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Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Put Up or Shut Up



 
I want to thank Paul Lambert for allowing me to repost his blog on my recent sermon entitled "Put Up or Shut Up."  Paul is one of the producers of the new Broadway show "First Wives Club" and an honorary west coast member :) of our family at Madison Avenue Baptist Church.  You can hear the podcast of the original sermon here!


Last Sunday I attended one of my favorite Churches in NY pastored by Susan Sparks. This church has a wonderful congregation with an interesting and diverse crowd. Every time I attend I feel a warmth and unity among its people and the love of God present among this unique body of believers.

When I looked at the morning bulletin I saw that Susan’s sermon title was “Put Up or Shut Up”. I thought … wow, what a title. What followed was power-packed.

The theme of it was when we are saddled by heartbreaking events or a heart stopping circumstance ... that is the time to use our faith as a lifeboat. In those moments of struggle and extreme helplessness, we can say "Why me God?” … or “Use me God”. According to Rev Sparks at these times we can "blame God or turn to God."

In book of Job we see one of our Lord's most faithful servants and a shining example of virtue. When the book opens Job is about to loose everything — his children, his property, his wealth, his good name, and even his health. That pretty much qualifies as a complete package of disaster doesn't it?. 

So the question of why do bad things happen to good people surfaces. It is obvious the “world" is not an entirely safe or predictable place. But God runs it - all of it. 

God created the universe, God runs the universe, and said to Job “You don’t know the workings of the universe”. But the real lesson in all of this becomes clear. God is alive, God is here, God is active, God cares, and God is capable. Job starts to grasp this and says "Surely I spoke of things i did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.”.

Suffering and a sudden crisis is hard to accept unless or until God reveals the divine purpose of them. Isn’t it true that after a personal storm blows through there comes a time when we gain a better understanding and perspective of things. Often we see what happened was for good … but only later, much later.

At the end of reverend Sparks' sermon she revealed that in the front of the Church sat a lady named Nancy along with her family. This past week Nancy’s daughter was suddenly killed in a car accident. Poof - she was gone. Pastor Sparks called to comfort her right after it happened and asked "how are you doing?” Nancy, a Mother whose daughter had just been snatched from her, said “Well Pastor it’s time to put up, or shut up”. I couldn’t hold back the tears. Wow. 

That’s what we all have to do at our worst and most challenging moments - “Put Up or Shut Up” - if you’re facing a huge struggle or unexpected crisis, turn it into an timely opportunity to use your faith as a life boat and trust, trust, trust God. (Rom 8:28; 2 Cor 12:5-10; Heb 12:4-12; John 16:33 ) Wow, what a sermon, what a circumstance, and what a wonderful lady. I was changed and really helped by this. I hope this can be helpful to you too.

From Madison Ave Baptist Church in New York … Paul

Thursday, June 19, 2014

It's Still Life


 
(This blog post was also featured by Psychology Today as well as preached as a sermon at the Madison Avenue Baptist Church in NYC.)
       Recently, I saw an image on Pinterest that said “Life*” at the top, then underneath, in small print by the asterisk, it said: “Available for a limited time only, limit one per customer, subject to change without notice, provided ‘as is’ without any warranties, your mileage may vary.”
       While this was meant as something to make people laugh, it actually packed a powerful message.  Amazingly, we tend to believe that life comes with some type of warranty that promises things will always be easy, fun and painless. And when it’s not, we complain—incessantly. 
      We complain about the weather. “OMG, it’s so cold, when will it ever stop?”  Then, two months later we carp: “OMG, it’s so hot and humid, when will it ever stop?” 

     We whine that the trains and buses are late. We moan that people are rude, the stock market hasn’t done well, or that the grocery store is out of our favorite item. Recently, I was at Whole Foods and I heard a woman complaining to the manager that they were out of her “soy milk substitute.”  First of all, what is soy milk substitute? And second, why would anyone want it?
      We waste so much time complaining about the superficial things that we miss precious seconds, hours, days, even years of our life. It’s like the Jewish prayer:  “Days pass and years vanish and we walk sightless among miracles.” We must be grateful in the good times and the bad, for in the end, it’s still life.
      Warnings like “life is short,” get greeted by eye rolls and shrugs.  Yes, we’ve all heard this saying many times—which I think is part of the problem.  I’m afraid we have heard it so much that we have become immune to it.
      But there is urgency in those three short words. Things can change in the blink of an eye.  We don’t know what is going to happen from one day to the next. We don’t know if we will be given tomorrow—or even the rest of today. Just look at the headlines:  random shootings, tornados that tear apart entire towns, soaring cancer statistics. Life – is – short.
      It is also sacred. The Psalmists offered this wisdom: “You created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb…I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”  (Psalm 139:13-14).  Life is the greatest, most sacred gift we have.  Sure you may think other things are important, but if you didn’t wake up this morning, then what difference would it make?
      Life is short.  Life is sacred.  And, because of that it should be celebrated in the good times and the bad.  It doesn’t matter where you find yourself: a long line at the DMV, the dentist chair or the chemo room, it’s still life and there is joy to be found in the simple taking of a breath.
      The author Elisabeth K├╝bler-Ross wrote, “People are like stained glass windows.  They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.”
      Find that light.  Strive to be grateful in all circumstances.  Use that gratitude to inspire and lift up others who are mired in difficulty.
      We were never guaranteed that life would be easy, or fun, or painless.  Yet, even in the pain we can be grateful for the simple gift of being alive.  And, if you find yourself struggling, use these few words as your mantra:  “it’s still sacred, it’s still a gift, it’s still life.”