A Work of Restoration

In the four year period between 1508 and 1512, Michelangelo lay on his back on a scaffold in the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City, creating one of the greatest artistic triumphs in history.

Unfortunately, the magnificent work of art soon began to fade. Less than a century later, no one could remember what the original frescoes had looked like.

One person described it this way: “We see the colors of the Sistine ceiling as if through smoked glass.”

In 1981 a project began to clean the frescoes that adorn the chapel. After two art-restorers carefully cleaned a small corner of the painting with a special solution, they invited experts to examine the work.

The result was breathtaking. No one had imagined that such vibrant colors lay beneath the centuries of accumulated dust and dirt.

This was not the Michelangelo known by art critics, the one whose frescoes resembled sculpture more than painting. This showed the artist was also the master of color and nuance.

The success of this partial project prompted the restoration of the entire ceiling.

The task was completed on December 31, 1989. It took twice as long to clean the ceiling as it had taken the artist to paint it.

But the result was breathtaking. For the first time in 5 centuries, people were able to view this masterpiece the way it was intended, in all of its color and beauty.

Today, God is doing a work of restoration in your life.

It may take longer than you expect, but the end result will be the same: Your life will be filled with the vibrant colors that he has planned for you from the very beginning.

Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again. From the depths of the earth, you will again bring me up. (Psalm 71:20)

You’re Half Way There

Today’s memo goes back a few years. I look at it each year around the end of June, and I’ve even used it as a Monday Memo a time or two.

It’s a good reminder for this year, as well.

We’ve just about reached the mid-way point in 2020. Wednesday marks a new beginning, with a half year behind us, and a half year to go.

Have you thought about what the remaining months can be?

Earl Nightingale noted that if you will spend one hour a day on the same subject for five years, you can become expert on that subject.

True, no doubt. But for now, forget about five years and an hour a day.

Think instead about the next six months, thirty minutes a day.

Think about the potential that exists. What kind of headway could you make in one area of your life? Maybe attaining expert status is not realistic, but serious progress is.

• You could become conversationally proficient in a second language.

• You could learn to play the guitar; in six months you can reach the level of “decent.”

• You could walk 300+ miles.

• You could get in great physical shape.

• You could do a masters-level study of your favorite subject, such as church history.

• You could dig in-depth into one of the gospels or one of Paul’s letters, until you own it.

As one called to preach the good news, can you imagine how 30 minutes a day of focused effort could make a difference in your ability to communicate? What if, every day for the next 180 days, you devoted a half-hour to working on your craft? Can you imagine how the difference would be played out in the results you see?

The next 180 days will come and go, along with this 90 hour block of time. How will you invest it?

Some will watch 90 more hours staring at their phone. Some will catch an additional 90 hours of zzzzs. Some will do whatever they feel like doing at the moment.

And you? If you’re willing to take the road less traveled, you can use these moments each day to move forward in the calling God has placed on your life. 

“The hands of the diligent will rule.” (Proverbs 12:24)

Riding Third Class

Back when the west being settled, the stagecoach was a common means of transportation. Some stagecoach companies offered three classes — even though the passengers sat in the same small compartment.

What was the difference? According to True West Magazine

First class passengers rode all the way.

Second class passengers had to get out and walk on steep grades.

Third class passengers not only had to walk, they also had to help push the carriage up the hills.

Do you see a connection to today?

The ministry of the kingdom of God has no first or second class passengers — those with limited involvement and limited responsibility.

We’re all third-class riders: we’re all called to get out, chip in, and do our part.

If a wagon wheel falls off or if there is a steep hill to maneuver — if there is any work at all to be done — our passenger status requires that we roll up our sleeves and get involved.

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10)

1 Thessalonians 5:11

Of Course You Can

In the Handbook to Short Story Writing,  Muriel Anderson says that four of the most important words in her life have been “Of course you can.”

Her father, she says, always knew how to say these words at exactly the right time.

She had begun to try her hand at writing articles, hoping maybe the local newspaper would publish them. She began thinking of all reasons why it most likely never happen: She was young and inexperienced; the local paper was on a tight budget; they rarely bought freelance material.

She told her father, “I doubt I can get this article published.”

He said, “Of course you can.”

And she did. This first article launched her career as a writer.

Four simple words from her father were enough to encourage her to keep trying.

Maybe there is someone in your life waiting to hear these words today: Of course you can.

Let’s never miss an opportunity to encourage one another.

Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.  (1 Thessalonians 5:11)

If I’ve Only One Life…

In 1961 an advertising copywriter named Shirley Polykoff was working for the Foote, Cone & Belding ad agency on the Clairol hair-dye account when she pitched this idea to a room full of executives: If I’ve only one life, let me live it as a blonde!

The rest, as they say, is advertising history.

Actually, Shirley had already created magic in previous campaigns. Her first big idea had been five years earlier. The slogan was: “Does She or Doesn’t She?” (Do you remember that it was an ad campaign for hair dye?)

She also came up with “The Closer He Gets, the Better You Look.”

But this line, If I’ve only one life, let me live it as a blonde, was, perhaps, her greatest — in terms of success in advertising, anyway.

It leads to an interesting question: How would you complete this sentence? “If I’ve only one life, let me live it as a …”

As a what? Devoted mom? Loyal husband? Faithful friend? Successful business leader? Committed Christian?

The truth is, we each have only life to live — and there are only a few goals worth pursuing.

And one is greater than them all.

In weighing the various measures of success, the Apostle Paul said…

I also consider everything to be a loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. (Philippians 3:10)

Just a few paragraphs before, he said…

For to me, to live is Christ… (Philippians 1:21)

Paul was saying: If I’ve only one life, let me live it as a sold-out follower of Jesus Christ.

The Role Call of Responsibility

I love reading Nehemiah 3. It’s a list of everyone who finished their part of the Jerusalem Wall project: Eliashib and his fellow priests rebuilt the Sheep Gate, the sons of Hassenaah rebuilt the Fish Gate, Joiada repaired the Old Gate, and on and on.

If Hebrews 11 is the roll call of faith, Nehemiah 3 is the roll call of responsibility.

One verse in particular sticks out.

The next section was repaired by the men of Tekoa, but their nobles would not put their shoulders to the work under their supervisors. (Nehemiah 3:5)

And I especially like the way the KJV says it: “…but their nobles put not their necks to the work of their Lord.”

Have you ever worked with someone like that?

Someone who could pinpoint the problem, who could observe the work around them, but was of no real use in bringing about a solution?

Someone who saw themselves as being just a little above the hands-on effort required to finish the task?

British General Alan Brooke said, “It is child’s play deciding what should be done as compared with getting it done.”

This is a quality that bosses want in their employees, and that ministries need in the their workers: the ability to get things done.

Effective leaders can do more than diagnose the problem. They know how to take the necessary steps to make the problem go away.

Are you ready to “put your neck out” to get the job done?

All-Weather Friends

At any sporting event, you’ll find two types of spectators in the stands.

One is there to support the team — to cheer them on when they’re playing well and when they’re playing not so well. Win or lose, they wear the colors, they wave the banner, they remain loyal.

In contrast, there are always some who aren’t there to support the team, but to be entertained by the team.

When their side wins, they’ll gladly take the credit — as if they played a part.

When their side loses, they’re quick to boo and belittle their own players — as if they themselves could have done better.

My theory is that one’s attitude in the stands pretty much reflects one’s attitude in life.

You’re either loyal to those around you, rain or shine, offering support and encouragement through wins and losses … or you’re like the fair-weather fan waiting to pounce on someone’s mistake.

Think of how this attitude applies to your work, your church, even your relationships with your closest friends and family.

No doubt, the people in your life already hear enough booing, as it is. A sincere show of support on your part, a word of encouragement during a difficult time, has the power to inspire.

Fair-weather fans are a dime a dozen. Who needs another?

All-weather friends, on the other hand, are one in a million. Could this be you?

There are people in your life who need (and deserve) your all-weather loyalty, win or lose. Consider how you could cheer them on today.

A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity. (Proverbs 17:17)

A Princess in Disguise

Today’s memo is about Sarah Culberson.

Sarah was born in 1976 in West Virginia. After being placed in foster care for a year, she was adopted into a loving family — the Culbersons. Both parents were teachers. She grew up active in the United Methodist Church.

Sarah had always wondered about her heritage, so after graduating from college, she hired a private investigator to find her biological parents.

Her birth mom, she discovered, had died of cancer in the early nineties.

But it was what she learned about her birth father that changed her life forever.

As it turns out, Sarah wasn’t just a young woman from West Virginia. She was royalty. A princess.

Her father was now a ruling member of the Mende tribe in Sierra Leone. They began to correspond, and soon he invited her to Africa to meet her family.

When she arrived she received a royal welcome, with hundreds coming to greet her.

She kept asking herself: “What did I do to deserve this? I’m just Sarah from West Virginia.”

But she’s not just Sarah from West Virginia. She was born Princess Esther Elizabeth; that’s who she is. She had lived her life not knowing that she was a member of a ruling class — a princess in disguise. And then she discovered her true heritage.

Today, Sarah lives an amazing life. After pursuing a career in acting, she now works in education, she’s a public speaker, and she maintains close ties to both of her communities and both of her families. (Here is her website)

I love this story because it is — incredibly — similar to our story. We, too, have a royal heritage. We’re king’s kids, you could say.

And yet some believers remain unaware of who they really are.

The Apostle Peter said…

You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. (1 Peter 2:9)

Today, take a moment to consider who you are in Christ, and who he has made you to be.


The photograph of Princess Sarah Culberson by Elunaman is licensed under Creative Commons.

Happiness Catches On

According to a study done by Harvard University and UCSD (University of California San Diego), happiness is contagious.

The research discovered that when a person becomes happy, friends living close by have 25 percent chance of becoming happy themselves. For next-door neighbors, the percentage possibility increases to 34 percent.

Nicholas Christakis, a professor at Harvard Medical School and the author of the study, said it this way: “Everyday interactions we have with other people are definitely contagious, in terms of happiness.”

What’s more, the happiness contagion extends beyond merely the people we encounter face-to-face; it includes up to three layers (or degrees) of contact — i.e., friends of friends of friends. (link to article)

I guess one lesson we can learn from this study is that it pays to surround yourself with happy people.

Another lesson is that you have the power to spread goodwill to those beyond your immediate circle — even to those you don’t personally know.

Let’s remember Paul’s words…

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:32)

Let your graciousness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. (Philippians 4:5)

Like happiness, mercy and kindness catches on. It’s up to us to fan the flame.

More Than Conquering

Recently I was reading about the 1938-39 University of Tennessee Volunteers football team — legends in NCAA history.

In ‘38 they went 11-0, won the SEC, beat Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl, and claimed the National Championship. They didn’t merely win, they conquered.

The following year they went 10-0 in the regular season — undefeated, untied, and un-scored-upon. Not a touchdown, not a field goal, not a safety. Every game ended in a shut-out.

That’s not merely conquering. That’s more than conquering.

This is the phrase Paul used in Romans 8 to describe how we can approach life:

In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. (Romans 8:37)

It’s a great phrase, but the truth is that many of us don’t feel like we’re more-than-conquering anything right now. We’re more-than-overwhelmed with challenges we never saw coming — creating hardship in the present and filling the future with uncertainty.

For many, Paul’s assurance seems just beyond our grasp. But the answer is closer than it seems, and it’s closer than it often feels.

The Bible is filled with promises from a loving Father who is always near, who comforts us in our sorrow, strengthens us in our weakness, and lifts us up when we are down.

There may be battles, and more than a few close calls, but our victory is assured.

Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:10)

Recognizing Bad Advice

Recognizing Bad Advice

The November 2019 Readers Digest has an article called The Worst Advice I Ever Got. Here are some of the entries:

• A rookie fireman was advised to start smoking; it would help him acclimate his lungs to the smoke in a building fire.

• A grandfather told his grandchild: “If you see a bear and don’t have time to run away, hug it. Bears can’t scratch their stomachs.” (Not true, by the way.)

• A father, teaching his teenager to drive, said, “Always weave a little, and all the other cars will stay away from you.”

• The funniest one (for me) was the mom who often told her son, “Be a Michael, not a Sonny.” (As in Corelone, of the The Godfather.) His response: “How about I probably shouldn’t behave like any member of the Mafia?”

The article got me to thinking about some bad advice I received once: “Go ahead and buy the car you want, even if you can’t afford it. The joy of owning it will motivate you to work harder to make the payments.” Who offered this advice? My financial counselor? My frugal parents? No, the salesman who was trying to sell it to me.

However, the worst advice that I have listened to over the years is my own — ie, making decisions without bothering to seek counsel from those who know so much more than me. As Solomon said…

The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice. (Proverbs 12:15)

As we grow in Christ we need to develop the habit of getting advice, and develop the skill of learning to weed out the worst ideas.

3 Reminders About Sermon Delivery

We’ve been talking about the 3 legged table — maintaining the balance between content, structure, and delivery.

Today let’s talk about delivery. Here are three rules to remember.

1. Effective delivery is not an accident.

There are some who are so naturally gifted at public speaking that words effortlessly flow and charm fills the room whenever they stand in front of a group.

As it turns out, they have as many delivery-related challenges as the rest of the us — but they’re most likely to overlook them, because they think they’ve got the delivery aspect down.

It doesn’t matter how naturally gifted one may or may not be, good delivery takes practice. Talent bestowed at birth may give you a slight head start, but it doesn’t give you a free pass. To be effective in pulpit ministry, you have to develop your public speaking skills.

This involves more than just a pre-Sunday run through. Rehearsing your message is essential, but effective delivery requires more. It requires that speakers strive consistently to sharpen their skills — to rid themselves of the ummm habit, to learn to plant their feet, to develop a more pleasant voice, to gesture naturally, and so on.

It doesn’t happen by accident; it takes intentional effort.

2. Effective delivery is dynamic.

Dynamic doesn’t mean loud. In this context, it means varied — changing volume and tempo from time-to-time, as well as including plenty of white space.

For example, sometimes speakers forget they have a microphone. They forget that it’s not necessary to bellow the entire message. We need to remember to use our inside voice. Even dare to whisper at times.

And don’t be afraid to pause.

When you say something powerful and/or profound, it’s tempting to follow up with, “Did you get that? Let me repeat it. I’ll say it again…”

This isn’t necessary.

Give your listeners a powerful statement. And then give them some white space. Pause. Let the words sink in. And then move ahead with your message. They’ll remember what you said.

Speak softly sometimes. Speak with a little heat at other times. Speed up. Slow down. And make use of white space. Effective delivery is dynamic in its presentation.

3. Effective delivery is inconspicuous.

G.K. Chesterton said, “The aim of the sculptor is to convince us that he is a sculptor; the aim of the orator is to convince us that he is not an orator.”

The people in the pew don’t really want to watch a performance. They don’t want to be preached at. Nor do they want to hear schtick. Or stand-up material. Or a sales pitch, either.

Neither do they want to hear you stumble your way through your presentation like an actor who has forgotten his lines.

Your listeners want to hear — they need to hear — a sincere presentation of God’s Word, the result of prayer, study, and preparation. A message that reflects your research as well as it also reveals the depths of your heart.

While the sermon may resemble a performance in that it involves meticulous preparation, ultimately it must be much more than a performance. It must be authentic.

This involves more effort on your part, not less.

The most effective preachers and public speakers don’t allow themselves to become a distraction — either by being unrehearsed, or by being a little too over-the-top.

You don’t want your delivery to get in the way of your message. Strive to make it as inconspicuous as possible.

Don’t underestimate the importance of effective delivery.