Don’t Be That Guy

When God first created the heavens and all that is in them, He focused attention for a time on earth, as recorded in Scripture. He filled our planet with crops and grasses, fruits and fish, and animals of every kind. After crafting Adam and Eve he rested, reflecting back over what he had done, saying, It is very good.

As with all of the things that God created, it didn’t stay good. In fact, the story of Scripture is about God stepping back in from time to time, altering the picture. The stories of the Great Flood and the Tower of Babel are two stories of God’s corrective action.

From the promise of reclamation, to Eve after the Fall, the Bible records God’s hand moving alongside man’s history, shaping and changing the path as we move toward Jesus. When things are moving in a direction that satisfies Him, we may not hear much about God in the story, as in the story of Ruth. But as things run amiss, God steps in, like a miraculous parting of the Red Sea. Other times He is recorded as raising up from obscurity some individual to use for a purpose, like Gideon, Jephthah, or David. There were times the purpose was obscure but important, like Abigail. Other times it was direction changing, like Hannah.

We begin, in the entire world, to focus this month on God’s great redeeming action in christmas-angel-vector-1008802sending Jesus into the world to offer hope to the lost human race. Don’t look at the statuary of cute angels, nativity sets, or twinkling lights in a dismissive manner. These are all efforts that people have made at some point to acknowledge that God has done well.

To be sure, lots of folks miss the point. They may be clueless as they string lights around their homes, never thinking about the representation of the heavenly stars and a Star in the East… Don’t be that person.

They may purchase endless gifts, meaningless trinkets for casual workmates without ever reflecting on the gifts brought to a baby, and the greatest gift of all delivered from heaven.  Don’t be that one.

Pay attention and share hope this month.

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It is That Time of the Year Again

We will be inundated with memes shortly. That is those catchy little Facebook photos that say if you don’t pass along to others   then you don’t love Jesus, you aren’t a proud patriot, that you will be ineligible to win a car… a new home… or receive $5000 from some rich fella who knows nothing about it, or it means you support the “other” political candidate. The option that you just aren’t interested in clicking away isn’t considered.

We will be getting “holiday memes” soon, turkeys, pilgrims, folded hands or a cornucopia of fruits, nuts and fall leaves. They will instruct us to share the picture because to do so means that we are “thankful” about our families, circumstances or that all has become right with the world again.

Scripture talks about our giving account for every idle word. What does that mean? An idle word is a statement made without thinking. It is something said that is careless, empty or valueless.

Thankful sentiment, without thankful hearts, is an example. Or thanksgiving, a general feel-good emotion about life in general, may not be gratitude toward God.

My encouragement to you today is to be purposeful in life. Lead a life of reflective introspection. Character development, what Scripture describes as “sanctification,” begins internally. As God’s Spirit shapes our spirit, it happens within us through a process of meditation, reflection, and prayer. After that growth and development, then there is an outward manifestation to the public world.

It will reveal itself in your gracious speech, your kind concern and your joyous demeanor. You will find yourself moved with compassion, compelled to help, pray, or touch. It removes mindlessness and replaces that with purposeful choices.

So, when that “share this or else” meme appears on your feed, don’t click without a few moments of reflection. You don’t want it to be more meaningless fluff.

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At Peace With All

How do we live for God in a confused culture? Irrespective of the outcome of the election, while there was an ultimate winner, the divide was fairly even. I am not trying to make any political commentary but rather a social one. From the results, about as many saw things one way, while within a percentage point or two, others saw it another. Such an even division of those who decided to vote indicates that as many were content as are discontent.

Divides usually mean a struggle for power.  Such things foster anger, frustration, and animosity. The ranting and raving within political groups advocating their agenda, while denigrating the opposing agenda leaves a climate of turmoil.

The fact of the matter is, with strongly held views on any topic, rhetoric is of little value and actions are the only hope of peace. Espousing the “correct” belief is of less benefit than embracing the proper behavior. Knowing the proper words to say is of less importance than being a proper person.

In times of confusion, angst, or turmoil the admonition of Paul rings true to me.  If possible, as far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Romans 12:18  Or perhaps the words of James, Know this my beloved brothers let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger. For the anger of a man does not produce the righteousness of God  James 1:19-20.

As Christians make statements about politics, world views, and support various positions, we also have to be mindful that our speech must lay the groundwork for our expressing our confidence in a Savior’s love. To alienate those who disagree with one’s politics through caustic speech, crass jokes or rude remarks, destroys one’s credibility to speaking the words of grace about eternal matters.

Grace to those who supported a candidate who won, grace to those who supported a candidate who lost, and grace to those who did neither. May the peace of God season our speech and behavior.

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Generosity, the Noble Trait

Generosity is a wonderful trait, always reminding me of the action and influence of God. Twice in the past week individuals from the community contacted me asking if they could participate in some charitable activities. Each was unsolicited and a surprise. Both did not want their names released but felt they wanted to also be a part of doing good.

I’ve often read scriptures about some act of kindness that happened to others simply because they were in the right place. There are times, as with the man born blind in John 9, that it was identified as a part of a long term plan of God. Other times, simply touching the hem of Jesus’ garments or having the shadow of Peter pass over them, or receiving a handkerchief from Paul resulted in their being made whole. Life changing experiences due to the act of another.

Other than providing relief from the heat, your shadow has likely not provided much respite for others. But there are many opportunities to be engaged in acts of mercy and kindness in our community and world. In fact, your personal effort to ease the discomfort of others is the mark of Jesus in your life.

I am repeatedly taken aback by the difference in the approach of Jesus and the actions of his early disciples. It was easy for the disciples to become task oriented. When they knew they were to go to a certain city, they moved forward with purpose. Jesus was also aware of his purpose, but is recorded as “stopping to help”, like the woman with the hemorrhage or stopping the funeral procession for the raising of the widow of Nain’s son.

So the challenge for us is to refine our vision. As we are going, living life from day to day… we need to be mindful of the pain around us. Injustice, poverty, despair, and oppression are things that we cannot ignore. We must also not be so myopic in our vision that we fail to look beyond our own concerns, but to have the farsightedness to address needs of those who will never be a part of our lives. Something like a shadow passing by that offers a blessing, without our really being overly aware of our help.

Generosity is a mindset that stands in defiance to the selfishness that seems so prevalent in society. The distinction between a clenched fist and an open hand is an indication of the transformation from a hardened heart to a tender heart.

This week, as I experienced others trying to be helpful and generous, it made an impact because it seems to be rare. Your witness, the evidence of having been with Jesus, is most clearly seen and has the most profound impact when it springs from a tender heart engaged in acts of generosity.

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When The Storms Threaten

A friend wrote from coastal North Carolina this morning that they were safe, without power, and dry. Just a few miles from them, along the beaches of Nags Head and Kitty Hawk, the houses were filled with water from Hurricane Matthew. I’ve been observing the storm with concern because some friends in Florida live right in the path of the storm. They also survived with minor damage.

In my reading in the past two weeks, the Psalms have been dominate. I’ve especially been intrigued by the Psalmists’ use of the power of nature to describe God.

3The floods have lifted up, O Lord,
the floods have lifted up their voice;
the floods lift up their roaring.

Mightier than the thunders of many waters,
mightier than the waves of the sea,
the Lord on high is mighty!    Psalm 93

While listening to the roar of the hurricane, the waters beating against the shore, there is the knowledge that the Lord is mightier than these things.

Will God act? Will he preserve or allow destruction to come? The outcomes are unknown to us in the midst of the storm, but our belief is that the Lord is greater than the most powerful of things around us. Who am I to question his purpose, his will or the outcomes of nature? These things are not in the control of mankind, but that doesn’t change my understanding that God is greater than these things.

In Kansas, we don’t live by coastal waters. But many of us face the power of oppressive forces around us. For some, it might be an ongoing decline in health, for others it is living among deteriorating relationships, and others face the overwhelming struggles with debt and lower income. Oppression can take many forms, sometimes in the person of those we loved or trusted, sometimes vicariously in the lives of those we love who face mounting difficulty.

God is greater than all these things. Now, will God act to alter the circumstances? Perhaps, but perhaps not. In either event, God remains God, all powerful and all knowing.

God’s intervention in this life’s woes has never been universal, except for sending Jesus for all mankind. But biblical accounts of the action of God has never indicated that he raised all the dead, healed all who were sick, or restored all the lepers to wholeness.

One of the principle themes of Scripture is that this world and its woes are temporal. Struggles here, persecution or natural calamities, are only temporary. It may or may not change. The reality is that God is greater than these things, that the next life is the meaningful one, and we are to live for eternity, not for the moment.

So, when the waves crash, be reminded that you serve a God who is greater than the storm.

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Didn’t Do Anything

This was not a special week. In fact, it was a week filled with things to do, but without finishing very much. I worked on sermons for next year, finished up some reading in the Psalms, and met with some folks regarding a spiritual walk with Jesus, but no real “completed project.”

Those weeks can be frustrating for me. I like it when I have a final product in front of me, rather than just “shoving the stack” a bit further down the track. The truth is, life is lived in the “stack shoving”.

We rear our children, not with the “big events” or major life choices, but with steering, correcting, and encouraging the little things. The reminders to “use respect”, to “be kind” or to “remember to say your prayers” are daily, ongoing, and seemingly less than monumental until you realize that you are shaping a life.

We develop our own character in the small life choices made day in and day out. The decision to be honest in a small situation or to take responsibility in a time of frustration pays dividends that are not in the moment. It may be years later or toward the end of a lifetime that such choices reap their rewards.

So, when someone says, “What did you do today?” the answer is never “nothing.” We are all engaged with “something” day after day. Learning to be intentional about it is the key to success.

Jesus is remembered by Peter in describing him to the Gentiles as, “a man who went about doing good.” While many of his wondrous works are recorded in Scripture, miraculous things that shock us on reading them, it was the compassion, kindness and merciful acts that stagger us. Having the time for children, hearing the pleas of the sick, or being moved to confront death at a passing funeral, these tell us his character.

Life, for Jesus and the disciples, is lived “as they were going.” Obviously the end point of the sacrifice, with the crucifixion and resurrection are the focal point, but the time traveling from one location to another, demonstrating God’s love and concern, give us a profound message about the character of God.

So, while you stop by the bank, or when you speak to the clerk at the store, or the manner in which you treat the server in the restaurant may seem like “nothing,” in reality they write the story of who you are.

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A Task Diverted

I was in Wichita Tuesday for the monthly preacher’s meeting. After lunch I wanted to run by a store to have some service work done. In checking the website for the location to plug into my GPS, I noticed the owner had posted some information about his wife’s health. I went by the store and he happened to be open, the first day he was open in 2 weeks.

I asked him about his wife and learned she had been placed on hospice care over the weekend. She had been instructed to call those she wanted to say goodbye to, for she has only a few weeks to live. He was trying to get some things done while her brother sat with her.

My plans changed as I heard his story of the past 8 months of health crisis. I told him I wasn’t interested in his working on my little problem but would very much like to pray for his family. As I prayed for his wife’s ease and comfort as she faced death, and for his strength and comfort as they faced it together, I heard his tears joining my own. After the prayer was completed and we continued to talk, he told me that it felt wrong to have any of the attention shifted from his wife’s illness to him as the caregiver. He didn’t want be selfish with God’s time and attention, as she needed it much more than he did at that time.

I understand his trying to sort through his feelings, about God, healing, dying, strength, and weakness. I understand his concern that his business could fail due to his distraction from it to his wife’s needs. I listened to him speak of spending “a lifetime learning to live with her, but completely unprepared to live without her.” I heard his pain, but other than prayer and listening, there was little I could do to help.

I don’t know my friend well, we’ve spoken perhaps 10 times in the past four years. But I learned much that day. I learned that the opportunities to care about others surround us every day. I was reminded that pain, horrific pain is just behind the curtain of the “front” that many put on to greet the public. I was grateful for the privacy his little shop offered us, to have conversations that would not happen in a big, busy place. I was reminded that God can use any opportunity and turn it to ministry if I will only listen.

You can join me in praying for my friend and his wife in her last few days. Since I don’t have his permission, I won’t mention his name, but God will recognize him in your prayers. Also remember that tens of thousands face equally difficult situations all around us. Be praying for others who are saying their goodbyes. Be praying for those who don’t know how to “live without” their loved one. Also pray for God to open your eyes to the occasions for good that surround you.

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In the Darkness of Crisis

Not everything has gone as I expected it, or prayed for it to go. At times I have been angry over it, other times confused, and still more often simply brought to tears. Some of the conversations with God about such things have been long and involved in the middle of the night. Other times it has been a constant prayer upon my lips, seldom absent from my thoughts. One adage has been, “He may not come when you want him; but He’ll be right on time.” I’ve found that hard to accept, in the heat of crisis, while struggling in prayer.

But, as the Scriptures remind us, there is a “due season”, a time selected and ordained by God. In my prayers, I am often attempting to wrest control from God. Being fully acquainted with my problem, I not only take it to God but also my solution and time table.

crisis

Usually, in my own life experience, I can say that God has worked things out in a manner that far exceeded my expectations or my plans. When God does something, as Scripture records from the very beginning, “It is very good”.

My struggle has never been in accepting the solution of God, once it arrives. My struggle is in the wait between recognizing the void and awaiting it being filled. So faith is that thing that helps me manage that middle ground.

There are important lessons to be learned from such observations. Perhaps the most important deals with the concept of the sovereignty of God.

Another, however, is about being patient with yourself. You may find that you struggle, disappoint yourself and others, fall and struggle to regain your footing. That is the ground of faith between crisis and due season. Because God has not intervened at the moment to “fix you up”, doesn’t mean he isn’t coming in your life. It means that he isn’t there yet.

Your growth in faith is a “due season” process, not an instantaneous arrival through some magical event. You don’t gain the bulk of your faith through reading about others. You will gain some faith from reading the stories of Scripture, but far more of it is learned through the nights of confusion, frustration and tears. Our recognition of survival being by the grace of God, honoring him for it and thanking him for sustaining us is where personal faith is built.

So, the days ahead may not look bright and cheerful in your walk with God. Struggle, falling, and crawling back to your feet may lie before you… don’t give up. God isn’t finished with you or the crisis you face. The important thing is to know you do not face it alone. None of us face it alone.

Just an acknowledgement that it was while reading some comments from a friend, Quincy Gardner from Caddo LA, these thoughts came to mind.

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Earthquakes and Other Staggering Events

As you can imagine, the county was abuzz yesterday. Did you feel the earthquake? Water was sloshing in my sink. The pictures on the wall were moving. Things were knocked over on the table. From being able to tell you the exact time to predicting the reason for the event, folks had opinions.

For Janet and I, leisurely lying in bed and planning our day, we wondered if the windquake came up to cause the storm windows to rattle in their frames.

Whatever your response, the fact is when something significant occurs, people talk about it. Just as they have for all of recorded history. We remember the years of no rain, of endless rain, and of terrible wind. We talk about the year of the oil embargo and escalating gas prices. Mad Cow disease, Y2K, eclipses, meteor showers, riots, or elections… there is no shortage of conversation fodder.

We find ways to relate, to establish our own credibility. I had just looked at the clock when I noticed it begin to vibrate on the bedside table. Or perhaps our lack of credibility. I grabbed the edge of the mattress in a death grip as I was tossed back and forth in the violently pitching room, chunks of plaster raining down throughout the room.

Any time there is an event, most folks will have a comment. The same was true in Jesus day. People have always reacted in similar methods. Who do people say that I am?  Some say Elijah, or one of the prophets, others think other things. Herod’s explanation was that Jesus must be John the Baptist raised from the dead which explains why he can do these miraculous things. Everyone had an opinion, from the least to the greatest.

We know that Jesus was often overhearing what his disciples discussed as they travelled with him. They would process together the things that they saw or heard Jesus say. Their explanations would have had the same flavors of rationalizing and inflating as we see today. Jesus would rein them in and discuss what happened.

Sometimes, like after seeing Jesus transfigured, they would keep confusing things to themselves (like resurrection from the dead) and shift the topic to other questions, like Elijah setting things in order before the kingdom.

I enjoy reading Scripture and seeing the behavior of my friends and neighbors, of you, within the lives of those who traveled with Jesus. We are much more alike than different. That is something that gives me hope. We have the same curiosities, the same tendencies, and the same needs. Jesus dealt with it then, and he can deal with it now.

Now, if we would only talk about kingdom things as much as we do earthquakes.

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You Are Not a Lizard

If you were a lizard sunning yourself on a rock and you noted a shadow pass over you might decide to either freeze and hope you aren’t discovered, or break for the nearest crack hoping to escape the danger that flew above you. Such instant reactions serve lizards well, protecting them from danger of flying birds.  However when the shadow is a passing bicyclist on the trail or branch of a tree swaying in the wind, the lizard runs for nothing.

While this is an overly simplified explanation, perhaps this can be a helpful  and inform us about some of our own reactivity. In our brains we have the same center of control to protect us from danger. It isn’t a very refined system, in fact for us… it makes us jump when we see a bit of rope on the ground, thinking “snake”. It can make us react to a spot on the floor, thinking “spider”. We see shapes, rough outlines and react. For lizards, it saves lives. For us, it makes us feel foolish often.running

Unfortunately, it is a powerful “instinct”, and puts us in all kinds of trouble. Once we “react” we shutdown higher responses, like analytical thinking and just have a fear response. I’ve been thinking about how this impacts a number of things in our world.

In our political process there is little higher reasoning, in political debates information is passed in 2 minute sound bites. We hear “a shadow” pass over us and react. Certain phrases are dropped to tease that instinct and we are sprinting to the crack in the rock. We might hear “missing emails” or “gun control” or “abortion” or any number of other phrases and our instincts take over, without listening for finer details or clarification.

We do the same thing religiously. We hear phrases and our brains shutdown and instinct takes over. “Change agents” or “contemporary worship” or “transgendered” or “abortion” all sound bites that cause us to run to the crack in the rock where we think we will be safe. Our reasoning brain never gets the information because the lower brain takes over causing us to run or freeze.

So how do we get passed the instinct where we can reason together? Perhaps some ancient advise would be helpful for us… quick to hear, slow to sleep, slow to anger.  Slowing the process is crucial to the reasoning process. We have to wait out that initial reactivity and continue to listen. Discernment doesn’t take place with a sound bite and understanding is not a process that takes place without a second look at the origins of shadows.

So, be it politics, religion, or relationships between husband and wives… don’t react to the sound bites, the familiar phrases that make your blood boil. Maintain your cool, manage your fears and stay out of the cracks in the rocks. It doesn’t help you learn the finer points that allow you to make more informed decisions. It may not change your position, but at least you have the chance to understand the perspective of the opposing view.

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