Nouwen focuses on three things:
1) Solitude which leads to supernatural compassion, where spirituality and ministry meet.
2) Silence, so that our inner fire is protected and so that we do not become driven by the fracas of this world.
3) Prayer ... constant and all-inclusive so that God's heart becomes one with ours.
What a beautiul book this is ... what a beautiful roadmap to a life that is totally commited to our Heavenly Father.
The section on Silence in particular slapped me against the side of my head. While Nouwen is not calling us to cut out our tongues or go live by ourselves in a cave, his admonition to save powerful words for times when they will have a powerful effect and his warning on how talking too much can enter us into the ways of this world in ways we do not want to go really hit me.
I need to keep this book nearby, and refer back to it often.
There are so many reasons ... I won't go into them but here's what I am going to do ... I will start posting each Monday on how my weight loss is coming. My goal is to lose 50 pounds by the end of 2006.
So far, I have lost ... 0 pounds. But, it's just my first day.
I vaguely remember a couple of times during my much leaner (in more ways than one) years of college when I bought things and either wasn't charged enough or the price was discounted more than I expected. I was pretty excited about it. After all, these were big corporations I was buying from and I was a college student working three part-time jobs just to get by. They could handle it ... and that was as far as I thought.
Recently, though, and I don't know why, but I have been watching such things more closely. We have had some unexpected expenses at home and things have been a bit tight on cash. Maybe that's the reason. I don't know.
But, in any event, I have had three times in the past two or three weeks where I caught the fact that people had actually not charged me enough for something. One time it was just a soft drink they missed on the meal bill. Another time, I don't remember what it was. But, one of the times it was a very significant amount -- a couple of hundred dollars.
As I reported the store or restaurant's mistake each time, I could not help but think about my college days when I would have taken great joy in an unexpected windfall, even if it was just a few pennies.
Transformation in process I hope ....
Evan's been into making up little sayings and songs lately ... just silly stuff ... but it always rhymes. He may have inherited my fascination with words.
In any event, he was doing this last evening and, to make things rhyme, it came out that he said "My dad's a moron." It didn't upset me because I could tell it came out innocently and he immediately told me he didn't really mean it.
My response to him was to wait until he's about 14 or 15 and then he can say it and really mean it.
For a whole bunch of reasons, parenting is not for folks who are not pretty much okay with themselves most of the time.
Merriam Webster has the meaning of "strive" as "to devote serious effort or energy." The word "strive" actually derived from the word "strife" which is defined as something involving dissension or conflict. Hearing that conjures up a lot of negative thoughts and emotions. It sounds like something bad, not necessarily something you would want to be involved with. Particularly for an introverted milquetoast like myself, this idea of purposefully working in ways that might bring conflict with the world is a bit overwhelming.
During His ministry, Jesus was striving though. He was striving to show love and compassion. He was striving to set the wheels in motion for the early church. Throughout it all and as particularly evidenced in His final days before being crucified, He was striving to follow His father's will. It seems like, with His family lineage shall I say, these things should have come easy for Him. Yet, by being human, He was undoubtedly subject to the frailties that affect us today as well. He proved that we, even in this frail human form, can indeed live the lives God intends for us to live.
John 1:14-15 (MSG) says "The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, Generous inside and out, true from start to finish."
For us, the striving not just a part of the journey but indeed it is the journey. It doesn't come without sacrifice. It may even involve conflict. But it is done out of commitment to and love for the One we seek to follow. The relentless pursuit of this journey is how we can best show our love for God once we accept Him into our heart. We cannot be perfect in this human form -- of that there is no doubt. As with any journey, though, you keep the destination first in mind at all times. When I am traveling and I refuse to seek direction, I may get lost but I do not forget where I am going. Once I am lost, I break down, ask for directions, and get back on the path. And so it is with my Christian journey ... striving to do as He wants me to do until I am at last with Him in heaven.
What a tremendous renewable resource God gave us with trees. Perfect planning in all that He did during creation, carrying us through thousands of years later to today, with renewable resources still at our disposal.
Yes, we have a responsibility to protect and watch over what he gave us. But what perfect planning! And how simple for us today!
My company works a lot with aluminum. Derived from a mined mineral, bauxite, aluminum is amazing as well. It takes a lot of energy to make virgin aluminum. But, after that, it is 100% recyclable with relatively little new energy required, meaning that the same metal is melted down again and again and again, being formed and re-formed into various products. Your soda can today is your car bumper tomorrow and your lifetime aluminum roof the next day.
We're told Jesus was a "tekton," which would have meant he was a stone mason. During His time and place, stone was the readily available resource, also renewable because the stones used to build one building or roadway could be re-used later in a different building or roadway.
All evidence of God's perfect plan which provides so abundantly for us even today.
Sure, I saw it coming. He does better in school than I did. He beats me at every game we ever play. He frequently and easily outwits me to a point of frustration, even with one arm tied behind his back. But he really took the cake the other day when we were standing at a rather complex intersection and I kept pressing the button for the "Walk" signal when he pointed out that I was pressing the button for the wrong walkway. And, all along, I had felt so smug, confident that I was pressing the proper button.
It's a tough thing to admit ... our seven-year-old is smarter than I am. But, in the long run, I wouldn't want it any other way. I just pray that he continues to lead a godly life and that I will be there to encourage him in his challenges and help him celebrate his successes.
I don't know why exactly but I was certainly intrigued by that whole story.
The grandpa I knew was a music teacher for many years. As a kid, I sat through countless choir concerts and church cantatas that he directed. They were good but I do not think I fully appreciated them then, no more than my own son would today.
One big thing I remember about grandpa was his paranoia about electricity. Now this is the same man who referred to his car as "the machine," as in "I have to take the machine over to have it worked on."
Grandma and grandpa's house did have rather old wiring. The outlets didn't have ground plugs, and they looked very old. When you plugged something in, it fit very loosely. And, of course, they often blew fuses which meant a trip down to the fuse box in the basement.
Grandpa was always paranoid about unplugging everything if they weren't home. Radios, lamps, you name it ... if it wasn't being used, it was to be unplugged. So, turning something on involved not only turning the switch but also often plugging it in.
It seemed rather odd at the time and it seems even of odder now but this was a pretty big deal with him.
Well, at least so I thought ... until I was leaving the house the other day and I really started worrying about whether I had accidentially forgotten to unplug the toaster. :-)
Jesus said, "But I will send you the Comforter - the Holy Spirit, the source of all truth. He will come to you from the Father and will tell you all about Me." (John 15:26).
For years I was among the more than 95 percent of church members who, according to various surveys, are not knowledgeable concerning the person and ministry of the Holy Spirit. Then God, in His gracious love and wisdom, showed me how simple it is to release His power into and through my life by faith, just as years before I had received assurance of my salvation by faith.
If I had only one message to proclaim to the Christian world, it would be this: how to know and experience, moment by moment, day by day, the reality of the fullness and power of the Holy Spirit. Everything that has to do with the Christian life involves God the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity.
We are born again through the ministry of the Spirit (John 3). The Holy Spirit inspired men of old to record the holy, inspired Word of God (2 Peter 1:21). Only those who are filled, controlled and empowered with His presence can comprehend what He communicated to those writers centuries ago, which is the message that He has for us today (1 Corinthians 2:14).
We cannot live holy lives apart from the Holy Spirit, for He alone can produce the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22,23) in our lives. We cannot pray intelligently unless the Holy Spirit enable us, for He makes intercession for us with groanings too deep for words (Romans 8:26). We have no power to witness for Christ apart form His power (Acts 1:8). Only the Holy Spirit can enable us to live a supernatural life.
Bible Reading: John 14:16-21
Today's Action Point: I determine to learn everything I can about the Holy Spirit. I will refer to the concordance in my Bible and study every reference to Him in the Scriptures, and ask my pastor, or other spiritual leaders in whim I have confidence, to recommend books on the person and ministry of the Holy Spirit. I will not be satisfied with anything less than the love, joy, peace, victory and power that comes from living daily in the fullness of the Holy Spirit.
From “New Seeds of Contemplation” by Thomas Merton
Anyway, if I don't really watch myself, old sayings will fly out of my mouth continually. Something involving making a silk purse out of a sow's ear is one of my favorites. Measure twice, cut once. A stitch in time saves nine. Kill two birds with one stone. Even a blind squirrel finds an acorn once in awhile. (Sometimes I replace "squirrel" with "sow" in that one ... and just when I typed that, I tped "accord" rather than "acorn" ... which could maybe be Honda's next big ad campaign!) When life gives you lemons, make lemondae.
Silly though they may sound, there is a lot of truth in these things. My favorite old saying, though? You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. I love that because it is such a basic rule of life. I am trying to teach my son to think of that in all that he does. The world would be far better if we all could do that all the time.
I recently read the latest in the last few years' string of parable-based business books. This one is called "Revved!" or something like that. Its basic point is the old honey and vinegar thing. However, it really stresses that, even though you may originally find yourself having to stretch a bit to use honey rather than vinegar, over time it will make your life so much more enjoyable, fulfilling and productive because of the better ways in which people will respond to you. Honey will become your nature and you will never want to go back to vinegar.
The obvious religious implication to the way that the Holy Spirit takes over the transformed life aside, I really believe there is something to that old honey and vinegar thing. I just hope I can live it out at all times!
Now, Evan is a pretty black and white kid so I should have realized that his answer would be along these lines. When Evan was about four years old, he would tell us that he did not believe that God could exist because he couldn’t see Him anywhere. Now, on the other hand, he knows that God exists everywhere precisely because he can’t see Him.
Though it seems silly in light of Evan's response, my question was, if I were going to meet God in persona at a party or some sort of event, how would I want Him to find me? Would I want to be dressed in fine clothes befitting of what we normally think you’d wear to meet a King? Would it be sacrilege to wear jeans and a t-shirt to meet God? What if I looked a little scruffy … maybe if I hadn’t shaved in a few days, or my clothes were a bit wrinkled or disheveled? How would God really find me? Cloaked in false perfection or covered in real life? Would I want to have just come from the airy pretense of my bathroom where I had been working to look “just right”? Or would I want to have just come from living a life that isn’t always pretty, but a life that cares about others, cares about growing God’s Kingdom, cares about loving others and doing for others -- a life that isn’t afraid of getting dirty, a life that isn’t about my “self”?
Fact is, I am not sure exactly how God has found me in the past. Only He can answer that. But I do know how I’d like for Him to find me in the future.
I was thinking, though ... what if we had a conflict between Ohio and Michigan? Goodness knows we have years of bad blood between us. Don't misunderstand me ... I am not making light of the Israel conflict. In fact, quite the opposite. Ohioans and Michiganders work together and play together all the time. There are even many mixed marriages.
Think about the pain, though, if the leadership of our two states had such ill feelings toward each other that they could go to war against each other? What if Michiganders kept sneaking across the border and kidnapping our linebackers? Would we actually attack and fight each other in retribution? Fact is, I am sure we could. Imagine living with the reality that, at any second, the building you're in could be blown up by a missile launched from a hundred miles away.
Ultimately, those who would be hurt would be the commoners -- us "little folk" with family members in our respective national guards. The leadership could go on, warring, disputing and refusing to come together at the same time. Would they feel the full pain of those being hurt by the conflict?
That is much the same with Israel and Lebanon or Palestine. The folks getting hurt are the families that ran the shops and hotels I visited when I was there. Good people who don't deserve such ongoing pain. Families with sons and daughters in the military. Families that depend upon tourism for a living.
Like I said, I don't have anything intelligent to say but world leaders need to remember who they report to.
Maybe I will have more to say another day. I might even throw in a swear word or two.
I do not believe that God's call to lay our probem and concerns at His feet is a call to inaction but it is a call to not worry, to find joy in all things, and to listen for His voice. That's tough, though, for someone who wants to charge ahead, "fix" things, and never ask for directions. Once again, my "self" gets in the way.
Like I said, I believe I am making improvement in this area but, even when I give things up to Him, I need to fully give them up to Him. He doesn't want to hear my fretful jabber-jawing or teeth-gnashing about things that I have given up to Him. He has no reason to hear it; He knows my concerns. And, as for the people around me, well, they certainly don't want to hear it either! (Of course I am not discounting the importance of authentic close Christian relationships with others where you can share your concerns but what if, even in those relationships that I am blessed with, my focus could be more on the celebration of things I have given over to God rather than on re-hashing those things!)
Now, I am not a theologian and I hope I am not on shaky ground here but once I give my concerns over to God, I believe that He wants to hear my praise, my thankfulness for Him, my joy in all that I encounter ... not my continual fretting. I need to remember that.
At the bottom of the mountain, they were met by a crowd of waiting people. As they approached, a man came out of the crowd and fell to his knees begging, "Master, have mercy on my son. He goes out of his mind and suffers terribly, falling into seizures. Frequently he is pitched into the fire, other times into the river. I brought him to your disciples, but they could do nothing for him."
Jesus said, "What a generation! No sense of God! No focus to your lives! How many times do I have to go over these things? How much longer do I have to put up with this? Bring the boy here." He ordered the afflicting demon out—and it was out, gone. From that moment on the boy was well.
When the disciples had Jesus off to themselves, they asked, "Why couldn't we throw it out?"
"Because you're not yet taking God seriously," said Jesus. "The simple truth is that if you had a mere kernel of faith, a poppy seed, say, you would tell this mountain, 'Move!' and it would move. There is nothing you wouldn't be able to tackle."
As they were regrouping in Galilee, Jesus told them, "The Son of Man is about to be betrayed to some people who want nothing to do with God. They will murder him—and three days later he will be raised alive." The disciples felt terrible.
When they arrived at Capernaum, the tax men came to Peter and asked, "Does your teacher pay taxes?"
Peter said, "Of course."
But as soon as they were in the house, Jesus confronted him. "Simon, what do you think? When a king levies taxes, who pays—his children or his subjects?"
He answered, "His subjects."
Jesus said, "Then the children get off free, right? But so we don't upset them needlessly, go down to the lake, cast a hook, and pull in the first fish that bites. Open its mouth and you'll find a coin. Take it and give it to the tax men. It will be enough for both of us."
How about this as a new word, perhaps even a word which could help define what we need to always be all about here at Classic Metal Roofing Systems– “Carework”. No, I didn’t say “casework” and, no, I didn’t say “teamwork” either. I said “Carework.”
To me, “care” is what it all comes down to. Caring about our families. Caring about each other. Caring about our customers. Caring about our suppliers. Caring about everyone we encounter along life’s journey. That is ultimately what the Classic Touch comes down to.
“Caring” doesn’t come easily nor do I believe it comes naturally to the human condition into which we are born. That is where the “work” part of “Carework” comes in. Even though caring may not be easy, it sure makes life a lot more enjoyable and creates lasting, affirming relationships of inter-dependence and mutual respect. Admittedly, though, it’s probably a whole lot easier in this world to be self-centered and not care about others than it is to care about others.
But where do lives lacking in care lead? We all have heard the adage that money can’t buy happiness. What seems to follow that old adage is that positive relationships with those around us are what bring happiness. You can’t have those relationships without caring.
When I think of a self-focused individual who has never allowed themselves to care for someone else, I think of a self-absorbed hermit who eventually ends up living and dying alone without any contact with others. They simply never allow themselves the privilege of forming good relationships with others.
As someone who is naturally a pretty big-time introvert, though, I could end up that way if I do not put a little “Carework” into play in my life. Fact is, I do need time alone. As a good friend of mine once told me, it is through time spent alone that someone like me gets recharged. And, fact is, I have to work at going out of my way to make contact with others. But, when I use a warm and sincerely caring heart to contact others, I find myself richly rewarded with friendships, relationships, and even just “mere acquaintances” that I would not trade for anything.
Think about frustrations you have. We all have them. How can you put “Carework” into play to make things better? Are you struggling with a relationship with someone either in or outside of work? Why not come alongside them and simply say “Hey, let’s talk a bit. I care about you and about our relationship and it occurs to me that we both maybe have some things to clarify in our relationship so it can go forward in a healthy manner.” Very few people will turn you down when they are approached with that sort of caring attitude.
One question that occurs to me though and has perhaps occurred to you is this – is it possible to “care” about someone without actually “liking” them? Can you show fraternal “love” to someone without actually “liking” them? I believe that, yes, we can. In fact, I think that we all have a part of our heart and brain which allows us to sincerely care for and, yes, love others even though they may not be someone we’d want to spend every waking minute with. For healthy relationships throughout our lives, we must do that. I have known so many people who hold grudges against others, not realizing that it is only themselves who they are hurting. If I am holding a grudge against someone or refusing to show basic human kindness and caring to someone, then I am the one that is forced to live with that baggage. The person I don’t like can go on happily. What sense does that make?
For me, yes, it is my faith in God and desire to follow His commands that drives me to care about others (whether I “like” them or not) and to extend myself outside my comfort zone to show that care. I think that the ability to care is something we are all born with. It is when we put it into practice that our lives become so enriched.
One thing I know is this. When I open myself up to truly caring for others, and to showing that care for them, I am happiest. When I become self-absorbed and refuse to show a caring attitude to all those around me, I become unhappy and unfulfilled and I find myself carrying around the constant weight of heavy baggage.
So, think about it … how can we put “Carework” into play here at our jobs or in our personal lives? How much will we and those around us benefit from it? What does it take to come alongside others (even those we may not “like”), see things from their perspective, and always reach out to them with a sincerely warm and caring heart and attitude? Yes, it takes “work” to do that but ultimately it’s better than the alternative … isn’t it?
Today I will make a difference. I will begin by controlling my thoughts. A person is the product of his thoughts. I want to be happy and hopeful. Therefore, I will have thoughts that are happy and hopeful. I refuse to be victimized by my circumstances. I will not let petty inconveniences such as stoplights, long lines, and traffic jams be my masters. I will avoid negativism and gossip. Optimism will be my companion, and victory will be my hallmark. Today I will make a difference.
I will be grateful for the twenty-four hours that are before me. Time is a precious commodity. I refuse to allow what little time I have to be contaminated by self-pity, anxiety, or boredom. I will face this day with the joy of a child and the courage of a giant. I will drink each minute as though it is my last. When tomorrow comes, today will be gone forever. While it is here, I will use it for loving and giving. Today I will make a difference.
I will not let past failures haunt me. Even though my life is scarred with mistakes, I refuse to rummage through my trash heap of failures. I will admit them. I will correct them. I will press on. Victoriously. No failure is fatal. It's OK to stumble… . I will get up. It's OK to fail… . I will rise again. Today I will make a difference.
I will spend time with those I love. My spouse, my children, my family.
A man can own the world but be poor for the lack of love. A man can own nothing and yet be wealthy in relationships. Today I will spend at least five minutes with the significant people in my world. Five quality minutes of talking or hugging or thanking or listening. Five undiluted minutes with my mate, children, and friends.
Today I will make a difference.
Even though my life is scarred with mistakes, I refuse to rummage through my trash heap of failure. I will admit them. I will correct them. I will press on.
I probably had not seen a production of Godspell for ten or so years so. Maybe it's common today and I just don't know it but this director had added in many contemporary things including parodies of "Family Feud" and "Deal or No Deal". Those things probably help to drive the connection with today's audience and, though they aren't necessary for me, they do make the show fun. I must confess, even though I was just six years old when 1970 rolled around and we welcomed a new decade, I consider myself to be, at least a little bit, a child of the 60s. So, I can handle, even revel in, the rainbow clothes, the afro wigs, and peace signs. Not a problem for me if you want to include them but it also wasn't a problem that this production left them out.
Regardless of the staging, the principles from Matthew of love, forgiveness, morality, and community still shine through as things we should all strive for. They are not just left-over ideas from the Flower Power era but they are real principles for life taught to us in the parables Jesus told. Perhaps it's easy to think of Godspell as a "60s thing" so we can rack it up to being just part of a bygone era. That way we can shield ourselves from the fact that we're missing the boat which was sailed for us by Jesus on the Sea of Galilee 2000 years ago.
I must confess that I teared up more than once during this production of Godspell. Any staging of Jesus' crucifixion always gets to me. And, maybe it seems silly but there were other parts and songs that got to me as well. I just couldn't help thinking about the fact that, these ideas which seem to be very 60s and early 70s were cast for us 2,000 years ago. I look around my town, state, country, and the world today, though, and realize just how badly we're missing the mark.
A friend of mine remembers hearing famous motivational speaker Zig Ziglar once tell the story of running into an acquaintance he hadn’t seen in quite awhile and getting the cold shoulder from this person. Zig was bothered by this and asked the other person what was up. The other person fessed up that, essentially, they were carrying a grudge because Zig had accidentally cut them off in traffic several months earlier. Zig, of course, was completely unaware of this so he was unaffected. Yet, the other person was harboring this grudge and letting it affect their life in a negative way. I think we can all see how ludicrous that is.
Yet how easy is it for us to do this? We perceive that someone else has not met our expectations so we start to “cold shoulder” them or, worse yet, seek retaliation. This just exacerbates the damaged relationship and makes things worse.
It is critical that, when we feel slighted by someone, we “get over it” and reach out to them with the care, concern and love that we should reach out to everyone with. Now, am I saying that we must “like” everyone? No, that is ludicrous, too. There are people I know who I do not particularly “like” and there are thousands of people who don’t particularly like me, I am sure. That is fine. I may not like them and I may not agree with or choose to condone their behavior but I can still love them (as God instructed us to love everyone); I can still respect them as important individuals, and I can still work with them.
When you start to feel your trust slipping in a co-worker, friend or family member, you are, at that point, the only person who can change things and prevent the relationship from going into a downward spiral. It is said that trust and respect are two-way streets. I am not sure whether I fully agree with that but, in any event, I firmly believe that “If it is to be, it is up to me.”
If you’re seeking a scriptural perspective on this issue, check these out: 1 Peter 3:8-10, Matthew 5:38-42, and Romans 12:9-14.
Well, a Hindu who saw this was horrified at the indignity of the birds and told the man that he would purchase them all. The merchant was of course ecstatic. The buyer had one condition. . . the birds had to be set free. The man thought it was odd to pay for birds and then set them free but . . . they were his birds.
He cut the string off the birds and guess what happened? They continued to walk in circles! The man finally had to shoo them away. But they flew only a short distance and then began walking in the familiar circle again.
The religious implication of this is whether we really choose to accept God’s grace and live out our lives for Him rather than going on with the same cycle as always. However, this story also applies to the ruts that we allow ourselves to get into on other levels as well. How very many parts of our lives are routine – always the same old, same old! Imagine if we could cut the ropes from our legs and fly unfettered, looking for new ways of doing things -- exciting things, invigorating things! It is only when we expand our minds outside of the routine that we can grow.
Here's something I'd written a couple of years ago for our company newsletter. I was giving some thought to my 25th class reunion (coming up next year) and this article popped into my mind. Fact is, I have never been to a class reunion. Not entirely sure why. I guess I have chalked it up to being because most of my friends either weren't in my class, have passed away, or have moved far away. But, ya' know ... why should that make any difference? There probably are some other deeply-rooted reasons as well. Maybe, just maybe (okay, probably not) I will go to my class reunion next year.
Chances are that we all remember grandmothers or mothers or others who spent countless hours in the kitchen every late summer and fall “putting up” vegetables and other things from the garden. Do you remember all of the carefully labeled jars which said what was in the jar as well as the month and year it was canned? Someplace in the house, usually in the cool basement, there were shelves, often up high for protection from children I suspect, where there were rows and columns of these carefully prepared jars, all ready to be taken down and eaten in the winter. I remember pickles, tomatoes, tomato sauce, catsup, green beans, plums, relishes, peaches – all sorts of wonderful things which tasted delicious once they were opened! Perhaps you still have someone in your family who does canning of this sort each year.
However, fact is, we all do a little canning of our own don’t we? Or a lot? Of course, I’m not talking about canning delicious fruits and vegetables but instead about canning something sort of vile – grudges. Someplace in all of our memory banks is an up-high shelf where we have carefully labeled cans of grudges – grudges against individuals, events, businesses, you name it.
Not quite as palate-pleasing as grandma’s canned goods, though.
Think about it a bit – don’t we all put grudges up in jars, just to haul them down when the occasion merits?
Imagine this scenario, if you will …
“Oh no … here comes Betsy. I haven’t seen her in awhile. I will have to reach way up high for her jar. It’s just within my grasp … ah, yes – there it is! My jar labeled “Grudge Against Betsy.” And, look, wow – it’s from way back in July 1968! Gosh, that was a good year for grudges! Yes, the “Betsy Jar” is an oldy but a goody.”
Can you then imagine how the conversation goes with Betsy? Undoubtedly, not very productive for either person.
I am as guilty of this as anyone but, when I think about it, I see how holding grudges doesn’t do anyone any good. There are times for grudges to just be dropped and forgotten and times for grudges to be aired openly between the parties so that a fresh start toward a productive relationship can be achieved. Look at your personal relationships with family members, neighbors, friends, and, yes, co-workers. Are there any grudges to be gotten rid of? Any situations you will regret if they don't get cleaned up before it's "too late"? Just as was the case with home-canned fruits and vegetables every year when our grandmothers had to use up the previous year’s canned goods before putting up the new year’s canned goods, there’s no reason to keep old jars of grudges around – they only get more vile with each passing day, month, and year.
Recently, though, we broke down (it wasn't a hard break, mind you) and hire someone to trim our shrubs and weed our flower beds. You must understand, though, that we have more than just normal flower beds. The folks who owned the house before us were sadistic Brits who turned most of the back yard into an English garden before abandoning ship and heading back over the big pond. I suspect they are still laughing about it. Someday I should go to England and beat them silly with their umbrellas.
Anyway, we broke down and hired a super nice guy we'd met through a family connection to come in and try to clean things up for us. His name is Gerry and he brought some of the hardest working guys I've ever seen to spend countless hours pulling weeds, trimming bushes and trees, and putting down mulch.
They're not quite done yet but I was telling Gerry what a super job they've done. Two of his workers are pretty young. One boy must be about 11 or 12 and there is another probably just 15 or 16. Gerry commented to me that, when they finished that day (after working 10 hours straight in 90-degrees plus temperatures), these two young men were tired but very proud of all they had accomplished. He said it was really neat to watch them look over their work and the huge transformation that their hard labor had made. While I wasn't there before they left, I had seen a tiny bit of this during the day when I said a few words of appreciation and commendation to them and they smiled and said "thanks". I half expected them to hit me over the head with a hoe and yell at me for letting things get to be such a mess but they didn't do that. It's neat that they looked over yeard with pride and satisfaction at the end of the day. They'd worked hard, they were hot, tired, and sweaty, but they could see that they'd accomplished what they had sat out to do and that it was all good.
It got me to thinking ... worthwhile things are usually hard work. They can include frustrations, heartache, physical pain, and exhaustion but, in the end, you can stand back and see that that what has been accomplished is good ... that it was all worthwhile.
I believe that, in our lives as disciples, if we find that we're never sweating, that we're never tired, that we're never a bit frustrated, we probably aren't taking our faith journeys seriously enough and we're probably not doing all that God designed us to do. Yes, just like with the young men working in our yard, there should be joy during and after the work but anything worthwhile will have some aches and pains along the way. If it is what God wants us to do, He will make sure in advance that we are prepared and that we have the strength to accomplish things.
And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28 KJV)
I'm using this freedom language because it's easy to picture. You can readily recall, can't you, how at one time the more you did just what you felt like doing—not caring about others, not caring about God—the worse your life became and the less freedom you had? And how much different is it now as you live in God's freedom, your lives healed and expansive in holiness?
As long as you did what you felt like doing, ignoring God, you didn't have to bother with right thinking or right living, or right anything for that matter. But do you call that a free life? What did you get out of it? Nothing you're proud of now. Where did it get you? A dead end. (Romans 6:18-21 MSG)
Ever since we were blessed with Evan, most of my television viewing has been cartoons, kids' shows, and monster truck competitions. That isn't necessarily all bad and, actually, the monster truck competitions are sort of fun. But, regardless of what we watch, it's nice when we can try to learn something from it.
We were watching Sponge Bob Square Pants this evening. A particularly noteworthy episode in which Spong Bob and his friend Patrick (a star fish) were warned by Mr. Crabbs (their boss) to stay away from "the hooks". It seems that Bikini Bottom was beset by numerous fishers and these weren't fishers of men ... these were fishers of fish. Mr. Crabbs warned them repeatedly about the risks of the hooks and that they must stay away from them and never, ever play on them.
But Patrick's insistence that the hooks were safe and fun tempted Sponge Bob. Patrick had seen marine life play on the hooks before. he'd watched them grab hold, jet quickly upward, and then let go just before they broke the surface, floating gently back down to the bottom of the ocean. It was sort of like Six Flags for aquatic animals.
Sponge Bob eventually gave in and they spent the afternoon together having great fun -- riding up on the hooks and floating back down, much to the dismay of some very frustrated fishermen in their boat on the surface.
Mr. Crabbs eventually found them, corrected them sternly, and warned them again. He told them that they ran the risk of not getting off of the hook in time and ending up in a gift shop as shellaced marine life ... or worse. Sponge Bob and Patrick promised to never ever play on the hooks again.
But the very next day? Well, Patrick confessed that he'd had his fingers crossed when they made the promise. Sponge Bob pointed out that he has no fingers but that didn't make a difference. They were soon back playing on the hooks again.
Mr. Crabbs and Squidward eventually taught Sponge Bob a lesson by hooking him themselves and scaring him into yet another promise to never play on the hooks. How does the episode end? With Patrick yelling from inside a tuna can -- "Hey guys, get me out of here! It's dark in here!"
Wow, a life of recurring sin is indeed dark. We all do it though -- we repeatedly exhibit actions and do things that we know fall short of what Jesus called us to when He gave His life for us. The more we do it, the darker things become.
God offers us His wonderful redeeming grace. He forgives us of our sins. But, the transformed Christian life is called to a journey of discipleship toward freedom. That freedom ... that supernatural life ... is achieved when we can break that cycle of recurring sin.
Patrick thought that playing on the hooks was fun and safe ... until he ended up inside a tuna can.
"Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong." (1 Corinthians 16:13-14)
Who is Your Role Model - Luther or Galileo?
They had much in common. They were university professors, both lived in central Europe during the same century and both made astounding discoveries that would later change the world. But, in the end they chose to take separate responses to similar challenges to their faith and religious beliefs and their choices gave us a real life lesson in how to respond to the pressure of the world when our beliefs are challenged.
Galileo Galilei was the first to use a refracting telescope to make important astronomical discoveries. Galileo made a series of profound discoveries using his new telescope. As a professor of astronomy at University of Pisa, Galileo was required to teach the accepted theory of his time that the sun and all the planets revolved around the Earth. Galileo's observations with his new telescope convinced him of the truth of a sun-centered planetary system. He is often referred to as the "father of astronomy."
Galileo's support for the heliocentric theory got him into trouble with the Roman Catholic Church. He was convicted of heresy and forced to recant and publicly withdraw his support of a theory that said the earth was not the center of the universe. He did so to save his life by simply proclaiming that his discoveries were simply untrue.
Martin Luther was a professor at the University of Whittenberg. He became convinced that the Bible was the true Word of God and had been abused by the Catholic Church. He appealed to the Pope to affirm the Gospel and later posted his 95 Thesis (really 95 points of error between the Gospel and its interpretation by the church) on the door of Castle Church. He sought not a breakaway from the church but a reformation from within.
Like Galileo, Luther was tried has a heretic and brought before the Diet of Worms where he was given the opportunity to recant and get in theological line with the church. He declined to do so saying, "On this I take my stand. I can do no other." At Worms Luther stood for his beliefs. At Worms, Luther stood alone. At Worms Luther was true to his faith.
As I recently stood before the tomb of Galileo at Santa Croce Church in Florence, Italy, only a few days after kneeling at the grave of Luther in Whittenberg, suddenly the contrast of two similar, yet diametrically different men struck me. One stood at risk for his beliefs, while the other renounced truth and betrayed his faith for his personal safety. I was reminded of the admonition of Paul writing to the church at Corinth saying "Stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong." I thought of what my church might be like if Luther had whimped on his faith like Galileo did. Luther stood firm in the faith.
The world tells us to compromise for our personal gain, but the Bible tells us to stand firm for our faith not matter what the world says. It is easy to compromise and conform. There is company in a crowd and it is often lonely to stand alone, but our faith tells us to stick to our ground and in the words of Martin Luther, "we can do no other."
It is an incredibly funny site (despite the fact that I fear the author may be an imaginative 58-year-old overweight bald man living in his mom's basement in Reseda instead of the 46-year-old mom of a two-year-old.)
Changing subjects ... ya know, today, I was thinking ... life is like a big bag of overripe mangos .... oh, never mind ... inside joke ... sort of.
Have a fun day!
Don't we all sometimes wonder why we're here? I guess that, as Christians, we're not truly taking seriously our call to determine and follow God's will for our lives if we don't occasionally wonder why in the world we're here.
I went for a walk by myself a couple of days ago over my lunch hour and, while it was not an event of falling to my knees, grasping my head, and crying out to God, I did pose a question to Him as I was walking ... I asked God what His purpose was for putting me here ... what He wants me to be doing for Him at this time. It was weird but the answer came back to me very clearly ... it was that, in my lifetime, He will give me all kinds of opportunities to show His peace and His love to others, and that is what He wants me to do. I sensed Him telling me that He has equipped me for that purpose and that, for now, that's all I need to know. Wow. It seemed pretty simple ... until I really thought about it.
I have, in the past few years, developed an ability to remain pretty calm and collected in most situations. It may be partially due to the Chronic Fatigue I suffer from which always makes my eyelids just slightly above being fully closed but I think it goes beyond that. Additionally, I generally have great empathy for others and I can see their side of things. Those things seem to go with sharing God's love and peace.
But, do you see a problem with what I just wrote? I sure do! The problem is that I kept referring to various qualities as things that "I" have ... giving myself the credit for them. That is so very wrong as I think about it. There is no credit due to me. If I am to show God's love and peace to others, then it must be all about Him. He must reside in me in a way which allows those things to flow freely from me. Any gifts I have are due entirely to Him.
I can show peace and love to others but, if I do it in a way that reflects on me rather than on Him, then that simply isn't right. People will never see Him in me if I am showing them the "me" in me. I must give God the glory, praise, and credit for His work in and through me ... the selfish notion that "I" have anything to do with it only destroys the message of God's love and grace.
Maintaining consistency in embodying peace and love can also be a problem for me. I know that is because there is too much "me" in it. And, of course, there's a big problem with being inconsistent in showng God's love; the hypocrisy of your actions and words leaves you open as a rightfully easy target for criticism. God's message is completely destroyed when I run hot and cold, changing back and forth between my selfishness and His living through me.
By living my life in a way which sacrifices the "me" in favor of God, showing His love and peace will be more consistent and constant for me rather than something I consciously have to do. God never changes and Him living in me will bring that crucial consistency.
This is a great example of how I need to be less in order that He will be greater. Giving up my "self" is not easy but it is what I want so desparately.
I am going to share the words of Bebo Norman's song "Yes I Will" below ... just because they seem appropriate.
In the passion of Your sacrifice
I saw the prophecy fulfilled
Healer of the world, the wounded cry
I heard You say come follow me
So I will, yes I will
Follow You Jesus, all the way up that hill (I will follow You)
Follow You Jesus, all the way up that hill
To the cross where the river runs
Crimson even still, yes I will
Follow You Lord (follow You)
I will, yes I will
On the sacred path, You bled for us
Scored and broken, up that hill
Terrible the cross, how glorious
I heard You say, come follow me
So I will, yes I will
Follow You Jesus, all the way up that hill (I will follow You)
Follow You Jesus, all the way up that hill
To the cross where the river runs
Crimson even still, yes I will
Follow You Lord (follow You)
I will, yes I will
When I stumble in the darkness
Hear my weakness, when I'm fearing
(Hear me Jesus) Hear me Jesus when I call Your name
Oh help me Lord, Lord You help me Lord
Please help me Lord, Lord You help me Lord
Follow You Jesus, all the way up that hill (I will follow You)
Follow You Jesus, all the way up that hill
To the cross where the river runs
Crimson even still, yes I will
Follow You Lord (follow You)
I will, yes I will
Help me Jesus, when I feel afraid
I have a couple of good friends, though, who can face conflict and confront people or situations in a very matter-of-fact way but yet still with a huge amount of grace. Being a slow learner, it has taken me awhile to figure out how they do this but I have finally figured it out.
When they confront someone, they do not start with "I'm upset about ..." or "You really hurt me when ..." or "Boy, that makes me angry." Instead they will calmly start a confrontation with something along the lines of "I'm sort of confused about something. Can you help me understand why ..." and then they explain very matter-of-factly why their shorts are in a bunch.
It's simple, non-accusatory, and it shows your willingness and desire to see things from their perspective. But, most of all, if I can just remember to do it, it will allow me to confront people or situations in a way that is very peaceful and comfortable for me ... the king of conflict avoidance.
In the last two messages, we've seen how the prophet Elijah was used to call the people of Israel back to worship of the One True God. We saw Elijah witness the mighty power of God but then become afraid and run into the desert when threatened by the Queen.
How would God handle His chosen prophet - His messenger who had been assigned to proclaim the Truth to the people of Israel? What would God say to the man who was now crumpled under a tree wishing to die: "I have had enough, Lord. Take my life" (1 Kings 19:4).
1 Kings 19:5-6 "All at once an angel touched him and said, 'Get up and eat.' He looked around, and there by his head was a cake of bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again."
God could have chastised and rebuked Elijah. He could have answered with a loud thunder, "Am I not the God who rained down fire from Heaven and then blackened the sky with clouds? Have I not answer your prayers? How can you now doubt Me and wish to die because of your fear?"
Yes, God could have given His "How can you doubt Me?" speech, but He didn't. Rather, God saw Elijah's tired pain and showed simple compassion. He ministered to Elijah by sending an angel to give a gentle touch and bake a cake. The time would soon come for Elijah to rise and follow hard after God; but for now, God comforted Elijah and allowed for a very necessary rest.
We must continue to learn what it means to be a loving and caring Family. All who have been saved through faith in the sacrifice of Jesus have been "baptized by one Spirit into one body" (1 Corinthians 12:13). And as members of "one body," we must learn to effectively minister and truly help one another.
Very few circumstances require us to provide a complete solution. We usually must avoid trying to "fix" what we believe has been broken. Most often, our Brothers and Sisters simply need a friend who will listen and show they care by helping them rest and regain their strength. It's amazing how many Spiritual truths are seen clear after a little cake and a good night of sleep.
So many of God's children face pain, weariness, fears and frustration which keep them from experiencing the fullness of God's joy and peace. But each of us can help ease the pain and lighten the load through biblical words of truth and encouragement along with a gentle touch of compassion.
Have a Great Day!
We all lead such elaborate lives
Wild ambitions in our sights
How an affair of the heart survives
Days apart and hurried nights
Seems quite unbelievable to me
I don't want to live like that
Seems quite unbelievable to me
I don't want to love like that
I just want our time to be slower and gentler, wiser, free
We all live in extravagant times
Playing games we can't all win
Unintended emotional crimes
Take some out, take others in
I'm so tired of all we're going through
I don't want to live like that
I'm so tired of all we're going through
I don't want to love like that
I just want to be with you now and forever, peaceful, true
This may not be the moment
To tell you face to face
But I could wait forever
For the perfect time and place
We all live such elaborate lives
We don't know whose words are true
Strangers, lovers, husbands, wives
Hard to know whose loving who
Too many choices tear us apart
I don't want to live like that
Too many choices tear us apart
I don't want to love like that
I just want to touch your heart, may this confession be the start
Even though this song is set 3500 or so years ago in ancient Egypt, it sure seems applicable to us today.
I constantly see people whose lives are just too complex. Sadly, I'm no exception. Trying to do too many things just to earn a living. Dealing with dysfunctional relationships. Running here and there in search of happiness.
In just the 20 or so years that I have employed others, I have seen the average person's life become incredibly complex. Employers tend to witrness this first-hand. Very rarely does a week go by that most team members where I work do not have some reason that they have to take off during the week. I am not necessarily complaining about that. I know that people have lives outside of their jobs and I want those to be good lives. It's just that I feel badly about how difficult and complex all of our lives have gotten. Technology has forced us to expect more, and want more ... always faster ... making everything far more complex and elaborate than God has intended it to be, I believe.
God promises to provide for us but yet human nature drives us toward always gathering more. Did you know that, when squirrels gather nuts for the winter, they are able to accurately predict and gather exactly how many nuts they will need to make it through the winter -- absolutely no "extras" because they would just go to waste? Okay, I completely made that up. But, think about it ... our limited time here on earth, the fact that we are to be of God and not of ourselves, the fact that He always promises to provide ... why are we so intent on gathering so very much more than we need here on earth?
And think of the time we spend sorting out difficult relationships. God calls us to live in a community of authentic love and close relationships with those around us. If we could all do that, our lives would be so much simpler, so much less elaborate. I still have a looooong ways to go in this area but, as I strive to build relationships with others, as I strive to care about all others, my life is so much more enjoyable and meaningful. I am seeing what God calls us to. Indulging oneself in positive, Christ-centered relationships will take away the desire for all of the distracting "stuff" that in reality only serves to pull us away from Him.
True happiness -- not the fleeting and artificial kind that comes from always searching after the next brief shining moment or event, but true happiness -- comes out of not worrying about the meaningless, but instead focusing on the meaningful, and remaining ever-mindful and desiring of the complete and unending happiness that God promises to us in eternity with Him.
Our lives are indeed too elaborate. I pray that I can start following God in the simpler, more relational, and more purposeful life which he intends for us.
"Don't fuss about what's on the table at mealtimes or if the clothes in your closet are in fashion. There is far more to your inner life than the food you put in your stomach, more to your outer appearance than the clothes you hang on your body. Look at the ravens, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, carefree in the care of God. And you count far more." (Luke 12:22-24 MSG)
On our walk the second evening in Jerusalem, we ended up at the Western Wall, also known as the Wailing Wall. There are separate sections of the wall for men and women. The men’s section is much wider than the women’s. We were there around 9 p.m. and there were many Jews praying at the wall. As we walked up toward the wall, we passed a little plastic case full of paper headcoverings that men could use. They looked like the old-style french fry trays I remember from my younger days … and it was a tad disturbing when I realized that men were putting them back in the case when they left, making them available to someone else to use. Now, needless to say, all of the Jews who were praying at the wall were wearing their own headcoverings. We went ahead and put on our french fry trays as we approached the wall that evening although our tour guide told us the next evening that they really weren’t necessary – they are just tradition, like so many other things there (remember Fiddler on the Roof?)
We watched as many of those praying at the wall kept themselves in continuous movement. That is because there are 613 muscles and tendons and bones in the body, which matches the 613 laws they must follow as part of their faith. They keep their bodies moving to remind themselves of that. For Jews, the importance of praying at the wall is that, because Muslims are in control of the Temple Mount area, it is as close as they can come to worshipping at the holy site of the first and second temples.
I approached the wall (with my french fry tray on my head) that evening and prayed. Now, I have to admit, I felt fairly silly at first … I certainly didn’t look like I belonged there. My yarmulke (aka kippah) was not at all color-coordinated with my clothing and it stood out from the others’. I wasn’t about to try to figure out how to do all that moving and rocking and waving that most of the others were doing. I really didn’t know if I was supposed to touch the wall or not. There were lots of notes stuck into cracks in the wall that I was tempted to read but I suspect that would have been frowned upon. Anyway, feeling a bit silly, I approached the wall and began praying. I thanked God for bringing me there, I thanked Him for the experiences I’d had, I thanked Him for the wonderful folks I was traveling with, I thanked Him for His grace and love. I prayed for Lisa and Evan back home. I prayed that this trip would forever change me in ways that God wanted me to be changed. I backed away from the wall, still facing it, not sure if there was some protocol about turning your back to the wall but pretty sure, if there was, that I didn’t want to break it. I felt a little conspicuous that most people seemed to be there praying at the wall for hours at a time and I was there for maybe three minutes. Fortunately, I didn't run into anyone as I backed away.
Oy Vey! Maybe it was because of where we were or maybe it was a temporary lapse in faith on my part but, between fretting over the french fry tray (which was not very wind-resistant on my bald head – I was wondering if they sell double-sided tape in Israel), how to approach the wall, what to do there, what not to do there, and how to leave the wall, I felt like either a Jewish mother or Woody Allen (if there is indeed a difference).
But in all seriousness, as I stood at the wall and prayed and as I backed away from the wall (still facing it), I felt an incredible holiness. I knew that I was in a place that God loves. Being there with Jews from various sects, one thing that cannot escape you is how deeply they hold their faith. Fact is, as I watched the Jews and, yes, the Muslims, too (not at the wall, obviously), in Israel living out their faith, I developed an overwhelming sense of awe, admiration and inspiration. Their dress, customs, devoutness and prayer life are so unlike anything that most Christians do. I greatly admired their faithfulness in practicing their religion. Doesn’t our Lord and Savior, though, call us to the same degree of transformation when we accept him and begin living lives of authentic Christianity? Our dress may not change dramatically and we may not partake in their type of open religious customs and practices but, as we live out our faith, we are called to evangelism and witnessing which grow His Kingdom. We hopefully reach out as well as within, doing His work while growing our relationship with Him. I am not necessarily saying this of the Jews and Muslims we saw and met in Israel but, in general, I just don’t understand groups who practice their faith by either isolating themselves or getting mixed up in controversial extremism. I just don’t see the sense in that. I want to be outward-reaching with my faith, sharing what God has done in my life. If I am going to be extremist, I want it to be in that respect. If there is one thing I have learned in my life, it is that you catch flies with honey, not with vinegar and definitely not by ignoring them.
While we were at the wall, four young men approached us. Turns out they were rabbinical students from Brooklyn – probably all in their late teens or early twenties. A couple of them, because of their dress, looked a lot like Jake and Elwood. Anyway, we got to chatting about baseball and other things with them and they invited us to come back into a room to the left of the wall, to show us the Torahs, many of which are quite old, that are used for bar mitzvahs and other ceremonies at the wall. There are some desks and chairs for study in the room, as well as additional places to pray at the wall. As we were heading that way, I saw an older Jewish man approach one of the Brooklyn boys and ask him what they were doing. Our new friend said, “Well, we just met these guys, they’re from the states, and we’re making friends with them.” The older man asked “Are they Jewish?” and our friend said “I don’t know.” (He doesn’t know! With french fry trays on our heads, we hardly looked like Jewish!) Anyway, off of the room where they took us was a separate room where the Torahs are stored. They showed us one cabinet with Torahs in it but then another older gentleman started locking up all the cabinets ahead of us. (Me thinks they did not trust the tourists from Ohio with french fry trays on their heads!)
(Okay, this is sort of an abrupt ending but that's all I have for now.)
Unconditional love. That is what I pledged to our son when he was born, probably even before that. It was pretty cemented when he first popped open his eyes and looked at me. That was a "heart-melting experience" if ever there was one. I pray that Evan will lead a good life full of love and compassion for others and that he will grow into a truly Godly man. But, regardless, my love for him will remain ... unchanged ... unconditional ... forever.
There are times when you feel your love for your child more intensly than others though. I guess I don't know about other parents but I suspect that I'm not the only one who feels that love most when Evan comes to me and apologizes for something he's done. We have been blessed with a child who generally is well-behaved. He doesn't do real dumb things very often so I don't hear "I'm sorry, Dad" very often but, on the occasions when I do hear it, my heart melts. Seeing him in a state of brokenness pulls up emotions that defy description. I can even be seething with anger (beneath the surface, of course -- I wish!), and those words, "I'm sorry, Dad" make me want to just wrap him in my arms, and in my love, like I never have before. I accept his apology, tell him that I love him, and that things are okay.
It's a wonderful thought that God feels that same intensity of love for us -- even greater, in fact. Just as the father celebrated when he welcomed home his son who had strayed, I think that the emotion of God's love for us must be at an indescribable peak when we come to him in our state of brokenness.
When we're children apologizing to our parents, it's easy to just melt into their love when it is extended to us. We feel forgiven, we know we're forgiven, and, afterward, we go forward, confident that our parents have forgiven us and still love us ... unconditionally.
Somewhere between being a child going to our earthly parents in that act of contrition and being an adult going to our Heavenly Father seeking His forgiveness, though, things often change. Whether it's pride, cynicism, or low self-esteem, it can be very hard for us to believe that God really forgives us and still loves us. Maybe it's cynicism in ourselves. Maybe we know that we will mess up again and it just makes no sense to us how God could forgive us and love us when we both know that there will be other times when we will fall short of what He calls us to. Or maybe our pride keeps us from really entering a true state of brokenness. I don't know. We may even keep praying for forgiveness for the same thing. Or we may ask for forgiveness but not really grasp in our heart and mind that His grace really is that simple -- it's ours just for asking. But, unlike our childhood acceptance of our parents' foregiveness, we somehow find it really hard to truly grasp God's forgiveness.
How that stunts our spiritual journey, though, when we live a life of not letting ourselves know the reality of God's love! It would be like never really feeling that you're worthy of your earthly parents' love. There are dysfunctional families when that happens and adult children of those families really have to work at recovering from that state.
But God promises us His love and His forgiveness, allowing and encouraging us to lead full and authentic lives of devotion to Him. How awesome is that, if we can just truly accept what he so freely gives?
The first time we saw them, we were able to stay in the car and still have a great view, protecting ourselves from the loud booms and hisses. But, last night, we were sitting outside, enjoying the full effect -- sounds and all. Evan has always been bothered by loud noises so he kept his hands by his ears most of the time.
It didn't take long, though, before he realized that the flash of brilliant color and the sounds were not occurring simultaneously. He asked us about this and I explained that it is because light travels faster than sound. After watching a few more, he understood that the boom came after the flash.
There was one particular type of firework that had very little brilliance and flash to it but it had the sharpest sounding crack of all of them. We were all three sort of intrigued by that. That particular firework was, to flip a phrase, "more go than show," leaving us ultimately disappointed by how something so loud could not carry more beauty with it.
The brilliant colors of fireworks are what we remember and what really get our attention. Yet, the reverberating sound a second or so later adds impact and punch. Silent fireworks simply would not have the full effect. They would seem hollow. You would see the beauty but not have as much "meat to the message" so to speak.
Just as light travels faster than sound, so does the beauty and news of God working through us spread faster and have greater memorable impact when it can be seen rather than just when it is talked or written about.
John 13:34-35 (MSG) says: "Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other."
The showing of God's love is so paramount to living the life of a disciple. It is, like the beauty of the fireworks, what people see, remember, and talk about. But, just as fireworks would be sort of hollow without the sound, the world also needs to hear God's word at the same time that they see His love, so that they might better understand His redemptive grace. And, if all they do is hear rather than see, religion itself becomes rather hollow -- more go than show, leaving onlookers disillusioned and with questions.
I hope I teach him well and that, later on, he can recognize poison on his own when I cannot be there or when he's too old to listen to me. I pray that God will be there to (gently I hope) remind him of the dangers of that poison.
Movng away to college was truly my first "independence" from my parents. I'd never been away from them a whole lot. I'd never even been to a camp unless you would include marching band "day" camp. I had never been overly social in terms of spending a lot of time running around with friends. I had spent a couple of weeks in Germany as part of a school exchange program between my junior and senior years of high school and that had been a time of flirting with independence for me. It was an interesting time for me as most of the other kids I was with took full advantage of Germany's loose drinking laws and I was always the responsible one, making sure we got home safely each day, etc. But, by and large, college was my first real taste of independence.
I was looking forward to it in a lot of ways and I never felt particularly homesick. I only went about 50 miles away to college and, in fact, I actually went to college very close to the area where my family had lived until I was eleven. So, I had a lot of extended family members in the area.
I went to a very small Christian college. About a third smaller than my high school. I was pretty certain that I'd feel lost at a real large university. That is sort of odd as I look back. I never have been a person who was afraid of loneliness. In fact, during my first few weeks of college as I was meeting people and trying to make friends, I sometimes ate dinner at a little restaurant in town, by myself. I think that was partly because I needed some occasional "down time" from all of the "new-ness" of college and partly because I didn't know who I wanted to eat with on campus so it was easiest to just eat by myself.
During my growing up years, I tended to have one or two close friends and I hung out with just them. I was never one to be in a huge group of people, and certainly never one who wanted to be at the center of attention. Today, although I have grown to be more relational and I think I am starting to see where God is leading me in terms of developing relationships with others, I am still much more comfortable in groups of two or three than in groups of seven or eight. If you want to put me in front of a group of several hundred, I have no problem with that but when I am forced into a situation of meeting and interacting with a mid-sized group, I tend to shut down. I miss communication signals, my mind wanders, I get bored, I start to drift off to another place.
My college years continued this trend of hanging out and running around with a pretty small, but consistent, group of folks. We were sort of a group in the shadows of campus life. Now, you need to understand a few things here. I went to college during the height of the Reagan years and I was truly the quintessential button-down collared Reagan Republican. He was building military might and many people were not happy with it. That group included most of the people on my campus. You see, my college was affiliated with a church group that most people consider to be extremely conservative and, to some degree, they are. However, politically, they are about as left as they come. Strong pacifistic and social justice views. I have more appreciation for those views now but I didn't have it then. The fact that I have more appreciation (I am wording that carefuilly, mind you) for those views now indicates that I maybe had potential to grow a bit while I was in college, had I been properly encouraged and loved.
However, early in my college career, frankly not even fully understanding what I was doing, I sent a Letter to the Editor of the school newspaper which unintentionally picked a fight with pretty much the entire campus establishment. I was quickly viewed as -- now get this -- a rebel. The letter caught the attention of one of the older students on campus who happened to be particularly left-leaning and a real leader in the campus community. If I wasn't already cast there by the "mainstream" student community, I was definitely cast into the shadows after this incident which, for a few weeks, turned into a volley of letters back and forth in the newspaper.
On a campus where weekly chapels were held that most students attended, and most students also went to church on Sundays, my close group of friends and I were truly put into the shadows for four years. Obviously, that wasn't just because of the Letter to the Editor incident though that did play a role. Fact is, we probably weren't that different from the "mainstreamers" who cast us into the shadows and, I suspect, we're all probably pretty similar today. Back then, my group probably drank less than theirs did but we probably swore more. The biggest difference, no doubt about it, was our stated political views and, for this, we were cast into the shadows of campus life. I never went to a chapel, not even once. I went to church maybe a couple of times when I was on campus but not to the same church as the mainstreamers, of course. Yet, you have to understand this, I do not recall ever being invited to a chapel, nor to church, by the mainstreamers.
Did this impact my view of God? For the most part, I maintained my faith, albeit at some points stronger than others. But, I wasn't living as a disciple and, without denying ultimate personal accountability, I do believe that my college experience impacted my view of church, keeping me somewhat at bay for many years. I wasn't sure that I wanted to go to church if it meant that we'd be a homogenous group that excluded individuals of differing political thought, socio-economic background, or anything else. In fact, that seemed very wrong to me. And it kep me from getting the training and encouragement that I needed to provide footing to my own faith journey.
When it comes to religion, we tend to collect in groups of like-minded and similarly socio-economic people. If you went into any community on Sunday morning, you would observe "older" churches, apostolic churches, various "sect" churches, certain ethnic heritage churches, and in large cities, probably a couple of "inclusionist" churches. The problem is just that though. The folks going to these churches are all cut from the same cloth, made from the same mold. Even "inclusionist" churches tend to, over time, be what I call "100% inclusive". The whole point of bringing people together, and living in a community of challenge and encouragement is lost when we're all the same.
The way I see it, this is not what Jesus modeled for us. He was always reaching outward, downward, and upward. We talk about the tax collectors he reached out to, sometimes treating those folks as the lowest of the low but, in their day, these guys were probably among the richest and at the top of the socio-economic scale. These were the guys with fancy homes in nice neighborhoods. Fact is, Jesus was just showing His father's love to everyone -- all of those who were weak of spirit -- just as we are called to do today. Just as He reached out to tax collectors, he gathered fisherman, children, lepers, paralytics, and prostitutes. You name it, He sought after all people hard and welcomed them always like the father welcomed his prodigal son.
Like I said, my intention is not to point fingers at the mainstreamers that I went to college with. I am instead pointing at all of us. I like the church we attend because it does offer a wide variety of people -- all shapes, colors, types, interests and quirks can be found there. But is what our church has even enough? Are we not still, to the casual observer, a relatively homogenous lot? Are we doing what He calls us to and truly embracing others -- all others? Perhaps not.
God calls us to recognize our weaknesses. In fact, he assures us of His strength in our weakness, if we fess up to it. As the church, we need to recognize that our weakness is indeed our lack of reaching out. We look at "missions" as being money we send to foreign countries, and perhaps an occasional cultural-immersioin trip to those places. But, by and large, we don't look at the mission field as being our neighbors or the people at the desks next to ours. And heaven forbid that the mission field might be the other side of the tracks or the folks living over vacant storefronts downtown or in the local crack house. As Todd Agnew sings, their feet may stain our carpet. Another calling could be the rich set -- the tax collectors if you will -- who spend Sunday mornings at the country club sipping Bloody Marys. We just don't look at these extremes in our own backyard as our mission field. That is our weakness.
We all need folks to carry us through our weaknesses, to support us, encourage us, and love us. Who is there to carry us through our missional weaknesses? Is it ouselves, each other, or what has been coined as the "emergent" church? No, it's Jesus. Just and absolutely Jesus. Just as He reached out without thinking of Himself and embraced the "least of these" whether they be paralytics and the demon-possessed or "jet-setting" tax collectors, He loved them and sought to bring them into the church. We must make sure that He is our teacher, our mentor, and our inspiration as we seek to make the church what He calls it to be.
For me, one of the most purely fun parts of the trip was spending time in the old city. As I mentioned before, I really like New York City – the hurried crowds, the varied sites, the great smells. The old city of Jerusalem has a lot of that but in a much more compact area.
We first entered the walls of the old city through the Damascus Gate. This was kind of a thrill for me because, a few years ago, I had read a sort of crazy but challenging novel called “Damascus Gate” by Robert Stone. The novel deals with the Israeli – Palestinian conflict and is pretty sympathetic to the Palestinian side. It involves an American who ends up thrust into the middle of things over there during a volatile period and then he discovers a plot to blow up the Temple Mount. Now that I have been there, I would like to go back and read this book again but, as I said, it is a pretty challenging read … perhaps the most challenging thing I’ve ever read since attempting to take on Dostoyevsky’s “The Idiot” my senior year in high school. (I think I was attracted to that book only because of the name … oh, and because it’s fun to say “Dostoyevsky” and look condescendingly at people and say “I’ve been reading a bit of Dostoyevsky recently.” Fact is, I didn’t understand a word of it. I did slightly better with Damascus Gate but would probably do better now that I have visited Israel.)
You have to walk down a whole bunch of steps to enter through the Damascus Gate which, interestingly, has a “Moneychanging” store right next to it. (Think about that, will ya?) Once inside, it is like you’re in a different world, a world of tunnels and mazes. There are some seaport and market areas of New York that are a bit like this but generally they are pretty scary places that tourists are best to avoid. We had to watch for pickpockets when we were in this area of Jerusalem (no different than you would in a busy place here in the states) but really I felt very safe. The evening we walked into the old city, a lot of the storefronts were closed and shuttered. We gained a whole different perspective, though, when we walked through during the day when they were open.
Much of the main road once you enter through the Damascus Gate is the Via Dolorosa (aka Way of the Cross, Street of Sorrows, Street of Suffering). This path winds through the old city from a gate Jesus would have entered after leaving the Praetorium at Caiaphas’ house and then it ends at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, one of the places that is regarded as perhaps being where Jesus was crucified. The current Via Dolorosa is many feet above where it would have been In Jesus’ time. Fourteen stations along the way denote specific events as Jesus would have traveled this path. We saw groups of people carrying crosses along the path and stopping to pray at each station. Even though the location of many of these places is probably not accurate, veneration is of our Savior and the specific vents, not the physical locations.
Today, at virtually any time of day, the streets seemed to be full of boys and young men, ages maybe four on up through their teens and early 20s. It seemed like they never go to school and usually they were just running around in groups of various ages. You very rarely saw girls on the street. More often, you would see them peering out from doors and windows. I remember once how we watched and waved at two beautiful young girls, probably both five or younger, watching us from behind a barred and ivy-covered upstairs window. Palestinian girls just don’t seem to get out of the house much.
There was a little bit of everything available in the small shops lining the streets. A lot of areas were obviously oriented toward tourists. T-Shirts with sayings like “Shabbat Happens,” “Jerusalem … Just Do It,” and “Don’t Worry, Be Jewish” were plentiful. Various types of souvenirs – postcards, placemats, carvings from olive wood, pottery, glassware – these things were everywhere. Delis and markets selling fruits and vegetables, large bins of different breads and pretzels (often even placed down in the dust at street level), hardware stores and other places where the locals would buy their various needs. The meat market featured a wide variety of freshly butchered animals, displayed perhaps a bit too openly for some American stomachs. And all in the midst of such history. The ancient streets and buildings provided a very eastern feel.
The shopkeepers would work hard to pull you in. For the most part, they were very friendly. Of course there was one young man who was a bit over-the-top-anxious in his desire to sell one of our Lisa’s a stuffed camel one afternoon. In the U.S., I think that shoppers would be running to get restraining orders if they were pursued that vigorously over an $8 stuffed camel.
Our last afternoon in Israel, I was walking through the Old City on my own, looking for souvenirs. One of the common pleas from the shopkeepers was to come in and they would fix you a cup of Turkish coffee. Turkish coffee is made from very finely ground coffee that is combined with sugar and then boiled and re-boiled a couple of times. The coffee grounds are strained out before serving. It has a sharp espresso-like taste but then the sugar adds a strange sweetness. I tend to be a bit of a coffee snob and, while Turkish coffee maybe doesn’t hit my tastebuds exactly square-on, I think I could get used to it.
Anyway, I did go into one shop to look for some small souvenirs (which I bought and, because of my resistance to haggling, paid way too much for … but that is okay!) and I did succumb to accepting his offer for a cup of coffee. Now, all of the shopkeepers try to also lure you into the shop next door which they tell you is owned by their brother, uncle, or cousin. It was odd when there was absolutely no family resemblance as in a very Arab-looking man named Ahib introducing you to his blonde-haired, blue-eyed, and fair-skinned “brother” named Jan-Henrik. (Okay, I may be exaggerating a tiny bit.)
After I accepted this shopkeeper’s offer of coffee, he said that he had to go to the store to the right of his to get the coffee but I was shown a place to sit outside and talk with his brother who owned the store to the left of his. Now, honestly and embarrassedly, I do not know “what” these guys were. I am assuming they were Palestinian Muslims but, really, I don’t know. We chatted a bit and it was soon obvious to me first of all that I was way way WAY over my head in terms of any discussion of politics with Jan-Henrik (just kidding – that wasn’t really his name) and, furthermore, I was really wondering if I was getting scammed somehow as the result of talking to these guys. I doubted they had any reason to lock me up in a dark closet and feed me mice for the rest of my life but, still, my suspicious American mind couldn’t help but wonder what was really going on. The coffee took forever to be brewed and brought to me. I learned that the brother has spent some time in the US in the past and hopes to go back someday. Shopkeeper #1, after a few visits telling me the coffee was “almost finished,” finally brought me a cup of coffee. It was served as they always do – in a small handle-less “shot glass” sort of cup. He handed it to me and I honestly think the man must have had asbestos fingertips. I am normally pretty tolerant of touching hot things but this cup felt like the very fires of Hades and it was now in my fingers! There was no table to sit it on so I sat there and quickly alternated the cup between the fingertips of my two hands. It did not cool off. I finally decided that I had to drink it because that way I could share some of the heat with my mouth and that may make the outside of the cup cooler. That theory was flawed. At this point, my fingerprints on both hands had been permanently erased (makes it handy if I ever enter the Witness Protection Program) and I no longer had any tastebuds (which really isn’t very handy for anything though it could be helpful when eating Israeli food).
Eventually, I got the coffee down, thanked them, and excused myself – I needed to keep shopping a bit more. Actually, I am ashamed of myself by the way that I would not let myself relax and talk with these guys openly and unguardedly. They were not there to hurt or scam me in any way. Nothing funny showed up later on my credit card. I left with all of my belongings and, as I left, I was not pestered by all of the other shopkeepers who saw me talking to these two and now maybe saw me as an easy mark. These guys were there simply to talk and build a bridge. While I did not completely rebuff them, I also was not as nice as I should have been. If I am out sharing God’s story as I am supposed to, I will meet all types of people. I want them to be accepting of me and yet I couldn’t be accepting of these guys. There is truly something flawed in that which I need to work through.
It was pretty common in Israel to encounter people who either have spent substantial time in the United States or actually grew up here. I wish I knew all of their stories as to why they left the US to live in Israel. I mean, I may not be 100% pleased with everything in our country but, still, I recognize that it is the safest and most secure country to live in and that it also affords me the greatest luxury and niceties. I cannot imagine becoming an expat. Maybe I am not adventurous enough. Or maybe I just like the comforts of home.
When you approach the Western Wall in Jerusalem, you must go through a security check. The Jews are afraid that someone will try to damage the wall, one of their most holy spots. As I mentioned earlier, Jews pray at the wall because they are not allowed to worship on the Temple Mount. One could probably make the argument that the Jews’ inability to worship on the Temple Mount area, where Abraham went to sacrifice Isaac, is one of the key causes of the continuing conflict over there. Overall, I have to admit, I am pretty sympathetic to the Palestinians’ cause but yet I cannot get over the fact that the holy Temple Mount area cannot be shared. It makes no sense to me why others’ religions cannot be respected and a holy site like that cannot be shared.
In many respects, Jerusalem felt like a city on the edge. I am not quite sure what it is on the edge of though. Peace? Violence? Chaos? Craziness? Holiness? All of the above? Like Gershon told us, nothing quite makes sense in Israel and there’s no point in trying to make logic of it. While there, I sensed a city that is incomplete, that doesn’t know quite who or what it is. It is a city full of numerous cultures but yet, whereas the United States is a melting pot of cultures, cultures remain distinct in Israel, creating this edginess that is both exhilarating and incredibly sad because of the way in which it prevents the citizens from living full lives.