20
Jun
17

LOVE NOTICES

Happy older driversBut Jesus said, “Someone touched me; for I noticed that power had gone out from me.”

Luke 8:46, NRSV

Have you ever noticed? Jesus notices stuff.

For sure he notices the things that are right there… big as life… smack dab in front of his face… like 99.8% of the rest of us.

But he notices other things, too… things that escape the notice of 99.8% of the rest of us.

Jesus notices people. He notices words. He notices attitudes. He notices the movement of the Spirit as it blows through the world.

And you know what else? He notices YOU! And he knows the joy his noticing brings.

I thought about this the other day when I experienced first-hand the joy of being noticed.

My wife and I were traveling home from a thoroughly delightful afternoon with family. It was the late afternoon hour when the sun was just beginning to set. The temperature was perfect and the air was clear, so the windows of the car were open as we drove. There was some good, bouncy music playing on the radio and we had a pair of satisfied smiles on our faces. (And yes… that is a picture of us there at the top of this post.)

Usually – especially when I am driving – this is not the case. Most of the time when I am the driver of the car and my wife is the passenger, she is nervous and on-edge. Let’s just say she and I have two different driving styles… and for some inexplicable reason my preferred style seems to make her jittery.

HOWEVER… on this day I was really trying to be conservative and cautious as we drove along those familiar streets… braking WELL in advance of the changing stop light… slowing down to allow the gentleman to my left to come on over into this lane of traffic, etc.

I thought to myself, “I wonder if she will notice how sensibly I am driving. And if she does notice it, I wonder if she will SAY anything.”

For a brief moment I considered speaking up… bringing my reformed, prudent driving approach to her attention, just in case she hadn’t really noticed it on her own.

But then, in the very next instant, she DID notice! And she DID say something! And it was genuinely POSITIVE and AFFIRMING… something like, “Honey, you sure are doing a wonderful job behind the wheel there.”

I’m not going to lie… it was AWESOME! A real rush of validation and joy. It also gave me a real incentive to drive the same way the next time we are together.

As I reflected on my experience further, I realized Jesus had the same skill… the skill of noticing the unnoticed… and then COMMENTING on what he had noticed.

The stories of his noticing are legion; Jesus notices the little children the other people are trying to shoo away; he notices that power has gone out of him when the bleeding woman touches the hem of his robe; he notices the man who has been sitting by the pool of Bethsaida for 38 years, waiting to be healed; he notices the blind man by the side of the road; he notices the hypocrisy of the Pharisees; he notices the generosity of the widow bringing her small, insignificant coin to the Temple.

And so many more…

I guess you could say Jesus shows us that loving is noticing.

But as you watch him at work, it seems that the reverse is also true: Jesus also demonstrates his love in the act of NOT noticing.

He intentionally doesn’t notice the hideous condition of the leper’s skin as he reaches out and touches him; he doesn’t notice the lack of education or insight of the fishermen he calls to follow him as disciples; he doesn’t notice the second-class status of the women he chooses to include as partners in his ministry; he doesn’t notice the high social status of the religious officials who seek to discredit him; he doesn’t notice the sins of the woman caught in adultery.

I guess you could also say Jesus shows us that loving is not noticing.

It all makes me wonder: what am I noticing today? What am I NOT noticing?

And maybe more importantly: how are both my noticing and not noticing serving to demonstrate love?

So that’s what is on my heart today…

Thanks for noticing!

 

Abundant blessings;

13
Jun
17

Humble learning

Welcome-to-GI

“… but wisdom is with the humble.”
Proverbs 11:2, NRSV

I learned something this past week.

I learned that Grand Island, Nebraska is actually a pretty cool place.

I learned this as a result of spending three days in Grand Island at the Annual Conference of the Great Plains United Methodist Church.

It was a “command performance” kind of thing… meaning that attendance for me was not optional. Fortunately my wife agreed to go along at the last minute.

And since I am persuaded that this kind of thing is good for the soul, I have a public confession to make: when I first heard about the location of Annual Conference, I was not all that excited about spending three days in the town of Grand Island, Nebraska.

In fact it is possible I even poked a little fun at the notion that the word “island” is part of the name of a town in the state of Nebraska. I may also be guilty of encouraging my friends to wear Hawaiian shirts for each day of the conference… as a celebration of “island life.”

But then we arrived in town. And drove around. And met people and saw sights.

And as a result… I learned! I learned that Grand Island is a wonderful, clean, vigorous, engaging city of 48,000 souls on the plains of south central Nebraska.

(I’m still not entirely sure where the “island” part of the name comes in though.)

In the process of learning these things about Grand Island, I learned another important lesson. I learned something about learning.

Here is what I learned: sometimes learning happens when a vacuum gets filled. For me, there was an empty place in my mind called “the location of Grand Island, Nebraska.” I filled that empty space by looking on a map and finding it… right there off of Interstate 80, about 90 miles straight west of Lincoln, NE.

That’s one kind of learning.

But I learned that there is also another kind!

On some occasions, an unlearning has to happen before new learning is possible. That is because knowledge that is askew or off-base has to be corrected, re-shaped, or removed altogether before it can be replaced by something a little more reflective of reality.

In my case, for example, I first had to unlearn (or “dump,” to be a little more scientific about it) my earlier perceptions about the kind of town Grand Island was before I could replace them with the truer, better, more informed picture.

In thinking about these two kinds of learning, I also discovered that people LOVE the first type (the vacuum-filling type), but are not at all fans of the second type (the one that begins with unlearning).

It may be because the second type of learning requires HUMILITY… the willingness to begin by saying, “You know what… I was wrong about that.”

This is not a sentence that comes easily to my lips. I like to feel as if I have a few things figured out at this fine, ripe age I’ve attained. Retracing and retracting are not actions I rush to embrace.

And yet…

… my sense is that the learning that begins with a humble retraction seems to settle in at a deeper place inside me. It feels somehow “heftier”… a little more like WISDOM or INSIGHT than just information.

That may be what the writer of Proverbs meant by saying that “wisdom is with the humble.”

So then where does that leave us?

It would be hard to argue with the conclusion that the world has rarely had a greater need for wisdom and insight than it has today. At the same time, the world seems to be facing a desperate shortage of humility – the key ingredient of wisdom.

Because after all… when you already have all the answers, why look further or deeper?

Fortunately we have the prophet Micah to remind us what is good. And so, in case you have forgotten what he said, here is that reminder once again: “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:8, NRSV.

To paraphrase the most interesting man in the world: Stay humble, my friend. Gain wisdom.

Abundant blessings;

30
May
17

Why Not the Cross?

the-cross-300x261WIIFM. No. Those are not the call letters of a new radio station on the FM dial.

It is also not a funny way of saying the word for the goal of a baseball pitcher when facing an opposing batter. (Whiff ‘em. Get it??)

WIIFM is a shorthand version of a question that guides many of the creative decisions of people who work in mass marketing.

I am familiar with this secret code lingo because I used to work in that business.

WIIFM stands for: “What’s In It For Me?”

The advice given to an eager young marketer goes something like this: “It’s fine and dandy to stand up and trumpet all the things that make your product the best thing since sliced bread. Your customer doesn’t give two hoots about any of that. The only question they want you to answer is ‘What’s in it for me?’”

And you know what? The folks dispensing that advice are right.

When I am standing there in the middle of Home Depot, I really don’t care how many coats of paint or what kind of paint this barbeque grill has, or why the grate is such a marvelous design, or how many BTU’s it heats up to.

I just want you to tell me how my life will improve by buying this particular grill.

And honestly… if I am using my resources for anything more expensive than a pack of gum, my only question (well, besides “How much does it cost?”) is going to be, “What’s in it for ME?”

WIIFM is a question that works well in the mass marketing profession.

I guess that is why it is SO TEMPTING to try and use it when I am talking to someone about the Christian faith.

It is no secret that the fastest growing segment of the FAITH universe today is the group that checks the box labeled “None of the above” when asked about their religious preference.

Pastors, volunteer leaders, members of religious hierarchies of all stripes are wringing their hands and wracking their brains to figure out how to stem the tide of decline in the mainline church today.

When the first signs of decline began appearing, creative minds began spinning. And it seemed as if the church’s focus was not that different from our market-driven brethren. We tried to understand and respond to the “What’s In It For Me?” question posed by the growing numbers of the None-of-the-Aboves.

We offered rock music, light shows, comfy seating, free coffee, donuts, preferred parking, hand-delivered coffee cups, hip graphics, and video clips, toned-down symbolism, and much more.

And still the decline continued.

Our actions communicate a specific answer to the “What’s in it for me?” question. We seem to say, “Join the church and hear powerful, contemporary music in a comfortable, well-appointed environment, bond with like-minded people, get some motivation and inspiration, see and be seen by your friends, and get a great, rousing start to your week.”

Jesus had a slightly different answer. When he talked to people about following him and they asked, “What’s in it for me?” he said, “A cross. Hardship. Suffering. Ridicule. Rejection. Maybe even death.”

“Oh yeah… and eternal life, too.” (Mark 8:31-38, paraphrased).

In his lifetime, Jesus didn’t “move the needle” a whole lot on the evangelism front. There were a lot of curious bystanders, but not many who heard his recruitment pitch and ran forward saying, “A cross? Really? Where do I sign?”

His numerical results didn’t come until a lot later.

The apostle Paul knew the cross was a “tough sell” in his setting, too. He said, “For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (I Corinthians 1:22-24, NRSV).

There’s no getting around it; you can’t follow Christ without the cross.

So why not just come out and say it and let God do the rest?

It seemed to work out pretty well before.

Abundant blessings;

23
May
17

The Right Time

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven…”
Ecclesiastes 3:1, NRSV

TimerContrary to what I am inclined to believe, “right now” is not always the correct answer.

On the other hand, “later” is also not universally acceptable – as some might have you believe.

“When?” is the question in question… as in “When should I do ­­­­_____________?”

When trying to solve a problem, it is no small victory to have tackled and nailed down the “What?” Pat yourself on the back a couple of times for that one.

But don’t overlook the importance of “When?”

Of course some acts come with their own built-in timetable. The time to begin cooking dinner, for example, is: well enough in advance of the desired serving time.

The time to begin your drive to Colorado is set by a combination of several factors, including the prevailing road conditions and the time you would like to arrive.

But there are other “whens” that are a bit harder to pin down. For example:

  • When will I take time to practice the guitar?
  • When will I pull those weeds?
  • When will I call to check in with my son?
  • When will I buy Joan’s birthday present?

These can all happen at any time. Which, sadly, means sometimes they can also happen at NO time.

But of all the “ whens” I struggle with, the one I probably struggle with the most has no built-in timetable or urgency about it. The answer could be “right now.” It could be “later.” It could very well be, “whenever I feel like it.”

The question is: “When will I do my ‘soul work’?” Or to ask it another way “When will I devote priority time and attention to listening to God’s voice and being shaped by God’s guidance and Spirit?”

Each of us has those times when we feel anxious and disconnected from God. In response we engage our “problem-solver” mode and set to work, looking to “fix it” somehow.

In one sense, there is nothing that should be a higher priority, right?

The very idea of saying, “Let’s see… I have to mow the lawn first… reply to some emails… then pick up the dry cleaning; I suppose I could probably squeeze in 10 minutes of ‘soul time’ before I have to leave for the softball game,” is really pretty silly.

But the more I thought about it, the less sense the original question seemed to make.

I mean, how can you really use the word “project” to talk about something as fundamental as becoming what you were designed to be in the first place?

Genesis 1:26-27 tells us that we were each made, “… in the image of God,” right? So then why would I be grunting and straining to try and manufacture something that is already there… that has been there in fact since before the beginning?

It might sound a little Buddhist to some, but maybe the “doing” I should be paying more attention to is more like an “undoing”… the undoing the attention I give to the standards of behavior the culture imposes upon me… the undoing of all of my devotion to the little “g” gods that stand before me… the undoing of my desire to seek the approval of people in my decisions and actions… the undoing of my anxiety to measure up.

And so, if that is true… if I am indeed called to less of a doing and more of an undoing… then the answer to the question “when” is pretty easy:

NOW.

And: CONTINUOUSLY. WITHOUT CEASING.

And: FOREVER.

Today let our project be one of emerging… emerging from under the pile of debris heaped upon us by the events of our lives… and emerging into the bright sunlight of God’s embrace.

Abundant blessings.

 

16
May
17

LISTEN!

SHHHHHH1“God told me to.”

Have you ever heard those four words offered in response to the question, “Why did you do that?”

If you have heard someone say that before, tell me honestly: what were the first thoughts that popped into your head?

Did you think, “Well, good for you! Follow courageously where He leads!”?

Or was your response more along the lines of, “Hmmmm. Interesting. Tell me more.”?

Maybe you even went with something like, “OK then… And did God also reveal the Seventh Sign of the Apocalypse to you personally and tell you to be sure and make yourself a tin-foil hat to protect yourself from solar radiation?”

I have to confess… I have probably reacted by saying all three of those things at some point or other. And the response I gave probably had a lot to do with the identity of the person telling me that God told them to do something.

I suppose when we hear someone say that God told them to do such-and-such we flash back to memories of the mother who heard God tell her to drown her five kids… or the brutal dictators and cult leaders who said they were following God’s direct commandment in committing their own atrocities.

So I can’t help but wonder: what have people thought when they heard ME use that very meaningful, yet also very loaded phrase?

“God told me to” is the essence of my answer when anyone asks why I decided to go into the ministry.

It is usually the answer at the heart of why I might decide to preach on Topic A instead of Topic B on a given Sunday.

I am sure it is the explanation behind those times when I get a sudden, inexplicable urge to pick up the phone and call someone… and then listen as they say, “Wow! It is so weird that you would call just now…” and then listen as they tell me about an event or a dilemma that has arisen recently in their life.

But where do we finally choose to come down on this question; does God communicate directly to us? Or does God not?

And if our answer is “YES,” how do we sift and sort between the random murmurings of an active imagination and The Voice of the Divine?

Personally, I am not sure I have a good answer to that question. My own history is littered with miscalculations on the topic of “the will of God” – in both directions.

But I found something in this morning’s devotion that might shed helpful light. It is from Mother Teresa’s book, My Life for the Poor, written in 1985. She says:

Once I asked my confessor for advice about my vocation. I asked, “How can I know if God is calling me and for what he is calling me?”

            He answered, “You will know by your happiness. If you are happy with the idea that God calls you to serve him and your neighbor, this will be the proof of your vocation. Profound joy of the heart is like a magnet that indicates the path of life. One has to follow it, even though one enters into a way full of difficulties.”

I like that.

I like the fact that her confessor talks about happiness as a signpost for discerning that it is actually God’s voice we are hearing. It affirms the essential notion that God – rather than being the nasty, punitive tyrant some paint God to be – is actually in favor of our happiness.

But I also like the idea here that says our path to happiness can take us through places of great difficulty. The confessor is telling Mother Teresa that HAPPINESS does NOT equal PROBLEMLESSNESS… that it is possible to experience profound joy in life and still encounter adversity.

How easily we forget this…

Yes, God does still speak. Sadly (for me) God does not use billboards, TV commercials or skywriting to communicate his messages.

God speaks most often in the stillness and devoted times of silence when we make LISTENING a priority.

Listen! Did you hear that?

It was God saying, “I love you and want you to be happy.”

 

– Abundant blessings;

02
May
17

May flowers

May flowersThe season we are in right now… here in the early part of May… is one of my favorite times of the year. New life is appearing on trees and in the fields, birds are chirping, and the scorching heat of summer has not yet arrived.

Maybe we could use a little less rain than we’ve had lately, but that goes along with the whole April showers/May flowers thing, I guess.

I also like this time of year because baseball season is well underway. Someone just please let the Royals know the season has started, would you?

But if we shift our focus a bit and think in terms of the story of Jesus and the disciples we see that this is an odd, in-between kind of season.

In one sense it is a happy and joyous time for them. The risen Jesus has appeared to the disciples (except for Thomas who was out picking up the Jimmy John’s order apparently). They all met with Him on top of the mountain in Galilee and received the Great Commission to, “… go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:20, NRSV).

Jesus then concluded the meeting by assuring them he would be with them, “… to the end of the age.” 

How cool is THAT!

And yet, in another sense, this is a time of great fearfulness and apprehension for the disciples. Despite the thrill of seeing their Master and friend alive and hearing his final “marching orders” to them, they are still hunkering down in Jerusalem.

We check in and find them still scared to death of the Roman soldiers and Jewish priests who are trying to solve the great Mystery of the Empty Tomb.

At this point on the Christian calendar, the Day of Pentecost has not yet come where Jesus’ followers were filled with the evangelistic fire that ultimately sent them out boldly proclaiming the Good News of the Risen Christ throughout the world.

And so here is the question I have to ask myself today: are there any ways that I find myself resembling those timid disciples? Can I relate to feeling JOY about the good news of Jesus’ resurrection and yet still feel some apprehension about stepping out and doing the whole “making disciples” thing?

I’m afraid the answer is yes… I can relate all too well.

I listen and hear Jesus calling me to continue his work. I nod my head enthusiastically when he speaks. I feel a surge of eagerness about doing my part to help draw people to his life changing, life-giving message. I know the difference my relationship with Jesus has made in my own life and want others to experience the same kind of new life and transformation.

I’m all ready to charge out the door in my Master’s service… and then I hesitate. I get a little self-conscious. I ask myself, “So how do I do that exactly?” “What if people don’t respond well when I talk to them?” “What if I say the wrong thing and actually turn people AWAY FROM Jesus instead of TOWARD him?”

And then I read an article like the one I saw in today’s Kansas City Star that says that the current generation of young adults has more skepticism and suspicion about the church and organized religion than any generation EVER in history!

And so I slowly allow my fears to replace my enthusiasm. Just like those disciples did so long ago.

Today, I will say a prayer for all of us… for all who choose to go by the name “disciple of Jesus Christ.” I will pray that we will again feel the hot breath of the Holy Spirit breathing on us, filling us with power and purpose!

Right now I am going to pray that we turn the tables on our fears and go with boldness to carry the message of His saving purposes for the world… not with the arrogance and sense of superiority that can characterize his followers, but with the joy and humility of one who knows the joy of being lost and then FOUND again!

Maybe you will pray that prayer with me at some point today. And then maybe – if there are enough of us praying it together – we will see a really spectacular kind of May flowers blooming in the world.

 

Abundant blessings to you this day…

25
Apr
17

Good luck!

Clover picHey… check out this clover from my back yard.

I guess clover is supposed to be a bad thing to have in your yard, but I really like the look of it.

It transports me to Ireland for a fleeting moment… and reminds me of childhood days of long ago.

No, I never did live in Ireland, but behind our house we had a big field of clover. I can remember getting down on my hands and knees and searching through the field intently… studying each plant closely. I was searching diligently for that magical and elusive FOUR LEAF CLOVER!

And then one time, when I was nine or 10, I actually found one! Yeeeehhhaawwww!

I could hardly contain my excitement and joy! I ran inside to show it to my mom and little sister.

Mom told me that if I wanted to keep it really safe I should put it between the pages of a big book to flatten and preserve it… and then of course I should also remember which book I had put it in.

This advice from my mom made sense, but I was really not sure whether I would actually follow it. You see, the whole reason I went looking for a four-leaf clover in the first place was for the GOOD LUCK it would bring me. And at that age I was really not sure how wide the “luck radius” for a four-leaf clover really was.

I mean, did it work only if the clover was physically in my possession? Would I be OK if it were three feet away? Or six feet? Or a couple of miles?

On the other hand, I knew that if I carried it around with me, I would probably either lose it or destroy it.

What to do?!

“Well, the thing for you to do…” said my Today Self to my 10-year-old self, in response to his dilemma, “… is to grow up a little and dump the whole idea of the good luck talisman in the first place.”

He/I continued: “I mean really; think about it for a minute. How could that green plant, or that penny you found on the street the other day, or that rabbit’s foot you carry around in your pocket influence the outcome of the events of your life?”

You do the best you can… you pray and commit the outcome to God’s hands, and then you just get on with your life! It’s not about luck. It’s about hard work, persistence, and God’s grace… not necessarily in that order.”

And then, if my Today Self had a Bible with him, he would turn to Matthew 6:34 in the “lilies of the field” portion of the Sermon on the Mount and read where Jesus says to his listeners, “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worriers of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”

Hopefully 10 year-old me would hearken and understand the message.

But it also caused me to realize how tempting it is to become caught up in different types of this kind of “magical thinking”… like baseball players who wear the same socks when they are winning… people who toss a handful of salt over their shoulder after they spill it… or those who practice the careful avoidance of cracks in the sidewalk (you don’t want to break your mother’s back, after all!) when they walk.

An attraction to shortcuts and “magic potions” seems to be particularly strong when we talk about the whole area of relationships, too. We each hope to discover that ironclad phrase or action that will bring us true love or will inoculate us against hardships.

Alas, there is no such thing.

Ultimately we find out that relationships – like most of the rest of life – require hard work. They take time and attention, just like the garden out back. And just like your garden, the health of our relationships tends to rise and fall in direct relation to the time and care we put into them.

But most of all, they take PRAYER.

We might not ever be able to grow a crop of four-leaf clovers, but with prayer and a lot of good, old-fashioned “elbow grease” – as my dad used to call it – we can grow sound, healthy relationships with those we love.

 

Abundant blessings;




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