Posts Tagged ‘Jesus Christ

10
Sep
19

An MVP Mistake

Patrick MahomesPat made a mistake.

Yes, hard to believe as it is, the All-Star phenom, Most Valuable Player quarterback of the Kansas City Chiefs football team, Patrick Mahomes, made a mistake Sunday.

He tried to throw a pass to his tight end Travis Kelce without looking in his direction at all. Kelce was wide open. The pass – accurately thrown – would have resulted in a touchdown. But instead, the ball fluttered over Kelce’s head and fell to the ground like another piece of debris on the field.

(Note to the reader: in case you are not a fan, this isn’t entirely a blog post about football. I am using football as a handy metaphor to illustrate a larger, hopefully, more important, point. Hang in with me for a minute, OK?)

Never mind that Patrick threw three other, really great touchdown passes that day. Never mind that he had more passing yards in the first quarter of the game than any NFL quarterback since Peyton Manning in 2004. Never mind that he threw no interceptions at all in the game.

He made that silly mistake in the first quarter.

Patrick, how COULD you?

I speak to you today as a man well acquainted with mistakes. I recognize them easily because in my life I have made many more than my share.

Some of my mistakes have been big. Many have been small. Some have resulted in physical or emotional injury to another person. Some have gone unnoticed by everyone except me.

Many have been caused – just like my man Patrick’s goofy, no-look pass attempt Sunday – by failing to fully or accurately assess the situation I was in… failing to adequately anticipate the consequences of an erroneous word or decision.

I suspect I am not the only one here who can list more than a few mistakes on my life resume. (Although this is probably a great moment to slip in a mention of the one thing I did really, really well some 20 years agoproposing marriage to the lovely Miss Joan Bare.)

And I will be honest; some of those mistakes still haunt my quiet moments now and then.

The question I would like to pose to us mistake makers in the crowd is: How will your mistakes from the past influence your actions in the future?

We can’t just wipe all of our mistakes from our mental/emotional hard drive as if they never happened. In each one of those miscues or mis-steps there was no doubt the seed of a valuable lesson. If we could somehow forget the mistake, we might also forget the lesson that mistake brought with it.

By the same token, we can’t blow our errors up all out of proportion and let them take over the entire narrative of our lives.

You might not be surprised to learn that Jesus has a couple of insightful thoughts on this subject that might help us figure this out. We see regular examples of this throughout his ministry, but one of the most vivid can be found in the story of his encounter with the “woman caught in adultery” in the eighth chapter of John’s gospel.

The woman clearly messed up. Badly. The Mosaic Law was unequivocal about what should happen to adulterers. A small knot of righteous religious men stood ready to inflict deadly consequences on the woman when Jesus stepped in.

After challenging the would-be judges to examine their own track records and mistakes, Jesus sends the woman on her way with these words: “’Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ She said, ‘No one, sir.’ And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.’”(John 8:10b-11, NRSV).

I think we are meant to hear a word for our own lives in this story. Personally, I hear Jesus saying to me, “Russell, your mistakes do not tell the whole story of your life. Learn from them so that you don’t repeat them. And then go and live the new life of a forgiven, redeemed man.”

Thanks, Jesus. I really needed to hear that today.

And the same goes for you, Mahomie!

05
Sep
19

The man on the bench

Man on a benchI almost missed him, and thereby, his invitation.

The low, one-story building came slowly into view on the left as we drove through Hays, Kansas earlier this week. The building was made of red brick with a corrugated metal roof. It seemed to branch in several directions from a central hub.

I discovered that when it is your turn to sit in the passenger seat during a nine-hour drive, you have a chance to examine the roadside vista in great detail…

… especially when you are crossing the state of Kansas at 78 miles per hour.

I had just about concluded that I was looking at another collection of storage sheds, or a warehouse of some kind when suddenly I saw him; the man on the bench.

Looking a little more closely, I saw that the bench sat on a patio at the rear of one of those brick buildings. As I studied him, I saw that the man seemed to be older… quite possibly in his 80s. He was wearing a gray, long-sleeved shirt and matching pants. He sat motionless on that bench, content to watch the cars zipping by on Interstate 70 at 2:30 on a late August afternoon.

And then it dawned on me… the building was a retirement home. The man was just doing as he darned well pleased, in between the scheduled mealtimes and organized activities there.

As Hank (the name I gave him on the spur of the moment, just to make him a little less anonymous) faded into the rearview mirror, I couldn’t help but wonder.

– What was Hank thinking about as he sat there?

  • Was he reviewing the chapters of his life and cherishing sweet memories?
  • Was he grieving a departed spouse?
  • Was he nursing regrets about opportunities unrealized in his life?
  • Was he silently chastising children whose visits have become less and less frequent as the years pass?
  • Was he trying to imagine what compelled the drivers of each of those cars on the interstate to pass by his patio and bench?
  • Or was he possibly just whistling a tune from his childhood that somehow resurfaced in his mind?

And as he sat there and quietly reflected on his life and the passing parade, Hank issued me a personal invitation.

He invited me to imagine myself, years hence, in a similar posture.

He invited me to consider how I want to be able to look back on my own life when I have plenty of time to sit and think.

Hank invited me to consider the very real possibility that time spent on a bench, alone with one’s thoughts and memories can, in fact, be a surprisingly opulent gift.

He invited me to drop to my knees and give thanks for the rich web of relationships I am part of, remembering that each of them is time-bound and treasured.

But mostly Hank invited me to remember that my story is part of a larger story… a story that is connected to millions of other stories across time and space. He invited me to make friends with the Mystery Beyond and to recognize that he and I have much more in common than either of us will ever realize.

Thanks, Hank.

I accept your invitation.

25
Aug
19

For me?

Puerto Rican tree frogJoan and I (and Joan’s daughter Jessica) are in Puerto Rico for a few days, enjoying our first-ever trip to this island.

What an amazing place! If you have never been, I highly recommend it.

For Jessica, this is a vacation. That’s because Jessica is a working person.

Joan and I, however, are only allowed to call it a “trip” because we are both retired. That means we are legally prohibited from using the word “vacation.”

We are staying in a little seaside spot near Punta Santiago on the east coast of the island. It is far outside the city of San Juan and therefore very peaceful and serene.

The remoteness of our location has allowed us to meet the little tree frog that is known as “the symbol of Puerto Rico,” the coqui. The coqui has a distinctive and piercing call that begins right around sunset and continues until the wee hours of the morning.

Wikipedia tells me that the coqui’s call is made up of two parts… the “co” which is designed to scare away other male frogs, and the “qui” (pron. “key”), which is his come-on to any female frogs in the area.

I am glad I looked this up because when I first heard the call of the coqui, it struck me as the call of the most self-centered little amphibian in the world.

The call I thought I heard him making was, “For me?” repeated over and over and over again.

It made me think about how often I have employed that mating call in my own life.

I had to stop and ask myself if I am only able to appreciate the joy and wonder of life when it is especially designed “for me.”

Am I only able to weep and feel the true depth of sorrow when a tragedy is uniquely “for me”?

I sincerely hope that is not the case. Because if it were, I would truly be a person worth pitying.

When Jesus commanded us to, “love your neighbor as yourself,” (Matthew 22:39), I believe he was commanding us to do away with the notion that there is a distinction between the two.

When I see no distinction between my neighbor’s well being and my own well being, self-care and compassion merge to become the same thing.

Your joy is indeed “for me.” Your sorrow is also, “for me.”

So maybe instead of being annoyed as the little coqui sings me to sleep tonight, I will instead choose to be grateful for his sermon on authentic human compassion.

 

But maybe he could try preaching it a little more quietly though, eh?

22
Aug
19

The Final Quarter

Driving stressJoan and I drove to my stepdaughter’s house in Ft. Collins, Colorado the other day.

This involved driving across the entire state of Kansas, east to west, and then half the state of Colorado.

It is a trip of roughly nine hours.

For the most part, it was a pleasant and uneventful drive… even considering the utter lack of visual stimulation for almost the entire trek. That’s the part when the great conversations can happen.

But then we hit the last fifty miles… the part where you turn off of Interstate 70 and head north toward Ft. Collins on Interstate 25. That part was sheer, white-knuckled terror; Cars zipping in and out of our lane, nearly clipping our bumper in so doing… large dump trucks and semi-trailers hemming us in on every side with no room to breathe or escape… tank-sized SUVs driven by people casually chatting or texting on cell phones at 80 mph.

It’s just not fair,” I complained to my sympathetic seat-mate. “The worst part of this trip should NOT take place when our energy and wits are at their lowest ebb.”

And then I happened to remember the same phenomenon happening on our drive to my son and daughter-in-law’s house just outside of Houston. Eleven-and-a-half hours of dull monotony followed by an hour of a terrifying two-ton carnival roller coaster ride.

How does that make any sense at all? Why couldn’t we arrange things so that we just coast placidly in to our final destination?

But then I thought of the sports world and immediately saw the parallels. The last quarter of a football or basketball game is often the most brutal and strenuous. The ninth inning of a baseball game taxes body and soul beyond measure. The 100-yard dash and the marathon are often both won or lost in the final seconds.

And so I am prompted to ponder: will my life follow that same pattern? Am I going to be put to the ultimate test at the point when my resources are the most depleted?

I sure hope not.

But then again, what if that is the way life is designed to work, too? What if the biggest challenge is supposed to come at the end?

What if we are asked to give the most when we feel like we have the least?

I’ll be the first to admit; it doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of rational sense, does it?

But what if this quirky arrangement is just God’s way of putting a gigantic exclamation point at the end of the wisdom found in Proverbs 3:5-6? If you will allow me a little literary license here, what if God REALLY wants us to figure out a way to: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight (resources/energy). In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”

I seem to regularly need to re-learn the lesson that when I am at a place where my own native wit, strength, and cunning have run dry, I am then in the PERFECT place to take the steering wheel out of Russell’s hands and put it back again where it really belongs: in God’s.

Who knows? Maybe I’ll get it figured out before this whole amazing adventure comes to an end.

Until then, God, next time would you mind terribly taking the wheel for the stretch between Denver and Ft. Collins?

19
Aug
19

Uncommonly Common

Alien invasionIf there is one thing we have proved conclusively in this country, it is that, contrary to the old saying, what’s good for the goose is NOT necessarily also good for the gander.

At least that’s what the gander seems to think.

Even a casual glance will tell you that here in 2019 these states of ours are anything but united.

Group A passionately defends their version of a “common-sense solution,” while Group B howls in protest, deeply offended. Group C is convinced that both A and B are “wacko nutjobs” and wants nothing to do with either.

Each of us has become adept at articulating the outcome that will be in MY best interest, but we have become clumsy and tongue-tied when it comes to nailing down a clear picture of what WE, together, might need.

What I am referring to, of course, is that ancient concept called “the common good.” A version of the common good was first articulated by the authors of the Magna Carta in June 1215 in Runnymede, England. This cornerstone document established the principle that everyone is subject to the law, even the king, and guaranteed the rights of individuals, the right to justice and the right to a fair trial.[1] The foundational principle of the Magna Carta holds that leaders of nations should devote themselves to pursuing a “good” that is held in common by all… regardless of political party or station in life.

What a concept!

One has to wonder though; in this age of runaway individuation is it even possible to speak about pursuing something so all-encompassing as a “common good”?

Last year former Clinton secretary of labor Robert Reich wrote a book called The Common Good in which he said, “What binds us as Americans is not birth or ethnicity but a commitment to fundamental ideals and principles: respect for the rule of law and democratic institutions, toleration of our differences and belief in equal political rights and equal opportunity.”

These ideals and principles, Reich says, are not political, at least not in the partisan sense; to affirm them is not to take sides in debates between Democrats and Republicans.

I am sure that people of varying political stripes can easily agree that things like safety, health, shelter, education, and freedom are all social goods worth pursuing. But what happens when two of these goods conflict with each other? Or when there are two or three or 500 different ideas of how to attain one of these highly desirable ends?

It might be that the real obstacle to rallying around a common good is that it will likely require each of us to sacrifice something. And as our current climate shows us, Americans are not terribly good at – or even very willing to – sacrifice.

When Jesus taught his disciples the words of what we now call The Lord’s Prayer, he included the line, “… thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” That phrase helps us see that God’s kingdom is that place where the common good is the watchword of every citizen and where people understand that none of us is well until all of us are well.

Sometimes I confess to feeling as if we are moving further and further away from that vision instead of coming closer. When one nation says, “America first!” and another says, “Italy first!” and another says, “India first!” I can’t help but wonder if we are, in fact, pronouncing the death sentence to any consideration of the common good.

The way Hollywood dramatizes one solution to this issue is by having earth invaded by vicious, city-stomping aliens. As our collective future is suddenly thrown into dire jeopardy, everyone lays down his or her partisan flag and bands together to save the planet!

Maybe it won’t come to that.

Maybe there will be an invasion by the Holy Spirit instead.

[1]The Independent, Feb. 2, 2015

12
Aug
19

Old Reliable

Samsung refrigeratorIt is good when things in life are reliable.

Reliable cars, reliable friends, reliable sources of clean water and electricity, and reliable air-conditioning units on days like today are sources of great comfort and joy, aren’t they?

It might even be true that the more topsy-turvy the world gets, the more I find myself drawn to havens of reliability.

 

“It is good to know,” I say, patting the gas tank of my lawnmower affectionately, “… that no matter what happens in our relationship with North Korea, you will never require more than three pulls to start.”

And so it was great angst that Joan and I faced the reality of a suddenly unreliable refrigerator in our house last month.

Refrigerators are supposed to refrigerate, right? You open the door, put food inside, close the door, and go on about your business… never once having to stop and wonder if your food is about to spoil.

Unless, as we so rudely discovered, you happen to own a Samsung refrigerator.

One day, out of the blue, this beast started making a really loud WHIRRRRRRRR sound that rose and fell in tone and intensity.

Then the whirring stopped… along with our refrigerator’s ability to cool or freeze food.

And it is not as if this is a really old refrigerator, left over from our college dorm days. It MIGHT be three years old, tops.

“Oh yeah,” said the first repairman who stopped by. “These Samsungs are pieces of junk. I can change out a few things that might help a bit, but I can’t guarantee it will last.”

Finally, after the fourth different technician from the same company, they just stopped returning our calls.

I don’t want to appear to blow this minor appliance inconvenience up to the size of an actual PROBLEM, but it was kind of a pain. I am not sure I remember ever owning a refrigerator that suddenly just decided to stop refrigerating.

But as I reflected on it, this incident did remind me that we live in a world of entropy… a world where nothing lasts, where everything – even this super-reliable, 11-year-old Mac on which I am writing these words – ultimately dissolves and crumbles into dust.

Heck, I suspect Old Faithful has failed to keep an eruption appointment once or twice in its life.

We will probably get a new refrigerator to replace this faulty, unreliable one. (Have I mentioned it is a Samsung?) But even the most reliable possible model (which, according to all of the repair guys who have been in our house recently, is Whirlpool) will ultimately fail and become a rusting pile of metal.

Want real reliability? There is only one place to find it.

As the Apostle Paul reminds us in his second letter to those Corinthian scalawags,      “ … because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.”(2 Corinthians 4:18, NRSV).

Sounds tough, doesn’t it? Ignoring the cars and trucks, and lawnmowers, and escalators, and refrigerators right in front of your face, and keeping your eyes firmly fixed on things you can’t actually see.

Huh???

And yet, that is exactly the right reliability prescription.

In the history of the world, God has never failed in God’s promises to create, to love, to forgive, to redeem, and to save.

And he never will.

It is just too bad God never got into the refrigerator business.

08
Aug
19

In Defense of Thoughts and Prayers

Prayer-and-ActionLet’s be clear right off the bat; science has shown that 86% of the time when people respond to a tragedy by offering their “thoughts and prayers,” it is a hollow sentiment.

It sounds good. It sounds empathetic. It sounds compassionate.

But the sound quality is generally where it stops.

That is, of course, in 86% of the cases.

[Actually, there is no science behind this. I am just making this number up to make myself sound good. Sort of like those who send their “thoughts and prayers.”]

Some tragedies – such as the recent mass shootings in the U.S. – demand concrete, practical action in response. No one should be allowed to think that 15 seconds of silence with head bowed at the dining room table adequately addresses ANY of the issues connected with gun violence in this country.

As true as that is, let’s not throw out the whole prayer “baby” with the bathwater.

Prayer – authentically engaged – is so much more than silent moments or mumbled phrases. It is the practice of the presence of God. As Matt Slick – Christian apologist and writer – reminds us: “Prayer is the place of admitting our need, of adopting humility, and claiming dependence upon an all-seeing, all-knowing power that is greater than any of us.”

When faced with the reality of unspeakable heartbreak and senseless tragedy, it is helpful to begin by admitting our dependence and by stepping into a place of humility.

Prayer is my way of saying, “I don’t know how to respond to this stuff. It is beyond my pay grade. It frustrates me, it angers me, it makes me want to run away and hide.”

But when I begin my post-tragedy journey with the words, “Help me, God,” I am actively opening myself to receiving guidance from a source beyond my own abilities.

In that sense, prayer becomes something like “the action before the action,” as a friend of mine once called it.

For me, prayer is not about abrogating my responsibility. It is about better equipping myself to take responsibility. It is about trying to engage every resource – whether natural or supernatural – in pursuit of God’s kingdom to come and God’s will to be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Prayer settles me… it centers me… it helps me take a deep breath and say, “OK, God… let’s do this.”

When the world goes mad and all hell breaks loose, thoughts and prayers are one leg of the stool; plans and strategies are the second; action is the third.

 

I believe all three have a place.




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