Thursday, August 20, 2015

Maurice Clarett

Maurice Clarett tells Seminoles to find and develop non-football passions  -via ESPN

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

In Fear of Doubt

A few Christians have had the luxury of growing up with the freedom to doubt. Most haven't. From what I can tell, most Christians fear doubt, and have been taught to fear doubt. In fact, fear in general is a quite the motivator to keep people in check, especially in religious groups. If you can cause enough fear in people, you can control them. And, a sad thing it is that too many church leaders believe it is their role and right to control people, to keep them in obedience to their high wisdom and greater understanding of things spiritual. Leadership, especially spiritual leadership, is distorted when it tries to keep people from learning to think for themselves ... even doubt for themselves. 

I believe and it is my experience that the greatest and strongest faith is the examined faith. Being given answers-on-a-platter just buries the fear that lies beneath the surface of every person who wishes to know truth. "Just take my word for it" is too often a manipulation by leadership who misunderstand their role (or worse) and a disquieting copout for those who heed them. As children, our good parents gave us tools to live and think independently and to survive and thrive in life. To do any less would be to neglect the ultimate goal of raising children and to doom them to a life of dependent weakness. Spiritual growth is the same. Spiritual "parenting" is the same. The Christian scriptures of the New Testament to a certain extent call this discipleship. A disciple follows a teacher and learns to live in the life that the teacher leads them to. The goal of Christian discipleship is to lead another to something, a place where the hand off takes place, to stand alone in one's faith, to know the master teacher himself, Jesus Christ. Knowing him is the goal. Learning to seek answers from him is the intent. The role of the one who disciples is temporary. The idea of discipling is that the one who was discipled grows mature enough to disciple someone else. Old Testament scriptures are quoted in the New Testament to that effect: "There will come a time when no one will need to teach another about Me (God), for all will know me from the least to the greatest. I will put my very Spirit within them" (paraphrased from Jeremiah and Ezekiel, OT prophets, and quoted in a letter to Hebrew Christians). 

This is a hard thing to swallow, but if followers of Jesus truly believe what they know their scriptures teach, then they will intrinsically know that following a man or woman, or a church group's rules or system wasn't the goal Jesus' had in mind. Being in a relationship with himself was his desire from the beginning. Restoration of the intimacy of knowing God was always what God was after and why he visited us in flesh. Even following the words on a page, as in "scripture," wasn't the end goal. Certainly knowing scripture and following its teachings are a good and necessary thing, but Jesus himself put that popular idea in pinpoint perspective when he spoke strong words to a group of religious leaders. "You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have eternal life." How many of us have in effect refused to come to Jesus Christ because we think that by studying scriptures we have eternal life. The Good Book was never meant to be worshiped or to replace the true object of our reverence. When we revere the book above Jesus thinking we can know him simply through the words, we replace the true Word. One of the Jesus writers who knew him in the flesh, one of his closest followers, told us The Word was made flesh in Jesus and lived among us. The Book was meant to lead us to the Christ, not replace him. In him we find life. 

Any teaching that leads us to depend upon a man, be he pastor, bishop, priest, or minister, is teaching that falls far short of God's intent for leadership or discipleship. When "seasoned" followers of Christ feel as though they will dry up and die without the weekly teaching of some person, they haven't learned nearly the first thing about life lived in perfect harmony with the Spirit of God. Teaching is good, but it does not equate to our relationship with God.

And so, what I have come to understand about doubt is that God is not threatened by ours. What good father belittles or punishes his young child for doubting his word?! God, our Father, is the same. There may be times when he says, "Hang on! Trust me. I've got you. You're not going to fall! You'll understand this later." There are times when he is silently, patiently waiting for us to come to the end of our wanderings. But, he is there. Always. Sometimes, we have to bounce around for awhile until we wear out and sit exhausted and ready to believe and receive.

But God isn't turned away by our doubts and fears. An old friend of mine called it "faith with a question mark." Faith in the face of questions. When we learn that God loves to hear us, loves to know what we are struggling with, isn't afraid of our questions, that is a great day. Go ahead and ask your questions, entertain your doubt, pursue faith. But, let me assure you that underneath your doubt is God who loves you more than anyone ever has or ever will. He is bearing you up, holding onto you! and leading you into a depth of faith and freedom that you never thought possible. 

The words of author Jim Bishop are fitting: 
"At the age of four, I knew that God was everywhere. I spoke to Him...But as I grew toward manhood, the more I learned, the less I believed in God...When I was twenty-one, my superior intellect told me that God was a fake. Heaven could not be "up" and Hell could not be "down" because in space there is no up or down. And I knew that everything in creation dies, including the smallest insect and the biggest star.

"Then one day," he said, "I felt a new experience. I saw the miracle of birth -- Virginia Lee, a child of my own -- and it turned my wandering mind around. I began to doubt my doubts. Gradually I lost faith in my intellect. It was not supplying the needed answers.

"I could not see the air, but without it I would die. Thus it is, I decided, with the spirit of man. I needed something to breathe life into a soul that had been crushed by the dominance of the human mind."

Jim Bishop needed faith. "I was a slow learner," he said, But, somehow, somewhere, as I groped my painful way, I found my soul...I knew it was there -- wounded, bleeding perhaps, but alive.

I began to pray, and as faith returned to me, I feared that it might dissolve again. So I prayed for continuing faith. It was only when I gave up -- when I let go and allowed myself to be carried by God -- that I began to really feel His Presence. He was there, and I knew it!

I had wanted proof -- something for my eyes or ears or hands. He wanted me to believe without it. Faith and trust are what He required of me! And He never rested until I found them."

What I believe you'll discover in this walk of faith is that as you learn how much this Father loves you, you WILL trust him. It is as natural as a child who trusts her father to let her jump into his arms without dropping her. What I am discovering is that trust really is more of an outcome than a decision. Everything about my life is in the Father's hands. Everything! Nothing escapes his watchful, loving eyes. As I understand more about his love for me, I naturally trust him more. And, I don't mean "understand" as just an intellectual exercise. The more I experience his love, the more I discover that I am trusting him. Something happens and I am surprised to find that I am not worrying like I used to to. Or, I go through some difficult time and later look back and realize I wasn't as frightened as I had been when that happened earlier in my life. I found that I had been trusting God all along without ever really declaring I was. Trust is just the natural outcome of what I've experienced in my relationship with him.

Such an awesome thing to learn. Faith in the midst of doubt. Trust in midst of pain and disappointment. Love that penetrates and covers it all.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Exceeding Abundant Pain

There is a New Testament passage that many Christians like to refer to and even memorize. In Christian churches, it is a good one for strong emotional appeal. It goes like this: “Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever.” (Ephesians 3) A friend shed a little light on this bit of scripture that has changed my thinking a bit and I want to pass it on.

This is one of those Bible passages that usually sits right next to the picture of your kids or grandkids on the refrigerator door, one of those “Wow!” verses. And, it’s usually interpreted something like, Oh, man! What a great promise! God is going really bless me. I’ve been praying for a two-bedroom house, and if I believe him enough, or live rightly enough, he’s going bless me with a four-bedroom house. Or, I’ve been praying for a new Honda and this means that if I live right or trust God enough, he’s going to bless me with a BMW.

In my opinion, there has never been a more thorough slaughtering of biblical understanding. What I’ve come to understand about this God of love is that he isn’t very much interested in my comfort. That isn’t at the top of his list. Yes, I believe God loves to bless us with good things, and he sometimes surprises us with things that bring a level of comfort to our lives. But, his desire for us is our ultimate good. And, isn’t that what love really boils down to? Having and expressing a desire for the ultimate good of another, even to the point of disregard for our own desires? When we love someone, we will do what it takes to see that that person has what they need even if it means we have to sacrifice pleasure and desire for ourselves.

The New Testament writers are pretty plain spoken about God’s love for us. “God so loved” us that he GAVE. He gave everything, sacrificed everything for us. Sacrificed all to bring us wholeness, to heal our brokenness, to bring us back into relationship with him, the ultimate center of life. He is a God of love, so much so that one writer defined his character as Love Itself. “God IS love,” he said. And, that self-sacrificing love was devoted to our best interest. It wasn’t a mushy feeling kind of love that seeks to indulge whim and fancy, that wants to give us everything our hearts desire even if it means it will not be good for us.

What that scripture actually means is that when I’m praying and asking for things, and God isn’t doing what I think he should be doing for me, even if I think I have a clearly “godly” agenda, something deeper is happening. He is doing something exceedingly and abundantly more than I can imagine. I can imagine living in the paradise of my dreams, laying on a hammock under the cool shade of palm trees on a tropical island, drinking iced tea. I can imagine driving my dream car cruising down the highway with the top down and the wind blowing on a warm, sunny day. I can imagine all the comforts of life surrounding me and having all the money I could ever want to satisfy every urge and impulse.

What I can’t imagine is pain ... and that God will use discomfort and suffering to do something deeply inside of me to bring me to wholeness, to bring me back to himself, to save me from foolishness and other antics of life that would destroy me and those around me and make me less than he created me to be. I’m coming to understand that God does use the downsides of life to do his work in me and through me. The exceeding abundance is his power that is at work IN me, a power that is life changing, a power of love that starts a process of healing, and brings me to a place of usefulness in the world.

He loves me that much.

Here is how Eugene Peterson puts it:
“My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth. I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit—not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength—that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you'll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ's love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God.

“God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.”  ~ The Message

Well spoken, I think. My Father loves me. My Father knows How to love me. My Father knows best. He’s got my back, he’s looking out for me and all those I love.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Dr. Happy

I've got to tell you, this is one of those scratch my head til it bleeds moments. So, I'm a Christian, right?  [ TANGENT ALERT!] Actually, I prefer "follower of Jesus Christ" mostly because of what has presented itself as Christianity in recent years, imo. I've even taken to asking some people what they mean when they ask me if I'm a Christian. Do you mean a practitioner of a religion called Christianity? Or, do you mean someone who simply follows Christ? A longer subject for another time, but suffice to say that I am not ashamed of believing in Jesus. He is the one who has saved me and continues to save me from my brokenness, which the Christian Bible accurately calls sin. BEFORE you stop reading, hear me out, please!

People in the the culture today don't like it when Christ followers talk about sin. It's judgmental to them, an indictment, a holier-than-thou kind of thing. And, honestly, I understand that. Judgmentalism is a major face of Christianity in the world. That stinks. That is one of the dynamics that propelled me out of Churchianity. Not that I was being judged, nor do I condemn or look down upon those who choose to become part of a traditional religious congregation. What I've seen projected onto the culture today though in great measure is quite "ugly" if you will, even though there are certainly exceptions. I just didn't want to be a part of that particular scene for the very reason I call myself a CHRIST follower and because I felt there was something different for me to do. So many groups of Christians reek of contempt and judgmentalism, and the media plays it up really big when some really wacky and quacky "Christian" group shows its ugly head. That said, Jesus didn't show contempt to hurting people, those trapped in their doubt, selfishness, fear, and soul-breaking bondages. Check out the story about the woman Jesus met drawing water from a well near the Middle Eastern town of Sychar. It's a fascinating read and great example of how he treated people. (I blogged about it a few weeks ago.

I think that if people are brutally honest with themselves they will admit in their most quiet of moments that something is wrong, wrong with the world, wrong inside of them. And I don't mean the imperfections that we all carry about through life. There is a fundamental brokenness, a fracturing in the soul of each one of us. An aching. A longing to be whole, free from the selfish desires which drive us. Free to have goodness poured into us. Free to have a new heart. Even more so, it's a hunger to to know the God who made us, who loves us with great passionate affection. I very much like what Dallas Willard says about this God: "So we must understand that God does not 'love' us without liking us -- through gritted teeth ... Rather, out of the eternal freshness of his perpetually self-renewed being, the heavenly Father cherishes the earth and each human being upon it. The fondness, the endearment, the unstintingly affectionate regard of God toward all his creatures is the natural outflow of what he is to the core -- which we vainly try to capture with our tired but indispensable old word *love*" (The Divine Conspiracy). We have a God who is absolutely, head-over-heels in love with us. He doesn't like everything we do, dislikes the hurt we inflict upon one another as well as ourselves, and even promises there is a reckoning to come, a time when he will sort everything out his way. But, he loved and loves us so much that he paid a great price to buy us back, to woo us into a relationship.

You see that's what Jesus was all about. He came as a rescuer, God-in-Flesh, to show us this Father who longs to know us and for us to know him, to show us the way back. I also like how Brennan Manning describes Jesus' heart for us: "The heart of Jesus loves us as we are and not as we should be, beyond worthiness and unworthiness, beyond fidelity & infidelity; He who loves us in the morning sun and the evening rain without caution, regret, boundary, limit, or breaking point" (The Signature of Jesus). This God longs for us to allow him to love us, to love us out of all the places we've gotten stuck. He longs to be the healer, the restorer, the lover, maybe a Father you've never known. There is more that can be said, but that's the gist. If you've not been presented with that view of God, then I think I may understand why some Christians and Christianity turn you off.  I will assure of this: You have a Father who loves you more than anyone on this planet ever has or ever will, and has love powerful enough to do something about your broken places. That is very Good news! The religion, the structures, conformity-based obligations, not so much.

Got that off my chest. A tad off my topic, nonetheless important. And, if you fit the above description, I hope you'll rethink Jesus.

Back to my bleeding head ... I was flipping through Facebook and stumbled upon some friends of friends of friends of friends, and came upon two sites that made me want to take my son's anti nausea medicine. One person, a pastor by trade, hailed himself as DR so and so. Every reference to himself had the Doc title. He had two of these, one earned and the other I suspect an honorary bestowment. I have not a thing against degrees. I've earned a couple myself. I have a good friend for whom I have much respect who has two earned doctorates who is an amazing teacher, writer, and researcher. The troubling thing to me is that Christians and Christian leaders insist upon making a point about their position and status. Why not just first and last name? What's so important about making a public statement about your level? It's one thing to list in your About/Bio section your employment and education, etc. It's quite another to make a point about it and title yourself by your status. I won't give more detail because it might give away who this is - not my intent. My point is that this site was rife with a viewpoint that I've come to expect from Churchianity, one that says that people can be above other people, that a person can be given worship veiled in the guise of "respect" and "honor." Sad. I can't say anymore.

The other friend of a friend of a friend of a friend was advertised as The First Lady and she looked nothing like Michelle Obama. She was the wife of a pastor, The First Man, I suppose, although I couldn't find that reference on the site. First Lady?! Really?! I missed that one in the Bible. Where has there ever been a scriptural notion that Anyone is preeminent over any one else in this thing Christians refer to as the Body of Christ? In fact, one of Jesus early followers who wrote a piece of the New Testament had a bit of a fit over a leader who "loved preeminence." As far as I can tell Jesus offered vehement criticism of two things: religious structures and their leaders, especially those who abused the helpless, poor and disenfranchised. He said that certain people love to get themselves called by certain titles and manipulate minds to the point that people willingly call their leaders by auspicious monikers ... that'd be things like Senior This, Bishop That, even Pastor So and So, or Dr. Didandoalot. "Honor" they call it. Oh my Lord, help us! If the Bible caught a cold I'm afraid many of us would never catch it. "It will not be that way among you," said that Jesus we're so fond of us talking about. Where did Christianity find itself in a place where it justified title happiness and leader worship?

I want to tell you stories, but I suspect it will only get me unfriended. I like staying in touch with what's going on in people's lives, friends, acquaintances old and new. Some might even recognize the stories.

Ok, so if you've read some recent blogs that end up pounding on the leadership drum, I suppose it looks like I'm spinning on the broken record. Sorry 'bout that. I really do like to talk more about this awesome God I'm learning to know. It's just that I see this stuff everywhere and can't seem to help myself. I guess it's because I'm just broken and my record also gets that way every so often. Maybe I should find a title to get myself called by. Got any ideas?

Saturday, July 07, 2012

A Story of Decreasing

They were second cousins (...according to some traditions, so I'll go with that), six months age difference between them. Living in different towns, but only about two days walk, it's easy to imagine their families visiting often enough for them to look forward to playing together for a couple of days. They probably played stick ball, fished in the creek, hiked the hill country, and played “Antiochus vs. the Maccabees” with tree branch swords. Once a year during Passover, their families may have met to go up to Jerusalem. While a solemn and holy festival, there was quite a lot of celebration, too, and plenty of time for two young boys to have some fun with cousins and brothers. John and Jesus could very well have been buddies, good friends during their childhood, as well as cousins.

I know what it's like to have fun with cousins. I always looked forward to visits with my second cousin, Mark. Whether at my house or his, we always a had great time together. Riding our bikes, playing in the creeks, playing with our plastic army men, and whatever other imaginary games came to mind. Then, we grew up and went our separate ways. It would be nice to reconnect some day, but I don't even know where he is today, nor even what he does with his life.

Reading through John, a writer about the life of Jesus, I've been focusing on John's cousin, Jesus. We pick up practically nothing of Jesus' childhood in all of the accounts, only a few snapshots here and there, what the writers choose to weave into their message. We can surmise that John and Jesus went their separate ways, as they grew up. Jesus learned the carpenter trade from his father, which some say also may have included stone working. We know a little about John's dad, but nearly nothing about John's upbringing or aspirations. John's father was a priest who served the temple on a rotating basis probably with years of who-knows-what in between. We do know that both John and Jesus as young men felt God calling them for something very special. John was led into a life of solitariness in the wilderness, sort of a modern day Bear Grylls, a Man vs. Wild kind of guy. There he heard the voice of God more clearly, discovering what it was this Yahweh was asking him to do. It was probably there that God showed him he would fill the vital role of blazing a trail for Messiah, that some day Yahweh would reveal Messiah and when that day came, he would have accomplished his life's work.

Jesus was also led into the wilderness and “by the Spirit,” as the Jesus "biographer" Luke puts it. He was led there to fast and hear from this same Yahweh, this God whom he now knew intimately as his Father. While John survived off of the land eating locusts and wild honey in his desert experience, in his Jesus ate nothing for 40 days and experienced a hellish vision of the true enemy of humankind, clearly a test. He passed. Luke says he returned to civilization “in the power of the Spirit.” He was ready to walk out his intimacy with Father in the public square, prepared to declare him to the world. Matthew, another Jesus writer, quotes the ancient word's of Prophet Isaiah who foretells great impact on a beaten down, captive people: "The people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” New Testament writers consistently describe Jesus as Light.

Two cousins, two similar beginnings, one with a six month head start. John knew that he would come back to civilization ready to confront the culture with its brokenness and challenge the people to prepare themselves for a special visitation from the One whom they had heard about all their lives, One who would be sent from God, a Savior, Messiah. His mode of challenge was to baptize people (a ritual practice not unknown to the current culture) and call them to return their lives and focus to God. John knew that his coup de grace, his swan song, his purpose and most important act would be to introduce the Son of God to the world. Near the same time, Jesus, this Son of God, returned from his wilderness encounter to take on the complete role he had been called to, to seek and to save anyone who recognized they were lost and broken. And, by the way, he's still doing that for anyone who will listen for his soft, tender and whispered voice.

In the first few chapters of biographer John's account (a different John than our subject), Jesus' cousin becomes known as John the Baptizer. Curious religious leaders come one day to ask him who he is, and he is clear that he is not Messiah, but that he fulfills the role of Prophet Isaiah's “voice of one calling in the desert, 'Make straight the way for the Lord.'” Then one day cousin John sees cousin Jesus coming his direction after these many years toward the very waters in which John had chosen to baptize people. At that instant, the sign he was too look for appeared and it was no longer just cousin Jesus he was staring at, but the very Son of God himself, the savior of the world. “There he is! I saw the sign! He is the One! This is the Lamb of God who will take away the world's sin, it's brokenness. He is the One who will offer himself as healer of the souls of humankind.” Can you imagine John's excitement? Cousin Jesus! He's the One! MY COUSIN! The very one who I played pitch and catch with when we were boys. I can imagine John laying his head down on his rolled up tunic that night thinking, “Man! I knew it! I knew there was something different about Jesus. Looking back at our boyhood days, I always felt that somehow he was marked for greatness.” I'm sure Jesus had known the same of John.

From that moment on, John's popularity wanes. Some of his disciples become the disciples of Jesus, one of them, Andrew, becoming one of the inner circle of Jesus' friends. People begin to flock to Jesus, and understandably so. Jesus has a message that far exceeds the message of any religious leader of the day, including John. His love and compassion, his healing touch, his miraculous representation of God the Father, his evidence of “being from God,” all of these characteristics draw people like a magnet. Some of John's followers become concerned and ask him about it.

The Baptizer's response is pretty amazing to me. He calls himself Jesus' friend, just as he had been for all those growing up years, but this time he is a different kind of friend. He is the friend of the bridegroom, his best man, we might call it. The best man waits hand and foot on the bridegroom as any good best man would do. He listens for his voice, and when he hears his voice he comes running, excited to do whatever it takes to make his friend ready for his big day, the big ceremony. That's his joy. And John says, “That joy is mine, and it is now complete.” And, this is the sentence that impresses me most: “He must become greater; I must become less. One of my early mentors called this “a ministry of decreasing.”

I've got to tell you, you don't see much of this today in our version of Christianity, at least in the most public of its persona. Everything has to be bigger and increase and “the man of God” has to become more and more revered. It isn't enough to meekly fill a place for a time and humbly step aside to allow someone else to keep the ball rolling. I think Christianity could use a prescription of humility and a mentality of decreasing among its leaders.

John is quite a guy. He sees the signs, acknowledges them, declares Jesus to be the Son of God, the one they have been waiting for. Then, he steps aside, out of the limelight and points people to Jesus. His time of service in the public eye is now coming to a close. In fact, it comes to a sudden stop a few months later. But, he now does what every believing-in-Jesus leader needs to do every time they step in front of others. He points everyone to Jesus. "It isn't me, folks; it's him. He's the One. He's the light in your darkness, the source of your life. Look to him." He believes wholeheartedly who this man is and acts upon that belief in fine fashion.

Followers of Jesus could take good note of John's demeanor, especially those who claim leadership in this group. To follow Jesus is to live in his love and to point others to that love, to that Christ, that Savior. Following him isn't about gathering a group of people who want to listen to me, who will adore me, who will hang on my every word. Following him is to point people to him, to give attention to him in increasing ways, and to discourage and decrease dependence upon yourself. Christian leadership baffles me. Leaders set themselves up for a lifetime of being served and adored by their followers. A rampant disease.

Leadership described in the New Testament is service-oriented, humbly carried out by those who would rather stay out of the spotlight and point that light on God. Look carefully at what is not said nor described in the New Testament and you might discover that leadership roles were probably temporary, given for seasons and tasks. Once those tasks were completed, they probably either stepped aside and allowed maturity to take its own course or moved on to a different field of endeavor. We don't do that today in Christmasanity. Every day is a gift of adoration or monetary gain or notoriety, or all of those. People love their leaders, their pastors, their apostles, their prophets. They lavish them with aura and mysterious godlike attributions. Our leaders in Christmasanity retire with Cadillacs and gold watches, CEO-style. And, it is a rare young man who enters the realm of leadership in this religion who doesn't have stardom in mind, many quite willing to wear the gilded cloak of "servant leadership." Even those with the best of motives find it difficult to resist soaking up the adulation afforded them. I believe it was author Robert Banks who noted that churches don't need more servant leaders. Rather, there is quite a dearth of "leading servants."

John, the historically respected forerunner of the Jesus these people preach, models a different lifestyle. “He must increase; I must decrease.” God is my source, my resource. I need no other. Simple. Complete.

Jesus said it better than any. Paraphrasing...“The one who tries to be exalted will be humbled. The one who humbles himself or herself will be exalted.” Jesus also said something like, the leaders in this world's system position themselves as benefactors, great ones. In other words, they set things up so that they are called by titles and adored by the masses. Then he concluded, It will not be like that among you. The greatest will be called the least. The least will be the greatest. You see, things are quite up-side-down in the Jesus world. Callings are calls to serve, not to be served. And, it just might be a revolutionary idea that a “called” person might find their source of living in God, in a job that God provides, not in a cushy officer-of-the-church position surrounded by plush amenities provided by the “flock” of little people followers. It just might be more difficult to point people to Jesus when all they can see is a huge spotlight on "me." The less they see of you, the more they see of Him. The less they need you, the more they learn to need him, to go to him, to know him.

Lowly John headed for a headless death in prison while struggling with doubt, needing to be reassured and comforted by his heralded messiah cousin. Jesus -- before his un-self exalted glory -- chose to begin and end his eternal place as healer of the broken in obscurity, poverty, and ignominious death.

While pondering the lives and attitudes of these cousins, ponder the lyrics to this common Christian tune:
"To be like Jesus,
To be like Jesus,
On earth I long,
To be like him.
All through life's journey,
From earth to glory,
I only ask,
To be like him."

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Words to live

‎" Resolve to be tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving, tolerant with the weak and the wrong. Sometime in life you will have been all of these." ~ Lloyd Shearer

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Frozen in Place on a Hot Day

Being frozen isn't a very comfortable place to be. I grew up in the Midwest and since moved to milder climates. I remember the cold harsh winters of northern Ohio, especially the times when I worked as a hod for some bricklayers, including my late brother-in-law. Most of the time, we didn't work in the snow and really cold weather, but since it was feast or famine in that business, we worked when we could. I wore out many cheap pairs of jersey gloves carrying cement blocks and bricks and mixing mud with bone-chilled fingers. That job was one of my greatest motivators to get a college degree. Not that it wasn't noble work; we worked very hard and did quality jobs for people, took pride in our work and I learned important life lessons in those days. But, I didn't want to stay and had other ideas that required a college education. The winter days in Ohio, whether working, hunting, or playing brought on freezing cold hands, numb lips, cold feet, and slipping and sliding in treacherous driving conditions. It doesn't feel good to be frozen. 

I've been thinking for some time about what it means in a metaphorical sense to be frozen in place. There are many ways to find yourself there: stuck in jobs, habits, behaviors, grief, regret. Those and other conditions can trap us for periods of time, and it always seems best that we figure out how to move on. There is another angle from which to view this idea of frozenness. I wonder how many times I myself have frozen other people in a certain place in time. I knew a them in our past, lost touch with them, and then reconnected. My first inclination is to perceive them just as I knew them way back when, 15, 20, 30 years ago. Since I've gotten onto Facebook, I've connected with a few hundred people from my past. That's amazing in itself. While there is some criticism to be heard about the downsides of social networking, it's incredible to me that technology has made such far and wide connections possible. The first thing I notice is how friends' looks have changed. No great surprise, although sometimes a bit of an initial shock. 

People change outwardly, but also inwardly. People grow. I've been impressed by the growth I've seen in friends and acquaintances who I may have secretly thought would never amount to much. What a judgmental attitude! Here's a great revelation: People are able to improve given the chance and some grace! I've been thinking how much of a mistake it is to not allow -- in own mind -- my old acquaintances to grow. I feel I've grown in many ways, and I think I rob others and myself a certain joy by not giving them a chance to do the same. 

A judging spirit carries with it a natural ability to label, another way to say that we freeze people in place. Once a person does something that hurts me or disappoints me, it is easy to not allow them, in terms of my relationship with them, to get beyond that event or situation. They may well have grown, changed, and become better people and I just won't allow it in my own perception because of my own hurt and reluctance to forgive. This isn't an easy thing, this forgiveness business. But, I think the damage unforgiveness does to relationships is a great loss. I recently had a discussion with a many-years-ago acquaintance. We had recently renewed contact through Facebook. I made a comment on someone's wall and this person immediately tried to throw it into my face. I'm sure he figured "This guy is still just like I was years ago and hasn't changed." So, he judged me and condemned me without even really knowing who I was and had become to this point in my life. He froze me in time, in place, in character. Right or wrong, I let him have it with both barrels, not attacking him per se, but expressing my disappointment that he would make an unfair assessment of me and where I have come from since that earlier point in life. I didn't hear back from him and I'm not quite sure why. Maybe he just crossed me off as not worth the effort. I hadn't been caustic, just direct. In fact, I only defended myself by pointing out to him how I had been spending my life and I have been quite different from the stereotype he seemed to want to cast me in. The sad part to me is that we could have had a healthy dialogue and respect for one another, appreciating and discussing differences that exist without anger and accusation. 

Reading John the New Testament writer's story about a woman Jesus met drawing water from a well seemed to parallel my recent thoughts about this topic. I don't want to quote it here, you can read it yourself in his fourth chapter. This woman evidently had quite the reputation. Guys loved to sleep with her, so she married them, and eventually either she or the guy dumped the other. She did this five times. At the time of her introduction to Jesus, she had evidently given up on the idea of marriage and was just sleeping with a guy. The fact that she was drawing well water at noon is telling, a hot time of the day, certainly not the sensible early morning, cool-of-the-day event that most women participated in. She was alone. I imagine she wasn't welcome at daybreak with the other women, maybe some of them victims of her indiscretions, possibly having lost husbands to her lustful advances. A bit of reading between the lines, but not a stretch. The village of Sychar was a great place for everyone to know the business of everyone else. 

So, her presence among the others was not appreciated. This is a really great story John tells. There is so much to glean about the character of this Jesus I am learning to follow and how graciously he treats people no matter their place in life. I would like to focus though for a moment on this woman's frozen condition. Hot as it was in that part of the world, she was in a very cold spot. Any reception she would have experienced from the townspeople (unless they were men eyeballing her as eye candy with benefits) would have been accompanied by icicle-like stares. It was cold business being a loose woman in a hot little town. Thus, she was lonely at that well, on purpose, no doubt facing a future with the permanent label of the village slut. Frozen. Imprisoned in lust and time with no possibility for parole. 

Then she met Jesus. You've just got to read the dialogue recorded! It's fascinating. The thing about Jesus was his uncanny ability to see past the face of things, quickly dispatch slight of hand obfuscations, get to the core of the matter, and show love like no one else you or I have known. He fielded her muddled attempts at dodging the important issues and deftly moved her to a place where she could thaw out without great shame and embarrassment. You see, we think that shame and embarrassing people is a good way motivate them, to get them to see the error of their sins and change their behavior. Well, that may work to change someone externally for a time, to get them to obey the rules for a season, but what it really does is drive their pain and brokenness deeper. 

Guilt-tripping only extends the pain and really doesn't change anything in the end. What we know about Jesus is that he knows that guilt, condemnation, and shame do not grow people. Love does. Love changes people. Not the mamby pamby cowardice that masquerades as love, but the God kind of love. The love that has power to change, power to go as many miles as it takes to bring a person to wholeness. Sin is its own punishment. We don't need to pile on. The back-bowing weight of one's own mistakes and failures are enough. What people need is grace. People need to be loved out of their character flaws and brokenness. That, in my opinion, is one of the biggest mistakes that the Christian religion has made. Love with a hook. That is today's face of Christianity. But, it isn't the face of Christ. Jesus knows that the only thing that will change us is love. 

And so, our woman at the Sychar well was frozen. Frozen in her own pitiful attempts at finding love. Coldly detached from hope of life being any different. Jesus was the big thaw. Jesus doesn't do what we do by nature. He sees the end from the beginning. He sees that person in view of their potential, the person that we label and hold some grudge against for something they said or did to us maybe years ago. We didn't see the motivation behind what they said or did then, and we find ourselves with little capability of letting them loose from the cage we've put them in. We lose and they lose. We say we forgive, but not really, and we freeze them in their past; they suffer from our unforgiveness, and our relationship continues to bear the pall of feelings lying just under the surface and coloring all our communication with that person. 

This story about Jesus and the forgiven woman has two sides. She needed forgiveness -- which she received from Jesus, and the townspeople needed to forgive her. We don't know the totality of the story. But, we do know that when she went to tell everyone in the town about her encounter of love with the man whose name she didn't even know, one whom she was now believing to be more than just a man, they came in droves to hear him. And, John tells us that many in that town believed in him because of her testimony. 

Did they also forgive her? Was she able after hers and their belief in Jesus to go to the well at daybreak with all the other women? We don't know the answer, but if I was a betting man, I'd put my money on the power of love and forgiveness and its ability to go viral quicker than any other reality of life. 

Here's what I propose. I propose that you think about the people in your life, the good relationships, the bad ones, and the ones that always seems a little strained. Run your emotions through the grid of forgiveness. See if you've allowed yourself to freeze any of those people in their past, distant or recent. Challenge yourself with brutal honesty -- it's easy to kid ourselves. Be willing to take any part you've had in whatever level of cold war exists between you and them. Sure, forgiveness isn't the same as reconciliation. But, it's a start. And, if you can find the honesty within to own your part of the dysfunction, there may be hope. Or, just compartmentalize like most of us seem to have to do, and leave things alone. You can always put another layer of warm denial on and go your merry way. That's a pretty cold way to live though. Maybe Jesus can help, eh?