathered Body of Christ in that time to participate in the worship of God, and they participated in that worship of God through the particular order of service planned for that day.

Now, I wholeheartedly believe that those who plan and lead the worship services need to do so with much thought and prayer.  Those who guide the congregation in that worship time need to make sure that the different elements of the worship service are done to the best of their ability because we owe no less than giving of our best to God.  Also, I do think it is good to have a variety of worship styles because people are different in what speaks to them most.  I am more moved, for example, by a contemporary song or by one of the great hymns of faith than I am by Gregorian Chant.  I like to hear a good message preached in addition to having some silent time in prayer as opposed to total silence for the entire service.  I am fine with the raising of hands in worship and shouts of “Amen!” while at the same time finding it distracting when the preacher calls for the Amen instead of it rising organically out of the congregation.  However, regardless of the style/form of worship it is up to each person who comes to that time to come with an open and expectant heart, ready to listen for that word from God, and ready to experience God’s presence in their/our midst.

A man by the name of Bill Easum gave a great answer many years ago in a conference I attended around this question of worship.  The question was asked of him, “What is the line between entertainment and worship?”  Bill answered with the best answer I have heard to date: “The difference between entertainment and worship is what you do afterward.”  Regardless of the form of the worship service, if it doesn’t move you to spread the love of Christ in word and deed, it’s just entertainment.  It may be entertainment with a majestic pipe organ, an out of tune piano, or with guitars and drums, but if the service doesn’t call you to action for Christ and doesn’t lead you to respond to God’s claim upon your life, then it’s just entertainment.

When the woman at the well asked Jesus a question about which place of worship, Mount Sinai or Mount Gerazim, was the proper place for worship, Jesus replied that the “where” of worship did not matter.  What mattered, and what matters, is worshipping in spirit and truth.

That answer by Jesus still holds up today.

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I have the best family in the world.  I am not trying to compete with other families in who is the best nor am I being facetious.  I am truly blessed to have three wonderful siblings with whom I am very close.  My parents are still living and we are close to them as well.  I have 19 first cousins on my father’s side of the family, and I know that I could call on the vast majority of them if I was in trouble.  We may not see each other that much, but we love each other, and we enjoy the times we are able to get together.

On my wife Becky’s side of the family, she comes from a large family on her mom’s side of the family.  We gather together for a few days at a state park every year and stay in cabins.  Many of our cousins are now grandparents, and we have been present at funerals and weddings for both our aunts/uncles and our second cousins.  I have performed weddings for two cousins, my sister-in-law, and a second cousin, and I have participated in several funerals and weddings on both sides.

Having said that, sometimes different family members get on my nerves, and I know I get on theirs!  We are all unique individuals, and we have widely divergent opinions on matters such as politics, religion, child-rearing techniques, and what constitutes fun to name a few.  And sometimes those differences result in petty disputes.  One member of the family misinterprets something said or done by another family member, and feelings get hurt.  Sometimes, in part because we are so comfortable with each other, somebody will make a sarcastic remark and folks will get upset.  Sometimes, somebody is just tired of hearing the same discussions over and over, so he/she says something that gets family members to start choosing sides.

Which brings me to a discussion about the Church.  In the midst of Annual Conference I had a few different discussions with different people in different settings in which the conversation went something like this:  “Why in the world did we spend so much time debating ______ when there are more important things to discuss?  We seem to do a good job of majoring in minor stuff and letting the truly important stuff just pass by without any discussion at all, or we spend so much time on the petty stuff that we never even get to what is important.”  In the interest of full disclosure, I initiated some of those conversations!  Most, but not all, of these conversations were with clergy, many who are just weary of the pettiness after so many years, but I heard the same things from laity as well.

I get tired of such pettiness just like others do.  I won’t go into all of that because I wrote in another blog about what wearies me as a Christian pastor.  However, when I was discussing such things with someone during Annual Conference, I said the following about how and why I put up with such things:  “Sure, I get frustrated sometimes, but it’s like being part of a family.  Sometimes we let petty stuff get in the way, but then there are those moments when the love really shows through, and you are reminded that it’s all worth it.”

I get irritated at the “majoring in the minors” kind of stuff that goes on in churches, but I also cannot imagine my life without the support, prayers, and genuine love I have and continue to experience through the church.  I have been chewed out for allowing artificial flowers in the sanctuary, and I have been chastised for advocating for a metal vs. shingled roof on a church building.  I have had someone threaten to withhold thousands of dollars over decorative grass in a parking island. But I have also been enveloped by prayer, hugs, encouragement, and Christian love when going through a difficult time.  And the thing of it is that most of the time it was the same people doing it all!

We hear all the time about being a “church family,” and that image can be used too much sometimes as a way of minimizing important discussions that need to take place for fear of making someone upset.  But, when we seek to truly love each other, I think it’s worth it.  My family can be a great source of irritation from time to time, but they are also a great source of joy and love, and I wouldn’t trade in any of them because they are worth the headache and heartache from time to time.  The same is true with the Church.  I really do have the greatest family in the world.  God has blessed me with my biological family, with my chosen family of friends, and with the love of the family of God called The Church.  And for all of them, all of you, I am thankful.

Do you ever have those times where you just don’t feel like doing something?  Of course you do; we all feel that way from time to time, and we feel that way about different matters.  That feeling of “I just don’t want to do it” hits us at all ages in different circumstances whether it is school, work, church, exercising, running errands, chores around the house, etc.

And yet, what I have discovered is that when I will get past that initial reluctance of “I don’t feel like it and instead “just do it”, the vast majority of the time I am glad I did it.  I have been doing some pretty intensive exercise programs for a few years, and there are certainly those days when I just don’t feel like exercising.  My body is sore, I didn’t sleep well the night before, I have a lot going on that day, I am not able to work out at my normal time, and any other number of excuses start to rise up in my mind.  And yet, whenever I “just do it,” I feel better than on those days in which I give in to that temptation to not exercise. I tend to eat better, I have more energy, and I can see the positive results from the consistent exercise.

As a pastor, there are times in which although I love what I do and can’t imagine doing anything else, I just don’t feel like getting up and going to work that day.  But, of course, I go, and those are usually the days in which that person walks in the door who just needs to talk, who has a particular need over which they want me to pray, or I read something that deepens my faith.  There have even been Sundays, I confess, where I just wanted to sleep in and take it easy, and if I was not the pastor I probably would not have gone to church that day, so I understand that impulse to just stay home because you “don’t feel like it.”

And yet, as with other things in life, we are better off when we resist that temptation and instead “just do it.”  One of my favorite stories is of the founder of Methodism, John Wesley, who wrote in his journal that he went to a worship service one night, and in his words “went very unwillingly.” Yet it was at that service that he said “I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation, and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”  This experience was transformative for Wesley in his faith, and yet he almost didn’t go!  What experiences do we miss out on that God has in store for us simply because we “don’t feel like it?”

What opportunities for growing in faith, growing in love, developing a friendship, being there for someone in need, etc., will you miss out on today because you just “don’t feel like it?” What potential life-changing experiences will you open yourself up to because you overcome the temptation of not feeling like it and instead “just do it?”

“Do you ever get tired?”  That was a question asked of me on a trip last year when I went to Spain with a group of clergy from Mississippi. The question was asked in response to me taking every opportunity to see and experience as much as I could of the culture, scenery, and atmosphere of Andalusia.  If there was an extra walking tour, or a small group that was going out while others were resting, I was there!  “Do you ever get tired?”

The answer was “Yes, I get tired, but not from doing things like this.”  Of course, I have certainly limits on the amount of energy I have physically, though I am blessed both with good health and a commitment to staying in the best physical condition I can be.  I consider it a moral obligation as well as a practical consideration to take good physical care of my body.

But let’s expand the question.  “Do I ever get tired?”  Yes, I get tired.  I get tired when I see people failing to live up to God’s calling and who they can be.  It tires me out whenever I see God-given potential and opportunity being wasted. It wears me out that so many go throughout life with no sense of direction, no sense of purpose, no sense of identity as God’s child, no sense of God’s presence or calling in their lives. It wears me out to see churches that have such enormous potential, and I can see it, but they can’t, or won’t see it, and so they settle for less than the best of what God has to offer.  I get tired when I have discussions with folks who are more concerned about a minor point of theology than they are about the suffering of others.  I get tired whenever I fall into the trap of trying to meet other people’s expectations about who I am supposed to be and what I am supposed to do instead of listening to God.

There are a lot of other things that make me tired as well, but I think you get the point.  Overall, I get tired when I focus or when I see others focusing on what is temporary and unimportant to the neglect of what is eternally important.

By contrast, I get energized whenever I see folks out serving God in word, deed, and heart, reaching out to those whom others disregard.  I get energized when I see and hear of lives transformed by the love of Christ shown in others.  I get energized whenever we as the church are dedicated to fulfilling the mission to which God calls us.

So, part of my resolve with the help of God, is to not focus on those things that make me tired but to pour the energies of my body, mind, and spirit into those things that fill my heart rather than deplete it, those relationships that bring health to my spirit instead of bring disease to my soul, those behaviors that elevate those around me instead of tear others down, that bring me joy instead of anxiety.

How will you address, in the spirit and love of God, those things that weary your soul?  What will you do to engage in that which will energize your spirit?

When Jesus began his ministry, it was with a call to repent because the Kingdom of God was at hand.  But what does it mean to be part of the Kingdom of God?  Since we live in America where we do not have a monarchy, it can be difficult to think about kings and submission to ultimate authority.  We have a individualistic mentality that wants to put ultimate trust in ourselves, our own efforts, our own goodness.

The truth of the matter, though, is that we pledge our allegiance to one kingdom or another whether we realize it or not.  Each one of us has a worldview that shapes who we become and what we do daily, and that worldview is either shaped by God or by the surrounding society in which we live.

One kingdom places a premium on wealth, power, position, and beauty.  This kingdom encourages us to put our own self-interests above the interests of others, but the truth of the matter is that in supposedly putting our self-interests above others we are actually serving the interests of this worldly kingdom and its values.  However, this kingdom is at its heart corrupt and temporary.  All of these things will pass away because they have no lasting and ultimate meaning.  The temptation is that if we are not careful we can get caught up in the pursuit of these things, and whether or not we actually achieve any of these things is secondary because we have centered our lives on the pursuit of them by doing, saying, and thinking about what is necessary to achieve what the world tells us is valuable and important. Think for a moment of the people we honor and lift up in this society.  They are almost the exact opposite of the people and the attitudes Jesus describes as important.

The Kingdom of God, in contrast to the kingdom of the world, places a premium on love, servanthood, and the highest good of all people.  The Kingdom of God looks not at just what is best for each one of us but what is also best for those around us.  The Kingdom of God is exemplified in the Beatitudes where Jesus pronounces a blessing upon those who are humble, who care about the state of the world, who fervently seek God’s righteousness, who are caring and gentle, who are merciful, who seek to live in peace with one another, and who are willing to remain faithful even when it may cost them something.

One kingdom benefits the individual while the other Kingdom benefits both the individual and those around us.  One kingdom presumably lifts up the self but in actuality enslaves the soul while the other Kingdom lifts up God and results in true freedom of the soul.  One kingdom places a premium upon what is temporary while the other puts a premium on what is eternal.

What do your words, actions, thoughts, and attitudes of the heart say about which kingdom has YOUR allegiance?