Archive for January, 2018

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.

02
Jan
18

An Unbreakable Resolution?

new-year-blogWelcome to the first week of 2018!

Welcome to the time of college football, Christmas put-away, refrigerator clean-out, and wistful dreaming of white sand beaches in warm, sunny climes.

Welcome also to the Time of Resolution!

When it comes to resolutions, I’ve got some of the usual suspects already lined up and ready to go… for 2018 I am resolving to lose weight, spend more time at the gym, be more disciplined in my daily devotions, connect more with friends and family, complain less, compliment more, complete stalled creative projects, travel more, etc.

Blah, blah, blah.

The problem is, I know me.

I know I am that guy who regularly talks a good game about vision, goals, and ideals and starts off with a BANG… but then gradually fades down the stretch… falling just short of carrying through with my grand plans.

And so – as a counterweight to this personal tendency toward entropy – I decided to devise another list of resolutions. I call these my “LHF Resolutions,” LHF as in, Low Hanging Fruit.

These are resolutions I will be easily able to keep. In fact, when you read a couple of these you will see that it would actually take MORE effort to break them than keep them.

My LHF resolutions for 2018 include resolutions to:

  • Always be clothed when going out in public.
    • And in a related resolution, that all articles of clothing are worn right side out.
  • Open the garage door before backing the car out.
    • … or before driving it back in again.
  • Exhale the same number of times I inhale.
  • Socks on BEFORE shoes. Never the other way around.
  • Walk on two legs rather than four.

There are more on the list, but I think you get the point.

I had the same list at the beginning of 2017 and I am happy to report a 100 PERCENT success in keeping them!

All kidding aside, do you think there really is such a thing as an UNBREAKABLE resolution? On the one hand, if a resolution really is a resolution, it should be VERY hard to break. The root word of resolution is the word RESOLVE that the dictionary defines as: “determination, firmness or fixedness of purpose.”

So if I really had a “determination” or “firmness or fixedness of purpose” about my goals for the year, wouldn’t it be impossible NOT to accomplish them?

Alas, sometimes even the deepest reservoir of firmness and/or fixedness cannot overcome the shortcomings this human flesh is heir to.

As we enter this New Year, it is good to be reminded that there really is only ONE resolution that is absolutely ironclad and unbreakable: that is God’s resolution to love us and forgive us. In no less than fifty-two separate times in the Old Testament, we are reminded, “God’s steadfast love endures forever.”

It is a resolution that has been tested again and again. Millennia after millennia of human sin and depravity have given our Creator ample opportunity to throw up divine hands in disgust and say, “OK… that’s it. The deal is OFF! You guys pushed it TOO FAR this time! From now on, it’s just STERN POLICEMAN GOD.”

Thankfully God has continued God’s resolution to love human beings, forgive them, and offer them another chance to love God and one another.

Maybe THIS year we will get it right!

 

Abundant blessings;




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