Toxic

“In conclusion, my friends, fill your minds with those things that are good and that deserve praise: things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and honorable.
9 Put into practice what you learned and received from me, both from my words and from my actions. And the God who gives us peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:8-9 GNT)
Image result for filling your mind with good
    Conspiracy theories can be interesting and, I guess fun  if that’s your particular mindset.  But they almost always end up being just that. Theories. It would seem that a good rule of thumb would be if it sounds sensational and complicated then it’s probably not true. if it sounds pretty mundane, that’s probably what happened.
   Take for instance the “mysterious” death of Napoleon Bonaparte.  For years the rumor has been that he was poisoned.  Slowly poisoned over a period of years through the use of arsenic.  Napoleon fueled this himself by spreading rumors that should he die before his time, the English had done it through the use of poison.
Image result for napoleon
   When Napoleon died, it wasn’t long before the rumors began. Arsenic is an easy target as if it’s done slowly the person will not exhibit  many symptoms.  The theorists assumed, since Napoleon never appeared to have been poisoned he must, or course  have been poisoned by something that doesn’t leave a trail. You can see how quickly these theories become convoluted.  The theory gained some steam when a lock of Napoleon’s hair was tested, hundreds of years later, and it was discovered that he had a 100% higher level of arsenic in his system. Murder is afoot!
   But the reality is much more, as almost always, more pedestrian.  First a further examination of Napoleon’s family revealed they all had a 100% higher level of arsenic in their systems.   If one goes through the records of his last days it seems much more likely that Napoleon was sick (his family had a history of cancer) and his death actually had more to do with the poor medical practices of his day than a mysterious assassin. In short, he got sick, the care wasn’t good and he didn’t recover.
   So how do we explain the arsenic? Wallpaper. As hard as it is to believe today, The wallpaper in those times was laced with arsenic to be sued as a bit of decorative extermination of vermin. Rats and mice were a persistent issue back then. And someone came up with the idea of introducing arsenic into the wallpaper. As a mouse or a rat chewed through the wall to get into the house, it ate through the wallpaper and died.  Genius.  Creepy but genius.
   But the wallpaper also gave off a gas of arsenic. So if you lived in a home with this wallpaper, over time you ingested or at least were exposed to a toxic gas.  This would explain the high levels in his family.  It would also explain illness and perhaps, just perhaps one of the causes of  Napoleon’s inability to recover.
   I think most of us will agree, that even if it doesn’t kill us long-term exposure to toxins is bad for our systems. We have all read about places where chemicals were leaked into an environment with often tragic results.  Long term exposure to toxins can be deadly to us. And the danger is that it can happen so slowly we may not even be aware of it.
   Perhaps that’s one of the reasons Paul admonishes us to be careful what we use to fill our minds. Paul tells us to fill our minds with good things.  Why? Because if we fill our mind and souls with things that are toxic to us, it will eventually  cause great damage.
   I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately. In part because Of all the toxic behavior we have been exposed to latety in the media and certainly in social media.  It doesn’t really matter where you stand on an issue, wait around and someone will say something pretty toxic.  Anger, hatred, demeaning langue. You simply can’t have your spirit constantly exposed to it and not be affected.  Most of  us, I hope, would allow our minds be filled with pornography because we can see it’s damaging. One wonders why we allow verbal pornography to enter our hearts.
Image result for filling our minds with good
   I know I’ve felt too much exposure to toxic actions and reactions to much in social media. And I can see it’s effects on my spirit.  Of course, simply cutting oneself off from social media might help. Bu the toxins of anger and unchristian thought can still find a way to invade us. So I’m taking some steps to follow Paul and be more careful with what I fill my mind. These are just the things I’m doing. It’s not a mandate, but I hope at least some of it might be helpful to you
   1) Take more time to fill your heart and  life with more good than you do toxins.  Take stock. if your time on social media is greater than the time you spend in the scriptures, in prayer, spending time with real people, your probably in danger of being exposed to too much toxin.   More Jesus is always a good rule of thumb.
 2) Take the word “fill” seriously. It doesn’t mean we can’t read or react to things we disagree with, but we must be careful not to fill our minds with them. God doesn’t ask us to bury our heads in the sand. And seeing this from another’s perspective can be healthy.  But when they fill our mind or our time, or even our social media feeds” its dangerous.
3) Filter is better than filling. This may be different for all of us.  But I’ve started filtering out feeds and posts that tend to fill my mind with toxins. If I don’t see it, I’m not in danger of being filled with it. I’ve found there are things said I agree with and I can disagree and move on. But there are some written  in such a  way and so filled with negativity that it spills over into my life. So I filter them out.
3)Know that you don’t have to respond to everything you disagree with. Here’s the reality. None ever has their remind changed in social media. So the likelihood of your changing everyone’s thoughts is pretty slim. What usually happens is that we read something and respond, others get involved and before long its a toxic mess.
  What I’ve started doing is, if I think its got toxic potential, is I pray before I respond. Not  just “God, what should I say?”  But “God, should I even respond?” You’d be surprised how many times God tells me to let it go and move on.
4) Always ask if what you read and how you respond honors Jesus. That one seems fairly self-explanatory.
5) Never bash the Bride.  My own personal rule.  I never speak ill of the church or other Christians. I’ve no problem disagreeing or questioning theology. But I never intentionally bash or demean the church or other Christians. The church is the bride of Christ and should be protected.
5) Look before you leap. Before I hit send I look it over and ask this. What does this say about me and my relationship with Jesus. I’m reminded of Paul’s encouragement to the church in Corinth to be imitators of him. Would I want others to imitate what I have done or assume that’s how Jesus is?
  Please know I’m not advocating we all hold hands and watch cat videos.
Image result for cat gif
Discourse and disagreement is healthy. But toxicity is not. I’m simply working harder at what enters my mind and heart.  And I’m trying to hold on to verse 9 where Paul tells us to put into practice what we have learned.  Fill your minds. But be careful what you fill them with.
In Christ,
Rev. Dr. Brian Jones <><

Are You Prepare?

“3 Therefore, preparing your minds for action,[a] and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1:13)

Image result for god's preparation process

“Pastors, cut your preaching preparation by Half”.  This was the lead in to an ad that was on one of my social media pages the other day.  You know how advertising like this works. They scan what you like, your interests, occupation etc. In short,  most of your information is scanned so they can place, on your feed, ads they believe will interest you. Like a move and you’ll likely see ads for t-shirts, mugs etc. that pertain to that movie.  If you have a job, you’ll see ads that would be of interest to others in your profession.

So I get a lot of ads for seminaries, Christian books, clergy robes etc. Most of which I don’t pay any attention to. It’s what you deal with to get your social media for “free”.  But this one came across offering me a chance to cut my preaching preparation down and I thought, Boy you are barking up the wrong tree.”  But I clicked on it anyway.

It turns out it really wasn’t about the sermon preparation at all. It was all the stuff that goes with it in a modern worship service.  Ready made slides so you can list all of those pertinent bullet points the sermon will have. Slides that easily transfer the lyrics to the praise songs sung during worship.  How to quickly add video content so you can use a clip to drive the point home. And software to live stream or podcast the message. It actually looked like a pretty good program.

But it had nothing to do with the sermon preparation. One could argue it helps cut down the sermon presentation preparation  a lot. And that’s not  a bad thing at all. But it really doesn’t affect the time it takes to prepare the sermon. The real preparation is not in the slides or visuals or video. All of which, in full disclosure, I use.

The real preparation for a sermon being son one’s knees as a preacher prays for God to prepare them for the message and give that message to the pastor. After all, I never want to preach “my sermon” I want to preach what God wants to say, from His word, to this congregation.  The preparation comes from the study of the scripture for that Sunday the pouring over how the church has explained this passage of Scripture as well as bring one’s own thoughts and experiences to the table. Yes, the Wesleyan Quadrilateral of Scripture being supported by tradition, reason and experience applies to the preparation of a sermon.  Even the pouring over stories and examples to help people grasps the message of the scripture is important.

Image result for sermon preparation

Sermon preparation is  important and shouldn’t be cut down for convenience sake. Not just because we want to give that great, eloquent sermon. Frankly, there are a lot of  resources out there that will give you everything you need to cut and paste a biblical, eloquent sermon. and you can do it in half the time. That’s not the point of preparation. Preparation of the sermon is only a small a part of the process. What’s just as crucial is the preparation of the preacher.  Wrestling over the word of God, study, prayer immerses our souls with the presence of God and changes us. We need that preparation time before we ever enter the pulpit. God wants us to be prepared, to struggle over his word because it is forming our spirits to become like His spirit.

That’s true for all of us though, isn’t it? Spiritual formation isn’t just for the”prfessional Christians”  Jesus constantly calls us into a deeper, life changing, person alerting relationship with Him.  Our preparation time is crucial to that process.

How is God preparing you to become more like Him? Certainly he calls you to worship, partake of the Means of Grace, participate in the sacraments.  He invites you to study His word and wrestle with it live in it.  I believe God wants to marinate our souls in the Word of God.  You know the more a piece of meat marinates the more tender it becomes and the more flavorful. We have a lot of tough, tasteless souls in the church today because we aren’t allowing God to prepare us.  But the more we allow God’s word to soften our hearts, give flavor to our souls, the better.

In some ways life itself is  a place of preparation. God may be preparing you through a tie of disappointment.  There may have been a hope or a dream in your life that isn’t going to come to pass.  God may be using that experience to prepare you for something more. It may be a time where you are struggling in a relationship, or struggling because of the lack of one.  It could be an illness. It could be a moment of great joy and success.

No, I don’t believe God causes everything to happen to us. Some happen simply because of life itself. Some are because of our own choices, or the choices of others.   While I don’t believe God causes all of it, I do believe that life happens.  It happens to all of us.  And I believe God asks us to use all of life as a time or preparation that we might become more like Him.  The challenge, of course, is not to cut the preparation time short. We all want results. We all want answers. But sometimes, the preparation is as important as the presentation. What is God preparing you for?

 

Image result for life prepares us for heaven

In Christ,

 

Rev. Dr. Brian Jones <><

 

 

 

Bucket List

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,” (2 Timothy 3:16  NIV)

Image result for bucket list

Do you have a bucket list?  You know that list of things you’ve always wanted to do before you, well, kick the bucket.  In short it’s the list of things you’ve always wanted to do  before you die. It could be visiting an exotic locale. Or starting a business, or bungee jumping, zip lining over Niagara Falls (it doesn’t have to be sane to get on your bucket list.).

I imagine almost everyone has a bucket list of some kind. we all have dreams and wishes. Things we’d like to do before we die. Or things we’d like to do if our finances or family situations change to the point where we can do them.  Oh, I think we know we won’t accomplish all of them. But most of us would be satisfied with at least knocking off a good portion of our list.

And to the end that a bucket list keeps you dreaming, they are good things. It’s nice to have aspirations.  It’s also healthy for us to have goals that we want to reach regardless of age, time or life limitations. And everyone’s list is different. Some of them are exotic. But to others might seem more mundane, such as dancing at a grandchild’s wedding. so almost every bucket list has good in it.

The operative word being almost.  I recently came across a different type of bucket list. A well known pastor and leader in the UMC has written a book on how to understand the Bible. Please understand I have respect for what this minister has done in serving the church in  many ways. At the same time I am greatly troubled by his  “bucket list”

He writes that there are three buckets into which Scripture fall

  1. Scriptures that express God’s heart, character and timeless will for His people
  2. Scriptures that express God’s will in a particular time but no longer binding
  3. Scriptures that never fully expressed God’s heart character or will.

Now that sounds good. Logical. We have Scriptures that we know from bucket 1 are binding. Bucket 2 isn’t as binding, but if we dig deep enough, we can find a principle behind it. Bucket 3 is for those scriptures we need not see as binding on our hearts. It sounds good, but these are some pretty troubling buckets.

Image result for all scripture is god breathed

One of the problems we have, is that it leaves us asking what to do with the Scripture above. If it goes in bucket one, then we have to do away with the third bucket all together. If it goes into bucket two we might need to ask what then, with any legitimacy goes into the first bucket?  What it comes down to, in all honesty, is simply an attempt to legitimize beliefs that are not congruent with Scripture, which is a very dangerous position for any Christian to be in.

But less I sound too critical against the author, the truth is we all do this. His idea is nothing new.  We all have certain buckets we place Scripture in. We have that all important first bucket.  We place in it the Scriptures that make us feel good, the ones that warm our hearts like a cup of coffee on a cold winter morning.  And some of us have a second bucket. That’s for those scriptures that aren’t easy to understand and we’d really not have to dig too deep into them. After all, we are busy people and if God has something to say to us,he ought to spit it out in a plain, easy to understand manner.

Image result for Wesley on Scripture

All of us, heaven help us, have that third bucket.  It’s the bucket we place Scriptures that make us uncomfortable. The ones that challenge us. The Scriptures that go against the flow of cultural acceptance. These are the Scriptures that, if we live them out, will cause us to stand out from everyone else and take on a completely different set of values.  They are the Scriptures that cause us to look into the dark recesses of our souls and drag our sins into the light.

Of course, if we take the Scripture at the top of the page seriously, we must admit the first bucket, with all its warm fuzzies, are still true and have value. But here is the rub. While those Scriptures help me, they rarely change me. The times of deepest spiritual growth in my life have come from being challenged by God.  They come when God’s word calls me to look at the world around me and live differently.  The Scriptures that cause me to wrestle with God are the ones that prove the most valuable.  That’s probably true for you as well.

So let me encourage you to kick the bucket. Embrace all of God’s word. It’s not easy. It won’t make you popular. It might change your life.  But it will be worth it.

 

In Christ,

Rev. Dr. Brian Jones <><

 

A Little Water Goes a Long Way

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
    before you were born I set you apart;
    I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:5)

 

Image result for infant baptism

I ran across a post on social media the other day that asked for your greatest church fail.  Not in the vein of what have you done to close a church, or what did you do that turned out to  be a bad ministry. These were humorous posts. te times we did something in church we  wished we hadn’t. One of my favorites involved a young lady who high-fived a  man who had lifted his hand as she walked by.  Not realizing he was in a moment of praise lifting his  hands to the Lord.   Stories like that.

As you can imagine, a good many of the stories involved children. Things children did or said, such as the little boy screaming “pray for me!”  as his father removed him from the service for being disruptive.  And some of them involved the baptism of a baby.

Infant baptism, if you want everything to go perfectly can be a risky thing. So anything can go wrong. babies crying and squirming. older siblings misbehaving.  Spit up and well, other things, happening. And of course the fact the baby is completely oblivious to the theological ramifications of being wrapped in the mystery of the sacrament.

And yet all of these things are some of the exact reasons why we do Infant Baptism in the church. Before I go on, please know I am only speaking from my tradition as a United Methodist.  And as a United Methodist I want to stress there is nothing magical about infant baptism.  It’s perfectly fine to wait until one if of an age of accountability.  But that being said, let me share why I am a proponent for infant baptism.

It’s at infant baptism we find ourselves being terribly Wesleyan in our theology.  Wesley stressed Prevenient grace, the grace that “goes before”. Wesley asserted none of  us come to Christ on our own. God moves first, wooing us, drawing us near. Often we are oblivious to the entire thing,  much like the baby. At infant baptism we say in some way we can’t understand God loves you more than we ever will. Our love pales in comparison to the love God has for you.

Now lets’ think about that for a moment. The baby, other than being cute, as done nothing to earn God’s love. It doesn’t even know what’s going on. And yet even though the baby can give nothing back, God pours His love upon this child in a unmerited way.  That’s grace.

At infant baptism the church takes responsibility for the child, knowing they will be a conduit for God’s love and grace into the child’s life.  I’ll often remind  the congregation that this baby will become the toddler who kicks the back of your pew and the youth that messes up the church van.  And it’s OK. Our promise to share God’s love and grace still stands.

Image result for bowl of  clear stones

Imperfect, oblivious self-centered caring only for their own comfort. Yet at the same time loved. grace filled. Gifted with a purpose in life.  That’s infant baptism. Yesterday we held a Baptismal remembrance service.  The congregation came up and ok a clear stone from a bowl of water and remembered they were baptized as they pressed the stone to their forehead.  I marveled at the people. Some not even in middle school. Some members of the church for 60 years.  All coming down to remember. To remember that when they were at their most unlovable moment. When they were weak and powerless God still loved them.  God had a plan for their lives. God knew them.   Not because of anything they had done. Simply because of who God is.

We all need that type of reminder don’t we? As we move through this New year, my prayer it’s that you will remember. Remember a God who knew you before you were born and had a plan for you. Remember that God’s love and grace can’t be earned, and don’t need to be.  Remember God’s grace that changes and shapes our lives.  Remember, and be thankful.

 

In CHrist,

Rev. Dr. Brian Jones <><