Monday, July 29, 2013

More than words

It’s strange to transfer thoughts to words but not always in a spoken manner. What I mean is that most times, I can take a plethora of words from my mind and move them to paper, but doing the same in a conversation is something entirely different, and in fact, not very easy. When given time to articulate my thoughts I can speak them eloquently and often have, but off the cuff is another story and I have struggled for years with the capacity to speak my thoughts with little planning or foresight. I suppose this only strengthens the idea that I enjoy writing, or if nothing else, it supports the concept of thinking before you speak.

Those who speak publicly on a regular basis are people I admire greatly. These are usually individuals who can put their thoughts into note format and then speak beautifully from limited cues but mostly from their own minds, as they are lead by their thoughts on a particular matter or topic. In a way, I envy that. Oddly, my thoughts that transfer to here are quick and concise and usually flow from what is in my head at that second. I don’t think about something, take notes and then go write a paper or article. Instead, I sit down at the computer and start typing based on an initial thought and then extrapolate from there. In a way, I type as I think.

But to take those same thoughts and simply speak is unfortunately not something I have been gifted with. I can prepare something and speak it well enough. I can rehearse lines of a song and sing it just fine, but what I really enjoy is just sitting here and writing down my thoughts. Words seem to just roll out of my head and for that, I am thankful. However, there are times, almost daily, where I wish I could carry on conversations better. I watch and listen to others who seem to have a natural knack for speaking about any topic, and doing so in a rhythm that flows as if it’s supposed to. I seem to struggle for what to say sometimes, for how to lead a conversation. I rarely lead conversations, instead I seem to just fill in when the other person stops talking. This has always been my modus operandi and I have seemingly never argued about it. Truthfully, it’s not as if I haven’t tried to be more insightful about certain topics and will attempt to carry on more but usually I just end up being quiet so I can listen as others carry on.

Sometimes, I wonder what others think regarding my lack of input in a given conversation. I would think that people who are naturally insightful would pick up on these things but alas, that doesn’t happen, at least not yet. And this is not meant as some condemnation to those I talk to, please understand. If you see me tomorrow, don’t clam up, expecting that in your silence I will suddenly start talking. It’s not really that easy and I suppose that for a lot of people this is the case. Words are not something I dole out like candy at a parade. And that brings me back to those who are so good at it. When a good speaker is at his or her best, those words are all hand picked and have meaning. Those words are not just thrown out there in happenstance, but instead, they are given away, with the understanding that the listener will grab them and use them.

A good speaker will use words that will benefit the listening audience, even if the audience is only one person. My hope and prayer is that my words can be used as effectively.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Yes, it's Friday

Realistically, Friday is the best day of the week, and I'll tell you why. For those of us who work Monday through Friday, our last day of the work week is Friday, so the immediate and obvious value is in knowing our work week is done...until next week anyway. I find that a lot of people like Saturdays more, and while there is a certain bit of sense to that notion, let me suggest a different view.

All too often, at least for me, Saturdays are filled with all the work you must do at home that you cannot get done during the week, because of your job. Saturdays are also the day that a lot of sports events take place for your kids and grand kids, which occasionally requires a bit of traveling to boot. It's the day you do your errands around town, get your shopping done and fix your car. Sometimes, Saturdays are more tiring than Fridays!

As I see it, work is hard enough for most people, so weekends should be cherished and used to unwind. It would appear to me that for some, weekends are as much work, if not more so, than their work weeks. This might sound like you and your experience but it's not all bad news. For one, weekends can be regained through some simple steps, but seeing Friday differently is where it all starts. Friday is the catalyst, if you will, of a well spent weekend. If you work Saturdays then just ignore this entire post, I’ll deal with you later.

Imagine that Fridays are like your second to last night on a tropical island vacation. If you’re like me, you would be packing on the last night of your vacation, but on the second to last night you would enjoy the sunset, eat outside, talk freely, sit back and relax. You would stay up late, sleep in the next morning and dress comfortably for the day. You would enjoy your breakfast, maybe catch up on a book and possibly go for a walk before the heat of the day. And all of that would be possible because of a Friday night that was free of anxiety.

Somewhere along the way I decided that Friday nights were the best nights for going out. It was the culmination of a work week and the start of something great, namely the weekend. So, in order to celebrate, Friday night became something special. It doesn’t always mean going out to dinner, sometimes it’s a picnic at the park or a movie rental, but it’s always something outside of the usual day to day routine. By setting the tone for my weekend with something fun on Friday evening, I diffuse a lot of the stresses that my work week builds up. When Saturday morning comes I grab it with a completely different enthusiasm.

Basically, you can’t have Saturday without Friday; the one simply has to come before the other. Given this slightly obvious fact, take hold of your Friday nights and use them like the diving boards they are, so you can jump into your weekend on a high.

Run like Paul?

The apostle Paul talked about running the good race and finishing the race, quite a few times in the New Testament. His references to running are several and it always leaves me with the wistful notion that Paul was a runner as a kid, or maybe even as a young adult. Understanding the metaphors is fairly straightforward but I often think there may be more to what Paul was talking about.

For instance, in running, as is often the case in most sports, when you near the finish of a race you get anxious and your heart rate changes, your stride quickens and your concentration goes from simply running to finishing. It’s a remarkable process, really, and it is the same for nearly all runners who run races. The finish line represents the end of the race. All the planning, all the training, all the effort seems to build up for that very last stride that carries a runner across the finish line. Naturally, the rest of the race is critical but to be sure, crossing that finish line is the most important feature of any race.

The thing about it is, when you start a race you can’t see the finish line. Some people like to envision the finish line as a kind of motivating force that propels them there. Some people imagine breaking the tape and being the first runner across and that image urges them on to the end. For most runners, seeing the finish line is euphoric. Knowing you are about to be done running is a comforting feeling and typically runners will surge to the line. Sprinting to the finish is a common way to finish a race and runners do so to enhance their times, but certainly, a runner is also very aware that the finish line means they get to stop.

Let me say that again. When you get to the end of the race, you get to stop. Only the truly wacky keep running after the race is over. What does it mean to you that you get to stop? It means that your effort, your concentration, your focus, your will and desire to finish, everything within you gets to stop doing what you were doing; which was running. Again, that feeling is euphoric for a lot of runners.

As I relate my understanding of running and racing to my understanding of scripture, I find a lot of correlation. In this life, I cannot see the finish line. At best, I can try and imagine it but that seems weird. Similar to running, there is a fair amount of training that takes place so that I can run along on this spiritual journey. As I run, so to speak, the continued focus and effort is non-stop, but I do it because I know that eventually, I will get to cross a finish line of sorts. But until then, I push ahead, step by step and stride by stride.

As I get closer to the end of my race here on this planet, I pray that I am not anxious about the finish. I’d like to believe that I’m really only about halfway through, but I make no predictions regarding what God has planned for me. Instead, I run on, knowing that at some point I will round that last corner and see the finish line ahead. I will know what awaits as I cross it and I will most likely desire to sprint into His arms. And as my anticipation grows, it is important to note that it is the euphoria of finishing that guides me.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Lost and found

The disciples were so lost following Jesus around...they didn't get it. Jesus actually had to ask them a few times if they were just being stupid.
The truth is that the disciples were expecting something totally different.
If someone came along side of you and told you they were going to be the next LeBron James and you should start following them might just do it.
So the disciples are pretty stoked right? Here’s this guy that is fulfilling the prophecy and as far as they know, based on what they have been told, this guy is going to be this amazing conquering king.

So naturally they want to be associated with him, he's going to be king and then they'll be right up there with the top dog. What a sweet set up!
So they do as he says and walk away from what they have so they can be in the king's court.
Think about Mark 8:32. Peter grabbed Jesus in protest after Jesus told them what was coming.
What Jesus foretold was not what these guys had signed up for.
This wasn't the kingdom they had in mind.
There was no fame in this.
I watch this country take Jesus and place him on a throne, but not an eternal heavenly throne.
One that oversees their schools, and government and workplaces and homes.
America is just another Israel.
Pining for a king.
And just like the Jews, they seem to be missing the point.

When reading the Old Testament vs. the New Testament, we see the distinct difference between the replaying dynamic of God’s people and what Jesus did to change that. That story is essential to the gospel and yet just like the Israelites, we keep looking for an earthly king. Generation after generation we want what we can see and relate to. God is so much greater and yet we often seek worldly satisfaction. Can we not see God’s will? Complacency is too easy isn’t it? Complacency is more than just a rut, it is a selfish lifestyle.

What we need is discipleship. What we need is training; a real education in biblical matters. We need a boot camp of sorts, for evangelism…American style. Why not go bold? Why not be in your face? I jest but the truth is that more Americans would relate to that kind of bold and extreme preaching if it were more prevalent. Instead, we get Westboro Baptist and their extremism and we become so turned off to the idea of radical evangelism because the groups that are doing it or have tried it, are so far out there that we simply regress to doing next to nothing.

Recently, I grasped the realization that the growth steps from Timothy to Paul to Silas to Barnabas are really not that obvious for a lot of people. It is with sadness that a lot of men are simply not turned on to the gospel of Jesus Christ and are therefore walking in blissful ignorance to what it means to be a part of the body of Christ. The disciples of Jesus struggled with this too and they got to walk and listen to Jesus for nearly 3 years!

After Jesus ascended into Heaven, the disciples received the gift of the Holy Spirit and I have to believe that at that point, the words of Jesus really sank in. All those parables, all the healing, all the teaching, all the miracles…those guys must have been literally floored by what they recalled. Is it possible that many Americans walking around today have yet to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit? The gift of discernment can only come with the Spirit living inside of you and it makes me wonder if many are simply not there yet. Certainly it would explain a great deal for me, maybe for you too, but it still leaves me wondering why more people are not praying then for the gift. Could it be that we live in a culture that suggests you really don’t need something as silly as the Holy Spirit?

Jesus discipled and taught 12 very ordinary men for nearly 3 years. During that time, that group of guys really struggled with a lot of what Jesus had to share with them. They doubted their calling, they doubted His words at times, they doubted why He was there and they were clearly very confused about this whole dying on the cross thing. But Jesus never gave up on that group of guys. He never said, “that’s it, I’ve had it with you bunch of idiots, I’m going solo”. Instead, He kept pouring into them, day after day after day, never relenting, until the day came when He had to be handed over to be crucified. And even after that He came back to be with them for more than a month before He returned to the Father. Jesus knew that in order to get inside the heads of ordinary guys, He had to go to extraordinary lengths to show them and teach them what it meant to be a servant.

In Acts, we see what happens when the Holy Spirit comes upon the disciples. These ordinary men become kingdom superheroes who risk their very lives for the gospel. Ultimately, most of them end up dying very gruesome deaths just for the privilege of following the way of Jesus. Some of them made sure to write about their experiences and they left us with precious words of teaching and encouragement. What I long for now is an awakening of sorts. I long for a group of guys who would rise up for the kingdom with no fear, filled with the Holy Spirit and proclaim that Jesus is Lord of all and that by His grace we are saved.

In order to get there though, we are going to have to spend some time discipling some men. It’s going to take years, not just some 4 week crash course. It’s going to take a radical shift in what it means to be in relationship with each other. We are going to have to dig deeper because the forces are against us, especially the very culture of America that surrounds us.

This is not some impossible task either. We have a road map that successfully guides us there and if we follow the leader, we will find that Jesus has already shown us the way. Being willing to follow is a bold first step. Committing to stick with it is a critical key. Understanding what is at stake will help your commitment level. Grasping the brevity of this in light of eternity is what will carry you through to the end.

One warning: this will not be easy. But have heart, because we know of the One who has overcome this world, and we have hope because of what He has done for us already. Pray for the Spirit to invade your life and pray for the courage to step out and be counted as a disciple. Our calling was never to be lost, but to be found by Him.