If that’s movin’ up, then I’m…

Some friends are packing up and relocating. But they’re not packing up much. Instead, they opted to sell virtually everything they owned and completely start over in a new locale.

Regardless of the circumstances – whether out of desperation or desire – I’m struck by the magnitude of that task. Would I be able to do that? Would I ever want to?

I suppose after the initial shock of the decision, the realization of “it’s only stuff” sets in. And what you keep, what you truly value, would reveal itself over what you merely like. Yes, it’s only stuff, but some of it is still MY stuff.

I dunno. I wish the best to my friends on their new adventure. And sometimes, I’m a little envious.

How about you? Could you sell almost everything and start over in a new place?

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Just look it up

Google Logo officially released on May 2010

Image via Wikipedia

I just finished helping two of my children with their homework. How, you may ask? With my dazzling display of brilliance?

Of course not. I used The Google.

I no longer have to know stuff. I simply have to know how to look it up online. And I’m pretty good at it. I use my Google skills at work, for my avocational interests, hobbies, etc.

Do you ever struggle to remember a name, place or date? Does it bother you that you don’t recall as much as you used to? Is it okay to rely on The Google so much?

Who is my neighbor?

Happy Halloween!

While the missus took the boys around the neighborhood trick-or-treating, I sat with my fellow circle members around a fire pit, waiting for kids to arrive. I have to tell you, it was a very satisfying evening. But it also got me to thinking about what kind of neighbor I have been.

I love the parable of the Good Samaritan. In a few words, Jesus completely upends our view of who we are obligated to show kindness. It’s a great teaching moment on our personal prejudices. We wrestle with the question, “and who is my neighbor?” While I’ll let you figure out the answer, let me at suggest that “neighbor” is at least the people who live on your circle.

One of my neighbors is facing a life-threatening disease. Another is dealing with the loss of a spouse. Another is taking their son to the hospital in the morning for surgery to correct a sports injury.

All of them are my neighbors. All of them deserve my attention, my care, my prayers for God’s blessing. Why don’t I know more about them? What kind of neighbor have I been to them?

And I’m not even Lutheran

After lunch with Dad (See the previous post. Yes, these discussions happened on the same day), Cathy & I took the boys to Six Flags. We were given 2012 season tickets, but if you went before the end of October this year, you also got free parking. Apparently, lots of folk had the same agenda because the line in the park for season ticket registration took nearly 90 minutes. Oh well. That’s not the story.

So we decide to take in a little bit of the park before heading home. I’m not much of a rider, so usually it’s the three of them on the ride while I wait at the exit for them. I’m fine with that.

As I wait for their turn on some stomach-turning ride, a man and his two daughters finish their ride and walk past me as they exit. He looks directly at me and talks to/at me as he passes. But he’s not speaking English. I simply smiled at him and his girls as they passed, trying to be friendly. I actually thought he was Bosnian (we have a large Bosnian population in St. Louis), and he had mistaken me for a fellow ex-pat.

My assumption was incorrect.

So my family finishes their turn, and as I prepare to greet them, the man returns to my view and says, “Did you understand what I was saying to you?”

After the shock of his now perfect English, I tell him that I did not.

He then asks me if I know who Jesus Christ is? I said yes to that one.

Did I know what Jesus’ last words on Earth were? Again, I said yes.

“What were they?” he asked. I recited Matthew 28:18-20.

“And do you know what else?” he said. I didn’t know where he was going, but he quickly cited Acts 1 – go and wait in Jerusalem.

“Do you know why they had to wait?” Yes

“Why?” For the Helper to show up.

“Then what happened?” He showed up, and the church began.

“And what else? What happened after the Holy Spirit came to them?” Finally I get where he wants to go with this. Tongues. Some spoke in tongues.

“Not some – all of them, ” he says. He then tells me to not quench the Spirit. I’m stunned by the whole bleeping oddity of this exchange, and don’t have much confidence that the two of us could have an intelligent conversation about the perpetuity of charismatic gifts, so I’m ready to end this.

I said, “Did you know that tomorrow is Reformation Sunday? Happy Reformation day, brother,” and walk away.

“Don’t be afraid of the Spirit!” he called after me.

“Happy Reformation Day!” I replied.

Sheesh.

For Shame, Sports Fans, For Shame

My dad turned 75 last Friday. We planned to have lunch with him on Saturday, so I went to the Christian bookstore in the morning to get him a gift.

Sidebar: I hate Christian bookstores, but I know that I can find something my dad will like there. Otherwise, I try to minimize my visits there. You’ll soon see why.

I’m the only customer in the store, so the happy Christian bookstore employee is talking to me as I wander around the aisles. Of course, much of the conversation is about the Cardinals winning the World Series 12 hours earlier.

As I get to the counter to purchase dad’s gift (a Gaither Homecoming DVD – Dad’s a sucker for those!), happy Christian bookstore guy says, “But you know, I can’t help but wonder…”

And I know where he’s going, so I braced myself.

“I wonder if all those fans in the stadium would be screaming and cheering for Jesus.”

And there is was. I got Jesus Juked.

I collected my change, picked up my purchase, and headed toward the door. “I guess it depends. Would He hit a home run?”

Happy Christian bookstore guy of course replied that Jesus had already hit a grand slam (you know – that whole resurrection thing), so I said “amen” and wished him a good day before the door closed.

Unexpected Gifts

Gifts are the stuff of Christmas merriment for most of us. It is fun to both give and receive that just-right, just-what-I-always-wanted present. Many of you probably have a tale of a very special gift that you received, where just remembering it makes you smile again.

And yet, sometimes Christmas brings us unexpected, even unwanted surprises. Gifts that, if were truly up to us, we would not open. You could probably tell me a few of those stories, too.

My family has its share. My mother was born on Christmas Eve, and while grandma used to call it her little Christmas present, decades later, Mom’s sisters still chide her for ruining their holiday.

When my dad was eleven, growing up on a farm in central Arkansas, he received a Daisy, lever-action BB rifle. (This is my story, quit making up your own!) So Harold took his new toy and a carton of BBs, and hiked out into the woods with his younger cousin Delton.

To load the rifle, you first had to cock the lever back, and then drop the BBs into a small hole near the end of the barrel. Dad was slowly, deliberately dropping in each BB, and Delton watched excitedly, asking, “Harold, can I pull the trigger yet?”

“No, Delton, not yet”

“Harold, can I pull the trigger yet?”

“No, Delton… not yet.”

Delton couldn’t stand it any longer, and he finally reached over and pulled the trigger. The BB hit Dad in his upper lip, where he still bears a small scar today, and sent him reeling backward, clutching is bleeding mouth.

Delton panicked, and raced back to my dad’s house. “Mrs. Hartsfield, Mrs. Hartsfield!” he yelled all the way to the front porch. Finally, he reached my grandmother at the door. “Mrs. Hartsfield,” he cried, “I’ve shot Harold!”

Unexpected, unwanted gifts. In my not-so distant past, there have been Christmases that I felt disappointed and alone, depressed, and afraid of the future. It was then that I began to understand the lyrics to the advent hymn…

O come, O come Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here

Many of you resonate with the hymn as well: funerals where poinsettias were present; or perhaps the TV or the radio were the only family nearby; or a whirlwind of circumstance eclipses the holiday season.

O come, Thou Dayspring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here.

It’s to those times and feelings that I want to share another unexpected gift. During the darkest hours, where we are reminded of just how fragile we are, the Apostle Paul writes of a wonderful gift, a treasure.

2 Corinthians 4:6-11 (New Century Version)
God once said, “Let the light shine out of the darkness!” This is the same God who made his light shine in our hearts by letting us know the glory of God that is in the face of Christ.

We have this treasure from God, but we are like clay jars that hold the treasure. This shows that the great power is from God, not from us.

Paul likens us to jars of clay, common everyday pottery. Today we might use the comparison to brown paper bags. Common, used for carrying all sorts of things. But we wouldn’t think of carrying treasure in them. It seems insecure, too risky.

Yet that’s what God has done for us. He prepared the most precious gift of His son to come to us.

The arrival of Emmanuel brings with it the gift of hope. When we’re not sure if we can bear the load, the treasure of the gospel that He has placed in our fragile lives means that we can go on, and even overcome.

We have troubles all around us, but we are not defeated. We do not know what to do, but we do not give up the hope of living.

We are persecuted, but God does not leave us. We are hurt sometimes, but we are not destroyed.

 

Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.

If this Christmas season has been less than idyllic for you, take heart. As believers we have an eternal treasure stored in our fragile paper bags. We have genuine hope because we have a Savior who has come to live in our hearts.

 

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel!

Some Musical Perspective, Please

Twenty years ago, many churches sang songs that were 200 years old.  Today, those same churches won’t sing a 20 year-old song.

“I mean no offense, but…”

I have a friend who is a newspaper reporter. His wife is a copy editor. She is smart, funny, and cute as a bug. My friend fell hard for her when they met in journalism school, and latched on the first chance he got.

But from my experience with other copy editors over the years, she is the exception to the rule. Case in point: there was a certain word processor at my firm who spent years in the book publishing business. She had a very good eye for what proper text should look like, how it should read. But unfortunately, she had absolutely no idea how she was “read” by others. She took little or no thought of her appearance (I’m trying not to be cruel here, but there it is anyway), was rude and abrasive and completely unbendable in her ways. Even though she had no actual authority as to how “things should be done around here,” she acted as if she not only knew such things, but that everyone else around her was an idiot – including me.

Hence, she was not very well-liked among her coworkers. No one was sad when she left for another position.

I do not know where she is spiritually, but I would not at all be surprised to find out that she is devoutly religious. Why, you ask? Because some of the most offensive people I know are religious.

I once met one the Rainbow Head guys who sits in the end-zone at football games. He sported a t-shirt that had JOHN 3:16 printed on the front, and REPENT on the back. I asked him where he got the inspiration to do this for a living. He said he felt called. Then he posed for a picture with me. Several others did the same while I was there.

By way of confession, I had a t-shirt made when I was in junior high that read GET RIGHT OR GET LEFT. I enjoyed the look on people’s faces when they asked me to explain it to them, since they obviously didn’t get it.

One of my college roommates experienced a dramatic conversion about a year before I met him. Sex, drugs and rock & roll were going to kill or imprison him if Christ hadn’t intervened. He was grateful for his new life, and was more than happy to confront anyone who wasn’t doing the same. I once caught him with a group of his church friends, praying for my lukewarm spirit. He used to say, “Jesus was bold. I need to be bold for Christ.” Before he was a Christian, he was willing to fight anyone in his way. As a Christian, he was willing to Bible bash with the same verve.

How do you present yourself? How does the world “read” us as Christians?

I think too many believers mistake being bold for Christ with being – I’m trying to be delicate here – butt heads. It’s almost as if they (we… I) believe that being a Christian means having the license to be offensive along with the Offense of the Gospel. The “tribulation” they (we… I) receive is validation of being faithful to the Message.

Meadow Muffins!, as Sherman Potter would say.

Children of God, the Gospel doesn’t need our help in being offensive (in fact, it doesn’t really need our help at all, but that’s another post). To couch ostentatious in religious fervor is not what Paul had in mind when he said that he is “all things to all people, so that by all means I might win some.”

We don’t need to be puppy dogs. There’s a place to be bold. But odds are, most of the time we think we’re being bold for Christ, we’re just offensive. Stop it.

Go!

Don’t ask me what stirred up the memory – I have no idea.

My high school required a semester-long gym class for all sophomores. It was called “Conditioning,” and segregated by gender. I don’t know what the gals did, but we guys spent the time doing a series of different activities, from weight training to running, and touching on most of the sports. I actually think it was an opportunity for the coaches to see if there were any potential recruits for the varsity teams, but that’s not important right now.

Everyone was benchmarked at the beginning on stretching ability, body fat, and time of running a mile. Your grade at the end of the semester was based upon the percentage of improvement from your initial scores, rather than compared to your classmates – a pretty cool concept, really, especially for guys like me who were (are), at best, mediocre athletes.

So at the end of the semester, we’re doing our mile run times again, and I’m really dragging on the last lap. I mean, I’m ready to quit.

And then I heard somebody yell out my name. My dear friend, Molly, whom I had known since our church nursery days, was with her gym class on the tennis courts, which overlooked the track around the football field. She was a cheerleader and an incredible gymnast.

For some reason, when she saw me on the track, apparently looking like a wounded animal about to give up the ghost (sorry ‘bout the mixed metaphors), she broke into her cheerleader voice and yelled:

“Go, Tony! Go! Go! Run!”

I knew the voice immediately as I heard it, and from somewhere came a burst of energy. I picked up the pace. And as she yelled my name again, “Go, Tony!” I found myself sprinting around the last turn into the straightaway toward the finish line.

I cut 30 seconds of my time from the beginning of the semester. No coaches approached me to play on their teams, but I didn’t care. I was exhausted, thrilled, and grateful for my cheering friend. I’m crying as I remember all these years later.

Child of God, who do you need to encourage today? Who comes to mind right now as you read this sentence? Make the effort to contact that person and break out your cheerleading voice. Go! Run!

Childhood Adventures

Guess I was eight or nine. Probably nine. I was always on my bicycle – bronze colored frame with a leopard print seat, I think I had taken off the chain and tire guards by then. Just about to get too big for it (and would graduate to the ultimate Sears Spyder Five the next year). I road like a madman most of the time.

The family across the street from us had a son, Johnny, who was a couple of years older than me. I thought he was cool, and often tried to emulate him. He also had an older sister – I really have no idea how old she was, but imagine she was a high schooler. Long, straight, dark hair, parted down the middle like a true child of the 70’s. I thought she was beautiful and mysterious. Funny… for the life of me I can’t recall her name now. Let’s call her Debbie.

Johnny set up a bike ramp in his front yard, basically a board laid beside a log from the firewood pile. We took turns going over the ramp, going for big air. Debbie started watching us from her bedroom window overlooking the yard, and would tell us who had the better jump. My bike size was just right for this type of activity, much less bulky than Johnny’s, so most of the time she said that I won.

Oh man! a beautiful, mysterious, older girl was impressed by my ramp jumping skills.

Johnny’s mom called him in for lunch, but I wasn’t about to stop now. I kept jumping, somehow hoping to win Debbie’s heart. But her window had fallen silent, and I began to wonder if perhaps she had left it for lunch with her brother.

But I thought I’d continue with my valiant effort anyway. This time I really got a fast start, hit the ramp, and pulled up just as it was lifting off. Holy cow I was high! I pulled so hard that the bike came out from under me, and in that brief second that I was in the air, I became frightened.

I came down, the bike followed on top of me. Was I hurt? A quick check indicated no. Was my bike hurt? No, it was undamaged as well. Did Debbie just see me make a fool of myself? Nah, I thought, she’d gone to lunch downstairs.

Then, from her bedroom window I heard, “Are you okay?” She’d seen it! I was exposed.

“Um… yeah. I’m fine,” I sheepishly mumbled (do sheep mumble?) as I picked up my bike and walked back home across the street.

As I got into my house, it dawned on me that in truth, Debbie was never really all that impressed by a nine-year old on a bike ramp. Maybe entertained briefly, but I was not going to be her knight in shining armor. People’s impressions are seldom as they seem at first, and risky behavior over those perceptions is foolish at best.

Unfortunately, as I look back over my life, it’s a lesson that I still haven’t mastered.

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