I like The Message translation of Hewbrews 10 a great deal but let's look at the New International Version translation of verses 26 and 27:
26If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, 27but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.
Nothing could be more clear -- if we have been taught of Jesus' saving grace but we refuse to accept it, our plight is written in stone. How important it is for us to find ways to get through to our friends, neighbors, and loved ones who have been told the Truth yet not accepted Christ.
Yesterday was a beautiful day! The temperature cooled down (just a
little) and the wind was blowing steady but not too strong - the perfect conditions for God to teach me a very important lesson.
For the past three weeks my two youngest girls have been asking
(begging) to fly a kite. They found an old kite in the back of a closet and have been taking turns running around the house and even occasionally "flying" in front of a big fan. They continued to ask but the conditions were never quite right. You understand, don't you? First we didn't have enough string; then it was either too hot or not enough wind...or dad was too busy doing more "important" things.
Well, for over an hour yesterday afternoon I finally stepped into God's classroom and I watched two little girls stare in awe as their kites sailed high and sometimes dove back toward the ground. Our six year old said that kite flying was even more fun than she imagined.
"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal."
One day we will close our eyes to this life and, if we have believed in Jesus, we will open them in the true presence of God. If we're allowed to look back, we will all be saddened to see how much we wasted on things with no eternal value. As I walked in that open field and saw the pure and unrestrained joy of two little girls, I was struck with a new understanding of what really lasts.
The physical will certainly pass away, and things like worry and anxiety about the future will have no place in Heaven. The only thing with eternal value is that which brings glory and honor to God; and my lesson for the day was that God was more glorified in that laughing, breeze-filled hour than in many of my quiet times of study. Our hour of kite flying had eternal value!
I never intend to diminish the importance of good quality study and prayer. But I believe we need to rethink and expand our idea of what glorifies God. Yesterday afternoon I believe God was glorified simply because I enjoyed the life He's given and praised Him for every precious moment.
If today you realize your priorities have become too focused on the temporary things of the world, or even if your strongest desire is to glorify God but you struggle with what this really means, then I suggest you continue to seek Him through times of quiet. But even more strongly I urge you to continually praise and make the time to go fly a kite.
In May of last year, a good friend and co-worker died suddenly of a massive heart attack. Age 44. Today, another good friend and co-worker died instantly when a car turned into the path of his motorcycle. Age 52. Dave left behind his wonderful wife, two kids, and three grandkids. He was pronounced dead at the scene. Death came on a beautiful spring day to a good man with a huge heart doing one of his favorite things ... in the blink of an eye.
Dave was a talker. He loved to engage in conversation and, when he did, he was always 100% present in his relationship with you. I admired that.
He liked to sometimes show a "tough" exterior but anyone who knew him knew that he was an incredible softy inside. Like I said, he had a huge heart. You don't very often see co-workers cry ... I have seen Dave shed more than a few tears over the years.
I will miss him but what bothers me more than anything is that he was someone who I counted as a friend for more than 20 years and yet I really do not know if he had ever accepted Christ as his Lord and Savior. He was a good man and I hope, pray, and assume that he had but I really do not know for a fact. And that is something which I deeply regret. I do not normally live with regrets but that is a regret which I will carry with me forever, praying that it brings about change in my life in terms of getting to know people better and witnessing to them more.
I loved him and I will miss him, as will so many others.
Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.” (John 3:3 NLT)
You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. James 4:3
Wrong Motives – Since James is so pragmatically focused, he doesn’t mince words. What he really says is a jab to the solar plexus of our selfish desires. Maybe that’s why we soften the blow with a modified translation. The Greek is kakos. It is literally, “evil.” Maybe we should have listened to the original. “You ask with evil intent.”
James has a perfectly sound answer to the question, “Why doesn’t God give me what I ask for.” His answer is, “Your request is to satisfy yourself. You don’t understand a thing about the character of God. You are asking with an evil heart. You only want what you want.” How does James know this? It’s obvious. He points at the goal for asking. If the reason you ask is to satisfy a desire that serves your self-glorifying agenda, then what you ask is as evil as any sin ever committed.
“But I don’t ask for things that only serve me!” you complain. “I ask for help for others. I ask for good things. I ask for increases in God’s kingdom.” Really? Be ruthlessly honest. Was that prayer for healing just for your spouse, or was there a little motive in there about getting back to the life you want? Was that request for church growth really only about the horrible fate of the lost or was there just a hint of pride in the size of your congregation? Did you really think that praying for victory before a football game serves God’s interests? Do you think that God listens to prayers for the hungry in Haiti when you have so much food in your cupboard you could feed an entire village and not bat an eye? Who are you kidding? Certainly not God!
Here’s a thought: God answers every prayer that is in alignment with His will. He never dismisses a single one. So, if your prayers are not getting answered, what does that say about the motivation behind them? Maybe we need to take a much deeper look at why we ask, not what we ask.
I’m afraid that James is just too hard for us to hear these days. He is likely to point to our bank balances, our vacation packages, our multiple televisions and over-stuffed closets and say, “What’s the matter with you? When you get honest about your own self-serving agendas, then maybe you will discover God’s replies. But don’t expect Him to give you anything when you are all about accumulation.”
Today, God is moving in powerful ways in this world. Almost none of these are found in the affluent societies. Did you ever wonder why?
Jules, we love you and we are praying for you. You are a true blessing to all who know you.
John 8:26-30 - Lesson #87
Jesus drew a sharp contrast between Himself and the Pharisees: "You are from beneath; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world" (John 8:23). After hearing these words, the Pharisees asked Jesus what has become the fundamental question of the Christian faith; "Who are You?" (John 8:25). Jesus replied in a way which continued to bring glory to God.
"'I have many things to say and to judge concerning you, but He who sent Me is true; and I speak to the world those things which I heard from Him.' They did not understand that He spoke to them of the Father. Then Jesus said to them, 'When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and that I do nothing of Myself; but as My Father taught Me, I speak these things. And He who sent Me is with Me. The Father has not left Me alone, for I always do those things that please Him.' As He spoke these words, many believed in Him."
Jesus could have replied with words of condemnation, but this was not His purpose; "For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved" (John 3:17). Jesus came to reveal and glorify the Father. So He was quick to say that the words He spoke were from God; "He whom God has sent speaks the words of God" (John 3:34). This is a theme which runs all through the gospel of John; "I have given to them the words which You have given Me" (John 17:8). Jesus spoke the words of God, but the Pharisees did not understand.
The words of Jesus were difficult to understand and His claims even more difficult to accept. But Jesus said the truth would be made known when He was "lifted up." From the early discussion with Nicodemus (John 3:14), to His final week in Jerusalem, "And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself" (John 12:32), Jesus spoke of being lifted up as "signifying by what death He would die" (John 12:33). And when Jesus was lifted up on the cross, when the Father received the final sacrifice for sin, the world had the opportunity to know that Jesus was the Promised One.
Jesus knew the Father was always with Him because His life was devoted to doing the will of God; "My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me" (John 4:34). God has promised to "never leave you nor forsake you" (Hebrews 13:5) but one of the ways we receive the peaceful assurance that He is near is by doing His will. Jesus was unified with the Father, did only His will, and KNEW He was not alone.
There were those who believed what Jesus said. But we will soon be given reason to question what this belief really means (John 8:33-59). Have we fully accepted the claims of Jesus? Do we have the peace of knowing He is near? Have we committed our life to doing His will? All these questions begin with the same question of Jesus as asked by the Pharisees: Who are You? Let's make our understanding clear today!
I do remember the first Earth Day though. April 22, 1970. It was a big deal at school and was all over our Weekly Reader magazines that spring. I am pleased to say, by the way, that Weekly Reader still exists! How exciting it was to get this little news magazine at school each week. It was hip and cool for an elementary kid -- and a welcome break from "See Spot run."
Anyway, in the early 70's, the environment was cool. I remember having some folders in school that had some neat nature scenes printed on them. One was a craggy coastline and the other was a deep fern-filled rain forest. As I recall, I loved those folders so much that I made them last two years, even though they were quite tattered and torn by the end of the second year.
There was strong emphasis on the environment back then but it was different than today. Back then, we froze ourselves during the winter. Thermostats were at 55 at night and 65 during the day. The Alaskan pipeline was being built and was viewed as being done in an incredibly safe way for the environment while lessening our country's dependence on foreign oil. Earth Day was a lot about litter patrol. Trying to clean up our neighborhoods. Recycling was getting some play but honestly there wasn't much infrastructure in place to support the collection of recyclables nor the re-birth of recycled materials into something else.
Then, starting in the late 80s and continuing for a long time, the environment just wasn't so cool anymore. People rolled their eyes at the thought of Earth Day. It was for hippies and freaks. Thermostats went back up in the winters. And everyone got air conditioning, something that was unthinkable when I was younger.
When I first got started in the aluminum roofing business back in the early 1980s, we never talked about the fact that our roofing was produced almost entirely from recycled beverage cans. That actually had negative connotations like "Does that mean my house will smell like beer everytime it rains?" (Of course, for some folks, that could be a nice added feature.) We couldn't tout the 100% recyclability of our product because no one cared. There was no reaosn to talk about the low embodied energy in aluminum. Again, no one cared. And, the energy efficiency of our product which was proven by a very expensive study we commissued in 1985? Again, no one cared.
Honestly, I was as apathetic as anyone. As a 20-something, and even into my 30s, I was pretty caught up in the "grab what you can," "life is short," "leave environmental protection up to God and brainy scientists who will just develop chemicals to fix everything" attitude. Don't talk to me about trying to play my part in the environment! And, that plastic lumber stuff? What an ugly joke!
But I am pleased to say that, as I have come around and developed a keen interest in protecting the environment, so have many others. And, you know what, technology is playing a role. Incredible things are being done now. I still think that aluminum roofing is pretty cool for its environemental benefits. What other major purchase can you make for your home that is 95% recycled, 100% recyclable, essentially permanent (sustainable), has low embodied energy, and will cut your energy costs substantially? Probably nothing.
But other cool things are happening, too. Cow poop is being collected and the methane from it is being used for power. Cow poop is also being investigated for its possible use as a building material that is even stronger than wood. Plastic lumber is a viable and durable material. Zero energy houses are becoming a reality. In fact, my company is involved in providing roofing for about 20 zero energy homes being built in Florida this year! It's relatively easy to do your own solar collection for power of energy and heat. What amazing, incredible opportunities there are in front of us.
And, to a large degree, it is up to the Reagan era once-apathetic 40-somethings who have now almost become true hippy freak tree-huggers to lead the way. Once, again, I am becoming proud to be a child of the 70s.
Have a groovy day. And, smile, God loves you.
There's an online game that Evan enjoys watching Lisa or I play. Usually we play a round of it each evening. Okay, I confess ... it is Family Feud online. Sorry if that gives you an entirely different, and more honest, picture of our little family now. Heehee.
While you're playing this game, you can "chat" with text messages to the other players. I was playing a few weeks ago and one of the other players started talking about being Jewish. It all started with some comment that she had made about Jesus. This led to a discussion amongst the players, and it really didn't seem to be going anyplace good. One of the other players was a ten-year-old boy and he couldn't understand why this other person didn't worship Jesus. The Jew wasn't doing a very good job of getting her point across. I was afraid of the ten-year-old coming away with a really bad impression so I stepped in and tried to explain things a bit about how Jews recognize Jesus as a prophet but not the Son of God. I am not sure I really helped matters but I tried.
In any event, I wish I would have had Hebrews 7 handy in my mind and been able to talk more specifically to the new covenant offerd by the New Testament. The Jew online was unfortunately getting a bit combative though despite my best attempts to keep everyone calm so perhaps things were fine the way they were. It all only lasted a few minutes and our game was over so we signed off. I pray that I handled things properly and said the right things.
Last night she was explaining to me the process that Jews went through when they offered animal sacrifices in atonement for their sins. She was telling me about the different steps they had to go through in order to kill the animal and how the sacrifice really represented them offering up and "killing" their own sins. Things I had never really realized.
Hebrews 5 touches on this a bit. Jesus offered atonement for sins in a personal and direct way but with even greater power and connectivity than had been offered when the sinner brought animal sacrifices to the priests. Verses 5 and 6 reference Psalms 2:7 and 110:4 which prophesied Jesus' divine appointment as a priest. A priest prior to this had to be from the lineage of Aaron. John the Baptist was from Aaron's family but Jesus was from David's. It is my understanding therefore that Jesus could not have been a priest in the traditional sense. Instead, he was divinely appointed by God, His father, to serve as our direct connection and to offer us His saving grace. Yet another paradigm shattered by this teacher from Nazareth.
"Praise be to the Lord my Rock, who trains my hands for war, my fingers for battle." - Psalm 144:1
David was a man skilled in war. From his days as a shepherd boy to the days of serving in Saul's army to leading his own army, David learned to be a skillful warrior. How does one become a skillful warrior?
The only way one can become a skillful warrior is to be trained and placed in the middle of the battle. It is only when we are placed in the furnace of battle that we truly learn to fight the real battles. Practice doesn't make you battle ready. War games won't prepare you for facing your real enemy in the battlefield. The stark reality of being in the midst of the battle makes us effective warriors.
Simply reading your Bible will not make you a warrior for the Kingdom. Knowledge without experience is mere folly. Only when you are placed in situations where there is nothing or no one who can save you but God will you learn the lessons of warrior faith. This is the training ground of God, which will make you into a soldier for Christ in the workplace. Consider it to be suicidal faith - faith that says I want to be dead to anything that keeps me from fulfilling God's purposes for my life. It is when your efforts can do nothing to change your circumstance and you are at the mercy of God. These are the real training grounds of God. Do not shrink back from the battle that God may be leading you to today. It may be a training ground that is necessary for the calling He has on your life.
If you can trust Him in these times, you'll know that you have gained a faith that will move mountains and will sustain you in the most difficult of circumstances. "Praise be to the Lord my Rock, who trains my hands for war, my fingers for battle."
Our Senior Pastor at church recently wrote an entry in our church's daily online lenten season devotional that is very appropriate for this concept ... I don't think he will mind if I copy it below. (Heehee. It doesn't make any difference if he does because I am going to do it anyway!)
“And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Psalm 23
What’s the rush? So often I get caught thinking about all the things I have to do. I forget. I’ve been made for eternity and so have you.
Of course the things I need to get done are extremely and supremely important. Actually, I’m just kidding myself.
My relationship with God is forever. Therefore, I have all the time in the world and then some, some in the next.
More than wanting me to get this done for Him and that, trying to pack in as much as I can, God wants to be in relationship with me.
If something takes seven years to accomplish and two years off of doing nothing big for God, so be it. He is spending all of eternity with me. I am more important to Him than what I do.
Psalm 46:10 says, “Cease striving and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations. I will be exalted in the earth.” He is the “I” of which the verse refers. I can’t outdo God. And God will get the job done. We can relax. And enjoy the privilege of knowing Him and His knowing of us.
In John 15 Jesus called the disciples not workers, slaves, or employees, but rather friends. No rush driven by demands. Relax. Enjoy. Hang out. Hear those words, “I have called you friend.” Receive them for yourself.
One of my greatest joys is watching my kids continue to grow and develop. One night last week we were all sitting in our family room just hanging out and talking. The TV wasn’t on. No one was waiting in line for the internet or trying to get on the computer for their email. We were just hanging out and talking. And we were talking more as friends than as parents and kids. I thought to myself, “Wow, this is cool. And this is only going to get better.” Our whole life is ahead of us. It was so deeply rich. You know what? God feels the same way about us. We’re not going anywhere nor He with us. Our journey in Christ will last for all eternity.
Here’s a thought, maybe what we get to know about God now isn’t even to be compared with what we will get to know about Him later. And consider this…Do you think you will know everything there is to know about Him the second you wake up in heaven, or maybe, just maybe, by year 110,098 in heaven you’ll wake up and discover something new, fresh, and absolutely wonderful?
“I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” As broad as is the horizon of our God is the wideness of His grace to want to know and enjoy us forever. Stop hurrying and learn to dwell now.
Not able to recognize who He was! The man they had been following. The man who had been teaching them. The man who had broken paradigm after paradigm! And they couldn’t recognize him! Now, admittedly, other translations say that the disciples’ eyes were “holden” – that somehow God had affected their vision – but still – they couldn’t recognize Him! Hard to imagine, isn’t it?
But how often do I fail to recognize Jesus? How often do I pray over something but then neglect to see Jesus when He intervenes? How often do I pray for understanding, guidance, or clarity of thinking but then fail to thank Him for what He does for me? I am sorry to say that it is all far too often.
What do you think about when you think about recognizing Jesus? Do you recognize Him in those who love you? In those who show you grace and mercy? Do you recognize Him in the community of Sidney First?
In the past couple of weeks, many of us saw the picture of college baseball players kneeling in prayer on the field, not knowing that a horrible tragedy lay ahead of their team. Did we recognize Jesus in that picture?
As we picture Jesus on the cross, we may also see Jesus in the face of those who are hurting. The poor, the broken, the downtrodden. It’s pretty easy to see Jesus in their pain and reach out to them in response. But do we see Jesus in the face of our housewife friend caught in an adulterous affair? How about in the face of the business executive who feels trapped and continuously pushes the envelope on ethics and morals? Do we see Jesus in the pain of their faces?
Going further, do we strive to be the face of Jesus to others? And, when we do choose to be the face of Jesus to others, are we like Jesus on the road to Emmaus in that we don’t care whether the others seem to recognize Him or not? Are we happy to be their Jesus regardless of their reaction?
It may seem ludicrous that those on the road to Emmaus didn’t recognize Jesus. But, the bigger questions are, do we recognize Him, do we praise Him, do we thank Him, do we strive to show His love in all the situations we encounter? Let us pray that we do because that is what He calls us to.
I was in an apartment somewhere. Apparently I lived there. All of a sudden a man and two women break into the apartment. They were wearing odd clothes that looked like a cross between Star Trek and a small church's bad production of GodSpell. Sort of a hippie / outerspace thing. Sleek clothes but big afros and love beads.
Anyway, they break into the apartment and start waving their arms and coming toward me. They pull out little plastic "disc shooters". Evan has gotten one in a Happy Meal before. They are sort of like tiny little plastic crossbows that shoot little cardboard discs. Except these were shooting little discs with lights on them. They started shooting them at my face.
At the same time, they were repeating a word over and over, almost like a chant. That word was "Listen" (listen, listen, listen, etc., ad nauseum).
Taken a bit aback by all of this (and who wouldn't be?), my brain was processing the word as "Leave" (leave, leave, leave) and I just wanted to get the heck out of there. But they kept pressing closer and closer, shooting more of these lighted discs at me ... chanting "Listen, listen, listen".
Then everything went black for a second and the next thing I knew I was in front of a TV with them watching a documentary on ...
Then I woke up.
SALARY: You name it.
If you're in the workplace and you can personify these traits, I am telling you, you can pretty much write your own ticket for the job you want and the company you want to do it for.
I am involved in one organization right now where there are attempts being made to effect some change in leadership style and responsibility so that has made me very sensitive to this issue. That organization needs some change but how do we do it without totally upsetting the apple cart? Or does the apple cart need to be totally upset?
Another organization I am involved with has recently started a series of "team leadership" classes for some of its more active leaders. (I think we figured we'd start with the more active folks first figuring that we couldn't mess them up too badly this first time through.) Although I have been involved in setting the curriculum for this series of classes, I can clearly see that I will learn much from going through the classes myself.
It is a decent sized class going through the curriculum and we are going to take several months to complete it. We have broken the class down into smaller "mentoring groups" which will meet in between the full class meetings. I am one of the folks leading a mentoring group.
Our first big meeting was yesterday and, just because of the way things were broken up, I had one of the smaller small groups. When a man showed up for the training who had somehow been missed and not assigned to a small group, he was given to my group. Now, you have to understand something ... this man is a leader of leaders. He has served at the very highest end of leadership of a major international program. He has 40 years of high level leadership under his belt. And here he is, at my table, and I am supposed to mentor him! Oh boy ... I chuckled nervously to myself.
Fortunately, it only took me a couple of minutes and I clearly saw God in the midst of all that. This gentleman had shown up and been placed by God in my group specifically so that I can learn more about this leadership thing which seems to permeate every aspect of my life these days. You have to understand, up until just a few years ago, I never even thought about leadership. Yes, I was in leadership roles both corporately and through trade associations and I was learning things from watching others but I was never really thinking about it.
It is my observation that many times churches and non-profits are way ahead of corporate America and trade associations in terms of understanding leadership. Now, that is a very general statement and I am sure it is not true across the board but it has been my experience. Corporate America still tends to have leadership that is very driven by the "position" of those involved. It is very much based upon the heirarchy of the players, something which I have never been a fan of. Trade associations, on the other hand, tend to have a unique situation all their own. Typically the leaders of trade associations are all leaders at their own companies, thrust into the responsibility of trying to work with their competitors for common good. We all therefore strive to get along with each other because we know that we have to if anything is going to happen. It tends to create a relatively flat leadership structure (which I like and appreciate) but also an atmosphere in which very little risk-taking occurs.
At the team leadership class yesterday, my smaller group got to talking about the differences in how today's younger generations respond to leadership compared to 40 years ago. The gentleman at our table with all of the experience had some great insight to share, affirming what I thought to be the case.
This goes back about 60 years but think back to the time when that group we now call the "greatest generation" was in their 20s and 30s. This was when they were just coming out of World War II and figuring out how to re-develop and drive this country forward. What they ended up with was leadership by position. Everyone got 100% behind their leader and they wanted to make that leader look good. They were fiercely loyal to the end and everything was very driven from the top-down. People worked for the same organization often for their entire career. They listened intently for orders, took those orders without question, and followed them. Great things happened.
(Yes, I am making a lot of generalizations here but cut me some slack ... generally speaking, this is how things went.)
Being a successful leader in that generation largely meant having the charisma and, oftentimes, good looks, to rise to the top and then giving orders and watching things happen.
Over the years, starting in the 60's, that has changed. It has been perhaps more of a gradual and consistent change than we think. I suppose there have been a few anomalies along the way. The 80's showed some return to very heel-clicking top-down leadership but things are dramatically different today.
Today's Gen X and Y folks are seeking more to be a part of things. They want to play active roles. They question and they look for purposefulness in what they're doing. "Don't just tell me what to do; tell me what the end result is to be, give me the tools and leeway I need, and let me figure out how to get there. Don't micro-manage me or demand that I do everything your way." They also seek authenticity on the part of those who are leading. They expect them to be sincere, of high integrity, and very transparent. They seek open, honest relationships.
Although folks trained in an old school top-down leadership style, as well as those who may be that way by their natural bent and personality, may find this difficult and even painful to adjust to, I really like it. The end result is that you have more input from your team members. More opportunity for them to provide their own creativity. But most of all, you have more buy-in from them. And, when you have buy-in, you will have more powerful and far-reaching results because everyone ends up pushing the common agenda they have created rather than just following a one-sided agenda that was cast for them. You also create leadership which is a living, breathing, sustainable and ongoing thing rather than something which dies with the leader.
Think of the early church. Things were done in teams. If the apostles were going to reach the world, they had to spread out, they had to create and bring proteges with them. They had to then spin off more teams and keep spreading.
Jesus knew all of this. He knew that he could not be the super leader carrying it all Himself, especially because He wasn't going to be around.
There is a valuable lesson there for us today, in all types of organizations, as we seek to develop leadership styles and models which will carry us into the future.
Basically, Hebrews was written toward those practicing the Jewish faith. Jesus had broken paradigm after paradigm of the Jewish faith and those in the early church were walking in His footsteps. Especially since I visited Israel and Jerusalem just about a year ago, I have been fascinated by just how revolitionary Jesus' teachings were. He was really "rocking the world" of the Jews. Hebrews 1 starts off with no holds barred. Right from the start, it is announcing the change that took place with Jesus' presence here on earth. Prior to Jesus, God spoke to us through angels and prophets. But then He came here Himself, though His son, for the purpose of making a direct connection with us, leaving the power of the Holy Spirit to help in the accomplishment of that. Verses 10 through 12 then point out that the only thing of lasting power, of lasting worth, of eternal importance is one's relationship with God through the Son. Again, this was a revolutionary and difficult-to-accept nconcept for the Jews who had always placed their emphasis on ritual, specific acts of piety, and liturgy. Hebrews is telling us that those things would all eventually blow away in this world, leaving God and His presence as the one unchanging thing.
I am looking forward to the rest of Hebrews.
One of my favorite snacks growing up was graham crackers with icing. For some reason, we usually only had green food coloring so the icing was green ... my blog site had reminded me a lot of that color of green.
So, who was St. Patrick? Here's an article by Lynn Kargol that explains.
Although its roots are in the green fields of Ireland, St. Patrick's Day has become a time-honored celebration all across the globe. The 17th of March has inspired prayers, parties, and parades throughout the centuries. Each year seems to give rise to new and intriguing traditions as more people celebrate the lucky day. But the man who inspired that holiday would probably be more than a little surprised by today's celebrations.
Before Patrick became the patron saint of Ireland, he lived in a different country and went by another name. According to the family website wilstar.com, Maewyn, as his parents decided to call him, was born in Wales in the year 385 AD. Growing up, Maewyn did not believe in Christianity. Then, at the age of 16, he was captured by a group of Irish pillagers who eventually sold him into slavery there. It was during these arduous times that Maewyn, who had lost everything, decided to turn to God.
After six years as a slave in Ireland, Maewyn was able to escape his captivity and flee to Gaul, a region in western Europe. He stayed there for 12 years as a monastery student, determined to fulfill his calling to spread the teachings of Christ that had given him hope during his enslavement. It was also during this time that Maewyn changed his name to Patrick.
Surprisingly enough, Patrick was set on returning to the country that enslaved him in hopes of reaching out to nonbelievers there. Even so, a man named Palladius (whom St. Patrick sometimes gets confused with) was appointed to do missionary work in Ireland instead since he had more years at the monastery. He was the first bishop of Ireland.
Yet Palladius' passion did not seem to be with Ireland, as he moved on to Scotland two years later. His transfer opened the door for Patrick to return to Ireland and minister to the people as their second bishop.
During his lifetime, Patrick wrote two books which provide a great deal of insight into his life. In the Epistola, Patrick speaks out against the mistreatment of Irish Christians and in the Confessio, he describes his life as the bishop of Ireland. Patrick traveled across the nation, telling the people about Christ and establishing schools and churches as he went. It is said that he used the three leaves making up the clover to demonstrate the Trinity of God.
Yet Patrick paid the price for speaking what he believed in as he was captured and sent to jail on several occasions during his ministry.
Although it is often said that Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland, a website devoted entirely to St. Patrick's Day dispelled the misconception. Ireland is not currently home to any species of snakes and most likely never has been. The site explains that serpent-worship was common to pagans at the time, and Patrick's mission was to end such practices.
Patrick retired after working in Ireland for 30 years. He died on March 17, 461, which thereafter became known as "St. Patrick's Day."
"Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ." (Romans 16:25).
Is Able -- God is the power. If I am in His will, then He directs that power through me, not to me. God is in the power distribution business. He gives in order that it might be given. God does not create batteries. There is no such thing as stored up divine energy. The power that I receive is always intended to flow out of me to others. When I stop the flow, I stand opposed to God's design.
By the way, this principle applies to all of God's creation. The dynamic (remember dynamai?) of creation is the constant flow from one thing to another. Batteries are human inventions, not divine ones.
Consider this principle in leadership. God provides the power, not me. When a leader begins to think that it is his ability and his vision that makes the difference, all the followers are in trouble. The mark of a godly leader is his reluctance to accept the job in the first place and his continuing discomfort with the call. Godly leaders know that the job is bigger than they are. They often feel overwhelmed and inadequate. They should! After all, if I feel up to the task, I don't need that total, voluntary reliance of God's power to get me through. The day a leader starts to think his position is perfect for him is the day he should leave. Godly leadership always stretches us beyond ourselves because it is all about being poured out every day. The godly leader has no reserves. He must come to God every morning for that day's abilities.
Everywhere we see a different view of leadership, even inside the circle of Christianity. We see people who aspire to be leaders, who grasp at the opportunity and pursue the prestige. They are seeking to be batteries -- storehouses of accumulated power. God never endorses such clamoring. You will find God's leaders among those who know their jobs are too much for them, who would prefer to be somewhere else, who are obedient to a call not of their own choosing. You will find God's men and women among those who cry out to Him for help, who have nothing left of their own reserves and who know the heartache of obedience. Those are the ones worth following.
God is able. I am not. That is the motto of a leader. Leave the battery people behind. Follow the reluctant ones who are emptied each day.
How about you? What do you want on your tombstone?
"because having known God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were they thankful." (Romans 1:21)
Glorify -- Thankful -- Some ancient Jewish scholars translate Genesis 2:7 about the creation of Man with the words, "and Man became a speaking being", rather than our common, "and Man became a living being." If Paul was aware of this translation, then his comment in Romans takes on a deadly implication. Paul describes those who are not going to be in God's kingdom; the ones who do not share His favor. You might think he is describing real pagans. After all, he goes on to talk about their darkened minds and their immoral behavior. But these two words, glorify and thankful, tell us something frightening. What they imply is that these people, the ones whom God gives up, don't pray!
The Greek roots are doxazo and charizomai. We know doxa in our word doxology. We know charizomai from our word eucharist. And now we see that these words are full of prayer language. Glorifying God and thanking Him belong in the context of prayer. Conversation with God always results in adoration and thanksgiving.
But what about those people who no longer pray? What Paul describes is not the punishment for horrible sins, but rather the automatic, natural consequence of not conversing with the Creator. Instead of being human, they become animals. They slip from an existence as speaking beings that God intended -- speaking with Him -- into creatures whose lives are determined not by their conversation with the Maker but by their fallen instincts of a world infected with disorder. When prayer is not part of my existence, I am falling away from being human. If I fall far enough, God has to give up trying to talk with me.
If you understand that praying makes you human, then every day you do not pray has a terrible consequence. This is the correct view of evolution. We can evolve -- down the chain of existence, toward the bottom of the scale, becoming less and less human and more and more like fallen animals. Prayer is the only antidote to de-volving.
So pray, not just to enter into conversation with your Maker but to prevent the long slide toward the wrong end of life!
25During the fourth watch of the night Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 26When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. "It's a ghost," they said, and cried out in fear.
27But Jesus immediately said to them: "Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid."
28"Lord, if it's you," Peter replied, "tell me to come to you on the water."
29"Come," he said.
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, "Lord, save me!"
31Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. "You of little faith," he said, "why did you doubt?"
32And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. 33Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, "Truly you are the Son of God." (Matthew 14:22-33 NIV)
I have really been drawn lately to this well-known passage from Matthew. However, a couple of things have hit me that I have never really paid much attention to before.
First is Peter saying "Lord, if it is you..." This tells me several things ... to always seek God's calling ... that He can give us the power to do unthinkable things ... and that we need to avoid the teachings of those who are not really operating with God working through their life.
This is a bit akin to something Lisa and I were talking about last night ... doing good deeds ... and how, when we do "good deeds", we need to make sure that we're doing them because God is calling us, and not only because we want to please another human nor because we want to satisfy our own ego. That requires balance and discernment. Sometimes it is easier to just say "yes" to everything and avoid the whole discernment process. But then that leads to a loss of balance ... a setting of priorities by man's standards, not God's. Not a good thing.
Next, I am really struck by the simplicity of Jesus' response to Peter -- "Come." When we step out in faith, we don't have all the answers. God has them but He's not necessarily going to give them to us because the expectation is that, as obedient servants, we should respond to something so simple as "Come." This again puts huge emphasis on prayer and discernment -- making sure that we are responding to God and not to others nor to our ego.
And, finally, I am struck by what happens when, once Peter starts his journey across the water, he takes his eye off of Jesus. The same can happen to us. Jesus says simply "Come." We don't know where we're going ... and then sometimes storms invade, fears pervade, doubt prevails ... and we start to go down.
Pray, discern, listen, follow the simple command, and keep my eyes on Jesus. That is my lesson to remember.
I am not going to give any examples because as soon as I do so here in my blog, they will make their way through the grapevine and cause countless more problems. But, for Pete's Sake (whoever Pete is), let me say a couple of things ...
If you work for someone, leave your "self" at the door and concentrate on teamwork and team success. Not individual one-upmanship. You want a place to work? You better be committed to the team and the company.
Today's business environment gets harsher all the time. The top leadership at your business has plenty to worry about without team members causing problems. UNDERSTAND THIS -- we are working hard so that you can have a job and feed your family. You'd not only better be putting your ALL into that today as well but you darned well better not be causing stupid problems that take my mind off of doing my job properly. I work 80-90 hours a week for rather mundane wages. Here's a message -- I do it for YOU folks, not for myself. Everything that most business owners have personally is constantly "on the line" with the bank. We are betting on, and at the mercy of, your hard work and superior performance!
When you're at work, YES, give it your all. That is what you are paid to do. If you don't and you suddenly wake up without a job or without a company to work for, you will have no one to blame but yourself.
When co-workers are not performing to the best of their ability, don't throw up walls between yourselves. Come alongside them, encourage them, support them. In the process, you may just discover that you don't know as much as you think you do!
Okay, I will fall down off my soapbox now. I am praying for a better week.
"Elvira, for goodness' sake, what are you doing?"
"Pooping. Everyone does it."
"But you're pooping in my brunch! Please -- take a few steps forward."
And then, for some reason, I imagined the conversation if by chance these would have been British cows.
"I say there, dear old girl, why are you defecating in my crumpets?"
"Excuse me, maam, I didn't realize where I was at. I will move"
"Well, tally ho! Have a good day!"
I don't understand the point of this post any more than you do. But it is, for me, one more brick in the case for creationism ... we do not poop in each other's food. (Well, never mind that one night of wild debauchery when you were in college. We all have one of those in our past.)
By accident I stumbled across Joel Osteen the other evening on television. I decided to watch a bit, just for the heck of it. He's basically my age. (I know, he looks much younger but we're within a year or two.) I am sure that he has touched countless lives in good ways and I respect and appreciate that. But, honestly, it's like he's still living in 1985. That troubles me. (I really am not being critical though -- he has brought many people to new and better understandings and places in their lives, I am sure.)
Joel Osteen aside, I think that lots of us who lived through the Reagan era, now that we're in our 40s, are finding ourselves transformed into things we never imagined possible. Kids, the market collapse, September 11, personal tragedies, illness or death of parents, seeing the trials and tribulations of those we love, coming to grips with our own eventual mortality, even watching Brad and Angelina ... these things have given us a different perspective.
Todd R recently blogged about having a missional/emerging theology with prosperity gospel tastes. Though he is a bit younger than I am, his feelings may go a long way in describing how many folks in my age bracket are feeling these days. I guess that makes him a man ahead of his time?
One thing that bugs me when I think about the missional church is that somehow our minds automatically go to sort of an "us" and "them" philosophy. I guess that, if you're serious about going into the world to carry Jesus' love and message then, to some degree, there is an "us" (Christians) and a "them" (pre-Christians) but I guess that what bothers me is that the "them" we think about are usually the poor. They don't look a lot like "us". They may have different color skin or different diets. They may, by circumstance, not have our own level of personal hygiene. They likely live in a different country but, if they do live in our country, it is on the other side of the tracks.
It's easy when we think of being "missional" to think of "them" as being how I described above. After all, the more different they look from us, the easier it becomes to know who "they" are and to know who the others of our "we" are.
It's easy to think of being Jesus to the starving, to the sick and destitute, to the hopelessly addicted. After all, "they" look a lot different than us. We can try to make ourselves look more like "them" in our missional attempts but, still, someplace deep in our psyche if not closer to the surface, we see that wall of separation ...
And, believe me, for those who actually hear and follow a call to go into the midst of poverty and disease, into the midst of despair and utter hopelessness, I am not being critical of you. That is absolutely wonderful and I have the utmost respect and praise for you.
But, somehow, others of us, in the midst of all this clearly delineated "us" and "them," choose to miss the "them" that are amongst the "us".
Bringing grace, love and mercy to the poor and broken is a marvelous thing. It offers such a huge contrast -- such a transformation -- it is very visible and very beautiful.
But all of us have the chance to bring grace, love and mercy to pre-Christians who look more like "us" than like "them". And that is where I often blow it. It's easier for me support a Compassion child than it is to go out and bring Jesus' love to my neighbor on the same side of the tracks as me.
What about the factory line worker? Hard working, nice home, 2.4 kids, good marriage but still not knowing God's love and grace. Most of "us" have been brought by God to the point of where we have countless contacts every day with this type of individual but yet, when we think missionally, we think of Africa.
What about the business executive? Hard working, huge home, 2.4 kids, powerful, respected, everything seems good ... but he and his family still don't know God. How do we bring Jesus to them?
I firmly believe that it's harder, really, to be Jesus to the factory worker and the executive than it is to the starving children in the Sudan. Afterall, the factory worker and the executive "look" like us. Very little differentiation. Happy, "good" lives, living the American dream. On a heirarchial scale, we may be below them. Normally, even though it may be very hard to admit, we're more accustomed to reaching "down" to be Jesus rather than "out" or "up".
There may or may not be "hidden" things in their lives that we don't see. There may or may not be addictions, immorality, a lack of ethics. That doesn't make any difference. The life not accepting Christ is damned to hell. And Jesus sent us out to transform the entire world.
A call to be missional ... a call to be part of the emergent church ... these days, I feel it much more than I feel a call to big hair (wow, that's LONG behind me) or button down shirts (though I may still wear them on occasion ... old habits die hard) ... but I need to remember that that call is on my life where I am today ... it's not something I am waiting for in the future. God brought me to where I am today to be missional.
That may look different for me in the future depending upon where God leads but for now it means reaching out and even "up" to those around me to share God's love. Doing so can actually be far more intimidating than reaching in the direction that is normally thought to be "down" to share God's love. But, I must remind and discipline myself, it is what I am called to ... what I am shaped for ... today.
Jeremiah 52 (NIV)
A couple of years back I went to the Emergency Room, convinced I was having a heart attack. I wasn't thinking I was going to die but I was convinced that I was having a heart attack.
You know how, on the TV shows, if someone comes in with chest pains, they rush you right in to a doctor? Well, that doesn't happen at Upper Valley Medical Center - at least not for me. I was told by the receptionist desk lady to sit and wait my turn. So, much chagrined, I sat and waited my turn.
Maybe she's psychic. I was not having a heart attack. I learned a couple of hours later (after sitting and waiting my turn) that I was having an anxiety attack. All that sitting and waiting, of course, was very helpful to my anxiety problem. In any event, I survived that incident reasonably well.
Today, though, I had something very different happen. I truly thought I was going to die ... and I discovered that I think of weird things when I think I am going to die.
I was working at my desk all afternoon and I had a severe headache. I took some Tylenol but they didn't help. I am no stranger to headaches but this one was particularly bothersome.
All of a sudden, it was like I felt something snap or burst in my neck. Immediately, my peripheral vision started closing in and I was certain I was going to pass out. Actually, I was certain I was dying. Somewhere off in the distance I could hear a plump lady singing. (She was singing "I've Got A Lovely Bunch of Coconuts", by the way -- an exceptional rendition of it at that!) The main thing I thought immediately was that I didn't want to die alone. Not that I wanted someone else to die with me but I wanted someone there. I just didn't want to be found slumped over my desk, cold and stiff. So I called out to a couple of my office friends. They came and stared at me with inquisitive looks on their faces. What do you say to someone who thinks they're dying? One of my friends told me I looked pale. I was thinking that was probably acceptable for someone who was dying. I didn't have time to run out to the tanning salon. He asked if I wanted a glass of water. All I could think was that I probably shouldn't drink anything because I wasn't sure how long it would be before I'd see a bathroom.
I thought about calling Lisa but I didn't want my last contact with her to be hearing me croak on the phone. "Hi, Lisa? It's me..." (very long pause) ... not a good last memory of your spouse. I thought a lot about how very much I love her.
I thought of friends ... I thought of projects that I hadn't finished ... projects that would be left uncompleted. I thought of all the "stuff" I have accumulated over the years and that someone would have to go through it and throw it all out. I hated the thought of being a burden to others.
Other than thinking of beloved family and friends, as well as these couple of odd things, I was ready to go ... ready to travel ... anxious, even.
Well, I didn't die. I didn't even completely pass out. The plump lady changed her tune and started singing "Yes, We Have No Bananas". I still don't know what happened. Just one of those weird things I guess. But it is interesting to consider the things I thought about the afternoon I was convinced that I was about to die.
At the grocery yesterday, she saw Grapples, which are a hybrid fruit that looks like an apple but supposedly tastes like a grape. She knew that she had to buy some for me because I would want to try them.
I am pleased to say that they are very tasty but I am not getting the grape sensation. They taste like apples to me ... very good apples ... but apples nonethless. With an odd aftertaste.
Grapples ... have you tried them? Pick some up for your family today!
(Brought to you by the Grapples Advisory Board.)
You may recall the knee problem I had a few weeks ago? Well, the end result of that was that an orthopedic surgeon couldn't really diagnose what was wrong but yet he offered to go in and try surgery. Somehow, that didn't seem like a good idea to me. The pain has persisted though to a lesser degree than it was a few months ago when I found myself having to learn how to use crutches.
I have been bothered by the idea of just inviting this doctor into my knee as a "tourist" so I reached out to an old friend ... a doctor I have known for many years ... from Bluffton, Ohio (yet another recent contact with Bluffton) to see what he thinks. This doctor, Terry Chappell, practices a lot of alternative medical treatments and therapies.
He suggested prolotherapy for my knees. Through this series of about 50 injections in each knee once a week for a few months, the hope is to rebuild the ligaments and cartilage, making my knee more stable and less prone to the pain I have been having. The injections are basically sugar water I am told, designed to cause controlled inflammation which hopefully results in healing.
Dr. Chappell said I was an excellent candidate for prolotherapy and that he has about an 85% success rate with it. The injections were very painful but he did them very quickly if that is any consolation. It probably took less than 90 seconds on each knee.
I am optimistic that this will help with my knee problems. As it has been, I cannot walk more than about a half mile without severe knee pain. It will make it very difficult to do much with my family this summer if I cannot get it resolved.
I will keep you posted.
You see, when people think that someone is trying to "sell" them something, they often instinctively drop back into certain patterns of behavior. In a broad context, this often means that they lie. They strive to protect their true feelings. We've all done it. Ever go into a store looking specifically to make a purchase and, when a clerk approaches you and asks if there is anything specific they can help you find, you reply, "Oh no, I'm just looking." Well, technically, yes, you are "just looking" but yet you have protected yourself and not said "I am looking specifically for that bright green sweater you're standing in front of."
Uncaring or unscrupulous salespeople have perhaps perpetuated this behavior on the part of consumers. Consumers have come to feel like they must lie in order to protect themselves from the big bad salesperson who wants to force them into poverty and make sure that they and all their descendants must live in refrigerator boxes from here on out.
Most salespeople, though, really do care about their customers and prospects. They want to help guide them to a good purchasing decision. It is hard to do, though, when the consumer is fibbing to you.
Therefore, I teach salespeople and customer service people to dig a bit ... to search ... to try to figure out what the consumer is "really" telling them beyond the words they are saying. This often means hearing the consumer's question but resisting providing an immediate answer. Instead, you dig more deeply.
Let me give some examples of this from our business.
Someone calls and asks how durable our roofing is. Rather than launch into an immediate explanation of technical information, we might ask them questions like "Is durability important to you with your next roof?" or "Have you had problems in the past with roofs not lasting as long as you expected?" Their answers can reveal good information on a deeper level that helps us understand what they are really saying -- what they are really seeking.
If a customer asks if they can walk on our roof, they might really be asking whether they need to get up on our roof to do maintenance. We need to come back and ask a question like "Are there areas of your roof that you have to walk on?" and see what they say.
If they ask us about warranties, they might really be telling us that they have had warranty issues with other products. Or that they don't like always being "sold" extended warranties for purchases they make. Or they might somehow be asking if our product will cause a hot attic that may shorten the roof's life.
If they ask us about lightning, they might really be asking whether our product will keep their family safe.
If they ask us for the name of their local dealer, they are probably really saying "I just wnat to end this call and here's how I will do it. Chances are I won't call the person you refer me to but instead I will ask at my local home center or ask my "remodeling guy" about metal roofing sometime." We then have to stress that our products are available only through our independent dealers and we also follow up with "By the way, I speak to your dealer a couple of times a week. Shall I just have them call you?"
People who genuinely care about those with whom they are working will see their way through the Buyer and Seller Dance. They will follow up questions with questions of their own, getting closer and closer to the root of what the prospect is really saying.
I wonder if there aren't some real cross-overs to this subject when we are sharing our faith with others. What are people really saying when they express frustration or fear or difficulty in their lives? Are they actually searching for something ... trying to figure out what you have that they don't ... trying to determine whether your life as one transformed in Christ is "really" any different from theirs?
This might be a subject for another blog but, we've all seen it -- if someone feels they are being "sold" religion, they slip into a defensive, protective mode. Heck, many of us probably lived much of our Pre-Christian life that way. There are good ways to break through that facade and get at what the person is really saying ... caring and Spirit-led ways ... rather than aggressive force-feeding of tehnical information.
Brealing up the Busyer and Seller Dance can lead to greater fruit for Christianity the same as it can for the professional consultative salesperson.
I suppose the crash involving a college baseball team has affected us all this way but there's one piece of the story you may not know. I graduated from Bluffton 21 years ago. Back then it was Bluffton College. I still have a tough time calling it BU instead of BC.
Bluffton has grown a fair amount since I was there but it is still, by all accounts, a very small college. I maybe didn't always agree with political viewpoints of the campus administration but, still, I truly loved, and still love, my alma mater.
Back when I was there, campus consisted of a lot of trees and squirrels with a mixture of some very old buildings and some 1960s era buildings. Today, it hasn't changed a whole lot except recent years have seen the construction of several new buildings.
Bluffton University is located in Bluffton, Ohio. A town of about 3,000 people. I loved Bluffton, too. During college I worked a lot as a writer at the weekly newspaper in town. I banked at the local bank. I knew many of the community leaders and spent time at profs' houses. I ate at the local restaurants and shopped at the local five and dime, which how now become a store that sells stuffed bears.
I have often remarked in recent years that I would love to have my family be living in Bluffton. It would be great to teach at the college and have Evan in schools there. It is just that kind of place.
As you walk around campus, everyone says hello to each other. It took me a couple of years after graduation to get out of the habit of saying hello to everyone I see out in public. But, society on the "outside" changed me over time. Every once in a while I still lapse into a Bluffton mood where I start saying hello to strangers. I get some weird looks sometimes but, all in all, that is a habit that makes the world a better place.
We typically called our profs by their first names. Is that normal? I guess I don't know. It was at Bluffton. They hold a weekly campus-wide chapel service each week at Bluffton. Regrettably, I never attended. As is still the case, I had a lot of growing up to do when I was in college. A lot of understanding the personal relationship God seeks with each of us. A lot of getting the plank out of my own eye.
Bluffton is a Mennonite college. Many of my friends were Mennonite and I have great respect for the conviction with which many of them were raised. And, before you misunderstand, I will explain that they were not part of the "old" Mennonite order. No horse and buggies though dancing on campus was limited to only a couple of times a year.
We didn't have phones in our dorm rooms either. That wasn't a Mennonite thing. Just a mechanical thing. Each dorm floor had one campus phone and one pay phone that everyone on the floor shared. When the phone rang, someone answered it and went to get the person who was being called. Kind of cool in a way. Community.
I have gone through a strange succession of Bluffton touches lately. On Wednesday evening, I had a call from a Bluffton student who was asking me to support their annual campaign. She chatted a bit about things going on on campaus and she asked me a few painfully scripted questions about myself. But, still, it was a nice touch.
Thursday night, I invited some friends and acquaintances to join me on the LinkedIn.com network. One of those was an old friend from college. He was my RA my freshman year in fact. He responded back and joined LinkedIn and we were actually emailing each other Friday morning about some business stuff when the news of the bus crash broke.
And then, this weekend, Lisa and I are attending a couples' retreat. Who was the first person we saw here? One of my favorite Bluffton profs and his wife. He is now a pastor. They had the distinction of, at 45 years, being the longest married couple at the retreat. He told me about the wonderful ethnic diversity of the church that he and his wife now co-pastor. All incredibly reminiscent of Bluffton
A good friend and co-worker of mine has a neice going to Bluffton right now. Shortly after the crash, he started the communications with his family to make sure that she was not on the bus for some reason. Fortunately, she was not. At a small college like Bluffton, though, she was friends with everyone on the bus. Of the four students who were killed, at least a couple of them were close friends of hers. My friend's family has been horribly affected by this, and seeing the pain that this young co-ed is going through.
At this point, photos of the young men who were killed are starting to surface. Fresh, optimistic, bright faces ... not unlike the Bluffton students I remember. Their lives on this earth tragically snuffed out way too soon to our minds. Parents grieving over the loss of children who were just embarking on their lives. Girlfriends and other close friends at college left to carry on without those who meant so much to them. Four less people to say hello to as you walk through campus.
Bluffton University's website was overwhelmed with hits after the accident. Their response? They immediately took down their normal site and put up a photo of the baseball team kneeling in prayer on the field. In the midst of unimaginable confusion and chaos ... in the face of almost unspeakable tragedy ... who did the campus see? They saw God. And, as testimony to the entire world that was accessing their website, they put this photo out there to let them know that God is still with us ... even in the most horrible of times.
Bluffton will weather this tragedy the best that it can. While, as evidenced by their website, they saw God from the start of this tragedy, these losses are fraught with great pain and, undoubtedly, wondering. But God is there and the campus community knows it. If any campus could ever possibly see God in the midst of horrible events, it is Bluffton. I am, always have been, and always will be, a proud alumni. Proud of God's presence and what He does at and through this small Ohio college.
Is it the person who takes 47 items through the express lane at WalMart and then stops to choose seven candy bars and two tabloids on top of everything else? Is it the 20-something who cuts you off in traffic? How about the crying baby or the out-of-control toddler at the restaurant?
Is it the relative who still laments decisions they made 57 years ago? The spouse who trims their toenails and leaves them sitting on the arm of the couch? The teenager who doesn't listen to a word you say? The parent who still tries to control you even though you just celebrated your 68th birthday?
Remembering an experience I recently had, could it be the guy sitting next to you on the airplane who apparently had nothing to eat except pinto beans for the last three days?
Is it the senior pastor who keeps pressing you to face the "it" in your life that you run to for solace and comfort instead of to the arms of a loving God? (Just kidding, Chris. You know we all love you, man!)
Come on! What is it that wigs you out? What behavior on the part of others just makes you crazy?
An ongoing part of the Christian journey for me is reminding myself that none of us is perfect. I want to reach the point where I do not see the imperfections in others without also seeing the imperfections in myself. Or better yet where I just see what God calls me to see -- another of His children.
A behavior on the part of others that really drives me nuts is when they change "the plan" at the last second, whatever that "plan" might be. Especially when their change affects me but they don't let me know about it. But then I think of the times when I have done that to others. And I start to understand that, even though the other person's gift for planning may not be the greatest, my negative reaction to their change in "the plan" is really because I have an issue with feeling out of control. It is not their imperfection that's really a problem -- it's mine. The more I realize that, the less wigged out I become and the closer I can get to where God wants me to be.
Jesus commanded us to love one another -- his greatest commandment in fact. How can I do that if all I see are the imperfections in others? What if all I see is this wall that I have built between them and me? What if my eyes are those of scorn, contempt, and prejudice instead of love, compassion, and grace? Can I really be the face of Jesus in those cases?
This change to not seeing others' imperfections without also remembering your own is a key part of the Christian transformation, I believe. And, for me, it's not an easy one. I struggle with it day in and day out. As I journey on, I learn that I have a long way to go in order to consistently live out unconditional love for others. But try I must because they were created by God the same as me.
This sort of transformation is something that I see alive and well at Sidney First. You see it in the way that way that we relate to one another and love one another. But I know that I need to remind myself of the necessity to always carry His love outside the walls of the church too. It can be relatively easy to live out our faith when we're surrounded by it. But things change when we're on the "outside" and that person cuts us off in traffic. Or our well-pedicured but sloppy spouse leaves their toenail clippings on the couch (I am not talking from personal experience, mind you!) Or Mr. Pinto Bean sits next to us on the airplane. Or our regret-filled Aunt Eunice relates her stories for the 43rd time ... that day. Those are the times that test our transformation in Christ.
Jesus reminded us that none of us is without sin. We all carry imperfections and we all make mistakes. Yet He loves us just the same ... exactly as He commanded us to love one another fully because of who we are in Him. I need to live true to that commandment. It can't be done with a cold or suspicious heart though. It can only be done when we allow God's love and grace .. both so freely given to us ... to flow through us and pass on to others.
What is it that really wigs you out? How can you allow God to change that?
In the messages "Cords of Encouragement" and "Defeated Lions And Bears" we considered our role in the Body or Family of Christ. We saw that as we walk together down God's path, we must assume a certain level of responsibility for one another. We must encourage our Brothers and Sisters when they are down and remind one another that God is near, that our trials will soon fade; "Encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today!" (Hebrews 3:13).
But as we encourage, we must do so from a position of Biblical truth. We must continually direct each other toward Christ and the life He calls us to live. It is never true encouragement to simply lend our agreement and "comfort" to a complaining or selfish attitude. This actually keeps someone down and threatens to pull us down in the process.
We began this journey through faith in the sacrifice of Jesus; "whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life"
(John 3:16). Our Salvation, our eternal life, even our very existence, is based on a personal belief that Jesus died for the forgiveness of our sins so we could live with Him for all eternity. The faith of our parents cannot save us, nor can the doctrine of our church - WE must believe.
Jesus endured ridicule and humiliation from His accusers, and overwhelming pain on the cross, simply because He dearly loved us (Oh Lord, help me to better understand this love!). The joy of seeing our restored relationship with the Father allowed Him to persevere through unbelievable hardship. His sacrifice brought us Salvation - His perseverance should bring us strength and a renewed hope.
"Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart."
There are going to be days when the burden seems extra heavy - days when the attacks come fast and furious and feel like they will never end. It may bring temporary relief for someone to agree and confirm the difficulty of our situation, but the only way to truly ease the load is to focus our heart back to Christ and pray for His strength; "May the Lord direct your hearts into God's love and Christ's perseverance" (2 Thessalonians 3:5). We must persevere...because He first persevered for us!
There is definitely a place within the Body for compassion and the sharing of one another's sorrows; but when our burdens become seemingly unbearable, we must also encourage one another to simply put one foot in front of the other and boldly continue down His path. His grace and His strength WILL be sufficient! We will not lose heart if we focus on His love. We will persevere and not grow weary if we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus and consider Him who endured.
1 This is what Jeremiah told Baruch one day in the fourth year of Jehoiakim's reign as he was taking dictation from the prophet:
2-3"These are the words of God, the God of Israel, to you, Baruch. You say, 'These are bad times for me! It's one thing after another. God is piling on the pain. I'm worn out and there's no end in sight.'
4-5"But God says, 'Look around. What I've built I'm about to wreck, and what I've planted I'm about to rip up. And I'm doing it everywhere—all over the whole earth! So forget about making any big plans for yourself. Things are going to get worse before they get better. But don't worry. I'll keep you alive through the whole business.'"