Posts Tagged ‘love

20
Sep
22

Celebrating the season

Here where I live in northern Colorado USA, the seasons are beginning to change.

Summer is graciously bowing to receive her well-earned accolades while fall stands just off-stage awaiting her cue. Warm-ups and vocalization exercises done, she is poised, ready to burst from the wings, draped in oranges, reds, yellows and deep maroons.

I’m not gonna lie; of the four contenders, fall is my fave season of all. It is the time of cooler temps, of pumpkin spice EVERYTHING, of the start of American FOOTBALL, and of kids being back in school. It is the time when fresh peaches are canned, chili is cooked, long sleeves come out of hiding, and a brand-new season of Saturday Night Live blasts off.

But most of all, I think I love fall because it is that time when the end of yard work is visible, just beyond the horizon. 

I am sure I’m not alone. Don’t most people say fall is their favorite season?

Fall on the calendar is one thing. Entering the “fall” season of our life is another matter entirely. Why is it, do you suppose that people (like me) who feel a genuine affection for all things autumnal are so very much LESS thrilled when the autumn season of life arrives?

Sure… the “springtime of my youth” was an exciting time. Everything was new and fresh and green. There was an atmosphere of expectation. Vitality coursed through every vein and energy seemed unlimited! Life and liveliness filled the air as new buds appeared on every branch. PROMISE was bursting out all over!

“Summer” was great, too. It was the season we had all been waiting for… the season when our roots took hold, our flowers unfurled, and our leaves fully deployed. (Metaphorically speaking, of course. I personally don’t have any actual leaves or flowers to speak of. Do you?) Summer was the season of life when preparation met opportunity and we were out there every day DOING IT! We were on the stage, saying our lines, hitting our marks, and actualizing the self we knew we were born to be. It was a heady, intoxicating time when PURPOSE coursed through us, and we ended each day spent but satisfied.

But now comes the fall. Life slows down. Limbs creak. Daylight becomes rarer and rarer. The evenings are cooler, and the sap doesn’t flow quite as fluidly. Long sleeves and sweaters come out. Casserole recipes are located and dusted off. 

There is a temptation to lament this season and look on it as the unwelcome reminder of the frozen lifelessness that lies just ahead. But why should we? Fall is that time when our richest, most vibrant colors come out on full display. It is the time when we wave farewell to the vigorous striving of “summer” and dare to relax and refresh ourselves by the springs of wisdom. 

Fall (once again, working with an analogy here… I am talking about the fall season of LIFE) is harvest time… the time when the seeds of spring pay us back for the blood, sweat, and tears we watered them with.

While it is true that the color might have vanished from our hair (unless, of course, you have chosen to put it back in somehow), the colors of our experiences, our relationships, our families, and our indomitable spirits shines forth in a dazzling display… more glorious than a Colorado aspen grove in early October. 

Besides, I love the thing wise old King Solomon had to say about gray hair: “Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life.” (Proverbs 16:31, NRSVU). 

Pretty smart guy, eh?

I don’t know… was Dylan Thomas right? Should we, “… rage, rage against the dying of the light”?

Or should we celebrate the full glory of this fall season of life? 

I know which one I choose.

Abundant blessings;

08
Sep
22

A Rich, Rich Man

Maybe it’s NOT about the Benjamins!

It was one of those perfect, early autumn evenings. The air was still hot and clammy, but the rays of the sun were starting to slant toward the horizon. I was excited because tonight was the first game of the season with my NEW softball team!

[Just so we understand ourselves clearly from the outset, I LOVE playing slow-pitch softball. I am, however, utterly unencumbered by anything resembling actual softball-playing talent.]

This was at least thirty-five years ago, when I was still working at the bank. It was a men’s team made up mostly of some guys I worked with and a few of their friends. After doing some hamstring, glute, and quad stretches, I ambled over to introduce myself to some of my new teammates. 

My eyes drifted toward a man with neatly combed graying hair who stood there tying his cleats at the end of our bench. I didn’t recognize him, so I walked over, stuck out my hand and said, “Hi there! I don’t think we’ve met!”

To which he replied, “Hi there! I’m Rich!”

And since, back then, I was a scintillating and clever young man, regularly given to cracking totally obvious, cornpone jokes, I grabbed his hand, shook it, and replied, “Well, I’m not yet, but I hope to be!” 

[Rich, that is. Get it?]

At the time I unleashed my droll little riposte, my words were absolutely accurate. I was at the very beginning of a promising career as a Series 7 registered investment representative. I worked at a respected local bank and had visions of golden sugarplums and a big, fat 401(k) fund dancing in my head. 

And here, today, half a lifetime later, I am floored to realize how lavishly that dream of fabulous wealth has been realized…

… of course, in God’s own time. In God’s own way.

You see, definition #2 of the word “rich” is, “Abundant. Plentiful. As in, “… the nation’s rich and diverse wildlife,” while definition #5 says, “interesting because of being full of diversity or complexity.” As in, “What a full, rich life you lead!”

I have not (not yet, at least!) become rich in the sense of definition #1: “Having a great deal of money or assets.” But looking back on my life now, I have become fabulously rich by definition #2 and definition #5 standards!

  • I am rich in FAMILY. The one I was born into and the one I helped build along the way. They are all such awesome, goofy, great, smart, idiotic, special, warped, and splendid humans. I don’t know what I would do without any one of them.
  • I am rich in EXPERIENCE. Some of which I sought out on purpose… some of which sneaked up and ambushed me while I was looking the other way.
  • I am rich in RELATIONSHIPS. Living in one place for 45 years will do that for you. But now, since Joan and I decided to uproot ourselves and move to a brand-new town, we have a chance to build a whole bunch MORE!
  • Thanks to my parents, many, many mentors, the mysterious working of the Holy Spirit, and God’s inspired Word, I also wake up today to find I am rich in FAITH.
  • And finally, today’s list would not be complete without mentioning that I am also rich in LOVE. Both the love that has been astonishingly lavished upon me, but the love I feel toward the people and the world around me.

WOW! When you put it that way, I am a much richer guy than I could ever have imagined when I made my famous wisecrack to Rich on that softball field so very long ago.

That could very well be what Jesus was talking about when he sat his disciples down and told them, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10, NRSVU). 

I have lost track of Rich over the years, but wherever he is, I pray he has discovered that he is not only Rich, but also (definition #2) rich, and (definition #5) rich.

And wherever you are today, whatever your name is, I pray the richness of God’s good grace for you as well today. 

Abundant blessings;

01
Sep
22

Block Party Confessional

Joan and I went to a block party last week.

Partying on the block!

The party wasn’t technically on OUR block. But someone on that other, partying block was kind enough to invite us.

It was a nice event featuring grilled goodies, a potluck spread of salads and desserts, and even some live music. It was the perfect occasion to meet neighbors we might not have met before and re-connect with those we have.

About an hour in, I was standing and chatting with a mixture of those old and new friends, when suddenly Tom* came up beside me, grabbed my arm, and said, “Do you have a minute? I really need to talk to you.” 

I thought to myself, “Tom… can’t you see I am right in the middle of something here?” But when I turned and looked at Tom, I could tell he was really “in a state,” as folks say.

“Sure,” I said, politely excusing myself from the conversation with my neighbors about our favorite methods of crabgrass control.

Before I could even ask Tom what was up, he grabbed my arm, pulled me close and said, “He’s HERE!”

“Who is here?”

[For this next part of the conversation transcript, I will be replacing all of Tom’s very visceral, extremely profane phrases with quaint colloquialisms. I trust you’ll be able to make the necessary substitutions].

Tom – fuming and turning red in the face – hissed, “Do you see that fellow over there in the blue shirt… the one taking pictures of the band? That ornery cuss cheated me out of $25,000, my mother out of another $25,000, and my sister out of $50,000 back in 1999. I testified against him in court! He was sentenced to 60 years and got out of jail in THREE, for crying out loud! And now HERE HE IS!! He’s just walking around our block party, eating a hamburger, and smiling like he doesn’t have a care in the world!”

As my eyes grew wider, I gulped and said something profound like, “Wow, Tom! That’s incredible!”

Tom leaned in and filled in more of the story. About how the man in question had come to him, his mother, and his sister as an “investment advisor” over 20 years ago. About his slick brochures with charts and testimonials from “satisfied customers.” About the confidence he generated and the guarantees he made. About their excitement at the thought of investment profits.

And finally, Tom told me about their shock and shame – not to mention the fiscal damage – when they finally realized they had become victims of a modern day flim-flam man. A Professor Harold Hill in polyester pants.

“Russell,” Tom continued, “I sat there watching him for about 30 minutes and then walked over, stuck out my hand, and said, ‘Hi! Do you remember me?’ And do you know what? That sorry so-and-so HAD NO IDEA WHO I WAS!!”

At this point of the story, your question is probably the same as mine was. I mean yes, I was stunned and amazed to hear Tom’s story. I was equally flabbergasted to try and figure out how THAT GUY ended up here at our little block party.

But I was also thinking, “Tom… what is it you need me to do for you right now?”

Tom soon filled in that blank for me. As if reading my mind he said, “Russell, I know you are a man of faith. And I know that forgiveness is an important part of the Christian faith. And after the trial, and after the sentencing, and after about 10 years had gone by, I thought I had completely washed my hands of this scoundrel. But suddenly seeing him here like this has brought it all back.”

Tom continued, “I honestly don’t think you need to worry about me going over and inflicting any bodily injury on him. But you also need to know that, until just a few minutes ago, I was VERY seriously considering it.”

“What I need you to help me with is figuring out what to do with all this ANGER that is boiling up inside me right now. I know God doesn’t want us to be angry, but DARN IT! He hurt my family BADLY!”

I wish I could tell you I had an instant, magic bullet answer for Tom. In that moment, standing there in the middle of the street, with the band playing and people milling all around us, I felt a stabbing inadequacy to address Tom’s emotional turmoil. I DID manage to pray a prayer for illumination before daring to speak to this very wounded, very agitated, very vulnerable man. 

And when I finally spoke, I found a way to remind him that the central message of the gospel is forgiveness… as Jesus preached and demonstrated over and over. I was also able to remind him that forgiveness is NOT about acceptance or approval of the unacceptable, but rather about the purging of a deadly poison from heart and mind. 

I spared Tom the spectacle of grabbing both his shoulders and praying with him in the middle of the block party, but I will say that a quiet prayer was uttered. 

I don’t know if our conversation helped or not, but I thanked God for making me available to be a listening ear in the moment it was needed. 

Abundant blessings;

11
Aug
22

Mature Love

Love is love is love

Love – I think we can all agree – is pretty danged awesome.

You and I are probably also in agreement about the idea that there are different KINDS of love. Perhaps “…different EXPRESSIONS of love,” would be a better way to say that.

For example, there is the giddy, exploding fireworks, breathless, fixated kind of young love. You know… the kind that looks an awful lot like a dangerous addiction. 

Eros is what the Greeks call this expression of love.

Then there is the love that describes the way I love my brothers and my sister. It is fierce. It is tender… (sometimes). It is VERY close to unconditional. It brings great joy. At the same time, it is utterly asexual. The Greek word for this expression of love is filios.

If you have attended this seminar before, you know that the next category goes by the Greek name agapeAgape is traditionally described as perfect, self-sacrificing, godly love. The love Jesus demonstrated for all of us from the cross, for example.

But we are going to put a pin in AGAPE for just a second if that’s OK. I promise we will come back to it a little later.

The category I want to throw out there next is MATURE love. I’m not sure what the Greek word for this is, but I’m equally sure there is one. 

This is the kind of love that starts out with eros… moves on to hanging out for a while to see where this thing goes… morphs into deciding to exchange sacred vows and promising lifelong commitment, and finally leads to riding the crazy roller-coaster of “doing life together,” through all the ups, downs, hair-pin turns, dry, dull patches, dead-ends, and fiery crashes you typically experience along the way.

I have experienced mature love in my life. Twice, in fact. The first time for 20-some years. This time the count stands at 22 years. 

If you know about mature love, you know it takes work. You have discovered – as I did, the hard way – that there is no such thing in mature love as, “… putting this thing on cruise control and coasting the rest of the way in.”

Relationships take constant attention and effort. There is no point at which they drive themselves.

And while I have been talking entirely about the HUMAN journey of love, I want to pose a bit of an odd question here… mainly for the sake of sparking a conversation. 

That question is: ARE THERE ANY ANALOGS BETWEEN THE HUMAN-TO-HUMAN EXPERIENCE OF MATURE LOVE AND THE EXPERIENCE OF MATURE LOVE BETWEEN A PERSON AND GOD?

Yes. On the one hand, the question is totally ridiculous. It’s ridiculous because we know that God ALWAYSloves perfectly. Humans, on the other hand, ALWAYS love imperfectly. In the human-to-human relationship, both parties are (ideally) learning and growing in their capacity to love. In the human-God relationship, it is only WE who need to grow and mature. God has already arrived at mature, loving perfection.

So yes. Silly question.

Yet it nags at me. 

Based on some experience and some observation, I have learned a few things along the way about the qualities of mature human love. For example, I’ve learned that the word “trivial” gradually recedes from your vocabulary. In a mature relationship, you come to realize just how much things matter. A word… a gesture… a sigh… a neglected coffee cup. Something you might have breezed by and ignored in another time now begins to OOZE with significance. 

I’ve seen that couples who have known one another for a long time start to “tune in” more keenly to one another, anticipating each other’s thoughts and feelings.

The same thing happens – I believe – as we mature in our relationship with God. We begin making more of a practice of tuning in to the “still, small voice.” We move from seeing God’s handiwork in its broadest brush strokes (like the Grand Canyon or the Rocky Mountains) to seeing it in the smallest, like, “… the whiteness of a washed pocket handkerchief,” to quote D.H. Lawrence. 

God’s presence and activity turn up EVERYWHERE we look. We realize we can’t “… flee from your presence,”as the Psalmist once wrote…

… But we also realize we don’t want to.

So, I will close by asking: am I crazy? Is it completely off base to try and find similarities between a mature HUMAN-TO-HUMAN love and a mature HUMAN-TO-GOD love? 

And if you DON’T think this is crazy, what are some other similarities you see in these two relationships?

Abundant blessings;

29
Jul
22

Plagued by Purpose

Deep Thinker

There was a time… I remember it well… when the answer was so simple, it wasn’t even necessary to ask the question.

Those were the days when you only had to look one branch down on the family tree to know what your life was all about. 

Back then, asking why you were here on this planet was akin to picking up a hammer and asking why ITexisted. 

We each knew we were here to carry on… to receive and then pass the baton… to stoke the fires of family tradition, keeping them burning for those who come after. 

It was a sacred trust we dared not interrupt.

Those of us raised in that time knew it was only either saints or psychos who heard voices calling them to undertake BOLD, HISTORY-SHAPING ventures. For the rest of us, ours was to keep our heads down, our noses clean, and our shoulders firmly pressed against the wheel.

Until it wasn’t.

One day, everything turned upside down. One day, planes full of new high school graduates started taking off and flying west over the ocean. The next day, those same planes flew back filled with body bags. No one ever fully explained to us why it was necessary, or when it would end, or what we hoped to gain. They just kept sending more of us over there to die.

So, we stopped trusting them. We stopped assuming they were right. Until they could come up with better answers, we officially declined the job of Cultural Continuity Custodians

Because they were YOUR answers and not OURS, those answers were automatically WRONG. We didn’t believe it was true until we discovered it ourselves. In pursuit of that truth, we employed every tool of discovery imaginable. 

And so today, many years later, here I sit. Wondering. 

  • Are we here to be blind stewards of tradition, obediently carrying forward that which has been handed us?
  • Are we instead called to be students of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, understanding that “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever,” and be done with it?
  • Or was it a good thing that we once opened this Pandora’s Pouch of Pulsating Possibilities and realized our power to CHOOSE and SHAPE the world we inhabit?

So, what is my purpose?

What is YOUR purpose?

What, in broader terms, is the purpose of life PERIOD?

For the definitive answer, we turn to the Source of all definitive answers. Jesus himself.

In the fourth chapter of John, after Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s Well (you know… the town outcast to whom Jesus offered comfort and a new vision for her future), he gave this very succinct definition of his purpose: “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work.” (John 4:34, NRSVU). 

There it is. Simple and straightforward… deftly summarizing shelves and shelves of books on the topic: FINDING LIFE’S PURPOSE.

Do God’s will. In this moment. And this moment. And this moment. Ad infinitum… until you look back and behold a life filled with a long string of moments of divine obedience. 

  1. Do God’s will.
  2. Complete God’s work. 

Simple as that.

Abundant blessings;

30
Jun
22

Short and Sweet

It was a great visit with the granddaughters.

Three of them – two 14-year-olds and one 12-year-old – went back home yesterday after five raucous, fun-filled, tiring days with us here in Fort Collins.

Even though we both waved good-bye and then went IMMEDIATELY to bed and took long naps, Joan and I agreed on one thing: their visit was far too short.  

In fact, each one of the activities that took place while they were here seemed like they were WAY too short. The whitewater rafting trip, the horseback ride, the kayaking, the hiking, and each one of the dinners we had together seemed to end much too quickly, leaving each of us wanting MORE.

As I thought about it, I realized this is a recurring theme in my life. The “good stuff” seems to end much too quickly, while the “bad stuff” seems to linger FOREVER.  

Have you noticed that, too? 

I know, I know… in the realm of “profound insights,” this one ranks very near the bottom of the list. It almost qualifies for, “Well, DUH!”status. 

But thinking about this universal human experience led me to a different place. I started wondering if this is how it will feel at the end of my life… when I am staring the Grim Reaper in the face and looking back on the totality of my years.

Will I stop and say, “Wait! That wasn’t long enough! I need a LITTLE BIT MORE! Please???”

Or will I be standing there, tapping my foot impatiently and then saying to the guy with the sickle, “You’re LATE! What kept you? You should have been here YEARS ago!”

In my life, I have known many people you could call “old.” Some of them have been full of good spirits and energy, with eyes that crinkle with laughter, even as they feel the accumulated effects of age and gravity on their bodies. They are clearly fascinated to see what happens next on life’s great adventure.

I have known others who are tired, sick, pain-filled, and miserable. I often hear them say things like, “I don’t know what I am still doing here. I am ready to go… any time.”

At the ripe, old age of 70, I still feel like I am in the front car of a zany, uncharted carnival ride, making unexpected twists and turns as it zips along, barely under control. My health (knock wood… “For the most part…”) is not an issue. My financial house is in order (again… “for the most part…”), and so the onset of seniority is not a terribly frightening prospect for me. 

But I can certainly understand how old age can be a VERY different experience, filled with fear, grief, pain, remorse, and distress. 

Every one of us, though, faces the same reality. It is the reality spelled out by the psalmist when she/he says, “The life of mortals is like grass, they flourish like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more.” (Psalm 103:15-16, NRSVU). 

We – you and I – are amazingly finite realities. We live under the illusion that our lives and lifespans comprise the entirety of human existence, when the truth is, they are a tiny blip on God’s radar screen. 

Which makes it even more miraculous to consider God’s estimation of us. Even though we are grains of dust on top of the piano, God – Creator of All That Is – considers every one of us his Masterpiece. And God loves each of us blades of grass with a love that knows no bounds, forgiving our transgressions to a thousand generations.

Personally, I think that is pretty cool. And it helps me come to grips with the fact that when I am ready to unfasten my seatbelt and step off this wacky roller-coaster, it is going to feel ENTIRELY too short a trip.

Abundant blessings;

01
Jun
22

19 Irises

Check out these absolutely STUNNING Iris flowers we saw on our morning walk.

I’m really not much of a flower guy, but are those INCREDIBLE or what?

I have always loved Irises. They are so soft and dainty, yet explosively extravagant in their colors and textures. They seem to stumble all over themselves in its rush to manifest their magnificence for passersby to see.

I found that the name Iris comes originally from the Greek meaning “rainbow” because apparently, they come in hundreds of different colors and shapes and sizes.

Spring arrives. Temperatures warm. The iris appears…

… and then, just as quickly, it is gone. Dormant until next year.

Despite its beauty, there are people who hold the iris’ fleetingness against it. They say, “Well, yes, of course it is a beautiful flower. The problem is it doesn’t last long. Why go to all that trouble growing them if you only get two weeks of joy from them?”

On one hand, I can see their point. A gardener COULD choose to plant many other flowers that are big, colorful, and showy, but which also hang around for most of the growing season. 

After all, why not choose to HAVE your cake and EAT IT, too?

But let me pose this stumper for you to chew on; could it be that the fleeting nature of the iris’ life is important… even INTEGRAL… to its beauty?

Is it possible that one reason we OOO and AHHH and gush so much over this flower is precisely BECAUSE it won’t be with us very long? Do we see a bed of iris’ like the one above and stop and SAVOR it because we know it is so darned ephemeral?

You know… sort of like human beings are when considered from God’s eternal point of view.

When it comes right down to it, EVERYTHING in this world is temporary. The clock of mortality is ticking for every plant, every flower, every person, every animal, every building, every tree, every everything you see. 

So why bother forging attachments to ANY of them? Why have a pet, for example, when it is almost one hundred percent certain that they will die before you do? Why fall in love? One of you is certainly going to go before the other one. 

As the psalmist reminds us: “The life of mortals is like grass, they flourish like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more.” (Psalm 103:15-16, NRSVU). 

Dang! How depressing is that?

But then she/he continues: “But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children.” (Psalm 103:17, NRSVU). 

Today, I am still struggling with feelings of anguish, anger, terror, and despair. I am haunted by the image of those 19 beautiful irises in Uvalde, Texas, cruelly uprooted and violently stomped into oblivion at the very peak of their glory… and my utter impotence to respond in any way that is appropriate. I have cried my eyes dry and sat in silent contemplation around the unanswerable questions that come. I have not been able to write a single, coherent word about much of anything…

… until those irises spoke to me. 

May their beauty – as fleeting and tragically short as it was – shine and glow throughout eternity. 

Abundant blessings;

19
Apr
22

Blessed Reassurance

“OOO! Teacher! I know! Call on ME!”

Oh, how I loved it. How it used to stir my soul. 

There we were, sitting in our neat rows in Mrs. Olds’ fifth grade classroom. She had just posed a question to the entire class… on which topic I am not sure… and I KNEW THE ANSWER!!

My hand shot up. And from my vantage point toward the back in the row by the door I could see that NO ONE ELSE was raising their hand.

Gazing around, her eyes finally landed on me. “Yes, Rusty?” she ventured. [You see back then, someone had the brainwave that the best way to shorten the name “Russell” was to make it “Rusty”. But please don’t tell anyone.]

I took a deep breath, confidently spoke the answer, and – wonder of wonders – I was RIGHT! The reward for my perspicacity was the prize I most coveted in the world; the smiling approval of my teacher.

Yes, I was pleased by the release of pheromones as the Right Answer materialized in my brain. I also loved that I had the confidence to vocalize that answer in front of a room full of my peers. But the form of compensation that mattered the most to me back in the fifth grade was APPROVAL. And ideally, approval from a person with AUTHORITY. 

I wish I could tell you I have changed dramatically in the 60 or so ensuing years.

But I can’t truthfully say that. Sadly, approval is still a tremendously salient “coin of the realm” for me even as an old guy. 

  • I seek Joan’s approval.
  • I seek my sons’ approval.
  • I seek approval from the members of our Wednesday night Community Group.
  • I seek approval from my server at the restaurant, the Target cashier, my cul-de-sac neighbors, and complete strangers I meet on the street.  
  • Back in the day, I sought approval from my bosses.
  • I sought approval from every congregation I ever served and the District Superintendents I answered to.
  • Heck, I am sure I am seeking YOUR approval even now as I choose the words I write.

And frankly, all this approval seeking is exhausting. It is exhausting because I require every word, every thought, and every action to pass through two distinct and different assembly line/inspection processes before they can manifest themselves in the world.

PROCESS #1: 
What is RIGHT in this moment?

PROCESS #2:

What will gain APPROVAL? From… whoever.

At first, this “disease to please” doesn’t sound like a terrible affliction, does it? A person bent on gaining approval will usually be careful, conscientious, and compassionate in their relationships with others. 

 That much is true. But here is the real pathology that lies behind perpetual people pleasing: it leaves the pleaser with no agenda of his/her own. No vision. No ideal other than the ideals of whomever the pleaser is plotting to please.

And as long as the pleaser’s eyes are fixed on hitting targets in THIS world, success will be a hit or miss kind of thing. But if we turn our eyes to Jesus for a moment, we will learn two things.

First, we will hear him remind us that this dogged pursuit of approval probably falls under the heading of “laying up treasures on earth,” which Jesus once said was a really bad idea. (See Matthew 6:19, NRSV). The problem, he says, is spoilage. A little later in that same sermon, he tries to help us set our sights on a higher, nobler target when he says, “But seek first [God’s] kingdom and [God’s] righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33, NRSV). 

The second piece of sound guidance we receive from my man JC is the guidance that reminds us that we already have all the approval we will ever need. In fact, we had it AT OUR BIRTH! And we received it from the Highest Authority possible! 

Once again, we listen to the words from the Sermon on the Mount, where we hear, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. [Or – apropos of this blog post; “… or who will approve of you.”] 

Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? [Ed. – “Or your worth as a person more than your co-workers’ approval?”]

“Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?  Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” (Matthew 6:25-27, NRSV). 

I sure hope someone out there today is helped by this reminder. But if not, it was still worthwhile because those were all assurances I needed to hear again myself.

Abundant blessings;

24
Mar
22

Happy Anniversary, Sweetie

Earlier this week, we celebrated an anniversary.

It was the third anniversary of Joan joyfully and triumphantly ringing the brass bell that marked the end of her chemotherapy and the beginning of her remission from cancer.

It has been a remarkable three years indeed.

During that time, we have uprooted and moved our home 600 miles to the west, traveled the world, endured a global pandemic, remodeled a home, mourned a parent’s death, hiked, laughed, wept, and occasionally even acted like goofballs.

In the moment of Joan’s diagnosis… and in the immediate aftermath… our focus was on what cancer took from us. As we held each other and sobbed, we grieved the fact that;

  • Cancer took our composure. 
  • Cancer took our faith in the power of healthy habits to ward off disease.
  • Cancer took our peace.
  • For a time, cancer stole our sleep.
  • Cancer (well, chemo, actually) took Joan’s lovely auburn hair.
  • Cancer took our cherished visions for the future.
  • Cancer took just about every other topic of conversation.

But here, today, three years into Joan’s remission, we have been able to refocus. God has helped train our eyes to see the things cancer could never take. 

We now know, for example, that cancer could never take;

  • Our love for each other
  • The love and support of family and friends
  • Our gratitude for the gift of every new day
  • Our faith in the God who promised us – just as he promised Joshua – that, “… As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you.” (Joshua 1:5, NRSV)
  • The beauty of this amazing world
  • The joy of simple pleasures like a good cup of coffee, a romp with the doggies, a stimulating book, a glimpse of snow-capped mountains, a FaceTime chat with grandkids, the warmth of a cozy blanket, a quiet moment of prayer, a freshly baked loaf of banana bread, or a sassy new pair of shoes.

Without a doubt, on this third anniversary of Joan’s remission we celebrate that cancer did not, could not possibly take from us; namely…

  • The “… peace of God, which surpasses understanding.” (Philippians 4:7). 

Besides cancer, the list is very short of the things that can so profoundly shake your foundations. It is one of those events that draws a big, bold “Before” and “After” line through life. And not just the life of the one who was diagnosed, but through everyone connected to that person. 

When it arrives, breaking down the front door of your life with an axe, like it does, cancer demands a top-to-bottom redefinition of What Matters Most. It smashes every one of the precious mementoes there on your shelf and laughs in your face. 

And suddenly, you find you have not one, but TWO battles on your hands. The first is the medical battle… the one you fight with the help of doctors, nurses, technicians, and researchers. 

But the second battle is the spiritual battle. It is the battle to hold fast to the purpose, meaning, and peace that was hardwired into you by God before you were even born. 

It is the battle for your soul.

I know there are some folks who feel as if we are at one of those “shaking of the foundations” moments in the world today. There is the political animus here at home, the brutal slaughter of the people of Ukraine, the slow degradation of our air and water supplies, the continuing COVID crisis, and the rise of rates of addiction and hopelessness, just to name a few issues off the top of my head. 

When THAT PICTURE is the one we stare at all day long, it is easy to conclude that all is indeed lost. 

But we have a choice. We can choose to focus on another picture. 

We can choose the picture Moses chose to see during his 40 years in the wilderness. We can choose to see the picture Jesus chose during his 40 days of fasting, or on the stormy Sea of Galilee, or in the Garden of Gethsemane.  

We can choose to see the picture of the God of All Creation, seated on the throne of heaven, holding each of us in his loving arms and – in the face of the storms raging all around – clearly speaking the words Jesus spoke to his disciples: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” (John 14:27, NRSV).

Abundant blessings;

21
Mar
22

Risky Business

What do you consider the riskiest thing you have ever done?

Image courtesy of The Guardian: New Zealand

Back in the early 90s, I started my own business. It was a little advertising and public relations agency based in Kansas City.

But here’s the thing: I really don’t consider that risky. It came about through the confluence of opportunity, aptitude, contacts, and conditions and seemed like a very natural next step in my professional life. 

 Looking back, I would have to rank the hitchhiking trip I took in college from Tacoma, Washington to Columbus, Ohio and back again as the SECOND riskiest thing I’ve ever done.

The riskiest? That’s easy; deciding to LOVE.

If you have ever loved – especially loved another person – I don’t have to tell you that the act of loving is incredibly risky. In comparison to those who love, Evel Knievel jumping his motorcycle through a hoop over 20 flaming school buses is a total risk-taking milquetoast.

Love means pulling out that most tender, vulnerable, excruciatingly private part of YOU and offering it to someone else. Love is like voluntarily laying your life down on the tracks in front of the onrushing locomotive of ANOTHER HUMAN BEING and waiting to see what happens next.

Sometimes you walk away horribly wounded and disfigured.

At other times, you soar higher and farther and faster than you could ever imagine.

Yes indeed; our love for one another is incredibly risky. But sometimes it works out exactly as we had hoped.

GOD’S love for us, on the other hand, is always risky. Always reckless. Always fraught with danger. And in just about every single case, that divine love is a totally one-sided affair. 

At the risk of getting WAAAAY too anthropomorphic, try to put yourself in God’s shoes for a moment. Imagine pouring out 100% of your heart and soul on someone who seems utterly incapable of reciprocating. Over and over and over again you find new ways to demonstrate that NOTHING is more important to you than that human being.

To show them your love…

  • You splash beautiful sunsets across the sky EVERY DAY. 
  • You sprinkle fascinating people into their lives.
  • You continually whisper, “I love you SOOOO MUCH!” into their ears.
  • You build them the most miraculous and intricate container in which to live.
  • You LITERALLY move mountains to show them the power and depth of your love.

And in return? Bubkes. Zip. Nada. Zilch. You wonder if you might have gotten the same response if you had done nothing at all. 

And then… you decide to offer your beloved the most extravagant, outrageous, magnificent expression of love possible. You decide to sacrificially offer them… YOU.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16, NRSV).

And wonder of wonders… some see this gift for what it was and bow down and give thanks. Some receive it with joyful hearts and allow this gift’s power to transform them from the inside out. 

Some of these people that you’d been chasing since the beginning of time finally turned around and really SAW you for the first time. And they praised you. And they made brand new beginnings with their lives.

And yet, most kept their heads down, unimpressed, and kept right on shuffling through their lives, one step at a time. 

And to those who saw you and responded, you sent… boundless, unconditional LOVE.

And to those who ignored you and your gift, you sent… boundless, unconditional LOVE. 

Because that’s just who you are.

Abundant blessings;




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