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Blogger, Christ-follower, Encourager, Friend, Husband, Dad

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Bless Your Ruby Slippers!

Have you ever had an “earworm” … that sometimes frustrating phenomenon you have when you get a tune stuck in your head and you can’t get rid of it?  Well, I’ve had one for the past few weeks. When I posted last week’s blog, I was in Wisconsin.  The week before, I was on the way to Wisconsin.  The week before that, I was on the way home from Illinois. Now every time I head for the car, Willie Nelson starts singing, “I can’t wait to get on the road again.”

I enjoy getting to go new places and see new things, but after back to back trips and over 4000 miles on the seat of my britches, I’m about to decide that it is Dorothy, not Willie, that has it right.  Bless her ruby slippers, there is no place like home!  

Hopefully you remember Dorothy and her little dog Toto.  She wasn’t too impressed with plain old Kansas and thought that maybe somewhere over the rainbow life would be more …. well, just more than … Kansas.  It took her a little while to figure it out, but she finally came around to the idea that plain old Kansas was really where her heart was.  

Over the rainbow the sun shines brighter.  On the other side of the fence the grass is greener.  In another town, or another house, or another job, or another church, or another marriage, or … you get the picture.  See, it’s one thing to enjoy a vacation getaway.  There are some really amazing sights to see in this world and unique and fascinating opportunities abound.  To someone thinking about a vacation, I say go for it!  That temporary change of scenery or change of pace may be just the ticket to recharge your physical, emotional, and spiritual batteries. But it’s another thing entirely when you think that change of scenery will be the answer for the discontentment of your life.  

Many of us are familiar with the words of the Apostle Paul in Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”  I have often heard people quote that verse as a kind of spiritual pep-talk in the face of a challenge.  We look at our obstacle and then we look at the strength Christ can provide and then we charge ahead into this new opportunity.

But we may not be quite as familiar with Philippians 4:11-12.  “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”

Did you catch that?  He said it twice.  I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation.  The King James Version says, “for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.”  Now Dorothy might tell him, “You’ve never been in the state of Kansas.” (I’d like to insert some state rivalry jokes here, but I will restrain myself.)

The point is that he didn’t allow his location or activity to be the basis of his contentment.  The secret of his contentment was the condition of his heart.  He CHOSE to be content.  And the reason he could make that choice was that he was strengthened by a power beyond himself.  His faith gave him his contentment.

I’d like to tell Old Willie that if he lived in Azle and had someone like Mrs. Sweetie waiting at home for him, he would change his tune.  The truth is, even Azle (or wherever you call home) won’t feel like home until you realize how much your life matters to God.  But once you do … bless your ruby slippers!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Lessons from a Texas Drought

I am writing this week’s post from Manitowoc, WI. They are experiencing near record temperatures this week (and maybe blaming it on visiting Texans here on a mission trip).  Those near record temps have been in the 90s.  And they are praying that they don’t get any more rain for awhile … a little different from back home. In thinking about this temperature and rain issue, I am revisiting a Life Matters I wrote back in the summer of 2000.  I think it fits, so—with some minor adjustments—here it is again.

DROUGHT CONTINUES.  Day after day after day after day … you get the point ... we continue with record heat and no rain.  Everyone is hot, tired, and wants rain.  No kidding!

While observing this drought and heat-wave, I have been thinking about another kind of drought--a spiritual drought.  I would almost guarantee that you have been there at some point in your life.  A time when you’ve lost spiritual energy and vitality ... church is boring ... Bible study is dry ... prayer seems hollow ... enthusiasm wanes ... burdens seem heavier ... relationships seem distant ... and you haven't heard God speak in a very long time.  As I ponder this, I am convinced that these two droughts are essentially the same in terms of the response needed.  Let me share a few brief lessons from a Texas Drought.

1. Water your foundation. The extreme hot and dry conditions will cause expansion, shifting, and cracking in your home's foundation, which can cause problems in the rest of the structure.  You need to focus some water directly on the foundation to keep those shifts to a minimum.  In a spiritual drought, you also need to water your foundation--concentrate on the basics. Remember that prayer is simply talking to God.  He is listening.  Remember that God gave us the Bible not so we could be knowledgeable, but so we could hear Him speak.  Getting back to basics means remembering the basic purpose of spiritual activities and using them to renew our fellowship with God.

2. Pay attention to your limited resources. I don't have enough water to keep my 1.3 acres green and thriving.  I have to focus on the trees and shrubs that need the most of my water resources. In a spiritual drought, you also need focus. This is not the time for doing MORE things, it is the time for doing RIGHT things.  It is a time for eliminating the good things that keep us from the best things.  It is a time for good stewardship of our time and energy.

3.  Consider your neighbors.  If I water close to the property lines, I don't worry about getting water on my neighbor's property.  If I can help him a little, it makes for a better neighborhood.  In a spiritual drought, we need to avoid being totally egocentric.  I may have limited resources, but God wants me to use them to benefit others who also have limited resources.  Galatians 6:2 says, "Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ."

4. Watch for negative attitudes. Sometimes those “scattered showers” we hear about will show up at your house, but not somewhere else.  The places that didn’t get rain will not necessarily be excited for you.  When your spiritual drought begins to lift, there will always be someone who wants to measure you're experience against their own.  They will tell you not to get too excited.  They will seek to share their misery.  Share your water instead.

One last lesson--it will rain again sometime.  In fact it's raining somewhere right now.  God is still in the rain business both naturally and spiritually and your life matters to Him.  Don't lose hope.  Jesus said, "If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!" (Matthew 7:11)

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Let's Get to Work!

There once was a little boy at my house.  Now he’s twenty years old and 6’5” and is only at my house occasionally, but there really was a time when he was a little dude.  Way back then, his grandparents gave him this really cool toy John Deere tractor.  When you pushed down on top of the cab, it made a noise like a tractor engine starting up and this little mechanical voice said, “Let’s get to work!”  I think I actually had more fun playing with it than he did, but we won’t go into that.

“Let’s get to work!”  How compelling is that phrase?  I guess it depends on the nature of the work.  If it’s something we initiated, it can be invigorating.  If it’s something we believe to be valuable, we may have a sense of accomplishment.  If it’s something for which we have a sense of calling, we may even be passionate about it.  In a future post, I plan to write about how our perspective on work can open us up to new adventures, but for today I want to focus on the risk of having too much time on our hands.

Now, I like my “down time” as much as anyone.  I love traveling, reading, playing music, watching TV, hanging out with family.  I like being able to leave the office and feel like I am done for the day.  And I love weekends!  But I also have plenty to do.  When our youngest went off to college and the nest was empty, people asked us how we were handling it.  They knew how involved we always were in our kids’ lives.  The truth is that we are so busy now that we don’t know how we ever managed to get to all their activities.  We find things we enjoy and things that we believe in and we throw ourselves into them.

Would you like to know a secret benefit of that?  I hope you would, otherwise you have already stopped reading.  The secret benefit is that we are so busy with the things that matter to us that we really don’t have time to criticize—or even pay much attention to—what anyone else is doing or not doing.  We are focused on the responsibilities and opportunities before us.

Now, I have spent my adult life mostly interacting with “church people”.  For some strange reason, I have this crazy idea that those who have found grace, forgiveness, and purpose ought to be the most joyful and least critical.  And then I hear some of the critiques from both laity and clergy, male and female, young and old.  And do you know what I have noticed on a fairly consistent basis?  Those who complain the loudest tend to be those who are doing the least.  From that observation I have come to a solid conclusion:  People who are busy in the work of the kingdom of God usually just don’t have time to be busybodies.

I love this translation of James 1:22-25 from The Message – “Don't fool yourself into thinking that you are a listener when you are anything but, letting the Word go in one ear and out the other. Act on what you hear! Those who hear and don't act are like those who glance in the mirror, walk away, and two minutes later have no idea who they are, what they look like. But whoever catches a glimpse of the revealed counsel of God — the free life! — even out of the corner of his eye, and sticks with it, is no distracted scatterbrain but a man or woman of action. That person will find delight and affirmation in the action. “

So, because our lives matter to God and because there is so much to do that matters … let’s get to work!  It’s good for what ails us.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Freedom and Our Story

This week’s post took an unexpected turn on me.  Since the week contained the 4th of July holiday, a patriotic theme seemed appropriate.  I had written a little over 300 words on the idea of “liberty and justice for all” but it just wasn’t flowing.  That is not the norm.  Most weeks, once I get started, it is like turning on a spigot and it just runs all over the place.  This week, not so much.

To be honest, my life has been complicated this week by other people’s choices.   Demands on my limited time, financial, mental, and emotional resources have resulted in a bit of a personal funk.  Besides that, man it’s hot!  I feel like I am melting and running all over the place.

Last week I wrote about how everyone has a story and that it is important to realize that God is writing your story.  I’m still thinking about that reality.  I’m also thinking this week about freedom.  So, I thought I’d make use of the heat, throw both the ideas in the same pot to simmer, and see what rambling thoughts we can pour out.

My feeble brain can semi-process—and even embrace—the idea that God is writing my story.  By “writing” I don’t mean that God has programmed all the choices out of my life.  I mean that He is not just out there somewhere.  He’s involved.  He has a plan.  He’s inviting me to join Him on this incredible journey called life.  Because I know that He is writing my story, I can also affirm that He is writing your story.  What I think we sometimes miss is that He is writing OUR story.  

A few years ago, I ready John Bunyan’s wonderful allegory, Pilgrim’s Progress.  Maybe you’ve read it, too.  If not, I encourage you to check it out.  Some of the highlights of the story are the different characters Christian meets on his journey from his hometown (The City of Destruction) to The Celestial City (Heaven).  He was on his own journey.  It was his own story.  But each person he encountered impacted his journey and vice versa.

Here’s my own “aha moment”.  Every intersection of my story and your story impacts OUR story.  It gives a whole new meaning to words like “indivisible” and “liberty and justice for all” from the words of our pledge.  It gives new meaning to “huddled masses yearning to breathe free” from the words engraved on a plaque inside our Lady Liberty.

God has blessed us with the freedom to be WE.  As our story is being written, He gives us the option of being set free from the failures of our past.  The end of the story is not determined by what has already been.  It is still being written.  That’s why I can say with confidence that our lives (and stories) matter.

Thanks for letting me tag along.