Monday, September 28, 2020
Viktor Frankl, a survivor of the Terezin concentration camp (Theresienstadt) authored 39 books. He dictated to a team of assistants “Man’s Search for Meaning” over a 9-day period. His life and writings have inspired countless throughout the years. “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lie our growth and our freedom.” Viktor Frankl We each find ourselves between stimulus and response. We live in that “space.” We find ourselves in the “space” between many forms of stimulus. “The stimulus” could be relationship struggles, health challenges, the countless aspects of the pandemic, the nation’s economic situation, racial tensions, protests, riots, political wrangling and division. What will our “response” be to the “stimulus?” That “space” is where I have the God given power to choose my response. My response carries with it the nucleus of growth and freedom. When the people of God that Joshua led were in the “space” between survival and destruction, he challenged the crowd. “So fear the LORD and serve him wholeheartedly. Put away forever the idols …Serve the LORD alone… as for me and my family, we will serve the LORD.” (Joshua 24:14-15 NLT) In the “space” they could throw away their idols and serve God or continue to serve their idols. What is the “stimulus” bearing down on you? What “response” are you considering? The “space” is where you have power to choose growth and freedom or shrinkage and bondage. Jesus always wants his followers to choose growth and freedom. Exercise your power to choose. Choose growth and freedom!
Monday, September 21, 2020
Two thousand years ago the Apostle Paul described what societies and the world would look like when people continue to walk away from God, God’s revealed character in nature and God’s spoken revelation through the prophets and New Testament writers. If someone didn’t know where this sketch of humans in rebellion against God came from, they could assume that the picture was written last week. The characteristics described describe life in the western world. “Understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.” (2 Timothy 3:1–4 ESV) It is into that environment that God has called his church (you and me) to engage in the mission of reconciliation. There is no greater opportunity and privilege in life than working towards reconciling rebellious people to God! “God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.” (2 Corinthians 5:18-20 NIV) Pray for those in your life circles who need reconciled to God. We live in tough times. Every sign is that life will get more difficult in the weeks, months and even years ahead. Do not surrender to fear. Surrender your fear to God. Pray and work to see as many people as possible reconciled to God through Jesus.
Monday, September 14, 2020
The Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Philippi about not grumbling and arguing. “Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, ‘children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.’ Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life.” (Philippians 2:14-16 NIV) What is grumbling and arguing? When does addressing issues in a relationship, in a job, a church, a community, or nation become grumbling and arguing? Grumbling and arguing is pointing out faults, problems, and obstacles without offering and working towards a solution. It is easy to point out faults, problems, and obstacles -- it is more difficult to suggest and seek solutions. People are grumbling and arguing in every stratum of society. People’s standard of living, their level of education, their faith background, or their political leanings, seem to be irrelevant. They all grumble and complain! They grumble and argue about COVID-19, BLM, the environment, the economic situation and outlook, and the fiscal policies thrust upon them. This grumbling and arguing are testing social structures and revealing the cracks at every level. Couples see the other person as a foe. Instead of working together to determine how they are going to get their boat through the rapids, they fight each other with the paddles. Children grumble and argue with parents and vice versa. Politicians and political parties grumble and argue, when they could collectively seek solutions that benefit the whole. They stonewall and blame each other, ignoring tested social structures. They are tasked with building a bridge to lasting change and solutions, but instead they grumble and argue about the bridge that is crumbling. What did Paul say? “Do everything.” Everything is a big word! It is only 10 letters but encompasses all of life. Everything means everything. Where does “do everything without grumbling and arguing” start? With me! With you! With us! With Jesus' followers! Jesus wants US to be the ones shining in our society like stars in the sky as we hold firmly to the word of life.
I have been reading about a practice that fleshes out for me, one directive given by Jesus’ brother James. James wrote: “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” (James 1:19 NIV) James might have heard Jesus teach about being quick to listen and slow to speak. He was probably aware of the words of Solomon in his collection of Proverbs. Solomon wrote: “Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.” (Proverbs 17:28 ESV) “The Rule of Awkward Silence” is the practice that I’ve been reading about. The Rule of Awkward Silence or being “quick to listen, slow to speak” requires time. Too often in the rush to feed “instant gratification” we waste time giving answers that are incomplete, shallow, not thought through, and not helpful. But we swim in the pool of instant gratification. Everyone is looking for Immediate responses. People expect an answer to their email the same day, and they expect texts answered immediately. The person who texted is likely looking for the “ellipsis” showing that a response is being typed. (What about when the “ellipsis” goes away? It’s as if the other person started responding and then changed their mind…what’s up with that?!) People don’t connect the dots of life well when they don’t think critically. Critical thinking involves pondering, studying, and analyzing. Critical, deep, reflective thinking requires time. Time to consider subjects, ideas, and concepts. “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.” (Proverbs 18:2 ESV) I’m trying to slow down and think. I’m trying to understand. I don’t want to be the “fool” who is only concerned with “expressing his opinion.” Silence can be awkward. I’m trying to learn to live in the awkwardness of silence so I can learn, understand, and think.
Monday, August 24, 2020
Jesus often taught counterintuitive truths and principles: “Give and you will receive,” and “Keep your life and you’ll lose it, lose your life and you’ll save it,” and “If you want to be the greatest you must become the servant of everyone.” I’m convinced that most of Jesus’ teachings caused the hearers to scratch their heads in confusion. One of the counterintuitive principles that Jesus taught is “If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.” (Matthew 5:41 ESV) I bet there were more than a few raised eyebrows from angry, frustrated, and irate people who heard Jesus' teaching. “Really Jesus? Someone FORCES me to go one mile, and I’m supposed to volunteer to go two miles with him?” Jesus' statement requires some details to understand what he was saying. In Roman occupied Israel, a Jewish Roman law required someone to carry the belongings of a Roman soldier who demanded it but only for one mile. Jesus multiplied the one-mile requirement to two miles. Jesus was saying, “If a soldier demands you to carry his pack one mile, carry it two miles.” Refusing to carry the pack, even one mile is intuitive, volunteering to carrying a pack two miles is counterintuitive. Fully committed followers of Jesus are “second mile people.” Jesus’ way is to travel the extra mile unless the first mile is immoral, unethical, or disobedient to God’s way. If it would be wrong for a person to go one mile, then obviously the second mile would also be wrong. If authorities demand that a Jesus follower, pastor, or teacher stop speaking against abortion, that would violate God’s standard and the demand would call for civil disobedience. It would be wrong, disobedient, and immoral to help a woman abort her baby. If one mile is wrong, then the second mile is also wrong. If in the current context, wearing a mask and social distancing is the required one mile. What is the second mile? Wearing a mask without complaint? Are you seeking to live as a “second miler?” The first mile is obedience. The second mile is the Jesus’ way.
Monday, August 17, 2020
Over the last few months, I have written some thoughts out about an area of thinking I’m concerned about. I have deleted a few rough drafts. I’ve started over and then trashed my work. I will try it again. Contradictory and polarizing ideas and philosophies are unavoidable and are found in areas such as commerce, environmental struggles, race, family structures, conservative and progressive politics. It is difficult to live a healthful life on the excesses of ideas. An honest and healthy thinker can comprehend a variety of levels of thought and ideas in their mind concurrently. Unhealthy thinkers struggle to hold different levels of thought at the same time. They are unsettled by the tension two opposing thoughts create. A popular story line regarding “Black Lives Matters” and “Blue Lives Matter” is that a person can only be for one of the statements and not both. Why? Are people so superficial that someone must be a supporter of one or the other? The two statements are not mutually exclusive and are only contradictory when people are unable to live with the tension. People of color have been discriminated against, legislated against, “red lined” and slain. History is full of injustices against people of color. The truth is unavoidable, it is uncomfortable to admit, and it creates tension. The only way to deny the tension is to deny the truth. “Black/Colored Lives Matter.” Deep down, no one wants to live in a world without law enforcement. A culture without law enforcement erodes towards lawlessness, chaos and anarchy. Without law enforcement innocent people suffer, inequity is carried out on the powerless, and fear becomes the ruling emotion. “Blue Lives Matter.” Colored Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter are not in conflict except when people want to generate conflict. Those two thoughts are not mutually exclusive except when people’s thinking can only hold one thought and therefore choose one or the other. Two opposing thoughts describe the tension of life. The area of tension is sometimes referred to as the messy middle. Jesus described living and thriving in tension when he told the disciples ““Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10:16 ESV) We are instructed to be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”
Monday, August 10, 2020
As history unfolds and one thing after another shocks the world, I often think of words written 3,000 years ago. “Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?” (Psalms 2:1 ESV) Why do countries continue to fight against countries? Why do people conceive and plan vain solutions to world problems? What is the root of these conflicts? What is the point of one idea piled upon another idea until the weight of these ideas squash people? The psalmist answered the question: “The kings of the earth set themselves … against the Lord.” They cry out: “Let us free ourselves from the slavery to God.” Have you heard any of these ideas? “We don’t need God.” “God is a myth created by cultures in an ignorant time.” “The belief in God is a cultural construct for weak people and used as a tool of oppression.” “Belief in a moral God involved in human affairs is an invention to regulate people.” A Google search: “Is god a social construct” displays 68 million returns! Sounds like “Let us free ourselves from the slavery to God.” The belief that people can do whatever, whenever, with whoever, for any reason or no reason and not answer to anyone is not a new idea. The Apostle Paul mentioned a famous saying “Let’s eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” as an excuse to “party on” in A.D. 60. A social construct is a social construct, and every social construct has more holes than a slice of swiss cheese. The social construct of a transcendent god is as pointless as the social construct of the “rule of law.” If people only answer earthly rulers, everyone is ultimately free to determine for themselves what is “right” and “wrong,” “moral” and “immoral.” Why are the people and nations of the world in turmoil? Because humanity is crying out, “let us free ourselves from slavery to God.” The psalmist instructed the rulers of nations: “Kings be wise; be warned, you rulers of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear and celebrate his rule with trembling.” Psalm 2:10-11 Personal turmoil arises when people say to themselves, “I will free myself from the slavery to God.” Personal peace comes to those who “Serve the Lord with fear and celebrate his rule with trembling.”