Posts Tagged ‘Jesus Christ

11
Jul
19

Those Helpers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

08
Jul
19

The Overmow

Mowing the lawn“… outdo one another in showing honor.”                                    Romans 12:10, NRSV

My next-door neighbor and I are in a competition.

Not that I’m keeping score or anything, but I think I just went ahead by one earlier today. (Self high five!)

We are competing on neighborliness with a little thing I call the “gracious overmow.”

Here is how it works; if I happen to get out and mow my grass before Tom – my neighbor to the west – mows his, I don’t stop mowing at our property line. I go all the way over to the side of his house… mowing grass that actually belongs to him.

And if Tom happens to get out and mow his grass before me, he does the same.

We never actually talk about it. We just do it.

I have also tried to practice gracious overmowing with my neighbor to the east, but he apparently hasn’t caught on to how the system works.

Honestly, it is a little bit of a pain when I am the one doing the overmowing. It makes my mowing time about 50 percent longer than usual. But when Tom beats me to the punch… it is AWESOME!

Zip, zip! Done!

It all made me wonder… could this be done on a larger scale? Could I find other areas of life in which I might “overdo” a kind gesture?

Could I, for example:

  • “Overshovel” my neighbor’s sidewalk in the winter?
  • Pull weeds from my neighbor’s yard?
  • Fetch my wife a Diet Coke before she even asks me?
  • Graciously allow a fellow motorist to cut in front of me in traffic?
  • Pick up someone else’s dog poop? (Ew, no… scratch that one. Too gross.)
  • Leave that last box of corn flakes on the grocery shelf for someone who might need it more than me?
  • Toss someone’s newspaper a little closer to their house than the paperboy did?

And could I do it, not just for nice guys like my neighbor Tom, but could I do this stuff for total strangers, too? … Or for people that are kind of grumpy, disagreeable, and hard to get along with?

What a concept!

But then, as I was contorting my right arm into a pretzel shape trying to pat myself on the back for having such kind-hearted, altruistic thoughts, I heard a voice. As I listened a little more closely, it seemed to be the voice of Jesus, whispering to me…

“Dude…” he said. “If you call yourself a follower of mine that’s the kind of stuff you should be doing anyway. Routinely. It’s nice, but honestly, it’s no biggie.”

He continues, “Don’t just stop with a few cutesy, quaint little gestures like that. Feed the hungry. Visit the sick. Go to the prisons and comfort those unjustly confined. Locate injustices in the world and become actively engaged in righting them.”

“If you really want to make a difference, take a few risks. Stick your neck out. Try doing something that just might be unpopular enough to LOSE you a friend or two… even though it’s the right thing. Don’t be content to stick to the safe stuff that makes people like you more.”

“Come back and talk to me after you have been unjustly criticized for advocating for the people I tend to hang out with… you know, the misfits, the outcasts, and the people on the margins. I probably won’t give you a medal or anything, but I’ll be pleased.”

Gee thanks, Jesus.

You really know how to rain on a guy’s parade, don’t you?

Think I’ll go mow my yard now.

03
Jul
19

Vegan Evangelism

Vegan pizzaMy niece taught me something about evangelism the other day.

And I don’t think she even realized she was holding class.

This is not the new college graduate niece I wrote about earlier (in a blog post you can find here). This is her sister, Natalie.

You see, Natalie is a vegan.

She is also very serious about following her vegan diet… to the point that she has her own dedicated section of the refrigerator and a shelf or two in the pantry of her parents’ kitchen on which to store her food.

I have known other vegans in my life. Most of the time I have experienced them as passionate to the point of being a tad overbearing in their advocacy of veganism.

I have also – VERY briefly – toyed with the question of whether I might benefit from switching to an entirely plant-based diet… a thought that quickly fades away the second someone in my zip code begins grilling steak outdoors.

After spending several days in Natalie’s vicinity, especially at mealtimes, I began thinking seriously about making much more of an effort to go meatless, at least a couple of days every week…

… all because of the effectiveness of Natalie’s vegan evangelism.

In contrast to many other styles of evangelism you might be familiar with, Natalie’s was very quiet.

She didn’t preach. She didn’t berate. She didn’t drone on and on about the amazing health benefits of the plant-based diet. She didn’t throw a massive guilt trip on Joan and me about our willful “murder” of innocent cows, chickens, and fish.

She just went about her business… mashing up chickpeas, blending tofu and various spices, toasting bread, and quietly enjoying herself.

During our visit, Natalie just quietly radiated a sort of health and joy that was magnetic. It made me want to turn toward her and ask questions about her diet, which she answered thoroughly and politely.

It was her conviction, combined with her non-pushy, non-anxious demeanor that very effectively drew me more closely to thinking I might want to give this way of eating a serious look.

And then I wondered; “What if Christians took this same approach to OUR evangelism?” I wonder if we might have the same effect on the people around us that Natalie had on me?

  • What if we just LIVED our faith and let our lives speak for themselves?
  • What if we declined to browbeat, guilt-trip, or shame our friends and family members into believing?
  • What if we tried something like ATTRACTING rather than COERCING people to investigate the life-changing claims of our Lord and Savior?
  • What if we gave up the notion that it is WE who do the changing of people’s hearts and remember it is something much more ephemeral and outside our direct control? (Can you say “Holy Spirit”?)

 

Hmmmm. I don’t know. Sounds way too simple, doesn’t it?

01
Jul
19

Graduation Day

Olivia graduatingAh, graduation.

I remember it… vaguely.

But as luck and family circumstance would have it, I had a chance to relive that magic moment a couple of weeks ago. My wife and I were privileged to travel to Corvallis, Oregon to see my niece, Olivia, graduate from Oregon State University.

GO BEAVERS!

It reminded me of how awesome it felt to be able to look at that long list of “To Do’s” and put the word DONE beside them.

Final papers? DONE!

Final exams? DONE!

Final classes? DONE!

Final projects? DONE!

Final cleaning and walk-through of your off-campus apartment? DONE!

Final tearful gathering with college friends? DONE!

Those first few days after walking onstage to receive one’s hallowed sheepskin is a good time to breathe deeply and bask in the warm afterglow of accomplishment.

And so, in that magic moment with her mom, and dad, and sister, I didn’t have the heart to burst Olivia’s bubble and tell her about the NEXT project waiting for her around the corner… the one called “GETTING LIFE DONE.”

It would have seriously rained on her parade to tell her just how slippery and elusive this project will be. I mean, I’ve been working on it for 67 ½ years now, and am just beginning to feel like I understand the “deliverables.”

I mean, what kind of sadistic uncle would show up and tell the new graduate about all the funky twists and turns, the outrages, the injustices, the dense fog, or the surprising GRACE she will bump into on her way to completing this next assignment?

Without a doubt, this is going to be the most challenging project she has ever faced. Fortunately for her though, there is help.

For starters, Olivia has a couple of wise, loving parents to turn to. I know they will devote every ounce of their energy and imagination to helping her navigate the path ahead.

And like any good dad, I know that if my brother doesn’t know the answer to her question right away, he’ll just make something up.

It’s what guys do.

There is also the extended family of goofballs, clowns, and scalawags to provide comic relief, if not actual assistance.

Olivia also has a wise-beyond-her-years younger sister who loves her fiercely she can lean on anytime she needs to.

And because she has actively built a strong network of friends over the years, Olivia will have all of those folks behind her, too… ready to step up and do whatever is needed, whenever it is needed.

I don’t think anyone would argue that getting life done is truly one of the most challenging assignments any of us will ever face. Having family and friends to mentor us along the way is incredibly helpful.

But I hope none of us who needs it ever hesitates to reach out our hand for the biggest, most capable, most dependable, and wisest resource around; Jesus.

True, his original words, recorded in Matthew 11:28-30, were NOT addressed to a 21stcentury, tech, and social-media saturated world. But when he looked out at his audience of first-century peasants and said, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light,” I can’t help but imagine he saw you and me there in the crowd, too.

So congratulations on your amazing achievement, Olivia. Graduating from college is a HUGE accomplishment for which you and your mom and dad should be enormously proud.

Blessings to you as you face the road ahead.

Please know that you have all kinds of help available when and if you need it…

 

… including a zany uncle and a savior.

25
Jun
19

Uprooted

Roots-of-an-uprooted-tree-after-a-stormThere is a controversy raging right now that is sending arcs of electricity dancing through the air between Kansas City and Washington, D.C.

If you do not live in either one of these cities, you are probably blissfully unaware of this epic feud.

The fun all began on June 13 this year when U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will relocate the Economic Research Service (ERS) and National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) to the Kansas City Region.

It is a move that will potentially involve nearly 550 USDA staff members.

Folks in Kansas City were tremendously excited to hear this news. After all, it means a boost for the local economy, added prestige, and many potential new converts to The Magic of The KC Experience.

The USDA folks potentially affected by the move are… well, let’s say somewhat less than excited. At the joint staff meeting where the move was announced, many USDAers in attendance stood up and turned their backs on Secretary Perdue as he spoke.

They said the move would disrupt their social connections. They said it would upset their children’s educational progress. They say they are not willing to watch a major league baseball team that consistently fails to play at or above the .500 mark.

(OK… I just made that last one up. But they WILL say that once they think about it.) 

Kansas City people feel miffed by the Washingtonians’ response.“What do you mean you don’t want to move here?” we ask. “We LOVE this city! And you will, too, once you taste our BBQ!”

Their (our) feelings are hurt. We see it as a negative judgment on our hometown by some snooty, high-falootin’ East Coasters. Heck, we say, they probably wonder if indoor plumbing even exists out here on the Great Plains.

Having experienced a forcible, cross-country relocation myself – in the summer between my junior and senior years of high school – I know nothing could be further from the truth.

So chill out, KC. It’s not about US at all.

What it IS about is the emotional and physical trauma that is an inescapable part of making this kind of move. People have to deal with the severing of every connection that defines them… whether social, religious, family, cultural, or community. They have to deal with the challenge of rebuilding all of those vital relationships, let alone figuring out which neighborhood to live in, where to shop, where to dine, and where to find a good bagel.

But as hard as the move is on the adult members of the family, it is probably even harder on the children.

It feels like an UPROOTING. And who would ever voluntarily subject themselves to THAT?

50 years ago this month I did exactly that. Mind you, not without great howls of protest and the conviction that life – as I knew it – was about to end. However, unlike the USDA staffers, I was utterly powerless to resist the pending upheaval.

But somewhere along the way, the funniest thing happened.

I don’t know what caused it, but at some point in the middle of my wailing and protesting, a switch inside me flipped. I came to the realization that I had the power to decide what kind of experience this was going to be.

I could decide that this was going to be a horrible, traumatic, worst-thing-ever experience.

Or I could decide this would be the opening of a new chapter of adventure and challenge in my life… a moment to be faced and seized and maybe even RELISHED.

And then after that realization dawned, the choice was easy. I opted for Door #2 and the rest – as they say – is history. And as a symbol of my new adventure, I decided I would take on a new identity. I decided that this would now be the time for my childhood name “Rusty” to go away, and my new, quasi-adult name “Russell” to emerge.

Of course, Sonny Perdue is not God. But just like Sonny Perdue, sometimes God calls us to be obedient to upheavals and uprootings from our comfortable circumstances.

Just ask Abram. Or Joseph. Or Moses. Or Mary. Or Joseph. Or Paul.

And I am sure most of the time there are a hundred good reasons we could offer as to why this uprooting is a really bad idea… about how much pain and discomfort this will cause us and our families… about how inferior a place Canaan is to Haran… and how we really would prefer to stay right where we are.

Or we can just decide to believe God is using this uprooting as a way to enlist us at the beginning of a new adventure of faith and obedience.

 

So… which will it be?

14
Jun
19

Coming Out

hmc_full-color-portfolio-image_585x400I like to sing.

Correction; I absolutely LOVE to sing.

And so it was with real joy and excitement that I accepted my friend’s invitation three years ago to audition for a group called the Heartland Men’s Chorus (HMC). My friend had just been hired as the new artistic director of HMC. He knew of my love of singing from long-ago church connections and decided to reach out to me.

Heartland Men’s Chorus hails from Kansas City and is a civic singing group which has been in existence for 33 years. Oddly enough, the Chorus is made up almost entirely of males. I say almost because we admitted our first female member two years ago. 

HMC performs three concerts per season, including a Christmas program, a spring show, and a summer show. One of the three concerts is usually a “pops” concert of some kind while the other is often connected with a social justice cause.

An example of the latter was our spring 2017 concert titled “Indivisible… Songs of Resistance and Remembrance” which included the song, Seven Last Words of the Unarmed. This haunting piece took the actual recorded last words of seven unarmed black men shot by law enforcement officers (including Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, and Trayvon Martin) and set them to music.

Our concerts almost always include 13-14 intricate, beautiful, harmonious numbers, they last for over two hours with music that is 100 percent memorized. 

All the singers (except for the occasional professional “guest soloist”) are volunteers, yet prepare and perform like professionals. 

Oh… did I also mention that Heartland Men’s Chorus is Kansas City’s gay men’s chorus? 

And even though I am a straight, middle-aged, married guy, they have welcomed me warmly.

It may have been that I imagined – when I first began singing with them – that the singers in the chorus would have a lot to gain by singing with me. I am, after all, a pastor, an open, progressive thinker, and a solid lower bass. 

Little did I suspect that it would instead be me who gained the most from our association.

For example, I gained a much greater appreciation of how to blend my voice with others. 

But I also gained an understanding of what it means to live a courageous life… daring to declare your true, God-given identity to the world knowing it might cost you friends, family, job, and even physical harm.

With the chorus I have gained an understanding of the correct way to shape different vowel sounds for maximum clarity.

But I also gained an understanding of the life-saving importance of having a safe, accepting community where people don’t have to guard every word, thought, and gesture.

The Heartland Men’s Chorus has taught me a valuable lesson about the level of work it takes to prepare a performance that people willingly pay hard-earned money to see.

But it has also taught me that a common mission can unify a group of people that once might have seemed impossibly disparate. 

We had an absolute BLAST preparing and singing last week’s concert: “Rock You… a Wild Ride  Through the Music of Queen.” The soloists were absolutely on point. The harmonies were tight and melodious. The backing band kicked serious booty.

But most of all, I was overjoyed to be able to be part of a group of people who had the courage to stand up in front of the world and say, “Check it out! This is who I AM! I am not ashamed of that and you will never convince me there is any reason I SHOULD BE ashamed.”

It is now up to me to continue to live that lesson in my everyday life.

03
Jun
19

Hearing the Call

unknown caller“Who is calling, please?”

Remember life before there was such a thing as Caller ID?

We just blindly answered the phone whenever it rang, trusting that the person on the other end was someone we knew. It never occurred to us that it might be a stranger trying to scam us or sell us something we didn’t need.

Today things are different. If a name does not appear on the screen when my phone rings, it automatically gives rise to my suspicious nature.

 

I instantly wonder; “Scammer? Telemarketer? Wrong number?”Because it is almost never my long-ago high school buddy who just happened to be in town for a convention and wanted to have dinner and catch up on old times.

A call is especially unnerving – I’ve discovered – when it comes from God.

The bible backs me up on this; it is replete with stories of people who ran AWAY when God called (Jonah), who were suspicious when God called (Gideon), who dug in their heels and flat refused (Moses), and even one who was so hard-headed he had to be hit upside the head with a big ol’ bolt of light (Paul).

It took a whole lot of persuading back in 1997 to finally convince me that God was indeed calling me into the ministry. I was – after all – not a young guy by any means. Besides which I already had a good job, and had already seen the trials and tribulations my father went through when he answered the call to ministry later in life.

“Sorry… wrong number,” I wanted to say. “Not interested.”

But wiser friends and family members prevailed and persuaded me to take that call.

So now here I am… 20+ years later, preparing to leave professional ministry altogether… and find myself asking the whole “calling” question all over again.

I wonder: is God still calling me?

Actually, I’m pretty sure the answer to this one is “Yes indeedy, Gomer. If God can call Abram at the age of 75, God can most surely call you at your tender age of 67.”

But if that is true, I am still curious about what God might be calling me TO exactly?

I know the call is not to golf course ministry. I made sure of that by selling my golf clubs in our recently-completed garage sale.

I am pretty sure my call is not to a life of Netflix binge-watching and bon-bon eating, or gardening and telling the neighbor kids to “Get off my lawn!” That just doesn’t seem like the kind of thing God would have a hard time finding volunteers for. (Incidentally, what is a bon-bon exactly?)

I know part of my new vocation will involve spending more time with Joan, more time with grandchildren, more time in creative pursuits, and more time experiencing the wonders of this big blue marble. 

But still… what do you do with a guy who still has health (knock wood!), a passion for Jesus, a willingness to speak up and speak out and very soon a WHOLE lot of new time on his hands?

Surely there is something God can do with all of that isn’t there?

In the meantime, pass the sunscreen, please.




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