Posts Tagged ‘results

24
Jan
23

How Pure?

Do you like seeing results?

I sure do.

In fact, so enamored am I of seeing a tangible result that I often tailor my thoughts, words, and deeds to that exact end. 

And frankly, that’s a problem. 

To clarify; recent reading and contemplation have led me to view my “results orientation” mindset as a problem for me and the spiritual life to which I aspire.

I began this trip into The Upside Down during church on Sunday. The Gospel lesson for the day was the Beatitudes… found right there in Matthew 5:1-12. 

Pretty familiar stuff, right? Heard it a thousand times. Can almost recite it from memory. Glaze over just the teeniest bit when the pastor begins reading, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

For some reason, however, I was really tuning in yesterday. I had asked the Spirit to help me hear this seminal passage in a fresh, pertinent way… a way that might open my ears to something I really needed to hear. I have often heard people talk about the Beatitudes as the most important sermon Jesus ever preached. And so, if that is the case, why would I give it anything less than my full, undivided attention?

As a result of that prayer and attentiveness, the portion that God chose to smack me upside the head with was, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” (Matthew 5:8, NRSV). 

“Pure in heart?” What does that mean, exactly?

This question then became the springboard that catapulted me off on my reflections about my proclivity toward result seeking. 

In the stillness of the sanctuary, I came to realize that most of my energies have been spent trying to make something happen. As a lad, I did chores in order to earn an allowance. I did my homework in order to stay out of my parent’s doghouse. 

Later on, I went to college in order to gain employability. I married and had children in order to perpetuate the species. I got a job in order to continue eating and sleeping and being sheltered. I exercised in order to stay healthy.

Soon, I saw that “pursuit of results” had begun leaking over into my spiritual life, too. I recognized that I read the Bible in order to gain wisdom and insight. I prayed in order to solve problems, or to achieve peace of mind. I followed Jesus in order to receive a roadmap for my life. 

My whole life, in a sense, seemed like one giant transaction. A case of, “I give you THIS, and in exchange, you give me THAT.”

It was an orientation that seemed to be the exact OPPOSITE of what Jesus had in mind with the phrase, “pure in heart.” 

If we look at the example of the life he lived here on earth, we soon recognize Jesus as the ultimate practitioner of “purity of heart.” There was no, “in order to…” attached to the things he said and did. No, “…so that X will happen” condition that went along with his words and actions. 

Jesus did not aim to start a religious movement or denomination. His goal was not to overthrow Israel’s Roman overlords. He was not trying to grow his followership or profile. He was not endeavoring to usher in a new world order. 

Jesus loved God purely for the sake of loving God. He loved people purely for the sake of loving people.

But with all that purity of heart going on, isn’t it ironic that today we also recognize Jesus as the ultimate “producer of results” in the history of the world? His life drew the dividing line between BC and AD. His teachings transformed – and continue to transform – lives (mine included) all over the world. His example has inspired countless works of art and literature. He is more alive today than he was 2,023 years ago.

And so I conclude today with a prayer for a purer heart, a more trusting spirit, and a greater sense of gratitude.

Abundant blessings;

16
Nov
20

Longing for Results

Folks, I am so tickled with myself I can hardly stand it!

This past weekend I decided to take on a daunting auto maintenance task… and I DID IT! With all fingers and toes still accounted for, no less!

Actually, “daunting” might be a teeny bit of an overstatement. However, it is not an overstatement to say that I performed an auto maintenance task that was necessary and long overdue and that made a HUGEdifference. 

You see, Joan and I drive cars that are nine and 11 years old, respectively. Despite their advanced age, our cars are both reliable, paid for, and smooth running. But we have found that, over time, the headlights on each car were starting to look a little “frosted” and dull. Recently, while driving at night, we saw that they don’t light up the road as well as they once did.

And so … TA DAH! Enter the magical 3M Headlight Restoration Kit and Master Mechanic RUSSELL! [No… today’s blog post is not sponsored or paid for by the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company… Even though it really should be!]

After spending about 40 minutes on each car, working with my drill/power sander and the KIT, Joan and I are each now the proud owners of cars with clean, crystal clear headlights… just like the day they rolled out the factory door.

Ah! RESULTS

“Big deal,” I hear you saying, somewhat dismissively. “You cleaned up your car’s headlights! What will you do for an encore… vacuum the living room?”

In the first place, buster, it IS a big deal.

But besides the finished product itself, the thing that really caught me by surprise was how deeply SATISFYING it was to see a tangible OUTCOME from my efforts. All of which made me realize just how rarethat experience was for me. 

You see, my work – prior to my retirement last year – was in professional, ordained ministry. I found the work to be challenging, rewarding, frustrating, satisfying, uplifting, and soul-crushing… sometimes all in the same week. No two days were ever the same and The Unexpected was a regular visitor to my office door.

But as much as I felt a fit, a divine calling, and deep GRATITUDE for the work of ministry, I can’t really say I ever saw much in the way of tangible RESULTS from my work. 

I mean, sure, there were plenty of those “thin places” that Marcus Borg talks about… the times when you suddenly see that there is very little standing between you and God’s overwhelming glory and grace… the times that drive you to your knees in praise and awe. 

I experienced many, many “holy moments” with families at the bedside of a loved one, or in fervent prayer during a crisis, or while exploring the scriptures in a small group. I witnessed an abundance of transcendent moments of praise and worship that took my breath away and brought tears to my eyes. 

Nevertheless, it was a rare moment indeed to see a person in whom I could see the same kind of dramatic “before” and “after” profile I saw in my Altima’s headlight lenses. There were times in my work when – I will confess – I looked up from my relentless buffing and polishing and shining and said, “God… is my work EVERgoing to make a difference here?”

And inevitably God looked down with that gentle forbearance God is so famous for, smiled, and said, “Oh, Russell, my poor, misguided servant. How is it that you so consistently miss the point of the work I have called you to? How many times do I have to remind you that, 1.) results are in MY hands, not YOURS, and 2.) as a flawed, finite human being, you are not even equipped to see the eternal impact you might be making here?”

God then continued in that same gentle voice and said, “I guess this is the time when I need to remind you – YET AGAIN – that you were called to faithfulness, not to attaining any sort of earthly measures of success.”  

And then, as if to drive the point home, God gave one of those cosmic chuckles and said, “If you really want to see some results your work, may I suggest planting a garden? Or better yet, working on your CAR?”

All I could say in response was, “Touché, God. I’ll go get the ‘3M Headlight restoration kit’ right now.”

Abundant blessings;

10
Jul
17

Laundry Love

3305372-Towels-drying-on-the-clothesline-with-laundry-basket-Stock-PhotoIt is just understood… around our house, the laundry chore is MINE.

Now and then – if I am gone or if she really needs something washed immediately – my wife is permitted to enter the Sacred Utility Room and use those special machines. But she has to apply in writing three days in advance for the privilege.

As is true with so many things in a marriage, this division of labor is accepted protocol… it’s just “the way things are” in our household.

And so recently, when the nine-year-old son of a friend of ours asked WHY I do the laundry, I found myself momentarily speechless… caught without an answer.

It was an innocent question… posed as we were all just shooting the breeze and eating hot dogs at the friend’s birthday party. Somehow the conversation drifted to household chores and my wife said, “Well, Russell always does the laundry at our house,” which prompted the young man to turn toward me, cock his head, and ask, “Why?”

And for the next few minutes, I just stuttered and stammered and said a bunch of stuff that fully demonstrated my lack of preparation for that question.

Long after the party ended and we arrived back home, I continued gnawing on that innocent, yet puzzling question: OK… why is that? Why DO I insist on doing the laundry?

And then it came to me…

Besides the purely practical fact that I regularly need clean socks or underwear, I realized: when I do the laundry, I get to see actual RESULTS!

It’s beautiful! You start off with a pile of dirty, wrinkled clothes… and then, a few hours later, after following some strictly prescribed steps: VIOLA! … you have before you neatly folded piles of CLEAN clothes!

SO gratifying!… and so very, very different from my work as a pastor.

Don’t get me wrong… I LOVE being a pastor. I love just about every part of it. But do not imagine for a moment that pastoring is work that affords a person the opportunity to see very many tangible results of their labor.

There are no proud piles of clean clothes at the end of the day… no newly constructed homes or roadways… no wiser, more knowledgeable students… no fresh coats of paint or scores of music or stacks of firewood to point to and say, “SEE! I did that!!”

Mind you, there are lots of things pastors LIKE to point to and say, “SEE! Look at that! I did that!” Things like increased worship attendance… more young people and children attending church… a new or remodeled building… more members… higher levels of giving… greater missional outreach to the community, for example.

It’s an understandable aspiration. Most people like to feel as if their efforts have made a difference somehow… that they have produced visible results.

It is hard to accept the fact that results are often out of our hands… sometimes occurring in spite of us… or even completely apart from our efforts.

We have a hard time accepting the fact that “results” – in the wild world of ministry – are actually in the hands of Someone Else… specifically the One we profess to serve.

It made me stop and realize that my call is a call to faithfulness. Not necessarily results. As Jesus said to his disciples in Luke 16:10“Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much…”

That’s because most of the time, when I find myself looking for the results of my efforts, I realize that I am turning around and looking behind me. When my priorities turn to FAITHFULNESS, I am then looking FORWARD… to the next right step I need to take.

So I will keep washing and folding those clothes, mowing that grass and pulling weeds out of that vegetable garden and get my “results itch” scratched there.

Today, I will remind myself to continue to look forward… be faithful… and to remember that the results belong to God and not to me…

… and then I will be at peace.

Abundant blessings!




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