Posts Tagged ‘Jesus Christ

19
Jul
18

Unedited You

Writing is hard.

WritingWriting well is harder. (Or should that be “Writing good…”?)

Yet, in spite of all the hurdles and pitfalls involved, I would much rather write than talk.

The problem with talking is that it is so… INSTANT. A situation arises… words are called for… they spill out of your mouth in some kind of order… and then all sorts of conclusions and assumptions begin congealing around them.

There was that time – for example – when I decided to break the ice with a complete stranger over the cold cut tray at a friend’s Christmas party. “So…” my chatty banter began, “Are you one of Fred’s neighbors who are part of the effort to fight that nasty development the ABC Real Estate Company is planning for the neighborhood?”

“Well, no,” the stranger replied… very deliberately. “I am actually on the board of directors of the ABC Real Estate Company.”

Or then there was that other time when a 50ish couple was leaving the worship service with an uber-cute six-or-seven-year-old boy in tow. I had not recalled seeing them before, so to make a little friendly conversation as hands were being shaken I smiled and said, “Oh! Is this your grandson you’ve brought with you to church today!”

Their smiles suddenly faded, replaced by a now frosty façade as the man replied, “No. This is our SON.”

Strangely I don’t think we saw them too many times in church after that.

But when I am here at my keyboard, I enjoy an INFINITE number of chances to start… stop… correct… erase… edit… and perfect my words before they ever cross your radar screen. If something looks even the slightest bit askew, POOF! Away it goes into the electronic ether.

When I write, I can look back and notice that I have used the word AMAZING five times in a row. Then I can simply mouse over at least two “amazings”, right click to pull up the thesaurus function and replace them with “startling” and “remarkable” and end up sounding a little less dull and unimaginative than I really am.

Writing takes a lot more work than talking, to be sure. But I really prefer presenting the world with EDITED Russell vs. UNEDITED, raw Russell.

EDITED Russell is smooth and articulate. He uses the right word at the right time. His conversation is sprinkled with texture, nuance, and wit. Heck, he can even be called borderline witty and wise now and then.

UNEDITED Russell can be downright clumsy. He hesitates… uses the wrong word at the wrong time… offends people – always unintentionally, of course. He often lets emotions rather than cool, thorough thoughtfulness shape his words. In the right situation, he has even been known to let a profanity escape his lips.

People find edited Russell likable… but they admit unedited Russell can often be more than a little annoying.

All of which makes God and God’s assessment system a marvel that most of us will never even come close to wrapping our minds around.

That’s because – as I read the words of scripture – God not only LOVES unedited Russell, and (insert your name here…) – God actually PREFERS the unedited version of each of us. God’s emissary, Paul of Tarsus, tells his church in Rome, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.”(Romans 5:6, NRSV).

King David was a big advocate of coming to God with one’s complete, unvarnished, unedited self and just laying it out there in its most raw form. At the time of one of his deepest funks, he wrote, “The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”(Psalm 51:17, NRSV).

And apparently, God doesn’t want us to edit ourselves OR our prayers. That’s why there is such a thing as the Holy Spirit. Romans 8:26 reminds us, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.”

So I’m sure I will probably continue to edit my writing. I will make every attempt to edit my speaking, thinking, and acting… especially when you and I are together.

But let’s just all take this moment to rejoice at the reminder that God’s nature is to open his arms wide and give a big ol’ godly bear hug to the real, unedited YOU.

09
Jul
18

Loving the imperfect

Joan and I don’t eat out at restaurants very often.

As I believe I have mentioned in this space before, this is mainly because my wife is an awesome cook. I love to eat the things she so lovingly and creatively prepares. To give you a little teaser, here is a photo of last night’s delectable entrée; Spinach stuffed chicken breast: Spinach stuffed chicken breast

Thanks to our somewhat sheltered culinary existence, I do not have a favorite place or a favorite dish at my favorite place. Our rare forays out are almost always adventures of discovery.

And because I tend to be a very suggestible kind of guy, my general practice is to order the thing on the menu that is pictured there in a lovely, full-color close-up photo… with the juices dripping off, a pat of butter slowly melting, and flavor whisps wafting off the page.

I just point to it and tell the server, “I’ll have one of THOSE, please!”

And if you have ever ordered this way, you know what happens next. After an unbearably long waiting period, the server returns, places that pure, beatific item in front of you with a big smile with the word, “Enjoy!” and then disappears in a puff of smoke.

Then you look down at your plate… and you are instantly crushed and heartbroken. Because the thing sitting there looks NOTHING like the picture from the menu.

  • It’s not the same SIZE!
  • It’s not the same SHAPE!
  • It’s not the same COLOR!
  • The lighting is all wrong!
  • The butter is not melting down the side in anything nearly resembling the hypnotic way it was in the picture.

Your disappointment is palpable.

And yet you have not yet even taken Bite #1.

But here is the magical thing that almost always happens next… at least for me. I somehow dry my bitter tears, pick up my knife and fork, vowing to make the best of a bad situation, and TAKE A BITE!

And then in at least 95 percent of the cases I discover… IT’S REALLY GOOD! Despite my initial disappointment.

And as I savor that first bite I say to myself, “You know… it’s not perfect, but I love it!”

And just as I uttered that phrase, I realized I said exactly the same thing less than a week ago… on the Fourth of July. As Joan and I took the day off to recognize and celebrate the designated birthday of our country I paused, placed my hand over my heart, looked at a flag, and said, “This country is certainly not perfect, but I love it!”

Then I remembered I had recently said the same thing about the United Methodist Church… where I have been ordained and continue to serve: “It’s sure not perfect, but I love it!”

In all three cases, it was good to be reminded that LOVE does not depend on the PERFECTION of the object of your love.

So… do I see great problems today in our country and worry about the direction it is headed? Or am I worried about the denomination I serve and the way it is currently choosing to carry out its mission? Am I deeply concerned with the future of both?

Yes, yes, and yes.

But do I also have an abiding confidence in the soundness of the foundation on which each of these stands? Do I believe they are still the best examples available of what it means to be a nation and what it means to be a church? And do I dearly love each of them despite their massive flaws and imperfections?

Again… yes, yes, and yes.

I also realize that loving – my country, my church, or another person – does not mean giving up the expectation that they will keep working to become a better example of their ilk.

And so if I – flawed, defective mortal that I am – have the capacity to love the imperfect, then surely the flawless, omnipotent One who created me must have that same capacity times INFINITY!

Which is probably why Psalm 86:15 says, “But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,”or why John 3:16 says, “For God so lovethe world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life,”or why Romans 8:38-39 says, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Which is probably also why I should also take Joan at her word when she says she loves ME… warts and all!

Now THAT, my friends, is the real miracle.

 

Abundant blessings;

02
Jul
18

Play Ball!

Football soccer ball baseballI love baseball.

I mean I REALLY love baseball; despite the fact that I am hexed enough to be a Kansas City Royals fan for life.

When I tell you that I love baseball, I mean I love everything about it.

I love the pace of the game. I love the skill it takes to play it well – primarily because I absolutely, positively lack that skill.

I love the history and lore of baseball… the rich traditions, the iconic players from days of yore, the sacred stadia that no longer exist, and the hidebound rulebook that governs all play.

I love the utter unpredictability of the game… the way that, for example, on one day a hapless team (such as the Royals) can rise up for a moment and defeat the reigning World Champions.

I love the absence of a clock to dictate the completion of a game.

Yes indeed… I do love me some baseball and mourn its absence when the other, imposter sports take center stage during the winter.

And yet, despite the depth of my passion for America’s pastime, the World Cup forces me to make this admission: SOCCER (or football, as the rest of the world calls it) offers a much better analog for this adventure we call life.

As I sat on my couch the other day and watched the ebb and flow of whichever World Cup match it was, the thought occurred: “This game… the pace, the way play unfolds, the way participants act and react to one another… reminds me A LOT of the way my life feels sometimes.”

In the American version of football, a team lines up on the field, executes a complex combination of violent maneuvers, stops, and goes back to plan the next combination of violent maneuvers.

Things happen in carefully scripted episodes.

Not so much in soccer.

American football is also a game of specialization. Each person on the team has ONE very tightly defined role to play. Heck, there is even a guy on the roster whose only job is to bend over and throw the football backward between his legs over a distance of 15 yards… and then gratefully reach out and receive his hefty, six-figure paycheck.

Soccer could not be more different. Except for the goalies, everyone can do everything at any moment. Just as in life.

In soccer, the action is continuous and non-stop. Everything happens on the fly. Yes, there are strategies and tactics involved, but they are made and adjusted while running from one end to the other.

Just as in life.

American football also features continuous coaching. Players go to the sidelines to look at diagrams on laptop computers while the voices of experts sitting in boxes high above the field are piped directly into the ears of other players.

In soccer… it’s just you, the ball, and the game. Also just like in life.

And while the spoils in American football most often go to the biggest, strongest, most powerful players, soccer is remarkably egalitarian. Small, medium-sized, and large people can all play.

Want to round up a group of friends for a quick, friendly game of soccer? Just find some players, an open area, and a ball.

Want to play a game of American football? Well, let’s see; we’ll need helmets and shoulder pads, a ball, a couple of H-shaped goal posts, a large, lined field, a game clock and someone to operate it. Oh, and a referee with a whistle would be good, too.

So despite the fact that I grew up watching and loving American football (and STILL actually prefer it to soccer), I have to admit: soccer bears a much closer resemblance to LIFE than football.

But both of these fall woefully short as metaphors in the whole area of OUTCOME. You see, in soccer, or football, or even my beloved baseball, there must be a WINNER and a LOSER.

One must always prevail over the other. (Otherwise, how do you know where to put the trophy?)

In God’s Great Game, however, Yogi Berra had it exactly right. “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.”God hangs the victor’s garland around the neck of EVERY player on the field and says, “I love you” as they come off.

And in Jesus’ upside-down scoreboard system, “… the last will be first, and the first will be last,”(Matthew 20:16, NRSV).

You know what else I just realized?

God probably likes American football just as much as soccer.

26
Jun
18

Disease to Please

Zucchini and shrimp dish“Did I please you?”

It was a silly question… asked, as it were, in the middle of my euphoric vocalizations and lip smacks. But I suspect the silliness of the question was a big part of the reason she asked it.

Because you see, my wife rarely fails to please me when she gets busy and creative in the kitchen.

On this occasion, she came up with a unique recipe that combined shrimp with some zucchinis we needed to use before they went bad.

The result? Predictably delicious.

And honestly, she knew it was good… whether I said I was pleased or not.

But that moment made me think about all of the times I have yearned to ask another person the same question.

  • “Hey, neighbors… did I please you with that lovely lawn mowing I just did?”
  • “Hey, grandchildren… did I please you with that spirited game of tag in the swimming pool?”
  • “Hey, congregation… did I please you with that sermon?”
  • Hey, dental hygienist… did I please you with the evidence of my diligent flossing?”
  • “Hey, Rosie the dog… did I please you with that walk we just took?”

At some level this is a question I believe we all want to ask… and we also want to then hear an enthusiastic, “Why, YES!” in response.

But is it really a question we SHOULD ask?

Another way of asking the same question is: How might it affect our actions if our central motive for acting is to PLEASE people?

Asking the question that way draws me kicking and screaming into the confessional booth. It makes me confront the depth of my infection with the “disease to please.”

Staying up here on the surface level of the question, one might ask, “Why must you call it a DISEASE? I mean, how bad could it be to try to PLEASE the people around you? I’m sure they enjoy it enormously!”

Yes, I am sure they do. But then we end up conveniently avoiding the truth that reminds us that often the best course of action involves walking a terribly unpleasant path.

  • Healing the decayed tooth means first submitting to the drill.
  • Teaching the curious child to stay away from the hot stove often means sternly enforcing that boundary.
  • Correcting the habits of an indolent employee often means firmly and unsympathetically laying down the law.

Jesus had zero illusions about the nature of his mission… and really didn’t often give a flip about whether he pleased people or not.

Don’t believe me? Well, then give a listen to this little snippet from Luke’s gospel: “I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!”(Luke 12:50-51, NRSV).

It makes me wonder: what if I decided to get a little more “Jesusy” in the way I relate to you? What if I changed my main question from, “How can I please him/her?” to, “What can I do to help him/her GROW?”

It might mean that instead of coming over to your house and washing your car for you I instead put a bucket and sponge on your front porch.

Or instead of lying and telling you I really like that new hairstyle I say, “You know… I’m just honestly not sure that works for you.”

YIKES! That is a frightening thought for a dyed-in-the-wool people pleaser like me.

But maybe it is the very best thing any of us could do.

And just MAYBE it is the way we can authentically love one another.

18
Jun
18

In or out?

Apologies in advance to the comedian who said this originally, because I thought it was really funny.

But as much as I would like to give credit where credit is due, I can’t remember your name.

Commenting on the popularity of the cross as an item of jewelry, your line was something like: “I am pretty sure that when he does come back again, the absolute LAST thing Jesus is going to want to see is a CROSS! He’ll be like, ‘Is this somebody’s idea of a cruel joke! That thing gives me NIGHTMARES!’”

It’s a funny line. And he (the comedian) is probably right.

But that doesn’t keep me from getting up every morning, reaching into the miscellaneous whatnot keeper on my closet shelf, and grabbing for the cross necklace lying there.

As you can see from the photo here, it’s a pretty nice one.My cross

It was a seminary graduation present from my loving wife.

No, it is not raw, roughhewn wood, stained with blood and pockmarked with nail holes. And yet, attractive as it is, I am sure it would still give Jesus the heebie-jeebies.

There is never a question about whether I will wear my cross on a given day. But there is ALWAYS the question – IN? or OUT? As in, “Will I wear the cross on the inside of my shirt or on the outside?

For me, each of these alternatives has both an upside and a downside.

The upside of the choice to wear the cross inside my shirt is that it becomes a gently thumping form of personal reminder. As I walk, I can feel it lightly tapping my chest as if to say, “Hey, buddy… don’t forget. You decided to give your life to Christ and to speak words and do deeds that are consistent with who He is! Represent well, homie!”

The downside, of course, is that wearing the cross inside the shirt sometimes feels as if I am HIDING my faith… you know, chickening out and keeping it under wraps.

Wearing my cross on the outside of the shirt, of course, solves that problem. It puts it right out there for all passers-by to see. It becomes a walking proclamation that declares, “Hey! Check it out! Jesus follower here! Anybody want to hear a little Good News? I’m your guy!”

The downside of outside is that very visibility. It can feel a little “holier-than-thou” at one end of the spectrum and “intolerant-of-thou” at the other… neither of which – I believe – is helpful to the cause of Christianity.

Most of the time my default is “inside.” This is mainly because I feel as if need to be reminded of my faith decision MUCH MORE OFTEN than others do.

And also because I do not believe Bible scholars have yet discovered a heretofore unseen coda to Matthew 28:20 that says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit… being sure to wear all the cross jewelry and Christian fish symbols you can in the process.”

And finally, I guess I default to “inside the shirt” because, even though I was only six years old the first time I sang it, I still hold fast to the wisdom of that camp song that reminds us that, “They will know we are Christians BY OUR LOVE…”

… and not by the crosses we wear, or by the ecstatic hands we raise in worship, or by the fish symbols on our bumpers, or by the way we vote, or by the number of times we say, “Father God…” when we pray out loud.

Please understand; I am not judging you harshly if you are a person who has decided to wear the cross visibly as part of your daily wardrobe. In fact, I actually admire the boldness of your witness.

I am just saying that the challenge I seek to rise to is the challenge of allowing my life to demonstrate my faith… and not to be bad advertising for it when it doesn’t.

 

So… what will it be today?

In? Or out?

05
Jun
18

Be Like Rosie

Rosie mopingMeet Rosie.

Rosie is our nearly eight-month-old Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier.

And yes, it is perfectly OK for you to say what you’re thinking right now: she IS, in fact, the cutest dog in the world.

Rosie is very high-spirited and energetic… which is exactly why we chose the name, Rosie. Think of it for a minute: every human named Rosie I have ever known has been spunky, high-spirited, and energetic… for example,

  • Rosie the Riveter
  • Rosie O’Donnell
  • Rosie Perez, just to name a few.

Rosie under chairRosie came to us in early December and is the first dog my wife and I have raised from the puppy stage. I will admit to being more than a bit nervous whether I was up to the task, or how badly we might scar her. But I have to give her credit; Rosie has responded remarkably well to our admittedly erratic efforts at training during this past six months.

And so it was with no small degree of surprise when I was struck earlier today with this sudden realization: as much effort as Joan and I have spent training Rosie, it seems that all this time Rosie has also been working on training US.

I am not sure how many of her lessons we have mastered yet, but here are some of the things I believe she has been trying to teach us since December:

  • THE VALUE OF SPONTANEOUS PLAY. For Rosie, there seems to be no time and no place that is not PERFECT for breaking into a rousing game of “fetch the tennis ball,” or “tug the squeaky toy,” or “chase me around the living room with your shoe in my mouth.” I believe she wants us to know that play can happen ANYWHERE, under any circumstance. She has probably observed that Joan and I seem to spend a lot of time with our heads burrowed into our laptops, or the morning paper, or engaged in somber-toned conversations with one another and wants to shake things up a bit. Even now as I write these words she is eagerly baiting me with a bit of knotted rope she likes to tug.
  • NAPS ARE GOOD… OH SO GOOD. The only thing Rosie does better than eating or playing is napping. She can nap anytime, anywhere, in fair weather or foul, at home or on the road. Her favorite places to nap are tile or marble floors where it is nice and cool. But when push comes to shove, she will nap on any available surface.
  • AN UNABASHED LOVE OF NATURE. It does not matter how long or short the walk is, whether it is raining, snowing or bright and sunny if Rosie wants to stop and sniff a flower, she stops. And sniffs. And sniffs some more. She is also now strong enough to resist my tugging at the leash when I decide she has taken enough time with THAT flower and it is now time to move on. Rosie appears to believe that each flower was carefully crafted by its Creator and deserves her reverent attention.
  • LIMITED SOCIAL MEDIA ENGAGEMENT. It may be that – as a dog – Rosie lacks the necessary opposable thumbs, or intellectual bandwidth to know how social media forums like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or SnapChat work. Or it may be that by eschewing them she is trying to help us see the potential of these applications for the stunting of rich, authentic, and complex relationships with others.

    But I trust Rosie and know she is a lot brighter than she seems. So I am going to go with the latter explanation.

There are certainly others, but I believe this one is Rosie’s most important lesson:

  • UNCONDITIONAL LOVE. Of course, Rosie loves Joan and me, her human caretakers, without pretense or condition. But every time we have guests over, or just happen to pass another person on the walking trail, she is absolutely DELIGHTED to see them! Even if she has never met them! She bounces up and down on her hind legs as if to say, “Hi! How are you? It is SO GREAT to see you! Come pet me and play with me!” She shows no willingness to grasp the concept that some people are cranky or odd or even devious. She seems to want to teach us that every person God created (which is all of them) is each an AMAZING, WONDERFUL, UNIQUE creation, worthy of love and respect.

    In that sense, Rosie comes much closer to being an actual Jesus-follower than I am. And I’ve had many more years to work on it!

Needless to say, Rosie has done a LOT better job of learning the lessons we are teaching her than we have done at learning what she is trying to teach us.

Thankfully she is patient and understanding and willing to forgive our shortcomings. I just hope she understands when we gently – but firmly – refuse to learn about the fine art of sniffing other people’s butts.

Abundant blessings;

28
May
18

Remembering. And Giving Thanks

GravestonesWhen you grow up – as I did – in the state of Ohio, a mere one state east of the state of Indiana, Memorial Day only meant ONE THING: listening to the Indianapolis 500 auto race on the radio. OK, make that TWO THINGS: add cranking up a batch of homemade ice cream on the back porch to the list. And most of the time there was also a big family picnic down by the river to cap off the day.

As a kid, I always thought of the Memorial Day weekend just a fun-filled beginning to the time of summer vacation. But all of that changed when some of my high school buddies were drafted and went off to the war in Vietnam. If you are old enough to remember that war, you also remember that it was not a war that the whole country rallied around and supported very well.

But despite the Vietnam War’s unpopularity, I remember that each of those young men from my hometown of Hilliard, Ohio who left to go fight were proud to go and convinced it was the right thing to do.

Most of those guys came back. But sadly, several did not. And because this was a small town, I knew the families of every one of the young men who were killed in that war, half a world away, fighting for something they believed in. And from that moment on, Memorial Day took on a whole new meaning for me.

Yes, I have continued to listen to the Indy 500; won this year, incidentally, by an Australian. Yes, I have continued to enjoy homemade ice cream, family picnics, and Opening Day of the community swimming pool. But underneath all of the fun and festivity of the holiday, I found that my eyes had been opened to a new understanding of the true meaning of this beloved national holiday.

And looking back, I realize I also received a new understanding of what this country is all about, too.

You see, before I saw those bright, promising young men of my hometown come home in coffins, the word “sacrifice” was really not part of my vocabulary. I honestly thought a “sacrifice” meant having to wait patiently for an hour and a half for your ice cream instead of being able to eat it from the carton right away.

The young men of Hilliard taught me that the principle of “voluntary self-sacrifice” is the TRUE foundation on which this country is – and has always been – built. Through them, I learned that the real secret and magic of this country is the people who put the needs of OTHERS on a higher level than their own. It is about people who ask, “What can I give?” instead of “What can I get?”Our country is built on the backs of the people who say, “YES!” without hesitation when asked to give 100% of their body, mind, and soul to a cause. Just like these men you see before you here today.

This basic truth is what led President John F. Kennedy to famously state, “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.”

As stirring and as profound as Kennedy’s statement is, followers of Jesus Christ immediately recognize that it is simply a restatement of a message he spoke over 2,000 years ago. As Jesus was preparing his disciples for his coming death, he gathered them around and said to them, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who sacrifice their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”(John 12:24-26, NRSV).

So yes… today let’s celebrate that the United States of America is the land of the free. Let’s remember that this country is the greatest demonstration the world has ever seen of the strength that comes from diversity. It is the “shining city on a hill” rich with natural resources, hard-working people, and an unbreakable spirit.

But without the willingness of men and women to serve and pay the ultimate price for unseen future generations, we are just one nation among many.

With their sacrifices, the men and women buried here gave us the lives we are able to live today. We owe them more than we can ever possibly repay.

Let us each pledge today that we will NEVER, EVER take that gift for granted.




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