Jon Hevelone's blog
We are people of habit. So much of what we do is done on “auto-pilot,” allowing us to get the routine things done while our mind is focused on other things. Sometimes habits are rather strange, or even unproductive. I must frequently participate in that barbaric ritual of wearing a tie. I can not tell you how many times I have tied a tie. I have the procedure down pat. Yet to this this day I can not tie one unless I am looking in a mirror. No mirror, no knot.
Someone said that a habit is just a behavioral groove we get into. Unfortunately, sometimes we dig the groove so deep that it becomes a rut, and we are stuck. This gets pretty bad when the habit or groove we find ourselves stuck in is destructive. You do know about these kinds of habits, don’t you? Feasting on too much junk food, slacking off, or poisoning the air with gossip or inappropriate responses are all habits that can reap unhappy consequences.
If a habit is a grooved behavior pattern, then perhaps we can also groove our spiritual growth, creating patterns that are more more Christlike. These new habits can lead to a far healthier spiritual life than we’ve settled for in the past. In fact, Paul advocates training ourselves in godliness, or as he puts it:
Stay clear of silly stories that get dressed up as religion. Exercise daily in God—
no spiritual flabbiness, please! Workouts in the gymnasium are useful, but a
disciplined life in God is far more so, making you fit both today and forever.
(1 Timothy 4:7-8)
Let me toss out two suggestions for beginning your spiritual workout. First, get in the habit of starting your morning with God. Waking up aware that God has given you yet another day to live unleashes enormous positive possibilities. Instead of hitting the snooze on that blasted alarm clock and pulling the covers up over your head, consider yourself blessed that you have a precious day given you by Someone who totally loves you, has your best interests at heart, and has offered to help you not only get through the day, but become a far finer person than you ever could on your own. Let Psalms 118:24 be your wake up call: "This is the day the Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it."
Secondly, make it your habit to identify a specific ministry to do for God for the day. What will you do that honors the Lord, helps someone’s life to be a little better, and builds up God’s Kingdom? Paul’s vision for followers of Jesus is for us to “excel in gifts that build up the church” ( 1 Corinthians 14:12). What gift will you give today? Will it be a smile? A friendly word of encouragement? A chunk of your time? Some sweat and muscle power? Prayer? How can you let your light shine so people will praise God because of you? Get in the habit of using some time during each day ministering. It’s a behavioral groove that will keep you in top spiritual shape for life.
Sometimes the daily news is more disturbing to us than usual. This is especially true during the holiday season, when the unfortunate events that happen to others seem to strike an especially responsive and sensitive cord in our hearts.
It seems like we have been in a season of bad news, and I find it easy to grieve with and for others I do not even know. It really makes no sense, but I find myself caring as if they were personal friends, rather than names in a newspaper.
Of course the tragedy that has wiped out a whole family in Arlington is enough to make most people at least wince, if not burst into tears. For those of you reading this from a distance and do not know, a husband and father apparently killed his wife and twin boys, and then himself. The twins would have been one year old this week.
I find myself raging. How could anyone do this? How could it be done just before a milestone birthday party? Just before Thanksgiving, a time we are to draw close to our families and thank God for the blessings of life? And just before Advent and Christmas, the time we celebrate the coming of the Prince of Peace? How can this be? How can I feel the loss so personally, when all involved were strangers?
The answer, or at least a partial step toward an understanding, comes when we realize our yearning for things as we wish them to be during the holidays. As a young boy I lived in a small town that celebrated the 4th of July with a fireworks display. I remember lying on my back in the grass with friends watching the bombs bursting in air, the glorious colors exploding across the night sky, the smell of gunpowder drifting down and settling over the enthralled crowd. As an adult, I realize the fireworks display was probably quite limited and meager, given the financial resources of the community and the fact that so many years ago it didn’t take as much to impress us. Yet there is still something within me that says the colossal fireworks spectaculars here in Boston aren’t nearly as awesome as those of yesteryear in small town Kansas.
Likewise, we want our Thanksgiving and our Christmas to be as we wish them to be, and not as they are. We yearn for the magical spark of delight and perfection that is buried deep within our memories. Unfortunately, as we age, our memories tend to expand and become exaggerated. The Christmas tree we decorate today will never match the ones of our youth.
I can not remember a family squabble marring the holidays of my youth. I do not recall the hard work of preparing, serving, and cleaning up after a Thanksgiving feast. I am certain my mother was never disappointed in whatever homemade Christmas present I took such delight in giving to her. And I am sure there were no tragedies in my home town like the one here in Arlington, nor were there problems anywhere else in the world. Everything was perfect.
Unfortunately, Normal Rockwell is no longer painting Saturday Evening Post covers this holiday season. If you come to our house at Christmas, you see a Christmas tree thrown thrown together minus the ornaments we could’t find, presents that may or may not be adored, and family members who occasionally fuss with one another. We live as real people in a real world that is a far cry from the dream world of our childhood. We can wish and wish, but yearning for perfection doesn’t change the actuality of our world.
The bittersweetness of living in a world that is full of incredible goodness, yet is at the same time so broken and marred comes to the front during the holidays, and especially at Christmas. We sense this, we live this, still tantalized by our memories and expectations, and find ourselves jarred when reality doesn’t match our hopes. When reality is especially harsh, such as the Arlington family murdered by who knows what evil forces, we immediately tie the loss into those countless other losses we have personally experienced over the years. It joins right in there with my always yearning for a perfect Christmas like those of my childhood. Unfortunately, there are times when we do not have a white Christmas, and people sometimes do bad things.
Different situations in our lives can cast deep shadows. We can choose to be overcome by the darkness, or to be a light in the shadows. We can continue to trust Jesus Christ’s heart, even when we can not feel his hand upon us. We can choose to believe, trust and follow our God, even if his plan does not live up to our expectations. God does not need our approval for his will to be done.
We do not always get the Christmas we wish. We do not always get life as we wish it to be. Sometimes, from our perspective, life is worse. Sometimes it is better. Always, we can trust that God works through all things to bring good to those who love him. Stay close to him and see how that good will be worked out in your life. That could be the best gift of Christmas you will ever receive.
Recently I mentioned the often repeated biblical phrase “the name of the Lord” in a message I preached on trusting God. I was preaching on Psalm 20, where the words were repeated three times within a few short verses., ending with “...we trust in the name of the Lord our God.”
This simple phrase is often passed over by those who read the Bible, since it is so commonly found throughout the scriptures. The wording varies slightly from time to time. The phrase is repeated variously as “the name of the Lord”, “the name of the Lord our God”, and “the name of Jesus.” It always means the same.
So why is this phrase such a big deal? Why do Christians today routinely end their prayers in the name of Jesus? Why does this phrase appear in Psalms, a book written generations before Jesus, as well as biblical books written years after he came?
Why does the writer of the book of Acts, which details the exciting lives and times of the first Christian believers quote a prophet in the Old Testament, bringing this phrase across the centuries and across religious boundaries (from Jewish to Christian) with the following:
And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. (Acts 2:21)
Why is it seen embedded in the powerful everyday ministry experiences of the early church?
Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. (James 5:14-15)
Why does it reach the pinnacle of praise when the Apostle Paul practically celebrates with an enthusiasm usually reserved here in Boston for our over-the-top 4th of July fireworks display on the Charles?
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11)
Why? Because when we say it we are not believing in a magical phrase that suddenly makes our every whim and wish come true. It is not a good luck charm.
The “name of the Lord” is the Bible’s way of talking about the living presence of our powerful, almighty God. The “name” is a direct link to God’s character, to God’s essence, to God’s core reality. It’s at the very heart of our faith -- the very heart of God. There is power in that name
because there is power in the personal, infinite God of the universe.
And one of the amazing things is that powerful, almighty God cares about you. Our God wants to be involved in your daily life, wants to live personally connected with you. The first step in making that relationship a living reality is calling on the name of the Lord -- the person of Jesus be saved. Have you done that? Are you living right now in “the name of the Lord”?
The First Baptist Church of Arlington will be holding a program to teach health and wellness. It will meet for five Tuesday nights at 6:30 beginning May 28 and will be lead by Dr. Justin Mariano, a chiropractor who is part of First Baptist Church.
It will be based on a program created by three Christian chiropractors called Bonfire Health which was designed to teach people how to develop 39 healthy habits in 90 days and maintain those habits throughout their lifetime.
There will be five sessions:
1. May 28 Introduction: define health, wellness and introduce three basic subcategories about the program which are: how we eat (nutrition), how we move (exercise), and how we think.
2. June 4 How we eat: nutrition and how it relates to our health.
3. June 11 How we move: exercise and how it relates to our health.
No class on June 18.
4. June 25 How we think: stress reduction and dealing with conflict.
5. July 2 How we grow spiritually: some tips on spiritual growth.
This program is free of charge and everyone is invited. For more information visit www.bonfirehealth.com or contact the church at 781-643-3924.