Posts Tagged ‘blessings

22
Aug
19

The Final Quarter

Driving stressJoan and I drove to my stepdaughter’s house in Ft. Collins, Colorado the other day.

This involved driving across the entire state of Kansas, east to west, and then half the state of Colorado.

It is a trip of roughly nine hours.

For the most part, it was a pleasant and uneventful drive… even considering the utter lack of visual stimulation for almost the entire trek. That’s the part when the great conversations can happen.

But then we hit the last fifty miles… the part where you turn off of Interstate 70 and head north toward Ft. Collins on Interstate 25. That part was sheer, white-knuckled terror; Cars zipping in and out of our lane, nearly clipping our bumper in so doing… large dump trucks and semi-trailers hemming us in on every side with no room to breathe or escape… tank-sized SUVs driven by people casually chatting or texting on cell phones at 80 mph.

It’s just not fair,” I complained to my sympathetic seat-mate. “The worst part of this trip should NOT take place when our energy and wits are at their lowest ebb.”

And then I happened to remember the same phenomenon happening on our drive to my son and daughter-in-law’s house just outside of Houston. Eleven-and-a-half hours of dull monotony followed by an hour of a terrifying two-ton carnival roller coaster ride.

How does that make any sense at all? Why couldn’t we arrange things so that we just coast placidly in to our final destination?

But then I thought of the sports world and immediately saw the parallels. The last quarter of a football or basketball game is often the most brutal and strenuous. The ninth inning of a baseball game taxes body and soul beyond measure. The 100-yard dash and the marathon are often both won or lost in the final seconds.

And so I am prompted to ponder: will my life follow that same pattern? Am I going to be put to the ultimate test at the point when my resources are the most depleted?

I sure hope not.

But then again, what if that is the way life is designed to work, too? What if the biggest challenge is supposed to come at the end?

What if we are asked to give the most when we feel like we have the least?

I’ll be the first to admit; it doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of rational sense, does it?

But what if this quirky arrangement is just God’s way of putting a gigantic exclamation point at the end of the wisdom found in Proverbs 3:5-6? If you will allow me a little literary license here, what if God REALLY wants us to figure out a way to: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight (resources/energy). In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”

I seem to regularly need to re-learn the lesson that when I am at a place where my own native wit, strength, and cunning have run dry, I am then in the PERFECT place to take the steering wheel out of Russell’s hands and put it back again where it really belongs: in God’s.

Who knows? Maybe I’ll get it figured out before this whole amazing adventure comes to an end.

Until then, God, next time would you mind terribly taking the wheel for the stretch between Denver and Ft. Collins?

19
Aug
19

Uncommonly Common

Alien invasionIf there is one thing we have proved conclusively in this country, it is that, contrary to the old saying, what’s good for the goose is NOT necessarily also good for the gander.

At least that’s what the gander seems to think.

Even a casual glance will tell you that here in 2019 these states of ours are anything but united.

Group A passionately defends their version of a “common-sense solution,” while Group B howls in protest, deeply offended. Group C is convinced that both A and B are “wacko nutjobs” and wants nothing to do with either.

Each of us has become adept at articulating the outcome that will be in MY best interest, but we have become clumsy and tongue-tied when it comes to nailing down a clear picture of what WE, together, might need.

What I am referring to, of course, is that ancient concept called “the common good.” A version of the common good was first articulated by the authors of the Magna Carta in June 1215 in Runnymede, England. This cornerstone document established the principle that everyone is subject to the law, even the king, and guaranteed the rights of individuals, the right to justice and the right to a fair trial.[1] The foundational principle of the Magna Carta holds that leaders of nations should devote themselves to pursuing a “good” that is held in common by all… regardless of political party or station in life.

What a concept!

One has to wonder though; in this age of runaway individuation is it even possible to speak about pursuing something so all-encompassing as a “common good”?

Last year former Clinton secretary of labor Robert Reich wrote a book called The Common Good in which he said, “What binds us as Americans is not birth or ethnicity but a commitment to fundamental ideals and principles: respect for the rule of law and democratic institutions, toleration of our differences and belief in equal political rights and equal opportunity.”

These ideals and principles, Reich says, are not political, at least not in the partisan sense; to affirm them is not to take sides in debates between Democrats and Republicans.

I am sure that people of varying political stripes can easily agree that things like safety, health, shelter, education, and freedom are all social goods worth pursuing. But what happens when two of these goods conflict with each other? Or when there are two or three or 500 different ideas of how to attain one of these highly desirable ends?

It might be that the real obstacle to rallying around a common good is that it will likely require each of us to sacrifice something. And as our current climate shows us, Americans are not terribly good at – or even very willing to – sacrifice.

When Jesus taught his disciples the words of what we now call The Lord’s Prayer, he included the line, “… thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” That phrase helps us see that God’s kingdom is that place where the common good is the watchword of every citizen and where people understand that none of us is well until all of us are well.

Sometimes I confess to feeling as if we are moving further and further away from that vision instead of coming closer. When one nation says, “America first!” and another says, “Italy first!” and another says, “India first!” I can’t help but wonder if we are, in fact, pronouncing the death sentence to any consideration of the common good.

The way Hollywood dramatizes one solution to this issue is by having earth invaded by vicious, city-stomping aliens. As our collective future is suddenly thrown into dire jeopardy, everyone lays down his or her partisan flag and bands together to save the planet!

Maybe it won’t come to that.

Maybe there will be an invasion by the Holy Spirit instead.

[1]The Independent, Feb. 2, 2015

11
Jul
19

Those Helpers

RC cola adIt’s really amazing, it just blows my mind
The incredibly helpful people I find.

They don’t even know me, yet they run to assist
Offering wise guidance so that nothing is missed.

One man appeared on my TV last night
Offering sage car buying insight.

Another stopped by – while my show was on break
Giving wise advice on the vacation to take.

If I ever have pains or aches or sore feet,
These generous advisors will hasten to meet

My every need, no matter how small.
From Apples to Zephyrs, they think of it all.

They know me so well, both inside and out
And their words are so gentle, they never shout.

“Send us your money,” they appear and say
“Send all of your problems whirling away.”

“Is it shyness, or stiffness, or worry, or doubt?
“Our miracle product will help you right out.”

“It comes in YOUR SIZE, or can be tailored to fit,
“We know once you try, you’ll be delighted with it.”

“Our talented staff is now standing by,
“Please don’t hesitate… give us a try.”

With all of this amazing helpfulness to be found
It is a miracle any problems abound.

These helpers touch every inch of our external selves,
But maybe what we need can’t be found on their shelves.

Could it be that our real needs are buried much deeper,
Than can be reached by a Dyson vacuum sweeper?

We search and we search for a stylish solution
To every problem, from hives to pollution.

We look high, we look low, we look behind every door,
Every corner of the earth is ours to explore.

We tend to forget the most obvious part
Is to launch our search inward, and begin with the heart.

16
Apr
19

Where is the Justice?

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

– Isaiah 55:8-9

Panera bread picYesterday was a truly gorgeous day here in the Kansas City area.

Yes, the weather was a perfect 78 degrees, sunny, with a gentle easterly breeze, rustling the newly leafing branches of the trees.

THAT was a genuine delight.

But what made the day especially lovely was the news my wife and I heard from her oncologist.

Yesterday we found out that after five months of chemotherapy, major, invasive surgery, and untold hundreds of prayers, Joan’s scans showed NOTHING.

As in, NADA, zero, zip, bupkis tumors or cancerous presence in her body.

It was the result we had been hoping and praying for but had not dared speak aloud.

THANK YOU, JESUS! And thank you SCIENCE! And thank you wonderful, caring medical professionals!

And so, since we were only two blocks away from a Panera Bread store – and since it was nearly lunchtime – we decided to celebrate with a fresh, tasty lunch.

And then as we finished our lunch and stepped outside, back into the beautiful day God had provided, I thought about my great-grandparents.

Honestly, I am not sure why they entered my mind at that moment. As far as I know, I never met any of my great-grandparents.

No matter why I thought of them, here is HOW they entered my framework at that moment. As Joan and I stepped out the door of Panera I thought, “Wow! We have just received a clean bill of health from a disease that only three generations ago would have probably been a death sentence for someone. And we followed that up by rather effortlessly enjoying a delicious, well-prepared meal… a meal that would have required monumental efforts by my great-grandparents to prepare.”

I then realized that the only difference between MY outcomes and my great-grandparents’ outcomes was the entirely accidental timing of my birth.

1951 vs. 1851.

And I thought, “Oh, what a MASSIVE difference 100 years makes.”

Faced with such a disparity in outcomes – based on something as arbitrary and capricious as a birthday – the natural question I was prompted to pose is: where is the justice?

How is it that such a minuscule span on history’s timeline can mean such a huge discrepancy in overall quality of life? How does that square with any notion of fairness?

Or we could widen our lens a bit and ask the question of geographical justice. We could ask, “How is it that a child born today in one part of the world can have such an enormously higher chance of survival and good health than a child born in another part?”

Or in an example that hit very close to home for us this week: “How can it be even remotely just that a family member who has successfully battled back from breast cancer can suddenly die in her sleep from cardiac arrest?”

Or – apropos of yesterday’s news – how cruel and unjust was it to watch the great cathedral of Notre Dame burning on the Monday of Holy Week?

What did ANY of these people do to earn these outcomes… either the good ones or the bad ones? How do any of us hope to understand the notion of JUSTICE in such a twisted setting as this?

And alas… I find that the longer I sit and stew over this question, the further and further I drift from any sort of answer. The paltry power of these three pounds of grey matter inside my skull is clearly no match for this cosmic conundrum.

As reason escapes, I find I am left only with a decision; the decision of how to live in a world like this. Will I choose to live as if I am forever the butt of some cruel joke… always looking around, expecting either the chair or the rug to be pulled out from under me, for the amusement of some Celestial Prankster?

Or will I choose to live in faith… accepting the reality of the utter unsearchableness of the universe, yet confident that behind all of it there is a loving, compassionate Hand that holds me, protects me, provides for me, and comforts me… even in those times when nothing seems to make a lick of sense.

The message of Easter is ALWAYS relevant, but maybe it becomes even more relevant during times of confusion, heartache, and a temptation toward cynicism.

“Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.”
– Luke 24:5, NRSV

The message of the empty tomb is meant to remind ALL of us that the worst thing is never the last thing… that even when we can’t see it or understand it, we are surrounded and sustained by love.

… and that there will never be anything in the world more powerful than LOVE.

 

Holy Week blessings to each of you.

09
Apr
19

Need Answers?

Shell answer manIf you want to know what is right, just ask me…

… on virtually ANY topic.

Let’s start with DRIVING. I can tell you how fast you should be driving, which lane you should be in, how (and when) to pass, when to put on your turn signal, how much space you should allow me as you merge into my lane, and exactly how often you should wash your car.

In fact, I just returned from a cross-town trip in my car and offered just about every one of these pieces of advice to other drivers I met on the road.

I am sure my wife is pulling my leg when she insists that other drivers don’t appreciate my wisdom.

I can also tell you the right way to raise your children… especially if you are having a hard time with their behavior in a restaurant, grocery store, or other public places.

SPORTS? I’m your guy.

I have all the right answers for the manager (and players) for our hometown baseball team. I can tell the players when to swing at a pitch and when to let it go by. I can tell them how fast to run the bases, how far back to stand in the field, and – importantly – how long their pant legs should be.

I can tell the manager when to take a pitcher out, when to leave him in, when to steal a base, when to bunt, when to bring someone up from the minors, and when to send them down.

I regularly speak this wisdom directly into the TV screen during games, with little to no effect.

I have just as many right answers to offer the coach, general manager, and scouts for our hometown professional football team, too.

Unsure where you stand on any of the complex political issues of the day? Just give me a call at 1-800-KNOWITALL and I will happily illuminate you.

Heck, I have answers for you on finance, hygiene, etiquette, grooming, clothing style, lawn care, faith, food, and patriotism…

… just to name a few.

Sometimes I catch myself daydreaming about what a wonderful world this would be if only you would each seek – and then apply – my impeccable guidance to the issues you face.

Of course, I kid.

Or do I?

I have discovered that one of the consequences of living in a world filled with people who are not me, who do not live (or believe) in lockstep with me, who sometimes even seem to REVEL in taking a different path, is that I sometimes find it hard NOT to judge… or take a critical view… of “those people.”

Sometimes I do it under the guise of “offering helpful advice.” “This approach worked for me…I’m sure it would work for you, too!”

Sometimes though I fear I might do it out of a deep-seated need to elevate ME… by diminishing YOU.

When Jesus told us (in Luke 6:37), “Do not judge and you will not be judged…” he was giving us several different kinds of life guidance all at once.

Of course, he was guiding us on helpful social norms. He knew that we can easily become irritants to people who constantly receive correction from us… even when we are on target with our critiques.

But I think the primary purpose of this teaching was to help us each develop GRACE and HUMILITY as a necessary prerequisite for loving our neighbors.

See, if I only see you as a “project” to work on instead of as a fully capable, full-functioning child of God with a rich uniqueness to offer the world, I have committed the fundamental sin of IDOLATRY; that is, I am guilty of trying to remake you in MY image, instead of allowing space for the imago dei in which you were originally created to flourish.

My bad.

So you do you and I’ll do me.

And hopefully, we will BOTH observe a common, respectful Code of Conduct when next we meet on the highway.

18
Mar
19

Freedom cancer

Cancer cellSix months ago, I didn’t know much about cancer.

If I’m being honest, I would have to tell you I didn’t really want to know anything about it. I called it “the ‘C’ word.”

But then September 21 happened. That was the date of my wife received her cancer diagnosis.

I can’t tell you that I know much more about cancer now than I did then, but I have learned a couple of things.

I learned that cancer is cell division gone haywire.

As you probably know, as human beings, we are each giant cell-producing machines. Old cells die and new ones take their place… at the rate of about 100 billion new red blood cells and over 4 million epidermal skin cells every day, just to name two types of these cells.

Cancer describes the situation in which normal, orderly cell division goes awry and cells start dividing in a non-orderly, chaotic fashion. New cells are created that have no correspondence to replacing old cells that have died.

In other words, cancer is a deadly disease process that bears a striking resemblance to a naturally ordained process of the human body. Some gene somewhere deep in the DNA sends an incorrect signal, which causes wacky, willy-nilly cell division.

As I thought about this description, I began to wonder… is it possible there is a similar kind of disease process at work inside the DNA of our culture… especially regarding the FREEDOM gene?

I absolutely believe that freedom is hard-wired into the socio-cultural DNA of human beings. Witness the lengths to which people living in totalitarian cultures will go to be free. Witness the waves of immigration into free, democratic countries. Witness Paul’s statement in Galatians 5:1 – “For freedomChrist has set us free,” or this sentiment a little later reminding us that, “… you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters.”(Galatians 5:13, NRSV).

To be human means to crave freedom.

But here lately it seems we have seen a basic mutation of the freedom gene. “Freedom” seems to have become mutated into “license” and “unfettered self-indulgence… heedless of consequences to others.”

We want to be free to smoke tobacco products, no matter how much second-hand smoke we generate, or how much pressure we put on the nation’s health-care system. We want to be free to ride a motorcycle without crash helmets, or drive cars without seatbelts, no matter how many of us end up in the emergency room.

And of course, we want to be free to own any kind of high-powered automatic or semi-automatic firearm our little heart’s desire… no matter what kind of death and destruction they continue to cause.

I fear we may have entered a time when the cancer of personal license has deformed any idea of “common good” right out of our FREEDOM genome. And sadly, this particular form of cancer seems to be more prevalent in the United States of America than in any other place in the world.

The German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) wrote extensively of the intimate relationship between freedom and responsibility. He talks at length about Jesus Christ freely deciding to bind himself to the lives of those he came to serve… and then set them free as a result.

The American Libertarian writer and politician Harry Browne went a step further when he said, “Freedom and responsibility aren’t interconnected things; they are the same thing.”

If I am to insist that my freedom have no boundaries at all, I am – by definition – asking you to give up a measure of your freedom. I am saying that my freedom to inhale and exhale the smoke of burning tobacco leaves is more important than your freedom to breathe clean air.

And I call that a mutated, cancerous kind of freedom.

Today my wife is taking her last chemotherapy infusion for the cancer that invaded her body. The signs are good that the chemo – and surgery – have done their work and eradicated all signs of this demon from her.

And so we rejoice and thank God.

But I wonder… is there any kind of chemotherapy available for our nation’s “freedom cancer”?

I pray we can find that cure…

… and find it soon.

19
Feb
19

Old eyes, new eyes/Brown eyes, blue eyes

Cute little girlFor at least the first week and a half afterward, it is like I had an eye transplant. Old eyes gone… a new set dropped into their place.

And then, inevitably, I realize that the old eyes have returned… slowly resuming their assigned duty. And then I stop and wonder: which one of these is real?

That is one way I would describe the experience of participating in a short-term mission trip to the developing world.

Going in, you expect unique, eye-opening, out-of-the-ordinary scenes. You are not overly shocked when you drive for miles and miles and miles and see endless vistas of poverty set among lush, tropical greenery along choppy, pitted asphalt roads.

When you walk among people who stand an average of ¾ your height because of a lifetime of chronic malnutrition, you rarely jump back in horror. This is what they told you it would be like.

Slowly, gradually, it starts to work on you. Awareness begins to dawn that THIS is the reality of life for the vast majority of your fellow earthlings. You start to grasp that the life of shopping malls, six-lane superhighways, Starbucks drive-throughs, daily mail delivery, four bedroom Dutch colonials, and Netflix is the exception, not the rule in the world.

It doesn’t come as headline breaking news when you walk the dirty, noisy, chaotic streets of the Third World and see your paradigm morphing right before your eyes.

Penney and fan clubNevertheless, I still find myself surprised when I return from Guatemala (or Haiti, or Mexico, or the Australian outback) and discover how different everything looks back home here.

I mean, it is exactly the same familiar setting I left behind last week. At yet, it is somehow surprisingly foreign.

And much to my surprise, I also realize there is something inside me that wants it to remain foreign. Justice seems to demand that I remain alert to the scandalous level of resource consumption involved in my suburban, North American lifestyle.

I really should retain the ability to be appalled at the ease with which I turn the lights on and off, the thermostat up or down, flush the toilet, turn on the tap, reach into the refrigerator (or pantry) for a bite of something, don’t fret a bit about my physical security, or the effortlessness with which I travel from place to place.

And – like I said – for about a week and a half I do.

But then I don’t. The new eyes fade and the old eyes pop right back into my head.

So what am I saying? I’m not really suggesting that we First Worlders need to walk around in a continuous cloud of guilt-ridden angst all day, bemoaning our affluent fate.

But maybe it would be a good thing for each of us to find ways to regularly come nose-to-nose with the huge economic imbalances in our world. And then maybe it would ALSO be good for us to realize that our place on the advantaged side of the ledger mostly has nothing to do with pluck, work ethic, ingenuity, or any other virtue we ascribe to ourselves.

Part of our task – I believe – is to try and avoid opening our eyes here on third base and telling ourselves the story that we hit a triple.

I think Jesus also provides us with a pretty clear set of marching orders when we do eventually wake up to our positions of advantage in the world. In the New Revised Standard translation of Luke 12:48 he says, “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more, will be demanded.”

Much has been entrusted to me. Much has also been entrusted to you.

 

The key questions are: what is now demanded? And how will we (I) choose to respond?

Abundant blessings;




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