Posts Tagged ‘blessing

24
Dec
21

Why Give?

It’s Christmas… the season of giving.

But why? 

I mean, why do we give? I am not ONLY talking about Christmas giving. I’m talking about any kind of giving.

I puzzled on this one for a while and came up with a few answers. To wit:

  • Sometimes we give because it’s a tradition. It’s expected.
  • Sometimes we give because someone needs something, and we have the means to provide it.
  • Sometimes we give because we feel the need to TANGIBLY express our love and affection to someone.
  • Sometimes we give because we feel insecure about the status of a relationship and believe that giving will help strengthen and shore it up with “stuff.”
  • Sometimes we give because we just have too damned much money and we don’t know what to do with it. [I cannot personally relate to this one].
  • Sometimes we give because we want another person to feel they are in our debt.

And so on.

It didn’t take a lot of sweat to come up with this list because every one of these reasons (except for the “too much money” one) has motivated my own giving in the past.

But what if I asked you to look through this list – including any others you might add to it – and choose which Giving Motivator best describes the true spirit of CHRISTMAS giving?

Honestly, I think every gift you’ll find under your tree might well be wrapped in one of these motivators. But I am not sure anything listed here actually lines up with the motivation that was behind the Original Christmas Gift

And by Original Christmas Gift (OCG), of course I mean JESUS!

And so, the two questions I am wrestling with here at Christmas Eve Eve 2021 are: #1 – What was God’s motivation in giving us God’s Own Self, in the flesh, as the OCG? And #2 – How might MY giving (Christmas and otherwise) more closely reflect that same motivation?

What do you think?

Right off the bat I am going to have to rule against “To show us God’s love” as a possible answer to the first question. Regular readers of the Bible will know that God was in the business of showing love to humans from page 1 onward. 

Heck, the very act of creation was an act of love. 

Similarly, I am going to go ahead and pre-emptively rule against the answer, “Because God was bored and needed something to do.”

I believe that “the Word became flesh and lived among us…” (John 1:14, NRSV) for one basic reason; to demonstrate the life-and-world changing power of self-giving, sacrificial love

It didn’t just cost God something to stoop down and pitch a tent here with you and me. It cost God EVERYTHING! It was a gift of epic proportions… given with no expectation of receiving anything in return. 

The OCG was a gift that was supposed to say to us, “Hey! THIS is what giving is all about. This giving is willful self-emptying. This giving lies at the very heart of Who I Am and who I call YOU to be also.” 

“Oh, and by the way… THIS giving is what changes the world.”

And it did, too.

As far as any kind of answer to the second question I posed (I.e., “How might MY giving (Christmas and otherwise) more closely reflect that same motivation?”), I am still chewing on that one. But I think it has something to do with trying to make sure that any giving I do in the future is an authentic GIVING OF MYSELF rather than any of those other reasons. 

That’s all for now. I am not sure I have even come close to the right answers to those questions, but I would LOVE to hear what you think. 

In the meantime, Merry Christmas to you and yours. This year, give someone the gift of YOU!

Abundant blessings;

22
Nov
21

Thanks for those scars

(Not my scar, by the way)

For the most part, I don’t have a lot of scars.

(Not that you can see, at least).

There’s this one on the front side of my left index finger. That’s from getting it caught on the top of a sharp chain-link fence I was climbing.

There’s this one on the back of my left hand. That was a freak accident caused by a sticky French door I was trying to close. I apparently yanked on it too forcefully, dislodging one of the panes at the top. CHOP! It came down… just like a guillotine blade, cleanly severing my middle finger tendon.

Those two – besides the dark spot on my right thumb where Donnie Avery stabbed me with a #2 pencil in the 10th grade – pretty much complete the list of “scars I did not intend to receive.” 

And just because of sheer, dumb luck, my list of “scars I planned on” is pretty limited, too. All I have to show are one on each shoulder from two different “shoulder decompression” surgeries, five years apart. 

As I alluded to earlier, I also bear other scars. The kind the dermatologist doesn’t see at the annual skin check. [BTW, have you had yours yet? If not, I highly recommend scheduling it ASAP. Especially if you are “of a certain age.”]

I have emotional scars. Mental scars. And if it is possible, spiritual scars, too.

Some are recent. Some go WAAAAY back. And even though each of them had a definite influence in shaping me into the person I am today, they all involved PAIN. 

The gauntlet I am throwing down for myself today… the Monday of Thankskgiving week… is the question: “Am I able to truly GIVE THANKS for each of those scars?” 

You are more than welcome to offer yourself this same challenge. I have no ownership claims on this exercise.

My quest stems from the exhortation the Apostle Paul made to the small band of believers gathered there in Thessalonica nearly 2,000 years ago. Included in Paul’s list of, “Here are the things God wants you to do,” is this one: “… give thanks in all circumstances…” (1 Thessalonians 5:18, NRSV).

As much as I might like to think otherwise, I am pretty sure Paul also meant to include, “Give thanks for all circumstances” in this instruction.

Wait… do you really mean;

  • Give thanks for the scars left by being cut from the eighth-grade basketball team?
  • Give thanks for emotional damage of being tormented by the neighborhood bully?
  • Give thanks for the pain of hearing, “Sorry, Rusty… no” the first time I screwed up my courage to ask a girl out on a date?
  • Give thanks for the anguish of my divorce?
  • Give thanks for the church leaders who said, “We don’t want you as our pastor anymore”?
  • And MORE?

“Hold on, Paul… give thanks for all of THAT? Are you KIDDING me? That’s about the goofiest advice I’ve ever heard.”

And yet, despite my protests, Paul is unmoved. Paul… you know… the guy who was whipped, beaten, ship-wrecked, mocked, rejected, arrested, thrown in prison, and eventually executed? 

Yeah… that guy. 

He holds fast. 

He keeps telling me to give thanks. 

IN all circumstances. FOR all circumstances. For all the scars.

“Just do it,” he says with a wry smile. “One day, you’ll find out why.”

Abundant blessings;

05
Nov
21

EST-CE QUE TU PARLES FRANCAIS?

Joan and I have been in the south of France for the past week.

And when I say, “the south of France,” I mean THE SOUTH. As in, imagining we hear banjos and guitars having a pick-off duel as we round every turn in the road. 

In French, of course.

Don’t get me wrong… this is a beautiful place. Full of vineyards, ancient stone castles, quaint villages, winding roads and craggy hillsides. It is breathtakingly romantic and serene.

Except that NOBODY here speaks a word of English. As a matter of fact, I am not sure they know any language besides French even exists.

And so, as we have navigated our way through the amazing little towns of Boutenac, Carcassone, Minerve, Lezignan, and Coulliere, we learned to get by with some quick, seat-of-the-pants translating. When ordering lunch, for example, we had to figure out that it would not kill us to choose something off the Poisson section of the menu. It just meant we would get a nice piece of grilled fish. 

We also learned that adding a dash of cannelle to our morning coffee would give it a flavorful little kick.

Waitresses and hotel clerks and retailers regularly took pity on us and used their back-pocket English when we appeared to struggle. But for the most part, we were a couple of odd ducks wherever we went. Which – I have to admit – was kind of a new experience for both of us. 

Because, you see, most of the time, I am alert, aware, comfortable with my surroundings, and on top of my game. In my native habitat, stuff doesn’t fluster me… unless, of course, we are talking about finding ANYTHING in the grocery store! And so, the experience of being in a place where I am different… where I am lost and unsure… where I am The Other… was unsettling and frankly disorienting.

It also made me realize that it is not necessary to travel in France with a limited-to-nonexistent French vocabulary to feel out of place. Often all it takes to feel like un poisson hors de l’eau is to be a member of any non-advantaged group. 

Those of us who – because of our race, gender, ableness, or economic class – begin life on second base, are told (and believe) the story that we hit a double. We inherited the FastPass at Disneyland and can’t, for the life of us, figure out why everyone else is still standing in that silly line. We get the grades, we get the help, we get the jobs, and we get the dream… in many cases all because of factors we have zero control over. 

And so, it comes as a very unwelcome shock any time we find ourselves standing on the outside – of ANYTHING! – looking in. 

Most of the time when this kind of disquieting, uncomfortable moment happens to us, we moan and wail and kvetch. “This totally sucks!” is one of our more popular refrains.

But what if we used these pinch-point moments for a different purpose? What if we used them instead as a moment of awakening? What if we recognized them as a time when SEEDS are being sown? 

Seeds of insight… seeds of compassion… seeds of understanding.

What if – when the time comes when the cards all seem to be stacked against us, we cocked our heads, opened our ears, and heard the voice of Jesus saying, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest…” (Matthew 11:28, NRSV) and paid special attention in that verse to the word ALL?

What if?

That would sure be tres bon, wouldn’t it?

Abundant blessings;

26
Dec
20

An Unfinished Christmas

I may have mentioned this before (apologies to you if this is old, stale news), but Joan and I are in the middle of a giant remodel in our home.

Shortly after moving in to this house, we decided to flip the locations of the kitchen and the dining room. And just for fun, we decided to throw in a living room fireplace replacement project at the same time.

Yes indeed, we are the kind of wacky, carefree scalawags who get our jollies from doing that sort of stuff.

We started planning the project in the spring, just after the onset of COVID-19. Allowing for a little extra time for delays and setbacks, we conservatively estimated it would be finished by Labor Day… and then Thanksgiving… and then Christmas. 

As you can see from these photos, it is almost, but not quite, finished, here on December 26, 2020. 

Having no kitchen for the last three months has been something a struggle for both of us, but especially so for Joan. True to her Italian heritage, she is most at home in her kitchen, cooking up big servings of love for friends and family. 

When the goal of cooking Thanksgiving dinner in the new kitchen died a reluctant death, all eyes turned instead to a lavish Christmas feast. “Sure… you’ll have a functional kitchen by Christmas,” our contractor told us. 

“Functional,” we noted, is not the same as “finished.” And that is exactly what we got when he knocked off for the weekend early Tuesday afternoon. 

Undaunted, we set the dining room table back up, pushed the wet/dry industrial vac into the corner and started COOKING and DECORATING!! And you know what? It actually worked out pretty well.

We nicknamed 2020, “the unfinished Christmas.” And when you stop and think about it, in a way, God could have given the very first Christmas the same name.

Yes, God came to earth in human form, just as the biblical Christmas story tells us. God’s purpose in making this Cosmic House Call was to – as we were told in Matthew’s gospel, “… save his people from their sins.”(Matthew 1:21, NRSV). 

SAVIOR. That is who Jesus is. That is what his name means. In Jesus, God provided a doorway that humanity had never had access to before… a doorway from sin and death to life and peace. 

And yet despite that gift… despite that doorway… God’s saving work is unfinished until we do our part. 

The life-saving rope can be perfectly thrown to the drowning man; but until the drowning man reaches out and grabs that rope, he is not saved. 

God came to live among us… to live as one of us… to throw us the life-saving rope of God’s love and grace. But the work of Christmas remains unfinished until you and I reach out and say, “YES” to the gift Jesus offers us.

He is still offering it today and will continue to offer it every day for the rest of your life.

Will you take it?

Abundant blessings;

23
Dec
20

Put Some Meat On It

What has Christmas cost you… so far?

Close up Christmas gift box. Christmas presents in red and brown boxes on Christmas Tree background in loft interior copy space.

And no, I am not talking about the money you have spent on presents… or decorations… or food… or postage for all of those cards… or gas for your car.

In fact, I am not talking about the financial cost of Christmas at all. 

I’m talking about the cost of Christmas…

… To YOU. Personally.

I ask this because – for Christians at least – Christmas is supposed to be about INCARNATION… the word that derives from the Latin carne, meaning meat. Fittingly, the central event of Christmas – the birth of the infant Jesus of Nazareth – was all about God putting MEAT on God’s divine, unconditional, infinite, sacrificial, life-giving, all-affirming LOVE. 

It was history’s ultimate gift. And so we choose to memorialize that act by our own giving. 

But the point of the season is still INCARNATION… that is, putting MEAT on our aspirations. And anytime we do that, there is a cost;

  • It means instead of wishing there wasn’t such a thing as racial injustice in the world, we actually invest our own flesh and blood in helping to end it.
  • It means instead of wishing people didn’t live in poverty, we invest our own flesh and blood in helping relieve poverty for a specific person or group of people.
  • It means instead of wishing we weren’t such a polarized country, we invest our own flesh and blood in helping to bridge that fissure.

However, like most of us, I would rather ASPIRE than PERSPIRE.

I love hoisting the flag of the causes I believe in, or opining passionately on social media, or bending my neighbor’s ear about all the rotten cruelty and injustice there is in the world. 

But when it comes right down to investing my precious blood, sweat, and tears, well, let’s not get too carried away here, shall we? Let’s slow our roll and take it EASY, mmmK?

Except that’s not the actual spirit of Christmas. 

Giving gifts to friends and family is a good start. It symbolizes God’s supreme act of giving that inspired John the Evangelist to write, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16, NRSV).

But I believe Christmas is meant to spur us to live as GIVERS even after all the wrapping paper has been thrown into the trash. 

In order to fully celebrate Christmas, I believe we are called to “put meat on” the things we say we care about… for each of the other 364 days of the year, too. 

I believe authentically honoring the spirit of Christmas should cost us something.

Merry Christmas to you and yours. May this holiday season mark the beginning of a new life of costly giving.

Abundant blessings;

21
Dec
20

My Christmas of Shame

As the Christmas of my 12th year approached, I wanted a Sting-Ray bike so badly I could taste it.

Everybody has one,” I told my parents, although I’m not sure that was technically true. There were probably one or two 12-year-olds in Bangaladesh who did not have Sting-Ray bicycles.

The bike I did have was functional, but a little clunky. It certainly did NOT have a banana seat or cool, high-rise handlebars, or a sparkly candy apple red paint job. Those deficiencies caused me to be seriously ill-prepared in the “popping wheelies” department. 

Sting-Rays, as I’m sure you are aware, are PERFECT for popping wheelies.

My solution was to beg and beg and whine and moan and complain to my parents, beginning sometime in August. I assured them my life would be ruined if I did not soon possess a Schwinn Sting-Ray bicycle. The shame, I assured them, would redound to them as the parents of The Kid Without a Sting-Ray. 

Of course, it did not enter my childish brain that I was talking about a very major purchase here. We were not what you would call poor, but with five kids and a stay-at-home mother, there was not a lot of room for extravagance at Christmas time. In all likelihood, my heart’s desire might have eaten up 50 percent of the family Christmas present-buying budget.    

Fast forward to Christmas morning. The kids all woke up early – as usual – and ran downstairs to see what Santa had brought us. We impatiently waited as mom and dad took their sweet time coming downstairs, making coffee, and pretending not to know what we were so excited about. 

Stockings were first, by law. Then came the distribution of all of the other wrapped gifts. My eyes kept scanning for a large present in the shape of a Sting-Ray bicycle, to no avail. 

When everything had been passed out, ooo’d and ahhh’d over, squealed with delight for, or grudgingly thanked for (when the gift was a six-pack of new underwear), there was still no Sting-Ray bicycle in sight. Suddenly my dad looked over and said, “Well, I guess that’s it, kids!” and then with a wink my mother chimed in, “Wait a minute, George… what is that I see out there on the front porch?”

“I don’t know,” my father implishly replied. “Why don’t we go out and look!”

We all trooped out to the porch to see what they could possibly be talking about and there – in all its glory – sat a shiny Quasi-Sting-Ray bicycle.

“Oh look, Rusty!” my father proudly proclaimed. “I guess there was one more thing left after all. And I think it is for YOU!”

My father had taken my old bike – the clunky one described above – painted the frame with some metallic, candy-apple red and green paint, and then replaced the original handlebars with high-rise handlebars and the original seat with a Sting-Ray-like banana seat. 

My father had undertaken a labor of love. He had assessed the wants and needs of his five children, weighed them against the available budget, and come up with a creative solution. He spent hours and hours in a secret place in the garage modifying my bike and turning it into the thing I wanted most in the world.

And in return for his love, hard work, and creativity, what did I do? 

I moped. I sulked. I looked down at the ground and tried to hide my deep disappointment.

I think I managed to mumble out a strained, “Thank you,” but my heart wasn’t in it. 

I knew that all of my Sting-Ray owning friends were going to point and laugh at me when I rode my homemade Sting-Ray down the street. It would be just like wearing a placard around my neck that read, “Hi there! We’re poor.” 

I was ashamed of my parents’ gift.

Today though, I am ashamed of me and the way I reacted. 

I look back on that moment with the hard-won knowledge of what it takes to raise a family. I now know that nothing matters more to a parent than lighting up a child’s face with joy. I know parents are hardwired to do whatever it takes to provide for and protect their children and that the only reward any parent ever wants for all of the work and sacrifice is a smile and hearing a heartfelt, “Thank you, dad,” from that child. 

That Christmas I gave my parents none of those gifts. 

Today, as we approach this COVID Christmas, I hope we can look past the PRESENTS and give thanks for the PRESENCE; the presence of love, the presence of family, and the presence of God incarnate, as the real gifts of this season. 

Merry Christmas and abundant blessings;

21
Oct
20

Finding the Quiet Center

Let’s see…

  • A new place to call home,
  • A global pandemic,
  • A chaotic, topsy, turvy, absolutely wack-a-doodle political scene,
  • Streets filled with people protesting against racial injustice, 
  • A record-breaking wildfire burning eight-and-a-half miles from the city limits of my new community,
  • A cable TV company tearing up nearby streets and yards to install new service…

Hmmmm, I wonder… what else can I add to my world to make it just a little more CHAOTIC?

Hey! I know! What about a complete remodel of our kitchen and dining room?

THAT’S the ticket!

As I cower here in my upstairs study/office/sanctuary, I can hear the sounds of a wall being broken down, followed by a wet/dry vacuum cleaner sucking up the drywall detritus, followed next by the sound of tiles being chipped away with a hammer. 

Yes, the door is closed, but the sounds and vibrations carry through quite clearly.

And besides the clutter, dust, and noise, we are now cooking in a microwave and eating on paper plates since the stove and dishwasher have been pulled out.

This project was supposed to start mid-summer and be finished by Labor Day. Thanks to the aforementioned global pandemic, absolutely EVERYTHING about this project was delayed.

I know, I know… “first world problems.” For sure.

As I sit here in the middle of this chaos, dust, and confusion I found a certain song coming to mind. You might know it, too. It is called, Find the Quiet Center.

And it goes a little like this…

Come and find the quiet center

     in the crowded life we lead,

          find the room for hope to enter,

               find the frame where we are freed:

clear the chaos and the clutter,

     clear our eyes, that we can see

          all the things that really matter,

               be at peace, and simply be.

This certainly is a time when we could all use a “quiet center,” isn’t it? Whether your kitchen is being remodeled, or your kids are driving you crazy, or your job is teetering on the brink, or your mental and/or physical health is in jeopardy, every one of us yearns for respite… even if only for a fleeting moment.

Of course, there are many options when it comes to coping with the chaos of life, aren’t there?

We can flee (or attempt to).

We can deny.

We can anesthetize with drugs, alcohol, sex, or mindless entertainment.

We can grit our teeth and stoically suffer.

Or we can seek out and enter the “quiet center” God offers us.

Once God spoke to the embattled Israelites through Isaiah’s mouth and told them, “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you…” (Isaiah 66:13, NRSV).

Eight hundred years later, Jesus looked out sorrowfully on the chaos of the city of Jerusalem and lamented, “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Matthew 23:37, NRSV). 

The Good News for today is: regardless of the particular circumstances any of us face right now, the quiet center we so desperately need is indeed available. 

AND it is actually even closer than you think!

Abundant blessings;

14
Oct
20

The Last Hurrah

“The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it…” (Psalm 24:1, NRSV)

Seldom has there been a more oft-repeated, self-evident phrase than the one I am about to utter. Despite that, I press on…

“FALL IS MY FAVORITE SEASON!”

If it were not for the fact that our Fort Collins, CO sky is currently filled with smoke and ash particulates from a very nearby wildfire, Joan and I would be outside all day every day drinking in the autumnal splendor.

Here, for your viewing pleasure, are just a few examples of some of God’s best handiwork:

As we were out walking with the dogs and admiring the brilliant splashes of color the other day, I wondered if there were perhaps an Abiding Truth or Profound Life Lesson lurking there among the red and gold leaves.

And lo and behold, it didn’t take long at all to find one.

Isn’t it interesting, I thought, that trees wait until the very last moment of their seasonal “lives” to put on their brightest, most brilliant displays? As we all know, in a few short weeks, all of those gorgeous leaves will be lying on our lawns, choking our grass, and demanding to be swept up and discarded.

Just in time for the icy cold “death” of winter to descend.

And yet, through the intricate genius of our Creator, the last hurrah of these trees’ lives is their best. Their closing act is when they pull out all the stops… bursting forth with beauty… showering blessings on all those who chance into their orbit.

Is it possible that this just might be a lesson for we humans who happen to be enjoying the autumn of our earthly lives? Might we also be designed to make our last act our best act?

Just something to ponder…

Abundant blessings;

23
Sep
20

Two Years On…

Today is the day when – two years ago – our world turned upside down.

After experiencing a long bout of various gastrointestinal distresses, Joan went made an appointment with her doctor. She went in on a Wednesday to get a few tests done. You know… just to eliminate some possibilities.

The next day, at around 6:00 p.m., Joan noticed that she had missed a phone call. There was a voice mail message from her primary care physician saying simply, “Please call the office as soon as you can.”

At that moment, our hearts both plunged straight toward our shoes. 

You see, this is not our first rodeo. We both knew that if the call was simply to tell Joan that the tests were all normal… nothing to worry about… the doctor would have just said that on the message. 

On the other hand, if the news was bad, she would not leave a message. She would want to discuss it with Joan and talk about next steps. We both knew that in this case, no news was bad news.

Even at that late hour, Joan tried to return the doctor’s call, with no luck. She got the answering service saying they would be happy to take a message for the doctor. 

We were then faced with somehow trying to pass the rest of that evening and the night with no news and the worst possible case scenarios running through our heads.

As you might imagine, there was not a lot of sleeping at the Brown house that night.

The next day, Joan called the doctor’s office as soon as they opened up. She got straight through to her doctor and received the news we had spent the last 14 hours imagining; the tests showed that there was cancer. In the months ahead there would be chemotherapy, followed by surgery, followed by more chemotherapy. 

As one of our worst nightmares unfolded before us, we were nevertheless able to sniff out a couple of blessings hiding there in the middle of the forest fire. 

The first was Joan’s doctor’s attitude. She refused to talk about what “stage” the cancer was, or to offer her opinion on the odds of survival. She just said, “Let’s not worry about any of that right now. What we’re going to do is get busy and attack this with everything we’ve got and hope for the best.”

The other blessing/super weird thing about that day were our plans for that evening. Months and months before that fateful day, we had heard that Billy Joel was coming to town to play a concert. We both love Billy Joel, and so we immediately called up a few friends and made plans to go out to dinner together and then carpool to the concert site. Together we would rock the night away, dancing to hits like Uptown Girl, New York State of Mind, Big Shot, We Didn’t Start the Fire, It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me, and of course – somewhere on the set list – Piano Man. Probably as the encore.

 And so, as irony would have it, that blueprint for a wonderful evening of friends, food, and fun was scheduled for THAT VERY DAY… the day of Joan’s diagnosis. 

We decided not to ruin everyone else’s evening by sharing our news over dinner, so we just force-smiled our way through the dinner, the drive, and the concert. 

In a way, the whole thing was kind of a welcome respite. But every now and then during the concert I would wrap my arm around Joan’s shoulder, squeeze her tight, look down into her eyes and mouth the words, “I love you,” over the din of the music.

The journey of the last two years has changed both of us forever. We got Joan connected with one of the best gynecological oncologists in the region. Her surgery was a success. Chemotherapy was not really the torture chamber we had feared (I know… easy for me to say, right?). 

Joan lost all of her hair and was significantly weakened by the entire process, but all of her critical blood counts and cancer markers have gone down and stayed down since they officially declared her “in remission.”

Of course, we don’t know what the future – long-term or short-term – holds for us. But then again, who does? 

Life is different these days than it was two years ago. But it is also somehow sweeter… more precious… more open to quotidian mystery and wonder than it ever was before. We miss fewer opportunities to kiss and stroke one another’s hair – now that hers has grown back. The importance of our faith and our family has jumped for both of us exponentially. Neither of us holds back when the need arises to say, “I need help,” or “I need to rest a little,” or, “I appreciate you so much.”

We cannot even begin to express our gratitude to the friends, family members, church friends, and total strangers who have picked us up and carried us through these days. Sometimes Psalm 103:13-16 informs us: “As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.
The life of mortals is like grass, they flourish like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more.”

At other times, we lean heavily on Matthew 6:26-27, where we hear Jesus saying, Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?  Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?”

But the verse that has lent it’s comforting shadow to us more than any other over these past 24 months comes from the pen of King Solomon: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5-6, NRSV). 

Whatever you might be going through yourself right now, I pray you might find a way to make these words YOUR theme also.

Abundant blessings;

05
Aug
20

The Heart of the Matter

Don_HenleyAfter experiencing a somewhat fraught relationship with it for too many years, I finally can say with confidence that I LOVE the Bible.

Whether I am diving into accounts of the trials of God’s people, being seared by the white-hot words of the prophets, humbled by the teachings of Jesus, or alternately challenged, inspired, and puzzled by the writings of the Apostle Paul, the Bible rarely fails to slice through my layers of resistance and pierce my very soul.

It is like the river that is new every time I step into it. And also like the river, I find that it nourishes and sustains me.

I believe God – working through the Holy Spirit – is the invisible author of its words.

But you know what else? Over the years, I have discovered that God is quite a talented multi-media artist. By that I mean God demonstrates a remarkable ability to speak to me (and you, too!) through a limitless number of channels. When I read these words in Psalm 19: “The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge,” (Psalm 19:1-2, NRSV) I hear it saying that God can – and does – speak through any medium God chooses to.

One of which, sometimes, is rock music.

That assertion might sound like heresy to some, but please hear me out…

A couple of days ago, on yet another in an endless string of trips to the grocery store, I turned on the car radio. Don Henley’s song Heart of the Matter was playing. I really like that tune, but for some reason I was uniquely attentive to the song’s words that day. As I listened, I heard Henley sing, “I’ve been trying to get down to the heart of the matter, but my will gets weak, and my thoughts seem to scatter, but I think it’s about… FORGIVENESS.”

BAM! There it is! So, tell me… how is that sentiment any different from the words of Matthew 18:21-22 – “Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?”  Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but I tell you, seventy times seven.”

Of course, if you listen further in the song, you find out Henley is talking about forgiveness in the realm of a very particular personal relationship, but let’s not be nit-picky.

The point I am trying to make is this; for those with ears to hear it, the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is all around us. It is not restricted to the pages of the text we recognize as holy canon. It is the ocean we swim in as we live our daily lives.

The problem – as usual – comes not in the hearing of God’s word, but in the doing. How many people have read Matthew 18:21-22 and yet still continued to struggle with forgiving even the TINIEST insult? [I’ll go first… ME, for one.]

Henley’s album, The End of Innocence, on which Heart of the Matter appears, won a Grammy award in 1989, was a six times platinum album (meaning it had sales of more than six million copies), and has received countless plays on the radio since it first appeared. Yet despite the countless number of people who have heard Don Henley musically declare, “Dude… the heart of the matter is FORGIVENESS,” how many have taken that message to heart and actually LIVED it?

I will go ahead and confess I have fallen woefully short on that score.

Today, I invite us to listen with new, eager ears to the world around us. Be ready to be ambushed by the words of Jesus emanating from strange and unexpected places.

Take them to heart.

But even more importantly, LIVE them out!

 

Abundant blessings;




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