Posts Tagged ‘God

21
May
18

The “Never Enough Club”

productivity-01I wasn’t very productive today.

But then again, I’m on vacation. Productivity is not really expected of people on vacation… is it?

Two weeks ago, on the other hand, I was NOT on vacation. It was a Thursday as I recall… a day that started off with a cup of coffee, a walk of the dog, and a list of items I was eager to complete and cross through.

And yet, I sat back and mused at the end of that Thursday… “What the heck happened? I was a whole lot less productive than I wanted to be today.”

Looking at my sad list of uncompleted items, I was somewhat consoled by the knowledge that lives would not be lost, relationships would not be destroyed, nor would cancer remain uncured as a result of my sloth.

EXAMPLE: I didn’t stop the newspaper or mail delivery in advance of our vacation… a task that absolutely had to be done. But it could just as easily be done tomorrow.

But it made me pause and wonder how often I am guilty of labeling my days as either good or bad based on my own personal level of productivity.

Check a lot of stuff off the list = good day.

Don’t = bad day.

Isn’t that a little bit sad?

I am not saying productivity is something to be sneezed at. Not at all.

We each have a calling to produce SOMETHING in life. And ideally, it is something that utilizes our unique God-given gifts.

Painters produce paintings. Cooks produce meals. Salespersons produce sales. Writers produce strings of coherent words. Clowns produce terrified children.

We each depend on the productivity of others to navigate even the simplest passages of our day. The light bulb you just turned on, the water that just flowed through your showerhead, and the YouTube cat video you just chuckled at were all produced by productive people… folks just like YOU!

What kind of world would it be if none of us produced ANYTHING?

But I have to level with you… there are a couple of places I keep getting tripped up in this whole conversation about productivity. The first is in my tendency to draw a direct connection between my (or anyone else’s, for that matter) WORTHand my level of PRODUCTIVITY. It is hard to ignore the pulsing message in my head that says, “The more you produce, the more you are worth.” 

My second snare comes in my tendency to pass judgment about the overall SCOPE of my productivity. I’m not even sure “scope” is the right word, but here is what I mean; every week I write an approximately 2,500-word sermon and a 700-800 word blog post (or two). But because I am not currently working on either a book or a screenplay, (or both) I regularly feel like a writer wannabe… a poser.

I might visit two or three people in the hospital and pray with them as they prepare for surgery, but because I am not instigating a nationwide movement to provide spiritual care for the elderly and disabled, I feel like a slacker.

I exercise vigorously at the gym at least three times a week; not including daily walks with Rosie the dog. But because I am not regularly putting marathon notches in my belt, I feel like a slug.

It is very difficult to publicly admit these defects in my thinking. As you read them, you immediately see how overly concerned I am with the imagined assessments of OTHERS about my life and me. I am also showing you how difficult it is for me to take Jesus at his word when he says, “Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?”(Matthew 6:26, NRSV).

Here is where you say, “How about practicing what you preach, pastor.”

Are you a member of this club, too? Do you regularly flagellate yourself with the phrase, “never enough”? Do you get twitchy when you take a vacation? Are “to do” lists your highest form of artistic expression?

Well then, come over here and sit with me a moment, my friend. Take off your shoes. Put down your iPhone (unless you are currently reading this blog on it. Then please, continue holding it). Close your eyes and breathe deeply. Feel the breeze of the moment as it caresses your face.

Be reminded – as I must continually remind myself – that God’s mercy and love are not production-based. They pour over you like a waterfall… the same as they pour over the woman who runs her own company, competes in Ironman Triathlons, raises four special needs children, grows her own arugula, and is working on a script for Fox Searchlight, all at the same time.

Take as gospel truth the statement that you earned this magnificent extravagance merely by the heroic act of being born.

Seize it.

Revel in it.

Celebrate it.

And then go out and take a slow walk in your bare feet… smiling all the way.

10
Apr
18

Beloved

Seize the day imageIt happened again.

Sunday morning… there we all were; about 10 minutes before the worship service was scheduled to begin.

I walked in, set my stuff down, and made my way back down the brown-carpeted center aisle – exchanging pleasantries and greetings with some of the early arrivers (which, in this church, is virtually the entire congregation).

There they were, in their customary places… fifth pew from the front, west side, side-by-side on the aisle.

“How are you ladies today?” I asked.

“Oh, you know,” she said, offering a wry smile. “Same as ever.”

“Do you think it’s really going to snow like they said it was?”

Shhhh!” Her sister said in mock horror. “Don’t say it out loud or it will happen!”

And then, at 9:30 p.m. the call came. It had been a massive stroke at 3:30 that afternoon. She and her sister were chatting and doing their respective things… she was playing with the cats… when suddenly…

An ambulance and then a helicopter got her in front of the very best stroke specialists around. But they conferred and agreed; it was too late. The damage was severe and irreparable.

No eye was dry as we gathered around her bed and watched the life support systems being turned off and withdrawn.

Tears were shed. Long hugs were exchanged. Prayers were said. Comfort was offered. Her forehead was anointed with oil.

In the stunned silence of the drive home from the hospital, I kept saying the same thing to myself… over and over again.

“But… I JUST TALKED TO HER!”

As if death has no right to be sudden and unannounced.

As if I was due some kind of advance notice so that I might adequately prepare myself.

Once again I was reminded… as I have been reminded on numerous occasions in the past, and yet somehow, continue to forget and need to be re-reminded of… life is an incredibly fleeting and precious thing.

In one instant here… brimming over with laughter or tears or snow flurries or sunlight or loving friends or annoying neighbors or mismatched socks or ragged sweatshirts or cake or barbeque or squealing, frisky grandchildren…

… and the next instant, gone.

And so I stare into the mirror and ask the guy staring back,“How dare you take any moment of your life for granted? How dare you treat your life as anything less than a gift and a miracle? SHAME ON YOU for failing to squeeze every drop of meaning from even the tiniest moment!”

All of that is true. And yet I know, as sure as I am sitting here typing these words right now, that the lure of amnesia is powerful. As this day begins its unfolding, I will most certainly forget the lesson of that late night call. I will lapse into banality and routine, smudging the beauty of my NOW with a yawn or a gripe.

And so I pray; Holy, God… as you surely now receive your beloved daughter into your arms and welcome her into her eternal home, comfort all who love her. Breathe the breath of your holy, healing Spirit into each broken heart.

And by that same Holy Spirit, please, God, keep me awake. Prod me – gently or violently – whenever I threaten to doze off.

Thank you.

AMEN.

07
Apr
18

James? or David?

James TaylorWhat do you do when your world is out of whack?

This morning I woke up with a nasty head cold. It feels like someone snuck in during the night and stuffed my head full of cotton while I was sleeping. My thinking was so hazy I struggled to tie my shoes correctly.

PLUS… while the calendar says it is April, the weather outside clearly reads “January.” A 19-degree air temperature and frozen puddles outside greet the eye.

To add to the overall disorientation, my wife (a.k.a. confidante, companion, sounding board, lover, friend, anchor, muse, support, reality check) is 1,200 miles away enjoying some sun and sand with her daughter.

My energy is utterly sapped… and it is only 10:00 a.m.

HELP! All of my touchstones have deserted me.

I need a toehold! I need a solid piece of ground to hold onto and get my bearings.

I am sure you remember a time in your life that felt like this. Or worse.

I’m sure each of us has felt ourselves spinning a little out of control now and then.

Where do you turn when your altimeter is whirling like a top and your compass is in the middle of an epileptic seizure?

James Taylor is one option. “When you’re down… and troubled… and you need a helping hand. And nothing, whoa nothing is going right. Just close your eyes and think of me, and soon I will be there… to brighten up even your darkest nights.”

So I tried it! I closed my eyes… thought about and visualized sweet baby James… and waited.

And waited.

And waited some more.

I’m still waiting for James to make good on his promise.

Today I thank God for the mentors in my life that introduced me to ANOTHER resource… that taught me how to connect with the reliable, unchanging, solid Word of God in all circumstances.

King DavidSomehow the 18thpsalm of David seems like the right place to turn. After a long, long period of being harassed by King Saul, David finally defeated his adversary. And in the moments following his victory, David knew instantly where to turn and give the credit: “The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer, my God, my rock in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” (Psalm 18:2, NRSV).

No doubt if God can deliver David from an entire army of enemies, he can surely deliver me from a head cold, freezing weather, and from missing my sweetheart.

Ahh! That’s better.

Sorry, James.

26
Feb
18

S is for Significance

two-sparrows(This post is the third in a series. Recently, my mentor/counselor/friend suggested I create an acrostic from the letters of my name as a way of claiming my God-given identity.)

JOAN: (my spouse of 18 years and winner of the Nobel Prize for Longsuffering and Patience) “What’s wrong, honey?” she turned toward me and asked… a concerned look creasing her brow.

ME: (yet again, playing dumb… a part I have mastered through many years of diligent practice). “Nothing. Why do you ask?”

JOAN: “That sigh you just made. It sounds like something is bothering you.”

ME: (wracking my brain to recreate each detail of the past five minutes… recalling that, yes indeed I DID sigh audibly just a moment ago, and yes indeed, there IS something troubling me… all the while wondering how she does that…) “Well, I guess I am a little worried about the meeting coming up at church tomorrow. I’m afraid things might get a little messy and I’m not sure how I’m going to handle it when they do.”

… all of this then followed by a probing and thoughtful conversation about the issues in play, my personal dilemma, challenges facing the church, and possible solutions.

It really was a great conversation… one that ultimately helped me through a very difficult passage. It also further solidified the truth of the thesis that I married way UP when I married this lady.

It was also a conversation that might never have happened at all… absent Joan’s ability to see the SIGNIFICANCE of something as small and barely audible as my involuntary exhalation of breath.

All of which causes me to wonder: how do we draw the line between significant and insignificant in the world around us? And what do we mean by the word SIGNIFICANCE anyway? The New Oxford American Dictionary offers this definition: “The quality of being worthy of attention; importance…”

Based on that definition I have to ask: Where might I find the standard used to measure the “importance” or “worthiness of attention” of anything? Is it purely a subjective yardstick or is there some universal standard? Case in point: a complete stranger, hearing the same sigh Joan heard, might not have attached any significance to it at all.

In today’s wonderful world of social media, we say that a topic is “trending” when it catches the attention of some critical mass of people in the Twitter-verse. Then and only then is that topic considered SIGNIFICANT and worthy of our collective attention.

But then what does that metric say about ME? Or YOU? Can either of us be considered significant if we lack vast armies of Twitter followers or Facebook Fans?

Maybe that explains why we hear about so many young people with a burning ambition to “be famous”. Maybe it is their way of saying, “I want to know that I actually MATTER in the world.”

I am part of a faith tradition that tells me my life is highly significant… even lacking 50,000 Twitter followers or my own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Addressing the topic of personal significance, Jesus once famously comforted a group of people – each of whom had far fewer than 100 Facebook friends – by saying, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:29-31, NRSV).

This, my friends, is TRUTH, in all caps.

You matter. More than you can possibly know. God said so.

This divine reminder of the worth of ALL persons is one part of the reason I chose to make the word SIGNIFICANCE part of my name acrostic.

I also chose this word as a way of reminding myself to keep my eyes and ears peeled for the hidden significance in the world around me. I want to know what that glance meant, or how that rock came to be exactly THERE, or how this street got its name, or how many hours it took to build this chair.

Including the word SIGNIFICANCE also carries (for me) an inherent moral obligation to guard against dismissing any person (or their viewpoint) as “insignificant” or unworthy.

I am sure this is all part of the burden and blessing of being an artist; their heightened state of alertness to meaning and significance and nuance is great fodder for their work. But I’m sure it also makes it hard to just “turn off” for a bit and enjoy a little therapeutic mindlessness.

So yes… I am significant. I celebrate that.

You are significant. I acknowledge and appreciate that.

The world around us is both significant and magnificent and a mystery waiting to be explored.

I love that!

19
Feb
18

U is for Undaunted

(This post is the second in a series. Recently, my mentor/counselor/friend suggested I create an acrostic from the letters of my name as a way of claiming my God-given identity.)

The entire lifetime of Janis Joplin.

The whole of the time encompassing the birth, infancy, toddlerhood, preschool, kindergarten years, elementary school, awkward puberty, high school, initial dabblings in music, endless practice, mastery, brilliance, slogging along, touring, recording, stardom, struggle… the whole ride, all the way up to the tragic and untimely deaths of Janis… or Jimi Hendrix… or Jim Morrison… or Kurt Kobain…

27 years.

Nelson_Mandela-2008Which, as it turns out, is the same amount of time Nelson Mandela spent in jail on Robben Island, and in Pollsmoor and Victor Vester Prisons in South Africa.

Do you remember the moment? Do you remember seeing the live video, via satellite, on the day of his release in 1990?

I do.

I remember the joy exploding from his face… the throngs of adoring South Africans lining the streets, ten deep, calling his name, singing, dancing.

I remember the stoic scowls of the prison officials and guards.

Mandela emerged that day – from Hell – undaunted.

Whole. Unbroken. Unbowed.

27 years??? How is that even possible?

Was Mandela secretly a Marvel superhero… bitten by a radioactive spider… or born on a planet with a red sun in a far-off parallel universe… or charmed by a magic potion?

Or did he just figure out a way to tap into a hidden spring of Something… Something that might live inside every single one of us?

Can I too live undaunted?

Can I tap into the same Source he found?

Or must I first be martyred… unjustly imprisoned… stripped of freedom, dignity, and humanity in order to gain access to the deep wellspring from which Mandela drank?

Or is it mine for the asking?

Can it be found by those seeking release from different prisons; from the prisons of addiction, resentment, fear, or despair?

Is it available to those wounded only by rejection, hostility, loneliness, prejudice, or greed and not by clubs, bullets, and whips?

How deep do my wounds have to be?

How close to death’s doorstep must I crawl in order to taste this True Freedom?

Jesus says, “Yes. You can have it, too… whoever you are.”

Jesus says, “Come to me… for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28).

Yes. We too can live undaunted.

16
Feb
18

R is for Redemption

(This post will be the first in a series. Recently, my mentor/counselor/friend suggested I create an acrostic from my name as a way of claiming my God-given identity.)

I love the table in our breakfast room. In fact, it is the table where I now sit and write these words you are reading.

Besides being a great writing surface and just the right size and shape for Sunday dinners with the family, I discovered a whole new trick this table can perform – it can serve as an illustration of a theological principle that resides deep in the core of my identity.

Here’s what I mean: while the legs and frame of this table are new, the tabletop is made out of reclaimed barn wood. Here is a picture of the table… complete with the Table top picinappropriately colored table runner I bought one day from a street vendor in Guatemala.

If you look hard at the surface of this table you can see nail marks, cracks, scratches and a wide range of other kinds of imperfections.

The barn that gave birth to our tabletop (located, we were told, somewhere in central Missouri) had been abandoned long ago. The wood was exposed to the blistering sun, pouring rain, and dramatic temperature swings as the barn just sat there, ignored… unappreciated… unused.

No one knew what its original color was as all of its paint had long since peeled and fallen off.

One day the owners decided it was time to tear that old barn down to make way for something else. Fortunately, a furniture builder came by just then and offered to buy all of the wood planking from the barn.

And VOILA! We have REDEMPTION.

That which had been cast aside and labeled as useless was suddenly given a new purpose. Yes, it did take a little work to transform those weathered planks into a serviceable table, but here they are: living a new life as a vital element of our breakfast room… making vital, daily contributions to our family’s well-being.

Most of the time we see redemption as only about being saved. As Psalm 34:22 saysThe Lord redeems the life of his servants; none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.” Psalm 72:14 makes a similar appeal when it says, “From oppression and violence he redeems their life, and precious is their blood in his sight.”

The barn wood variety of redemption, however, has two components: salvation and rebirth. That barn wood did not simply avoid being turned into kindling. While retaining its essential identity, that wood was transformed into something else completely!

I see Jesus as an agent of “barn wood redemption.” He not only set people free from lives that were seen as discarded, useless, and unproductive. He set them on new paths, gave them new identities, and – most importantly – RECLAIMED their original identities as beloved children of God.

I know that God has begun a huge redemption project in my life. I can’t wait to see where it is headed!

14
Feb
18

“This is not a test…”

hawaii-missile-alertSometimes it takes a nuclear missile attack warning – in this case, fortunately, issued in error.

Sometimes it takes the firm hand and raised voice of a **loving** spouse that keeps you from stepping absentmindedly into traffic.

Sometimes it takes the grave look and furrowed brow of the family physician.

Sometimes it takes nothing more than a kind of “dumb luck” that makes us pause before entering the intersection where a knucklehead just ran a red light.

Sometimes though, on a day like today, it requires a smudge of black ash on the forehead and the solemnly intoned phrase, “Dust to dust,” to remind us of the utter fragility of life.

Every day life is fragile.

Every day life is precious.

Every day you and I are unstoppably mortal… only a breath or two away from eternity.

ash wednesdayBut today – Ash Wednesday – we are invited to celebrate and give thanks – not just for these fragile lives of ours but for the fragility itself.

Praise God from whom all mortality flows!

Praise God all creatures here below.




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