Posts Tagged ‘Jesus

08
Feb
20

Loveland

Two days ago I went into my nearby U.S. Post Office here in Fort Collins, Colorado.

The purpose of my trip – I am eager to tell you – was to mail a Super Bowl LIV Champions KANSAS CITY CHIEFS hat to my son who lives in Houston, TX.

YAY CHIEEEEEEEFS!!

Anyway, as I was standing there in line waiting my turn at the counter, I saw the box you see here below. Loveland boxAs a new resident of the area, I did not know this was a thing, but apparently, if you put your stamped, sealed Valentine’s Day card in this box, it will be re-mailed (and postmarked) from nearby Loveland, Colorado.

At first, I didn’t get it… probably because when locals say the town’s name, everyone here just runs the word together, making it sound like “LOVE-lund”.

The light bulb finally went on. “OH! I get it,” I muttered to myself. “LOVE. LAND.… the land of love!” I added, “What a perfect postmark to have on your Valentine’s Day card!”

And then – because the line was long and the lady at the window was asking the clerk to see every stamp design available and then MEASURE them to see which one was perfectly square (seriously!) – I began to ruminate.

“What would it be like,” I wondered, “… to actually live in a place that had earned the name Love Land?”

“What would it be like to live in a place where love was the actual governing principle every person there lived by?”

“How would lawmaking be different? How would development and city planning be different? What difference would it make in the way we cared for people on the margins? How would neighborhood relations be different?”

(Actually, I am not sure that part would be a whole lot different than they are now. We are blessed to have utterly DELIGHTFUL neighbors!)

And then… what if that name applied not only inside the city limits of one town but what if it applied to the whole COUNTRY? Or the whole WORLD?

What, indeed, would that be like?

And then my mind started down the other side of the question. I asked myself (because the lady was still trying to make up her mind about which stamp to buy), “So if ‘Love Land’ is not an accurate name for where we live now, what might we call it instead? Self-Centeredsville? Tribal Town? Faction City?”

Some days it sure seems that way, doesn’t it?

But then I heard this thoughtful comment on the radio from Ziggy Marley… son of the late, great reggae artist Bob Marley. Two days ago would have been Bob’s 75thbirthday. The reason for the radio interview was to celebrate that landmark birthday and ask Ziggy to reflect on his father’s life and career.

The interviewer (NPR’s Scott Simon) asked, “Your father’s music always held up the ideals of love and peace as central themes. What do you think he would make of the world we have on our hands today?”

After a moment’s reflection on the question, Ziggy said, “You know, I think the majority of people are good people, are peaceful people. But we’re just not loud, we’re just not on the TV, we’re not in the news — it’s just the people making war in the news.”

I think he is right.

We might not live in Love Land today… but we really don’t live in Hatredsville either.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…”Matthew 5:43, NRSV

06
Feb
20

Chew on it

light-bulb-changing“Is this mine to do?”

Sometimes this is an easy question to answer… other times it is surprisingly difficult.

In my experience, it is also a question that most folks do not ask nearly often enough.

I was across town last week, attending a volunteer training session. During one of the morning breaks, I went in to use the restroom. As I entered, the lighting inside the restroom seemed unnaturally dim. It did not take long to see why… one of the two light fixtures was burned out.

After washing my hands, I went to the front desk and reported the issue to the receptionist. “Thanks for letting me know,” she said. “I’ll tell maintenance people about it.”

Later that day – after lunch and during the afternoon break – I once again visited the men’s room. I should note that this was at least four hours after my morning visit.

Once again, the restroom had the same romantic, candlelit ambiance I had experienced during my morning visit. Yes, it would have been the perfect lighting had my wife and I chosen to dine there. But it was not so great for taking care of the actual business at hand.

What to do?

Should I report the problem again? Should I just take matters into my own hands and fix the light myself? I am actually a pretty handy guy and probably could have had it fixed in a jiffy. Or should I just go about my business and trust that the matter would eventually be handled?

In that case, the decision was easy. Fixing the light was NOT mine to do.

In other situations, I find it much more difficult to know what is mine to do and what isn’t.

I have to confess… most of the time I err on the side of over-doing. I have been known to be grossly over-solicitous in my effort to be helpful.

Just ask Joan. It is one thing to bring your spouse a cup of tea in the morning. It is quite another thing to put her half-empty cup and saucer into the dishwasher before she has finished drinking it.

As I have discovered more than once, there is a big difference between helping and doting… or between being compassionate and being unctuous.

I have learned (the hard way) that sometimes the truly compassionate act is to allow the other person to find their own way out of the pickle they are in. If you have ever been a parent you know exactly what I am talking about.

Then there are those other times… the times when I find myself squarely on the other end of the helpfulness spectrum. Those are the times I have been the “Hey! That’s not my job!” guy…

… even when it is.

Jesus regularly spoke in parables and then walked away without elaborating much on their meaning. “Those who have ears to hear, let them listen,” he said on more than one occasion. And yet somehow, the sight of ¾ of his audience standing there scratching their heads did not cause him to alter his approach at all.

“Jesus did not chew people’s food for them,” pastor/author Barbara Brown Taylor once graphically remarked. What she meant – I believe – was that Jesus recognized the value in allowing people to puzzle out meanings for themselves. He likely believed that when folks did some of their own heavy lifting of interpretation, they were far more likely to “own” the results.

 

This is the time in the blog post when I am supposed to wrap it all up with a neat little application illustration… carefully instructing you on how to take this nugget of wisdom and apply it to your own life.

Instead, I think I’ll just end it here and let you chew this one over on your own.

24
Jan
20

Unreasonable

Sweet little old ladyShe was such a sweet lady.

Petite. Probably in her late 70s. Pretty pink knit hat and matching sweater. Cheerful, smiling disposition.

I’ll call her Gladys.

And the way she phrased her request as just as sweet as she was.

All of which served to make the utter unreasonableness of her request easy to miss.

It was about 10 minutes before the service was due to begin. There I was, tuning up with the other members of the praise band at our new church. Since it was my first time to play with them, I wanted to go over a couple of the numbers I felt a little shaky about.

During a little break in the action, Gladys walked (sweetly) up to the leader of the praise band, smiled, and said, “I know I probably should have put in earplugs before coming today, but I wonder if I could ask you to turn your volume down a little bit.”

Mind you, this was for a group made up of two acoustic guitars, three vocalists, and a bass guitar. No drums. No keyboard.

Elijah was a bit taken aback. As he paused, trying to formulate a reply, Gladys continued and said, “Or I suppose I could just sit way in the back.”

Elijah finally found his words and politely replied, “Let us see what we can do.”

Gladys smiled (sweetly, of course), thanked Elijah, and started back to her seat.

After Gladys left, we actually didn’t make any adjustments at all to the volume settings of the microphones or the guitars. We just went on with the service with the exact same settings. Afterward, though, Gladys came up and (sweetly) told us that it really hadn’t been so bad after all.

It was not until much later that I stopped and thought about the nature of sweet Gladys’ request. I am sure to Gladys her request was entirely reasonable. I am sure she believed she was saying, “My ears have difficulty with loud music. Could you help a sweet, little old lady out by turning your volume down a smidge? Please?”

In reality what Gladys had said to us was, “I know you have set all of the sound levels of your instruments and microphones for the best possible listening experience of the entire congregation. But I’d like to ask you to forget THEM and change all of that to accommodate ME.”

“Yes,” Gladys had also said to us, “I could have taken steps to mitigate the issue for myself beforehand, but I didn’t. So I am asking you to kindly elevate my individual needs over the needs of the entire congregation. Thanks.”

Sometimes in life, we all have to deal with unreasonable requests. Sometimes the requestor is surly and unpleasant about it. (Hey! Turn that damned noise DOWN, moron!!”)

And sometimes they are endearing and sweet. Like Gladys.

The question – in either case – is how to respond to an unreasonable request. I wonder…

  • Is it ever necessary to comply with an unreasonable request?
  • Conversely, should every unreasonable request be rejected, out of hand?
  • Should we try to educate the person about just how unreasonable their request really is?
  • Are some people more prone to be on the receiving end of unreasonable requests than others?

Not surprisingly, Jesus had a few things to say about dealing with unreasonable requests. This probably has to do with the fact that he lived in a land and at a time of unreasonable requests.

As he preached there on the hillside one day he said, “But I say to you, do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.”(Matthew 5:39-42, NRSV)

Something to think about the next time you face an unreasonable request…

… even if it does come from sweet little Gladys.

20
Dec
19

freedom-meme-2

I’m not sure Jesus could have hit the nail any more squarely on the head than when he said this.

But here is the question that keeps me awake at night:

Do you and I really want to be set free?

Or are we instead content to stay nestled in the security of a world view that comforts us, that doesn’t challenge or push us, that reinforces our stereotypes, and always puts us on the right side of every question?

21
Jul
19

“The Eagle has – in fact – landed.”

Man on the moonAs most of us take a moment today to celebrate the 50thanniversary of the landing of human beings on the surface of our moon, nearly 20 million of our neighbors are standing up yelling, “Fake news!”

That’s right. According to a post on today’s Voice of America: English website (which you can read here), a full six percent of the U.S. population still believes that Stanley Kubrick and some of his Hollywood cronies faked the entire Apollo 11 mission on a secret sound stage back in 1969.

They point to different spurious and easy-to-disprove pieces of evidence to support their claim and warn us not to be taken in by our government’s devious designs.

The good news is that this figure is down from an all-time high of 30 percent of the population who cried “Fake!” when a survey was the year after the moon landing in 1970.

Lord knows, Hollywood has the capacity to pull off a stunt like this. At the time it was made in 2013, the movie Gravity (starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney as two astronauts stranded in space) reportedly cost more to produce than the nation of India spent that same year on an actual, real life space mission.

Setting aside, for now, the slap in the face to the more than 400,000 women and men across the country who worked on this epic endeavor, my question to the conspiracy theorists is, “Why? What would conceivably be gained by our government from fabricating a moon landing?

  • Was it so that we could declare victory in the space race with the Russians without actually having to do the heavy lifting?
  • Was it to help us puff out our collective chests with a little false bravado so that Americans would feel better about ourselves?
  • Was it a sinister plot to boost the sales of Tang breakfast drink?

More than likely this theory emerged from the same fertile womb that has given birth to other, similar conspiracy fantasies.

It comes from the same mechanism that is compelled to find the cloud behind every silver lining, that knows that “no good deed goes unpunished,” and that casts a jaundiced eye upon anything that seems implausibly good.

These are the folks who see evil, impure motives in anything our government does and who believe that pulling the wool over our eyes is the central, unstated mission of Uncle Sam.

In a wider sense, it shows me that some of us are wired to, “doubt first, believe later,” while others are just the opposite.

Incidentally, I include myself in that latter bunch.

Yes, there are definite downsides to being part of the “Believe first” crew. We get hoodwinked now and then.

We get buffaloed.

We get taken.

No, I have never emptied my savings account and sent it to a Nigerian prince who emailed me with his sad story. But I have extended trust to people and later wished I hadn’t.

But still… even considering the occasional losses and burns we suffer, I will choose to line up with the “believers” every time. I want to see the best in life and in my fellow humans and if I am not looking for it, eagerly anticipating it, I am not certain I will recognize it when it comes along.

It really just boils down to a choice to take God at his word when he spoke the universe into existence, stepped back, looked everything over and pronounced the whole thing, “… very good.” (Genesis 1:31, NRSV).

And somewhere along the way, I think God might have even hoped we would burst out of our little earth-bound bubble here and take a walk on a planet that we weren’t born on.

16
Apr
18

The Superhero Next Door

SuperheroesI see the next big superhero movie is about to hit the multiplexes near us very soon.

“I see” as in, “I had my eyes open and somehow did not miss one of the 4,862 recent airings of the trailer.”

Avengers: Infinity War will be released on April 27, and according to the advance hype, it will feature just about every single superhero in today’s Marvel Universe.

Apparently the latest Threat to All Life on Planet Earth is lethal enough that the combined superpowers of Black Panther, Captain America, Ant-Man, Iron Man, Thor, Spiderman, Black Widow, The Hulk, Wolverine, and several others too numerous to list here are required to defeat it.

At the end of the movie, as we are all breathing a gigantic sigh of relief that the world has been saved yet again, I am sure we will all be grateful that those costumed crusaders were there again… to save us from certain doom.

Too bad they’re not real.

Or are they?

As I sit here and consider the word “superhero” a little more closely, I think it is entirely possible that I have bumped into one or more of these in recent weeks.

The New Oxford American Dictionary says that a hero is: “…a person who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities…”And so – by logical extension – a SUPER hero must be a person who is “SUPER admired for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities.”

As it turns out, I have met several of those recently.

Consider, for example, The Conduit. This is the lively woman who has provided her homebody aunt a vital connection to the world outside her front door, urging the aunt to try things she never would have thought possible on her own.

Or how about Unflappable? He has weathered a withering assault of changes in his community, in his health, in his living arrangements, and in his family and somehow managed to keep a smile on his face and joy in his heart.

There is The Bereaved…a man who has somehow coped with his wife’s breast cancer diagnosis and subsequent death, taking over 100% of the daily care of their two pre-teen children, all while operating his own small business.

Or Enduro… a man who has been dealing with a nagging chronic pain that has interrupted his work, his social life, all of his relationships, and even his ability to just sit down and peacefully watch television or read a book.

And by all means, we can’t forget Steadfast… though people often do.She keeps showing up, day after day, taking on task after task, filling need after need in her town, her church, and her community. She is so reliable that most people just expect to see her there in the middle of whatever is going on, quietly making sure what needs to get done is done… whether she is thanked adequately or not.

Like the superheroes of the Marvel Universe, there is a secret to the powers and strengths of each of these folks, too. In their case, though their superpowers are not the result of the bite of a radioactive spider, a gamma ray explosion, or citizenship in a faraway mythical realm.

No… each of the superheroes I met has found their strength in a powerful formula known as 1633… the passage of scripture that can be found in the gospel according to John, the 16thchapter, 33rdverse. That is where you will find this ironclad promise: “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, NLT).

My superheroes know that the author of these words is their Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. They trust his word completely and know there is NOTHING in life that cannot be dealt with by the application of a little 1633.

Not illness, not pain, not heartbreak, not disappointment, not setbacks, not frustration, not ANYTHING.

And believe me… they have seen it all.

That is why I’ll take Conduit, Unflappable, Bereaved, Enduro, and Steadfastall day, every day over anyone in the Marvel Universe you care to name.

How about you?

30
Aug
17

“Unprecedented”

Flood evacueesFor the past few days, I have been utterly hypnotized by the news coverage of the recent events in Houston, TX and the visit of Hurricane Harvey.

I am guessing the fact that I have a son, daughter-in-law, and five grandchildren living in the Houston area probably makes me more attentive to Harvey-related news than the average bear.

But still…

(They are fine, by the way. Thanks for asking. They live in a part of the metro area that is on very high ground and is away from the worst of the flooding.)

I have watched spellbound as on-the-scene reporters from NBC, ABC, CBS, the Weather Channel, have all struggled to come up with new adjectives to describe what they are seeing.

When “incredible,” “amazing,” “unbelievable,” and “awesome,” all start to fall short, you know you are in the presence of meteorological greatness.

But the adjective that really caught my attention on Sunday was one that came from the mouth of the National Weather Service. It was the word “unprecedented.”

“Unprecedented.” As in, “…we have never ever seen anything like this before.”

And if THESE GUYS – the people who are supposed to keep detailed records of all the weather precedents – are using the word “unprecedented,” you know this is a BIG, DANGED DEAL. Maybe the biggest danged deal EVER!

See… when something has precedents you know how to behave. You say, “OK, the last time this happened, we did X. So we should probably do something very much like X again.”

But when you call it unprecedented (is it OK if I dispense with the quotation marks around the word now?), you are telling the world, “I got nothin’. Fresh out of answers over here.”

If I were a trained weather professional, I imagine I would be very reluctant to unleash the “U” word. I’d be afraid it would make me look… unprepared. Or unprofessional.

So why is it, do you suppose, that I have the sneaking suspicion that God continues to call me out into the “unprecendentednesses” of life?

I mean, it really seems that every time I discover myself standing at an intersection, between Path “A” and Path “B” with Path “A” representing familiar, precedented ground and Path “B” being strange turf, I could swear I hear God’s still, small voice whispering, “B, Russell. Go with B.”

It doesn’t help that you find stuff in the Bible like Isaiah 43:18 that says, “Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” Or Isaiah 65:17 where God says, “For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.” Or 2 Corinthians 5:17 where Paul says, “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new.”

To be clear… I am pretty sure unprecedented floods with historic property damage and disruption of life are NOT on God’s “approved” list of adventures… Noah notwithstanding.

But when you read a few of these passages and see God’s handiwork, you begin to get the feeling God actually encourages unprecedentedness and newness… blatantly disregarding my preference for comfort and familiarity.

Who knows? Maybe he does.

Where does that leave a “safety seeker” like me?

Hmmmmm….

 




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