Posts Tagged ‘blessings

02
Apr
20

Something from Nothing, Part 2

One man counseling another(In yesterday’s installment, I recounted one of my most abysmal performances as a pastoral counselor. Troy, a congregant, had come to see me with an incredible mountain of problems including job loss, cancer, his wife’s infidelity, and parenting challenges, all raining down on him at once.

When we left our story, the pastor was wringing his hands in despair, searching and praying for the right word for Troy’s situation…)

Not wanting too many more silent seconds to pass between us, I gave Troy my most sincere, pastoral look, reached out and confidently placed my hand on his left shoulder and said – with an air of authority that was manufactured out of thin air – “Troy… the thing to remember at times like this is just what it says in the Bible: ‘This too shall pass.’”

And then, to add an extra measure of sincerity to the drivel I had just dispensed, I clapped him on the shoulder and nodded.

The reaction I fully expected to receive (and probably should have received) from Troy was something like, “What? Are you seriously kidding me? ‘This too shall pass??’ I could have pulled a random fortune cookie out of a jar and gotten something better than that drivel!”

But, to his everlasting credit, Troy just nodded, thanked me for my time, and stood up to leave.

After that it took me several minutes to compose myself. I was stunned at the level of absolute ineptitude I had displayed in my conversation with Troy. I honestly pondered the possibility of searching for a new line of work… on the spot. Clearly that “call to ministry” I thought I had heard was a wrong number.

Fast-forward six months. I have not heard from Troy or heard about him. I had maybe seen him at church one time in passing since our meeting. And I may or may not have pretended to drop something on the floor when he passed… just to avoid making eye contact.

And then one night it happened… there was an event at church for parents and their children. I was on duty to greet folks as they came in and help them find their way around. And here came Troy… with his two children in tow.

“OK,” I said to myself. “Nothing to do but to step up, look him in the eye and face the music. It might even be that he has wiped any memory of my face and name from his mind… if I’m lucky.”

So, I bucked up… walked up to Troy… stuck out my hand and said, “Hi there, Troy. It’s been a while since we talked. How are things with you anyway?” I tried not to telegraph the fact that I was positioning myself to deflect a punch from his right hand I was reaching out to shake it.

“Pastor Brown!” he said… in a loud, overly enthusiastic voice. (Drat! He recognized me!) And then he went on, “Hey, do you remember that time last fall when we met in your office? You know, when I was in such a messed-up situation and I came to see you?”

“Yeah… sure,” I said… playing along. “I’ve been wondering how things are going for you now. That sure was a bad time for you, wasn’t it?”

He said, “Boy, it sure was. Hey… do you remember the advice you gave me? When you told me ‘this too shall pass’?”

I was getting ready to defend myself, explaining I had been engaged in a spiritual fast the day we met and was clearly delirious from hunger when he interrupted me, grabbed my hand and pumped it vigorously saying,“Man, I can’t thank you enough. That was EXACTLY what I needed to hear at that moment. It helped me take a step back from the funk I was in and just take a breath.

“And you know what? Things are really getting better. I got a new job, so we changed schools and got my daughter away from those bullies… my wife married her boyfriend and I am getting good treatments for my melanoma.”

“But I just really wanted to thank you for helping me get through that. I don’t know what I would have done without you.”

And so, we shook hands, I thanked Troy for his kind words, and we went our separate ways.

At the time I offered it, “This too shall pass,” was a trite, unthinking response that was thoroughly unresponsive to the depth of Troy’s dilemma. I have since checked and found it is also advice that can be found nowhere in the Bible.

What I saw though in that six-month reunion was the power of the Holy Spirit to take the very worst of my efforts and transform it into something powerful and healing.

Right now, “This too shall pass” feels like a trite, almost cruel platitude in the midst of the current pandemic. Sure, it will pass, but who knows when it will pass? Who knows how many lives will be lost in the process? Who knows the long-lasting damage that will be done to our economy by this extended shut-down?

“This too shall pass” is not particularly biblical or earth-shaking as advice goes. But it is true. There WILL be a day in the future when sports resume, when there are stories on the news besides the daily COVID-19 death toll, when kids are back in school, when concerts happen again, and when folks – maybe more than before the pandemic – gather again in church.

No, “This too shall pass” may not be particularly profound.

But somehow my anxious heart – like Troy’s – finds great peace and comfort in knowing it is true.

 

Praise God!

17
Feb
20

It’s All Hard

Remodeling contractorA local remodeling contractor came over to our house on Saturday. My sweet, visionary wife has this notion of flipping the locations of our current kitchen and dining room so that each of them would end up in the space formerly occupied by the other one.

You know… to help the overall space and flow and stuff like that.

“Would that be hard to do?” I asked him… hoping, of course, that his answer would be, “Oh my gosh! Are you kidding me? It would be IMPOSSIBLE!”

However, to my great disappointment, he just smiled and said, “You know, when I was first starting out in this business, I worked for a crusty old guy whose motto was, ‘Everything is hard.’”

I know what he means. And I don’t think he was just talking about things in the remodeling business either.

These days it certainly seems as if everything is hard, doesn’t it? At least everything that is worthwhile.

For example; it is hard to stay healthy (especially at my advanced age).

It was hard to sell our house. It was hard to find a new house. Downsizing and moving into our new house was hard.

Parenting is hard. (Grandparenting, in contrast to everything else on this list, is pretty easy and delightful).

Playing a musical instrument is hard. Calculus is hard. Living with cancer is hard.

Grocery shopping is hard. Growing your own (or killing your own) food is hard. Or so I’m told…

Driving in the snow is hard. Finding a good house-and-dog sitter is hard.

Writing a book is REALLY hard! Deciding who to vote for for president is HARD.

I could go on and on like this, but I think you get the drift.

But then sometimes I stop and wonder; is all of this stuff really HARD? Or did I somehow start with the warped idea that it wouldn’t be hard? Was I sold a bill of goods somewhere along the way that said, “Don’t worry about it, kid. Life will be a piece of cake.”?

Most parents hate to see their children struggle. We want to cut their meat into small, bite-sized pieces for them so they won’t get frustrated and starve to death. In the same way, we want them to experience the joy of making music, but bristle at the notion that they might have to sit there practicing scales over and over and over.

I wonder if some of us are guilty of subconsciously telling our kids that if a thing is hard, it is to be avoided?

At the risk of sounding old and curmudgeonly, I will add that I am not sure our current culture is helping turn the corner on this “softening effect” at all. YouTube, Instagram, TickTock and other social media platforms offer folks the ability to become instantly (comparatively) famous without expending much actual effort in doing so.

Of course, just because something is hard to do doesn’t automatically make it virtuous. By the same token, just because it is easy shouldn’t make it automatically desirable.

In general, it is probably better to expect that the road ahead will be difficult and then be pleasantly surprised by smooth stretches than to expect a cakewalk and be angry when we hit snags, roadblocks, and detours.

Whatever the nature of the path you are facing today, here is an enduring truth I invite you to take hold of. It is guaranteed to get you through just about any stretch of rough terrain you will face:

“Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”(Romans 8:35,37, NRSV)

 

Abundant blessings;

08
Feb
20

Loveland

Two days ago I went into my nearby U.S. Post Office here in Fort Collins, Colorado.

The purpose of my trip – I am eager to tell you – was to mail a Super Bowl LIV Champions KANSAS CITY CHIEFS hat to my son who lives in Houston, TX.

YAY CHIEEEEEEEFS!!

Anyway, as I was standing there in line waiting my turn at the counter, I saw the box you see here below. Loveland boxAs a new resident of the area, I did not know this was a thing, but apparently, if you put your stamped, sealed Valentine’s Day card in this box, it will be re-mailed (and postmarked) from nearby Loveland, Colorado.

At first, I didn’t get it… probably because when locals say the town’s name, everyone here just runs the word together, making it sound like “LOVE-lund”.

The light bulb finally went on. “OH! I get it,” I muttered to myself. “LOVE. LAND.… the land of love!” I added, “What a perfect postmark to have on your Valentine’s Day card!”

And then – because the line was long and the lady at the window was asking the clerk to see every stamp design available and then MEASURE them to see which one was perfectly square (seriously!) – I began to ruminate.

“What would it be like,” I wondered, “… to actually live in a place that had earned the name Love Land?”

“What would it be like to live in a place where love was the actual governing principle every person there lived by?”

“How would lawmaking be different? How would development and city planning be different? What difference would it make in the way we cared for people on the margins? How would neighborhood relations be different?”

(Actually, I am not sure that part would be a whole lot different than they are now. We are blessed to have utterly DELIGHTFUL neighbors!)

And then… what if that name applied not only inside the city limits of one town but what if it applied to the whole COUNTRY? Or the whole WORLD?

What, indeed, would that be like?

And then my mind started down the other side of the question. I asked myself (because the lady was still trying to make up her mind about which stamp to buy), “So if ‘Love Land’ is not an accurate name for where we live now, what might we call it instead? Self-Centeredsville? Tribal Town? Faction City?”

Some days it sure seems that way, doesn’t it?

But then I heard this thoughtful comment on the radio from Ziggy Marley… son of the late, great reggae artist Bob Marley. Two days ago would have been Bob’s 75thbirthday. The reason for the radio interview was to celebrate that landmark birthday and ask Ziggy to reflect on his father’s life and career.

The interviewer (NPR’s Scott Simon) asked, “Your father’s music always held up the ideals of love and peace as central themes. What do you think he would make of the world we have on our hands today?”

After a moment’s reflection on the question, Ziggy said, “You know, I think the majority of people are good people, are peaceful people. But we’re just not loud, we’re just not on the TV, we’re not in the news — it’s just the people making war in the news.”

I think he is right.

We might not live in Love Land today… but we really don’t live in Hatredsville either.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…”Matthew 5:43, NRSV

22
Jan
20

What a Wonderful World Wide Web

graphic internetI am not sure anything else even comes close.

The World Wide Web should be considered – hands down – the most important innovation of the last fifty years.

Without it, how could I instantly know the current temperature of Kansas City, Missouri (34 degrees), Fort Myers, Florida (57 degrees), Ketchikan, Alaska (41 degrees) and Buenos Aires, Argentina (83 degrees)?

How could I (or anyone) come up with the correct answer to the question: “Who was the Referee for the first Super Bowl ever played?” (Answer: Norm Schachter).

I’m sure we would have eventually been able to come up with that answer, but not without spending hours in the library.

And of course, how could we possibly entertain ourselves for hours and hours looking at videos of delightful cat antics, hilarious “Bad Lip Reading” videos, or photographs of the food on our friends’ dinner plates?

Huh? I ask you, HOW?

But all kidding aside, can you think of a single invention that has had a greater, more widespread, more profound impact on humanity than the World Wide Web?

And what is it, exactly?

Someone explained it to me once as a kind of electronic “backbone” with jillions of nerves that branch out and connect with each other, all over the world, all at the same time.

I kid, but I honestly believe the overall quality of human life on this planet has been enhanced by the invention of the World Wide Web. Thanks to the Internet, doctors can now “visit” patients hundreds of miles away and provide life-saving diagnoses. Communication and coordination between a crisis location and aid workers is now brisk and efficient. Long lost friends and relatives can be reconnected again.

Yes, Al Gore, we owe you a tremendous debt of thanks for this miraculous invention of yours.

Except for that small, “inconvenient truth” that the World Wide Web has actually existed since the very beginning of time.

Maybe not in the electronic form… But that recent innovation is merely a “tweak” on the fundamental hardware God wired into Human Being 1.0.

You see, interconnectedness was the Big Idea from day one. Genesis 1:27 gives us a peek onto the primeval factory floor when it declares: “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”(Genesis 1:27, NRSV).

The book of Acts also reminds us of that essential fact; “From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth.” (Acts 17:26, NRSV).

It was really God’s idea – sorry, Al Gore – that human beings from across the earth, from different times and different cultures, with varying levels of education and income, with different genders and orientations, human beings with brown skin, black skin, yellow skin, white skin, and red skin, all be able to see themselves as intricately woven together…

… as if they were all part of some kind of amazing, far-flung, world-wide WEB.

I believe God further hoped that once we each grasped that essential fact of life, we would begin to act accordingly. No longer would one of us be able to look with pity on another one and say, “Sorry, mate… it looks as if YOUR end of the boat is sinking.”

Sometimes it can seem as if we each live in a World of One, with no connection to or responsibility for anyone except ourselves. Sometimes we hear messages telling us that “… looking out for Number One…” is all we really need to do.

But that’s not the world God designed.

And besides… who would we share our vacation pix with if it were?

20
Jan
20

Love Out Loud

MLK quoteA year or so ago, I got fed up. Squared.

First I was fed up with the escalating rancor and divisiveness in nearly every segment of American society. Yes, ill will seems to center primarily in the political realm, but it certainly doesn’t stop there.

As a member of the United Methodist Church, I was witnessing a loud, bitter ecclesial food fight in my denomination over a fairly simple question: who will be included and who won’t.

But I was also fed up with myself. As much as I despised the malice of the moment, I seemed powerless to avoid adding fuel to the fire. I heard people spewing all kinds of ignorant, ill-informed opinions and – as chagrined as I am to admit it – leaned heavily toward wanting to yell at them to just shut their damned mouths and crawl back under the rock they came from.

Really helpful.

Really Christ-like, dude.

And then Martin Luther King, Jr. Day rolled around. And this time, I decided to pay attention. I decided Dr. King might have some light to shine on our current situation. After all, he lived and preached in an era at LEAST as fraught and divided as our own.

And as it turns out, he did. And it was a word that hit the nail right on the head and humbled me at the same time.

You remember the quote. It goes like this: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.”

What does it look like to bring light into darkness?

How do I… or you or ANYONE… bring love into a world of hate?

I am not sure I really know the answer. But I know it is absolutely the right question.

I am not sure I have yet put my life onto the trajectory Dr. King had in mind. But I did do one thing in response to that quote; I wrote a song. It is a simple, probably sophomoric song, but it has chords and a rhythm, three verses and a chorus. Truth be told, it is kind of catchy.

It goes a little something like this:

Every one of us can talk like we mean it.

And make some witty social media posts,

Or we can squash an idea and demean it.

And treat other folks just like they were ghosts.

 

We want to know that we’ve got the right answer…

And those who can’t see it are wrong.

That kind of thinking starts to spread like a cancer,

Which is why you should all sing along….

 

CHORUS

            Let’s start to LOVE OUT LOUD,

            Let our actions do the work of our words.

            Yes, we can LOVE OUT LOUD           

            Live a life that’s bound to be heard

 

I hope my brother finds a place at the table

I hope my sister finds a future of peace

But while I sit here and hope – they’re at the end of their rope

Waiting for injustice to cease.

 

CHORUS

            And so let’s LOVE OUT LOUD,

            Let our actions do the work of our words.

            Yes, we can LOVE OUT LOUD           

            Live a life that’s bound to be heard

 

Well, you’ve got every right to be angry

You’ve got a right to shake your fist at the sky

You’ve been put in your place – left out of the race

And no one ever told you why.

 

But instead of lashing out in your anger

Why not start to build a brand new world?

Come on let’s each lend a hand – help LOVE take a stand

And let your freedom flag be bravely unfurled.

 

CHORUS

            So yes, let’s LOVE OUT LOUD,

            Let our actions do the work of our words.

            Yes, we can LOVE OUT LOUD           

            Live a life that’s bound to be heard

 

 

All of us need to do more light-shining and love-bringing… now more than ever. I am not sure what that looks like immediately, but maybe we can start by singing!

25
Dec
19

Christmas Blessings to YOU!

Christmas blessings

11
Dec
19

Great Expectations

Most interesting man in the worldA friend and I were recently talking about our kids… as parents are wont to do.

On this occasion, my friend was telling me about an experience his middle son had with a guidance counselor at the local high school he attended.

My friend said, “Josh is incredibly passionate about history. He has talked to Susan and me regularly about wanting to get a Ph.D. and teach at the collegiate level.”

But then, as my friend told me, Josh met with the high school guidance counselor. The counselor knew of Josh’s academic record and heard him talk about his dream of teaching history to college students.

The counselor’s guidance to Josh, however, was to aim lower, go for a Master’s degree, and teach history at a deserving high school somewhere.

“There is a lot less competition for those jobs,” the counselor told Josh. “And besides, there is a real need for high school teachers who are passionate about the subject they are teaching.”

Needless to say, when Josh went home and told his parents about his meeting with the guidance counselor, they were furious. Their anger did not stem from any unspoken bias against high school teachers. It came – as my friend told me – from the idea that a person in a position of trust and authority would use that position to dampen rather than fan the flames of ambition in their son.

“In essence, this guy was telling Josh to lower his sights and check his expectations before he is even out of high school!” Adding, “I am really not OK with that.”

His story kind of riled me up, too. But then it led me to some pondering about the whole topic of expectations and how they affect our lives.

To be human is to have expectations. We begin each new day with some kind of expectation about what will happen, who we might meet, what sort of weather we will encounter, and what type of experiences await us.

As our endeavors enlarge, so do our expectations. Then, as we move forward into the world, reality sets in and we adjust our expectations accordingly.

And if you are a person of a certain age, you have no doubt discovered something about the fluid and tricky nature of expectations. Crank them up too high and you just might smash your boat on the rocky shore of disappointment. Set them too low and you risk losing the joy that comes from looking forward to a new experience or undertaking.

My personal proclivity is to err on the side of high expectations. Every trip Joan and I take is going to be fantastically epic. Every new place where we choose to go out and eat is a Michelin four-diamond restaurant waiting to be discovered. Every new acquaintance I make is going to be “the most interesting man (or woman) in the world,” (with apologies to the Dos Equis beer folks).

Yes, my actual experiences sometimes do fall short of my grand expectations. But those occasional disappointments don’t seem to alter my expectation-making mechanism one little bit.

The Christian calendar tells us we are smack dab in the middle of the Advent season, here on December 11, 2019. Advent is traditionally thought of as a time of expectation. The first-century Israelites had been hanging on the words of the prophet Isaiah – for at least 800 years – which assured them that, “… the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness – on them light has shined.” (Isaiah 9:2, NRSV).

They knew these words were about them. THEY were the darkness-walkers the prophet was talking about. They lived in a continual state of expectation that one day soon the promised light would indeed shine on their lives. And yet year after year, the darkness persisted.

What are your expectations this season?

… for the world… for your community… for your family… for yourself?

How do you hold fast to hope-filled expectations in the face of disappointing realities?

Where does your hope come from?

This season, what would it be like for each of us to expect love, justice, mercy, and peace to prevail in the world… and then work to make it happen?

Blessings,




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