Author Archives: Bryan Brock

An Antidote for the Grumpies

The other day I was just flat out grumpy.  You know those kinds of days. Everything gets under your skin. Annoyances pile upon annoyances. Your mind races down every “worst case scenario” road. Things that normally you can brush off become like sand in the bottom of your shoe. When our son was growing up we called it “having a case of the grumpies”.  It happens to the best of us – and one day last week I had a full blown case.

The problem with having a case of the grumpies is that you feel you MUST infect other people.  Negativity is not something that can be contained.   It seeks other carriers and does its best to spread far and wide. You know this is true. Think about the last time you attended a meeting being run by a negative person. How did you feel when you left the meeting? It spreads!

I’m not sure how I got infected, but I was determined to share the joy.  My wife got full exposure, (she always does it seems).  But store clerks, other drivers, and a poor woman trying to serve me a salad also got to experience my wonderful mood.

Of course having a case of the grumpies is not the same as being depressed or grieving over a loss. These things are much deeper and much more complex that just being in a bad mood. But over time, negativity in our lives can start to have chronic effects – whether that negativity comes from us or from letting ourselves be infected by others.

If we let it go on, having a grumpy day can lead to becoming a grumpy person. When this happens, it’s like we put on negativity glasses and start to view the world through those lenses. We always see the down side of things. It becomes easy for us to point out ways we could fail. Things that should be of no significance suddenly become potential catastrophes. And worst of all, we become known as THAT person: the person who can never say a positive thing.

I was recently reading Psalm 19 when the very first lines of that ancient song struck me. “The heavens are telling the glory of God”.    What does that have to do with fighting the grumpies? Everything.  You see, I believe the main reason we become negative in our lives is because we stop seeing the glory of God.  When this happens we see the bad instead the good – we notice what is wrong instead of noticing what is right – we believe there is an absence of God instead of an overwhelming presence of God.

And yet, the heavens are constantly telling of the glory of God! God’s presence is being proclaimed to us each and every day in a million different ways! But we miss it. We become consumed with our lives and with our grumpiness and totally miss the fact that God is here.

But when we DO listen to what the heavens are telling us – when we see the presence of God around us – our negativity lessens, our mood lifts, and our souls develop what brother Lawrence called “constant inner joy”.

How are you listening to what the heavens are telling you? Where is it that you see God? It does not have to be in grand ways. It could be in something as simple as a song coming on the radio – a smile you give back to someone who smiled at you – a glimpse of sun on an otherwise cloudy day.

When we stop to notice the glory of God we will discover two things. First, we will be much less likely to be infected by someone else’s negativity. And second, our own case of the grumpies will soon pass.  Give it a try. The heavens are telling the glory of God.

A few words on seeing God in others

The other day I was driving into work listening to the news on the radio. This was a mistake. I usually listen to podcasts or music but this particular day I needed a traffic report and so had the news channel on. While waiting for the traffic reporter to tell me what I already knew, the station did a report in which they interviewed a state legislator. As soon as this man started talking my dislike of him registered. The more he talked the more my dislike grew. By the time the interview was over I was convinced this man was pure evil and was out to destroy the state.

What happened to me? I don’t even know this man and could not even tell you his name. But in that moment I was convinced not only that he was wrong – but that his motives were malevolent.  Was he even human?

Of course he is human. He has a name, a family, a history. But in those few moments of listening to an edited interview, I removed his humanness and made him into a caricature. Worse yet, I had forgotten a foundational truth of scripture: we are ALL created in the image of God. (Genesis 1:27)

I am convinced that if we are going to grow in discipleship, if we are going to develop in Christ-likeness, if we are going to do our part in bringing in the kingdom of God, then we MUST learn to see the imprint of the divine in others.  Jesus reminds us that when the end of time comes,  we will be judged on the way we reacted when he came to us hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, in prison, and yes, even when he came to us as a stranger. (Matthew 25)

Think about that. Our final judgment is going to be based upon how we saw Christ in others and how we reacted with compassion and mercy and love.

One of my favorite writers, Richard Rhor, says: “When we can see the image of God where we are not accustomed to seeing the image of God, then we see with eyes not our own.” But here is the problem. There are places in our lives where we are accustomed to seeing God and places where we are not. When this happens we lock ourselves into a belief that WE know where God is and what God looks like. It becomes easier to see the image of God where we expect it and harder to see that image in places we don’t. What’s worse is the way this “not seeing” creates in us a belief that the image of God just does not exist in some people.  Of course we would never say that – but our actions betray us.

We need to start seeing what we don’t expect to see. We need to find a way to look beyond first impressions and stereotypes. We need to find a way to notice people that go unnoticed. What we need  – are new eyes.

Try this. As you go through your day ask God to show you the divine imprint in at least one person. Ask God to help you notice God’s image in someone – anyone.  It may be the homeless man asking for change at the red light. It could be your barista or the person who hands over your meal through the drive-through window. It could be the woman cleaning your hotel room who speaks no English. It might even be a presidential candidate – or a state legislator.

And then, hopefully, little by little we will develop these new eyes. And when that happens – watch out. The world will be a different place.

A few words on fear

I’ve been thinking a lot about fear recently. It seems to be in the air. Why is that? Just today in my Facebook feed I’ve seen posts about fear of terrorists, fear of government take-overs of land, fear of home invasion, fear of refugees, fear of guns and violence committed with guns, fear of gun control, fear of medical bills, and fear that the hover-board received as a Christmas gift will catch on fire and burn the house down. And that’s just one morning’s worth of posts!

These Facebook fears are what I call “out there” fears. They are real of course, and we do worry about them to varying degrees. But if we think logically about them we realize they are rare and unlikely to affect us.

But then there are the fears that I call “right here” fears. These are the fears that come at us personally. Fear that a loved one will die. Fear of a diagnosis. Fear of not being able to pay that bill. Fear of losing the job. Fear of being alone. Fear of being hurt by someone we love. Fear of making a mistake. Fear of getting a bad review. Fear of the money running out before we do. These are the fears that are close to us.

Fear is insidious. It can spread like a virus. It impacts our health. It uses up mental and spiritual energy. And when fear is in the air it’s like living in a toxic environment. Maybe that’s why the command to “fear not” is so prevalent in the Bible. Fear is useful when we are really threatened. But living in fear does damage to our bodies and our souls.

As an exercise, take some time this week to look up all the references to “do not fear” or “do not be afraid” in the Bible. Some have said there are 365 of these. I’m not sure about that number – but the command (yes, command!) to not fear is all over the Bible – and especially on the lips of Jesus. The passage from Isaiah listed at the bottom of this post is a favorite of mine.

But what are some practical ways to deal with the fear that is in the air? How do we react to a world that seems to be awash in fear? Some ideas…

  1. Recognize when fear is driving. I love the Pixar move Inside Out. It’s about how we can let our emotions get the best of us when we let one of them drive. Sometimes just calling fear by name is enough to short circuit it and allow it to take a back seat once again. Ask yourself: Is fear driving right now?
  2. Remove yourself from the toxicity. Several years ago my wife Robin and I stopped watching local TV news. It was a great decision. I’m now thinking about turning off my Facebook! Fear spreads. So protect yourself from it before you get infected.
  3. Turn fears into prayer. When Paul tells us to “pray without ceasing” I feel like he is asking us to turn the constant thoughts that run through our heads into prayers. Try this. As you go through the day and start to notice your fear level rising, turn that fear into a prayer. Pray for the situation. Pray that God will help you not be scared. Pray that God will show you the truth about what you are seeing and feeling.
  4. Find the love. The Bible reminds us that love casts out fear (1 John 4:18). The next time you find yourself dwelling on fear – look for the love. Look for examples of people doing loving things. Look for the ways people are protected or acting with heroism. Focus on the love and the fear will be cast out.
  5. Remind yourself of the “with-ness” of God. Scripture tells us over and over that the reason we are to not fear is because God is with us. Psalm 23 says “I will fear no evil for you are WITH me.” The Isaiah 48 passage says “Do not fear, for I am with you.” Jesus says “I will never leave you nor forsake you”. The reason we are to “fear not” is because God is WITH us. Fear tries to tell us we are alone. Fear tells us that God will not protect us. Fear tells us that we are no one special.

God says – I am with you.

I am with you.

I am with you.

Do not be afraid.

But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.

Do not fear, for I am with you.  

   ~From Isaiah 43

 

 

The Theological Significance of Legos

There is a Lego store across the street from my office. Like, literally across the street. I’ve been at Wieuca Road Baptist Church for four months now and have not yet set foot in that store. What is my problem?

Legos have a universal appeal. Why is that? I think part of the answer is that we, as humans, like to build things. It’s part of our creative nature. Made in the image of God, we are wired to create – just like God. Building things is in our DNA and part of what makes us human.

As you know, when you build with Legos you create using different colored blocks. Of course you can try to build something all the same color – but where is the fun in that? Lego buildings that are red and blue, yellow and green, black and white, are just better looking in my opinion. All those bricks, even though they are different, are used to building something new.

For some reason however, when we think about building the church we don’t necessarily see advantage in differences. In fact, when it comes to church we tend to seek out people who look like us, think like us, worship like us, and interpret scripture like us. We want to be around those who love the people we love and hate the people we hate. We want all of the Lego bricks to match.

I confess that it is hard to see how people with massive differences in world view can build a church! We can find ourselves asking: “How can those people think that way? Why can’t she see she’s wrong? Are we even reading the same verse? They want to spend money on THAT?” Maybe I should just pack up and find some “like-minded” souls.

The apostle Paul dealt in differences. He was a bridge that started to bring together two very different groups of people. In a letter he wrote to Christians in Ephesus he explained how it is that Jews and Non-Jews can come together into a new community – a community built on Christ. In the 2nd chapter he writes:

   So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God. (Ephesians 2:19-22 – NRSV)

We are being “built together” into a dwelling place for God!

This dwelling place for God is being constructed with bricks that are very different! In the apostle Paul’s day the different brick were Jews and Gentiles. What are the differences today?  Republicans and Democrats? Contemporary Worship and Traditional Worship? Liberal and Conservative? Emergent and Neo-Calvinistic? Catholic and Protestant? Blue carpet and Green carpet?

I could go on and on listing the differences between Christians. But they just do not matter. Paul says that in Christ we are no longer strangers and aliens but members of the household of God. Our differences evaporate when we come together in Christ – who is himself the cornerstone of the structure.

It is for this purpose that we are being built together – to become this holy temple – this dwelling place of God.

But the dwelling place of God is not built with identical bricks. It is built with bricks of all colors, shapes and sizes. It is built with conservative bricks and liberal bricks – missional bricks, emergent bricks, orthodox bricks and bricks from the edges of society.  It has rich bricks and poor bricks  – society bricks and redneck bricks. All of these differences brought together in the power of the risen Christ in whom the “whole structure is joined together”.

We need to realize that it is Christ who is the builder – not us. And Christ has decided to use different bricks. We need to relax and enjoy what is being built – and then find ways to join Christ in building this new community – this dwelling place for God.

Now, I really need to go across the street and buy some Legos.

Speak Peace

Let me hear what God the LORD will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts.
Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land.
Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other.
Faithfulness will spring up from the ground, and righteousness will look down from the sky.
The LORD will give what is good, and our land will yield its increase.
Righteousness will go before him, and will make a path for his steps. ~ Psalm 85:13

A few years ago I was in a meeting that was dealing with some pretty stressful issues. Sides were being chosen. Lines were being drawn in the sand. Peace was nowhere to be seen. Some of the participants, it seemed to me, actually wanted to see the meeting become more contentious than it already was. Or at least that’s what their actions and their words implied.

At some point, even as the tone was continuing to deteriorate, a person in the room who had not spoken before suddenly began to talk. His tone was gentle. His words were loving. He leveled no accusations and threw no rhetorical bombs. In every sense of the word he spoke peace.  Soon the atmosphere in the room changed. The bile that seemed to hang in the air slowly dissipated. We began to be drawn to this man and his proposal. Peace replaced contention.

Peace is not a word that I would use to describe life in 21st century America. The past few weeks have illustrated that fact in vivid detail. Shootings in churches. Fights over flags. Fear and dissention over the implications of a Supreme Court ruling. We do not live in a time of peace in our country.

Some of us can say the same thing about our personal lives. Being human means that we live with stress and anxiety. Money problems. Relationship fears. Emotional or physical violence. Betrayal of a spouse. The hurtful words of a friend. Peace in our lives can be that thing that we have heard about but never really experience.

And then comes the cry of the Psalmist in the 85th Psalm that really is our own cry:  “Let me hear what God the LORD will speak.” What do you have to say to us God? What is it that you want us to know or do? Speak to us God. Speak to me. What will you say?

And then the answer comes: Peace. That’s what God speaks. Peace. Just as the voice of the man in my meeting, the voice of God speaks peace.

When we hear the voice of God something amazing happens. The Psalmist says that glory will dwell in our land, that steadfast love and faithfulness will meet, that righteousness and peace will kiss each other!

But we have to listen. We have to turn our hearts toward God. But when we do, we will find a God who loves us and cares for us and believes in us and wants the best for us. Life will still be crazy. There will still be stress and anxiety. There will still be fear and divisions. But the atmosphere in the room will change.

And maybe – just maybe, we will find ourselves being the one who speaks peace. Maybe we become the one who calms instead of riles up. Maybe we become the hands and feet of God in spreading and working for peace.

Turning our hearts toward God and allowing God to speak peace is a daily (sometimes hourly!) requirement. But when we do, everything changes.