Posts Tagged ‘Sermon on the Mount

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;

13
Jun
20

To Callous, or Not to Callous

My guitarsBlogosphere, meet my guitars. The Martin Dreadnought acoustic is the one on the left and the Fender American Stratocaster (with double humbucker pickup) is the one on the right.

Guitars, meet the blogosphere.

I love these instruments and miss them fiercely whenever Joan and I travel.

Lately I have found that coming up here in the evening and playing them is a great tonic for my soul.

I have been playing for a few years now, but don’t really consider myself a guitarist. I’m just a guy who fools around on the guitar now and then. In case you are curious, there are two foolproof ways you can tell that that I am not a real guitarist:

  • First, I have not named my guitars.
  • Second, I only have two of them.

(It suddenly occurs to me there is a third, foolproof way to verify my “non-guitarist” status: listen to me play.)

Most of the time, I play in order to calm and entertain myself. Sometimes I sit down and try to learn a new song to add to my repertoire. Sometimes I just come to work on simple scales and finger exercises.

Since I am no longer taking weekly lessons or playing in a jam band or the church’s praise band, there is not a regular, external motivation to keep at it.

No motivation, that is, except for the maintenance of my callouses.

Anyone who plays guitar with regularity will attest to the importance of healthy callouses on the fingertips of the fretting hand. Callouses are the toughened areas of skin that keep the steel wires of the guitar string from cutting into you and making you bleed all over the lovely woodwork. If you don’t play with some level of frequency, your callouses will get soft. Playing will become painful.

In that sense, you could say that playing the guitar is the exact opposite of engaging in the disciplines of the Christian spiritual life.

In the world of the guitar, the discipline and regularity of practice helps BUILD UP and harden your fingertips. It prevents your playing and practice from being painful.

The aim of the spiritual disciplines, on the other hand, is to SOFTEN us… to make us more OPEN and VULNERABLiE to the world around us… to EXPOSE us to the “still, small voice” of God that Elijah heard, or to make us more susceptible to the pain and heartbreak of a neighbor who isn’t necessarily part of our “tribe.”

The goal, in other words, of all the Christian study and prayer and fasting and worship we do should be to heighten our compassion (from the Latin, com passio, “to feel with.”).

When Jesus blessed the “poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3) during his Sermon on the Mount, he was talking about exactly these people: the people for whom the callouses around their hearts have worn away and softened.

The culture instructs us to “toughen up” and blast our way through the pain and tragedy and heartbreak of the world around us. “Take charge!” is the battle cry. “Grow thick callouses!”

But a mere two verses later (in Matt. 5:5) Jesus tells us who will REALLY inherit the earth.

Maybe we should listen to him!




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