Let's face it -- these are tough concepts and Romans 5 is all about them.
I have a friend who recently lost his college-aged son. The initial report is that the death was due to an accidental overdose or bad mixture of prescription drugs he had been given to help fight the severe headaches he has been experiencing.
I cannot begin to answer the questions that I am sure this family is going through. How can you explain it? We were born into perfect Eden. And then Adam and Eve plunged us into original sin. God tried to rein us in with rules but that didn't work. So, He sent His son to bring us grace, redemption and salvation. But even then we're still left in the pain of this world. Pain that, yes, will help us to grow and mature in our faith journeys. But pain nonetheless.
Pain that made Jesus Himself weep over the loss of a good friend, Lazarus.
These are hard concepts but, throughout God's history with man, you can see several things. God is infinitely wise. He is a planner, a strategist. He gets hugely frustrated with us but yet He loves us so much, He yearns for us, He sent His son to go through redemptive agony for us.
And, out of all that, we draw hope. And we draw guidelines for making this a world of justice, compassion, and love for all. If we never knew pain ourselves, we would never reach out to those in pain, nor to those who do not yet know this personal-though-difficult-to-explain-and-understand relationship with our heavenly father.
Jesus wept over human pain. God weeps for us now. But yet He offers us redemption. He put things right through His son and He offers us a glorious future, finally entirely separated from the weeping of this world.
Been listening again lately to Jonny Lang's CD, "Turn Around." I think it's an incredible CD. His lyrics, his voice, and the music itself weave this story of someone who has "been there" at life's lowest, discovered redemption and salvation, and worked their way back. There are lessons throughout for all of us. What an incredible talent he is, nearly lost completely along the way, but now working to discover and fulfill God's calling on his life.
Your life is a journey you must travel with a deep consciousness of God. It cost God plenty to get you out of that dead-end, empty-headed life you grew up in. He paid with Christ's sacred blood, you know. He died like an unblemished, sacrificial lamb. And this was no afterthought. Even though it has only lately—at the end of the ages—become public knowledge, God always knew he was going to do this for you. It's because of this sacrificed Messiah, whom God then raised from the dead and glorified, that you trust God, that you know you have a future in God.
Now that you've cleaned up your lives by following the truth, love one another as if your lives depended on it. Your new life is not like your old life. Your old birth came from mortal sperm; your new birth comes from God's living Word. Just think: a life conceived by God himself! That's why the prophet said,
The old life is a grass life,
its beauty as short-lived as wildflowers;
Grass dries up, flowers droop,
God's Word goes on and on forever.
This is the Word that conceived the new life in you. (I Peter 1:18-25, The Message)
I watched part of a television show tonight called "Life". I'd never seen it before and still don't really know what it's about except it seems to follow a couple of detectives around ... lots of fun tension between them as he is a button pusher and she tries to be the voice of reason.
At one point, I heard the guy detective say that he was in search of a "pure heart". That term gets bandied around a lot among religious folk but sometimes I wonder if our humanity ever allows us to really have a pure heart, or event to fully grasp what that would be. Now, mind you, that does not mean we stop striving for it, but I really wonder if it is ever attainable. I know a few people in my life who have been close I think. I have had a few relatives of pure heart ... and I can think of others whose joy in Christ just bubbles forth in a way that I think evidences their pure hearts.
But it's tough for most of us ... tough for me at least. I guess I really only need worry about myself in this regard actually.
I like the I Peter scripture above from The Message. In the King James version, this passage talks directly about loving others with a pure heart, and never faking it. So, it is indeed what we're called to -- this loving others with a pure heart. And it is so beautiful when I see it in others.
But I struggle. My "self" gets in the way. The jealousy and envy that are humanity sneak in. So do other not-so-admirable traits.
But, still, we must, as the guy in "Life" said tonight, search for that pure heart in ourselves. There is beauty in the pure heart. The beauty of Jesus.
Have a good day. That's all I got. Don't step on any cracks.
Antique Mommy, though, had a great post recently which made me smile.
And, if you would like to smile from you heart, check out Dan and Erin's recent posts about adopting a great little boy from Guatemala.
Over the past few days, I have googled three people, just to find that they all have very interesting stories. Two are a couple that is considering our roof for their new home. Turns out they are both pretty well-known in the Hollywood music scene, he primarily as a producer, composer, and artist and she as a singer. She has sung on a lot of animated Disney films. They were perhaps a bit surprised when I mentioned what I had learned about them. However, it opened us up to a whole new level of relationship through which I have been blessed by finding them to be very warm and engaging people who are also trying to follow hard after God.
The other person I googled recently is a past customer. Turns out that he, too, has a very interesting story, having risen a number of years ago to a fairly high celebrity status in his city before crashing with drug addiction. He has since come back and shares his story as an encouragement to others.
Like I said, everyone has a story.
Some people may be bothered by their visibility on the Internet. While I cannot deny that there are some pretty bad folks out there trying to use Internet access to others in really horrible ways, I also see this visibility as a way to make connections, drawing into deep, authentic relationships with folks you otherwise would have never met, spreading Jesus' love.
I guess it's like most things ... it can be used for good or evil.
Leave your name in my comments if you wish ... I will discover your story!
"But I have this against you, that you have left your first love.” Revelation 2:4
Against – It’s an up and down matter. Greek prepositions, like this one, almost always have a root meaning in some kind of physical space movement. Kata is no exception. The root meaning is movement downwards. For example, in 2Corinthians we see it used to express the idea of poverty that reaches down to the depths.
The word in this verse in Revelation paints a strikingly real picture from the first century. In the “games” in the Roman Coliseum, life or death was determined by the up or down signal of the Emperor’s thumb. Turned down, the Emperor signaled his displeasure. He was against the victim. Many Christians died viewing the down-turned thumb.
Now Jesus says to the church at Ephesus, “My thumb is turned down toward you in this respect.” It was a chilling sign. No reader of John’s apocalyptic letter would have missed the implication.
What does the Lord of the church have to say about His assembly at Ephesus? If you read the previous few verses, you will see that they are commended for their deeds, their perseverance, their insistence on true doctrine and their commitment. We would probably be cheering over a church that displayed such characteristics. But Jesus says, “There is one thing missing, and that one thing is so important that I must stand against you, in spite of all these great attributes.” That one thing is the first thing – devotion to Jesus. The church of Ephesus was an active, do good, church, filled with people like Martha. They inadvertently substituted service for devotion. Jesus reminds them, just as He reminded Martha, that they had forgotten the first priority – love me.
It is so easy to move from devotion to service. It seems as though we are wired that way. When the dominant culture places emphasis on “what have you done for me,” it doesn’t take long before that thought begins to invade our spiritual lives as well. We measure our spirituality by the tangible results of our efforts. We like check-list religion. It’s so much better than dealing with deep matters of the heart.
But Jesus won’t have it. Actually, no one in a love relationship really wants just performance. God certainly doesn’t. He doesn’t need us to do anything. He is quite capable of handling the operation of the universe without us. We offer our performance only because we love Him, but when the love fades and the performance remains, it has little value to God.
Today is a day to determine if your relationship is thumbs up or thumbs down. It is not about what you are doing. It is about who you love. Doing follows being, and being in love with Jesus is the foundation for all the acts that delight Him.
To admit that this is a world to which God seems not to be speaking is not a renunciation of faith: it is a simple acceptance of an existential religious fact. It should not disconcert anyone who knows, from the Bible and the mystics, that the silences of God are also messages with a definite import of their own. And this import is not necessarily reassuring. One thing it may imply, for instance, is a judgment on the self-righteousness of those who trust in themselves because they are fully respectable and "established." It may imply a judgment of their affirmations and suggest that a great deal is being said by God in language that we have not yet learned to decode. Not that there are new dogmas being revealed: but perhaps things that we badly need to know are being told us in new and disconcerting ways. Perhaps they are staring us in the face, and we cannot see them. It is in such situations that the language of prophetism speaks of the "silence of God."
But when Simon Peter saw that, he fell down at Jesus’ feet, saying, “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” Luke 5:8
Go Away – Simon understood at least this much. The man before him had powers that only God could grant. It scared him. All Jesus did was cause Simon’s boat to be swamped with a huge catch of fish. Jesus didn’t heal anyone, feed thousands or raise someone from the dead. That was yet to come. But Simon knew that his man, Jesus, had some kind of special connection to God – and that was enough to convict him of his separation from God. So, Simon says, “Depart from me.” Don’t come close. Why? Because the closer you come, the more I feel the anguish of my sinfulness.
If you read the gospels from Simon’s point of view, you will soon discover that he spends the rest of his acquaintance with Jesus trying to draw closer – and every time he takes a step toward Jesus, he is confronted with a wider and wider gap between himself and his Master.
The Greek text uses the verb exerchomai. Literally, it means “to come out, to go out – to exit from.” But Simon spoke the verb yatsa’, a Hebrew word that means, “to leave an area.” It’s quite interesting that the idiom, yatsa’ lev (literally, “the heart goes out”) means “to be worried, anxious or distressed.” That is precisely what happened to Simon. His heart went out, and all he could think about was asking the source of his anxiety to go away.
Something ironic happens when we pursue intimacy with the Lord. The closer we draw to Him, the wider the chasm between us becomes. It’s like chasing the rainbow. The faster I pursue the beauty in those droplets, the faster it moves beyond my grasp. As I draw closer and closer to the Lord, I see the depth of my sin more clearly. I realize that I am a sinful man, not worthy to be in His presence. I can only fall to my face and say, “Lord, depart from me. The very fact that you are close only illuminates my ugliness.”
Of course, the irony is two-fold. First, it is that our pursuit widens the gap instead of closing it. And second, the divine irony is that no gap is too wide that Jesus cannot cross it. The moment I see the tragic ungodliness deep within me, in that same moment I find Jesus standing right beside me, looking at my unworthiness and embracing it.
If you are going to pursue Jesus, you will come closer and closer to your true self – the one that hates God and loves the dark. That is terrifying. Most of us avoid that place like the plague, because that is just what it is, a lethal disease. But Jesus came to close the gap precisely where it is most hideous. If you haven’t let Him embrace you there, then you have never let Him heal the plague that resides in the depths of your heart. You are still chasing rainbows, hoping to catch up to His beauty. Turn the other way. Look into the dark and you will find Him, right where He needs to heal you.
God loved us so much that He gave His Son as a sacrifice for our sins, that through faith we might be brought back into a full and intimate relationship with our Heavenly Father for all eternity. I think we often forget the magnitude of this love: we were dead and He provided us a way to live!
"Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness."
God has expressed His absolute love and compassion through the forgiveness found in Jesus Christ. This forgiveness is total and complete for those who believe. When we place our trust in Jesus, we are washed clean - we become "a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come" (2 Corinthians 5:17). And we continue to be washed clean "every morning."
We all have days when our sinful nature wins a battle and we stumble. We have a day when our anger, pride, fear, or lust is brought to the surface and we "do what we do not want to do" (Romans 7:16). We may need to seek forgiveness and earn back trust from those we've hurt, but God's forgiveness and love is free for the asking; "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins" (1 John 1:9). We may lose some of the battles, but through Jesus, the war has been won.
Since we have been washed clean - and continue to be washed clean - we must stop walking as though we are still soiled. We are children of God and in the process of being conformed to the likeness of His Son. This process of growth and maturity - of victorious transformation - must continue each and every morning. We must shed the heavy burdens of past failures (and the fear of future disappointments) and walk in the freshness of His forgiveness.
Is our relationship with God fresh and new? Do we still comprehend the magnitude of love encompassed in the gift of forgiveness? Or have we grown complacent and cold? When was the last time our love for God was so fresh on our heart that we couldn't help but say THANK YOU!?
We are invited to a relationship with our Heavenly Father - an intimate relationship which involves loving and being loved; a relationship which allows us to walk in victory for His glory and to be guided by the power of His Spirit. Let's give Him our all and receive His all in return. Let's rise up in His strength and determine to make our relationship of love new every morning.
Yesterday in his sermon, Chris talked about always living with a spirit of Thanksgiving. He talked about living a simpler life and realizing that God will provide all we need. He has already given us much more than most people to walk this earth have ever had in a lifetime or even in ten lifetimes. God will provide. Living with a heart of Thanksgiving inherently brings a heart of charity. His sermon should lead to some good discussion in our small group this evening.
It is easy to say that we are thankful for all that we have but, when we live a life of always striving for "more," does that really say "thankfulness"? Perhaps if it is combined with a charitable attitude as big as the blessings we have received.
One more thing ... check out Slacktivist's Thanksgiving take on Isaiah 58.
"Go, inquire of the LORD for me, for the people, and for all Judah, concerning the words of this book that has been found; for great is the wrath of the LORD that is kindled against us, because our ancestors did not obey the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us." 2 Kings 22:13
Leon Morris, one of the world’s great Greek scholars, said something incredibly important. "Unless we give a real content to the wrath of God, unless we hold that men really deserve to have the wrath of God visit upon them the painful consequences of their wrongdoing, we empty God's forgiveness of its meaning. For if there is no ill desert, God ought to overlook sin. We can think of forgiveness as something real only when we hold that sin has betrayed us into a situation where we deserve to have God inflict upon us the most serious consequences, and it is upon such a situation that God's grace supervenes. When the logic of the situation demands that He should take action against the sinner, and He yet takes action for him, then and then alone can we speak of grace" (The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross, p. 185).
In 622 BC, Josiah, king of Judah, instituted far-reaching spiritual reforms based on the discovery of a copy of the Law. When Josiah heard the content of the scroll, he tore his clothes in agony, because he realized that he and his people had been disobedient to the Law of the Holy One, and God was angry! He knew that they all deserved God’s wrath, and unless they repented and God favored them again, they would surely experience the consequences. The Hebrew word, hemah, means “great heat, rage or wrath.” Did you notice that Josiah uses a very visual verb in association with this noun? God’s wrath is kindled against us. The great, unquenchable fire of the Holy God has been ignited and it will burn away everything that is opposed to God’s character. King Josiah understood the consequences, and trembled for his life. Do we?
You won’t find the wrath of the Lord preached much these days. Higher criticism of the Bible sent God off to anger management classes so that we could “feel” better about our lack of righteousness. You don’t hear sermons about the kindling of God’s anger. Now we teach that God forgives even before we ask. But disguising wrath as psychologically inappropriate for a “loving” God is dangerous theology. It leads to behavior where sin is overlooked instead of confronted. It leads to a Christianity of “nice” people rather than those who are obedient without personal regard for themselves. Ultimately, it leads to a world that no longer needs God, since we are all perfectly capable of improving ourselves. Right?
Remember what John the Baptist shouted at those religiously correct Pharisees who came to go through the baptism ritual. “Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” It’s a question we might ask ourselves. Do you want grace to swallow up your sin? Then you will have to look into the center of God’s wrath and see the intensity of His hatred for the unholy. You will have to see that you stand in the middle of that terrible maelstrom. Then you will know what grace really means, that God overcomes His enmity with all that is unholy and rescues us in spite of who we are. Grace saved me, but I didn’t deserve it. I only have God to thank.
I probably didn't care for this book quite as much as The Kite Runner though it is a more complex story, providing even greater insight to Afghan life and culture of the past thirty or so years.
I suppose that, somehow, reading these books should cause me to walk away with a more clear view of the war on terrorism and the Iraq War. Hosseini does not "preach" anything in that regard so I am not sure exactly how his books alter my feelings about the war. But he does give q clear view that things have been difficult for years and years in his homeland ... but yet A Thousand Splendid Suns ends with optimism and hope from this point going forward.
Did I mention that I wish I could write a thousandth as good as this guy? (Or should that be "well"?) I should have. That would be incredible.
Here's a quote from near the end of his most recent book:
"...every Afghan story is marked by death and loss and unimaginable grief. And yet, she sees, people find a way to survive, to go on."
Keep writing, Khaled. Your books are bringing increased understanding and, with that, I am convinced, comes a better chance for peace.
My friend Dan actually wrote a review of my book on Amazon ... he was quite over-the-top but it was very nice of him regardless, especially when he has a thousand other things on his mind right now.
Can I really be so old that a retrospective of the music I remember so well is being sold as "history"?
All my life, 1950s music has had a real air of "way-back-when history" about it. However, I was born just four years after the 50s. Evan, on the other hand, was born nine years after the 1980s.
80's music, during the 80's, seemed to have lyrics that made sense -- that really spoke to me. Now the lyrics don't seem to make sense at all. Have I changed or have the lyrics been digitally altered?
This DVD really did look pretty cool. I can hear all of these songs pretty easily on the radio any time I wish though ... for free.
I started worrying a lot about being as old as I am ...
And then I remembered that it is Thanksgiving and my focus this Thanksgiving has been on how fortunate and blessed I am ... and how I might help the rest of the world that isn't nearly as fortunate.
Much of the world is worrying about where their next meal is coming from, whether their home could get bombed today, whether they could get blown up by a suicide bomber, whether they will ever be able to leave the refugee camp and return home, how many of their relatives will die from AIDS this year, where they will sleep tonight, where their family members are, whether their son or daughter will get the prosthetic arm or leg they need, whether the men in their family could get drug out of their house and disappear forever tonight, whether their tent will keep them dry, whether their few clothes will keep them warm, and on and on and on ...
Suddenly, in light of this, big hair, spandex and lyrics that don't make sense just didn't seem like things I needed to be thinking about.
Getting older, though, is still a concern. Time is running short to help those in need.
Here goes with a few of those who are top-of-mind for me right now:
Lisa, who teaches me to always move forward, and not regret the past.
Evan, who by his very presence reminds me to stop and enjoy life.
Kelly, who shows me that the glory of hard work is in the doing of it.
Dan and Erin, who talked tonight at church about their soon-to-be completed adoption from Guatemala, and who continually teach me to recognize God at work in my life.
Todd, who has brought me to an entirely new understanding of Jesus.
Chris, who awakened me to God's calling on my life and continues to teach me so much about leadership.
Chuck, who has in his own humble way mentored me ever since we first met, and who has taught me so much about teaching.
Eric, who always encourages me to new ways of thinking and an open and caring mind (plus he can really make me laugh).
John and Tiffany, who show me a "work hard but have fun and bless others along the way" approach to life.
David and Tracy whose incredible life-ministries are inspiring and awesome.
Jim, who has shown me incredible courage and faith in the face of tough times.
And, there are so many others in my life for whom I am very thankful and by whom I am truly blessed.
Finally, of course, I am thankful for Jesus, who continually challenges me to love more deeply and fully.
1. YOUR ROCK STAR NAME: (first pet & current car)
2. YOUR GANGSTA NAME: (fave ice cream flavor, favorite cookie)
Cherry Garcia Ranger
3. YOUR “FLY Guy/Girl” NAME: (first initial of first name, first three letters of your last name)
4. YOUR DETECTIVE NAME: (favorite color, favorite animal)
5. YOUR SOAP OPERA NAME: (middle name, city where you were born)
6. YOUR STAR WARS NAME: (the first 3 letters of your last name, first 2 letters of your first)
7. SUPERHERO NAME: (”The” + 2nd favorite color, favorite drink)
The Orange Coffee
8. NASCAR NAME: (the first names of your grandfathers)
9. STRIPPER NAME: ( the name of your favorite perfume/cologne/scent, favorite candy)
Pumpkin Pie Spice Peanut Butter M & M's
10. WITNESS PROTECTION NAME: (mother’s & father’s middle names )
11. TV WEATHER ANCHOR NAME: (Your 5th grade teacher’s last name, a major city that starts with the same letter)
12. SPY NAME: (your favorite season/holiday, flower)
13. CARTOON NAME: (favorite fruit, article of clothing you’re wearing right now + “ie” or “y”)
Orange Tee Shirtsie
14. HIPPY NAME: (What you ate for breakfast, your favorite tree)
Cinnamon Bread Oak
15, YOUR ROCKSTAR TOUR NAME: (”The” + Your fave hobby/craft, fave weather element + “Tour”)
The Writing Crisp Morning Tour
I have never been bothered by mice. However, during times like these, I find that many people are freaked out by them.
Regardless of my not being bothered by them, I know that ultimately the mice must go. I took a trip to WalMart where they have a lot of traps, many of which do not kill the mouse but instead ensnare it so that I guess you have to drown it or step on it or something. That really seems cruel to me. I saw some traps that are actually a "catch and release" live trap. I guess you are supposed to go dump them in the country where they can retire to a nice, quiet life. That seemed humane but really rather odd and I figured that, with my luck, I would have "homing mice".
So, I went for the traditional "trigger" traps. I figure they (usually) kill the mouse very quickly .. they also were the cheapest traps I could find. I bought a pack of four traps for something like a buck and a half.
(By the way, the traps that just catch the mice in some sort of sticky substance, leaving them to squirm and make noise, sort of freak me out.)
Well, last night before I left the office, I baited all four traps with peanut butter and set them around at strategic locations. I figured I would have at least two or three dead mice to deal with in the morning.
I walked into the office this morning fully expecting to be emptying some traps. As I walked around from trap to trap, I not only found the traps to not have any dead mice in them, and to not be tripped, but I also found them to be completely stripped of the peanut butter bait. Somehow, those little buggers had literally licked the bait stations clean, but not set off the traps.
One of my friends at work commented that Thanksgiving apparently came early for the mice. I kept imagining these fat, happy mice hiding in corners all day, letting out an occasional peanut butter burp.
I wonder ... did the mice know they were flirting with death as they ate the peanut butter? Did they realize how close they were to meeting their maker? Did they have a little meeting to discuss their strategy before they started eating the bait?
I came to the conclusion that these had to have been very smart mice. Gifted in fact. Which led to the obvious question of whether I should continue to try to trap them.
After all, a gifted mouse mind is a terrible thing to waste.
Any others to suggest?
“Make no mistake, spiritual leadership rises and falls on a person's ability to connect daily with the Spirit. Skill, experience and instinct are pathetically inadequate if you want to be a spiritual leader. It is the matchless power of the Living God exploding through everything you do that makes a strong leader. Leaders worth following are forged in the brute reality of their personal walk with God.”
So, what's cool about that?
What's cool is this -- Lisa (my wife and girlfriend), even though she won't readily recognize the fact, has accepted a call to full time professional ministry. Not sure she ever anticipated this but it is wonderful. God is good.
As I said, she does not maybe recognize her new job as a ministry but I can't see it as anything else. She is working for "ministry wages" for an organization devoted to advancing God's Kingdom. if that is not full-time professional ministry, then I don't know what is.
And you know what has been even cooler? Watching her walk this path. She left a job working part-time in a highly skilled professional field that she knew very well to take this position in a field that is more or less new to her (though accounting really should be in her blood, with three accountants in her immediate family). She has walked this path without looking back (at least not seriously). She knows she is where she is supposed to be for now and we're both so thankful she has the opportunity to be there.
So, I guess that is one of many things for which I am thankful this Thanksgiving.
I guess that maybe, actually, it isn't that the concepts are fresh but rather that their application to my life is fresh.
We are not saved by following laws. Anyone, technically, could follow laws but yet still not profess Jesus as their Lord and Savior. We are, instead, saved by trusting in Jesus to take away our sins. And, in the midst of that, there must be an admission that we are all sinners -- we are all on even ground.
That realization that I am no better than anyone else out there has made a huge impact on my life. Somehow, before, there was a sense of "one upmanship" because I was saved. But now I am realizing that my redemption has nothing to do with me. I am the exact same as the unsaved.
It is all about Jesus ... what He did, what He offers. I work hard to follow His teaching ... not to receive salvation -- that, I already have -- but for the purpose of Glorifying Him, the one who saved me.
Now, whenever I go to a large store or mall, things just become a blur. I see people and things but I don't really process either. Everything just becomes like a long, noisy tunnel ... with a door at the end of it ... a door back out to my car and, ultimately, to home.
I did our family grocery shopping last evening. Usually either Lisa does it or, on rare occasion, we go together. But last night it was just me. The daze set in quickly.
But Lisa had done something amazing for me. She had made out a shopping list which was perfectly -- and I do mean, perfectly -- in order, start to finish, as I traversed my way through WalMart. I could not sooner do that than even make out a shopping list to begin with!
I am not sure how shes does that. I think that maybe someone from WalMart emails her whenever they move anything around.
I really struggle with not judging others. Really struggle with it. Really really struggle with it.
Frankly, judging others is a part of being in business. You are constantly working to pass judgment on the character of team members, vendors, and customers, and to make appropriate decisions. And, when you tend to be super-analytical (like me), you find yourself passing judgment on others quite often.
There is only one who can truly judge and I need to leave it up to Him. There is something wonderfully freeing in that thought. How much easier my life is if I just concentrate on building relationships and getting the work at hand accomplished? How much easier it is if I "let go" of my worries and judging and attitude and instead just live in the life He has given me?
But yet doing so oh so hard! Someday I will have to answer for my judging of others. That won't be pretty.
Paul starts by trying to establish his authority as someone chosen by God. In verse 6, though, he recognizes the calling upon the lives of those to whom he is writing.
Paul expresses that he is praying and pulling for those in Rome, but also that he is highly encouraged by all he hears about them. This is a great example of the power of Christian community -- those joined together for common cause, praying for one another and also encouraged by one another. There is no room for arguing with one another over petty differences if we're truly together under God's banner.
Paul says in verse 19 that the truth about God is known to people instinctively but, blinded by the world and our humanity, we push God away. Do you agree with that? I do believe that we are all born with a sense of justice ... a sense of right and wrong ... a type of inborn morality that has to come from a greater source ... but we do indeed try to stuff it away. And we get misguided. For many years, even though I considered myself a Christian, I was misguided as to what that meant and, of course, even today I am still growing and learning.
Verse 30 says that we are forever inventing new ways of sinning ... when you look at society, 2,000 years later -- wow -- isn't that still the truth?
Ultimately, as pointed out in Romans 1, God leaves us to a choice. It is up to us -- follow Him or follow the ways of the world. Inherent in that statement is that following the ways of the world would include NOT following God. But that is an interesting thing to think about ... can a person NOT follow God but yet still live within the confines of His morality and teachings? I believe that is possible but yet that person still falls short of bring God's word to others ... to the corners of the earth ... and glorifying Him.
Each of us has a fantasy that our family will be like the Waltons, an expectation that our dearest friends will be our next of kin. Jesus didn’t have that expectation. Look how he defined his family: “My true brother and sister and mother are those who do what God wants” (Mark 3:35).
When Jesus’ brothers didn’t share his convictions, he didn’t try to force them. He recognized that his spiritual family could provide what his physical family didn’t. If Jesus himself couldn’t force his family to share his convictions, what makes you think you can force yours?
We can’t control the way our family responds to us. When it comes to the behavior of others toward us, our hands are tied. We have to move beyond the naive expectation that if we do good, people will treat us right. The fact is they may and they may not—we cannot control how people respond to us.
I can’t assure you that your family will ever give you the blessing you seek, but I know God will. Let God give you what your family doesn’t. If your earthly father doesn’t affirm you, then let your heavenly Father take his place.
God has proven himself as a faithful father. Now it falls to us to be trusting children. Let God give you what your family doesn’t. Let him fill the void others have left. Rely upon him for your affirmation and encouragement. Look at Paul’s words: “You are God’s child, and God will give you the blessing he promised, because you are his child” (Gal. 4:7, emphasis added).
[And] don’t lose heart. God still changes families.
Three leaders from our church, along with thousands of others, are headed to the National Youth Workers Convention in Atlanta today. Let's pray that it will be a time of enjoyable renewal and refreshment for them containing lots of learning to help them better connect with and lead today's youth. When I look at the youth of our church and see where they are in comparison to where my generation was 30 years ago, and I think about how much harsher things are today, you cannot miss the fact that God is at work big time amongst them. We really are raising up a generation that is going to have a world impact.
In the meantime, I will remind myself that it is Friday and there are undoubtedly great things in store for us all today.
Got your attention? I am guessing I got Lisa's attention.
Wednesday is trash day at our house and, unless Lisa beats me to it, I am hauling our trash and things out to the curb about the same time that Mr. Noname (in other words, I haven't a clue what his name is) drives by in his blue truck. Mr. Noname is what I call a "scrapper". He knows the trash pick-up routes in town and, before the trash trucks arrive, he drives the route looking for scrap metals that can be recycled as well as for other odds and ends that, perhaps with a little cleaning, fixing, or painting, could be sold and re-used by someone.
I have never met Mr. Noname. In fact, I usually try to stay in the garage until he passes by our house and perhaps even picks up a thing or two.
I think about Mr. Noname a lot though. I guess our relationship goes beyond just wednesday mornings.
Whenever we have scrap metal or some item to put out at the curb that I know, with a little time, effort and talent, could be turned into money or something useful, I think of him. And I hope he will come by our house that week to retrieve what we're setting out.
I thank God for the scrappers of this world ... in the case of Mr. Noname, they are doing more on a practical and personal level to protect and preserve the environment than I am. I don't know how he'd feel if I approached him some Wednesday morning. I guess if I did it with a smile and true appreciation for what he does, he would receive it well.
There's another type of scrapper, too. And those are the ones who look for lost souls ... those cast away by society ... and try to provide them hope, encouragement, love, compassion. Man, I know so many great scrappers of that type and I admire them just as much as I admire and appreciate Mr. Noname.
God bless the scrappers. I love 'em! May I, through the journey of my life, learn to be one too.
The above scripture is a tiny bit out of context when you look at it just by itself. It is in fact referring to widows over the age of 60 who do not have their time devoted to doing good work. However, over the past couple of days I have been involved in I think three conversations where this subject came up and then I read this post by another blogger as well.
When you think about the people you know, isn't it generally true that those who are the happiest overall are the ones who keep themselves busy while those who are depressed or bitter are the ones who have a lot of time on their hands?
I mean, I am sure there are exceptions to this (including the validity that clinical depression is a disease) and there are also all kinds of life circumstances that shape who we become but don't the people around you generally support this? The folks who are busy with volunteering or with family or with hobbies and other activities ... sometimes busy to the point of near-craziness ... are also the happiest ones, the ones overflowing with joy? And those who maybe spend eight hours at a job and then go and spend the rest of their time at home or watching the news or at a bar tend to be weary, downcast, and bitter?
God made us to be people of action. His people. His actions. He placed us on this earth to try to build His Kingdom I believe. He has the perfect plan. He left us with the instruction manual. We just mess it up all the time. But someday He promises to bring that direct connection of heaven and earth that will perfect His Kingdom. In light of this, it seems to me that His Kingdom will consist of people who are busy ... people who are doing good work, caring about each other, and living in authentic community.
Maybe, just maybe, with new bodies, we will not even require sleep any longer so that we can devote all of our time to doing good. (I'd like that as sleep has always impressed me as a horrible waste of time.)
It is when we do good, I believe, that joy abounds. God made us to be people of action, not people of inaction. Our behaviors and attitudes reflect whether we live that out.
For one thing, Evan is very hard to fit. He is a pretty good sized kid, meaning he is wearing clothes that are probably more likely to be worn by a young teen. The problem with that is that his body shape is still more like that of a pre-teen. It is just really difficult to find things that fit him. And, more often than not, he ends up with clothes that are baggy on him in the places they shouldn't be baggy and tight in the places they shouldn't be tight, creating a rather sloppy look. Maybe kids today like that look but that leads to the next problem with finding clothes for Evan ...
He really doesn't care what he looks like ... except he doesn't want to look dressy (anything with a collar is "church clothes") ... and he doesn't want to wear anything that represents something he isn't. For example, he won't wear a shirt which features a sport that he doesn't play. So, we end up looking for rather plain (but not entirely plain) clothes without collars or any offending insignias ... plus they have to fit him ...
Yes, shopping with him is a problem. And like I said, he just doesn't care. He would go naked all the time if he could, I am pretty sure (something which concerns me greatly).
At one point today I was threatening him with a pink Winnie The Pooh snowsuit if he didn't start helping out in finding some clothes he can wear.
I didn't have many clothes when I was his age. My family struggled financially and usually I would have two pairs of jeans and maybe three shirts that had to last me through the school year. Thinking back on that, though, reminds me of one of the more embarrassing things in my life.
Remember the Seinfeld show with the "puffy shirt"? I lived that show long before Seinfeld ever thought of it.
In second grade, I had not one, but two "puffy shirts" except I called them my "pirate shirts". One had a brown and white print and the other was more sort of cranberry and white, fading to pink and white by the end of the school year.
Like all of my clothes at the time, they were from Sears. (I still have an aversion to Sears as a result.) I do not know what Sears thought they were doing by offering these shirts but they were long sleeved shirts and the sleeves were very puffy --"blousey" if you will. I suspect mom got them off of the clearance rack. Kids made fun of me for wearing those shirts. I knew that I had no choice but to wear them, though, so I tried my best to pass them off as being the height of stylishness. But who was I kidding? Calling them my "pirate shirts" made no difference. They were incredibly dorky.
So, I try to give Evan leeway in choosing his clothes ... and finding things that he is comfortable wearing despite the problems with finding things that fit. But, just the same, if the next shopping trip goes like today's? That pink Winnie the Pooh snowsuit really may be in his future.
The class I took during that four-week time period was called "Shock of the New". It was specially designed for students who graduated high in their high school classes. By some Act of God, that amazingly included me.
The class was taught by Mary Ann Sullivan. Mary Ann was, well, "hip," if you're old enough to know what that means. Prone to stylish clothes and a way of talking which would capture a room's attention and hold it, Mary Ann stood out from many of the other profs on campus. Not that we didn't have a lot of good profs on campus but she definitely stood out. You have to know Mary Ann to really understand that.
In fact, when we graduated four years later, my class chose Mary Ann as one of our commencement speakers. I think that the campaign to have her speak was led by those of us who had taken Shock of the New. The graduation quote included in the "About Me" section at the left side of my blog? Courtesy of Mary Ann.
In The Shock of the New, we studied literature and art that was a little bit edgy. Not your mainstream stuff. I suppose that, for some in our class, it seemed a little bit too edgy in contrast to our upbringings. But, by and large, I think it was exactly what most of us were craving as college freshmen away from home for the first time. And Mary Ann was the perfect person to deliver it.
We had to read a number of books during the course of the class. We also has to do research into a particular author. I chose John Gardner.
One of the books we read was "The Armies of the Night" by Norman Mailer. As we all know, Mailer passed away yesterday. This book was probably the first thing I'd ever read which sort of told me that maybe it was okay to question what our government does. That, in fact, a little questioning was essential to successful societies.
It was the only Mailer book I have ever read though I know I have read a few articles by him as well.
A famous quote attributed to Mailer is "Every moment of one's existence, one is growing into more or retreating into less." Not only does that, interestingly enough, coordinate well with Mary Ann's words to my graduation class, but it so defines Mailer's life. He tended to charge headfirst into things: controversy, protest, support for those he believed in, relationships, marriage. But that was how he lived. Shoot first and ask questions later, if you will.
This reminds me of just how much of a journey life is. We have to respond to opportunities to make a difference. Will we make mistakes? Sure, that is part of the journey as well. But we learn from mistakes and we keep charging ahead. The good outweighs the bad in a life well lived.
Just the same, as I seek God's leading in this area of my life, below are some of the things I have learned.
Revere And Relish It. The workplace is the greatest mission field available to most Christians in America. We have a huge opportunity literally in our laps. It is not to be taken lightly. It can be easy to look at those in professional ministry and think they are playing a greater Kingdom role than the rest of us ... but our ability to have a life-changing impact on others is every bit as great as it is for those in professional ministry. And we have the added benefit of being able to approach others on a very personal non-clerical basis that can be more conducive to being received with an open ear and an open mind.
Live It. If you want to bring your faith into the workplace, you must present the life of an authentic Christ-follower. You must be filled with the Holy Spirit in a way which affects all of your words and actions. You truly must Walk The Talk if you're going to be an effective workplace minister.
Expect It. Others in the workplace are not always going to understand you. The workplace is often corrupt with greed and ego. When the workplace sees leadership that does not those things, it sometimes does not know what to do. Jesus' principles of compassion, love, and grace do not coincide with greed and ego. Ultimately, God is the One who creates transformation; all we can do is plant seeds. Expect disappointments. Some folks are not yet ripe to "get it." You have to be prepared to move on, knowing that ultimately it is all in God's hands and that the experiences of workplace ministry are part of your journey of spiritual formation as well.
Share It. This goes without saying. God will present you all sorts of opportunities for sharing. Opportunities to share your story, opportunities to share your time, and opportunities to share your blessings and resources. Hop to it. Don't be shy. If God gives you an opportunity to share, and you know He is calling you to it, do not ignore it. That opportunity will never come again.
Never Give Up On It. Yes, there will be times to cut your losses but you do so without looking back. Discipleship is a journey. Your greatest opportunities always lie ahead of you. There will be struggles and challenges. Defining moments for you to prove your muster. There may be times when you think to yourself that it would be so much easier to follow the ways of today's marketplace instead of the ways of Jesus. But you mustn't. Whatever happens, never never never never never never give up
Look At It. Step back occasionally and look at what you've done. Celebrate successes. It's good for the heart, providing tremendous inspiration and encouragement for the future. When you lead an organization, no one else is there to affirm that you have done a good job. It's good to occasionally step back and take a look at how richly God has blessed you and your ministry.
The first four chapters are rather difficult. I felt like I must have been the most illiterate and most pagan person on the planet the way that these chapters just weren't doing anything for me. They weren't capturing my interest, my intellect, or even my curiosity. Not anywhere close ... but I slogged ahead, chasing the great promise that I had heard so much about.
Chapter 5 got better and then things really took off. Wright spent a lot of time helping me to understand what Jesus brought to the world as the prophesied Messiah.
Simply Christian left me with a different view of God's creation and intent. It is impossible to have a different view of those things without also gaining a different perspective of my own calling and how I fit within the greater scheme of things.
Wright's premise is that, as Christians, we are to live out the interlock between heaven and earth, between God and man. We are not here to just "bide our time" following certain rules, waiting to be rewarded someday with a better place. We are instead called to be God's reflection in the world ... to help carry justice, beauty, and Spirituality to the world in a way that ushers in God's new kingdom here on earth.
Without giving away Wright's support and insight, let me share with you a little bit from the end of the last chapter, hopefully enough to make you want to dig into this book for yourself.
Gradually we are glimpsing a truth which cannot be overemphasized: that the tasks which await us as Christians, the paths we must walk and the lessons we must learn, are part of the great vocation which reaches us in God's word -- the word of the gospel, the word of Jesus and the Spirit. We are called to be part of God's new creation, called to be agents of that new creation here and now. We are called to model and display the new creation in symphonies and family life, in restorative justice and poetry, in holiness and service to the poor, in politics and painting.
When you see the dawn breaking, you think back to the darkness in a new way. "Sin" is not simply the breaking of a law. It is the missing of an opportunity. Having heard the echoes of a voice, we are called to come and meet the Speaker. We are invited to be transformed by the voice itself, the word of the gospel -- the word which declares that evil has been judged, that the world has been put to rights, that earth and heaven are joined forever, and that new creation has begin. We are called to become people who can speak and live and paint and sing that word so that those who have heard its echoes can come and lend a hand in the larger project. That is the opportunity that stands before us, as gift and possibility. Christian holiness is not (as people often imagine) a matter of denying something good. It is about growing up and grasping something even better.
Made for spirituality, we wallow in introspection. Made for joy, we settle for pleasure. Made for justice, we clamor for vengeance. Made for relationship, we insist on our own way. Made for beauty, we are satisfied with sentiment. But new creation has already begun. The sun has begun to rise. Christians are called to leave behind, in the tomb of Jesus Christ, all that belongs to the brokenness and incompleteness of the present world. It is time, in the power of the Spirit, to take up our proper role, our fully human role, as agents, heralds, and stewards of the new day that is dawning. That, quite simply, is what it means to be Christian: to follow Jesus Christ into the new world, God's new world, which he has thrown open before us.
Whenever conflict arises -- people tend to take one of two stances. One option is to dig our heels in and be a dog in the fight (or support a dog in the fight which usually means we are a dog in the fight too). Oftentimes, there is plenty of fight in the dog in the folks who choose this route. It is usually a "win at all costs because I'm right and you're very very very wrong" approach.
Or we can seek consensus. It sounds a little wimpy to phrase it this way but I call it a "go along to get along" approach. This approach seeks a middle ground but also realizes that ultimately in life we must choose our battles carefully; not win all the battles at the cost of losing the war; and we must fully understand what the war is. Often the war is to achieve a lifelong relatively harmonious relationship but fighting dogs usually don't see this.
Thinking about these two options, then, got me to wonder which one is easier to follow.
The fighting dog approach tends to follow our instinctual survivalist humanity. The "go along to get along" approach requires restraint and holding oneself back.
You can probably guess which side of the fence I usually fall on in terms of how I approach conflict. It's not easy but I do try to err on the side of restraint, choosing battles, realizing there is ultimately a war to be won and the tactics for winning it are far different from winning every battle.
Being a "go along to get along" person in the middle of a bunch of fighting dogs is stressful. Fortunately, that is not my whole life but it has been my life at times. It puts you in constant internal conflict when you're dealing with folks whose behavior you feel is totally irrational and not leading anyplace good.
A good question to always ask oneself is "where do we want to end up at the end of this?" and figure out how you will best get there. This is a simple example but it came up at work this week where a couple of departments were squabbling over a situation with the customer, trying to decide whether to side with the customers or dig in our heels. The final outcome is still being worked out but I pointed out that there was one immediate puzzle piece that had to be taken care of. The customer ultimately had a need which was still going to have to be met even long after any dust settled from the internal disagreement. Meeting that need immediately had to be our action ... sorting out the other stuff later.
Anyway, I didn't really intend to use that as an example in this post. It is not a particularly good example of what I am writing about.
Can anyone else, though, share stories from what it's like to be on either side of the fighting dog or "go along" fence?
I have been to other Culver's and unfortunately they have a reputation of leaving me, shall I say, "intestinally challenged".
But we decided to check out our new Culver's last evening for dinner anyway.
It was very busy. It seemed like we knew half of the people there. We had a friend of Evan's with us and he knew the other half.
The inside of the store is very inviting. Nice seating, carpeted floors, some real comfy seating in a couple of areas with television screens on the walls. For our town which really needs some comfortable places to hang out for coffee and perhaps dessert with friends, this offers a nice option ... though it would be good if they had more coffee options.
I did have a ButterBurger with Cheese and I checked out a shake which I later discovered had about 800 calories. Also had some fries. They have the big Krinkle Kut fries you do not see often anymore.
The food was good and, since then, I have been feeling no pain.
So far, Culver's seems to be a nice addition to our town.
degree. So, first, tell me, where have you spent your last four years?"
The young applicant replies "Yale."
The interviewer, himself a Yalie, exclaims, "That's wonderful! Now, what was your name again?"
"Yohnson, Yohnny Yohnson, sir."
I have been thinking about business to business marketing a lot lately. One thing that dawns on me about B2B marketing is that I am not attracted to campaigns where the marketer appears to be over-the-top desperate for business. I tend to be more attracted to quieter, more under-stated approaches.
As I look at the B2B things our company has done over the years ... our biggest challenge is always getting through gatekeepers at the various organizations we're trying to reach. We have tried a lot of different things over the years, some which worked better than others. One of our most successful campaigns was sending several very strong prospects a free video iPod (shortly after they came out) pre-loaded with our own promotional video. That was a bit over-the-top but the obvious cost of the campaign did not at all smell like desperation.
We're currently working a new campaign which is very understated but also very personal and relational. We have not even yet implemented all parts of the program but it is already showing great success unlike anything we have ever done before.
There may be a book in this someday.
Between cell phone, laptop, and iPod, I am always looking for a charge.
Several airports are starting to get a lot more friendly about this, making me feel less like a thief for stealing a half penny of electricity. You will now sometimes see specific areas set up for travelers to charge their electronic items.
I saw a new one the other day though ...
Ohare Airport now has some groups of chairs which look like traditional airport chairs (you know the ones -- very 1960s looking black vinyl with chrome arms and legs ... impossible to lay down on for a nap) except these are all wired with electrical outlets. Printed on the back of each seat is a large bolt of lightning with the words "Charging Station".
Now, you have to remember, I grew up in 1960s and 1970s Ohio when the state penitentiary was still open and "Old Sparky," though a subject of controversy, was still in use. Our state electric chair was even featured on the Phil Donahue Show once, if you can remember that.
These "Charging Station" chairs at Ohare are far too reminiscent of "Old Sparky" for me to put my fat butt in them. No thanks!
Instead, while traveling through Ohare, I will continue to play "Where's the Power Outelt?" and pry those brass plates out of the carpeted floors in search of my holy grail. Electricity!
I guess what I don't understand is how rarely we see other churches taking a stance against these folks and their venom of hatred and cruelty. By not speaking against them, we really are playing into the misunderstandings of what Christianity is. We are allowing it to look like these few fringe for-all-intents-non-denominational individuals are mainstream.
Why aren't all churches shutting these folks down or at least condemning their ridiculous actions? Any ideas?