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February 9, 2015, 9:00 AM

My shoulder hurts


So I held a suitcase for the entirety of the sermon yesterday (2/8/15) and my left shoulder is a bit sore this morning.  And before you give me grief over being a sissy I want to justify my pain for a second.  This was no modern, ergonomic, lightweight, professional traveler's suitcase.  The suitcase I was holding was made more for decoration and looking fabulous than for practical use.  In the modern days of carefully weighed and measured bags, this one tips the scale at nearly 15 lbs.  (I know, I know, you still think I'm a sissy).  I could use this suitcase as a stepladder, or a tv stand.  Its a sturdy beast.  

Now, hopefully I've tipped the scale into the realm of pity instead of scorn.  But its not enough pain to alter my routine or push me towards the medicine cabinet for relief, but its there nonetheless.  If you're wondering why I would throw myself so recklessly into such a lesson, let me explain.  We all carry baggage with us, everywhere, all the time.  We have the baggage of expectation, of routine and habit, and of our desires.  That baggage typically prompts us to work hard and chase our careers.  Other baggage can include the weight of peer pressure, family pressures, or guilt from unmet societal expectations.  All these are carried with us on a daily basis, rarely being shrugged off.  In fact, most of these bags are permanent marks on our souls, memories, and personalities.  

There are other bags though that are not meant to be permanent.  These bags are the ones we (knowingly or not) pick up and attach to our lives in the form of sin.  Unlike the other bags we mentioned already, which SHOULD grow lighter with time as expectations are met and success looms nearer, these bags grow heavier with every breathing moment we carry them.  A lie never remains little and innocent.  It feeds and grows until the weight isn't only noticeable, its a nuisance.  

So the question needs asked:  what bags are you carrying right now that need dropped?  Sure there are the obvious burdens like sin; but what about guilt or a grudge?  Are there pieces of our personality that indicate we have more bags on our shoulders than we know?  If you complain constantly and your attention runs immediately to the negative of any situation, you're carrying a burden that has started to eat your soul.  If you've got that chip on your shoulder that drives a feeling of disrespect, its baggage.  You get the point. 

Drop em now before they drag us into our graves.  Drop them now before relationships we cherish are dragged into nonexistence. 

Lets drop our bags and pick up the burden of hope that God has been offering since the very beginning.  Its a burden that is light, easy, and contagious. 

 

 




February 2, 2015, 11:00 AM

After These Messages, We'll Be Right Back...


Good Day Reader,   I'm sorely tempted to write a drawn-out, play-by-play recap of the spectacular Super Bowl played last night (2/1/15).  Unfortunately that would be a waste of your time as there are countless other articles chronicling the crowing of the far superior Patriots as champs.  My thoughts, as I tear them away from football and sport, wander next to the commercials which will be the meat to our potatoes in this weekly musing.  Every year there is as much build up to the advertising as there is to the game, with revenue going through the roof for a 30 second spot.  This year was a perfect storm for the marketing gurus as the game itself, the stories surrounding the game, and the final score being so close that we did not know who would win until there were 20 seconds remaining, had people glued to the television set.  

There were the usual suspects making appearances:  beer, cars, food, movies, and insurance.  However, with only three or four exceptions that I can count, the theme for the commercials took an unexpected turn.   Gone were the old-standard themes of debauchery and exploitation, replaced this year by sentimentality and even guilt.  Its not often that I'm thrust into a commercial induced funk over household accidents and the potential loss of a child (better get more insurance). In fact, I cant remember being so confused by the messages of the commercials.  On one hand we were empowered to overcome all obstacles (while buying a car) and to cherish the time spent with family (while also buying a car); and on the other we were being sold burgers, more cars, and lingerie with sex and sexual innuendo.  

The messages ranged from love to consumerism without the mere blinking of an eye or flinch at the conflicting signals.  Where is the mean in all this (the center, the middle)? In an even bigger question:  where are we in all this?  The needs, the blatant manipulation, and push for us to consume has not and will not change.  And while the commercials either need to shock us into paying attention, or tell us a story we wont forget (lost puppies), we need to find the solid ground on which to place our feet.  Why?  Cant we ignore them and operate in our own little world?  Sure, if you want to slip into obscurity and irrelevance faster than the Sham-Wow.  

As followers of Christ we cannot ignore our culture, nor the messages being sent by our culture.  We MUST respond, and it is HOW we respond that will define us.  We must be consistent.  Steady.  Reliable.  (sounds like a truck commercial). 

If we are tossed about by whatever threatens us, our message is inconsistent and is therefore diminished.  If we swell up in indignation and let the whole world know just how trashy they are (and we aren't), our message will be dismissed amongst the acceptance messages.  We must be steady. Consistent.  Reliable.   All of that means one thing:  We Must Love. 

Christ's love transcends commercials, products, fads, skirt lengths, sexual orientations, political parties, pacifism, war.  It is consistent when dealing with those that should know better (Peter) and those who don't (the woman caught in adultery in John 8).  Jesus loves Zacchaeus even though he's been cheating God's chosen nation.  Jesus loves Judas even though he will betray him.  Imagine the commercials for those guys and those situations!!  

Looking ahead, we will face a culture that dismisses us, diminishes our message, even mocks our Creator.  How will we respond?  I hope the same way we were taught:  with love.  

Every time. 

 




January 26, 2015, 10:43 AM

How to live the de-cluttered, minimalistic, simple life we've always wanted.


This morning I took my van into the shop for the second time in as many weeks.  After dropping the van off, I took my eldest dog to the Vet for surgery.  (An abscessed tooth, don't cry for her, Argentina... she'll be back up and at em this afternoon).  We fought the flu this past week.  Sunday was Sunday, with a frenetic morning of activity.  And as I sit and write this, I'm hoping the week ahead is a lot less full.  I'm doubtful, because life doesn't work like that.  

This is your time now to chime in about your week/weekend/schedule.  Fill in the blank here with all the stuff that has you running in circles: __________________________________________________________________.  (Grab a  blank piece of paper to really write everything out).  

Busyness is inevitable.  Its just the nature of things, and no matter how hard we try, we will most likely find ourselves caught up in it long before we become aware enough to escape it.  So no, this is not a blog about de-cluttering your life, or minimalizing your schedule.  Its a warning about the big picture, no, the BIGGEST picture when it comes to being self-aware.  

Can we still hear the voice of God?  

Lets take ownership of something:  we've allowed God's voice to be diminished amongst the others.  I'm not accusing us of eliminating his voice, or even making it less of a priority.  We HAVE allowed it to mix with the others, which in turn has started the process of doing exactly what I wasn't accusing us of in the prior sentence.  So what are we missing, or at least starting to diminish?  God's voice is steadily calling out the same message:  Love God, Love People.  That is Jesus' best summary of the Bible's message, and it is intended to be the resonating theme and filter through which every aspect of the Christ-following life must be passed.   

However, his message has been filtered through too many other things and is losing its luster and poignancy.  When left to filter through the American Dream, we Love God and Love People only if it does not interfere with our pursuit of good grades, respectable income, and healthy retirement benefits.  We Love God and Love people in Church if they survive the filter of adequate dress, cleanliness, and foreknowledge of our schedule/practices.  At work we apply God's call for our lives in a manner that either improves our earning potential, or keeps us anonymous enough to protect that delicate balance of job security versus swimming against the ethical and moral stream.  We preach integrity and devotion, but we filter it through the daily planner and hope there is time for it.  

I long to be in Isaiah's shoes, standing in the Temple and hearing God's voice clearly.  I hope to be able to say with a steadiness in my voice that belies my apprehension:  "Here am I, send me."  Or rather:  "Here am I, send me to love someone today..."  

 




January 19, 2015, 9:39 AM

I think I'll stick with the song, its way easier.


I had a worship moment yesterday.  I have to say that because those moments are few and far between, especially as our service winds on closer to the sermon.  What's even rarer about this moment is that it occurred during the singing of a hymn, not a new-style, emotive song.  I've sung this song hundreds of times in my meager 38 years, but there was something this time that stuck with me and broke me out of my sermon-focused stupor enough to grab a pen and jot the lyric down:  

"Grant that all may seek and a find, Thee a God supremely kind."  

What struck me is this:  How will anyone know if God is kind or not if we don't show them He is kind?  It takes me back to Romans 10: 14-15 in which Paul asks how anyone can believe in him (Jesus) if they haven't even heard about him!!    Its one thing to sing about it, and HOPE people find a really cool, kind God...  Its another thing altogether to actually model that kind of God to people.  Because Jesus is not physically walking around and being the ultra-cool, and ultra-graceful representation of God, the world is left to look at the next best thing:  Us.  They're looking at us, those who have staked our claim by wearing his name.  

I think I'll stick with the song, its way easier. 

Because if I want people to KNOW that God is supremely kind and not judgmental and angry, then I have to prove it by being kind and not judgmental or angry.  If I want people to KNOW that God is loving and merciful, I have to be loving and merciful.  

I think I'll stick the song, its way easier. 

If we refuse to model the character of God, then our opinions about culture and the denigration of the world are impotent and invalid.  Only when we offer this world a fair representation of the full character of our creator can we then engage in any offering of our judgment on that world.  Too often we skip right over the offering of grace and mercy and jump directly into the desire to manifest a plague of frogs on our political/spiritual/physical rivals.  

When we're talking about us (including within the songs we sing together every week) God is kind, full of blessing, and looks at us with eyes watering because he just loves us so much.  Those eyes flash to angry though when we speak of how God must be looking at the world outside our walls.   "This country is falling apart."  What if God's eyes look more mercifully on the world, and flash with frustration on us because we've misrepresented his supreme kindness?  The world is falling apart because those he left in charge of ministering to it have faltered, retreated into holy places, and tried waiting out the storm like Noah.  

Because singing the song is easier, I can no longer sing it without first begging for forgiveness.  I pray for God's supreme kindness to be evident in everything I do, so that ALL may seek and find Him in me...  and You... and Red Bridge.  

 




January 12, 2015, 8:21 AM

Starving Souls - part 2


For Part 1 - Go here: Starving Souls

Here’s a truth you can rely on:  I like food.  Boy, do I like food.  Many people can point to genetics or a sedentary lifestyle in their battle against the bulge, but not me.   I point to pizza, cheese dip, and tortillas in all shapes and sizes.  I can confirm that I do not know what it is like to go “hungry.”  Sure, I’ve been a part of the occasional “fast,”  some even stretching 30 + hours.  But thats not what I mean.  I have never been even remotely close to starving, at least in the physical sense.  Food has always been there for me (which is maybe why I like pizza so much… even when its bad, pizza is still pretty good and has never let me down. I’ve even had a pizza in Northern Russia, it was weird……..but gooooood).  And that about sums up my struggles with dieting and weight control.  

I am not ashamed to admit all that, as there really is no hiding the physical nature of the battle against over-eating.  I am, however, ashamed to admit that I have starved myself spiritually.  I fight to never skip a meal, but the battle to satisfy my soul in pursuit of God?  Yeah, that can wait until tomorrow.  Tomorrow turns into the next day, and the next day turns into next week, and before I know it my soul has gone months without nourishment.  

Its easy to diagnose and fix the problem when I’m physically hungry.  My stomach growls and I respond by placating it with pizza, lest it get angrier.  My soul doesn't have as quick of a response to hunger pangs like my stomach.  It may be days before I fully realize greed and bitterness have taken up residence, and that I’ve been starving my soul.  Starving our souls is much simpler than going physically hungry, at least for a majority of us, as we sit comfortably reading this.  It doesn't take much effort and requires next to no discipline, unlike dieting.  We just get busy pursuing what satisfies us… and thats it.  Those pursuits that distract us may not even be the problem, and are almost always justifiable:  being able to provide for our families and make sure the ones we love don't go hungry. 

But what about those pursuits that aren't always justifiable in the balance between starving our souls and satisfying our sinful nature?  I propose a simple question to ask that will close the debate faster than a pizza delivery: Will the things I’m pursuing answer me when I call out to them?   This is the same test Elijah offered to the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel in  1 Kings 18.  “Why does your god not answer you?  Perhaps he is sleeping!”  They cried louder and louder, seeking a response.  They hungered for something that was unable to answer them, and gave zero indication that it could satisfy their desires.  

To those who crave money and financial peace above all, does your wealth answer when you cry?  To those chasing a hobby at the expense of people, will it answer when you call?  I’m not saying they do not bring pleasure, as that is the very essence of a hobby.  Nor am I asking if they help pass the time.  Can the pursuits of our lives return the love and attention we spend on them?  Will they pity and care for us in our despair?  Will they ever tell us how much we matter to them?  

No and never.  

Solving this problem and winning this battle, on the surface sounds like a complex formula involving bad habits and a lack of discipline.  The solution, though, is simple:  pursue God today.   Offer your soul the nourishment it needs.  No, it wont take long.  Say a prayer of thanksgiving, not waiting until things fall apart and we cry out in requests to God.  Dive into a devotional every morning that sets a thought on you for the day.  This doesn't need to be heavy, nor time consuming reading.  My choice is one that literally takes 3 minutes to consume.  Remember Jesus every time you sit down to eat, as a family or by yourself.  It takes seconds, and it satisfies our soul AND our stomach.  

Don’t starve your soul.  

 

 

 


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