Tag Archives: Attitude

Progress

We ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love all of you have for one another is increasing.
2 Thessalonians 1:3 (NIV)

When I began working out regularly this past June, one of my instructors asked me if I had any specific goals in  mind. Without hesitation I answered, “To keep showing up!”

I’ve continued to show up for five months now, and in the past few weeks I’ve received a handful of unsolicited comments from people saying they’ve noticed a difference in me. It’s always nice to hear an unexpected “attaboy,” and it gives a little extra psychological push to keep going.

Today we’re starting Paul’s second letter to the followers of Jesus in the Greek city of Thessalonica. Just a couple of days ago as we made our way through his first letter to the Thessalonians believers, I called out verses in which Paul “urged” them to “more and more” live in a way pleasing to God and to love each other. I couldn’t help but notice that he starts his second letter with an “attaboy.” He calls out and recognizes the very things he urged them to do, saying their faith and their love for each other was “increasing” and “growing more and more.”

Visible, tangible progress.

Some mornings I spend time in the quiet meditating and pondering for some time what the Spirit has to say to me through the morning’s chapter. This morning the Spirit confronted me directly with this question: “Is my spiritual progress as evident as my physical progress?”

Certainly there is an ebb and flow to progress in this journey. Progress is always more evident in the early stages of a journey. The further I progress, the big, self-evident improvements give way to small tweaks in maturity. The small tweaks make a huge difference though they are not as evident to others as the early gains. And, along this journey I’ve discovered that progress does not happen at the same rate. I hit “set points” along the way in which I don’t feel as if I’m making any progress at all. I have to press on and persevere in order to experience the next breakthrough and realize further growth.

Nevertheless, the Spirit’s question is a worthwhile one. Late in his own life journey, Paul writes to his protegé, Timothy: “Exercise daily in God—no spiritual flabbiness, please! Workouts in the gymnasium are useful, but a disciplined life in God is far more so, making you fit both today and forever.” (1 Tim 4:8 MSG)

And so, this morning I’m taking a little inventory. Where am I physically? Where am I spiritually? Where am I mentally, emotionally, and relationally? Am I making progress? Am I slogging through a set-point? Am I resting in anticipation for the next push? Am I regressing?

All good questions for me to mull over as I head to work out this morning.

Thanks for “showing up” this morning, my friend. Have a great day.

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Note to my regular readers:
Our local gathering of Jesus’ followers is  spending most of an entire year (Sep ’18 through Jul ’19) studying the book of Acts. In conjunction with this study, I’ve decided to blog our way through all of Paul’s letters in chronological order. The exact chronology is a matter of scholarly debate. We began with Paul’s letter to the believers in the Asia Minor region of Galatia, then proceeded to his first letter to the believers in the Greek city of Thessalonica. Today we’re moving on to his second letter to the followers of Jesus there. Many scholars think these two letters preceded his letter to the Galatians.
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Just When I Thought it Couldn’t Get Any Worse

And they took Jeremiah the prophet and Baruch son of Neriah along with them. 
Jeremiah 43:6 (NIV)

Just a week or so ago I was listening to a Typology podcast with a panel discussion of those who are Enneagram Type Fours. I also happen to be a Type Four, and listening to the podcast threw me into an unexpected depression. “I don’t want to be one of those people,” I groaned to Wendy that night in bed. The ironic (and hilarious) part of it was that my dramatic brooding about being a Four is exactly how a Four reacts!

I so identified with Jeremiah in today’s chapter. The poor old man (who I’m convinced was a Type Four as well) has lived such a long, hard life dramatically prophesying a lot of pessimistic, doom and gloom predictions to people who refuse to listen to him. He then gets to watch as his prophesies come to pass. He lives through a siege in which he almost starves to death, is imprisoned, and eventually thrown into the bottom of a well and left to die. He’s rescued only to watch his city destroyed, God’s temple destroyed, and his own people slaughtered. If that’s not bad enough, in today’s chapter – after giving a prophetic Word to a group of people who asked him what they should do, they reject his prophetic advice and take him captive to Egypt.

“Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse!

The truth is that most every one has stretches of life’s journey in which nothings goes right and everything seems to go wrong. Just when you though it was bad, it gets worse. Hopefully, you and I will never be rejected, imprisoned, thrown into a well, left to die, have to watch our town destroyed by invaders, witness people cannibalizing their own for lack of food, and then being taken captive to another country. Jeremiah’s list makes anything I might moan about seem ludicrously silly in comparison.

The description of Type Fours on the Enneagram Institute website states: At their Best: inspired and highly creative, Fours are able to renew themselves and transform their experiences.” As I reread that again this morning it reminded me that how I handle the valleys, detours, and pot-holes on life’s road is really up to me. I can allow myself to be a slave to my own pessimistic, brooding natural bents, fears, and anxieties. Or, I can continually work on becoming the healthiest version of myself and transform my circumstances into a better, healthier, more capable human being. The person Jesus calls me to be. The person I was created to be.

I don’t always choose my circumstances, but I always choose how I react or respond.

 

The Special People Among Us

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
1 Corinthians 12:21-26 (NIV)

Along my journey I have lived in a handful of different places from really small towns (e.g. 110-318 people) to larger towns (e.g. 10,000-30,000 people), and a couple of urban regions (e.g. 250,000- 9,000,000 people). Across all of the places I’ve lived I have served and worshipped in a number of churches, both small and large, and of different denominational or theological backgrounds.

One of the things that I’ve noticed is that there has virtually always been at least a couple of special people in every gathering in which I’ve been a part. In the quiet this morning I bring to mind a number of faces and memories I’ve not thought about in a long time. These special individuals are a combination of persons who get labeled “odd duck,” “slow,” “off,” or any number of phrases such as “a few bricks shy of a full load” or “the elevator doesn’t go all the way to the top.

I’m chuckling to myself as I recall one gentleman named Norman. Norman was a huge grizzly bear of a man, who was cross-eyed unkept. His hair was never clean or brushed. His clothes were always disheveled. He commonly paired an ratty, old suit jacket he owned with his dirty overalls. Norman’s speech was always gravely and slurred. His body odor generally arrived ahead of him and lingered well after he left. He would typically arrive late to the meeting and he was known to belch in the middle of my message with the decibel level of your average 737 at take-off.

Norman was also amazingly sweet spirited, regularly attended, never ceased to display a grateful heart, and he always had a kind word to say to any who would take the time to actually have a conversation with him.

Today’s chapter of Paul’s letter to the believers in first century Corinth is normally interpreted to be about how different individuals in the church have different gifts and abilities and they all work together to make up the whole. When Paul writes the words, The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” it is typically interpreted to mean that we all need each others gifts and talents. At least, that’s the way I’ve typically read it and presented it.

As I read the familiar passage this morning, however, I was struck by what Paul had just addressed in the previous chapter:

for when you are eating, some of you go ahead with your own private suppers. As a result, one person remains hungry and another gets drunk. Don’t you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God by humiliating those who have nothing?

In other words, the divisions among the followers of Jesus in Corinth were not just about differences of talent, culture, philosophy and doctrine. The divisions included the “haves” and the “have nots.” This might have been socio-economic status, but also might well have included those who were healthy and those who were sick, those who were “normal” and those who were…special. So when Paul writes, “those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor” he was talking about those among us whom we typically marginalize, ignore, shy away from, and from whom we distance ourselves.

I’m reminded this morning that what originally differentiated the followers of Jesus in the first century was that they welcomed everyone to the table no matter the gender, race, nationality, background, health, talent, or socio-economic status. The “everyone is welcome” attitude was breaking down big-time in Corinth, as I observe it has in most places I’ve lived and worshipped.

This morning I’m thanking God for the special people in my midst who are typically difficult to appreciate, often painful to talk to, and sometimes are just plain awkward when trying to make connection. I’m also confessing that I too often shy away and distance myself from those who are different when I should be leaning in, honoring, and loving. Even if they belch loudly in the middle of my message.

Willingness

Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said.
Matthew 8:3a (NIV)

When my daughter Madison was about four years old I called out to her from my home office in the basement of our home. She came scampering in my office from the next room where she had been playing. I needed something (I can’t remember what it was) retrieved from upstairs. “Will you go upstairs and get it?” I asked.

“Sure Dad!” she said with a big smile and child-like excitement. “I’ll be happy to!” And with that she ran off, immediately did as I asked, and cheerfully returned with the item.

I sat there for a moment thoroughly dumbstruck by her willing attitude. I can vividly remember sitting there and enjoying that little moment. She didn’t do what I asked grudgingly. She didn’t do what I asked dutifully. She didn’t do what I asked because I paid her allowance. She didn’t do what I asked out of obligation or familial obedience. She did what I asked out of a cheerful, willing attitude. I’ve never forgotten that moment.

One of the rarely demonstrated service skills I teach my clients is the simple act of expressing your willingness to do what a customer asks.

“Can you…?”
“I’ll be more than happy to do that for you.”

“Will you…?”
“You bet I will. I’m on it.”

“Is it possible…?”
“It sure is. And I’ll be glad to take care of it.”

In this morning’s chapter, Jesus begins by using this simple service skill when asked by leper if He’d be “willing” to heal him.

“I am willing,” Jesus said, and I imagine the warm smile on his face as he reaches out to touch the contagious, infected, deformed leper.

The rest of the chapter reveals so much about Jesus willingness:

  • Willingness to heal the son of a member of the despised Roman occupational force. (I’m guessing that Jesus’ disciple, Simon the Zealot, would have preferred Jesus kill both the Roman Centurion and his son).
  • Willingness to cast out evil spirits and heal anyone and everyone who came to him.
  • Willingness to heal the mother of his friend, Peter.
  • Willingness to use His power and authority to calm both the sea, and his followers fears.
  • Willingness to show mercy, even to His spiritual enemies, and grant the demons’ request.’

This morning I’m enjoying the memory of Madison’s cheerful attitude. I’m thinking about Jesus willing attitude, and I’m recalling what He said in yesterday’s chapter as He concluded His “Sermon on the Mount”:

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 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!

I must confess that I, too often, approach God and Life with the attitude of scarcity. I expect that God wants to punish more than bless, and even if He does bless me He will be miserly doling out those blessings. “After all,” I think to myself, “I’m such a wretch that I should be grateful for anything I receive.” I sometimes attach to God my own warped image of the begrudging parent. Ugh. I see God out of the lens of my own personal shortcomings.

“If you’re willing,” I hear Jesus whispering to my heart this morning in the quiet of my home office, “you can choose to see me differently. To see me as I am: Willing.”

Yes, Lord. I’d be happy to do so. By the way, thank you for your willingness to be patient, and to help open my eyes.

Loving Devotion and Life-less Obligation

I have been on a pseudo-sabbatical from my daily chapter-a-day posts for the past month. I took the opportunity of late summer vacations both to the lake and to Kauai to rest from my normal routines, though when I rest from regular routines I have a penchant for developing new ones.. I’ve felt prompted, of late, to wade into the writings of the prophet Isaiah, which I’ve blogged through only once back in the spring of 2010. It’s rather daunting journey, merely for the length of it (66 chapters!). Like all lengthy journeys it affords both tedious plodding and memorable, breathtaking moments. Here we go.

One of the keys to reading the poetic verse and visions of the ancient prophets (nearly all of the prophetic writings of what we refer to as the Old Testament are penned as Hebrew poetry) are 1) the cultural and historic context of the time in which the author was writing and 2) the person and circumstance of the prophet himself.

Isaiah lived in the capital city of Jerusalem during a period of “the kings.” The twelve tribes of Israel had been united under the reigns of Saul, David, and Solomon, but then split in two during the reign of Solomon’s son. The southern kingdom was made up of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin and had its capital in Judah. Judah was loyal to the house and line of David. The northern kingdom (Israel) was made up of the rest of the tribes and claimed Bethel as its capital and religious center. Israel’s monarchy was continually a free-for-all which made for a lot of political intrigue.

Like all great books, the beginning introduces the overarching themes. In today’s opening chapter Isaiah sets the scene in Jerusalem where Solomon’s temple was the center of Israel’s sacrificial system. Over the last few months I blogged through the book of Leviticus, in which set the sacrificial system into being as established through Moses. The dutiful, religious people of Judah continue to carry out their rituals, festivals and sacrifices. But, there’s a problem.

Isaiah gets right to the crux of the matter. The people were carrying out their religious duties, but had forsaken the heart of their relationship with God. They were like a spouse who manages the daily household routines of marital and family obligation while their heart wanders in desire for others. God wanted their obedient actions to be motivated out of love and desire, not rote obligation void of love and devotion.

I have confessed to being a person of routines, and this morning I am thinking about the religious routines in my own life. My daily quiet time and blog post are a routine. Attending church services on Sunday is a routine. Giving financially to my local church and other ministries is a routine. But, are these coming from a heart-felt love and devotion to God, or are they merely Life-less robotic religious behaviors? Do my actions point God toward a living love and desire within my heart or, like the people of Isaiah’s day, have my religious behaviors become absorbed by the rotting stench of my hypocrisy?

Dealing with that stain and stench is another major theme of Isaiah’s poetic visions, which he establishes in today’s chapter:

Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
    remove the evil of your doings
    from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,
    learn to do good;
seek justice,
    rescue the oppressed,
defend the orphan,
    plead for the widow.

Come now, let us argue it out,
    says the Lord:
though your sins are like scarlet,
    they shall be like snow;
though they are red like crimson,
    they shall become like wool.

 

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“Iowa Nice”

They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him.
Titus 1:16a

There is this thing we call “Iowa Nice.” It’s an attitude, really. There are no classes that teach it, and no strict definition. It’s a generalization that comes through the generations. It comes up out of the soil and permeates our being, though it’s not universal. While there are always a few bad corn kernels in every bushel, the people of Iowa are pretty hospitable folk. We’re happy to help if you need it. We are kind and accommodating, even to strangers. We’re just…well…nice.

I thought about Iowa nice this morning as I read Paul’s letter to Titus. Paul had left Titus on the island of Crete to organize the various groups of Jesus followers into some semblance of organization. Titus’ job was to appoint “Overseers” (think Pastor) who would “manage the household” of believers and “Elders” who were spiritually mature leaders. Paul provides qualifications, but then acknowledges Titus’ challenge to find such individuals among the Cretans.

The people of Crete did not have a great reputation. In contrast to “Iowa Nice,” Paul quotes a Cretan prophet who claims: “Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.” Yikes. Titus is to find, among this group, those who are hospitable, self-controlled, and upright. You can almost hear Paul’s subtext: “Good luck with that.” Among Paul’s disparaging descriptive remarks about many of the Cretans is the fact that they “claim to know God, but by their actions deny them.”

What a great reminder this morning as I head into the week of our local Tulip Time festival here in Pella. I am not perfect, to be sure, but I would hope that I my actions will always bear witness to the faith that I claim – not deny it. I and my fellow residents will spend three entire days this week playing host to thousands of visitors and treating them to a generous dose of “Iowa Nice.” My desire is that my hospitality will always be a reflection of Jesus, who exemplified hospitality when He welcomed this stranger into His family.

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Shift Focus

 If you say to yourself, “These nations are more numerous than I; how can I dispossess them?” do not be afraid of them. Just remember what the Lord your God did to Pharaoh and to all Egypt….
Deuteronomy 7:17-18 (NRSV)

There is a technical term used in movie making called “shift focus.” It’s when the camera is focused on one object while another object in the shot is blurry, then then camera shifts the focus so that the other object is in focus and the first object blurs out.  Filmmakers use this technique to transition the audience’s attention and to move the story along.

When things in life go wrong and times are tough, it’s easy to get myopically focused on our present circumstances. Our brains zero in on what’s happening in the moment and, as a result, our hearts can drive all sorts of negative emotions such as fear, anxiety, doubt and depression. These emotions can be spiritually crippling and paralyzing.

In today’s chapter, Moses anticipates that his people may find themselves in such circumstances. He instructs them to do a mental and spiritual shift focus as an antidote to their fears: remember.

  • Remember when you were slaves in Egypt and God delivered you.
  • Remember when the plagues hit and you remained safe.
  • Remember when the Egyptian army was chasing you and God miraculously saved you and gave you victory.

He could have gone on:

  • Remember when you thirsty and God provided water from a rock.
  • Remember when you were hungry and God sent bread from heaven.
  • Remember when you wandered and God sent both cloud and fire to lead you.

The shift focus from our present circumstances to past situations reminds us that God has been faithful in the past (So why shouldn’t I believe He will be faithful in my current situation?), that we survived in the past (So why shouldn’t I believe I’ll get through this), and that things eventually worked out (So why shouldn’t I trust that my current situation will work out, too?). The result is that our faith begins to counter our fear and our paralysis gives way to us moving forward.

Today, I’m reminded of the many times God has provided and protected me through the years. Why then, should I fear present troubles?

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