Tag Archives: Life

Grace in the Journey: Given and Received

We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up.
Romans 15:1-2 (NIV)

Annoying to be around. That was the bottom line. Abrasive, abrupt, and usually off in left field in most matters. I can still remember the silly arguments and petty details that occupied this person’s thoughts and conversation at, seemingly, all times. It was hard not to roll my eyes and want to head for the nearest exit when the mouth opened and the judgmental, legalistic rhetoric began to flow. Nevertheless, this person was a sincere follower of Jesus. Truly, despite all the annoyance. And, this person was a part of my local community of Jesus’ followers.

Sometimes the Message is ill-served by the way early scholars divided it into chapters and verses. One of the best study tools I’ve experienced is to read the different books and letters without all the chapter breaks and verse references. It’s amazing what you see differently. When I’m reading a chapter-a-day, I can easily forget that today’s chapter is connected to yesterday’s chapter as well as being a lead-in to tomorrow’s chapter. When I read it in prescribed, daily chunks it’s easy to lose context.

Today’s chapter is like that. In yesterday’s chapter Paul addressed the conflicts that can arise because of differences in culture, background, heritage, and traditions. People from different tribes have all sorts of differing, non-essential rules about food, clothing, special days, rituals, and the like. These aren’t necessarily bad things, but they’re by no means essential to being a follower of Jesus.

The first two verses of today’s chapter are really a summation of yesterday’s chapter. Paul ends this conversation by saying that those believers who have the grace and maturity to see that all of these rules, customs and traditions don’t matter to God, should bear with those who do. We could argue about it, get self-righteous about it, and then watch the emotions escalate as the conversation sinks into anger, name calling, discord, division, and even to hatred. Paul urges the mature believer to graciously channel the fruit of Holy Spirit towards those who are stuck in their traditions and rituals: love, patience, kindness, gentleness, and self-control.

In my memory banks this morning are a number of fellow believers, like the one I described at the top of this post, who I’ve shared part of my journey with in this or that community. I’m seeing their faces and laughing to myself at some of the memories.

In the quiet I am also reminded of my own immaturity, particularly in the early years of my spiritual journey. I confess that I have my own annoying quirks and have, through the years, embraced my own share of non-essential, petty thoughts as well as silly moral or religious causes. I have very specific memories of me being the source of rolling eyes and bit tongues. Now, in hindsight, I can appreciate the forbearance my elders and peers showed me in loving, kind, patient, and gentle fashion. Thank you for that, if you’re reading this.

I’m on this journey with every other person who is on their own respective journey. Each of us are having our own conversation with Life. Grace (undeserved and unearned favor) is required. Sometimes it’s required that we receive it. Sometimes it’s required that we give it. It’s the only way we’ll successfully reach our destination together and progress to that which is beyond.

Forever Young Maturity

What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but the people of Israel, who pursued the law as the way of righteousness,have not attained their goal. Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works.
Romans 9:30-32 (NIV)

A few years ago our daughter, Taylor, was living in a Catholic Worker commune. Her fellow residents and the people “The Worker” served each day came from some very different realities than those in which Taylor grew up. One weekend when she was visiting with Wendy and me she shared about a moment of realization listening to all these people who were living on the razor’s edge with no safety net and no back up. There was no “Plan B” if the shit hit the fan.

I realized,” Taylor said, “that I will never know this reality. I have a huge safety net, people who love me, and I will always have a safe place to go.”

When Taylor and Madison were in the toddler phase of life, they were suddenly introduced to all sorts of rules:

“Don’t touch.”
“That’s a no-no.”
“No! You never hit your sister.”
“I said, ‘Put the toys away. Now!'”
“Wash your hands before supper.”

In the toddler phase life is pretty black and white for a child. There is a seemingly endless list of do’s and don’ts, and parents add to the list incessantly. If you follow the rules life hums along relatively swimmingly, and if you don’t follow the rules you learn about parental wrath and punishment. For children, life feels a bit like a legalistic system of merit. Parents and authorities reward me when I’m good and punish me when I’m bad. From a parent’s perspective you certainly love your child no matter what, but I wonder how much a young child comprehends this when the merit system rules his or her existence.

As the girls moved into adulthood our relationship changed as they became mature in their understanding of themselves, their parents, and the world around them. They began to make their own decisions and had to experience the natural consequences of their words, actions, and decisions on their own day-to-day realities. As a father, I still desire for them to make wise decisions. I’m happy to provide advice if asked. Ultimately, however, they have to choose for themselves because it is the right choice, not because of their father’s approval or wrath.

At this stage of life, like Taylor’s observation at The Worker, I’ve watched the girls come to an understanding, now more than ever, that our love and support for them is ever-present, unwavering, and unconditional. They’ve learned the lessons of their childhood. They’ve matured.

I’ve always pondered the notion that God’s relationship with humanity across the Great Story is a bit like the natural human life-cycle. When God gave Moses “The Law” it was essentially the toddler stage of humanity. Things were simple, brutal, and messy. A simple black-and-white system of rules is what humanity in the toddler stage needed, what it could comprehend and understand.

The period immediately following Jesus’ resurrection and ascension is essentially a major life change. If feels a bit like a rite-of-passage shift into a new relational reality between God and humanity made possible by Jesus’ sacrificial atonement. Paul’s letter to the Jewish followers of Jesus in Rome reads like a sage telling the young adult that it’s time to wake-up, and grow-up, into a mature understanding of their relationship with God. Gone are the toddler days of rule keeping, now it’s time to step out and start walking in the maturity of faith in God’s love, grace, forgiveness, and righteousness made possible – not because you kept the rules – but because God showed love for us in this: while we were yet knuckle-headed, foolish children who sometimes go our own way, Christ died for us.

This morning in the quiet I’m looking at a canvas I discovered under the guest room bed this weekend while Wendy and I were cleaning-up. It’s a little something Taylor made for Milo while she was pregnant. It’s now sitting next to my desk, and I think I’m going to hang it in my office while the kids sojourn in Scotland. It’s the words of a song I sang to her repeatedly at bedtime when she was a child. It’s the words of a parent’s faith, hope, and blessing to a child, anticipating that the child will mature into a person of wisdom, Godliness, and yet retain the one thing that Jesus said was, ironically, a prerequisite to a mature person’s entrance to God’s Kingdom:

Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Toddlers, rules, grace, love, maturity, wisdom, parenting, Taylor, Clayton, Milo, Maddy Kate, Garrett, Jesus, Bob Dylan, child-like faith. That’s what’s tumbling around in my heart and head on this Monday morning.

May you stay Forever Young.

Have a great week my friends.

Drilling Down to Spring Generosity

In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.
2 Corinthians 8:2 (NIV)

About 12 years ago Wendy and I made the decision to purchase my parents property at the lake. At the time the property had a  70 foot single-wide from the early 1970s which I used to refer to as “The Love Shack.” At the end of a gravel road, the property requires a well for water and a septic system for waste management. After agreeing to make the purchase my dad walked me through the process they went through each year to have their water supply tested and treated against the nasty things that can get into a natural water supply. It was pretty gross just thinking about it.

A year or so later we had a new well dug on the property. I’d never experienced this before, and I was fascinated by the process. The young man who owned the drilling service loved his work and I’ll never forget the passion and enthusiasm with which he went about his drilling a well. By the end of the day he’d explained to me that the old well on the property had been way too shallow which was why the water was prone to some of the nastiness that had to be tested and treated. The driller had to go much deeper than planned and get through some tough stretches of rock to reach the aquifer which would pump clean water to our house. I’ll never forget the guy grinning from ear-to-ear. “You’re pumping ‘crystal clear’ now, dude!

That little experience really got me thinking just how much I take for granted the luxury of a clean water supply that I don’t have to think or worry about. That got me digging a little deeper for information about water in the world. The good news is that since 1990 great progress has been made. In just 25 years a staggering 2.5 Billion people have gained access to an improved water supply free from fear of contamination. I love it! That’s huge progress that we can feel good about. [cue: We are the World]. Nevertheless, there’s still 665 million people in the world who don’t have access to a simple, clean water supply. Most of them are in Africa. For many years Wendy and I have been supporters of Blood:Water Mission, a group actively working to improve access to clean water across Africa.

Along life’s journey I’ve had to confess that it sometimes takes an  experience for me to wake up to the needs of others, and the opportunity I have to make a difference.

In today’s chapter, we discover one of the major reasons Paul was writing his letter to the followers of Jesus in Corinth. There was a severe famine in area of Syria and Israel. Historical records confirm that a massive famine broke out in that region in 47 A.D. during the reign of Emperor Claudius. People were literally starving to death, and Paul had been taking up an offering among the believers in Greece and Asia Minor to take much needed supplies to the believers back in Jerusalem.

There was kind of a cool spiritual principle at work. Back when Jesus was tempted to turn stones to bread He quoted a verse from Deuteronomy to the enemy: “You shall not live on bread alone, but on every word the comes from the mouth of God.” The believers in Jerusalem had blessed Greece and Asia Minor by sending the Word and spreading Jesus’ Message through Paul and others. Now those believers in Greece and Asia Minor had the opportunity, in turn, to save the believers in Jerusalem from starvation by providing for their physical needs.

Yesterday I wrote about Paul finding joy in “all his troubles.” He uses that same same spiritual principle again, and takes it a step further, as he describes the believers in Macedonia who found joy amidst their trials and generosity amidst their poverty.

This morning in the quiet I find myself counting my blessings. Our hot water issue was fixed yesterday. It was a pesky annoyance caused by build up of ice that choked the flow of air to the system. Ultimately, it was a small problem. Such a luxury, and what an opportunity I continually have to make a difference in the lives of others through the abundance with which I’ve been blessed. The Macedonians, Paul wrote, had been generous despite their poverty. How much more generous can I be out of the wealth with which I’ve been blessed?

Featured photo courtesy of Seeds of Hope International Partnerships: http://sohip.org

Creation and Re-Creation

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!
2 Corinthians 5:17 (NIV)

I got my first tattoo in the fall of 2005. It was an incredibly tumultuous time in my journey. It was the most tumultuous stretch of the journey I’ve yet experienced, in fact. I was recently divorced, a reality I’d never imagined for myself, with two teenage daughters trying to make sense of their own shattered realities. Wendy had also entered my life. This was another unexpected and unlooked for reality that I knew in my heart was of God’s doing, but it made the whole picture a hot mess.

So, why not get a tattoo?

The tat is a celtic cross on my back. In the circle at the crux of the cross is a reference to Revelation 21:5:

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

Wendy also got a tat that day. A butterfly with the same reference. It was a permanent reminder amidst temporary circumstances of the hope we had in Jesus. Wendy and I both knew by the faith that Paul writes about in today’s chapter that Jesus, the Creator, was in the process of picking up the shattered pieces of life and the mess that had been wrought by our respective human flaws and failings, and together was making something new out of it.

It was months later that I went to a weekend retreat for teens that our daughter Taylor was attending. She was going to speak to her peers and I had been invited to listen. It was hard. She spoke about her own pain amidst the divorce and remarriage and the tumultuous changes in her own experience and realities. “One of my dad’s favorite verses is Revelation 21:5,” she said before adding, “I don’t like that verse.” Ugh.

Our human failings create so much pain for the ones we love most.

Mea culpa.

Along my spiritual journey I’ve learned that God expresses themselves over and over and over again through the theme of creation and re-creation. It’s an integral theme in the divine dance. Old things pass, new things come. On the macro level consider the first chapter, Genesis 1, in which God creates the heavens and the earth. In the final two chapters of Revelation God creates a new heaven and a new Earth (Rev 21:1). On the cosmic level it happens at the cross and the empty tomb. Jesus refers to this creation and re-creation theme over and over again. “Unless a kernel dies and is buried in the ground,” He said, “It can’t spring to new life.”

I’ve also observed that many of my fellow followers of Jesus like to gloss over this theme with broad religious brush strokes of propriety. They like “old things pass away and new things come” to look pretty and proper with an emotionally moving musical score underneath. It’s so much easier to swallow when it’s neat and easy.

Maybe it is that way for some. I haven’t found it to be that way. Resurrection is proceeded by crucifixion. Crucifixion is a raw, naked, shameful, bloody mess. Just like my life back in 2005 when I got my first tat.

In the quiet this morning I’m reminded that when Jesus called followers, He made it clear that things would change. Old things would pass away. New things would come. And, not necessarily in comfortable ways.

Outward Groaning; Inward Growing

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.
2 Corinthians 4:16

For the past two months my life has been out of sync. You may have noticed that my posts have been more intermittent than usual. It started with the holidays when our kids and grandson, Milo, arrived home Scotland in early December. It was a joy having them with us for the month of December, though having a one-year-old (who is still trying to figure out normal sleep patterns) in the house tends to disrupt the normal schedule a bit. Then came Christmas, our daughter home from South Carolina, and, well, you get the picture.

I was looking forward to life getting back to normal after New Year’s. Then, on New Year’s Eve day, I was working out at Cross-Fit and I threw my back out on the rowing machine. Ugh. Unexpected and not fun at all. It’s been a slow recovery. A few days later, Wendy had surgery on her foot to take care of a pesky neuroma that’s been bothering her the past few years. That meant she was laid up on the couch with her foot up for a couple of weeks. In the meantime, I developed a nasty chest cold that would not let go (still hasn’t completely). Wendy and I were quite a pair laying next to each other on the couch. Our house became a domestic M*A*S*H unit. Add to the mix a marathon week of business travel and some brand new responsibilities at work. Oh yes, and did I mention about 18 inches of now and sub-zero temperatures? Yada, yada, yada. Blah, blah, blah. Again, you get the picture.

One of the things that I’ve learned along this life journey is not to fight against the terrain I am traversing in the moment. I’ve learned to lean in and embrace each season and what it brings with it, even if it’s not what I want it to be. December was joyful disruption. It was a time to lean in to family, guests, and celebrations that fubar the normal flow of life and schedule. January has not been joyful disruption. It’s been a rocky road of injury, illness and the subsequent need to focus our energies on rest and recovery. Which has meant sleeping in a lot of mornings, and not getting to my regular chapter-a-day post.

And so, in the quiet this morning, I silently identified with Paul’s words, pasted at the top of this post. In the past few years I’ve noticed distinct changes in my body. I need more sleep than ever before. When I get sick, I require more rest. It takes a little longer to recuperate than before. I need regular, and more focused, exercise for my health and well-being. In other words, my body is showing the very natural signs of its age. Spiritually, however, I feel as though I’m in a time of unprecedented growth. My spirit feels more alive than ever. I’m making new discoveries. I find myself pushing further up, and further in. I’m less distracted by the silliness of this life, and more focused on Spirit and truth. It’s awesome.

Outwardly groaning, inwardly growing. That’s the terrain right now, and I’m embracing it. It is what it is. I’m sorry my posts have been a little sporadic of late. I’m getting back to normal. It’s just taking a little bit longer than I expected.

Cheers, my friend. Have a great week!

 

The Activating Ingredient

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
1 Corinthian 13:1 (NIV)

As I’ve mentioned in recent months, I’m making my way chronologically through all of Paul’s letters. This is in conjunction with a year-long study my local gathering of Jesus’ followers is conducting of the book of Acts.

One of the patterns that is repeated over and over again in the book of Acts is an action or event that is followed by an opportunity to teach, testify or pray. The action always precedes the teaching or testimony. “Do” then “Teach.”

I thought about this as I read Paul’s famous discourse on love. He begins by acknowledging that religious actions void of love are empty, impotent, and useless. Love is the action. Love is the activating ingredient. Love is the “Do” that opens the way for meaningful conversation, interaction, and Life-giving moments.

In the quiet this morning I’m looking back over my entire spiritual journey. As I put on my 20-20 hindsight goggles, I confess that I’ve gotten a lot of things wrong. Oh my, have I missed some things. Simple things. Basic things. Things I should have seen long ago.

I was taught, and embraced the notion, that moral and doctrinal purity were “the most excellent way.” I and my Protestant tribes have been so worried about avoiding a doctrinally errant “gospel of works” (i.e. you earn your salvation by doing good deeds) that I believe I elevated the importance of belief and right-thinking. In so doing I diminished the activating ingredient: Love. And, without the activating ingredient, my faith is….

I’m reminded of James’ letter to believers (a letter Martin Luther hated and wanted struck from the canon of scripture). James is echoing the same sentiment as Paul. He just says it in a different way. If I say I have faith and I believe all the right doctrines, but I don’t have the activating agent of love motivating me to “Do” unto others, love my enemies, forgive those who’ve sinned against me, welcome the outcast, take up my cross, go the extra mile, turn the other cheek, give my coat as well, and et cetera, then my faith is void of Life. And, that which is void of Life is dead. I and my right doctrine are dead on arrival.

Lord, have mercy on me. I’ve still got so much to learn, and “Do.”