Posts Tagged ‘mercy

21
May
18

The “Never Enough Club”

productivity-01I wasn’t very productive today.

But then again, I’m on vacation. Productivity is not really expected of people on vacation… is it?

Two weeks ago, on the other hand, I was NOT on vacation. It was a Thursday as I recall… a day that started off with a cup of coffee, a walk of the dog, and a list of items I was eager to complete and cross through.

And yet, I sat back and mused at the end of that Thursday… “What the heck happened? I was a whole lot less productive than I wanted to be today.”

Looking at my sad list of uncompleted items, I was somewhat consoled by the knowledge that lives would not be lost, relationships would not be destroyed, nor would cancer remain uncured as a result of my sloth.

EXAMPLE: I didn’t stop the newspaper or mail delivery in advance of our vacation… a task that absolutely had to be done. But it could just as easily be done tomorrow.

But it made me pause and wonder how often I am guilty of labeling my days as either good or bad based on my own personal level of productivity.

Check a lot of stuff off the list = good day.

Don’t = bad day.

Isn’t that a little bit sad?

I am not saying productivity is something to be sneezed at. Not at all.

We each have a calling to produce SOMETHING in life. And ideally, it is something that utilizes our unique God-given gifts.

Painters produce paintings. Cooks produce meals. Salespersons produce sales. Writers produce strings of coherent words. Clowns produce terrified children.

We each depend on the productivity of others to navigate even the simplest passages of our day. The light bulb you just turned on, the water that just flowed through your showerhead, and the YouTube cat video you just chuckled at were all produced by productive people… folks just like YOU!

What kind of world would it be if none of us produced ANYTHING?

But I have to level with you… there are a couple of places I keep getting tripped up in this whole conversation about productivity. The first is in my tendency to draw a direct connection between my (or anyone else’s, for that matter) WORTHand my level of PRODUCTIVITY. It is hard to ignore the pulsing message in my head that says, “The more you produce, the more you are worth.” 

My second snare comes in my tendency to pass judgment about the overall SCOPE of my productivity. I’m not even sure “scope” is the right word, but here is what I mean; every week I write an approximately 2,500-word sermon and a 700-800 word blog post (or two). But because I am not currently working on either a book or a screenplay, (or both) I regularly feel like a writer wannabe… a poser.

I might visit two or three people in the hospital and pray with them as they prepare for surgery, but because I am not instigating a nationwide movement to provide spiritual care for the elderly and disabled, I feel like a slacker.

I exercise vigorously at the gym at least three times a week; not including daily walks with Rosie the dog. But because I am not regularly putting marathon notches in my belt, I feel like a slug.

It is very difficult to publicly admit these defects in my thinking. As you read them, you immediately see how overly concerned I am with the imagined assessments of OTHERS about my life and me. I am also showing you how difficult it is for me to take Jesus at his word when he says, “Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?”(Matthew 6:26, NRSV).

Here is where you say, “How about practicing what you preach, pastor.”

Are you a member of this club, too? Do you regularly flagellate yourself with the phrase, “never enough”? Do you get twitchy when you take a vacation? Are “to do” lists your highest form of artistic expression?

Well then, come over here and sit with me a moment, my friend. Take off your shoes. Put down your iPhone (unless you are currently reading this blog on it. Then please, continue holding it). Close your eyes and breathe deeply. Feel the breeze of the moment as it caresses your face.

Be reminded – as I must continually remind myself – that God’s mercy and love are not production-based. They pour over you like a waterfall… the same as they pour over the woman who runs her own company, competes in Ironman Triathlons, raises four special needs children, grows her own arugula, and is working on a script for Fox Searchlight, all at the same time.

Take as gospel truth the statement that you earned this magnificent extravagance merely by the heroic act of being born.

Seize it.

Revel in it.

Celebrate it.

And then go out and take a slow walk in your bare feet… smiling all the way.

06
Feb
18

Barcode Faith*

Barcode scannerMy friend Mike died yesterday.

Mike had been in the process of dying of cancer for the past six months or so.

I had been to see Mike over the weekend and if not for the full, gray beard and knit stocking cap he still wore, I would not have recognized him. He was a pale, confused shell of the intense, vibrant, lively man I first met more than 20 years ago.

Mike’s wife contacted me yesterday morning and said he had declined rapidly since then. The hospice nurse had given him no more than 24-48 hours.

I was able to get to their home – where hospice had set up a bed for Mike – and pray with them, read some scripture, and anoint his forehead with oil.

Then, at about 9:00 last night, I received the text from Mike’s wife telling me that he had died peacefully earlier that evening. She expressed gratitude for the brief, informal bedside service.

In many ways, it was a similar scene to the one that played out just a few months ago with my son’s high school chum, Brandon. Brandon died in the hospice facility rather than at home, but the journeys of Mike and Brandon through the last stages of their lives on earth were very similar.

From the stunned incredulity of the initial diagnosis to the evangelical frenzy of research into the latest findings about treatments, cures, experiments, and support groups, to the disappointment with treatment results, to declarations of their unyielding commitment to fight on, to unexpected turnarounds, to the final stages of the relentless decline of mind, body, and spirit… Mike and Brandon’s journeys bore eerie similarities.

There was one marked difference, however.

About a month before he died – on the eve of his 40th birthday – Brandon asked me to baptize him.

Throughout most of his life, Brandon had never really professed a religious faith of any kind. He had dabbled here and there with spiritual forms that appealed to his voracious intellect, but always found deep flaws in every one of them, he said, that prevented him from pledging allegiance to any.

But something somewhere changed. Over the course of many meetings and conversations over coffee, Brandon casually asked me one day if I would baptize him… in a church… with friends and family present.

I was delighted by his request and agreed to immediately set something up. But his request was not followed by a secret, personal moment when I gleefully carved a notch in my pastor’s belt. I can honestly say I did nothing overt to steer him in that direction.

And even though I had similar conversations and cups of coffee with Mike as his disease progressed… and even though Mike was also a card-carrying member of the “spiritual, not religious” fraternity, no request for baptism and confession of Jesus as Lord and savior ever came from him.

All of which begs several questions: based on the story of these two journeys, do you believe there is a difference in Mike’s eternity vs. Brandon’s? And if so, what is that difference? And why?

Surprisingly, there is a correct answer to this question; and that answer is: “God and God alone knows.”

As the renowned writer in Christian spiritual formation, Dallas Willard, once famously opined, it is unreasonable to believe that God operates with the faith equivalent of a system of barcodes. What that means is; if you went into a store and pulled a barcode off of a box of Cheerios and slapped it onto a claw hammer, the scanner at the cash register would tell you that the claw hammer was actually a box of Cheerios.

In the same way, it is reasonable to believe that when we show up at the gates of eternity, God probably does more than scan us with his Holy Barcode Reader… using the question, “Did she/he speak the magic phrase before they died?” as his guide.

I am sure the analysis goes deep… even deeper than actually looking to see whether we are, in fact, a hammer or a box of Cheerios.

Believe it or not, God has actually spoken directly to the “barcode faith” question on several different occasions. You can find one quote in the book of Isaiah, in the 55th chapter, ninth verse: “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:9, NRSV).

We see another commentary in the book of I Samuel when the prophet Samuel is preparing to anoint Jesse’s runt-of-the-litter son David as the next king of Israel. Samuel (as prophets often do) speaks God’s mind and says, “… for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” (I Samuel 16:7, NRSV).

Please join me today in praying for the families of Mike and Brandon as they struggle to cope with life without the dearly beloved husbands, sons, fathers, and friends these two men were.

Join me also in making a renewed commitment every day to living a life that would be pleasing to the deep-looking, all-knowing eye of God.

 

* (Today’s post is the story of the deaths of two friends. Out of respect for the families I am not using the real names of the main characters.)

29
Nov
17

What kind of hope?

Hope imageSince the calendar tells me we are creeping right up on it, my thoughts this morning turn to Advent… also known to Christians throughout the world as the season of hope.

It is the time when we try to do the spiritual gymnastics of placing ourselves in the sandals of the pre-Jesus world of the ancient Near East, imagining the depth of their yearning for the arrival of God’s promised Messiah.

During this liturgical season, pastors everywhere attempt to re-create the sense of eager anticipation of “the people who walked in great darkness,” (Matthew 4:16) as they asked, “Is this the one? Is it finally happening?”

During this season we often talk about hope in broad universal terms… the hope of humanity for the ultimate triumph of good over evil… hope for the salvation of the soul of the world.

Good, solid hopes, to be sure.

But today I also find my thoughts turning to Scott.

Scott is a guy who lives somewhere in the middle of Missouri. For at least the last two years, Scott has been sending emails to a group of pastors from across the U.S. The emails are about the frustrations Scott is facing in his search for a better job… better than the current, very low-paying one he has now.

Scott is also frustrated about the health (or lack thereof) of his relationship with his wife.

Several times after first receiving his initial emails, I responded and offered suggestions and prayers. Alas, nothing seemed to work out and here Scott is, two years later with no prospects in sight and a very deflated spirit.

Scott’s email messages today have taken a very critical tone… expressing annoyance with the pastors on his list – including yours truly – that have not done enough to help him.

And so I can’t help but wonder: what does hope look like for Scott? Is it the same hope we talk about during the season of Advent? Or is it somehow a different kind of hope?

Jesus came into the world as God’s Messiah… the deliverer promised to the children of Israel during their days of futility and exile. He came to bring freedom and liberation to people long oppressed. He came to announce the beginning of the reign of God… right here, right now.

He came, quoting the prophet Isaiah, to… “bring good news to the poor…” and to, “… proclaim release to the captives.” (Luke 4:18).

But did he also come to bring Scott a better job? And if so, how?

As we enter this holy season, I would invite us to keep those two realms of hope in close dialogue with one another… the realm of eternal hope and the realm of hope in the here-and-now. I can’t tell you how at the moment, but something tells me these realms are very intimately related to each other.

Let us enter the season of Advent striving to be the people who confidently announce the Good News of God’s hope for the world… and for our very real neighbors struggling to make ends meet.

Abundant Advent 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;

20
Jun
17

LOVE NOTICES

Happy older driversBut Jesus said, “Someone touched me; for I noticed that power had gone out from me.”

Luke 8:46, NRSV

Have you ever noticed? Jesus notices stuff.

For sure he notices the things that are right there… big as life… smack dab in front of his face… like 99.8% of the rest of us.

But he notices other things, too… things that escape the notice of 99.8% of the rest of us.

Jesus notices people. He notices words. He notices attitudes. He notices the movement of the Spirit as it blows through the world.

And you know what else? He notices YOU! And he knows the joy his noticing brings.

I thought about this the other day when I experienced first-hand the joy of being noticed.

My wife and I were traveling home from a thoroughly delightful afternoon with family. It was the late afternoon hour when the sun was just beginning to set. The temperature was perfect and the air was clear, so the windows of the car were open as we drove. There was some good, bouncy music playing on the radio and we had a pair of satisfied smiles on our faces. (And yes… that is a picture of us there at the top of this post.)

Usually – especially when I am driving – this is not the case. Most of the time when I am the driver of the car and my wife is the passenger, she is nervous and on-edge. Let’s just say she and I have two different driving styles… and for some inexplicable reason my preferred style seems to make her jittery.

HOWEVER… on this day I was really trying to be conservative and cautious as we drove along those familiar streets… braking WELL in advance of the changing stop light… slowing down to allow the gentleman to my left to come on over into this lane of traffic, etc.

I thought to myself, “I wonder if she will notice how sensibly I am driving. And if she does notice it, I wonder if she will SAY anything.”

For a brief moment I considered speaking up… bringing my reformed, prudent driving approach to her attention, just in case she hadn’t really noticed it on her own.

But then, in the very next instant, she DID notice! And she DID say something! And it was genuinely POSITIVE and AFFIRMING… something like, “Honey, you sure are doing a wonderful job behind the wheel there.”

I’m not going to lie… it was AWESOME! A real rush of validation and joy. It also gave me a real incentive to drive the same way the next time we are together.

As I reflected on my experience further, I realized Jesus had the same skill… the skill of noticing the unnoticed… and then COMMENTING on what he had noticed.

The stories of his noticing are legion; Jesus notices the little children the other people are trying to shoo away; he notices that power has gone out of him when the bleeding woman touches the hem of his robe; he notices the man who has been sitting by the pool of Bethsaida for 38 years, waiting to be healed; he notices the blind man by the side of the road; he notices the hypocrisy of the Pharisees; he notices the generosity of the widow bringing her small, insignificant coin to the Temple.

And so many more…

I guess you could say Jesus shows us that loving is noticing.

But as you watch him at work, it seems that the reverse is also true: Jesus also demonstrates his love in the act of NOT noticing.

He intentionally doesn’t notice the hideous condition of the leper’s skin as he reaches out and touches him; he doesn’t notice the lack of education or insight of the fishermen he calls to follow him as disciples; he doesn’t notice the second-class status of the women he chooses to include as partners in his ministry; he doesn’t notice the high social status of the religious officials who seek to discredit him; he doesn’t notice the sins of the woman caught in adultery.

I guess you could also say Jesus shows us that loving is not noticing.

It all makes me wonder: what am I noticing today? What am I NOT noticing?

And maybe more importantly: how are both my noticing and not noticing serving to demonstrate love?

So that’s what is on my heart today…

Thanks for noticing!

 

Abundant blessings;




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