Posts Tagged ‘joy

05
Sep
17

Caught in the rain

caught in the rainIt happened again.

We got caught in the rain.

For the second time this week, my wife and I decided we would go ahead and take a hike… even though the weather forecast said rain was likely.

And for the second time, the local weather forecasters proved to be annoyingly accurate. (When I want them to be right, they are wrong. And when I want them to be wrong, they are right. What’s up with that??)

In both instances the skies got dark, the temperature dropped dramatically, the winds started whipping the trees around, and the heavens opened up almost EXACTLY halfway through our hike.

Forge ahead? Turn back? Zero difference.

In neither case were we adequately prepared for the rain… despite the forecasts and my trusty weather radar app.

On the first hike we each had hoodies in the backpack; nice, long-sleeved fleece hoodies… with zero water repelling qualities.

The second time we didn’t even have those.

(Isn’t there a saying that begins something like, “Mad dogs and Englishmen…”?)

If something like this has ever happened to you, your reaction might have been similar to ours. We started out by shaking our fists at the storm… exasperated by its mean-spirited decision to ruin our outing.

Because, you know… storms are like that.

Next, we tried to hide from it. On the first hike the woods were pretty thick, so the tall conifers provided a measure of shelter. We hung out for a while under a particularly dense patch but then realized the storm was NOT going to blow over anytime soon.

Our next approach could best be described as “dejected trudging.” It was a kind of, “OK, this thing isn’t going to stop, we need to get back to the car, so let’s just grit our teeth and slog it out.”

Squish… squish… squish we went one unhappy step after the other.

Then it happened.

At some point, on both hikes, in the middle of the dejected trudging, a switch flipped; for both of us. A moment of awareness dawned, right there in the middle of the pelting raindrops. In nearly perfect synchronization, we looked at each other, started to laugh and said something like, “Well this is certainly an adventure, isn’t it?”

Our “moment” certainly didn’t make the rain stop… didn’t make our shoes less squishy, or warm us up at all. But it certainly did impart a different spirit to the remainder of the hike.

It made me wonder if there might be any rich veins of metaphor “ore” to be mined in this experience.

Like, for example, might there be any parallels between our experience of these actual, meteorological storms and other “storms” of life?

Such as; is it ever my tendency to start out denying the possibility of storms… to embark on the journey without paying any attention to the clouds gathering on the horizon?

Maybe.

Or to react initially with anger when the rain actually does arrive… to see it as a very personal, vindictive attack on ME?

Hmmmmm…

And then, is it possible that I might ever try to find some kind of silly, inadequate shelter in which to hide from the storm’s relentless presence? Or that I might then turn from my “hiding strategy” to a grim, teeth-clenched trudging acceptance of it?

Yes… it is entirely possible.

The real question is: do I ever arrive at the last stage – the stage of embracing the rain-soaked moment and seeing it as a kind of adventure? Am I ever able to shift gears and see the new outlooks and skills required of me by this downpour… skills that might have been needed, but were lacking heretofore?

In terms of a goal, “laughing in the rain” might be a little excessively Pollyanna-ish at this point. Some rainstorms (both the literal and metaphorical kind) are truly life threatening and dangerous.

But based on our recent hiking experience, I pray I will be able to spend significantly less time in the denial and angry fist-shaking stages and move more quickly to something hopeful and productive.

 

Abundant blessings…

01
Aug
17

Judgment Day

Judgment“You’re too…”

Have you ever been on the receiving end of a sentence that began this way?

If so, you know that there are an unlimited number of adjectives that can follow. Almost all of them involve some central element of your identity, measuring it against an understood standard of acceptability.

You might have heard, for example:

“You’re too short.”

“You’re too tall.”

“You’re too fat.”

“You’re too skinny.”

“You’re too weak.”

“You’re too liberal.”

“You’re too conservative.”

“You’re too country.”

“You’re too city,” or many, many other versions of the same idea.

Unfortunately, I doubt there is a single person alive who has not heard at least one “You’re too…” in their lives. The world seems to be well stocked with folks who are willing to judge and assess others.

And even though these one-liners usually maim and wound, I have received a few that I have considered helpful. In a quiet restaurant for dinner, hearing my wife say, “Honey, you’re too loud,” is of benefit to me and the other diners. “You’re too hard on him,” is useful feedback when I am being overly critical of one of my children.

But helpfulness is not usually the outcome. Most of the time, “You’re too…” comes off as an attack on a fundamental component of the divine wiring of one of God’s beloved creatures.

When you hand out one of these “scorecards” to someone, you might think you’re being helpful – like that time you told the girl she was too short to be a dancer or told me I am too goofy and irreverent to be a pastor – but it is more likely the case that your “open, honest” assessment serves only to bolster your own (perhaps) sagging ego while tearing others’ down.

But here is the question I really want to ask on this whole topic: given the fact that each of us has been stung by one of these “You’re too…”s at some point in our lives, how do we deal with them?

My personal tendency is to give them too much credence. My Myers-Briggs ENFJ personality type (Extroverted-INtuiting-Feeling-Judging) leads me to place a HIGH value on the opinions of others. I know I have blind spots concerning my own behavior and feel like I want to stay open to points of view that might be more objective than mine.

In practice, I have a really hard time hearing a “You’re too…” and blowing it off.

You might be like that, too. Or you might be exactly the opposite. You might be like our current president, for example. You might treat every word of criticism as “fake news”… not worth the air it takes to speak it.

Somewhere between those two extremes – I believe – lives a healthy “middle place.” It is a place that doesn’t brush off every critical comment as useless and irrelevant, but at the same time, is not crushed by them.

I believe there is such a place. And I further believe we arrive at that healthier place when we realize the true source of our worth. You see, when we lean toward believing that our worth comes from living up to the expectations of other people, we tend to give those opinions too much weight. We empower THEM to define US.

Conversely, when we see our intrinsic worth as completely self-generated, we seek no higher authority than that one that stares back at us from the mirror. We’re like, “Hey… whatever he says, goes.”

Grasping our worth as something bestowed upon us by a wise and loving Creator helps us keep the slings and arrows of criticism in their proper place. It helps us consider the value of each criticism… helps us graciously receive the stuff that applies, dismiss the stuff that doesn’t, and altogether avoid the temptation to “kill the messenger.”

The psalmist reminds us of the enormity of the miracle of human existence when he says this about people:

“Yet you have made them a little lower than God,

    and crowned them with glory and honor.

You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;

    you have put all things under their feet,

all sheep and oxen,

    and also the beasts of the field,

the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,

    whatever passes along the paths of the seas.                        Psalm 8:5-8, NRSV

Wow! Really? Can that be ME he is talking about?

Yes… yes, it is. And you know what else is cool? He is also talking about YOU!

 

Abundant blessings;

18
Jul
17

Predictable Abundance

Vitamin pillsI take vitamins.

Every morning.

Plus a daily allergy medication.

I also have a very specific WAY I take my vitamins… grouping the pills by size and shape and being sure to take them between the morning showering and shaving functions. (Yes, siblings, it’s true… I am more and more becoming our father.)

So sure… go ahead and snicker at the idea of anyone being so persnickety and anal-retentive about something as trivial as VITAMINS, for crying out loud.

But as you’re sitting there laughing at my silly vitamin quirks, are you sure you don’t have a few eccentricities of your own I might get a kick out of hearing about?

The truth is, we ALL have stuff like this; whether you call it patterns, or habits, or quirks, or routines. These things serve as little anchors that give us some modest illusion of control of our lives.

The popular narrative is to accuse older folks of cornering the market on rigidity and routine. But my experience has often been just the opposite: after a certain age, people often learn the difference between the things worth hanging on to and those that aren’t. I’ve found that younger people are often much more rigid than their grandparents.

The real fun begins when any of these “anchors” are challenged by someone asking, “Why do you do it THAT way? Why not try THIS way instead?”

Suddenly our backs are up… our claws come out… we are more than willing to mount a vigorous defense of something that might not actually be worth defending.

We are seldom willing to acknowledge the reality that the person who challenges us and our patterns might actually be doing us a favor.

Routines can indeed make life manageable and sane. But they can also make it dull… predictable… lifeless… lackluster. And have you noticed… the people who make a practice of shaking things up… asking questions… challenging the status quo are usually the people with the greatest zeal for living; even if they regularly get under the skins of those of us who want to tell them to take their questions GET LOST!

When you dig into his story, you find that Jesus was a shaker-upper. Par excellence! Nothing was immune from his searching, challenging eye. No practice, no belief, no understanding, no routine, or habit was safe in his presence.

I’m sure that is why some people found his ministry liberating and life-giving while others found him to be a supreme pain in the tukhus.

I often wonder how many people – when they heard him say, “I came that they might have life and have it abundantly!” (John 10:10) – muttered quietly to themselves, “But Jesus I don’t WANT life abundantly! I want life SAFELY and PREDICTABLY!”

It’s true: when we are willing to look at one of those “anchors” in our life – whether it is a habit, a belief, or even a trivial daily routine – and examine it with fresh, questioning eyes, we are taking a chance.

We are taking the chance that life might become less stable.

But we are also taking the chance that it might become a whole lot ABUNDANTER.

It is a choice we face every day… no matter our age or station in life; will I go for predictable today, or abundant?

Wow… when you put it that way, I might even dare to start taking my vitamins ONE AT A TIME!

 

Abundant blessings to you today;

16
May
17

LISTEN!

SHHHHHH1“God told me to.”

Have you ever heard those four words offered in response to the question, “Why did you do that?”

If you have heard someone say that before, tell me honestly: what were the first thoughts that popped into your head?

Did you think, “Well, good for you! Follow courageously where He leads!”?

Or was your response more along the lines of, “Hmmmm. Interesting. Tell me more.”?

Maybe you even went with something like, “OK then… And did God also reveal the Seventh Sign of the Apocalypse to you personally and tell you to be sure and make yourself a tin-foil hat to protect yourself from solar radiation?”

I have to confess… I have probably reacted by saying all three of those things at some point or other. And the response I gave probably had a lot to do with the identity of the person telling me that God told them to do something.

I suppose when we hear someone say that God told them to do such-and-such we flash back to memories of the mother who heard God tell her to drown her five kids… or the brutal dictators and cult leaders who said they were following God’s direct commandment in committing their own atrocities.

So I can’t help but wonder: what have people thought when they heard ME use that very meaningful, yet also very loaded phrase?

“God told me to” is the essence of my answer when anyone asks why I decided to go into the ministry.

It is usually the answer at the heart of why I might decide to preach on Topic A instead of Topic B on a given Sunday.

I am sure it is the explanation behind those times when I get a sudden, inexplicable urge to pick up the phone and call someone… and then listen as they say, “Wow! It is so weird that you would call just now…” and then listen as they tell me about an event or a dilemma that has arisen recently in their life.

But where do we finally choose to come down on this question; does God communicate directly to us? Or does God not?

And if our answer is “YES,” how do we sift and sort between the random murmurings of an active imagination and The Voice of the Divine?

Personally, I am not sure I have a good answer to that question. My own history is littered with miscalculations on the topic of “the will of God” – in both directions.

But I found something in this morning’s devotion that might shed helpful light. It is from Mother Teresa’s book, My Life for the Poor, written in 1985. She says:

Once I asked my confessor for advice about my vocation. I asked, “How can I know if God is calling me and for what he is calling me?”

            He answered, “You will know by your happiness. If you are happy with the idea that God calls you to serve him and your neighbor, this will be the proof of your vocation. Profound joy of the heart is like a magnet that indicates the path of life. One has to follow it, even though one enters into a way full of difficulties.”

I like that.

I like the fact that her confessor talks about happiness as a signpost for discerning that it is actually God’s voice we are hearing. It affirms the essential notion that God – rather than being the nasty, punitive tyrant some paint God to be – is actually in favor of our happiness.

But I also like the idea here that says our path to happiness can take us through places of great difficulty. The confessor is telling Mother Teresa that HAPPINESS does NOT equal PROBLEMLESSNESS… that it is possible to experience profound joy in life and still encounter adversity.

How easily we forget this…

Yes, God does still speak. Sadly (for me) God does not use billboards, TV commercials or skywriting to communicate his messages.

God speaks most often in the stillness and devoted times of silence when we make LISTENING a priority.

Listen! Did you hear that?

It was God saying, “I love you and want you to be happy.”

 

– Abundant blessings;

02
May
17

May flowers

May flowersThe season we are in right now… here in the early part of May… is one of my favorite times of the year. New life is appearing on trees and in the fields, birds are chirping, and the scorching heat of summer has not yet arrived.

Maybe we could use a little less rain than we’ve had lately, but that goes along with the whole April showers/May flowers thing, I guess.

I also like this time of year because baseball season is well underway. Someone just please let the Royals know the season has started, would you?

But if we shift our focus a bit and think in terms of the story of Jesus and the disciples we see that this is an odd, in-between kind of season.

In one sense it is a happy and joyous time for them. The risen Jesus has appeared to the disciples (except for Thomas who was out picking up the Jimmy John’s order apparently). They all met with Him on top of the mountain in Galilee and received the Great Commission to, “… 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, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:20, NRSV).

Jesus then concluded the meeting by assuring them he would be with them, “… to the end of the age.” 

How cool is THAT!

And yet, in another sense, this is a time of great fearfulness and apprehension for the disciples. Despite the thrill of seeing their Master and friend alive and hearing his final “marching orders” to them, they are still hunkering down in Jerusalem.

We check in and find them still scared to death of the Roman soldiers and Jewish priests who are trying to solve the great Mystery of the Empty Tomb.

At this point on the Christian calendar, the Day of Pentecost has not yet come where Jesus’ followers were filled with the evangelistic fire that ultimately sent them out boldly proclaiming the Good News of the Risen Christ throughout the world.

And so here is the question I have to ask myself today: are there any ways that I find myself resembling those timid disciples? Can I relate to feeling JOY about the good news of Jesus’ resurrection and yet still feel some apprehension about stepping out and doing the whole “making disciples” thing?

I’m afraid the answer is yes… I can relate all too well.

I listen and hear Jesus calling me to continue his work. I nod my head enthusiastically when he speaks. I feel a surge of eagerness about doing my part to help draw people to his life changing, life-giving message. I know the difference my relationship with Jesus has made in my own life and want others to experience the same kind of new life and transformation.

I’m all ready to charge out the door in my Master’s service… and then I hesitate. I get a little self-conscious. I ask myself, “So how do I do that exactly?” “What if people don’t respond well when I talk to them?” “What if I say the wrong thing and actually turn people AWAY FROM Jesus instead of TOWARD him?”

And then I read an article like the one I saw in today’s Kansas City Star that says that the current generation of young adults has more skepticism and suspicion about the church and organized religion than any generation EVER in history!

And so I slowly allow my fears to replace my enthusiasm. Just like those disciples did so long ago.

Today, I will say a prayer for all of us… for all who choose to go by the name “disciple of Jesus Christ.” I will pray that we will again feel the hot breath of the Holy Spirit breathing on us, filling us with power and purpose!

Right now I am going to pray that we turn the tables on our fears and go with boldness to carry the message of His saving purposes for the world… not with the arrogance and sense of superiority that can characterize his followers, but with the joy and humility of one who knows the joy of being lost and then FOUND again!

Maybe you will pray that prayer with me at some point today. And then maybe – if there are enough of us praying it together – we will see a really spectacular kind of May flowers blooming in the world.

 

Abundant blessings to you this day…

21
Mar
17

A CASE OF THE DRIFTS

Shoulder-rumble-strips-.com-April-5-2013I got a little bit of a scare the other day.

As I was driving back home after having spent the day in the two small communities where I serve, I noticed a bit of weariness beginning to set in. The old eyelids drooped a little and fogginess slowly began to enter my brain.

Instead of doing the smart thing and pulling off the highway for a couple of minutes to get out of the car, walk around, and revive myself a bit, I decided just to grit my teeth and push on. You know… the manly way.

Suddenly I heard a loud BRRRP, BRRRP BRRRP as the wheels of my car started rolling across the rumble strips that are cut into the shoulder of the highway. I sat up with a start, corrected my steering wheel, and got back into my lane.

WHEW! That was close, I thought to myself. And yes… I did pull off the next exit and walked around the car three times to help wake myself up.

In addition to vowing to be more cognizant about my overall state of alertness, I was also struck by how quickly and easily this whole thing had happened. One minute I was just driving along the highway, happy as a clam. The next minute I was headed for the ditch.

The change from “focused, purposeful driving” to “unconscious, aimless drifting” took less than an instant.

All of which made me cock my head a little to the right, knit my eyebrows together, and then ask myself, “Is it possible that there are other areas of my life where a degree of DRIFT has also begun to happen… except that there are no ‘rumble strips’ to warn me about it?”

Drift is a tricky thing to pick up. By definition, the act of drifting is slow and gradual. It is not at all like suddenly yanking the wheel to the left and abruptly changing direction.

It happens almost without noticing.

Drift can happen in many different areas. It can happen in our important relationships… such as when we start taking a spouse or loved one a little bit for granted… when we stop noticing or commenting on the small, yet important differences they make in our daily life… when we stop thanking them for the micro-favors they do for us, or the subtle change they made in their appearance.

Drift can happen in the way we tend to our own health. “What the heck,” we say. “A little extra helping of this is no big deal. I’ll work it off later.” Or, “Yes, I know I really should walk there, but I’m in a hurry so I’ll just hop in the car and drive.”

Or it can happen in the 1,001 little reasons we can ingeniously invent to avoid exercise yet again today.

And if you – like me – have been a practicing Christ-follower for more than a few years, you know how easily we can begin drifting in our faith.

We get comfortable. For the most part, those of us who profess Christ are not persecuted for our belief. We stand as the dominant expression of religious faith in our culture. We don’t have to arrange secret meeting places and code words in order to gather for worship.

And so… in our comfort, we drift.

We get tired. Or even bored. We celebrate the same holy days, observe the same liturgical seasons, say the same prayers, read the same scripture passages and – mostly – hang out with the same people in our places of worship.

And so… in our boredom, we drift.

We get proud. We fall in love with our place of dominance and start to feel a sense of moral superiority about being a Christian. We sing praise songs with titles like, “How Great is Our God,” and add our own little, “He’s lots better than yours,” to the end. We honestly can’t believe that people would NOT be a part of our faith, or would purposely choose to practice something else.

And so… in our pride, we drift.

Paul Simon sang about drift in his famous 1982 song, Slip Sliding Away. He said, “The nearer your destination, the more you’re slip sliding away.”

John the Revelator wrote about the phenomenon of drift in a little more direct, less lyrical way. He said, “I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth. For you say, ‘I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.’ You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” (Revelation 3:15-17, NRSV).

And so, just like last year and the year before and the year before that, we again stand in the middle of the season of Lent. We’ve been told a thousand times before that Lent is the season of renewal and repentance… a time to “wake ourselves up” and shake some new life into our relationship with God.

And we generally respond to that urging by saying, “Sure. OK. Great idea.” And we then go right back to checking to see what’s for dinner tonight.

day I am praying that God might help me hear the “rumble strips” in my life and jar me into aliveness and alertness and into “focused, purposeful driving” in my discipleship.

 

How about you?

 

Abundant blessings…




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