Posts Tagged ‘peace

13
May
20

Final Exam

Stressed out dudeUrgent: [ˈərjənt]
Adjective. calling for immediate attention: PRESSING

 Today I am thinking back to that time when urgency seemed to rule my life.

It was a time when everything had to be done RIGHT NOW! Nothing could wait.

It was a time when I seemed to vibrate with nervous energy, spinning first this plate, then that one, praying I could reach each of them before any wobbled wildly and fell to the ground.

Back then, no matter how fast I ran, or how quickly I got there, some plates still fell and broke. Most of the time, I am embarrassed to admit, the plate that broke was the one labeled “Family Time.”

The thing is, I knew better. I knew my pace was unsustainable. I knew the value of keeping Sabbath time and allowing all my dendrites and synapses to stop their machine-gun firing and cool off a little.

But see, it was so INVIGORATING! When you live in the Urgent Zone you just feel so ALIVE!

Right up until the moment you don’t, of course.

Of course, these days, all of that has changed. Here in quarantineretirementland, there is very little that can be called urgent. If I don’t get it done today, there is always tomorrow. And if I don’t get it done tomorrow, well, there’s always the next day.

No one will die. No buildings will collapse. No sermon will be unpreached if essential “To Do” list items remain unchecked.

I’m not going to lie… it feels GREAT not to be spending my day chasing deadlines, shooting off emails, making phone calls, and driving across town. I especially love spontaneously taking naps just because I can.

But it also feels a little… I don’t know… indulgent? Self-centered? Lazy even? Shouldn’t I be building something, or planting something, or writing something instead of sitting here reading this novel?

This moment of discomfort – I now realized – is exactly the moment Jesus always picks to show up with his next Teachable Moment.

He interrupts the antsiness of my reading time and says, “Russell… I can see it is time to refresh your memory about one of the key lessons from my Sermon on the Mount. Because either you dozed off in the middle of it or have completely forgotten what I said.”

“Uh, sure, Jesus,” I stammered. “Go ahead.”

“Before you retired, you seemed absolutely WEDDED to the idea that your WORTH was tied to your PRODUCTIVITY. I had hoped retirement would have shaken that idea loose, but clearly it has not.”

He continued, “Since it has clearly slipped your mind, here is what I had to say on the subject… I said, ‘Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.’” (Matthew 6:28-29, NRSV).

“Remember that one?” He paused, obviously waiting for a response.

“Uh, yes! Of course!” I said, proud to be able to show off my Bible knowledge to the Lord of Life.

“Well, I really meant it.” He continued, “You are in good health and – Me willing – have a lot of good years left. The thing I want you to focus on is really LIVING the time you have. Smell the roses, sip the coffee, sing along with the radio, gaze at the sunset, cuddle with Joan, walk the dogs.”

“When it is all said and done, I am not going to ask how many sermons you preached, how many churches you built, or how many “likes” you got on Facebook on a given day.”

“My questions are going to be: ‘Did you love God?’ And, ‘Did you love your neighbor?’ And the bonus question will be, ‘Did you truly LIVE while you were alive?’”

And then he gave me that sly Jesus wink and said, “Now that you know the questions on the Final Exam, get out there and prepare to ANSWER them!”

 

Abundant blessings;

11
May
20

CHANGE

Universe pictureWhat moves the world?

What kind of force does it take

To cause even the tiniest shudder?

And alter – even microscopically – the unflinching orbit

Of lives?

Of fates?

Of destinies?

Of kingdoms?

Of stars?

Is it great beauty?

Unbearable suffering?

An explosion of wisdom?

The threat of extinction?

 

Or is it all just a whispy candycloud

Covered in dreams?

Are we all merely following tracks?

Tradition tracks

Carved in the

Bedrock marble of our souls

By forces beyond our influence

And greater than our gods?

 

It is not unheard of, you know.

Gravity has been defied

In days gone by.

The poles have been reversed

The die has been uncast

The other shoe has been arrested midfall.

 

Once upon a time.

 

These are the times to remember…

HE is the only one who can.

HIS is the strength to cleave time itself.

In HIM – him alone – do we find

HOPE

POWER

LIFE

LOVE (the unconditional kind)

PEACE

JOY

MEANING

REDEMPTION

“Behold! I am making all things new,” said the One In Charge. (Rev. 21:5, NRSV).

04
May
20

Caution? or Fear?

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:7, NLT)

Tilt A WhirlLast night I was in our kitchen making a salad. No biggie.

After chopping the tomatoes, I realized I still needed a few leaves of baby spinach for an iron boost. I turned around to the refrigerator, opened the door, and bent down to the open the vegetable-crisper drawer.

All of a sudden, the room started spinning and I became very woozy and disoriented.

Damn!” I thought. “Another vertigo attack.”

I have had these before, so I knew what to do. Joan helped me to the couch where I laid down and immediately began engaging in the Epley Maneuver. (Here is a helpful little diagram of the Epley Maneuver for those who are unfamiliar with it).

It had been more than a year since my last encounter with the vertigo monster. I have undergone countless neurological tests to determine what causes them. However, the best anyone can come up with is a diagnosis of “Benign Positional Vertigo,” meaning that sometimes, when I assume certain positions, little stones of calcium in my inner ear get dislodged and bring on the impromptu Tilt-A-Whirl.

I stop and do a little Epley-ing and the ride stops. The nausea induced by the spinning lasts much longer, but the spinning itself is usually tamed pretty quickly.

I was distressed because I really thought I was done with these. That is until BOOM! There it came… out of the clear blue sky.

As I lay there with the cold compress on my head, (thank you, sweetheart), I began ticking through the “what ifs”.

  • “What if I get a bunch of these back-to-back?”
  • “What if this happens while I’m driving… or walking the dogs… or mowing the lawn?”
  • “What if this is something more serious than misplaced little calcium stones?”

And then – without missing a beat – I began to strategize a whole new life pattern that would help steer me clear of any vertigo-induced mishaps. I probably shouldn’t drive a car anymore. I should probably wear a football helmet while out walking. Maybe it would be wise to pad all the corners in our house with Styrofoam bumpers!

That’s when I knew I had crossed over… from CAUTIOUS LIVING to FEARFUL LIVING.

It made me wonder if I really knew the difference between the two.

We are certainly in a time now when smart (and compassionate) people engage in cautious living. We stay inside unless absolutely necessary. We keep a safe distance from others if and when we go out. We wear face masks and gloves. We wash our hands with ridiculous frequency.

It is good to be cautious when a highly deadly, highly contagious virus is loose in the land.

But when do we cross over from wise caution to unwise (and we might even call it unfaithful) FEAR?

In these global pandemic time, the line between those two is very fine indeed.

The answer lies there in the word “spirit.” Caution might lead us to do exactly the same things that fear would. Fearful and cautious people both wear facemasks, don’t they? The difference is the SPIRIT with which they put them on.

And maybe – just maybe – we can keep ourselves on this side of the CAUTION/FEAR line by exercising some GRATITUDE. Because you see, when we pause and give thanks for the infinite blessings we still DO have, we are too busy to count up the things we MIGHT NOT HAVE should disaster strike.

I tried it last night after my vertigo attack and it was amazingly effective! I said, “Thank you God, for this Epley person… whoever he or she was.” “Thank you that I have this loving wife by my side to soothe me and bring me a cold washcloth.” “Thank you that I was here in my home when this happened and not out on the highway.” “Thank you that this is really nothing more than misplaced bits of calcium.”

Be cautious, yes. But do not fear.

 

… but don’t even get me started on that New York Times article about the arrival in this country of those Giant Asian Murder Hornets!!!

27
Apr
20

The Waiting Game

Waiting“Let’s put that off for a while,” said the doctor, regarding my possible need for shoulder surgery.

“Let’s wait a bit,” said the out-of-state family member about an upcoming visit.

“Nope. Not happening anytime soon,” said the travel company about our long-awaited 20th anniversary cruise.

“Sorry. That’s on the back burner for now,” said the concert promoter.

“Don’t think we’ll be doing that for a while,” say the organizers of community-wide festivals and celebrations.

“It’ll be back sometime, but we really can’t say when,” say the owners of major league sports teams.

“For the foreseeable future, we are going to have to continue operating remotely,” said the pastor.

“Let’s put a pin in that for now,” said the counselor.

“Yeah… maybe later,” says just about everybody about just about everything.

Welcome to the time of WAITING. Welcome to the Cosmic Pause.

As the time of global pandemic and quarantine drags into its third month, we are all getting a little “antsy,” as my mother used to say. We were more than willing to isolate, sanitize, and mask up at the beginning of this, but the patience of many is beginning to wear a bit thin.

“When can we stop all of this stuff?” we each silently wail… aware that these safety measures are good and necessary and that complaining too loudly about them would be childish and dangerous.

But for those of us who occasionally think the microwave is taking too long to heat our tea water, it is not a bad thing at all to learn how to WAIT… to SLOW DOWN… to cultivate a little PEACE and COMPOSURE in our souls.

Because to wait is to HOPE.

So while we are here at home, studying our jigsaw puzzle pieces and cleaning our kitchen floors with our toothbrushes, I would like to present here a list of some things we DON’T have to wait for;

  • We don’t have to wait to reach out to someone in need.
  • We don’t have to wait to tell someone we love them.
  • We don’t have to wait to be grateful.
  • We don’t have to wait to re-connect with someone we haven’t seen for a while.
  • We don’t have to wait to learn something new.
  • We don’t have to wait to forgive someone.
  • We don’t have to wait to encounter a new idea.
  • We don’t have to wait to see the situation a different way.
  • We don’t have to wait to pray.
  • We don’t have to wait to discover beauty.
  • We don’t have to wait to “… be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10, NRSV)

We can do each of those things RIGHT NOW!

And who knows… when all is said and done, we just might find we had reserves of patience that we never knew we had.

Abundant blessings;

16
Apr
20

Safe at home?

Guy in a bunkerLet me ask you: how safe do you feel right now?

I will answer first by confessing that most of the time, I feel pretty safe.

My safety, I am well aware, derives largely from the privilege I enjoy as a white, middle-class, educated, middle-aged, (OK, you caught me. As an OLD…) heterosexual, North American male.

Every one of those demographic categories has privilege written all over it. And with that privilege comes an outsized measure of safety… Safety from violence, safety from discrimination, safety from inherited disease tendencies, safety from rejection, and safety from – in most cases – having to earn your goodwill.

All of this “demographic privilege armor” does NOT, however, make me safe from COVID-19. And so, for one of the very few times in my life I can remember, I find myself looking at the world around me as a place of threat and potential danger.

To cope with that threat, I try to stay inside my house, just like the governor told me to. And when I am out and about, I mask up, I don my nitrile gloves, I stay AT LEAST fifteen feet away from other people, and I wash my hands so often that they are now cracked and dry. Yet even with all of those precautions, I cannot free myself from the idea that a microscopic little virus might still fly up my nose and kill me.

I don’t have to tell you; life in the time of the pandemic feels anything BUT safe.

But this all makes me stop and wonder… are any of us ever really safe? Let’s face it; something is going to get every single one of us someday. None of us is impervious to danger, disease, or distress… no matter how big an arsenal of automatic weapons we own.

And what do we mean by the word “safety” anyway? While we are posing these tough questions, let’s ask this one: just how worthwhile is SAFETY as a life goal anyway?

For answers, let’s go to that timeless source of wisdom, the Bible. Interestingly the word “safety” shows up 33 times in the Old Testament, but only once in the New. And that one time is not even a quote from Jesus. The one New Testament use of the word safety comes in this rather alarming passage from 1 Thessalonians: “While people are saying, ‘Peace and safety,’ destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.” (1 Thessalonians 5:3, NRSV).

YIKES! Reading that passage you’d almost conclude that the pursuit of peace and safety is a massively bad idea.

I am not sure I would agree with that interpretation of this text. Concern for safety is not really a bad thing.

As we know from the studies of biology and anthropology, human beings are wired for self-preservation. We are not born with shells or poisonous barbs as part of our anatomy, but there are countless other ways that our Designer included systems in our brains and bodies dedicated to helping us “live long and prosper,” to borrow Dr. Spock’s phrase.

Our pursuit of safety gets off track, scripture tells us, in two different ways.

First, we miss the mark when we equate SAFETY with a particular set of external circumstances. That’s because it’s not. True safety is a condition of our hearts. Jesus addressed this in the Sermon on the Mount, when he said, “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?” (Matthew 6:27, NRSV).

In other words, “Hey, don’t worry, y’all. God’s got this.”

Our second error in pursuing safety comes when we believe that it is OUR effort and OUR striving that produces our safety. Wrong again. We can build all the bunkers, fill all the gallon milk jugs, stockpile all the canned food and weapons on earth and not have one ounce more peace than we did before.

Authentic peace and security come from one source and one source only. Jesus put it this way in his parting words to the disciples: “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).

It is only when we surrender our lives completely to his care and guidance that we will find deep, meaningful, and enduring peace.

And that, my friends, is about as safe a bet as you are ever going to make.

02
Apr
20

Something from Nothing, Part 2

One man counseling another(In yesterday’s installment, I recounted one of my most abysmal performances as a pastoral counselor. Troy, a congregant, had come to see me with an incredible mountain of problems including job loss, cancer, his wife’s infidelity, and parenting challenges, all raining down on him at once.

When we left our story, the pastor was wringing his hands in despair, searching and praying for the right word for Troy’s situation…)

Not wanting too many more silent seconds to pass between us, I gave Troy my most sincere, pastoral look, reached out and confidently placed my hand on his left shoulder and said – with an air of authority that was manufactured out of thin air – “Troy… the thing to remember at times like this is just what it says in the Bible: ‘This too shall pass.’”

And then, to add an extra measure of sincerity to the drivel I had just dispensed, I clapped him on the shoulder and nodded.

The reaction I fully expected to receive (and probably should have received) from Troy was something like, “What? Are you seriously kidding me? ‘This too shall pass??’ I could have pulled a random fortune cookie out of a jar and gotten something better than that drivel!”

But, to his everlasting credit, Troy just nodded, thanked me for my time, and stood up to leave.

After that it took me several minutes to compose myself. I was stunned at the level of absolute ineptitude I had displayed in my conversation with Troy. I honestly pondered the possibility of searching for a new line of work… on the spot. Clearly that “call to ministry” I thought I had heard was a wrong number.

Fast-forward six months. I have not heard from Troy or heard about him. I had maybe seen him at church one time in passing since our meeting. And I may or may not have pretended to drop something on the floor when he passed… just to avoid making eye contact.

And then one night it happened… there was an event at church for parents and their children. I was on duty to greet folks as they came in and help them find their way around. And here came Troy… with his two children in tow.

“OK,” I said to myself. “Nothing to do but to step up, look him in the eye and face the music. It might even be that he has wiped any memory of my face and name from his mind… if I’m lucky.”

So, I bucked up… walked up to Troy… stuck out my hand and said, “Hi there, Troy. It’s been a while since we talked. How are things with you anyway?” I tried not to telegraph the fact that I was positioning myself to deflect a punch from his right hand I was reaching out to shake it.

“Pastor Brown!” he said… in a loud, overly enthusiastic voice. (Drat! He recognized me!) And then he went on, “Hey, do you remember that time last fall when we met in your office? You know, when I was in such a messed-up situation and I came to see you?”

“Yeah… sure,” I said… playing along. “I’ve been wondering how things are going for you now. That sure was a bad time for you, wasn’t it?”

He said, “Boy, it sure was. Hey… do you remember the advice you gave me? When you told me ‘this too shall pass’?”

I was getting ready to defend myself, explaining I had been engaged in a spiritual fast the day we met and was clearly delirious from hunger when he interrupted me, grabbed my hand and pumped it vigorously saying,“Man, I can’t thank you enough. That was EXACTLY what I needed to hear at that moment. It helped me take a step back from the funk I was in and just take a breath.

“And you know what? Things are really getting better. I got a new job, so we changed schools and got my daughter away from those bullies… my wife married her boyfriend and I am getting good treatments for my melanoma.”

“But I just really wanted to thank you for helping me get through that. I don’t know what I would have done without you.”

And so, we shook hands, I thanked Troy for his kind words, and we went our separate ways.

At the time I offered it, “This too shall pass,” was a trite, unthinking response that was thoroughly unresponsive to the depth of Troy’s dilemma. I have since checked and found it is also advice that can be found nowhere in the Bible.

What I saw though in that six-month reunion was the power of the Holy Spirit to take the very worst of my efforts and transform it into something powerful and healing.

Right now, “This too shall pass” feels like a trite, almost cruel platitude in the midst of the current pandemic. Sure, it will pass, but who knows when it will pass? Who knows how many lives will be lost in the process? Who knows the long-lasting damage that will be done to our economy by this extended shut-down?

“This too shall pass” is not particularly biblical or earth-shaking as advice goes. But it is true. There WILL be a day in the future when sports resume, when there are stories on the news besides the daily COVID-19 death toll, when kids are back in school, when concerts happen again, and when folks – maybe more than before the pandemic – gather again in church.

No, “This too shall pass” may not be particularly profound.

But somehow my anxious heart – like Troy’s – finds great peace and comfort in knowing it is true.

 

Praise God!

23
Mar
20

The Rock’s Promise

This morning as Patrick the dog and I set out on our morning walk, there was a strange stillness in the air. It was chilly enough for me to see my breath. We turned left out of our cul-de-sac and headed north. The sun beamed out of a clear, blue sky, bathing the street with a peaceful golden light.

Each of my steps was audible. A car horn sounded in the distance.

As we turned west, I stopped… my gaze arrested. This is the sight I saw on the horizon, illuminated by the newly risen sun:Horsetooth Rock

This is Horsetooth Rock, one of the signature hills immediately to the west of our home here in Fort Collins, Colorado. Suddenly the words of Psalm 121 sprang to mind… “I lift up my eyes to the hills – from where will my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” (Psalm 121:1-2, NRSV).

I stopped, stunned and reverent. At that moment I realized that “lifting my eyes to the hills” was exactly what I was doing.

Peace suddenly poured over me.

Patrick didn’t understand why I was suddenly standing in the middle of the sidewalk, mute and motionless. He tugged at the leash as if to say, “Come on, dude… let’s get back to our walk. There are SQUIRRELS on the next block! I know it!”

At that moment, I understood what the Psalmist meant… in a way I never had before. In their granite silence, the hills sang me a song of stability… strength… and unshakable resilience. They reminded me of all they have witnessed, since they first thrust themselves up from the level ground.

They spoke to me of floods, fires, and famines. They told the stories of pestilence, anarchy, and war. They testified to horror, panic, and chaos that, they swear, once threatened to shred the fabric of life itself.

But more than that, they bore mute testimony of the steadfastness of the One who created them… the One who endures to this day, the One who has never reneged on his promise of faithfulness.

They told me, “He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber.” (v. 3).

As I stood there, regarding the wisdom of their witness, I smiled…

… because I believed them!

And you can too.




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