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
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.
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.
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!
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.”
Therefore I urge you to imitate me.
1 Corinthians 4:16 (NIV)
The past few weeks Wendy and I have been getting videos of our grandson, Milo, that Taylor has been sending from their home in Scotland. Milo is almost a year old and the videos reveal that young Milo has hit the stage of development in which he “imitates” what his parents do. When we had a FaceTime conversation a week or so ago I had some fun making up distinct little laugh noises and coughs and then was overjoyed to watch and listen as Milo smiled and tried to imitate them. It was a fun game, and it warmed my heart.
In today’s chapter Paul makes a very simple and direct request of the believers in Corinth: “Imitate me.” Not just a game of mimicking voice or gesture, Paul was inviting his friends in Corinth to imitate his way of life, his actions, his words, his hard work, his way of treating others.
It’s such a simple command, and yet it is such a bold statement. In the quiet this morning I have been trying to imagine telling a fledgling believer to imitate me. Yes, okay, I have developed some good habits and disciplines in life, but I can also immediately bring to mind things I wouldn’t want anyone imitating. I confess to having an overdeveloped sense of shame, but I’m still intimidated by the thought of telling someone, “Just watch me and do what I do.”
As I meditate on it, I’ve come to think that perhaps this is actually a good exercise. I picture myself telling a young person “Imitate me.” What would I be afraid of them seeing, hearing and repeating? What thoughts, words, actions, and habits would have me quickly adding an addendum and making caveats to the imitation command? “Well, wait a minute. Don’t imitate that part. If you catch me doing this, just ignore me, please. Only imitate what you saw me doing earlier when everyone was looking.” It seems a pretty good methodology for revealing those areas of my life where I still have significant growth and improvement potential.
The kids and Milo are coming home in a few days. Milo will be with us through the holidays. This morning I’m reminded that children watch their parents and their grandparents. They listen. They observe. They take it all in. Then they imitate. Not just the silly FaceTime game of mocking a laugh or a cough. Our children and grandchildren observe and imitate our very lives.
My desire is for my life to be a good example to imitate.
Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more.
1 Thessalonians 4:1b (NIV)
Wendy and I have been recently discussing an article we read in the Wall Street Journal about a woman who zealously maintained a routine of intense frugality in order to meet her goal of saving enough money to retire at the age of 40. She lived alone in a 400 square-foot apartment, spent only $75 a month on food, and asked to borrow her friends Netflix passwords. I was not surprised when the article generated a host of letters to the Editor.
As Wendy and I discussed the article our conversation centered on the relationship between our western view of “retirement” and the concept of “living.” We are taught in our culture that we “work” our entire lives in order to get to a point in life when we no longer work, and can now “enjoy life.” The further I get in my journey, the more I’ve observed that some individuals approach this view with an “either, or” mindset and end up making two false assumptions. One is the belief that you can’t or won’t really “enjoy life” as you work hard, establish a career, raise a family, experience the peaks and valleys of mid-life, and so on. The second false assumption is that “enjoying life” is equal to or dependent on “not working.”
As I journey through God’s Message over and over again I’ve discovered that it’s worthwhile to pay attention when things get repeated. In today’s chapter, Paul “urges” his friends and fellow believers to do something “more and more.” The first is to live in a way that pleases God. The second is to love each other. According to Jesus’ law of love the latter is the requisite way we achieve the former.
In the quiet this morning I find my heart and mind meditating on two, no let’s make that three, thoughts. The first is that, with regard to my faith, I find myself growing deeper, pushing further, and expanding more than I have my entire life journey. Rather than a feeling of contentment with the knowledge I’ve gained and the maturity I’ve developed, I am motivated with how little of the mystery I know, what incredible depth of wisdom I have yet to fathom, and how far it is I yet have to go in my spiritual journey. I can already see that there is no “retirement” in this Spirit journey (nor would I want there to be).
The second thing I’m mulling over is just how much Life I have experienced and enjoyed in each step of this journey, and how much I continue to do so. Like anyone I enjoy the occasional opportunity to add a unique, once-in-a-lifetime experience to my “bucket list.” But chasing after adrenaline rushes endlessly is not “really living” for me. Really living is a daily routine of morning coffee, reading the news, and discussing the world with Wendy. Really living is receiving a phone call from our daughters, wherever they happen to be on the planet. Really living is FaceTime with my grandson. Really living is finding a small way to serve someone else and receiving the gift of his or her gratitude. Really living is a great meal and intimate conversation with dear friends with whom we are sharing this life journey. Really living is sliding into bed on a cold night and letting Wendy’s hot flash warm me up. I “enjoy life” every…single…day.
The third thing, then, is the concept of “retirement.” Paul writes in today’s chapter to be ambitious to lead a quiet life and “work with your hands.” I’ve been studying the life of Paul of late and have discovered that scholars agree most of his time was not spent teaching in synagogues and/or running a ministry. Most of Paul’s time was spent making tents. It was his family trade and he did it industriously, wherever he went, so that he would “not be dependent on anyone” just as he instructed the Thessalonians believers. It reminds me of Wendy’s 92 year-old grandmother who has been busy knitting scarves to be given to people who need them. While “retirement” may mean I get to cease working the same job that I’ve done for many years, I certainly don’t believe that my work is done.
Thanks for reading, my friend. May you be inspired to search deeper, reach further, and expand in Spirit. May you work at what you are purposed to do. May you recognize moments to “enjoy life” today.