Posts Tagged ‘God

06
Jan
22

It’s An Outrage!

The other day I heard someone say (or perhaps they posted it on a social media platform), “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.”

The implication here is that the goal of awake, alert people should be to ascend to a state of perpetual outrage as we observe events unfolding around us.  

And personally, I am outraged at that suggestion.

I mean, yes, there are very important and noteworthy things going on in the world. Yes, there are bad actors perpetrating grief and misery upon innocent victims every day. Yes, there are catastrophic weather events taking place here, there, and everywhere. Yes, there is disease, famine, poverty, addiction, greed, war, and environmental degradation sweeping across the face of our planet. 

And yes, I am concerned about every one of those things. 

But I really, truly resent the efforts of you Controllers of the Public Discourse who seek to whip me up into a never-ending state of outraged frenzy about it. 

For example, is it really necessary to begin EVERY SINGLE nightly national news broadcast with the breathless incantation, “Breaking news tonight…”, followed by an overly dramatized report of something I found out about six hours ago?

Of course, news is a business. Social media is ALSO a business. As such, these businesses succeed or fail based on how many eyeballs are watching and how many ears are listening. And the Head Honchos of these businesses know that eyes and ears aren’t drawn to them by calm, matter-of-fact descriptions of important events. 

Oh no. 

They know that eyes and ears are only drawn in by LOUD, BOMBASTIC declarations of DIRE EMERGENCY!!

And when you and I fall for this trick by choosing to walk around in an uninterrupted state of OUTRAGE, we only ensure a future of LOUDER and MORE BOMBASTIC declarations of dire emergency from the people holding the megaphones. 

And perish the thought of ever leading with a story about the overflowing milk of human kindness, decency, and compassion. No, those are the stories reserved for the last 45 seconds of the Nightly News. 

So, what are we to do? How do we straddle the divide between the call to be INFORMED while resisting the call to become OUTRAGED?

Let me say first that I don’t believe OUTRAGE is always misplaced. Outrage is the appropriate response to an outrageous event. Outrage is also the thing that spurs us to get up off our tooshies and ACT! 

Ginned-up outrage, however, only serves to hike up our blood pressure and feed the click counters of the Media Masters. 

First, we must figure out how to be thoughtful about our outrage. And before you say it, I will confess I recognize the fact that this advice is much easier SPOKEN than ACTED. Most of the time my outrage is quick… emotion-based… explosive. I get outraged because I have NOT been thoughtful or reflective. In those times I make myself an easy target for the click-bait headlines that start with phrases like, “You Won’t Believe What ___________ Just Did!” 

When we digest the events of the day, it might be good to ask questions like, “What is really at stake here?” or “Who benefits most by my outrage?” or “What good does it do for me to blow my top about this?”

Next, if we have a hard time moderating our reactions to the world around us, it might be great to declare a News Fast. You might decide to make it for 24 hours, a week, a month, or an undetermined period. Make it just like the time you swore of chocolate, booze, or red meat, only better. 

Ultimately, the lesson we should all learn is the lesson of the exiled Israelites from 586 (or so) BCE. Faced with an endless stream of failure, frustration, fiasco, flood, fire, and famine, they were at the end of their collective rope. They had perhaps greater reason to be outraged than any group of people before or since. They were supposed to be God’s Chosen People and yet, here they sat… exiled in a foreign land. 

Just when their fists were weary from being shaken so vigorously at the sky, God spoke to them through the prophet Jeremiah and said, “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” (Jeremiah 29:11, NRSV).

Yes. Things fall apart. Plans backfire. People do stupid stuff. Outrageous events happen all around us. But in the middle of it all, God reminds us to hold out for a better day ahead.

Abundant blessings;

01
Jan
22

Happy New Day

So here we are… sitting in front of this gigantic, mysterious package; trying to figure out where and how to begin opening it… wondering what surprises, delights, horrors, or joys it might contain.

The mysterious package I refer to is, of course, the New Year. 

Often when presented with a package as monumental as a whole new year, the human instinct seems to run toward the Grand Gesture. 

We want to name it. We want to set out a list of goals and projects to be accomplished during its visit. We prognosticate about it and try to guess at its true, underlying personality. 

After all, a whole new YEAR is a pretty doggoned big fish to fry. Right?

Well, yes. Sort of.

Except that when the calendar page turned over from December 31 of ONE year to January 1 of the next, we didn’t really get a whole new year dropped in our laps, did we. 

We got exactly ONE DAY

If you really wanted to be accurate, we got one moment. And then we got the next. And then the next, and so on and so on…

I guess what I am trying to suggest here is that instead of spending excessive time worrying about what approach we will take to the living of an entire YEAR, let’s think instead about how we will live the precious gift of the MOMENT we have right here, right now.

In other words, let’s not fret so much about the vastness of the FOREST around us that we forget to tend to the individual TREE we have here on our hands. We don’t want to miss the beauty and uniqueness it offers.

I believe this is the wisdom of the piece of the Lord’s Prayer wherein Jesus advises the disciples to say, “And give us this day our DAILY bread,” when they pray. (Matt. 6:11, NRSV). He intended it as a reminder to them and to other faithful Jews of God’s provision of a one-day supply of manna for every day of the 40 years they spent wandering in the wilderness. (Exodus 16).

There is no doubt we will need bread for every day we live. But isn’t it also a little arrogant to imagine that we know exactly how many days that will be? 

What I am suggesting is that we each take on the New Year as we would take on the new day. Begin it with humble gratitude, thanking God that we have received it. Believe that the day – just like the year – will bring its share of both the expected and the unexpected… the sublime as well as the ridiculous. Ask God to help us find a way to embrace both ends of the day’s spectrum of experience.

Imagine what it would be like if we treated every night like New Year’s Eve and every morning like New Year’s Day? 

[Without the alcohol or bowl games, of course…]

What if… instead of anxiously wondering when God’s Great Gift will land on our doorstep, we stopped and woke up to the fact that it already HAS!?

Abundant blessings to you and yours in this new year and new day. 

31
Dec
21

Winter Wonderland

It finally snowed here in Fort Collins. 

The falling right now is the first snow this season… and the latest first snow in the town’s history. 

And so naturally, as Patrick the dog and I set out on our morning walk – wet flakes descending rapidly on our heads – I began singing, Walking in a Winter Wonderland. 

You know the song, don’t you? [And no, Christopher… it’s not about you.]

Sleigh bells ring, are you listening?

In the lane, snow is glistening.

A beautiful sight, we’re happy tonight,

Walking in a winter wonderland.

I’m sure in my life, I have sung it over 100 times with no thought at all to what I was singing.

But for some reason today, as I walked along singing, I was suddenly snagged by these words in the second verse:

“To face unafraid, the plans that we made…”

My first thought was, “What a great mindset to have as you make the transition from one year to the next! Maybe this is really more a New Year’s song than a Christmas song.”

But then I stopped to ponder a little further. I asked myself; Is that the way I am approaching 2022? Am I facing my/our plans for this coming year fearlessly… confidently… in a positive, hopeful state of mind? Or am I shaking in my shoes a little bit?

Because, honestly, peering at the road ahead shows me a lot of potholes, hairpin turns, mudslides, and washed-out bridges. Facing that mess “unafraid” (in the words of the song) seems like it might prove to be a daunting task.

As I stand here and gaze down the road, I see that the YUCK has already started. A beloved family member just tested positive for the COVID virus. Thick smoke from the wildfires west of Boulder, Colorado enveloped us as we drove home yesterday from Kansas City. Reports say that over 500 homes have been destroyed. John Madden died last week, and Betty White died today!

Thank God (literally) I am not facing all this alone.

Thank God there is someone who has been there, who has seen the worst of it, and is still there to reach out, take my hand, and say to me, “Do not be afraid.” In fact, that exact phrase is repeated more than 70 times in the Bible… spoken by God to the numerous “feet of clay” heroes scattered throughout its pages. 

Think of it… Abram was afraid. Hagar was afraid. Isaac was afraid. Moses was afraid. The entire nation of Israel was afraid. Joshua, Deborah, Jacob, Gideon, Samson, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Isaiah, David, and a bushel basket full of other big names in the Bible all had reason to quake in their shoes as they looked at the road ahead of them. 

And to each of them, God said in a loud, strong voice, “For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, ‘Do not fear; I will help you.’” (Isaiah 41:13, NRSV). 

In my mind’s eye, I see each of those biblical “heroes” jotting that phrase down on a piece of papyrus, taping it to their bathroom mirrors (like I did in 2011, during a time of great trepidation), and reading it to themselves every morning. 

And then – much as I did back then – I see them each marching out into the day saying, “OK, world… Bring it on.” 

Looking out my window, I see that the snow is getting deeper. It is a much-needed dose of moisture in a dry, parched land. It quiets things down and creates a uniformly white blanket of silence on everything it touches.

And so when you combine that very “Currier and Ives” visual with the reminder of God’s enduring presence in each of our lives, it truly does look like a Winter Wonderland. 

– Abundant blessings and a Joy-filled 2022 to you and yours.

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;

21
Dec
21

Slow Down, Cowboy

Time passes.

Things change.

The fresh, new, and exciting slowly becomes the stale, old, and predictable. 

Energy that once sprang from a bottomless reservoir now trickles sparingly, as if dripping from a clogged waterspout.

Possibilities begin winking out one by one… like the lights of a remote fishing village moving from midnight to pre-dawn.

The same applies to me. Early in my career as a human, I used to walk fast. Stride, stride, stride, stride. Vigorous. Purposeful. Always in a hurry. Never quite enough time to get from Point A to Point B. Checking my watch and multitasking as I went.

I’m sure you’ve heard footsteps of the kind of person I used to be. Whenever I heard those staccato, purposeful steps approaching me from behind, I always had to turn my head. My first thought was usually, “I wonder if I am about to be mugged.” But then I relaxed, realizing it’s just someone on their way to somewhere.

Lately, though, I have slowed down.

Considerably.

I first throttled down from FULL to ¾ speed when I retired. Though I no longer had any place I needed to be RIGHT NOW, I wanted to continue living with a sense of urgency… taking nothing for granted… drinking deeply from each day’s bubbling fountain.

But then came the excruciating lower back pain in early May, slowing me – LITERALLY some days – to a crawl.

Today my back is a bit better, thanks. Treatments, injections, massages, adjustments, exercise, and even some wacky stuff have all helped. But despite that improvement, I continue to be a slow walker. 

Now I take my time getting from here to there. 

I breathe deeply along the way. I look around. I study the trees, yards, houses, dogs, and people I pass. I let them speak to me. I treat them the way a trained sommelier treats that first mouthful of wine from a newly opened bottle of 1949 Domaine Leroy Richebourg Grand Cru. (Not that we have that vintage on the shelf here at Chez Brown. I just Googled, “What is the name of a really expensive wine,” et VOILA!)

Since I just celebrated a significant birthday yesterday (one that ends in a “0”), I have declared to myself that I am absolutely permitted to slow down a bit. 

I am still – hopefully – a long way away from adopting the Old Man Shuffle step. But fair warning! If you are a young, busy career person dashing through the aisles of the grocery store to pick up a few things on the way home, you DON’T want to be stuck behind me.

As I pause and think about it, I must admit; I am coming to like this new, slower, more deliberate me. But it does seem odd in a way. Younger me… the one with a whole lifetime ahead of him… was always in a hurry to get somewhere. Whereas older me… the one whose days here in this vail of tears are MUCH more numbered… is very OK with taking it slow and easy. 

NEWS FLASH: In case you haven’t guessed, NONE of these reflections are at all new or earth-shattering in their significance.

Jesus – the guy whose mission was to save Creation – regularly carved himself out times of quiet, stillness and solitude. Long before Jesus’ time the psalmist wrote, “Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10, NRSV). And let’s not forget the story about Elijah’s flight from the wrath of Queen Jezebel when he met God in the middle of the “sheer silence.” (1 Kings 19:12, NRSV) in the desert. 

No… while the notion of slowing down and smelling the coffee may not be new or revolutionary, it is somewhat noteworthy that I have finally stumbled upon it. 

And if I REALLY want to complete the “old guy trifecta,” I will next take up whittling and golf. 

Abundant blessings;

13
Dec
21

Jesus and Santa

An image of Jesus thought to be more realistic, based on archaeological records of the people from that
place and time.

On our morning walk today, I saw a sign in a neighbor’s front yard that read: “JESUS IS THE REASON FOR THE SEASON.”

And being the eager Jesus follower I am, I responded with a hearty, “Heck yeah! That’s right, brother/sister/non-binary ally, whoever you are! You’re telling some serious truth right there.”

In that moment, I was caught up in that perennial Yuletide fervor that requires Christians to moan and wail about the gross commercialization of “our” sacred season. “Fie on Santa and his elves and all of their heathen merry-making! People need to focus a lot MORE on the story of God’s miraculous, world-changing incarnation and a lot LESS on finding the best recipe for homemade EGGNOG!”

And of course, that is all true.

But what if… what if it turned out that there was a way for Jesus and Santa to peacefully coexist at this time of year? What if really IS a place for Santa and tinsel and cookies and all those other “trappings” of the Christmas season alongside the manger of Bethlehem? I mean, what if ONE face of the Christmas season did not necessarily have to negate the OTHER?

Pictures of Real Santa Claus

How would that work, exactly?

I think it just might start with the recognition of all the ways that COMMERCIAL Christmas and HOLY Christmas overlap. For example, both celebrate the spirit of GIVING. Both accentuate LIGHT overcoming DARKNESS. And both of them make the FAMILY the center of attention, right?

I am sure this list goes on and on, but the point I am trying to make is: Jesus and Santa might not be quite the adversaries we usually depict them to be. In fact, with Santa’s eternally jolly nature and Jesus’ inclination to love his neighbor as himself, they might even get along quite famously!

However… in spite of the considerable areas of “missional overlap,” there really is one area where Jesus and Santa drastically diverge. And that is the area of THE GIFTS THEY COME TO BRING US. 

In this area, the differences between the two could not be starker.

That’s because Santa comes to fulfill temporal wishes.

 Jesus comes to bring eternal hope.

Temporal wishes are the things you write down on the list that you give to your loved ones (sorry… I mean that you send to the North Pole). They include things like a new FitBit, a new power saw, warm socks, a KC Chiefs stocking hat, and a kayak.

These things may or may not come. If they do, you feel kind of, “joyful and triumphant,” don’t you? 

… for about three days.

If they don’t come (like the new basketball I asked for when I was ten), you feel left out… ignored… forgotten.

Eternal hope, on the other hand, is a totally different kind of gift. The word “eternal” is probably an obvious clue about the nature of this gift. It is the gift that REALLY keeps on giving! It is good NOW, TOMORROW and keeps on being good for your entire life (and beyond!).

It is also available to EVERYONE. Not just those who have a rich benefactor. 

And finally, it is the gift that is perfect for all who receive it. It isn’t made for just one size, shape, or color person. 

I am glad there is a time of year set aside for us to give one another little trinkets and gewgaws that come wrapped with pretty paper and bows. If not for Christmas, I might never get the cool clothes Joan likes to buy me.

But I will be forever grateful that God loved me enough to send the one thing that He knew I really needed…

HOPE eternal.

HOPE incarnate. 

HOPE beyond HOPE…

In other words, his only begotten son.

Abundant blessings;

07
Dec
21

An Undistorted Reality

“I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43:19, NRSV)

Have you ever noticed the way anticipation tends to distort reality… both positively and negatively?

If you’re not sure what I am talking about, think back to the last time you sat by your phone as you waited for a call from your doctor, bringing news about the results of a test. Or recall one of those times when you waited for the back door to fly open, followed by the words, “I’m home!” when your child was already 30 minutes past his/her curfew.

On the other end of the distortion spectrum, I can vividly recall the feeling as the days (Hours? Moments?) ticked by until it was time to head out on that long-anticipated vacation. But thinking back, the reality of that trip never seemed to quite live up to the way my imagination had painted it.

If any of that rings a bell for you, you can easily imagine some of the visions and dreams that danced around in the heads of most Israelites as they anticipated the arrival of the One described by the prophet Isaiah as, “… Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6, NRSV). 

I mean, SERIOUSLY! How could anything on earth be as glorious as THAT!??

I wonder if their imagination got as fevered as mine? For me, as the heat of anticipation builds and builds for that joyous moment to arrive, my brain goes into overdrive. I tend to concoct a distorted, unrealistic picture of the IT I am waiting for… paving the way for heart-wrenching disappointment when IT finally appears. 

In the case of the birth of Jesus (“Immanuel… God With Us”), the experience was exactly the opposite. The REALITY of the appearance of God Incarnate out-stripped even the wildest imaginations of the people of his time.

When Jesus landed in that manger in Bethlehem, he brought with him:

  • LIBERATION… for all people, for all time.
  • FORGIVENESS… for anyone who asks.
  • RECONCILIATION… with God, with others, with the world.
  • NEW LIFE
  • HEALING… for the afflicted – in body, mind, or spirit.
  • HOPE… for the hopeless

… and so much more. 

As Joan can (and will) readily tell you, I tend to have a wild and vivid imagination. But when it comes to Jesus, we ALL come face to face with the God who, “… is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine.” (Ephesians 3:20, NRSV). 

And that’s a WHOLE LOT!

Abundant blessings;

30
Nov
21

The Unbreakable Bubble

Check this out…

(Sorry for the poor quality photography)

Shortly after moving to Fort Collins, CO, Joan and I were walking the dogs in nearby Fossil Creek Park. It was early December, but snow had yet to make an appearance.

As we approached the base of a hill, I saw all these trees with straw bales shrink-wrapped to them. I stared at this bizarre sight, scratched my head in puzzlement, turned to Joan and said, “What the heck is that all about? Why are straw bales shrink-wrapped to the base of these trees?”

Being the far brighter, more observant, and astuter (???) one of us, Joan immediately replied, “Silly… those straw bales are there to protect sledders.” Being the kind, compassionate person she is, Joan refrained from capping her statement with, “DUH!!”

Sure enough, as we circled the hill, I noticed that just about every tree and light post had its own straw bale attached… ALL on the uphill side where sledders, skiers, or snowboarders would come from.

It made me wonder: where were those when I was a young sledder? For us – back in the Sledding Stone Age– it was a case of “Dodge or Die.” When I was young, stories were legion about kids who sledded into a tree/rock/lamppost/car/etc. and “…cracked his skull wide open.” 

All of which coaxed me into thoughts about the notion of PROTECTION in general. 

We certainly go to great lengths to PROTECT these days, don’t we? Especially now in the time of The Great Global Pandemic. We wash. We hand-sanitize. We mask (some of us double-mask even). We vaccinate. We boost. We shield. We sterilize. We germ-fog. 

Heck, last year, Joan and I even saw an Asian couple and their children dressed in hazmat suits at the Seattle-Tacoma Airport. 

And still – with all those protection measures in place – people still get sick and die. 

I can’t say this with complete certainty, but I’ll even bet there are young sledders at Fossil Creek Park who still crash and hurt themselves… despite all the straw-bales and shrink-wrap.

So, I wonder… where does the concept of PROTECTION fit into God’s Grand Scheme of Things? 

Interestingly, I discovered that whereas there are 45 verses in the Old Testament that use the word “Protect” or “Protection,” there are only SEVEN of those verses in the New Testament. 

In the OT, you have verses like, “May the Lord answer you when you are in distress; may the name of the God of Jacob protect you…” (Psalm 20:1, NRSV), and “You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.” (Psalm 32:7, NRSV), and, “But as for me, afflicted and in pain— may your salvation, God, protect me…” (Psalm 69:29, NRSV). 

Here, God is clearly understood as the Great Protector From All Harm

But somewhere, somehow, something takes a real turn in the New Testament. Not only does it only contain 1/6 the number of verses about protection as the Old Testament, but the whole FLAVOR of the way it is talked about takes a dramatic turn.

Here are two examples of what I am talking about. In this first one, Jesus is sitting with the disciples in the Garden of Gesthemane. He has told them what is about to happen to him and is now praying. He petitions God and says, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.” (John 17:15, NRSV). 

Then there is this verse in 2 Thessalonians that echoes a similar theme: “But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one.” 2 Thessalonians 3:3, NRSV).

“Protect you/them from the evil one.” 

No longer is God (apparently) the God who keeps you from cracking your skull open, or getting COVID, or (nearly) breaking your big toe, or losing your house in a fire, or going broke. 

God – in the New Testament – seems to be the God whose main project is protecting your soul.

I don’t know… maybe it was because of the seemingly endless stream of heartbreak, woe, exile, injury, and misfortune that befell the Israelites that led them to rethink the whole idea of what “God’s protection” meant.

Jesus spoke to this directly when he told the disciples, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, NRSV). 

Now THAT’S what I call PROTECTION

Each of us is going to have hard times in the days ahead. As much as we’d like to have one, there is no impermeable bubble that will shield us from all insult and/or injury. 

But there IS available – for ALL of us – an unshakable source of peace when we face those times. 

His name is Jesus.

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;

15
Nov
21

Does It Matter Enough?

OUCH!

First of all, sorry for the somewhat gross photo here. Both for the bruised toe as well as the dramatic proof that I need some SERIOUS foot moisturizing. But hopefully as you will see later, this disgusting picture is integral to today’s post.

So… I stubbed my toe the other day. I mean, REALLY stubbed it.

Joan and I were walking through the woods with the dogs when it happened. It was a beautiful, clear, warm, fall day, so we decided to take a route that led us along a wooded path that led to a creek. The dogs really love to go wading in the water, so we tend to indulge them.

As we walked along the trail, I NAILED a tree root that was hidden under the leaves. Hit it SQUARE with the big toe of my left foot, in full stride.

I almost went down, flat on my face. Fortunately, though, I managed to stumble a bit and then eventually recover.

But my toe was THROBBING with pain. When we got home, Joan looked at it, assured me it wasn’t broken, and then gave me the ice pack to wrap around it. In case I haven’t said this before, she is an absolutely WONDERFUL nurse. 

Over the next three or four days, I noticed two things going on simultaneously in my life. First, I noticed that I was not taking our dog Patrick for his morning walks around the neighborhood. I tried it once, but turned around, wincing in pain, after going about a half of a block.

The second thing I noticed was the advent of a serious state of spiritual torpor. My prayer life suddenly seemed to turn arid and dry. My brain ceased spewing out new ideas for future blog posts. My periods of meditation on the wonders of the world and the ridiculous extravagance of my blessings blew away like so much dandelion fuzz. 

What’s the deal?” I asked. “Why have I fallen into this apparent spiritual and creative dust bowl? Has the well just run dry? Has God finally tired of my naïve and incoherent mutterings and hung out the cosmic ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign in sheer annoyance?”

“I mean, SERIOUSLY! What’s going on!!” I shouted into the night sky.

As expected, the night absorbed my cry and sent back nothing.

After a few days of this unrequited questioning and knocking, it finally dawned on me: the morning walk with Patrick was the time when I did all of my praying and meditation for the day. Every iota of my daily silent transcendentalism seems to have been concentrated into that 30-minute trip around the neighborhood. Of course, in between stops for Patrick to pee, bunny sightings, and chats with friendly neighbors.

And so, if that were indeed the case, it was no wonder that I “hit the wall,” so to speak. No Patrick walking = no time for prayer and/or meditation.

Isn’t that ridiculous?

I mean, what a sad state of affairs is it to see yourself confining this life-giving, life-sustaining practice to ONEsituation and ONE environment! As if it is completely impossible to pause and utter a quick breath-prayer while waiting at a red light… or to close your eyes and talk to God while the internet takes its own sweet time to connect… or to dare to carve out a few minutes of renewing silence instead of just rushing quickly on to the next thing.

As Luke 5:16 tells us, “But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” In fact, by my count, there are 26 different instances in the Gospels where we are told about Jesus breaking out of the hurly-burly of his world-saving mission and just taking time to pray.

Pretty amazing, eh? Just goes to show you that when something MATTERS enough to you, you will make time for it.

And I will bet you dollars to donuts that on at least ONE of those occasions, he did so with a bruised toe.

Abundant blessings;




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