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Should a Christian Pray for God’s Vengeance? (you may be surprised)

This came up in a discussion of Psalm 28 last night. Seemed a good time to re-blog.

Rev. Shane L. Bishop

Should a Christian Pray for God’s Vengeance?

One of the first challenges to the modern reader when foraying into the Psalms are the prayers for God’s vengeance upon the writers enemies.  I am talking about the “knock out their teeth, drive them into the dust and strike them dead” kinds of prayers.  Surely Psalm 58 represents such material well.

These wicked people are born sinners; even from birth they have lied and gone their own way.  They spit poison like deadly snakes; they are like cobras that refuse to listen, ignoring the tunes of the snake charmers, no matter how skillfully they play.  Break off their fangs, O God! Smash the jaws of these lions, O LORD!  May they disappear like water into thirsty ground. Make their weapons useless in their hands.  May they be like snails that dissolve into slime, like a stillborn child who…

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Dealing with Disappointment

 I have been much disappointed of late. I hate it when that happens.
I’ll bet you have been disappointed as well.
Disappointment seems the one item the buffet line in this fallen world always offers in ample supply.
Here is how I deal with disappointment:
1) Realize we live in a fallen and sin filled world (We ARE going to be disappointed and there is no way to avoid it)
2) Recognize that God is in control (My will is not always His will)
3) Remember good (and even better) often comes on the other side of disappointment
4) Refresh attitudes and emotions (get better and not bitter)
5) Retool expectations (realistic expectations can really help)
6) Reorient thinking from past disappointment into future opportunities
Disappointment is inevitable. It is an emotional thing and like all emotional things, it flies about with great regularity.
Growing from disappointment is not inevitable…growth must be chosen as a matter of discipline.
Give your disappointment to God.
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-Rev. Shane L. Bishop, A Distinguished Evangelist of the United Methodist Church, has been the Sr. Pastor at Christ Church in Fairview Heights, Illinois since 1997.

Musings on the Idea that is America

 

America is a place but it is just as importantly an idea. A really noble idea.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,

that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,

that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” 

-Thomas Jefferson

When I was a kid, we said the pledge to the flag before school every day. I still remember it:

“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all.”

Liked it!

Still like it!

As a child in the early 70’s, America meant but one thing; freedom. We were free. Communist countries were not free. Communists wanted to take our freedom. We were not going to let them.  Things were really simple in the early 70’s.

Freedom was not an abstraction for me. In fact, I wore it on my wrist. Until it snapped in two in 1977 or so, I wore an aluminum arm band with the name of a man named “Georgi Vins” on it. Had no idea who Georgi Vinns was other than he was in a Russian concentration camp because of his faith. Come to find out, Vins was a Baptist Pastor who organized underground churches and protested government control of churches in Russia in the 60’s and 70’s. Arrested and convicted for the second time in 1974, an international group formed to protest his arrest and call attention to the plight of persecuted Christians (i.e. my wrist band).

Vins was eventually exchanged under the Carter Administration in 1979 with a small group of other Russian Christian leaders for two convicted Soviet Spies. He moved to the US, wrote some books, went on the speaking tour and advocated for Christians in Russia until he died in 1988 in Elkhart, Indiana. But when I put that aluminum bracelet on my wrist in my Jr. High days, it was certainly more about an idea I knew well than a man I didn’t know at all!

Freedom!

That America has not perfectly put the noble idea of freedom into practice is not even debatable but that does not tarnish the idea itself, nor its grandness.  It is perhaps the very grandness that frustrates so many today when we fall short of it.

I think the American challenge circa 2017 is to turn the “idea” of freedom (which can be abstract and without context) into an “ideal” of freedom (contextualized in time and space).  An “idea” is something that can just sit and spin (think fidget spinners) but an “ideal” requires something of us all and reminds us that none of us are free until all of us are free.

And it is with this “grown up” understanding I wish this great nation a very happy birthday!

 

-Rev. Shane L. Bishop, A Distinguished Evangelist of the United Methodist Church,  has been the Sr. Pastor of Christ Church in Fairview Heights, Illinois since 1997.

 

Christ Church Flag

 

The Changing Face of Church Metrics

I have been thinking about church metrics of late. We are starting some new faith communities (both virtual and in real time) and trying to figure out how to quantify them. As we all know, unless you only offer only one Sunday morning worship service each week, all churches count differently and all churches have “double-count.” We also all know the current metrics are designed to measure churches in 1977 and not 2017.

So what should we count? I have been in discussion with some of the most effective and innovative pastors in the country to see what they count and what they don’t count for worship attendance.

Here are my summations:

1) The gold standard for counting attendance is “aggregate attendance of all weekly services plus nursery and children (whose activities run concurrently).”

2) A few churches additionally count their Student Worship Service in the weekly attendance total.

3) Almost no churches count services held at nursing homes or other institutions in their attendance total.

4) Most churches count “Easter Week” services and Christmas Eve services in the worship total.

5) Almost no churches count people who watch posted sermons (only) on line in the total.

6) Some churches include “live worship” internet or Facebook Live attendees in the worship total. However, there seems to be no set formula.

7) All churches with campuses count campus attendance in the weekly worship total.

8) All churches count mid-week services in the total.

9) The largest and fastest growing churches are the most liberal with their counts.

10) By creating more faith communities on more days and in more places and utilizing the power of the internet, churches are counting more and more things in the worship total column.

And they probably should.

At the end of the day, churches will count what they value and fund what they count. Developing some standardized metrics would serve us all well. If this blog gets some discussion started…well that should count for something.

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-Rev. Shane L. Bishop is the Sr. Pastor of Christ Church in Fairview Heights, Illinois

6 Ways to “Turn Down” Your Virtual Drama Level (in real life)

The volume on the “drama” player has never been turned up higher. In fact, the sound can be deafening. When it comes to turning down the sound, many of us feel powerless. But I don’t think that is the case. We are not powerless. I think we each have a lot to say about the volume of the drama we invite into our lives.

I fully realize in a troubled world populated with humans, many of whom have both television and internet access, there is going to be SOME drama. I get that. What hurts my ears is perpetual drama, recreational drama; drama as entertainment and drama evangelists. Especially those who broadcast drama at excruciatingly high levels simply because there is good money in it or personal attention to be gained by it.

Here are six suggestions on how to decrease the volume of some of the very real drama blaring in your virtual life.

1) UNPLUG If you truly were happier before social media took over the world, disconnect from it. Deactivate your account and be done with it. I assure you the cyber world will not miss you (or me) but you may be healthier without it.

2) UNSUBSCRIBE Don’t be afraid to use the “unfriend,” “unfollow” or “unsubscribe” options. Cyber “friendships” end quite painlessly and “unfriending” a person who blows your eardrums with every post will actually be much better for your real life relationship (if you actually have one). There are LOTS of people I liked better before I knew their every thought. And if they notice you “unfriended” them and ask why, tell them the truth with all kindness. Many people don’t have strong “self-awareness” and this honest conversation could be the best thing that ever happened to them.

3) TAKE CARE Be careful with what you post. Some people post stuff that is sure to cause a firestorm and honestly can’t figure out what caused the explosion. If you aren’t sure you should post something, don’t. If you can’t take it, don’t give it and if you don’t want it, don’t ask for it. Also if you don’t want people in your business, don’t hang your dirty laundry in front of their house.

4) ADOPT A MISSION STATEMENT Develop a mission statement for your social media use. “To keep up with friends and family” or to “Help spread light and love” would be two examples. And then stay on mission. Don’t get drawn into religious arguments, political scrums, relational drama or debates you don’t want to enter. My mission is “to celebrate the joy of authentic Christian living.” Faith, music, art, sports, history and culture all support this mission; criticism, party line politics, rancorous debate, personal pontifications and dogmatic diatribes do not.

5) STAY POSITIVE Post the kind of stuff you wish others would post. It becomes a “Social Media Golden Rule.” I want to keep it positive and have a good time while I am at it.

6) ASSOCIATE FRUSTRATION WITH SILENCE Exactly. You don’t always have to comment. Especially when you are mad. If you are upset by something, you probably shouldn’t respond…not right then anyway. Reacting out of anger only turns up the noise…

Social media offers some real opportunities to enhance or detract from the quality of your life. Facing it honestly, intentionally and with a mission will make sure what you hoped would be a blessing doesn’t turn into a curse.

Shane Memphis

-Rev. Shane L. Bishop, A Distinguished Evangelist of the United Methodist Church, has been the Sr. Pastor of Christ Church in Fairview Heights, Illinois USA for 20 years.

10 Steps toward Civility (a place we all need to go)

I don’t think it is a problem that people disagree on things.  In fact, I think that is a good thing.  If everyone in my life agreed with me on everything, I would live unchallenged.  And as good as that initially sounds, it is antithetical to growth as a human being.  I am not always right.  I need people around me who love me enough to tell me so.  The problem is that human beings circa 2017 disagree disagreeably.  Most disagreeably.

The reality is many people don’t know how to have civil discourse concerning the things upon which they disagree.  It is not always their fault.

Lots of folks are simply not equipped to have difficult discussions so they keep silent and rob the conversation of their voice.  These very “nice” and often silent people may well be the majority but we have no metrics to measure them.

Others seem inclined to say publicly what they are “supposed” to say and privately hold to their own convictions.  This may be why polls are increasingly failing.

Still others have been acculturated that being “right” (i.e. proving everyone else wrong) is the ultimate virtue so they busy themselves throwing round house punches (often from the safe distance of Social Media).  We hear their voices too much and may incorrectly infer that they are the prevailing opinion based on volume alone.

None of this is serving us well.  We have some real challenges in this world and we are going to have to all work together to address them.

Here are 10 Steps toward Civility:

  1. Build relationships We talk differently to people for whom we care (regardless of their positions). Perhaps we should discuss the names of our kids and grandkids before we discuss politics.  Differing opinions on important topics require withdrawals from emotional bank accounts.  Relationships make deposits.  When we are overdrawn, nothing good is going to happen.
  2. Vow to do no harm There is no reason to hurt people and things said in hurtful ways eradicate all possibility of honest and helpful conversation. I come across so many inciting posts these days and wonder, “What possible good can come out of that?”
  3. Show some respect People who think differently than we often have very different life experiences. Knowing that if you came from a different race or a different place, you may think differently than you do, is a good foundation upon which respect can be built.
  4. Converse to hear So often we enter discourse strictly to be heard. We can’t wait for the person talking to shut up so we can set them straight.  This unhelpful dynamic is what the television news shows serve up twenty-four hours a day.  Make your goal empathy and reject antipathy.
  5. Control your impulses Every stressed person in the world wants to say dumb crap. Our hearts beat fast, adrenaline surges and we want to deliver a single knock-out punch to our opponent to end our discomfort.    Take a deep breath.  Count to ten.  Learn to associate high inner stress with silence.
  6. Read more widely An understanding that people of good character, faith and intelligence can posit somewhere differently than you have on an issue is essential to civil discourse. By reading widely, I find an intellectual baseline for a conversation and gain some credibility with people who stand on the other side of an issue.
  7. Be honest PC culture is a disaster. We all walk on eggshells.  We lie with our silence.  Telling people what you actually think and how you really feel is essential but we must do it with love.
  8. Stay at the table The most powerful affirmation you can offer someone during the “heat of the moment” is to “stay in it” when they know most everyone else holding your position would have walked away. Presence can be powerful: A non-anxious presence more powerful yet.
  9. Keep smiling I love to tell people, “I am an orthodox Christian but I’m not in a bad mood about it.” Why would you give your happiness away to someone simply because they cannot behave themselves?
  10. Remember the Golden Rule Don’t treat people like they treat you.  Treat others the way you wish to be treated.  You don’t “deserve” to be disrespected and others don’t either.

I am troubled by our lack of civility.  It widens our rifts, lets in heat, keeps out light, stifles creativity and keeps our wounds from healing.  A lack of civility pervades politics.  It pervades families.  It pervades the workplace.  It pervades the places we worship.  It pervades the internet.  It pervades the places we drink coffee.  It damages us.  All of us.

Here is the deal: We do not all think alike.  We do not all worship alike.  We do not all vote alike.  But we are very much alike.  We all need faith, hope and love.  We need community.  We need purpose.  And we all need to figure out how to get along with each other.

Civility is not the end game; the end game is a united, love infused and prospering world.   But civility is a hopeful path upon which people who might think very differently can sojourn…together.

Shane 2017

-Rev. Shane L. Bishop has been the Sr. Pastor of Christ Church in Fairview Heights, IL since 1997.

12 Things I See Happy People Do (that unhappy people do not)

I have been thinking a lot about happiness of late, partially because so many people seem unhappy.  I think that was my first epiphany upon entering the world of Social Media; people are unhappy and there are a lot of them.  Now don’t get me wrong, we all know some people who wouldn’t be happy, were they not unhappy but I am not talking about them.  We will just let them be.  I am also not thinking theologically here (i.e. juxtaposing happiness and joy), today I am going to err on the practical and pragmatic side of things.  With that being said, let’s get going.

I think most people want to be happy; they are just not quite sure how to get there from their present location.  Many people honestly believe that happiness is a lucky bounce; a sunny disposition or favorable circumstances but I disagree.  Happiness is a choice.  I believe the best route to happiness is found by following the footsteps of those who have already arrived.

Here are my observations on the topic that have been formed by watching happy people for decades.

  1. Focus on what you have and not on what you don’t Unhappy people are unthankful people. The practice of counting your blessings is a great start.  Get out a legal pad and write down all the good things in your life.  Often unhappiness sneaks in when we lose sight of all the good things in our life and become focused on one or two difficult things.
  2. Question the sources of your expectations Most unhappy people want things they don’t have…and they want them bad. Are these expectations realistic?  Who is selling them to you?  I hope not the media.  Having a miserable existence because you are not living into a pipe dream, is really tragic.
  3. Be Generous Study after study has come to the same conclusion. Selfish people are miserable.  Happy people give of their time and resources to a cause greater than themselves.
  4. Remember happiness is not a destination The happiest people I know are those least conscious of their own happiness. Happiness is learning to enjoy the ride, not reaching your destination.
  5. If you don’t like your life, change it Take control of your own life. Do want to learn to play the piano?  Take lessons!  Do you regret not getting a college degree?  Get one.  Do you want to improve your spiritual life?  Start going to church.  There is really no one holding you back but you.
  6. Slow down You just can’t smell the roses at a full sprint! If you, like me, are a workaholic type, build time into your Outlook to do nothing.  Get a hobby.  Enjoy your friends and family.  Happy people have learned how to occasionally chill.
  7. Realize there are no shortcuts If you were honestly disappointed you didn’t win the billion dollar Power Ball, you are not getting it. Getting your education, working hard, putting in the hours, pursuing your dreams, saving and giving are always in style.
  8. Stop feeling entitled No one owes you anything. Just assume you are not going to get any help, that you will receive no inheritance and that no one is going to give you a break.  Now go make your life happen!  If anything else comes (and it probably will), it is all bonus!
  9. Think significance Significance is achieved by leaving the world better than you found it. People who feel their lives really matter are the happiest people of all!
  10. Forgive Forgiving those who have hurt you, breaks their power over you.  Forgiving yourself for your failures, frees you for future success.  Ask God to forgive you.  Ask those you have hurt to forgive you.  Make restitution where you can.  Move on.
  11. A great attitude is a choice, not a disposition We can control our feelings or we can be controlled by them.  Happy people CHOOSE to have great attitudes.
  12. Speak life When you speak, choose words that uplift, encourage and bring positive energy into every situation.  My mom was right, “If you don’t have something nice to say, you shouldn’t say anything at all.”  People who speak life are like human air fresheners.

As you begin a new week, you have an opportunity to invest in your own happiness or to make yourself miserable.  If you choose the former, you will make others happy as well.  If you choose the latter…well, you know.

Shane Memphis

 -Rev. Shane L. Bishop is the Sr. Pastor of Christ Church in Fairview Heights, Illinois