Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Transient Body

In my work life I travel a lot. The hectic schedule and the many locations in which I find myself on any given Sunday mean that my connection to a single church is transient at best. I attend many different services but usually miss out that deeper connection that comes from socializing with others in a church outside of Sunday morning.
For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.
-- Romans 12:4,5

This passage is easy to over-simplify. It is so easy to just skip right past, "Yes, we are a team.", "We are all in this together.", and so forth. But what about another way of looking at it for deeper meaning?

The organic connection of the elements of the body that Paul describes is a great place to start. If I twist my ankle my hands immediately reach towards my legs. If I burn my hand, my eyes see red. When a foul ball comes shooting at my head, my neck and torso contract to duck out of the way. Each part of my body is connected to every other part. The pain one feels is shared by all. The peace of relaxation or sleep is felt across my whole body. The parts all belong to the whole, but they individually belong to each other too. If your feet are cold, put a hat on.

This interconnectedness is easy to see among people who live and socialize together regularly. When you see someone almost daily, it is hard not be affected by their pain or uplifted by their joys. This I feel is one of the primary reasons a church should be about more than just worship. The worship is important, but so is maintaining the connection outside of worship.

How are we to build and grow these connections without the regular contact that comes from sharing the same geography? How are we to exercise and hone our spiritual gifts without the constant exchanges with other believers? I don't know that you can.

If the growth and development of the church is a spiritual war, then some of us are the scouts. We travel from place to place, learning and observing. We pop back into camp from time to time to share and be comforted, to encourage and bring news. Then back on the road we go, into the fray. We can do that knowing that there is a safe camp for us to retreat to when we need it. That there is an army of believers who are training each other, growing each other, and maintaining the home base for when we need it.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Love and Pain

Pain can be the road we take that leads us to the opportunity for extraordinary ministry.

When I was younger the phrase "Whatever doesn't kill you, makes you stronger." was made popular in movies and popular culture. I still hear it from time to time. Most of the time it just seems like a catch-phrase we use to encourage ourselves or others to persevere in some hard endeavor. As is often the case, my reaction was to question and I wondered why stronger is a goal we might aspire to attain. Back to the Book.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.
-- James 1:2-3

Okay, this is pretty close. Perseverance, we know from other Scriptures, is a good step on the road to servanthood. So I suppose a loose interpretation of stronger is that we are able to persevere. That isn't what struck me in about the way James put it though.

Why on earth should we be considering the trials ( a.k.a. the pain) to be any kind of joy, let alone pure joy? Because as we struggle, as we work and endure, our eyes are not on the trial, but on the end goal. The person we are being shaped into becoming.

Leave it to me, to lose all your confidence
And no i can't stop, this train wreck before it hits
I hope I don't sound, like the X's on your calendar
I stumble on new ground, to gather up the formula

Fate, faith
You and me
Love and pain
Fate, faith
You and me
Love and pain
Even I know, there's a line between emotion and
Fate, faith
You and me
Love and pain

How selfish of me, to think I'm the only one
To question mistakes, a fools game I'm losing now
Just taking my time, planning out my escape
I'm scared what I'll find but it's the choice I have to make

We can't control what we are
It's not our place, it's out of our hands

-- Love and Pain by New Found Glory

If your motivation is correct, then work (read: pain) will make you stronger. It will shape you and build you up. It will equip you so that your service will suffice. Conversely, if your motivation is only for your own betterment, you will see only surface gain. The suffering will truly be a trial. It will become something you must persevere through instead of something that brings you joy.

I'll take the pain because of my love. I'll face the fate because of my faith and the hurt to honor Him. Servanthood is never simple.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Burning Bushes (Part 3)

We have been considering how Christians today subscribe to the Culture of Choice instead of walking by faith (see this post for the start of the discussion).

The first aspect we examined was in the life of Abraham. From the Scriptures we understand he was a man who was regularly addressed by Jehovah. Another aspect that comes to mind is the Parable of the Talents.
"His master replied, 'You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.

-- Matthew 25:26,27

In the Parable of the Talents, we see a master giving three different servants different amounts of money before going away. When he returns, they each report their activities with the money entrusted to them. For this discussion we focus on the response to the last servant. This servant took the money and hid it. He didn't just marginalize the gift, he actually covered it up, removing even the possibility that it could be used! The response from the master is strong and direct.

In this parable we are given clear indication that along with our salvation the gifts we receive from our Savior are intended to be put to good use. That use can be a overt, risky, sacrifice. That use can be more passive and conservative. But it must always involve a commitment, a whole devotion to a potential outcome and willingness to lose everything for what we might gain our Lord.

None of the servants were given specific direction. Only the gifts. Only the talents. How they each proceeded was their own choices, their own individual commitments. And even those who were more passive and conservative were rewarded for their willingness to commit. Only the one who did nothing was cut off. That servant was waiting for his burning bush, the opportunity to get a return for his master without risk to himself.

When we are walking by sight and not faith, focused only on finding flaming fauna, we disrespect the gifts of our Father. Out of love for our Savior we should diligently search and study the Scriptures, pray for His guidance, and commit to His Will in our lives. Commitment is an activity.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Burning Bushes (Part 2)

Two stories in particular come to mind when we consider how Christians today subscribe to the Culture of Choice instead of walking by faith (see this post for the start of the conversation).

The first story is about Abraham. Like many God-followers from Scripture it is easy for us to discount their faith because it seems they were given such clear direction from on high. If God provided them burning bushes, voices from clouds, bright lights, or still, small voices, it is no wonder they walked steadfastly in His Will! If I ever get stopped on the road by the Angel of the Lord wielding a flaming sword, I doubt I'll have a problem listening and taking the words to heart.

The LORD, the God of heaven, who brought me out of my father's household and my native land and who spoke to me and promised me on oath, saying, 'To your offspring I will give this land'-he will send his angel before you so that you can get a wife for my son from there.
. . .
Then the servant took ten of his master's camels and left, taking with him all kinds of good things from his master. He set out for Aram Naharaim and made his way to the town of Nahor.
. . .
Then he prayed, "O LORD, God of my master Abraham, give me success today, and show kindness to my master Abraham.
. . .
Before he had finished praying, Rebekah came out with her jar on her shoulder. She was the daughter of Bethuel son of Milcah, who was the wife of Abraham's brother Nahor.
. . .
Without saying a word, the man watched her closely to learn whether or not the LORD had made his journey successful.
-- Genesis 24
This part of the story starts with God speaking to Abraham about a wife for his son. Abraham then has to send a servant, who has to make his way across the country with a caravan. There is no specific destination, just a general hand-wave of a region in which to end up. Once there, the servant has to figure out how to actually go about choosing the wife. He begins this with prayer. The critical part to draw attention to is that after praying first and then seeing the results of the prayer is he still proceeds to watch her closely.

Even given such clear direction from the Lord about a wife, notice how there was a whole host of things that had to be done for His Will to work itself out the way we interpreted it would. Some of the activities required Abraham to work through another person (the servant). It also required that Abraham have faith that God would guide the servant independently, far from home. The servant also needed faith that the options would be presented and one would be both acceptable and the clear choice.

As we examine many of the stories and parables found in Scripture, especially those that speak so definitively about His direct involvement, it is possible to see how much faith was also required. The plant erupting in flames might provide a reassurance of His Will, but by itself it is insufficient.

Consider that at any time, the servant could have totally punted. He could have just settled on the first girl he came across, or have been less diligent in testing and examining his initial choice. Abraham could have inadequately prepared the servant (ten camels!) or been less restrictive in his instructions. Each aspect of this unfolding Will required a faithful response, a full commitment from the participants. They had to give up other choices to follow His Will (no more touring the countryside with camels for the servant, Abraham had to trust the servant wouldn't squander the gold, would bring back an acceptable girl, etc.).

When you do come across a bush that's burning, how do you keep walking by faith? Considered another way, how do you figure out which direction to head when the landscape around you is devoid of any bushes, enflamed or otherwise?

So we know we can't get sucked into the trap of always trying to leave our options open. We also know our choices do matter, and we are expected to choose something. In the follow-up we'll discuss why we can't just reject all the choices completely and wait on solely on the shrubbery to ignite.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Burning Bushes (Part 1)

Commitment is making a choice to let go of our other choices.

In any situation it might mean other things as well, but the impact of commitment is that it closes off our options. This is what makes commitment so hard. Especially in the choice-driven culture of today.

Whether you are struggling with pursuing a relationship, your education, a job choice, or any major decision, our tendency today is keep our options open as long as possibly. We don't want to commit, we don't want to give up our choices. As Christians we overlay this sense of deliberation with the Will of God.
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
-- Romans 12:2

Unfortunately, it is all too easy to use this passage as a crutch; allowing us to withhold our commitments; refrain from making choices. After all, we wouldn't want to make decisions without waiting to really know His Will, would we? And so we wait. We flip-flop and ruminate. All with the excuse that until, like Moses, we see a bright burning bush illuminating His good and perfect Will, we aren't jumping into anything.

The main issue I have with waiting for a burning bush comes back to another of message from Paul which concerned our walk (as many of his messages did, gotta luv it!).
We live by faith, not by sight.
-- II Corinthians 5:7

Aha! Herein is the crux. If we are walking by faith, we must be committed. I take this to mean that most of the time we won't be getting burning bushes to just light our way. If we were guaranteed to each get a burning bush, then where's the exercise of faith?

If we are walking by faith, we must feel our way along with a general sense of what He has called us to do, and filling in the gaps as we stumble along. By faith we choose, by faith we walk, by faith we make commitments which reduce our choices.

How then can we know in what direction to stumble? By prayer and meditation, studying His word, being in the world, and serving those around us. When we are only focused on watching for a burning bush, we take our eyes of His Word, we fail to listen for His Voice.

In my follow up, I'll take this a little further.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Without Ceasing

This past week or so I've been focused on supporting some friends who lost a loved one. As I reviewed conversations in my mind each day preparing for the challenges that the morrow would bring, I found that a recurring theme presented itself. Oddly enough it was more evidently in the older than the younger. They questioned if there was more that could be done. More prayer. More faith. More [insert your religious ritual or tradition here].
Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: "In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, 'Grant me justice against my adversary.'
"For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, 'Even though I don't fear God or care about men, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won't eventually wear me out with her coming!' "
And the Lord said, "Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?"
-- Luke 18:1-8
In our world of weights and measures, blame and finger-pointing it is so very, very easy to view our Lords justice in a similar fashion. Then by extension we treat our relationship with Him with the same lopsided scales we use in our relationships with others.

There is no requisite number of prayers, there is no magic measure of faith, there is no transaction that can be constructed, no matter how ambiguously that will influence the will of our Father. People aren't saved because we prayed 400 times instead of 399. Prayer is not a hand grenade or a game of horse-shoes. It is not a game, not a purchase, not a currency.

At least one point for this parable is to show us that our God who IS just is so vastly different then our human measures. The judge in the parable is wicked; he only helps the widow to shut her up! My Father hears every utterance of my mind, each time, every time, regardless of the atrocious weakness of my faith.

All this is not to discourage our devotion to prayer. Absolutely not! At the conclusion of the parable we are reminded that the Son of Man will come and will then determine if He finds faith on earth. One of the greatest expressions of our faith is prayer. This is why we are commanded to always pray and not give up. When the Lord returns he will find us praying without ceasing.

More than just diligent obedience it is worth remembering that prayer is one of the most tangible ways our faith is exercised. It is our conversation with our Lord, the way we build our relationship with our Father. Not as a currency, not for a transaction or to bring influence. Simply because there is no place we'd rather be than conversing with our Savior, especially in those moments of hurting.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Being Open

Communication is not necessarily one of my strongest gifts.

For a long time I struggled with empathy. My own selfishness and attitudes made it hard for me to set aside my personal agenda and take time to listen to others. If you want to speak well, you must first learn to listen well. I can hear alright, but listening is something I have always had to work at.

Thich Nhat Hanh is a Buddhist teacher who wrote the book, Creating True Peace. In it he proposes that we are only able to listen to someone else when we are clear in our reason for doing so. To truly listen we must seek only to offer the opportunity to open their heart.
If you can keep that awareness and compassion alive in you, then you can sit and listen for one hour even if the other person expresses wrong perceptions, condemnation, and bitterness. You can continue to listen because you are protected by the nectar of compassion in your own heart.
-- Creating True Peace by Thich Nhat Hanh
It is interesting that Buddhist speaks of the aspects of listening as it relates to the effort required of you, and your ability to perform the activity of listening. What do you do if, like me, you are just sometimes deaf and dumb? For me the ability to listen is many times a factor of the situations I find myself in or the circumstances of the conversation. My petty ego, temper, and ignorance means I blunder around like a blind man, even when my intentions and my heart are in the right place.
He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, "Ephphatha!" (which means, "Be opened!" ). At this, the man's ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly.
-- Mark 7:34-35
It is those days when nothing I do is working out and when all my attempts to speak plainly result in unintelligible mumbo-jumbo; those are the days I need my Savior to act on my behalf. I must fall upon His mercy and await His favor. Only then will my ears truly be opened.

It amazes how non-obvious the connection between these behaviors can be. If you want to be able to speak plainly, you must first open your ears. And in the case of this man, much like mine, only the Word is enough to open the ears and thereby loosen the tongue.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

A Newly New Day

Forgiveness is hard. Looking for forgiveness that will never come is excruciating.

There are things in my life I will never be forgiven for and offenses that no one on earth will ever free me from. Which is why I lean so heavily on my Heavenly Father for His forgiveness.

On earth, we hold things over each other for years on end. We carry grudges and we tend the fires of our hatred. Once divided, we rarely seek reconciliation. Our nature as humans to tear down and destroy stands in conflict with our desire for reparation and restoration. I know how hard I have struggled to forgive, but that doesn't stop me from hoping others have an easier time of it and forgive me!
"What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, 'Son, go and work today in the vineyard.' 'I will not,' he answered, but later he changed his mind and went. Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, 'I will, sir,' but he did not go. Which of the two did what his father wanted?"
"The first," they answered.
Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you."
-- Matthew 21:28-31
At first blush this isn't so much about our earthly forgiveness as about our ultimate judgment. He makes it clear that we are judged not by how we answer, but by how we actually respond with our actions. It is whether we show up when requested; the RSVP alone doesn't count.

This assurance of salvation is a huge deal for helping me move forward but doesn't really speak to how to apply this when dealing with people here on earth. How do we handle the disparity between what I want to do and what I actually do? How am I to respond to my own failures? How am I to respond when my failures aren't forgiven on earth?

If you read closely the first request you see an interesting qualifier on the request from the father in the story. He says go and work TODAY. Not go and work this week, or for a while. In this one word, He sets the expectation that the request is for the present and is limited. He lets us know that tomorrow will be a new day, with possibly a different request. Fulfilling this one request will only take a day. You don't have to swallow a lengthy commitment. You don't have to decide your whole future in the next 5 minutes. You don't have to get it right for years on end. Just actually do the one thing He is asking of you TODAY.

As I struggle with knowing that earthly forgiveness is out my reach, I am reminded that tomorrow is a new day. There will be a new invitation to work. Not just for me, but for each of us. It is okay to wait and see what tomorrow brings. My invitation will come and so will yours. Who will I be working side-by-side with tomorrow? Will it be you?

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Seeing Ghosts

As a very frequent traveler, I get to participate in those little near-death flying experiences more often than most. There is something about being in the back of a steel-can at 30 thousand feet bouncing around with the lights flashing and thunder crashing, totally surrendering control to the elements and the hands of a stranger.
While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you." They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost.
-- Luke 24:36-37
In reality there are few times in recent memory that I can remember vivid fear. The kind where you might border on calling it terror. Even when I get that jolt of shock that translates to fear from losing control that rarely escalates to sustained dread. Of course, perhaps that is just because of the relatively safe life I lead.

How do you deal with fear? Uncertainty? When you hear the sound of your own heart beating in your ears, how do you handle it? For my own self, I find prayer and reflection the sure cure. Remembering my own mortality has never been a chore for me. And with the trials in my life, I've long ago resigned myself that those in my life will continue peacefully and successfully without me. That has certainly been harder than it sounds, but oh what peace it affords.

It also helps that I keep my life insurance paid up.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Flattering Imitation

It has been said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. As humans we have always looked to the strongest, the most powerful, or the smartest for direction and guidance. We naturally tend to examine the behaviors of those around us to guide what we think and how we act. Our parents, our coaches, our priests, and our warriors all take their place as role models. These days even our athletes, actors, and artists are considered role models.
Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you.
-- Philippians 3:17
The greatest imitators are children and the immature. Growing up we try to walk like our fathers and mothers, we dress like our siblings or friends, and we take on the mannerisms and speech of those we admire. In the past, it was felt that most imitation begins at home. These days, a case could be made that most imitation is for things outside the home, on tv, or on film.

This attempt to establish public figures as role models isn't new. In the early 19th century, a man named Parson Weems wrote the now famous "Life of Washington". This book provided young Americans with someone to emulate. Specifically in this book was the cherry tree myth which was designed to praise Washington's honesty and inspire others to tell the truth regardless of personal cost.

Today books are considered less pervasive then film. Even today though, if Oprah Winfrey endorses a book, it is nearly guaranteed to sell millions of copies. Advertisers and manufacturers take advantage of the cult following around celebrities and agree to pay huge sums to athletes and performers to represent their brands. When famous person X is shown to eat a particular food or wear particular fashions then others will imitate these behaviors.

This same effect follows religions as well. In your walk, who are you imitating? How have your beliefs been impacted by the celebrities around you? Is your faith the result of books or The Book?

In my own daily life, I struggle somewhat with who I am following, but even more with a bigger question. Is my walk something I would encourage others imitate? Am I even someone worth following?

Monday, July 02, 2007

I Need To Find A Tree

My devotion this morning covered Luke 19. It is the story of the tax collector Zacchaeus.

The thing I noticed right away was how ambitious, deliberate, and motivated Zacchaeus behaves in the story. When he can't see, he climbs a tree. When he feels compelled to realign his value system, he does it. Unflinching, without hesitation, no delays.
The unworthy person develops his wealth at the expense of his character.
The mature person develops his character by means of his wealth.
-- Mr. Smarter-Than-Me

Why can't I be more like Zacchaeus? When called to the mat, when short-comings are clear, why can't I change so easily. Do I just lack faith?

Perhaps I'm standing in the crowd and I just can't see clearly enough my Savior. Instead of watching out only for the big decisions that will cement and clarify my commitment; should I instead find a fig tree and widen my view?

Choosing to not settle for the perspective we have, to mingle in the crowd like sheep, seems such a subtle thing. In the story about Zacchaeus it becomes clear how even the littlest decisions we make can become excruciatingly pivotal.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Perception || Reality

Being tired really screws with your ability to be patient and rational. Good thing I'm surrounded by good people.
I don't want to be perceived the way I am.
I just want to be perceived the way I am.
-- Relient K

When I'm not feeling up to it, it is good to know my weaknesses are upheld by others strengths. Now if I could just remember to let them know how much that means...

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Some Prayers

In the workplace, the subject of religion is generally considered to be taboo. But when a work friend is struggling, is it wrong to comment that we will pray on their behalf? I would submit that if you have insight into their personal faith system it is not wrong. However to assume when you have no understanding is probably not wise.

If like myself you find yourself praying often for others even in circumstances where you may never see the outcome, how do persevere not being privy to the answers to those prayers? For me, it is one of the great mysteries that we can pray at all. Anticipating answers is way above my personal pay grade from the start.

In my study of prayer a central theme emerged to quell my indecision in such matters. The consensus would appear that there are types of prayers that are always answered, and three specific types of prayers that are always answered with "Yes". Thomas Aquinas took this further and described four conditions under which any prayer would be answered affirmatively. In his writing you find these conditions to be:
  1. Concerning Salvation
  2. Personal
  3. Pious
  4. Persevering
While the aspects of such prayers may be contested, the logic appears sound. After all, the nature of faith is personal therefore surely you can meddle successfully only in your own relationship. When you approach in submissive or devout mindset you are thinking of the greater good not personal gain which also seems needful. Anything truly needed is worth asking for consistently. So these all make sense.

When you do a little more research you find a variety of other writers who argue that there are simply types of prayers that are always answered. Salvation, confession, and wisdom seem to be the common agreed to classifications.

As I examine their words, I find the overlap to be significant and gap to be mostly immaterial. In all cases, salvation is the prevalent theme. Those things which aid or guide or influence that salvation and the walking in righteous that must follow salvation, those things also are included.

So how then shall we pray? Without ceasing.

So for what then shall we pray? His Will.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

In The Wilderness

One of my good friends is struggling with something in his life. It is one of those Really Big Scary things that we all hope we never have to come face to face with. As I watch how smoothly he navigates day by day I can't help but question how I would manage when faced with such challenges. In contrast, what I have on my plate is just laughable. In any case, this song often echoes my feelings when it seems I am behind in the race.
The rain falls on the righteous and the wicked
Mine is not to reason why this is
In this I rest in this I find my refuge
That my thoughts and ways are not His
I spend my life on looking up the answers
It’s rare that I can’t find a reason why
But reasons fail at children without mothers
His plan is more than I can know

Have you ever held in doubt
What this life is all about
Have you questioned all these things
that seem important to us
Do you really wanna know
Or are you a little scared
You’re afraid that God is not really
exactly what you’d have Him be
What should I hold to and what should I do
How do I know if anything’s true
I’m somewhere in-between Canaan and Egypt
A place called the wilderness

I’m not one who always trusts their feelings
I don’t believe in what you’d call blind faith
But faith that you can do all that you promised
And you said it all works for good
It’s safe to say I don’t see the big picture
I can’t see the forest for the trees
And if five hundred lives
Were mine to get to know you
All could be spent on just this

God do you really understand
What it’s like to be a man
Have You ever felt the weight of
loving all the things you Hate
Have You struggled have you worried
How can You sympathize
I have spoken too soon
Put my hand over my mouth
I can’t contend with You
Your ways are so much higher
And we pass through the fire that
Christ endured before us
When You were in the wilderness
-- Wilderness by OC Supertones
How are you doing?

Can I help?

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

When Prayer Isn't Enough

My friend taught me a lesson yesterday. Generally speaking this is nothing new. Each day I am constantly learning and relearning lessons retold by those I respect. This is one such friend but this was not the same such lesson.
But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
-- Matthew 6:6
It is no secret that I'm not the most empathetic person in the world. But as time passes, wounds heal, and faith matures, I find I've become more so with each day. As I watch my friend calmly handle those challenges life throws with grace and composure my desire to pray was physical and immediate.

In truth, I think I get that from my father who is a prayer warrior of indomitable resolve. In no way would I compare my meager measure with his full treasure but if through vicinity and not vocation some small smatter of him no doubt has rubbed off on me.
Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.
-- Luke 18:1
Like my father, when faced with trials of my own my first response is to pray. When faced with a friend under fire, the visceral reaction attempts to vomit from my lips without restraint, "Can we pray?"

Unfortunately, in the workplace and other certain social settings, it is important to exercise restraint; to recognize that sometimes remaining circumspect is the most effective use of my life as His reflection.

How do I reconcile my faith system that asserts the most effective support I can proffer is to pray, with the world view rooted only in words and actions? Once again, I learn how powerless I must become when all I can offer is prayer to a world that doesn't value it.

At least I have prayer to console my heavy heart. What despair must be felt by one without faith?

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Caring Clearly

Someone I mentor recently sent me a list of questions from a class he was taking. The class is all about entrepreneurialism and so forth. One question in particular really stuck out to me as I was writing his responses. It matched well with my devotion for the day.
What is one key word you would give me to live by in the future?
My answer for what it is worth was "Care". You have to really care about your place in the world. Understanding how you fit, what is your purpose, what you bring to relationships, how you will spend your time. All of these are rooted in your ability, your desire, to Care.

I was reading in Mark, the parable of the rich young ruler. He came to Jesus and prostrated himself. He asked simply what he needed to do to accomplish his goal: Eternal Life. As it is written, "Jesus, looking at him, loved him."

The ruler wasn't aligning what he was doing with what he cared about. His world view wasn't matching his desires. He thought his end goal was one thing, but really it wasn't. All around me I see evidence of this, even in my own life. It is a normal, trivial thing for us to delude ourselves about our motivations. We lie to no one as easy as ourselves.

There is a certain type of jellyfish found in the Mediterranean that feeds on tiny snails. What is interesting is that the jellyfish cannot digest these snails because of their protective shells. After the jellyfish eats the snails the diner become the dinner. The snails attach themselves to the inside of the jellyfish and begins to eat. Eventually the jellyfish is consumed by what it once consumed.

This simply story in nature is found over and over in our world today. We get swallowed up pursuing money, fame, or power. We get on the treadmill of doing the things we hate, supposedly for the things we love; never realizing our needs our already met.

If we are clear in our Care, then we'll be able to break the cycle of selfishness. Our motivations won't be delusions, but tangible and attainable.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Trying To Get A Nut

This past week I had a very interesting conversation with a friend over breakfast. He is one of those quick minded people who is constantly analyzing the world around him as it relates to himself. Unlike most he does this consciously, deliberately which is a trait I much admire.

During this conversation the subject of motivation came up. Why do we do what we do? When pressed to me I had to confess that I believe that life is about service. Therefore my motivations are my service to others as that will indirectly be my service to my God.

As is the case with many good conversations, my thinking didn't end when the conversation did. I continued to ponder whether my answer was complete, and if my walk in life lived up to my talk in the conversation. Naturally, my mind bent towards money.

In my heart I know that the motivation for giving money should be based on my need to respond to God's gifts, not on the need of someone else to receive my gift.

My motivation for giving should not be a church need or another need even; no matter how worthy that need might be. The needs might be totally legitimate, but that isn't the point. They are just not supposed to be the motivation behind the giving, the service, the commitment.

Giving and service should be motivated out of the abundance of blessings that God has bestowed on my life and my ongoing desire to respond by giving back to my God with my whole life. If gratitude is sincere, it should impact me; there should be a cost. If it does not, then you aren't really acknowledging that you have been impacted. You are dismissing the value of the blessing when you respond without equal measure. Since I've been given life, my response must be my life!

I once heard the story of a mother who took her young son to church. As they were leaving, the mother shook the hands of the preacher, and then she said, "Caleb, shake the preachers hand." Johnnie didn't put his hand out. The mother asked again. He still didn't put his hand out. Then she said again, "Caleb, shake hands with the preacher." At that, little Caleb opened his fist and out rolled the three marbles that he had been holding on to tightly. Little Caleb didn't want to shake hands because he didn't want to give up his marbles. How often do you give up your marbles?

Have you ever seen a raccoon trap? They use a basket with tiny hole in the top and they put food inside. The raccoon will reach in and grab the food, usually nuts, but won't be able to get its hand out holding the nuts. The raccoon will stay there holding the nuts because it won't let it go even when the trapper comes. Are you willing to let go of your nuts?

Friday, February 23, 2007

Increasing Faith

All around us are people with their own discouragement and desperation. In my own walk, especially when I'm tired from traveling and the fog of jet lag just won't lift, it is easy to become one with them. To sink into depression, to let my eyes drift from the ball that is my salvation and my service.

Do you ever feel that way?

Certainly we are not like the million refugees shuffling around in the Sudan or the displaced in Afghanistan. But still as I shuffle through my life and from time to time distress overtakes me, I cry out like the apostles did, "Increase our faith."
The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith!" He replied, "If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it will obey you. "Suppose one of you had a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Would he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, 'Come along now and sit down to eat'? Would he not rather say, 'Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink'? Would he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, 'We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.' "
-- Luke 17:5-10
There are many interesting things to note in Jesus' reply. For example, we see Him using rhetoric and humor, common to the vernacular of the day to make His points. By comparing faith to a mustard seed, He is telling us that we shouldn't give up so easily. Even a little faith, as small as a mustard seed, is enough to accomplish tremendous and outrageous things.
Like many good comparisons, there is more than one aspect to examine. We may only need a small amount of faith, but like a mustard seed , we need to nurture our faith and help it to grow. This means we can't just give up quickly. Given time, attention, and food, and our little faith can grow strong and powerful.

As we find our mustard seed of faith, care for it and watch it grow, it can be easy to forget that it is not our strength that feeds the faith. It is not by our own works that we are saved and serve. Even when you think you have it all together, remember the days you cried out for your faith to increase. The power that pulled you from that place was not your own but His. When we are walking rightly, when we are strong to serve, when our faith is tempered in trials, even then, we are only doing as we ought. And it is His grace which frees us to do so.

Sunday, January 14, 2007


Do you ever feel like you are stumbling about in fog? I known I've been swimming along for quite some time now immersed in my own ignorance.

It's funny how I can think I can have it all together and then suddenly something happens and I realize how chaotic and crazy the world around me has really become. It is humorous how much in control I feel right up until that moment when it dawns on me that I'm barely hanging on for the ride.

Sometimes I'm not so sure that blundering around in ignorance isn't just the way life is supposed to go. Consider the disciples on the road to Emmaus.
Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him.
-- Luke 24: 13-16
Here were a few of the disciples just trying to clear their heads and make sense of the "things that had happened". Of course, it is a little weird to just gloss over everything they'd been through with such a trite phrase, but there you have it. In any case, they were met on the way by this stranger who at first did not seem to know what had happened. This person was mirroring their own behavior, not being aware of the world around them. They were just blissfully bumbling along and chatting each other up. It wasn't until they reached out to engage someone else, until they stopped talking and started doing, that their eyes were opened. When they were willing to open themselves and share, they were rewarded with a glimpse of their Savior.

Perhaps it is time for a walk?