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Perspective

This story was in Homiletics magazine: Three friends were playing their favorite golf course. One was a minister, one was a doctor, and the other was a time-management expert. The group ahead of them was particularly slow. The time-management guy kept looking at his watch – “What’s up with these guys? They have been on this hole for over 30 minutes and they still haven’t reached the green.” The doctor and minister started grumping, too. A groundskeeper came by in a cart. The minister hailed him and asked, “Why is the foursome ahead of taking so long? Surely we can play through if they’re going to be this slow.” The keeper responded, “Oh, these guys are fire-fighters. Three of them were blinded fighting a fire in our clubhouse last year. We let them play for free.” The minister apologized for his attitude. The doctor was embarrassed and offered to contact a colleague who was an ophthalmic surgeon to see if he could help the injured men. The time-management expert was silent for a moment, then said, “Why can’t they play at night?”

Not very funny. Our perspective in life can be warped by pettiness, by selfishness, or by out-of-control schedules. We can see the outcomes in the traffic snarls in Atlanta or in the local grocery store when the lines don’t move fast enough for us. We experience it with total strangers as well as within our closest relationships.

Somebody told me last week that Atlanta needs to take a really large chill pill. I’m not certain where such a pill can be obtained, but it sounds like a good idea. When Paul wrote to the Galatian churches, he spoke of the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers. The fruit of the spirit is a cluster of nine qualities: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22,23).

This would be a good time to let the Holy Spirit do His work in us!

Look what I found!

The car was built in May 1937 and originally owned by the first president of the British Racing Drivers’ Club, a winner of the 24 hour Le Mans race. Its second owner was an English orthopedic surgeon who bought it in 1955. He kept the rare vehicle parked in his garage since the early 1960’s. The automobile had not been driven in five decades. The doctor died in 2007. While settling his estate, the car was discovered in the garage – a 1937 Bugatti Type 57S Atalante Coupe – on January 2, 2009. A month later, the car sold at a Paris auction for $4.4 million.

Makes you want to take another look in your garage, right? How about the attic of your grandparents? Look under your bed and in your closets. Surely there is something really valuable tucked away just waiting to be discovered.

Some of us have undiscovered treasure in our lives. It might be a relationship we have never pursued or a talent we haven’t developed. It might be a passion that is yet to be lit. It might be a calling we haven’t followed.

I’m not going to find a rare, pricy car in my garage. I’ve looked. However, I can find moments and opportunities and challenges where God can reveal what really matters. I can discover true treasure that has eternal value.

Open my eyes, my heart, my spirit, Lord!

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

 

 

Why are you working in the dark?

You’ve seen the ads for the insurance company featuring the guy who causes mayhem? His latest target is the DIY crowd. We know who we are. We want to prove we can do it. We can save money doing it ourselves. Once we’ve had a turn, it will cost even more to fix what we broke as well as do the job right. Perhaps the smartest thing we can do is have an emergency contact list strategically placed nearby. You never know when a plumber, an electrician, an EMT might be needed.

The Family Handyman Website has a section entitled: “10 Marriages Almost Destroyed by DIY Projects.” Here are two samples from the world of ceiling fans:

  1. A man decides to replace a ceiling light/fan fixture. Knowing he should have cut off the power at the box, he turns off the light switch. The day was growing dark with a passing storm overhead, but the man thought he had enough light to finish. His wife came in to see if she could help. He asked her to pass her some tools. Looking around in the dim space, she said, “Why are you working in the dark?” and switched on the light. They were treated to an impromptu light show as sparks flew from his screwdriver. Luckily no one was hurt. What are the lessons to be learned, kids?
  2. They had been renovating the great room. New hardwood floor had been installed. New furniture had been purchased. Now it was time for the expensive ceiling fan. No problem. Been there, done that. The man laid the instructions aside and got busy. He noticed this one red tag but was hurrying to finish the project. Adding the extra bracing for the fan, the man finished the installation and called to his wife to show her his handiwork. He flicked on the switched and watched in horror as the fan unscrewed itself from its support pipe and crashed to the new floor, leaving deep scratches in the hardwood and pieces of fan all over the room. His wife began to speak words he didn’t know she knew. In the pile of rubble, was that red tag – which he finally picked up and read: Once the support pipe is installed, use the locking screw to secure the pipe to the main support.

Paul wrote to the Galatians: “Be honest in your estimate of yourselves …”  I’m not sure he meant DIY projects, but who knows? I envy people who successfully complete DIY projects with fingers and toes and pride and marriages intact. Personally, I have learned after almost 37 years of wedded bliss to pick up the phone before I pick up a tool. Happy wife, happy life.

I’m in control

Have you ever been in a situation where you felt things were beyond your control? Take a good look at this picture – 4 year old little Markie boy is in over his head. The only reason I’m still in the picture is I couldn’t back up any further. No, I don’t remember her name … there were so many. Ha!

Mark at 4 years old

We like to be in control, don’t we? Being in charge gives us confidence, convinces us we’re intelligent or wise … until being in charge leads to trouble. The trouble is we have blind spots, we don’t see the whole picture, and we’re not as smart as we think we are.

James warned us: “Look here, you people who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.’ How do you know what will happen tomorrow? For your life is like a fog – it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. What you ought to say is, ‘If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.’”

Someone put it a little differently: “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.”

So, God gave us brains, we have life experiences, we possess tremendous amounts of information. What are we to do, then? I believe the Bible gives us instruction, encourages surrender, even submission, to Someone who knows the answer.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Don’t lean on your own understanding. In all your ways, acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths. Don’t be impressed with your own wisdom. Instead, fear the Lord and turn your back on evil. Then you will gain renewed health and vitality” (Proverbs 3:5-8).

No one said it was easy. Even Jesus cautioned us: “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today” (Matthew 6:33).

Life is too complicated to let the inmates run the asylum. I need help, don’t you? James wrote: “If you need wisdom – if you want to know what God wants you to do, ask Him, and He will gladly tell you” (James 1:5).  I really need to count on that promise!