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Echoes Blog

Do our words matter? As a youngster, I recall the adage: sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me. I don’t know where I first heard it, but I’m sure that somewhere along the path a well-meaning individual encouraged me to use it as a pithy reply to someone hurling insults towards me. And I’m certain that I probably did recite it once or twice on the playground in an attempt to cover my hurt feelings. But the truth is sometimes words can and do hurt.

A few days ago, a Massachusetts judge found 20-year old Michelle Carter guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the 2014 death of her boyfriend. Juvenile Court Judge Lawrence Moniz found that Carter had displayed “wanton and reckless conduct” that led to the death of her then-18-year-old boyfriend Conrad Roy III.

 She didn’t give him drugs and she wasn’t behind the wheel of an out-of-control car that crashed into his vehicle. What she did do was encourage him by way of dozens of text messages to follow through with a plan that he apparently had previously shared with her. A plan to take his own life.

I am stunned by the idea that two young adults were texting messages of this nature back and forth. And further stunned by the thought that this young woman didn’t feel compelled to call his parents, call the police, call anyone. Not only did she not try to stop him, she encouraged him. How does something like that happen. What happened in his life and in hers that together they agreed that suicide was the only answer. In his ruling Moniz added: “Where one’s action creates a life-threatening risk to another there is a duty to take reasonable steps to alleviate the risk.”

As a communications professional, I believe that words do matter. What we say, how we say it and when we say it are all vital to our daily communications with one another. But in today’s world of electronic communications there’s yet another dynamic at play as well. In the last three decades technology has completely changed the way we communicate and more significantly it has redefined the way we build and maintain relationships with our colleagues, family and friends. The prevalent use of devices which allow us to communicate intimately, without being face-to-face, seems to have removed a layer of consciousness from our dialogue with one another. The fact that we can’t see the reaction on someone’s face or hear the tone of their voice shift, deprives us of the ability to respond appropriately.

Much in the same way, social media seems to enable people to post ugly, rude, tasteless comments that do hurt people. But why? What has happened to us as a society that causes anyone to think that it’s okay to demean someone on Facebook for their views, beliefs or practices.

As a person of faith, I do not believe that it’s my right or my responsibility to judge others. But I do believe that it is our responsibility to help someone in need if we are able. In the 22nd chapter of Matthew, Jesus was asked “which is the greatest commandment.” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ We are to love God from the top of our heads to the bottom of our toes. But we cannot claim to love God and not love others.

The “I” in Worship

Most often when we talk about worship it is as the body of believers who join together to praise God, confess our sins, listen to God’s Word and leave renewed to walk back into the world changed. Right?

But what happens when we don’t leave worship feeling renewed?  What happens when politics, terrorist attacks, and the way we treat each other are like weights holding us down.  Or when we watch a loved one suffering due to illness, pain, or loss and we are continuously pulled back unable to break away from the struggle they are enduring.  Maybe it is when our own loneness, fear, and anxieties keep us from feeling connected.  That is when worship doesn’t bring the bond and connection that we all hope to find. 

It is on those days when the “I” in worship is ignored.  When the challenges we are going through are too heavy to carry, the hurt is too deep and the pain is so great. Coming to worship feels like a chore or that the church is filled with only happy people. And our own suffering doesn’t matter.

But that is wrong. Instead we gather together from every place and time with as many different life challenges and joys as there are people sitting in the pews. And that is why the “I” in worship is so important. 

The “I” in worship is found in the statement, “I believe.” We don’t point it out very often because we are in community and most often we say “we” but it is why we show up.  We come because we believe, or that you believe and I believe. We proclaim it in song, we pray it, confess it, and trust in it. 

When our new members join, they say, “I believe in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.” When someone is baptized they or their parents proclaim the same statement. It is one of my favorite parts of the service.  The announcement that is easy to believe and yet difficult to understand sometimes.  Jesus is our Lord and Savior.  Jesus loves us. Jesus saves us. The Holy Spirit is with us. And yet in dark struggling moments we wonder.

And that too is why we show up to worship. We come because sometimes, we are not sure where God is in this moment when we say, “my child is sick,” “my spouse died,” “my marriage is falling apart,” “I lost my job,” “I feel depressed,” or “I just don’t understand anymore.”

We come during these times because we have all been in the doubting, questioning, and wondering place.  We come to walk with each other.  Broken and beloved people going through our days trusting that we doubt that God is really there, someone else will come along side us and walk with us through it.  Someone will pray for you. Someone will care for you. Someone will love you. And someone will be there until you can say again, “I believe.”

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! ~ II Corinthians 5:17

This week at Vacation Bible School we are looking at the “I am…” statements of Jesus; “I am the bread of life.”, “I am the light of the world.”, “I am the good shepherd.”, etc.  Jesus makes these statements so we can better understand who He is.

If we think back to the story of Moses, when God calls Moses to save the Israelites for slavery in Egypt, Moses asks God, “Who shall I say sent me?” God’s response...” tell them ‘I am’ sent you.” So in Jesus “I am statements” He is reiterating the words God spoke to Moses. So for Jesus, His identity lies with God the Father. 

For most of us, depending on where we are, if someone asks about us, often we identify with our jobs, I am a doctor, an accountant, etc.; or with our family, I am Jude’s dad or Becca’s husband.  Despite what we do or our family situation, those things, no matter how good or bad they are, should not be what defines us. Paul tells us that when we accept Jesus into our lives we are a new creation, our old self is gone and everything is new, including our identity. For some of us, this is a hard concept to grasp, as we have worked hard to build our careers and our families and our hard work is what we identify with. 

As 140+ children and an additional 70+ leaders learn and teach about the “I am” statements of Jesus this week, I want to ask: Where is your identity? Is it in things of this world, like jobs, family, or success. Or is it in Godly things? If someone were to ask you who you are, how would you finish the statement… “I am”

I’ve been lately thinking about memory.

Memorial Day is a day for remembering, after all, and on the Memorial Day Sunday, Dr. Avram preached memory as a function of faith. He experimented with seeing different ways of remembering in Jesus’ Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13. Though Wes didn’t name memorization, my mind traveled to a time when another minister of mine did.

Dave Hopkins, my boss at a Christian Camp where I worked college summers, was a hyper-competitive memorization freak. The first day of training, he gathered our fifteen-person staff and threw down the gauntlet: “First one to recite James wins.” No prizes. Just bragging rights. But some of us were hyper-competitive too. Three weeks later, he and I laid aside well-worn index cards and recited the five-chapter letter verbatim. Four other staffers nailed James by the end of summer. The next year it was four chapters of Colossians, then Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5—7). The habit continued after my camp work ended, so I memorized Romans 1—8 the summer before I started at Princeton Seminary.

Does this seem too hard for you? If you were asked to name the ten most intelligent people in America, I’m guessing not one of your list would be an actor; yet these not-necessarily-smarter-than-you actors routinely commit huge chunks of script to memory.  The same goes with singers. Not surprisingly, people who do a lot of memorizing get better at it.

How about you? If you still need incentive, a growing body of research reveals that actively memorizing trains brains in a way that staves off dementia.

You can do this! It’s about attention, not intelligence, and it helps your mind and heart. When that ancient Jewish singer, David, reflected on a long life lived in the rhythm of internalized scripture, he sang to God the good his own index cards and repetitions had done him: “Thy word have I hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against Thee.” (Psalm 119.11)

Friends, God changes us through the workings of our memory. Start with the Parable of the Sower, if you want. Write out your index cards now. Start reciting at stoplights and in waiting rooms and just before bedtime.  Before you know it, you’ll surprise yourself and your company at Christmas dinner by reciting the nativity story from Luke. Or at your child or grandchild’s wedding, you can blurt out 1 Corinthians 13 as a gift. 

Make 2017 a summer to remember!

Note: If you would like to join Allen Hilton’s Bible Mem Club, let him know at ahilton@pinnaclepres.org

 

Spiritual Refreshment

We all work too hard. Already by 6 am, most of us are checking email in an attempt to get a head start on our day. By afternoon, we are plowing through our “to-do” lists, and catching up on more messages, emails, and business calls. Until bedtime, we keep a watchful eye on our email, sometimes answering queries until the wee hours of the morning. Indeed, in some professions, one must always be available to the “customer.” That mentality makes experiencing downtime or going on vacation nearly impossible. 

According to an article in the Huffington Post, “Americans have hit an all-time low when it comes to taking off work. More than 4 in 10 people do not use all of their vacation days for fear of work piling up or because they feel no one else can do their job while they’re away . . .  Experts say overloading without taking time to recharge isn’t healthy. “It might seem counterintuitive when you have a lot of work to take time off,” says Karen Osterle, a psychotherapist and marriage counselor in the District of Columbia. “But the problem is we’re not working efficiently if we’re in a constant state of stress . . .” [1]

Seeking work-life balance is not a theme unique to those of us living in the twenty first century. In Chinese philosophy, “yin and yang date back as far as 700 B.C.E., to the I Ching (The Book of Changes, a text Universal in its understanding and representation of the dynamic balance of opposites and the processes of unfolding events and changes).[2] ” Roman philosopher Seneca (c. 4 BCE–65 CE) wrote: “The mind should be allowed some relaxation, that it may return to its work all the better for the rest.”[3] Roman poet Ovid wrote, “Take rest; a field that has rested gives a bountiful crop.”[4] Leonardo da Vinci said, “Every now and then go away, have a little relaxation, for when you come back to your work your judgment will be surer.”[5] And in Mark 6:30-32, we read: “The apostles gathered together with Jesus; and they reported to Him all that they had done and taught. And He said to them, "Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a while."[6]

So what do you do for spiritual refreshment? How do you balance work and life? How do you know when it is time to get away? These questions may be answered quite differently according to the balance needs of each individual person. For me, sitting on a sunny beach with my toes in the sand, watching the powerful waves of the Pacific Ocean crash one after another for days on end restores my mind, refreshes my spirit, and revives my soul.

“Be still, and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)

The Scripture tells us to quiet ourselves, and with good reason! As you enter into summer vacation time, how will you refresh and restore?


[1] “8 Ways To Vacation Right And Recharge Your Health,” by Corinne Ruff, U.S. News & World Report. August 2, 2015 updated August 3, 2015.
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/8-ways-to-vacation-right-and-recharge-your-health_us_55ba55a1e4b095423d0e191c, accessed May 16, 2017.

[2] Yin and Yang,” from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yin_and_yang, accessed May 17, 2017.

[3]Wise Old Sayings, http://www.wiseoldsayings.com/relaxing-quotes/, accessed May 18, 2017.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] New American Standard Bible, https://www.bible.com/bible/100/MRK.6.nasb, accessed May 17, 2017.