Posts Tagged ‘heart

05
Mar
18

S is for Serve

(This post is the fourth 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.)

I hear it when we sit down to eat at a restaurant. “Hi, chauffeurthere! My name is Jean Luc and I’ll be your server tonight.”

I hear it when young men and women volunteer for a stint in their country’s armed forces. They talk about serving their country.

I hear it when someone is thrown in jail. “Joe will be serving a ten-year sentence for armed robbery.”

But honestly, outside of those three settings (and possibly on the tennis court), I can’t tell you that I hear many people using the word “serve” much at all anymore.

Why is that, do you suppose?

Is it because to serve can seem a little demeaning or subordinate? If I serve, I am, by definition, a servant. Aren’t servants the people the rich and famous employ to drive their cars, cook their food, clean their pools, and shine their shoes?

And hey…where is the glamour or power in THAT? You and I are movers and shakers and big fat DEALmakers! The whole idea of serving seems to mean putting the needs and priorities of another person AHEAD of my own.

We don’t want to BE servants. We want to HAVE servants!

But then we hear the persistent, intruding voice of Jesus breaking into our reverie, saying, “… whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave.” (Matt. 20:26-27, NRSV) and we wonder if he might have known something we have missed.

This conversation about serving causes me to think of a woman I once knew long ago. Her name was Susan. Susan worked as a receptionist at a prominent economic development council downtown.

Every time I had a reason to call someone in that office, I got the impression from Susan that there was absolutely nothing in the WORLD that was more important to her than putting me in touch with the person I was calling. If they did not answer their extension, Susan came back on the line and offered to leave her post and try and go track them down in person.

When I told Susan I was fine leaving a message, she assured me that she would do everything in her power to make sure they received my message and returned my call… as soon as possible.

And I have no doubt she did exactly that.

Susan had a true servant’s heart.

Yes, you can say that Susan was just doing the job she was paid to do… and you would be right. But the spirit she brought to that job sent the message to everyone she met that nothing was more important to her than SERVING others.

Susan was no Jesus. But her servant’s heart endowed every phone call with a fresh sort of dignity and worth. Even if I was just calling my friend Jim to invite him to have lunch with me, I hung up the phone feeling revived and energized.

I think the bottom line in all of this is that there IS real power in serving. But it is that peculiar kind of “upside down” power Jesus so famously promoted.

It is the power that comes from giving instead of getting.

It is the power that comes from emptying rather than filling.

It is the power that comes from being all about YOU instead of being all about ME.

And sadly, it is exactly the power that the world seems to be desperately short of these days.

 

Hi. My name is Russell. How can I serve you today?

22
Feb
18

Spring, Soil, and Seeds

seed2tree2I’m getting the bug.

The spring-cleaning bug, that is.

Partly because there are several places in my home that are really messy and cluttered and in great need of cleaning. [Looking at you, garage!]

But my hygiene zeal also comes from the fact that if I am doing spring-cleaning, it means it is SPRING! And after a winter like this one, spring can’t get here quickly enough.

But this time, when the dust starts flying, I am going to do things a little differently, I’ve decided.

I am going to sweep up all the dust and gather all of the unused, outdated, broken, surplus, and superfluous contents of my house into one place.

Then I am going to get them all out of here… far from my sight.

And exactly 40 days later, I am going to bring them all back in and put them right back where I found them.

“Excuse me?” you say. “You’re going to do WHAT???”

I know. Sounds weird, doesn’t it.

But doesn’t this approach to spring cleaning bear some resemblance to the way Christians approach the season of Lent?

To wit: in the true Lenten spirit of self-examination and repentance, a devout Christian begins this sacred season by identifying something in his or her life that is “out of whack”… or in need of cleaning, if you will.

Maybe that thing is over-eating. Maybe it’s gossiping. Perhaps it is excessive use of social media, smoking, casino gambling, or nose picking.

He or she will then amass all the self-discipline and moral vigor they can muster and vow to “give it up for Lent.”

Those of us “on the fast” then grimace in pain as the dessert cart wheels by our table, hoping someone will ask us, “Aren’t you going to have any?” so that we can steeple our fingers, look heavenward, and say, “No. Sorry. I gave up tiramisu for Lent.”

We can’t wait for Easter Sunday to arrive.

Yes, certainly, because it means we can once again be reminded of and celebrate Christ’s victory over the grave. But MOSTLY because Easter means we can stop tormenting ourselves with all this DENIAL and go back to the gluttony we’ve become accustomed to.

Seems a little ridiculous, doesn’t it?

Because really… if we made the decision that this “something” we gave up is corrosive enough to our souls to do away with for 40 days (not counting Sundays, of course!), why would we want to open the door and bring it back in AT ALL??

OR… is it possible that the “spring cleaning” approach to the Lenten fast is a bit misguided?

IS IT POSSIBLE that we might be called to think of the Lenten fast as less of a short-term, temporary, self-improvement program and perhaps see it more as a time to dig a little deeper… pause a little longer… pray with a little more intentionality… or reflect a little more honestly?

It might just be that the Parable of the Seeds and the Soils (found in the 13th chapter of Matthew) sheds helpful light on a better way to understand the purpose of the Lenten fast. If you remember that parable, you know that handfuls of seed sowed by the same farmer produced vastly different results.

It was the same farmer and the same seed in all five scenarios. The thing that was different – the reason the seed either shriveled and died, or did not sprout at all or sprouted, took root, and produced a MASSIVE crop – was the SOIL.

Maybe the Lenten fast has more to do with properly preparing the soil of our hearts to receive the seeds that the Farmer is getting ready to sow there.

What do you think?

06
Feb
18

Barcode Faith*

Barcode scannerMy friend Mike died yesterday.

Mike had been in the process of dying of cancer for the past six months or so.

I had been to see Mike over the weekend and if not for the full, gray beard and knit stocking cap he still wore, I would not have recognized him. He was a pale, confused shell of the intense, vibrant, lively man I first met more than 20 years ago.

Mike’s wife contacted me yesterday morning and said he had declined rapidly since then. The hospice nurse had given him no more than 24-48 hours.

I was able to get to their home – where hospice had set up a bed for Mike – and pray with them, read some scripture, and anoint his forehead with oil.

Then, at about 9:00 last night, I received the text from Mike’s wife telling me that he had died peacefully earlier that evening. She expressed gratitude for the brief, informal bedside service.

In many ways, it was a similar scene to the one that played out just a few months ago with my son’s high school chum, Brandon. Brandon died in the hospice facility rather than at home, but the journeys of Mike and Brandon through the last stages of their lives on earth were very similar.

From the stunned incredulity of the initial diagnosis to the evangelical frenzy of research into the latest findings about treatments, cures, experiments, and support groups, to the disappointment with treatment results, to declarations of their unyielding commitment to fight on, to unexpected turnarounds, to the final stages of the relentless decline of mind, body, and spirit… Mike and Brandon’s journeys bore eerie similarities.

There was one marked difference, however.

About a month before he died – on the eve of his 40th birthday – Brandon asked me to baptize him.

Throughout most of his life, Brandon had never really professed a religious faith of any kind. He had dabbled here and there with spiritual forms that appealed to his voracious intellect, but always found deep flaws in every one of them, he said, that prevented him from pledging allegiance to any.

But something somewhere changed. Over the course of many meetings and conversations over coffee, Brandon casually asked me one day if I would baptize him… in a church… with friends and family present.

I was delighted by his request and agreed to immediately set something up. But his request was not followed by a secret, personal moment when I gleefully carved a notch in my pastor’s belt. I can honestly say I did nothing overt to steer him in that direction.

And even though I had similar conversations and cups of coffee with Mike as his disease progressed… and even though Mike was also a card-carrying member of the “spiritual, not religious” fraternity, no request for baptism and confession of Jesus as Lord and savior ever came from him.

All of which begs several questions: based on the story of these two journeys, do you believe there is a difference in Mike’s eternity vs. Brandon’s? And if so, what is that difference? And why?

Surprisingly, there is a correct answer to this question; and that answer is: “God and God alone knows.”

As the renowned writer in Christian spiritual formation, Dallas Willard, once famously opined, it is unreasonable to believe that God operates with the faith equivalent of a system of barcodes. What that means is; if you went into a store and pulled a barcode off of a box of Cheerios and slapped it onto a claw hammer, the scanner at the cash register would tell you that the claw hammer was actually a box of Cheerios.

In the same way, it is reasonable to believe that when we show up at the gates of eternity, God probably does more than scan us with his Holy Barcode Reader… using the question, “Did she/he speak the magic phrase before they died?” as his guide.

I am sure the analysis goes deep… even deeper than actually looking to see whether we are, in fact, a hammer or a box of Cheerios.

Believe it or not, God has actually spoken directly to the “barcode faith” question on several different occasions. You can find one quote in the book of Isaiah, in the 55th chapter, ninth verse: “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:9, NRSV).

We see another commentary in the book of I Samuel when the prophet Samuel is preparing to anoint Jesse’s runt-of-the-litter son David as the next king of Israel. Samuel (as prophets often do) speaks God’s mind and says, “… for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” (I Samuel 16:7, NRSV).

Please join me today in praying for the families of Mike and Brandon as they struggle to cope with life without the dearly beloved husbands, sons, fathers, and friends these two men were.

Join me also in making a renewed commitment every day to living a life that would be pleasing to the deep-looking, all-knowing eye of God.

 

* (Today’s post is the story of the deaths of two friends. Out of respect for the families I am not using the real names of the main characters.)

25
Jul
17

Artificially Intelligent

The Birth of Artificial IntelligenceBack in the Stone Age when I was young, there was a popular TV commercial for Memorex-brand cassette tapes. For those of you under the age of 40 who have no idea what a cassette tape is, go ask your uncle.

The Memorex people wanted to tell us that the quality of their recording tape was so good the average person couldn’t tell the difference between a real, live sound and sound recorded on Memorex recording tape.

Their catchy ad slogan was: “Is it live… or is it Memorex?”

According to an article I read in today’s paper, we might soon be asking a version of the same question about our next-door neighbors.

That might be stretching the point a little for the sake of argument, but it is not too far off base when it comes to the whole area of A.I., or artificial intelligence. AI is certainly not new, but it seems that the folks who have been toiling away in the AI labs around the world have been making a lot of progress lately.

Enough progress, in fact, to scare tech guru Elon Musk.

You know Elon Musk… he is the guy who can’t stop inventing stuff, from the Tesla battery-powered car to the reusable Space-X rocket to the supertrain known as the HyperLoop. You would think a guy with high tech credentials like these would be chomping at the bit to own a piece of a robot-filled future.

Instead, the Kansas City Star reports that Musk recently warned an audience that if we are not careful with AI, we might end up living in a world where the humans answer to the machines instead of the other way around.

It sounded like the world depicted in the movie I, Robot actually come to pass.

I don’t know if Mr. Musk is accurate or not, but the whole topic made me stop and think… using my genuine, authentic, grey matter human intelligence.

What is intelligence in the first place? And what makes one kind of intelligence natural and another kind artificial?

The dictionary says that anything made by human beings can be defined as artificial. Which, of course, means that this computer I am typing on, the desk that holds it up, the house I am sitting in, and the water bottle I just took a sip out of are all – technically – artificial.

Intelligence is defined as: the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills.

Using those definitions, I suppose it is not impossible to see how something made by human beings could acquire and apply knowledge and skills.

Pausing for a minute and reading that last sentence again actually gave me a little shudder of dread.

I mean, yes, I would love to have my own domestic robot who could fry a perfectly over-medium egg, mow the lawn, and take the dog for a walk. But I am not at all sure I am comfortable with the idea of him (do robots have genders? Hmmmm.) acquiring his own knowledge and skills and running around applying them, willy-nilly.

I guess what I find fascinating in this whole conversation is the very thinly veiled fear that we might be entering a future filled with knowledge and technological wizardry, but utterly bereft of SOUL… for lack of a better word.

And the people who seem to be the most worried about the consequences of this soul-less future are the folks at the forefront of bringing it to us!

I think this is exactly the kind of situation that the word IRONY was invented to describe.

Intelligence is good. God did not put brains in our heads without expecting we would use them. Our intelligence is right at the forefront of reasons the psalmist says human beings are “… fearfully and wonderfully made.” (Psalm 139:14).

But intelligence without soul and without heart is just plain fearful.

YES!… We need knowledge. We need skills. We need solutions to the complex, critical issues that face the world today.

But those skills and solutions have to flow from a renewed, soft, soulful heart… the one so lovingly fashioned by our God.

You and I have a choice about the kind of future we will enjoy; will we choose the hyper-efficient, albeit soul-less one? Or will we pick a slightly wobbly and off-kilter, soulful and thoroughly human future?

I know which one I’m voting for.

But please don’t tell the robots!

Abundant blessings;




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