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Thursday, March 29, 2018

A Prescription for Living


“Love is patient, love is kind, it isn’t jealous, it doesn’t brag, it isn’t arrogant, it isn’t rude, 
it doesn’t seek its own advantage, it isn’t irritable, it doesn’t keep a record of complaints, 
it isn’t happy with injustice, but is happy with the truth.”
1 Corinthians 13:4-6 (Common English Bible)

            Earl Nightingale shares some wisdom for living he learned from Dr. Frederick Loomis who published an essay in 1949, “The Best Medicine.”[i] Dr. Loomis wrote, “It’s but little good you’ll do, watering last year’s crops. Yet that is exactly what I have seen hundreds of my patients doing in the past 25 years – watering with freely flowing tears things of the irrevocable past. Not the bittersweet memories of loved ones, which I could understand, but things done which should not have been done, and things left undone which should have been done.” Dr. Loomis went on to write that one cannot live adequately in the present, nor effectively face the future, when one’s thoughts are buried in the past. What must be done, insists Dr. Loomis, is to stop thinking about yourself – and how you have been hurt – and start thinking about other people.

            This is precisely the teaching of the apostle Paul in these words he shares with the Christian community in Corinth, “(love) doesn’t keep a record of complaints.” We habitually think of love as a feeling or as an emotion. Yet, Paul shows no indication in 1 Corinthians 13 that love is to be understood in this fashion. For Paul, love is cognitive; it is a decision that produces behavior. Love – indeed the love demonstrated by Christ – always moves toward other people positively, seeking their welfare. Such love takes no notice of wrongs received by another. Rather, love sees the possibilities of changing people and moving all humanity toward the Kingdom that Christ embodied in himself.

            Dr. Loomis writes that by the simple device of doing an outward, unselfish act today, each person can make the past recede; “The present and future will again take on their true challenge and perspective.” He concludes his essay noting that, as a doctor, he has seen this approach being far more effective in changing lives than any prescription he could have ordered from the drugstore. As Earl Nightingale observes, those were the last words written by Dr. Loomis but they have kept him alive in the minds and actions of thousands, perhaps millions, of people who have chosen to test for themselves their practical value.

            We all know people who nurse an injury, a slight or unkindness, perceived or real, they have received from another. Or, perhaps, they have suffered a tragedy in the past and simply cannot move past the hurt. They mull the memory over and over, keeping it fresh. What is done is done, and there is no remedy; no returning to the past to undo what was unpleasant. It is here that Dr. Loomis is very wise. The past cannot be changed but the present can. The course that is available, if one chooses, is to cease thinking about oneself and start thinking about others. Indeed, if we wish to destroy the envy, the anger, and the evil that lurks in the world – and in our hearts – we refuse to react emotionally to the slights or harm done to us by others and respond with love. It is a prescription for living that we learn at the foot of the cross.

Joy
             


[i] Earl Nightingale, “A Prescription for Living,” Insight: A Time-Saving Source of New Ideas for Busy People (Chicago: Nightingale-Conant Corporation, 1988) 5.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

The Courage of Saying Yes


“’Here’s my recommendation in this case: Distance yourselves from these men. Let them go! 
If their plan or activity is of human origin, it will end in ruin. 
If it originates with God, you won’t be able to stop them. 
Instead, you would actually find yourselves fighting God!’ 
The council was convinced by his reasoning.”
Acts 5:38, 39 (Common English Bible)

            Those who know me well know that I have a rather strong aversion to the word, “no.” It is a word that lacks courage, a word that shows a preference for playing the game of life – or work – in the safe places. The uncreative mind finds comfort in the familiar. It is a mind that resists being stretched in new directions. Additionally, such a mind absolves itself of responsibility should a new idea turn out badly. This thinking also gives the impression of superior knowledge as to the outcome of a fresh approach. Those who choose to answer any new idea with “no” clearly have a predilection for the status quo, and, quite possibly, are impeding the discovery of something of superior value.  Yet, the future belongs, as it always has, to those who courageously answer, “yes” to trying something new.

            In the fifth chapter of Acts, the disciples of Jesus have been arrested for preaching the resurrection of Jesus and are saved from almost certain death by the intervention of a rabbi named Gamaliel. The religious establishment, here represented by the Sadducees, is determined to put an end to the Jesus nuisance. They are a “no” people – answering, “no” to teaching and preaching the risen Christ. Before rendering their decision on what is to be done with Jesus’ disciples, Gamaliel presents some sound advice before his colleagues: If what the disciples preach is in error, it will fail on its own. But if, in fact, what they say is true, nothing will silence their message. More, the religious establishment may even be found resisting God!

            Gamaliel is urging his colleagues to have the courage to say, “yes” – to welcome this innovation to their cherished faith tradition and take a “wait and see” position. Resorting to “no” and force against the teachings of these disciples may, in fact, end badly for them. Recognizing that great truth occasionally shows-up in new methods and practices and understandings that are not familiar entails great courage. The same courage that was exercised so many years ago when Galileo suggested that the earth was round, not flat.  Gamaliel demonstrates such courage. Ironically, the growth of the disciples’ teachings throughout Acts confirms Gamaliel’s assertion as the gospel advances.

            Naturally, there is a difference between courage and carelessness. Courage does not dismiss thoughtful care and consideration. It is highly unlikely that Gamaliel would have endorsed obviously dangerous doctrines and practices in what the disciples were advancing. Nor should we say “yes” if there is potential harm to individuals or organizations. There are times to say, “no.” But, more often, people live under a suffocating dread that they might be wrong or make a mistake. Yet, the best hitters in baseball miss half the balls thrown to them. Gamaliel speaks to us today. There’s little doubt that a better way may be found in most of the things we do. What is required is that we find the courage to say, “yes.’

Joy,

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Stars in the City


“Dear friends, now we are God’s children, and it hasn’t yet appeared what we will be. 
We know that when he appears we will be like him because we’ll see him as he is.”
1 John 3:2 (Common English Bible)

            Old Dominion’s, Stars in the City lyrics were written by Matthew Ramsey, Trevor Rose, Brad Tursi, and Josh Osborne. With imaginative lyrics accompanied by an infectious sound, this country song narrates a couple almost hitting another car while making a U-turn on a city street. The resulting swerve causes the driver to spill coffee on his jeans. He thinks they’re ruined, but the “girl” in the passenger seat says, “Naw, they’re better now. It’s just a matter of perspective.” She then leans over and kisses him and he ponders to himself, “I don’t know how she does it, but she could see the stars in the city. She sees a diamond when the world sees dust, finds the glitter in the gritty.”

            It is here that the song makes a U-turn of its own. The driver moves from amazement; amazement that his friend can see something good when others see something unfortunate to an honest self-awareness: “I know I ain’t much but that girl sees something nobody else can see, when she sees something in me. Yeah, she could see the stars in the city.” Simply, the man fails to see much when he looks at himself. Yet, the girl in the passenger seat sees something so much more. The girl changes him. Her capacity to see more in life – and in people – than he results in an eager desire to share the same capacity: “The more I hang with her, the more I realize there can be beauty in the broken if you open up your mind.” And moments later in the song, “Well if she’s crazy, I wanna be crazy too. She’s the kinda girl that can break up a band. I wanna see whatever she can.”

            Here, in 1 John, the apostle John has written a pastoral letter to several Gentile congregations. As, perhaps, the last living eyewitness of Christ, John seeks to instill in a new generation of believers a deep assurance and confidence in God’s capacity to change lives. John teaches in this one verse, 1 John 3:2, that the Christian life is a process of becoming more and more like Christ. This process remains unfinished, “and it hasn’t yet appeared what we will be.” But, it is certain, argues John, that the process is an unfolding one that will not be stopped by a disruption or force that seeks to defeat us. What Christ has begun in us will be brought to completion, “We know that when he appears we will be like him because we’ll see him as he is.”

            These are good words for those who are easily defeated. As the driver, in this song, defaults to angst over spilled coffee, magnifying the brokenness and imperfections of the world, the apostle John invites a different perspective. John passionately desires that we see the world – and ourselves – as Christ sees us, as unfinished. Presently, God “sees something nobody else can see, when she sees something in me.” Those who are defeated look in the mirror and sees “dust” when God sees “a diamond.” None of us have become what we shall be. That is out in the future. But God sees the future, sees the diamond we will become, and knowing that this is our ultimate destiny, gives us eyes to see the stars while we make our way in the city of the present.

Joy,

Thursday, March 8, 2018

All On Me


Gratitude is expressed to Pamela Kent-Balasco for bringing this song to my attention.

“Come to me, all you who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest.”
Matthew 11:28 (Common English Bible)

            All On Me, a song with a catchy melody and recorded by country music artist, Devin Dawson, is an invitation by the narrator to someone who is deeply loved and is experiencing a heavy load: “You got my number you can call on me. If you’re in trouble put the fall on me. When you’re mad you can take it out on me.” And a few stanzas later, “When it gets heavy put the weight on me. Baby put it all on me. Put it all on me.” Dawson said in an interview with Taste of Country that he has a personal connection with this track because he’ll do anything to take some of the heavy load from his girlfriend. Crafting the lyrics with Austin Smith, bandmate, and Jacob Durrett, Dawson was looking to articulate something he could get behind fully, something that expresses the depth of the commitment he was prepared to make to another.

            In this single sentence spoken by Jesus Christ, and captured by the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus is making the same commitment, “Come to me, all you who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads.” Often Jesus is understood as someone who teaches wisdom for our daily living, providing wise counsel for the multiple decisions that press against each one of us. But the language here is something richer and more gracious than simply offering direction along our daily journey of life. There will be moments in life when direction isn’t what we most urgently need. I speak of those moments, common to everyone, when the journey becomes hard and the load we bear is heavy. In those moments, Jesus reminds us that he is very present with us and invites us to shift some of the burden we carry to his shoulders; “and I will give you rest.”

            Jesus becomes more than someone who gives wise and intelligent guidance for the living of each day. The good news that is offered here is that life isn’t simply a matter of human effort. Certainly, Jesus provides insight, but Jesus does more. Jesus is a constant companion who is always available to share our burdens and give us rest. The “rest” Jesus promises is love, healing and peace with God. When the weight of the world causes us to stumble, Jesus is present to catch us, stand us back on our feet, and give encouragement to take the next steps forward. Life has now become a holy partnership that mingles human striving with the strength of God. No longer is the struggle of life a solo act. Jesus asks, “Come to me.” Jesus desires to share company with us.

            Dawson loves the line in this track, “When it don’t add up, you can count on me.” It is a simple but clever turn of phrase that invites another way of looking at life – an uncommon approach that realizes that when life fails to work one way, another direction is available. Jesus’ life and ministry was a continuous invitation to see the wondrous possibilities available to anyone who trusts in God. Yes, failure is part of life. But defeat does not have to be our story. Jesus is present to God’s people and that changes the mathematical equation of life. Near the end of this song, the narrator sings, “C’mon relax your mind on me. When you need a shoulder, you can cry on me. Baby you can bet your life on me.” In this season of Lent, we hear Jesus saying the same thing to us, “bet your life on me.” Then Jesus turns once again, and climbs-up on a cross.

Joy,

Friday, March 2, 2018

A Fresh Approach to Prayer


The following is from Doug Hood's Heart & Soul, Vol. 2
  
“Jesus was praying in a certain place. 
When he finished, one of his disciples said, 
‘Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.’”
Luke 11:1 (Common English Bible)

     In the late 60’s and early 70’s The Newlywed Game was a popular television show. The show would place newly married couples against each other in a series of revealing question rounds that determined how well the spouses knew or did not know each other. There would be two rounds; the wives taken off stage first while the husbands were asked three questions. The wives were then brought back into the studio and asked for their answers to the same three questions. Once the wife gave her answer, the husband revealed the answer he gave – written on a blue card - in her absence. Five points would be awarded to the couple that shared the same answer. The roles were reversed in round two, the wives asked to answer questions about their husbands. The couple that had the highest score at the end of the show won.

     Imagine a similar game that put to the test how well we know God, how well we understand God’s purpose for our lives. I suspect many of us would be embarrassed. Here, in Luke’s Gospel, the disciples came upon Jesus when he was praying. Tremendously moved by what they saw, the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray. There is no hint in this passage that the disciples witnessed answers to Jesus’ prayers. Results weren’t what caught their imagination. There was something else. Something that went much deeper.

     If we dispense with the notion that prayer is only about answers, that prayer is simply presenting pleas when we are in need, in danger or a crisis, our eyes are cleared to see what the disciples saw when they came upon Jesus at prayer. In Jesus’ prayer the disciples saw a concentration and absorption into a relationship with God of which they had no experience. Jesus’ prayers demonstrated a deliberate and sustained cultivation of a relationship with God that would put Jesus in the winner’s seat of The Newlywed Game. What is clear in this passage is that the disciples wanted the same.

     Perhaps the greatest difficulty with prayer today is that many are simply out of touch with God. Prayer is reduced to instinct rather than habit, to approaching God out of need rather than a regular cultivation of a personal relationship with our creator. And that is our deepest need - to renew our acquaintance with God. Prayers that flow from instinct tend to be self-centered. The prayer of Jesus is God-centered. It is prayer that takes time to cultivate and requires extraordinary perseverance. But once this fresh approach to prayer is mastered don’t be surprised if another approaches you and asks, “Teach me to pray like that.”


Joy,