Nothing or Everything

Janet and I are like many working couples. We say our goodbyes before 7a and greet each other again around 11-12 hours later. It is pretty typical to ask how the day went, any intriguing happenings or things that went awry. Once in a while the report is “nothing”.

“Nothing” doesn’t mean we sat in a vegetative state staring at the walls all day. Usually it means that we are in the midst of projects, not bringing anything to completion, but putting in the time with research, reading, or in accumulating and compiling information into usable forms. So “nothing” doesn’t mean void or empty.

Reflecting on this recently I thought about the life of Jesus. We read about events from his life. The time he met lepers on the road, or the time he met a woman at the well on the outskirts of town. In neither of these situations, and most of the others that are recorded for us, was Jesus seeking out the person that is described in the Scriptures. They were just “who was there”.

Asking Jesus about his day would not have resulted in “I healed 26.32 people today. I met in the synagogue to discuss Scripture with 14 rabbis…”  Often the significant events in his life happened on the way to other things. It was the opportunities that came up while pursuing his other plans that make up our Bibles.   As he was approaching… Crossing over the sea, a storm arose….

The healing of the woman with the issue of blood occurred while going to heal Jairus’ daughter. As Jesus left the mountain, returning to town at the Sermon on the Mount, a leper approached him and received healing. Unplanned, but significant. It was an aside, not a designed event. These things happen because he was working from a designed script.

When John, in prison, sends disciples to see Jesus, his reply reveals the script. “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.”

It is going according to the plan, that was the message of Jesus. It wasn’t happening as he spoke, but that was his life story.

So, press on. Keep doing what God has called you to do. Don’t worry if today seems dull or mundane. When the moment arises, if you are doing your job, the good things happen.

 

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Self Control

I work with kids for multiple reasons. Many of those I work with are on the lower end of social skills. They tend to overreact to what happens to them. Many of them have been victims of being bullied, often because others like to see their overreactions.

My job is to help people to learn to control themselves instead of trying to control others.

It is a task that has its foundation in Scripture. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells the Jews about it. The Jewish people were focused on how the Roman law allowed a Roman soldier to command a Jewish man or boy to carry his pack for one mile. Of course, many Jews would not carry a single foot past that mile. This caused a tremendous amount of resentment among the Jews.

Jesus teaches that when one cannot control the circumstances that happen to them, they can control their response to those circumstances. Commanded to go one mile? Then carry the burden two miles…

Someone slaps you in the face, then turn the other cheek. You can’t prevent others from doing things to you, you can control how you react.

Christians must remember that we live in a carnal world, with hostile rules, and inequities on every hand. Is the world harsh? Unjust? Unfair? Yes. We live in a world that doesn’t play by our rules.

Not only does Jesus teach this principle, he demonstrates it all throughout his ministry. Amid the accusations of the Jewish leadership, Jesus goes about his mission. It is not redefined by pressure from others. There are no excuses given.

So, tomorrow… if someone is unjustly cross with you. If someone misrepresents what you said or did… If you feel bullied, judged, or put upon… Don’t retaliate. Don’t curse. Don’t abuse in return.

Do speak words of grace. Do respond with kindness. Offer a blessing in exchange for the curse.

When you don’t control the action, be willing to control the reaction.

 

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The Schemes of Mice and Men

Do you ever try to plan things that are out of your control? Of course you have.  In reality, future things are never in our control. You can plan a crop and get too small a yield. The yield can be fantastic and the prices can drop to nothing. We can plan retirement and find our health is too frail to travel. We can expect to slow down and end up raising grandkids. As Robert Burns wrote long ago, The best laid schemes of mice and men often go awry

. What is the outcome? Should we plan nothing, live by our wits and hope to eke out a meager existence? Does proper planning indicate a lessened dependence on God?

The admonition of James 4 is not about planning for one’s future. Yet he issues a warning to those who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into this city, spend a year there, buy and sell and make a profit…. You do not know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? It is just a vapor that appears for a little while and vanishes away.

His caution is about failing to include God’s will in the plan. The plan is fine, but one’s thinking ought to reflect and have an acknowledgment of God’s plan and purpose.

Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we shall live and do and that.’ He goes on to point out that a failure to acknowledge God is evil and arrogant. Presuming that you hold the reins to the future. Boastful rejoicing is evil.

It isn’t wrong to make college plans, career plans, start a 401k or to purchase a home with an accompanying mortgage. All of these things imply a planning into the future. The successful completion of any of them is under the watchful eye of God and with his blessing. To presume you did it all, that each item is a check off on your master plan of success, discounts the participation of God in your life and shifts your focus from faith in him to faith in yourself.

The failure to complete a mortgage, a business plan, or any other design that we had hoped for our futures, may only be God making modifications to accomplish his purpose. We would do well to be patient and mindful of such things.

 

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Daring To Think

Reading a new book, How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds, by Alan Jacobs. I have found it interesting, challenging, and sometimes frustrating. He draws from some of my favorite philosophers, along with his own contemporary insights. Jacobs says that he is a Christian, his book is written from a more academic standpoint than a devotional one.

T.S. Eliot wrote, “When we do not know, or when we do not know enough, we tend always to substitute emotions for thoughts.” One would not have to spend much time in the coffee shop, or the virtual coffee shop of Facebook to recognize that.

An appeal to emotion, to the passions of a person, is always a more popular position than to appeal to reason. If we can enflame others our posts will be popular, securing the support of some and incurring the wrath of others. “Liking this post indicates you agree, sharing the post will insure God’s blessing.” Or, like if you love “___________, share if you are unashamed to __________.” That kind of statement will work for puppies, soldiers, guns, or saving the environment. Posting a photo of something cute, pathetic or inspirational will only make it better.

Such things aren’t about thinking, they are about gathering support. It indicates that we are a part of some community, a part of the larger group. Suggesting a different thought, an alternative view will result in lots of condemnation, ostracization, or serves as a rallying point for a large number to state their agreement with the original point of view.

Community (political parties, church dogmas, social agendas) provide security in exchange for thought, and the member of the community who dares to step out of line, thinking differently, sacrifices that security. The result is usually that the contrarian is pushed to the side, or cast out of the group. Like chickens in a hen house, the group begins to peck at one until the target is consumed.

The history of the Restoration Movement is one of evolving and changing as new understandings and ideas are examined, adopted or rejected. Free thought and exchange of ideas is rare and to be highly prized. I value having such freedom.

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Transitions of Power

I must decrease that he might increase. That was the way John the Baptist described his vision of his task. After a successful time of ministry, where entire communities and regions came out to hear his proclaiming the coming Christ and the fulfillment of God’s promises, his time was coming to a close.

For those who followed him, trusted him, and looked up to him, this was incomprehensible. They knew the deprivations that he had endured in life, the limitations of ease provided from the wilderness. Dressing in camel hair clothing, eating locust and wild honey, John is described as one who lived on the diet of the nomadic desert people of Arabia.

He stands in sharp contrast to Jesus, not eating bread nor drinking wine, His was an ascetic life, avoiding crowds, on the fringe of the din and roar of the cities. Jesus, instead, has a more traditional interaction with people, in villages and cities and along the roads traveling from place to place.

Their ministries did not conflict, more one building on the other. John found no occasion for jealousy, it was natural that one who lays a foundation would expect a carpenter to build upon it.

Not so with some of his disciples. Having followed him, learned from him, and had hope inspired through him, they did not desire the decline. When they heard of the success of Jesus, it sparked concern in them.

As the Apostle John describes it in his gospel, John the Baptist normalizes it, placing it in the context of the overall plan of God. Each has a task from God and finds satisfaction with that task. I must decrease that he might increase.

Influence, power, following, however we might describe it, there is no clinging to it. There is no positioning or contriving a way to hold on to what has been theirs historically. As the mantle is transferred from one set of shoulders to the next, God’s will is played out before us. There is something special about it, nothing seen very often in this life.

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Discipline For Me

I became engaged in a verbal altercation this week. I asked a man to refrain from calling an older woman a profane name. Without going into any detail, the issue was resolved.

After I returned home, I reflected on my behavior. The writer of Proverbs states two conflicting statements. “Answer a fool according to his folly.” As well as, “Answer not a fool according to his folly.”  Evidently there might be a time for each of these.

Within me, I noticed a desire to want to “one up” the other man. I considered being louder, becoming aggressive, using personal verbal attacks on his manhood, intelligence, wisdom, along with many other things that I probably don’t remember.

I wanted to engage him, threaten, subordinate, and make him yield.  I had all of these things running through my mind as we stood in this place.

In the running commentary in my mind were the checks, the limits that I knew I needed to try to maintain. “Nothing physical unless aggressive movement was made toward the vulnerable.” “Disengage, the point is made, look away from the man.” “Keep your mouth shut, more challenges will only escalate the situation.” “You profess to be a Christ follower, keep that in mind in this circumstance.”

When one is doing “right”, protecting someone else, it is easy to step further across the line to becoming a bully confronting a bully. This is the line that stands between right and wrong.

To listen to the other voice in my mind, “Knock him down before this gets out of hand.” “Laugh at him and get others laughing at him.” Or other things that might provoke the situation, those might be my instinct but they were not going to be beneficial. I would have moved from being protector to aggressor.

I’ve spent time this week trying to look at the interactions of Jesus with both friends and enemies to evaluate how he kept his balance. I’ve tried to think of the counsel of Proverbs on interaction with people. I keep coming back to the “anger of a man does not produce the righteousness of God.”

Ultimately, that is what I seek, the righteousness of God. Controlling me is a full time job. I am glad God is gracious.

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A Happy Man

It is an interesting life when people have this type of attitude. Each morning on rising, within our jamming group, someone had coffee ready. Immediately food preparation began; eggs, bacon, sausage, peppers, onions… the grills were putting out the food. By the time everyone else was up, the food was hot and ready. Supper was a similar experience with burgers, pork chops, brats, or shrimp, cole slaw, potato salad, pickled okra and hot peppers, salads, and so on. Eager to share, wanting to be the one to have something for others to enjoy. Many participated, others simply ate without supplying much but no one kept score.

As I sat out before others rose for the day, I could not help but offer thanks to God for the kindness that he has shown me through friends with such attitudes.

Before you think that I only experience such things at music festivals, let me quickly explain further. My friends, where ever I have them, are very much like this. I find myself surrounded by generous people, many as though they are in a race to outdo one another.

I read the paper. I know that we live in a violent and troubled world. I know that drugs are a major problem and that alcohol abuse destroys the lives of many. I understand that people cheat, lie, steal, and plunder. I know it happens.

But my friends, those who I surround myself with, who impact my world… they are cut from a different cloth. I learn from them, am inspired by them, and am grateful for them. I look forward to more time with them, knowing they push me to be a better man.

Sometimes I am pushed by the things that they say, the stories they tell. Other times it is their example of kindness, generosity, and gracious spirits. If there is a raised voice, it is raised in laughter. If there is a quiet time, it often is touched with prayer.

I am a man blessed, blessed by God and blessed by good friends in my life. A safe place, a joyful place, a place to belong.

 

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Getting Stuck


We spent a couple of nights in our motorhome in Oxford, KS last week. It rained a lot, but we spent time with good friends and enjoyed it.

While we were gone, the batteries in the thermostat in the house corroded. The thermostat stuck on… doing what thermostats do when they engage the heating/air conditioning system. We walked into the house at 67 degrees. Repairing the thermostat, we put things away and recognized that the house wasn’t really warming up any since I didn’t turn the heater on. So I watched my ball game under a blanket.

Like the thermostat, we have certain things that we are designed to do. Christians are saved by grace, through faith,… created in Christ Jesus for good works that God designed for us to walk in. I would assume, that like me, you make a conscious effort to embrace this calling of God for good things.

We talk with others about the blessings of God, we attempt to discern good from evil, embracing good while shunning evil. We use both internal and external disciplines to keep ourselves on track. Sometimes in these things we can become unwittingly stuck.

During Jesus’ day, there were those who tithed mint, dill and cumin seeds, giving every tenth one to God (a bit stuck in the details) but neglected the weightier provisions of the Law, justice, mercy, and faith. It isn’t that they shouldn’t have shared their tithes, but when our obedience doesn’t arise out of our sense of justice, mercy and faith, it has become misplaced or stuck.

Today, we can become focused on Biblical things, like observing the Lord’s Supper, or studying the Scriptures, but if we do these things without being aware of the connection to God, we are stuck. Paul cautions the Corinthians in their observance of the Supper to “discern the body”. They could not share the body and blood of Jesus if they were unaware that they were not sharing fairly with the body of Christians around them.

We are not to neglect the designs of God for our lives, however if we become stuck in our activities without remembering the “whys”, we fail to honor God.

 

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The “But I Don’t Want To” Exemption

“They are being mean to me. How should I respond?” It is a pretty common question that people struggle with when relationships fracture. Among friends, family, or ex-spouses, the question arises repeatedly.

As a therapist, I understand the dynamic; a desire for balance, equilibrium, fairness. It is as old as man himself, the desire to be treated correctly. In a distorted view, there is a desire to retaliate. How am I to act when I am mistreated by others?

If I framed the question back to the person in this way, they might be able to answer, but likely they believe that there is an exception for when the pain is too much.

We are to “go the extra mile’, unless this is the third time the offender has done this in the past 30 days. We are to “turn the other cheek”, unless they are just doing this to spite me.

The point in all these situations is, we are not called to “right the ship”, to make sure that “everything is equal”, or to make sure that no one takes advantage of us. We are called to regulate our own behavior, to act godly in a godless situation. The question is never “what should they do”, because we don’t control them.

When the clouds roll back, at the dawning of the new heavens and new earth, when Jesus reviews our lives with us… we don’t answer for them. At that throne room scene, when we stand before the judgment seat of God, it isn’t about anyone else’s behavior at all. We will want to have done the right thing.

The mystifying thing about the account of the life of Jesus as recorded in Scripture is how focused he is on the end goal. As his disciples want to call down fire from heaven, he anticipates bearing the sins of the world, none of them his own, for the greater purpose.

I know, when we get mistreated, it is natural to want to get even. The idea of blessing the one who causes your babies to cry themselves to sleep at night is repulsive. The concept of treating with grace and kindness the one who treats you with disrespect and hurtfulness is painful. But, God has called you to view this world through a different lens. He calls you even when it is hard.

 

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Fair is Fair, Or Is It?

You must not pervert the justice of the foreigner or of the fatherless, nor take a widow’s cloak as a pledge.  Deut. 24:17

Just reading that, I doubt that anyone would object. It sounds ethical, morally responsible, like a way that good people should function.

It is more than that, far more than that. It is a peek into the heart of God. A quick glimpse into the very nature of the Lord God Almighty.

It is an abomination before God to have two standards of justice, one for the good guys, another for the vulnerable. Neither money, connections, family nor appearance is to cause the standard of what is just and fair to be changed from one person to the other. So says God.

It sounds logical, reasonable, and fair to the ear, but putting it into practice is a far more difficult process.

Walk through a public area, a large store or down a city street, a perfect stranger smiles and nods their head and you will likely respond with a smile. In that same setting, what happens if the person is ragged, smelly, or disheveled? Does your mind run to condemnation, avoidance or fear? Do you move toward a different doorway, or try to change aisles? Do you have the same patience if you are behind them in the check out lane while they count out loose change as for the woman fumbling through her expensive purse looking for her debit card?

God spends lots of time in Scripture, pressing the idea that those who are different should have the same access to fair treatment as those who look like us. Accents, language, skin tone, clothing style, and social advantage should never enter into our thoughts when considering how to treat someone.

James reinforces this concept in the New Testament, “Pure and undefiled religion before God is to remember the widows and the fatherless and to keep one’s self unspotted from the world.”

Honestly, it is easier to speak about than to do consistently.

 

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