Archive for January, 2018

30
Jan
18

The Allure of the Forbidden

Apple and snakeMany years ago, when my youngest son was 16, he came to me with a “plan”.

I put the word “plan” in quotes here because it was really more like an announcement and a challenge, cleverly blended together.

“Hey, dad!” he said, feigning nonchalance. “Guess what? I’m going to get a tattoo.”

I folded down one corner of my newspaper, looked over at him, and said, “OK,” with equal disinterest and insouciance. “That’s cool,” and then immediately returned to whatever article I was pretending to read.

In truth, I was not at all OK with my 16-year-old son getting a tattoo… no matter where he planned to put it. And it’s not that I had anything against tattoos. I still don’t for that matter. I just thought 16 was WAY too young for him to start making permanent marks on his body.

No, I chose to respond with artificial indifference hoping that it would blunt the most appealing parts of his “plan” – the elements of danger, intrigue, and parental disapproval.

As it turned out, the ploy WORKED! That brief chit-chat was both the first and the last time I ever heard the word “tattoo” exit his lips. Still to this day – 22 years later – my son remains inkless.

So why is it, do you suppose, that the forbidden thing exerts such a powerful allure to us? It is a phenomenon that finds its origins in the earliest annals of biblical history. God swept his arm out over the entirety of creation and said, “See all of this? Lots of great fruit and veggies out there. Have at it! Eat anything you want. Anything at all… except for the fruit on THAT tree right over there.”

Naturally, “that tree over there” immediately became the most appealing tree in the entire world.

My wife and I have recently discovered that this attraction to the world outside the boundaries is not limited to humans. Our new puppy Rosie totally turns up her nose at the pile of “legal” chew toys and heads straight for shoes, socks, chair legs, newspapers, and anything else that we try to keep her away from.

Here she is, chewing blissfully on the shower squeegee while ignoring the “bully stick” we purchased from the pet store.Rosie with squeegee

So what is it? Do we have some kind of hardwired distrust of authority? When someone intones, “Do this!” does our DNA automatically signal, “Nope”?

I’m not sure I buy this answer at all. I am enough of a dork that I want to know where the lines are so that I can color inside them. Too long a stretch of driving on a highway without seeing a speed limit sign makes me nervous.

Is it because we are so enamored of our personal freedom that we see any kind of limit as a threat to that freedom? We are, after all, the nation born from a passionate rebellion to limits placed on our national aspirations.

Or… perhaps there is a belief – living deep within our chromosomes – that the verboten thing is somehow superior to the permitted one? I mean, it would have to be, wouldn’t it? Otherwise, why would it be off limits? If everyone had free, unfettered access to the thing it wouldn’t be special, right?

Or maybe we are all just trying to add a little spice to our lives by seasoning it with a dash of risk and adventure… like my son with his tattoo plan. I am sure this was the reason I sneaked those first few cigarettes out of my father’s pack of Newports and shared them with my friends down behind the fairgrounds.

Smoking was rebellious and dangerous, so automatically it was EXCITING.

I’m really not sure what the answer is.

Maybe you have a theory. If so, I’d love to hear it.

I know the impulse to disobey is still something that courses through my bloodstream. DAILY. I am almost always able to rein it in, but it is still there. But honestly, wouldn’t a life of rigid, total observance of every boundary be borderline miserable?

And what does any of this have to do with living faithfully under the reign of God?

The apostle Paul tells us that the call of God-in-Christ is a call, not to misery, but to freedom. He says, “For you were called to freedom, brothers, and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Galatians 5:13-14, NRSV).

Slavery to love = freedom? I’ll buy that, Mr. Paul.

But I’m still puzzled about why my fellow humans and I are drawn so powerfully to forbidden fruit.

23
Jan
18

Inspirare

Blowing windPause a moment sometime today and think: who inspires me?

I heard an inspiring story yesterday.

It was the story of a young man named Ryan. Ryan heard about another young man named Luke who had been severely injured in a golf cart accident.

In addition to serious head and chest trauma from the accident, Luke went into cardiac arrest at the hospital in Lubbock, Texas where he was taken for treatment.

Once his heart issues were stabilized, Luke began a grueling daily physical therapy regimen. He and his father worked with therapists every day just to regain even minimal use of his arms and legs. As his father told the story, for the next 18 months, Luke sweated and strained and “worked his tail off” every day without complaining. Luke-and-drew-brees

You can find out more about Luke’s remarkable story by clicking here.

This is where Ryan’s story comes in.

Ryan heard about Luke’s struggle and determination (and mounting hospital bills), he decided to do something. Ryan is an avid baseball player who LOVES to take practice swings. So Ryan decided that every day for the next 100 days, he was going to hit 100 balls in practice. And with each one, he was going to work to raise money to help Luke.

Incidentally, it’s not like Ryan is Luke’s teammate or something. Ryan has never met Luke. Ryan is a total stranger living in another part of the country.

When I heard this story on the evening news, it struck me that this was not just an inspiring story. It is a story ABOUT inspiration.

Luke inspired Ryan. And then Ryan took his inspiration and put it into action.

After seeing this and reflecting on it a bit I realized that I too am regularly inspired.

  • I am inspired by my 94-year-old stepmother. She is happy, alert, fit, and even a little sassy. She lost her husband – my dad – a year ago, but manages to stay upbeat and positive and actively engaged in the world around her.
  • I am inspired by my friend who is dying of lung cancer. He continues to read and write and chronicle the history of his adopted homeland here in Kansas City. Yes, he regularly wonders what lies ahead on his body’s journey, but never in a mopey, morose way. His mindset is one of continuous curiosity and engagement.
  • I am inspired by my single mom Facebook friend. Her marriage recently ended sadly and abruptly. And yet, she continues to make her home a place of security and love for her two small children.
  • I am inspired by people who take personal and professional risks on behalf of principles they believe in strongly… daring to speak their truth even if it might cost them a job.
  • I am inspired by the people who stand up every day in the full flower of their uniqueness and say, “Hey, world; this is me, like it or not.”

And so I ask again: Who inspires you?

You see, I could go on and on and on with my list of people who inspire me. They move in and out of my orbit every day. But the story of Luke and Ryan prompted me to ask two new, different questions about the whole topic of inspiration:

  1. What am I actually doing with my inspiration? …and
  2. Have I bothered to tell any of the folks in my life that they inspire me?

Luke inspired Ryan. And so Ryan did something. He launched his “100 hits in 100 days” campaign.

The language students among you will recall that the word “inspire” comes from the Latin inspirare meaning, “blow into, breathe upon…” This stems from the biblical idea of being breathed upon by the Holy Spirit. (John 20:22, NRSV).

We take the general sense of the word to mean, “to influence or animate with an idea or purpose.” But still, the question remains: can we truly call ourselves inspired if we don’t actually ACT on that inspiration?

Maybe it starts by simply telling someone they inspired us.

A sad fact of existence is that most of us go through our day-to-day lives with little to no awareness of the positive influence you have on the lives of those around you. But trust me… you do.

Thanks to social media, of course, we find out pretty quickly when we affect folks negatively. But not so much on the positive side.

How much would it lift a person’s spirits for you to walk up to them – or better yet, write them a good, old-fashioned LETTER! – telling them that they inspired you. And then follow that up by ACTING on that inspiration!

So… to Joan, Bette, Henry, Ciara, Laura, Luke, Ryan, Mitch, Michael, Jeff, Rob, Connie, Adam, Graham, Eric, Alan, Melinda, Doug and others too numerous to mention, I say THANK YOU. You inspire me daily.

And, Ryan, special thanks to you. You inspired me to write this blog post about inspiration!

Abundant blessings…

19
Jan
18

Dudley Do-Right

1-bluemarble_westJudging by the speed with which he sprang into action, I assumed I was about to step on a landmine.

TIME: the morning after Thanksgiving.

PLACE: the kitchen of my son and daughter-in-law’s home in suburban Houston.

Since my son was obviously tied up with the task of making chocolate chip pancakes for the small army of children in the house, I decided to play the role of “helpful Grandpa” and make the coffee.

I walked over, grabbed the pot from the machine, and began filling it from the tap.

That’s when my son bolted from his post at the griddle, yelling “NOOOOOOO!” in a high-pitched, panic-filled voice. Honestly, from his reaction, I thought the baby was about to swallow a Brillo pad.

He ran over, yanked the coffee pot from my hand, dumped out the offending water, and began to sternly lecture me on the RIGHT WAY to make coffee. Which, in his house, meant using the filtered water from the pitcher in the refrigerator.

“Of course,” I thought. “My son is an engineer by trade. So for him, there is a right way to do a thing and a wrong way to do it. And never the twain shall meet… or something like that.”

Personally, I have always been more of a fan of the “right enough” approach to doing things. For example, I don’t sweat it when I notice that the sheet is a little longer on my side of the bed than my wife’s when we make it in the morning. I also tend to just unwrap and hang the ornaments on the Christmas tree… giving zero consideration to which ones I am putting in the higher, more visible locations.

And if I am going to be completely transparent here I will confess to secretly mocking the folks who seem (to me) to be a little too focused on “the right way” to make coffee, make the bed, or hang the Christmas ornaments. In fact, the phrase, “Get a life” may or may not have been mumbled under my breath a few times on these occasions.

HOWEVER – I think we can all agree that there is really only ONE way to hang a roll of toilet paper (over the top), and ONE right way to put on shoes and socks (sock, shoe, sock shoe vs. sock, sock, shoe, shoe). Am I right?

All kidding aside – “upon further review,” as they say in the NFL – I might have to admit that there really IS value in knowing and adhering to “the right way” to do a thing. I, for one, would never consent to heart bypass surgery from a doctor committed to a “right enough” approach (“Yeah… I think we got that vein pretty well stitched on there. It should hold.”), or to driving on a freeway overpass built by a “right enough” structural engineer.

All of which begs the question: is there a “right way” to live our lives? Or are there “right enough” approaches that can also get the job done?

In the creation story, the Bible tells us that for about a day and a half, life on our Big Blue Marble worked absolutely PERFECTLY. Everything was completely in line with the vision of the Creator and hummed along like a well-oiled machine.

And then along came the fly in the ointment: FREEDOM OF CHOICE! (introduced, as the story goes, by the Creator herself!).

Suddenly the sentient beings could choose. They could choose RIGHT, RIGHT ENOUGH, or outright WRONG. And if you continue reading the story you see that more often than not, the SBs (sentient beings) chose WRONG… often spectacularly so. They continued choosing wrong to the point that Creator said of the sentient beings, (and I quote), “I am sorry that I have made them.” (Genesis 6:8, NRSV)

Wow! Why would Creator do that? Why mess up a perfectly perfect arrangement by introducing choice into the equation?

It’s almost as if Creator is sending the message that the value of FREEDOM TO CHOOSE is an even higher value than ALWAYS CHOOSING THE RIGHT WAY.

It’s like this: sometimes I do right.

Sometimes I do right enough.

Sometimes I do wrong… even knowingly.

But I am deeply grateful for the love of a Creator who trusts me enough to grant me that choice.

16
Jan
18

DANG!

freezing-manWhen my cheeks first began to sting, we were at the exact halfway point of the walk.

Prudence told me it was time to turn around and head back. (And yes, prudence and I do talk occasionally). But at the halfway mark, turning around and heading back and carrying on and finishing the walk amounted to exactly the same thing

So we finished the walk. And my stinging cheeks got even stingier.

Rosie the puppy did not seem to be bothered at all by the eight-degree temperature or the 15 mph wind. She was all like, “Hey… I’ve got this fur coat! What’s your deal?”

And I used Rosie as my excuse when I walked back inside and my wife asked, “What were you thinking, going out on a day like this?”

Rosie close upI said, “Well, you know… Rosie has been cooped up inside all day and I thought she needed a little bit of a walk. Hey… we were only gone like 20 minutes!”

Later, on the evening news, the weatherman told us in grave and serious tones that in these conditions, frostbite can set in in less than 30 minutes.

Dang!

And so I did what I can do. I put on another layer, cranked up the thermostat a degree or two, lit the fire in the gas log fireplace, and pulled the afghan up around my ears.

And there I was… all toasty, comfy, and warm. Can someone just hand me the TV remote now, please?

And then I thought about Tom. And Kevin. And Jim. And others.

Tom is a cattle rancher. On mornings like this, Tom has to go out to his farm pond with a big, heavy axe. Tom has to chop away at the ice until there is a big hole in it. Then he has to go around to the other side of the pond and chop the ice and make another hole.

Tom has to do this so his cows will have access to the water in the pond.

If Tom didn’t go out and chop the holes in the ice, the cows would probably walk out onto the ice in search of water. They would then likely break the ice and fall in. And likely be stuck. And probably die.

So Tom really has no choice about getting out in this weather or not.

Tom is also 76 years old.

Kevin is a lineman for the public electrical utility.

Kevin’s phone often rings at 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning on a day like this.

Kevin is dispatched to a remote location where the electrical power has gone out. Either a transformer has overheated and blown up, or ice has caused power lines to break or something else has gone wrong in the grid.

If Kevin didn’t go out in the dark and bitter, biting cold, people might freeze to death in their homes.

So Kevin really has no choice about getting out in this weather or not.

Jim lives on the outskirts of town. It is a generous use of the term to refer to his residence using the word “house.”

Yes, there is a roof. Yes, there are walls, and windows, and a door, and a floor.

But Jim has no electricity. Jim has no running water. Jim has no heating system besides the wood he can find to burn in his fireplace.

Jim walks the four miles into town and back wearing shoes he has made himself… stitching odd pieces of leather together with a large needle.

I don’t know anything about Jim’s story or the circumstances that led him into this situation.

I just know that Jim doesn’t really have a choice about being out in this weather or not.

And so – huddled up here under my afghan in my toasty home – I give thanks. I give thanks for this shelter. I give thanks for the random collection of circumstances that gave it to me. I give thanks that the only frostbite I face is that which I decide to foolishly visit upon myself.

But in my thanksgiving, I also realize the need to be careful. In my thanksgiving, I need to take extra care about my use of the word “blessings,” conveying, as it does, the gift of a divine measure of grace… somehow dispensed to me but not to Tom, or Kevin, or Jim, or the EMT responding to the scene of an accident, or the police officer, or the single mom with no car and no job.

So yes… I am blessed.

But just like Abraham of the Old Testament, I am called to remember: I am blessed. But I am blessed for a reason. I am blessed to BE a blessing. (Genesis 22:18).

Could we even go so far as to propose this blessing formula: The more blessed, the more blessing required?

Why not?

Stay warm, friends. And while you’re at it, find a way to bless according to your blessing.

11
Jan
18

Blurred vision

dirty_glasses_635_358I had to clean my glasses today.

They had gotten so crusty and grimy they were getting hard to see through.

When I finally took them off and held them up to the light I was shocked. I was amazed to think how long it took me to finally realize my glasses had been accumulating a world-class layer of schmutz.

(LURKING METAPHOR ALERT!) You see, sometimes we don’t notice right away when our vision is becoming obscured. It starts with just one tiny, insignificant splotch followed by another equally tiny splotch a few hours later and so on… tiny splotch by tiny splotch… until suddenly you have no idea if that is a snow plow, city bus, or elephant looming ahead there in the roadway.

You see, sometimes we have to stop and look AT what we have been looking THROUGH.

But we won’t ever clean our own glasses until we first stop and recognize that they are dirty.

Metaphors aside, as you and I go about the business of observing the world around us and commenting on what we see there, we have to regularly dare to be skeptical about the quality and clarity of our own vision.

That’s something I recognize that I really need to do. But to do that effectively, I need YOUR help. You are in the best place to recognize the smudges obscuring my vision.

So please… let me know. Freely. Unabashedly. Firmly, but – if possible – lovingly.

Maybe instead of scrunching up your face and saying, “EWWWW! Your glasses are so GROSS!” you could say, “Hey, Russell… here’s what I see;”

 

Because who knows… maybe YOUR glasses are dirty, too.

 

Blessings…

09
Jan
18

Necktie Truth

Burning bushQ: When is a burning bush NOT a burning bush?

A: When it is a collapsing tie rack.

Ba-dump-bump!

Let me explain: Sunday night when I came home I was tired.

Earlier in the day, I woke up at 5:00 a.m., preached sermons at two different churches, driven an hour back to the city, and then went immediately to speak at my friend’s pre-funeral funeral event. (Which, when you think about it, is a really good idea. I would love the chance to be there in the flesh to listen to all the lovely eulogies and memories people normally don’t speak about you until your actual funeral.)

When I got home I went through the bedroom and into my closet. I was eagerly looking forward to taking off my suit and tie, slipping into a baggy sweatshirt and slippers, putting my feet up and just RELAXING.

And then suddenly – unprovoked by anything but the winds of cosmic mischief – my battery-powered, revolving tie rack crashed to the closet floor… spilling ties EVERYWHERE.

Granted, I’ve had that rack for a long time… probably long enough to explain why two of the five little plastic hooks holding it up were broken off.

But still…

For the next 30 minutes there I was – halfway undressed, trying to put the accursed device back together while digging myself out from under the tie avalanche in the middle of the closet floor.

Somewhere there in the middle of my cursing and scooping and flailing attempts to fix what was broken, a thought entered my mind. And that thought went something like this; “Well, looks like it is time to get a new tie rack. And maybe – JUST MAYBE – it doesn’t need to be a rotating tie rack capable of holding 64 different ties. MAYBE it is time to come to grips with the fact that you are in a different phase of your life where you don’t actually NEED 60-70 different ties to choose from. MAYBE you could take at least half of those and give them away!”

Yes, I had to face a hard truth: I had been hoarding neckties.

Which is a weird thing, actually, since I am not really a big fan of ties in the first place.

I finally realized that right there, in my tired, half-dressed, frustrated state of mind standing there in the closet; I had received an invitation.

I was being invited to face the music.

I was being invited to embrace the reality of the new phase my life had entered… I am not sure exactly what to call this phase, but it is definitely a phase that does not require 64 different tie choices.

Who knows, it might be time to just be totally wild, throw caution to the wind, and face the world with just 30 ties!

In all seriousness, I found that the act of sitting in the middle of that pile of ties, sorting through them and putting some in a “toss or donate” bag was an exercise that was at once sobering and liberating.

Those ties – along with many other material artifacts that populate my home I’m sure – represented a bridge to the past. They helped me say, “See… nothing has changed. I am still the same guy I was 25 years ago when I started buying those ties. I can postpone any effort to recalculate my bearings in life FOREVER! I really don’t have to face the honest-to-gosh facts of who I am and where I am.”

The best burning bushes in our lives are the ones that bring us face to face with the truth. The truth God revealed to Moses in the burning bush there on Mt. Sinai was the truth of his unique call to liberate his people (Exodus 3:7-10).

The truth Jesus revealed to the apostle Simon when he changed his name to Peter (Luke 6:14) was the truth of his rock-solid character… albeit a character buried deeply under some really shaky stuff on the surface.

Jesus hit the nail on the head when he said, “… and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” (John 8:32, NRSV). What he omitted from his statement was that after coming to KNOW the truth, we have to LIVE that truth.

Because sometimes truths are hard to come to grips with… just like my truth about neckties.

And so we avoid them.

Right now we are living in a time when the world is being presented with a whole bunch of truth… truth about the prevalence of sexual violence in the workplace… truth about the epidemic levels of chemical addiction… truth about the importance of character in our political leaders… truth about the alteration of the planet’s climate patterns caused by man-made pollution… and so on and so on.

These truths WILL, in fact, set us free.

But only if we embrace these truths and live them out.

Will you help me?

06
Jan
18

SHAZAM! Or Ahhhh….

aha momentAnother Mega-Millions Jackpot drawing… another day of not winning for me.

Of course, I am sure my odds of winning would go up dramatically if I actually bought a ticket.

And so, as I try to console myself about that gigantic disappointment, I realize there are quite a lot of other dramatic, life-changing bolts from the blue that did not happen to me today.

For example, I:

  • … was not given my own reality show on network TV.
  • … did not awaken to discover astonishing athletic skills heretofore unknown to me.
  • … did not become impervious to all manner of illness and physical infirmity.
  • … was not suddenly blessed with the singing voice of an angel.
  • … did not abruptly discover the cure for lymphoma, and finally,
  • … did not instantly become a “stable genius” overnight.

And the more I thought about it – here on the traditional day of the Epiphany – the better I find I can relate to the Wise Men.

Epiphany Day is recognized as the day when the Travelers from the East arrived at the manger in Bethlehem. It was the culmination of their two-year journey that began with a decision to follow a new, luminous star that had suddenly appeared in the sky.

It was a journey sparked by the conviction that they would meet – face-to-face – a new royal leader.

A Deliverer.

A Messiah.

Finally, the star stopped moving. It came to rest and illuminated the place where the new king could be found. And what did those very wise, very adventurous men find at the end of their “rainbow”?

They found a humble carpenter, his teenage bride, and their precious toddler son.

And as Matthew’s gospel tells us, they, “… knelt down and paid him homage.” (Matt. 2:11), followed by extravagant gift-giving.

They didn’t say, “Hold up a minute… this is A BARN and an ANIMAL TROUGH! And this “king” is just a BABY! We were expecting to see some kind of powerful RULER with jewels and robes and at least a scepter in his hand! What gives??!!”

But I guess that is why they call these wise men wise.

They were wise because they realized that a Deliverer did not have to conform to a set of accepted expectations in order to be a Deliverer.

They were called wise because they realized that a King didn’t necessarily have to wear a crown.

We call them wise because they realized that a Messiah can be just as powerful a messiah when he arrives in the shape of a baby.

Wisdom was ascribed to these wise men because they saw that answers to the riddles of life do not necessarily have to come in the form of a “bolt out of the blue” super jackpot responses.

May we all have just such an epiphany today.




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