Monday, January 21, 2008

Brass Tracks

Have you ever heard the expression "Let's get down to brass tacks."? It's generally used in a business or negotiation setting in reference to the details of a deal. Presumably from the days when things like luggage, horse shoes, leatherworks, cobbling and furniture, used tacks in their construction. To refer to the brass tacks meant the little items that would hold the whole thing together. They signified the quality, care, and luxuriousness that went into its creation. All in all, a well worn sentiment in full use today at a more conceptual level.

This post isn't about wheeling and dealing, negotiation or the art of influence. Read that sort of stuff here.

This post is about how my God and my faith in him so often lets me address even the biggest issues and short-comings in my life with a simple review of the "brass tacks". Let me explain:

Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.
-- 1 Corinthians 1: 26-29

Throughout His Word we find stunning examples of how He changes the rules of this harsh world that bind our minds. They usually always share the same mark, "But God". That is all it takes to see the world anew, to be refreshed and freed and made whole. Those two words are the light showing us how He breaks through the stalemates and posturing and questioning and doubt and impossibility. Because He is God. He can. He does. He has. He will.

He said to them: "You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him. But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without raising any objection. May I ask why you sent for me?"
-- Acts 10:28-29

It doesn't matter what we are faced with. He doesn't care what zany predicament or embarrassing situation we have gotten ourselves into. It doesn't matter if we are shiny, happy, people just stuck in a rut that isn't glorifying God. At any time, in all circumstances, if we call on Him in faith He will move. If our desire is truly for His will, then our reaching hands are grasped every time.
Like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be recovered, so we must die. But God does not take away life; instead, he devises ways so that a banished person may not remain estranged from him.
-- 2 Samuel 2:14

In the last few weeks I've been struggling, but more important I've been watching people close to me struggle. My friend who is stuck in mediocrity hidden amongst flash and distraction. He cries out and screams "What am I supposed to do?" into the silent void. I only weep behind my eyes and pray with him. He won't be hearing brass tacks from me, we aren't close enough anymore I guess.

The downside is how powerful those words can be if you can just work them into the conversation. Like the twist at the end of great movie, those seven keystrokes change everything that has happened and opens the way for anything to happen.
The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. 15He said to them, "You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God's sight.
-- 2 Samuel 2:14

Even in my family my frustration with failing to influence increases exponentially each incident. They say they reach, and want to, but they won't do beyond the theory.

In all this winding footpath that is your life, each step must be deliberate. Without those conscious choices to celebrate and deviate and recuperate and recreate and sometimes just buckle down and do, we meander and wander letting aimlessly and despair creep in. Our companions of Worry and Frustration comfort and console us onto the softer path as we casually, care-freely careen over the cliffs and into the caverns of chaos. And then we ask "Why?" It is then we have the presence of mind to question our state and fate. Only then we realize that at every step our indecision and indeliberation made our choices plainly for us. And we accepted. We kept plodding, broken and bowed.

Take this time now to grab hold to faith. Inject a little "But God" into your speech. When you think you are out of options remember all those times the story changed with only two little words. You don't have to stay on the softer path. You can halt the free-fall. You can be broken, but God will heal you. You can be flounder, but God will bring vision and light to your world.

It works for me.

When I let it.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Missing Resolve?

The holidays are fast wrapping up and it is at this time of year, while reveling in the litter of prior annum's carcass, that many attempt to clarify new directions and choices for the coming one. We politely call them resolutions and listen to them almost tongue-in-cheek.

It seems that as a Body we are struggling to be resolute about anything these days.
Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.
-- 1 Peter 5:6-10

I'm sure you've heard someone talk about their resolutions this year, and then almost immediately speak about which ones they'll break first. Which of these serious intentions they'll let fall to the wayside . You might even be one of those people who writes a list and files it away in a drawer. Not that there is anything wrong with writing down your intentions and declaring your choices.

Like most things, the basic idea sounds attractive and helpful. What could be wrong with trying to make improvements? Surely nothing. But like all good deviations it isn't the core that leads you astray it’s the pretty paper it's wrapped with.

Discipline, servanthood ,and faithfulness are not choices to be listed out and checked once a year. Change doesn't happen in that gloriously reflective mood so easily induced by turkey dinners, catching up with family over football, or after a midnight champagne toast. Real change is incremental. It is practical and hurts. It usually makes you feel worse before it makes you feel better. Think of it like exercise, or a savings account, or a 14-hour flight to Australia.
For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. -- 1 Corinthians 2:2

Don't get me wrong, I applaud taking time to reflect. Self-assessment and personal growth planning is very important and necessary. But the convenient timelines are too often a slippery slope. They allow us to start our mindset off on the wrong foot. The clock isn't reset every YEAR, it resets every WEEK, every DAY, every HOUR…you get the picture. When we focus only on the big decisions, we ignore the little ones that truly define our character and being. We give ourselves a built-in escape route. After all, no one ever keeps all their New Years resolutions, do they?