Posts Tagged ‘overcome

24
Aug
20

Clearing the Underbrush

WildfireIt hit me as soon as I walked out the door.

Patrick the dog and I were headed out for our long Saturday morning walk. But after five steps and two breaths, it became abundantly clear that our walk on this particular Saturday would just be to the end of the cul-de-sac and back.

You see, we have wildfires burning about 60 miles to the west of our house here in Fort Collins, Colorado. They aren’t as big as those currently burning in California (these only cover a mere 17,000 acres), but they are big enough.

At times, when the wind is just right, the city of Fort Collins is blanketed with thick smoke. It stings your eyes and burns your lungs. The air quality is listed as, “Hazardous for all individuals” by the county health authorities.

Not ideal dog-walking conditions.

As we listen to news reports on the status of the fire-fighting efforts, Joan and I were surprised to hear that very little is currently being done to fight this fire. There are teams on the ground monitoring the situation, yes. But there are no air tankers dropping flame retardants, no big buckets scooping water out of the lake to dump on it, no fire hoses being aimed at the flames.

It is just being watched as it burns.

When I expressed my frustration about this perplexing nonchalance to a neighbor, he smiled a knowing smile and explained, “These things happen every couple of years and are a part of the natural cycle of things. Right now, they are just making sure it doesn’t get out of control and threaten any houses.”

I nodded and thanked him for his insight, but inside I was saying, WHAT? You can’t be serious! Do you really think it is OK to let fire destroy all those trees and choke us with the smoke and ash? What kind of looney tunes philosophy is THAT?”

As it turns out, it is a very sound philosophy indeed.

You see, in the forest, trees die. Leaves fall to the ground. Underbrush accumulates. Dead vegetation threatens to choke out the living. And so periodically, it all needs to be cleaned out. And as it turns out, the cleaning tool that works best for Mother Nature is FIRE.

Every now and then a fire is needed to sweep through and destroy all the dead stuff… to clear the way for something new and fresh and green to be born.

And when I heard that explanation, I began wondering: does God ever take the same approach with us?

What I mean is; do you think we (the human population of Planet Earth) ever get to the point where too much “dead underbrush” has built up in our hearts or in the world? [Metaphorically speaking, of course.]

  • Do you think it’s possible that this “dead underbrush” ever becomes so vast that it threatens to choke out the possibility of anything new popping up and growing?
  • Do you think it is possible that God has identified a periodic need to do a massive “clearing out” of this spiritual and emotional underbrush?
  • Is it conceivable that something that looks like devastation and destruction (something like a global pandemic, for example) might actually be something more like a cosmic press of the “RESET” button?

And finally;

  • Do you think it is possible that the way is being cleared for something new and fresh and vibrant to emerge on the other side of the current devastation?

Please understand, I have grave hesitations about asking these questions. They could sound like I’m saying that God brought about the death and destruction of COVID-19 in order to bring about something new. These questions might make it sound as if I’m saying that God is indifferent to human suffering as long as there is a “greater good” to be accomplished on the other side.

That is not what I am saying at all.

Rather I am trying to point to God’s unlimited capacity to REDEEM. That is, to take a dire and disastrous situation and use it as the fodder for something wondrous, new, and remarkable.

You know… sort of like he did with his son who died on a Roman cross?

In the short run, that thought doesn’t make it a whole lot easier to put up with the coughing, stinging, fear, and wheezing.

But it does offer us the hope that – in the long run – all of this misery just might not be wasted after all.

 

Abundant blessings;

16
Jul
20

The Sound of Roadblocks

Road-Closed-Ahead-SignMost of the time, we (maybe I should say “I”) misread roadblocks.

It’s like the time my grandmother bought us a piano. I think I was eight or nine years old. Grandma thought that was the perfect age for me to begin my journey into a lifetime of joy-filled music-making.

To help make Grandma’s dream a reality, my mother found a willing teacher through our church – Mrs. Nelson – and got me started. I went over to Mrs. Nelson’s house at 4:00 every Tuesday afternoon after school for my 30-minute lesson.

I maybe completed four total lessons before I tearfully begged my mom to let me quit. Piano was BORING! It was HARD. The piano teacher smelled funny. I missed playing baseball with my friends after school. I told my mother I HATED piano lessons and considered them to be a form of child abuse.

Mom finally gave in to my whining and that was that. Fortunately, she played the piano, so the instrument did not just sit in our dining room gathering dust.

I read the monotony of basic piano lessons as a roadblock that said, “Avoid this road! Find another way!”

The difficulty of learning to play the piano was an early example of a roadblock I have encountered, but it was hardly the last.

Almost every new skill I have ever learned – whether it was playing the guitar, hitting a baseball, learning the Spanish language, becoming a homeowner, or properly exegeting a passage of scripture – seemed to begin as a roadblock.

Some of those roadblocks I interpreted as saying, “Avoid this road! Find another way!” Others I read as, “Dig a little deeper! Try a little harder!”

How do you decide which message your roadblocks are sending?

Most of the time, I believe it is better to lean in the direction of the “try harder” interpretation. Personally, since my default mode is “lazy,” I would find it too easy to be dissuaded from exerting a lot of effort in pursuit of a goal.

Sometimes, though, we really need to detour and find another road. I mean, heck, if I hadn’t broken it off with Marsha Westbrook in the sixth grade, I would never have met the lovely woman I am married to today!

The current pandemic has certainly provided more than its share of roadblocks, hasn’t it?

  • It has crossed its arms and stood defiantly in the way of my efforts to volunteer with the local hospice and our church’s praise band.
  • It has obfuscated our attempts to make friends in our new town.
  • It has befuddled our plans to travel to visit family.

I recently realized that I have a choice about these roadblocks. I can choose to fuss and fume and complainabout them. Or I can pause a moment and listen to them.

And when I choose to listen to them, I find out something very interesting about roadblocks… I find that they have the power to reveal something profound about God and the nature of the universe God made.

Roadblocks have the power to remind me – actually ALL of us – that God is the God of Unlimited Options. Whereas I might see TWO, or on a good day, THREE options ahead of me, God can see BEAUCOUP! (which is French for “a ton.”)

My task then, is to, as the psalmist reminds us, “Be still and know that I am God…” (Psalm 46:10) and listen for the other options God is revealing.

Shhhh. Do you hear that?

It is the sound of your roadblocks speaking.

13
Apr
20

Team Jesus

Team JesusI made my choice a long time ago.

In the middle of one of the darkest times of my life… when every door seemed to be sealed shut… when my relationships only offered pain and resentment… when the future looked as lifeless as the surface of the moon… when I lacked the energy to even put one foot in front of the other… I cried out to the sky in anguish.

At that moment, I did not even attach a name to the object of my cry. My plea was just a miserable arrow, launched aimlessly into the darkness. Honestly, I did not even believe there was anything there for it to hit.

But then it happened.

As Paul Tillich once said so eloquently in his epic sermon You Are Accepted, “Grace strikes us when we are in great pain and restlessness. It strikes us when we walk through the dark valley of a meaningless and empty life. It strikes us when we feel that our separation is deeper than usual…”

There is no other word that even comes close to describing what happened to me in that next moment. Like a bolt from the blue, I was struck by grace. A deep peace seeped into my soul, displacing the fear, the self-hatred, and the remorse that once filled it. I had no idea how it was going to happen, but I had every confidence that from there forward, everything was going to be OK.

Later, with the help of compassionate friends and family members, I was able to attach a name to my life-altering event. I understood that this most extraordinary rescue came by the hand of Jesus. They also helped me understand that it came – not because I was such a great guy, or because I was the one-millionth customer that day – it came because that’s just how he rolls.

And yes, I knew I was free to turn and walk right back into my old life. No conditions were attached to that rescuing stroke of grace.

Instead I chose – in gratitude – to start following him. I chose to call Jesus the Lord (i.e., the Ruler, the Primary Authority, the True North, the Guidestar, the el Numero Uno) of my life.

Doing so, I came to discover, also meant calling HIS narrative about life THE narrative about life.

Jesus’ narrative about life is nowhere more clearly articulated than in the annual celebration of Easter. When we re-tell the Easter story, we are reminding ourselves of the narrative that says, “To die is to live.” It is the narrative that also says, “Love is stronger than fear… light is stronger than darkness… life is stronger than death.”

In not one, not two, but THREE on-line Easter services yesterday I said the words, I sang the songs, I felt all the feels.

But now here on Easter Monday, I see I am facing a challenge.

I am facing the challenge of actually LIVING as if all that is true. (We all face that challenge, actually).

In other words, if Christ is actually alive and has indeed overcome the grave, I darned sure better ACT LIKE IT! I better immediately jettison the notion that all the hatred and anger in the world is too powerful. I’d better disabuse myself RIGHT NOW of the idea that the forces of darkness have the upper hand.

I had better start speaking and acting and thinking like a member of Team Jesus… that is, like someone who hears him say, “… take courage… “ (Matthew 14:27, NRSV) and then who actually TAKES COURAGE!

If I really believe in the truth of The Greatest Story Ever Told, I need to flush out the bitterness, purge the resentments, and expel the pride that is constantly trying to take root in my soul.

Hymns and candy and Honey-Baked Hams are awfully nice. But if Easter doesn’t show itself in the way I live, I might as well have spent the day yesterday whistling Dixie.

Happy Easter Monday, everybody. How will YOU choose to observe it?

27
Mar
20

The Invisible Enemy

invisible-man-2020-poster“The Invisible Enemy” is a popular way of describing the foe we are battling during this current pandemic.

It’s true. The virus that causes the deadly COVID-19 disease cannot be seen by the naked eye. It travels, unseen, from person to person via door handles, bannisters, faucet handles, sneezes and coughs, handshakes, nose pickings, and plain old walking down the street and minding your own business.

The virus can weasel its microscopic way into your system during an otherwise innocent trip to Home Depot…

… and you wouldn’t even know it for another 14 days.

To my highly un-medically trained brain, the idea of fighting an invisible enemy seems humanly impossible. It reminds me of the trailers I’ve seen for the current version of the movie, The Invisible Man. (Ironic that this movie is appearing at this particular moment in history, isn’t it?)

The stupid thing can hit you from over HERE, and then when you turn and swing your fist in that direction, it slyly ducks and runs over THERE, emitting an evil chuckle.

How in the world do even the smartest, most technically savvy experts do battle with an enemy like THAT?

But then, just as I was about to throw my hands into the air and wail, “WOE IS ME! ALL IS LOST!” I stopped and remembered something. I remembered that we ALL have experience battling invisible enemies.

That’s right. You. Me. Uncle Steve. Your next door neighbor. Your favorite barista. The president. The neighborhood handyman.

ALL of us have waged war – at one time or another – with an enemy we could not see.

Some of us, for example, have battled SELF DOUBT. It lurked there, invisibly plotting our downfall, until the moment came when we had a chance to stand up and make a difference. And then it jumped out of the shadows and ATTACKED… mocking us for daring to think we might have measured up to the moment.

Others of us have contended with ghosts from our PAST… events and people long dead, yet somehow invisibly alive in our imaginations. We think we successfully turned our backs on them and buried them… until that triggering event that caused them to jump out from behind that open door and remind us of something dark and forgettable.

There is also the invisible enemy of ADDICTION… in whatever form that might take. Addictions are those insidious, unseen compulsions that are even harder to spot than a coronavirus yet twice as deadly. Addictions can lull us into complacency, making us believe we have defeated them by the sheer power of our iron wills… only to see them re-emerge, crowbar in hand, from the cellar, even more dangerous than before.

It may not make them any easier to fight, but it is somehow good to be reminded that invisible enemies are nothing new… to any of us. The one we are up against now will require a whole new set of weapons and a kind of calm determination that we might not quite believe we have access to.

But no matter if it is the deadly COVID-19, or the invisible enemies of self-doubt, our pasts, addiction, or anything else you can name, it is good to know who fights with us and FOR us.

Jesus single-handedly took on the most insidious invisible enemy in history and made it cry, “UNCLE!” With unparalleled love, and grace, and his unique, vibrant connection with God he destroyed humanity’s estrangement from God (a.k.a., SIN), once and for all.

It is a victory we can all celebrate. It is a victory that should encourage all of us in the current battle.

As he said, just before the scene of the final fight on Calvary: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, NRSV).

AMEN! And Praise God!

14
Jan
20

Who Do You Love?

Ethnic diversity

“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.”       -Jesus (of Nazareth), as quoted in Luke’s gospel; chapter 6, verse 32

This might not shock you to learn but as it turns out, I am a big fan of people.

All kinds of people.

I like the big ones, the small ones, the old ones, and the young ones.

I like men. I like women. I like gender fluid people. I like people who have transitioned from one gender to another.

I like heterosexual people. I like homosexual people. I like bisexual and sexually questioning people too.

I like people who share the same race and ethnicity as me. I like people whose races and ethnicities are nothing like mine whatsoever.

I like American people, Canadian people, and Australian people. I like Italian people, Guatemalan people, Peruvian people, Congolese people, and Vietnamese people. I am sure there are people from countries other than these I would like too, once I got to know them.

As I sat back the other day and gazed upon the size and scope of the list of people I really enjoy being around, I was starting to feel pretty darned pleased with myself.

That is until Jesus came along and messed everything up.

[As usual.]

There I was, just innocently reading over his words in Luke’s gospel one morning, hoping for a little inspiration to start my day when WHAM! He hit me right between the eyes with that passage you see at the top of the page.

He had the audacity to remind me of the hidden common denominator shared by everyone on that list I just trotted out for you.

He peeked beneath my thin egalitarian veneer and noticed that everyone on that list is also a person who likes ME!

He noted that despite the outward appearance of diversity and multifacetedness of my “fave people list,” these are all folks I pretty much see eye-to-eye with. None of them, Jesus pointed out, are people who see the world from a radically different (a.k.a. “wrong”) perspective.

Jesus then bores his X-ray eyes right through me and gives that little scoffing laugh of his; “What credit is it to you if you only love the people who love YOU?” he asks. “Even the worst people on earth do that!”

Wow, Jesus. Kinda harsh.

But, as usual, I have to admit he’s right.

He makes me own up to the fact that I have a really hard time extending love or compassion to folks on the opposite end of the political spectrum from me.

He shines a big ol’ pinpoint searchlight on the bitterness I still carry around in my heart toward people who once did me wrong.

He refuses to let me hold onto my air of superiority toward people who have not enjoyed the same advantages in life I have.

He also turns a divinely deaf ear on all of my excuses about how incredibly difficult it is to get along with these people… how mad they can sometimes make me… or how frustrating they can be.

Instead, he turns, smiles, and gently says to me, “Hey… not only did I LOVE you back when you wouldn’t give me the time of day… I also DIED for you!”

And then he ever-so-sweetly delivers this coup de grace: “I’ll tell you exactly what I told Peter that day on the beach when I cooked breakfast for them after my resurrection: I told him, ‘Feed my sheep…

“ALL of them… “

“Even the Republicans.’”

05
Aug
19

Mr. Tidy Guy

Tidy guyI hate messes.

I confess freely and fully to you now that I am a compulsive tidier-upper. Some (such as my loving wife) might even say I verge on being obsessive-compulsive about my tidying.

Things lying around on the kitchen counter that don’t belong there make me just a little crazy. And so… they get tidied.

In my wake, half-finished cans of Diet Coke get dumped (sorry honey!), today’s edition of the newspaper gets recycled (if it is after 2:00 p.m.), dust bunnies get swept away, and aimlessly wandering pens or pencils get returned to their proper homes.

Try as I might, I have been unable to confine my tidying to my own home. Microscopically crooked pictures on the walls of doctor or dentist’s offices don’t stay that way for very long when I am around.

I will also confess that it takes every ounce of self-restraint I can muster to keep from reaching over and wiping that little spot of mustard off a child’s cheek at our neighborhood McDonald’s.

I realize that this behavior is much more an affliction than a virtue, and yet, I persist… neatening up the world, one disorderly trash pile at a time.

I wonder what is really going on here. What do you think the deeper drivers of this neatnik-ness might be?

I wonder if it has anything to do with looking out every day at a world that seems to get messier and messier by the minute… heaping tragedy on top of disaster on top of sorrow, on top of sin?

I wonder if the visions of lives permanently disfigured by violence, addiction, poverty, war, or natural disasters make me feel like I have to DO SOMETHING to bring a tiny piece of order into this landscape of chaos?

I wonder if I am engaging in some kind of silly antidote to my own sense of helplessness in the face of a world that seems to have run a little amok… as if to say, “Well, the politicians in this country might lack the spines to enact any kind of common-sense gun laws that could bring down the epic levels of gun violence we see here today, but at least my living room carpet is nicely vacuumed.”

It is entirely possible.

But then I am forced to reflect on the fact that Jesus didn’t ever promise me that life would suddenly become neat and orderly when I decided to follow him.

In one place in John’s gospel, Jesus promised that life with him would be ABUNDANT. (John 10:10). So I guess it is possible for life to be abundant and messy at the same time, right?

In another place, Jesus is actually on record as promising the continuation of messes and problems; “… in this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, NIV).

Today I hereby resolve to try and do a better job of leaving Joan’s Diet Coke cans alone when I find them.

However, odds are pretty good that I will continue to be Mr. Tidy Guy both at home and abroad.

But I will also try to remember – as I look out on the massiveness and complexity of the piles of mess in the world – that those messes do not have the final word. As unsolvable and un-tidiable as they might look, they have already been brought under the authority and control of the One who is far greater than any mess imaginable.

 

So, if you will excuse me… I’ve just spotted an errant scrap of paper on my front lawn.




Russellings Archives

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Follow Russellings of the Spirit on WordPress.com

~ A Divine Unraveling ~

Poetry ~ Musings ~ Christian Ethos ~ Storiettes

My Pastoral Ponderings

Pondering my way through God's beloved world

One Third Culture Kid

Reflections on growing up a TCK

All The Shoes I Wear

Writing Down The Bones

Just Being Me

My life and faith - without a mask.

La Tour Abolie

An eclectic mixture of personal essays, stuff about writing, stuff about books and far out philosophy from an old baggage in a book-tower.

Eden in Babylon

a topical new musical and other progressive, creative works

Luna

Pen to paper.

_biblio.bing_

A law student and an avid reader. Along with your desired book reviews you're gonna get great book suggestions. Books of all genre with detailed review. Thank you, Visit Again ❤️

Humanitarian Explorer

Traveling the world to discover and meet needs

Storyshucker

A blog full of humorous and poignant observations.

Steadfast Pictures

Visual Media for God's Glory!

The Immortal Jukebox

A Blog about Music and Popular Culture

yadadarcyyada

Vague Meanderings of the Broke and Obscure

Pics and Posts

Goodies from my mailbox and camera

My Spirals

• Hugs and Infinities

Shreya Vikram

Blurring the lines between poetry and prose

%d bloggers like this: