All posts by tunemyheart

Mark Browning lives on 60 wooded acres in the Greater Bates City, Missouri metropolitan area. For over a quarter of a century he has been wed to the lovely Penny with whom he shares four children and four grandchildren. In his spare time, he teaches English at Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, Kansas.

Not Just Churchy Compassion

Mark 2:3-4

No really–have the compassion to connect others to Christ!

A number of years ago, I went to Windermere as a cabin counselor for children’s camp. Since I’m headed off to children’s camp today, my history in that endeavor is on my mind. One day during that long-ago summer, one of my boys came to me and announced that he had prayed to receive Christ–on his own–at the hilltop chapel overlooking the camp. Honestly, I don’t remember how I responded to that news, but I’d like to think I was properly celebratory.

It was several years later, when that ten-year-old had become an older teen, that he took his own life. I’m not sure what difficulties, what pains, what obstacles led him down that road. Honestly, I had very few dealings with him after that camp.

Was he really saved or did he just say something that would please church people? I don’t know, but that’s perhaps why the matter sticks in my mind. If I really cared for this kid, I would have maintained the connection. If I really care for him, I would be much more certain whether his experience was genuine. But I didn’t follow up. I don’t know.

We say things. “I’m praying for you!” “Just trust God to work it out!” We say things–churchy things–but sometimes we don’t back those things up with actions. Sometimes we fail to pray–or to pray enough. Sometimes we are supposed to be part of the way God works that problem out.

I don’t feel as if that boy’s death is lying at my feet. But I do know that I should have been more of a friend, more of a connection for him than I was.

  • What sort of “churchy” things are you guilty of saying and not acting upon?
  • What people’s connections to Christ should you not only initiate but maintain?
  • Pray that God will open your eyes to the genuine compassion that will help others build a strong connection to Jesus.

Four Bored Friends?

Mark 2:3-4

Have the compassion to connect others to Christ.

For decades, Sunday School curriculum for children has included “teaching pictures.” These are typically very nicely rendered paintings that are then printed and distributed to teachers all over the country. One of these pictures that I recall from my childhood portrayed the friends lowering the paralytic into the house where Jesus stood teaching.

What strikes me about my memory of this picture is how uninvolved the friends looked. They seemed as bored as a bunch of suburban guys out mowing their grass. “Okay, after we finish lowering this guy through the hole in the roof, we’ll head over to my house and watch the game,” their faces seem to say.

I mention this because these guys had to have some powerful motivation. What would it take for you to not only carry your friend across town but to climb up on the roof and then tear up the house in order to gain access? Were these guys related to the paralyzed man? Did they know him before his illness? Was he just a great friend despite the disability? We don’t know, but they must have possessed deep feelings for him.

Who would you stick your neck out for in order to bring them before Jesus? Whose salvation means more than your dinner or your vacation or your hobby or that game you’ve been planning to watch? Who would you carry onto the roof?

  • Who was the first person that came into your mind to bring before Jesus? Why?
  • Do you feel as if you possess the sort of compassion that the four friends possessed? What keeps you from having that?
  • Pray that God will soften your heart and fill it with compassion for those who don’t know Christ.

Give it Away

Acts 2:44-45

Commit yourself to Giving.

Can I brag on my wife for a minute? A few months ago, Penny took on a part-time job at the church. Yes, it might be your tithe dollars that are funding her paycheck. Every two weeks, she receives a check. Unfortunately, to the best of my knowledge, she is not squirreling it away to buy me a 1965 Corvette.

Actually, I know what she’s doing with the money. We discussed it and agreed. Every two weeks, she deducts the cost of a tank of gas and the tithe amount for her check. The rest of the money she takes from the ATM.

Does she buy shoes? No. Clothes? No. Spa treatments? Not that either.

What Penny does with the bulk of her pay is to give it away. She already tithed on it, but she gives most of the remainder away. If somebody needs a car repair, she’ll pay for it. If a family in her class has a money crunch, she’ll discreetly pass them some cash. She’s so discreet that most of the time even I don’t know what she’s done with the money.

What’s wrong with this woman that she doesn’t want to buy shoes or knickknacks for the house? She seems to have discovered that by giving, she gains. It’s a weird truth, but it is a truth.

When we commit ourselves, like those early Christians, to giving, we wind up richer in the now and in eternity.

  • Have you experienced the blessing of giving? What is the most recent time you did that?
  • Would you agree that when you are generous, God is faithful to provide what you need? Have you ever seen the opposite be true?
  • Ask God to open your eyes to the sort of generosity He would determine for you.

Are You Passing This Class?

Acts 2:42

Commit yourself to good teaching.

A recent administration of the CLA+ (College Learning Assessment Plus) test, which attempts to determine how much college students developed their critical thinking skills over four years, provided, as usual, fairly discouraging results. Without sharing actual numbers, let’s just say that there are not very many schools who will be putting their results in any alumni brag magazines or recruitment materials.

I would expect that someone in those critical years, 18 to 22, working at Starbucks would make some significant gains in their ability to think and solve problems. How can college fail to accomplish that?

Before you start feeling all superior, here’s a parallel thought. How much spiritually “smarter” are you than four years ago? If you’ve been sitting under solid teaching for four years, shouldn’t you be developing your Christian IQ?

Unfortunately, many believers attend most every Sunday, but they do not actually commit themselves to solid Bible teaching. They don’t really pay attention to sermons and lessons, instead thinking about where to go out to lunch when the final space is filled in on the outline. And once they hit the parking lot, the materials have fled from their mind.

I know this to be true, because I’ve been that person. But I’ve also dedicated myself to Bible reading and study. The difference in results is amazing. When we commit ourselves to God’s Word, God uses that Word to make positive changes in our lives.

  • What grade would you give yourself on your commitment to good teaching?
  • What was the last Bible truth that you discovered and applied to your life?
  • Ask God to help you remain constant in your dedication to solid teaching from whatever source.

A 4th of July Blow Up

This is for my grandson, Ira, who asked, with something of a sneer in his voice, “What is Fourth of July supposed to be for?”

There’s a strain of thought in our society that cynically dismisses the United States as the source all the evils in the world. These people, some of whom I’m sure Ira has heard talk, point rightfully to a host of things that this nation has gotten wrong in the past 241 years.

As a nation, we’ve been pretty awful in several respects: slavery, the displacement of Native Americans, a successful war of conquest in Mexico and an unsuccessful invasion (or two) of Canada. Then there are more recent things that aren’t exactly the stuff to put into the scrapbook.

But here’s the deal. When the fifty-six delegates signed the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, they weren’t claiming to be perfect. Read through the document and you won’t find anywhere where it says that we wouldn’t mess up. What Jefferson and company did claim was the right to determine their own destinies.  In soaring language, they said that all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights.

Sure, we’ve been figuring out over those years exactly what all people being equal means, but let’s recognize that even the very limited idea–all white men (not women) were equal–was revolutionary in the nations of their day. Sure, the wags of the Enlightenment talked in those terms, but nobody actually tried to act on it.

Our forebears acted on it. We did it imperfectly, but we did it. On July 4, 1776, a teetering little nation reared its head against the greatest power on earth and said, “Enough! We’re in charge of our own destiny!”

July 4 commemorates a revolution that stuck. We didn’t, like France a few years later, start guillotining everyone in sight. We didn’t, like Russia in 1917 and beyond, begin murdering  hundreds before moving on to thousands and then millions. We move through parties and philosophies and presidents and problems, usually without resorting to bloodshed. And when 620,000 lives were extinguished in an effort to maintain the union and end slavery, when at the very moment of triumph the president was murdered, our level of retribution was exceptionally measured. Former Confederate President Jefferson Davis died of natural causes, a free man in New Orleans.

So those who hate the country that gives them a constitutionally guaranteed right to put on Guy Fawkes masks and chant whatever they’re chanting today can have their say. I say they’re ignorant and childish, but I’ll stand to defend their right to be ignorant and childish. I’d ask them to return the favor.

The Fourth of July? It’s not about the United States of America being a perfect place. It’s about it being a place where people are allowed to make their best efforts to succeed or fail. It’s about us continuing to listen to and learn from one another. It’s about a place on earth where people can worship or not worship how they please. It’s about a nation that seems capable of surviving its own worst sins, coming out breathing on the other side.

That, Ira, is what Fourth of July is all about. Isn’t it appropriate that we celebrate it by blowing things up?