Living Successfully in Life’s Valleys

The Apostle and the Congressman

The Apostle:

One of my favorite passages in the Bible is found in Philippians chapter 4:4-9. When the Apostle Paul wrote this to the church that gathered in the city of Philippi, he was in prison for preaching the Good News about Jesus.

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

What a great way to approach life –1) Focus on good things of life – noble, right, pure, lovely, and admirable. 2) Practice the right things we learn from Scripture and pass it along to others. 3) Don’t worry; but pray and trust God. And Paul includes, as he writes from his cell, do this with thanksgiving.

He certainly was learning how to do this in prison. But, he knew that it’s only when our faith is tested that we really get to put this into practice.

The verses before this passage tell us what the Philippians were facing. Two of the ladies in the church were having problems with each other. And not just two ladies; but two who had worked diligently right alongside Paul and other leaders in their church.

Euodia, whose name means “good journey” and Syntyche, whose name means “pleasant friend” – were absolutely not being pleasant and good. They were not getting along – and it was causing problems.

Paul encouraged them: to remember who you are, remember who you represent, and to work things out with the help of God. And directly after this – to change what you think about, change who your examples are, and change how you pray.

From the first settlers, when the Pilgrims survived their first winter in the new land, America was where people came who were oppressed for their faith. And for a century, Congregationalists, Baptists, Puritans, Presbyterians, and others settled in different colonies.

The Congressman:

A hundred years later, after the end of the Revolutionary War and during the establishing of the United States, the new President of this new nation named George Washington faced his own set of problems. America’s new Bill of Rights was barely three days old. It was the same Bill of Rights that guaranteed “free exercise of religion.”

And Washington knew he had thirteen states, with different dialects, different economics, different expectations, and different styles of worship. They didn’t get along and they weren’t sure this new government would work.

Washington’s good friend, Elias Boudinot, stood before Congress with a proposal he thought would unite the States in a stronger way. Boudinot, barely remembered today, was famous in his day for his strong faith, his belief that all people were created equal, his passion for everyone to hear the Good News, and even later for his outspoken defense for the rights of blacks and for Native Americans.

He proposed the first National Day of Prayer and Thanksgiving under the new government of the United States of America – “ a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God.”

The House of Representative, the Senate, and the President agree to call the whole nation to prayer on the final Thursday of the following month of November. It was to be a day of repentance and a plea that the new nation would be “a blessing to all the people” – that the leaders of this new nation would “faithfully execute…the wise, just and constitutional laws” of the new land. And, it would be a day to “promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue.”

In other words, this Day of Thanksgiving was to encourage this new nation to remember who you are, remember who you represent, and works things out with the powerful help of God.

And just like Paul reminded the church in Philippi, and the two ladies in the church, this Day of Thanksgiving was a day to focus on the good things of life, practice the right things we have learned from God’s Word, and pray with faith and with Thanksgiving.

Remembering —

 

 

Now that I’m 60 – what am I committed to:

There is something about entering a “new decade of years” that calls me to reconcile my experience with my values. As a reminder to myself more than anyone else, I am committed more than ever…

…to worshiping and serving Christ Jesus increasingly with my gifts, skills, time, and resources.

…to loving and honoring my wife till death separates us.

…to encouraging and influencing my son and daughters (and grandkids, when they show up for God’s purposes) toward loving and serving God with their lives.

…to loving what God says He is in love with: the lost, the broken, the lonely, the refugee, the hurting, the confused, the poor, the homeless, the enslaved, the imprisoned.

… to loving and lifting up the church local and global through my prayer, encouragement, time, presence and resources.

…to doing life with a small group of men and women for mutual encouragement, personal growth, and lifestyle ministry.

…to meeting with 2-3 men for discipleship on a regular basis to stay pure, live on target with my promises, and encourage each other toward a fruitful Christian life.

…to living a richer and riskier life in my finishing years by saying yes to each opportunity to give myself away, pour into others, explore new relationships, and influence my world toward Christ.

Tough Crowd

Preachers and worship leaders can read a room, so I’m informed. We stand before the crowd and can tell if they are tracking with us, indifferent, or just don’t like us (not that the third option ever happens in church!) Jesus was invited to a Pharisee’s house (read Luke 14) and the place was filled with an audience not-so-favorable toward him or the message of the Kingdom. My guess would be to not expect much from a dinner party crowd like this (maybe like going to a Hillary rally wearing a Feel the Bern tee.)

Jesus turned the Sunday dinner soiree into a masterful time of teaching – about not living for crowd approval (he was experienced with this,) about humility and the urge to seek honor from others (don’t take the box seat unless it’s offered), and about lifting up those who can’t improve one’s status or power (toss to pre-approved invitation list and bring in the hurting, blind and invisible.)

And, he healed a man with a visible case of renal failure (his arms and legs were swollen with fluid.) Jesus noted the man’s illness and asked the crowd if he should heal him, even though it was the Sabbath. (I’m sure the host was asking, “who let this guy in? Next time, screen for dropsy!)

Of course, the crowd of Pharisees refused to answer – and of course, Jesus healed him.

But the next exchange is what grabs me. Jesus addresses the room and  asked, “Who here doesn’t do some kind of work on Sunday? Fix a tire? Empty the trash? Rescue a cow? Really?”  Silence from the room. (Cue the crickets.) And they couldn’t answer.

Not “refused” or “chose not” to answer. They couldn’t. Their world view simply would not give space for a reasonable answer. They were so entitled to their Sabbath day, that they couldn’t answer. The rules that governed their Sabbath ruled out their ability to speak aloud what was true and made sense. That God desired healing on their holy-day couldn’t penetrate their dogma … or their faith.

What we’ve experienced, good and bad, and what we’ve clung to that seems culturally acceptable might be exactly what stops us from believing … and being healed.

Comedians can read an audience, too. I read that some entertainers choose to beg off shows at colleges – they say it’s too dangerous. What they say is always under scrutiny. And being recorded.

What a shame that dogma might stop the laughter. And everyone needs a good laugh.

 

Lavish Grace

I revisited the parable of the seeds today, and I expected a rerun. Hey, I can be lame when I read the same passage. The farmer scatters seeds; then it falls first on rocky, then shallow, thorny, and finally fertile soil. The seed and ensuing sprout, in turn, is stolen, burns in the sun, dies from strangulation, and grows to produce fruit.

Preachers have outlined this passage mnemonically starting with nearly every letter of the alphabet (I had a friend who embarked on alliterating the Bible in “P”s – I think he’s somewhere committed now.)

I choose “W.”

But, when I read this, it’s the soil that has issues and not the seed. God’s Word is consistently powerful. We have problems with our soil.

The first soil is “without defense.” The enemy steals it like pigeons at a Central Park seed-fest.

The second soil is “without depth.” The heat of temptation and the pressure of tests can be brutal, like the Amazon sun.

The third soil is “without devotion.” Sin strangles and cuts off the life like a thick and thorny greenbrier.

The fourth soil that Jesus points to is “with dedication.” It’s a good word the means devotion and declaration. A tree full of fruit says, “come and get me.” (To quote one of my movie heroes.)

But two things stand out in the parable.

The first is that God is lavish with his Word… and with his invitation to life. Today’s farmers would say foolish. He throws the seed to the wind, and everyone gets a chance to embrace it, and grow to full spiritual potential. Jesus is extravagant with grace and gives it away even to those who reject it.

The second is what follows in Luke. Another metaphor called the parable of the lamp. “For all that is secret will eventually be brought into the open, and everything that is concealed will be brought to light and made know to all.” (8:17) Real fruit can’t be faked. Let that seed sink down deep.

Enjoy the sunlight.

Rick

 

Some look for a Wild Time; I’m looking for a Wild Place

When our kids were growing up, they were fascinated by a series of books (maybe more so, their dad) called “Where’s Waldo?” (Christian book fans, you may remember the “Seeking Sammy” series – I’m guessing it was the Biblical Sammy the Prophet.)

In case you don’t recall spending hours searching through the red and white minutiae for the scarf and ski cap bedecked Waldo, These colorful books opened to panoramic scenes of tiny people in public places, and stuck in the crowd was “Waldo.” The winner found him.

At times, I feel the same way about Jesus. Where’s Jesus? In all the minutiae of life, where is He? Sometimes life’s details hide or push out the right stuff.

Luke 5 is a busy time in Jesus’ life. But it has an interesting aside. Jesus is in the midst of gathering a group of friends and he’s performing miracles (while already avoiding arrest, it seems). And Luke says, “Jesus would often slip away to the wilderness and pray.” I imagine that, in their travels, the guys got up, rolled their backpacks, and someone would say, “Where’s Jesus now?”

Oh, he must have found a wild place.

Jesus was regularly taking time from the wild press of people and their needs, and drawn to seek a place to be alone with His Father. Is there a connection between a wild place, the alone-ness, and God’s presence? Maybe our willingness to go to a wild place can helps us see God’s hand and presence more readily? And it might be the questions become more real in a wild place?

Three things about a wild place: 1)It’s not a quiet place (the noise is different, but still there. 2) It’s not a normal place (we have to choose to go there; the “beaten path” and a wild place are exact opposites.) 3) It’s not a safe place. (Wild places have critters. And the dangers can refocus one’s mind.)

When I find a wild place – a place off the beaten path – to spend time with the Father, I expect that my life will be refocused, on Him and His purposes for me and for His world. And that can be dangerous.

Two-degrees and roundabouts

One of my favorite quirks about living in Italy was the roundabout (la rotonda). Just between my house and the nearest real city, there were seventeen. The reasoning of the Italiani, why use stop signs when you can create a circle everybody can use at once? I loved the dance that happened in urban roundabouts when there were four lanes circling a statue dedicated to The Fallen … and five entry points. Ahh, the adventure and the danger!

When we left northern Italy to return to America, we felt the weight of a complete life turn-around – it was like a roundabout we chose to enter and knew it would spill out back toward America and, specifically, my hometown of Myrtle Beach. And it did.

After a conversation with a good friend, I realized that, with the return, much of my library is still in Italy, in the hands of fellow missional’s. One of the books was a John Trent title – The Two-degree Difference. This was one of many “only read the first two chapters” books; the premise is simple. Make two-degree adjustments in your actions, posture, life direction, habits, etc., and before long, you’re heading the right way.

While I agree that we need to make right choices and move toward health – spiritually, emotionally, relationally, and otherwise – it may take a greater act. Adjusting actions by small degrees is the way we are told to replace bad habits, but how boring is that!

I like what Jesus said, “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.” Not two-degrees. More like 180-degrees.

There is incredible power in the simple act of turning around. An about-face unleashes God’s power to change. The get the presence of God’s Kingdom face-to-face with the act of turning.

What about the two-degree principle? It may be that in our act of repenting God reveals the next thing to change, or it may be that we have gotten “out of habit” with the practices that make life richer, and by all means are worth restoring. But if it’s sin, it deserves more than 2-degrees. It deserves the full 180!

I like what Jesus said to Peter even though he knew there was a major fail in his future: “I have prayed for your Simon, that your faith will not fail, and when you have turned back (read: repent), strengthen your brothers.”

Turn from sin. Yearn for God. Return to the things that matter.

From the Rotonda,

Rick