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Archive for the ‘discipleship’ Category

“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
    to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
    and honor and glory and praise!” (Revelation 5:12b)

The video, which has gone viral this week, shows a young woman verbally abusing a tall man in a winter hat on a subway. She mocks his hat, his shoes and other things as her friends and other onlookers look on and smile.

The young man does nothing for a while except stand there and take it. Having apparently had enough, he finally responds by calling her a not-so-nice name commonly used to verbally abuse females.

The woman then rolls her tongue outside of her mouth and smacks him in the head with the end of a stiletto. Reacting, he hits her with a forceful slap to her face. This action sets off a brawl on the train.

My first reaction to this episode was quite judgmental, especially toward the woman. Then I walked through a McDonald’s parking lot the other morning to grab a quick breakfast on the way to work.

This parking lot is not particularly large and is usually crowded with cars and pedestrians. Apparently some young man in a black coupe took offense at me walking in front of his car after he left the drive thru window. I knew he wasn’t happy because he let loose with some curses at me.

Of course, I responded with Christian humility. Uhhh…I wish I could say so, but the fact is I responded in kind. In fact, I was so mad that if he had come out of his car I would have been willing to duke it out with him right then and there, come what may.

Ironically, my next stop was to pick up my antidepressant. As I walked toward the pharmacy, I attributed my behavior to being off my meds for a few days. That’s probably true, but I also know there was something else at work. I just wasn’t sure what.

I have spent a good part of today reflecting on this.  My musings began with the life of Josiah in the Old Testament. He was the Israelite king who created personal and national reforms after a priest discovered the long lost Scriptures (to that time) in the temple in Jerusalem. (See I Chronicles 34).

Here is what the Life Recovery Bible says about him:

When the Scriptures were discovered, Josiah initiated a recovery program for himself and his people immediately.

It is fair to say that Josiah grew up in a dysfunctional and destructive situation. Idolatry and other forms of sinful behavior were an established norm. Josiah had to begin by discovering what God’s ideals for living were.

In time, he was able to break the cycle of sin that had ensnared Israel. He had faith, commitment to God and the courage to pursue both personal and national recovery.

Josiah began his recovery program when he delved into the  Scriptures. As a result, he is considered by Christians to be one of the more godly kings of Israel.

Another godly king, whose story comes a few pages in the Bible before Josiah,  was Hezekiah.  As was typical of ancient Israel, they were threatened by a powerful invader during his reign. Hezekiah began a large defense project he hoped would fend off the enemy. The Life Recovery Bible compares this work to that of building defenses of our own in order to live the Christian life:

Recovery involves repairing or building healthy boundaries that have become weak, defective, or torn down through abuse.

For some of us our boundaries have grown weak as we have let people walk all over us or we have let down our guard against our destructive behaviors.

Part of the recovery process involves repairing our boundaries. We can also construct a second wall of defense by developing a strong support network around us.

…..There is someone on our side who is far greater.

The lessons I learned from the Life Recovery Bible’s commentary are twofold. First, I was right to have set boundaries with that fellow in the McDonald’s parking lot. In fact, I was kind of backed up by this when my landlord told me later,”I’m proud of you.” Now, I think he was proud of my being willing to stand up for myself and fight the guy if necessary.

However, I believe that my response could have been something like this: ‘Why, my good man. Why are we upset. Don’t you see this is quite a full lot and we all have to show some common courtesy.”

The second lesson I learned from the Life Recovery Bible was that the reason I did not respond in a godly manner, other than my lack of a prescription, was due to my lack of boundaries against destructive personal behaviors. I suppose my meds are one form of boundary against them. But I lack the support network and the sort of relationship with God that would build a  further line of defense against self destruction. (And yes, I could have ended up in jail–or worse.)

Saul of Tarsus was no stranger to destructive behaviors. Unfortunately for Christians, his havoc was directed at them. The Bible says he uttered threats against them (although I am sure he didn’t do it on a subway or McDonalds since those didn’t exist at the time.)

Saul had his comeuppance, however. Acts 9 describes his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus that left him blind and totally dependent on others. The Life Recovery Bible once more gives us some insight on this Scripture:

Saul was suddenly confronted with the fact that his life wasn’t as perfect as he had thought. Self righteousness had been his trademark. By letting go of his illusions of power, however, he became one of the most powerful men ever-the apostle Paul.

When we are confronted with the knowledge that our life isn’t under control, we have a choice. We can continue on in self denial and self righteousness or we can face the fact that we have been blind to some important issues. If we become willing to be led into recovery, and into a whole new way of life, we will find true power.

For me, the key word from the good people at the LRB is “willing”.

Obedience to Christ has always been an issue with me. When I was in college I went to a conference and learned that Christ wanted to be my Lord, not just my Savior. I drove home angry, feeling I had been “had”. “No one told me about this,” I thought.  My concept at the time I think was that I only needed “fire insurance” and I didn’t think much about Jesus’s desire to change me.

I have had problems with obedience to Christ ever since. I have never learned to obey Him. More importantly, this comes I believe from not knowing why I should obey, other than that I am told to by Christian leaders. This hasn’t been enough of a motivation for me.

This morning during my reflections I came new a new understanding from the words of a  praise song I listened to. It told me  why Jesus is worthy of my obedience. It opens with these lines:

“Worthy is the,
Lamb who was slain
Holy, Holy, is He
Sing a new song, to Him who sits on
Heaven’s Mercy Seat” (words by Kari Jobe)

The bottom line is that Jesus, by nature of who He is and His work on the Cross for me is worthy of my obedience.  How Jesus must tire of my recalcitrance. I’m even proud of my stubbornness, irascibility and curmudgeonly ways, thinking of them as an eccentric family trait.

Like Josiah, I see the importance of obeying the Word of God.  To me they are a road map for living. However, Jesus points out in the Scriptures an error of the Bible believers in His day that can be just as true of me and I suppose other believers.

“You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me! Yet you refuse to come to me to receive this life.” (John 5:39-40).

RC Sproul makes this point in a sermon on John 5, noting how we modern day believers still try to maintain some sense of self importance and control over their own lives. He decries the use of a bumper sticker with this message.

God said it. I believe it. That settles it.

“How arrogant is that,” says Sproul. “I want them to write a new bumper sticker: ‘God says it. That settles it.’ It doesn’t matter whether I believe it. It was settled long before my assent and long before I concur with the message. If God Almighty opens His holy mouth and says something, we don’t need another witness. It’s over. It’s settled.”

Sproul further explains the primacy of Jesus Christ and obedience to Him by referring to Paul’s statements to a group of Athenian philosophers:

“God overlooked people’s ignorance about these things in earlier times, but now he commands everyone everywhere to repent of their sins and turn to him.  For he has set a day for judging the world with justice by the man he has appointed, and he proved to everyone who this is by raising him from the dead.”(Acts 17:30-31).

This message is in contrast, says Sproul, to the current evangelistic techniques  of today which emphasize our “receiving” of an “invitation” from God.

What is needed is for me is  to “sing a new song” to Him that sits at the mercy seat at the Father’s right hand.  This should be a song of willful, happy obedience to Jesus.

Why? Because He is worthy of my obedience, and it is not an option.  Oh, and did I say “He is worthy?”

“With all creation I will sing praise to the King of Kings and I WILL  adore You.”(Kari Jobe)

I have some ideas how this obedience will translate into my daily life, but more importantly, I now have a reason for this submission to the authority of Jesus.

Filled with wonder,
Awestruck wonder
At the mention of Your Name
Jesus, Your Name is Power
Breath, and Living Water
Such a marvelous mystery (Kari Jobe)

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Then Jesus told him, ‘You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me’.” John 20:29

Robert Burns wrote that the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. I’m not sure my plans for Saturday were particularly well laid out, but they surely didn’t turn out as I expected.

Originally, I was going to spend a free day cashing in a reward at one of the local Starbucks, lifting weights and then catching my favorite baseball team on the telly.  What occurred was that I did go to the S-bucks, but the rest of the day went in a different direction.

The actual major events don’t matter in this tale so much. What is important are the little decisions I made and the small circumstances and interactions of the day. They made me ponder their meaning.

I suppose this is because I just listened to an audio recording by Jerry Bridges on the Providence of God. At the time I began thinking of the accrued happenings on this October day, I was focusing on the negative (something that my pessimistic nature is prone to).

After some little misfortunes occurred, I began to wonder if Bridges was right in his assessment that God is in control of every little thing. If He was, then I questioned why these things were happening to me.

Was I being punished or disciplined? Or were these incidents just a product of a fallen world? Why was life so difficult?

Perhaps it would be best to provide a short narrative for these hours. I woke up not sure of the plan ahead, which is common to my shoot from the hip nature.

I decided that I would walk into town and catch the bus to Starbucks. In fact, many of the events of the day were influenced by my lack of wheels.

I am addicted out of necessity to being a ped. No, I am not involved with performance enhancing drugs. I just walk everywhere I go, especially when the bus system is not reliable.

The bus service in my town is reduced on weekends. At 9 am there were no busses. Besides,  I needed to get some exercise.

However, when I arrived in town, I learned that the bus over to the Starbucks would not leave for almost an hour.  I think I just missed it.

So I decided to hop the bus to the WalMart. I had an errand to run at the Best Buy near there and decided to “redeem” the time.

As it turned out, due to the local university’s Homecoming football events, the bus had to take an alternative route. This detour dropped me about two blocks from the Starbucks, my original planned destination.

“Wow,” I thought.

It was a cool and crisp autumn day, and as I sat at Starbucks sipping my coffee  I thought,”Maybe I’ll go to the game.” One of my friends was at a major NASCAR event, and another buddy of mine had just gone to see Notre Dame play.

So I was thinking,”Well, if my friends can have all this fun, is it so wrong that I have a little once in a while to.” I have to mentally justify these kinds of expenditures because I am on a limited budget.

Now, my school, which is also my employer, isn’t exactly Alabama, but they aren’t the Little Sisters of the Poor either. They are in a mid-level college conference, and generally do pretty well (except for this year).

I said to myself,”Look. This is what is available. Sure, the game is not a major deal. But it will be nice to experience some college football of any kind on a day like this.”

Not knowing the bus situation, I just decided to walk down the road I was already on to the stadium. It’s a straight shot of about two miles.

Before I left,  I went grocery shopping to buy any non-perishables I could carry. I do not live near a grocery store, so I have to take these opportunities to buy food when I have them.

In the middle of rearranging my stuff into my backpack, a kid whose job it was to snare carts whacked me on the knee with one. Now, it really didn’t do any damage, but I had the same emotional response some students do when they get a grade they are not happy with. I was “shocked” and “disappointed” at this fellows lack of care.

He asked me if I was ok, to which I replied while wincing, “Yeah.” Now, as I walked away, I noted to myself that the pained reaction was for effect. I mentally kicked myself and asked God why I had to be so dramatic and why I didn’t just give the kid a break.

Before I began the walk to the game, I stopped to get a lunch special from a Chinese place. I ordered among other things egg drop soup, which was too hot to eat and looked like its name: it was a gooey concoction of yell slime. I didn’t eat it.

After eating lunch, I did the walk. Arriving at the stadium, I bought my ticket and went to the gate.

I had to have my bag checked and I thought for sure I would be accosted about the food in there. It has been my common experience lately to have people with any kind of authority use it. Sure enough, I was told “they don’t like people to bring food in here.”. However, the gentleman checking my bag let me in anyway.

During the game, I filmed events from my laptop. On my school’s first touchdown, the quarterback threw a beautiful pass to a receiver who made a spectacular catch in the corner of the end zone. My camera was ready and I began filming from my laptop. Unfortunately, a group of students walked right in front of me up the stadium stairs as I was filming, oblivious to my grimace.

One staff person finally told me,”You can take pictures of the game, but you can’t film.”  I thought,”Thirty thousand people with Smartphones which have video capability and he has to pick on me.”

Now, I was already non-plussed by this man because he kept walking up and down the stadium stares with a watchful eye and seeming glare. Frankly, he gave me the creeps.

Going out to a quick three touchdown lead, my university’s team lost the game in the end. They were knocking at the door with 8 seconds to go and couldn’t punch it in. I listened to disgruntled fans complain about the play-calling of our coach and watched as one guy berated excited fans of the opposing team.

“Hmm. These usually wonderful students are not as nice as I thought,” I said to myself.

Leaving the stadium, I was hoping to catch one of these bus shuttles I had seen. The regular bus service had already ended and the schedule on the school’s shuttle stop noted that it did not run there on Saturday.

I just missed a city shuttle as it turned a corner. I asked a female police officer directing traffic if she knew about these shuttles, and she said she didn’t. But she also added,”You had better stand back or you are going to get hit by a car.” My mind went to, “Yep. Another unnecessary rebuke from a police officer.”

I waited for about 10 to 15 minutes and a shuttle never appeared. So I walked down the same street I had walked down three hours earlier. As I trudged along, three shuttles from the stadium passed me within 20 minutes.

I made a turn down a long road that runs through campus and to the greenway, which leads to my neighborhood. I arrived home about 90 minutes after leaving the stadium, in the dark, and hungry.

When I got home, I turned on the television and learned my favorite baseball team had just lost in the last inning for the second night in a row. They have now dug a deep hole for themselves to make a World Series.

The end to a perfectly topsy turvy day.

After reflecting on this Saturday, though,  I came to the conclusion that the doctrine of God’s Providence was not really the issue here, at least for me. What really mattered was whether or not I believed that God loved me and was trustworthy enough to help me in my circumstances.

If in fact God is in control of all good and bad things that happen to me as Jerry Bridges says, then the question for me is , “Does He use them for my good?.” This well known verse from the Bible seems to say he does:

And we know that God causes everything to work together[a] for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” (Romans 8:28)

In retrospect, when I review my supposedly negative experiences from Saturday, I realize that many of the things that occurred were quite helpful. Here are some of the positive effects of these apparently “bad” events:

1) My early morning bus didn’t come, but the one I DID take led me to my planned destination anyway.

2) God protected me from harm when a careless grocery store worker slammed my knee with a cart.

3) My egg drop soup was not eatable, but I learned what NOT to order next time AND I enjoyed a nice chicken and broccoli dish there.

4) The guy who checked my bag at the stadium could have in fact denied my entry. But when I explained that I did not have a car and had just gone grocery shopping, he said,”You don’t have a car here.” He was confirming my story to see if I was believable. When he believed me, he let me in. He was polite and nice about it.

5) The events staffer was just doing his job. It’s not his fault Osama Bin Laden committed a heinous terrorist act which has led to today’s overbearing police state environment.

6) The police officer I met actually was trying to keep me from getting killed. In addition, she pointed out the nearest bus stop.

7) I missed my planned weight lifting program this day. God replaced it with 6 to 8 miles of walking.

8) It was an absolutely gorgeous day to be outside for as long as I was.

9) I have noted that my youthful determination to never let a sports team get me depressed is still there. My take on my baseball team this year has always been that they have had a great season no matter how it ends. I have just enjoyed the baseball.

10) While I want my university sports teams to win, I don’t really have a dog in their fights.  Their teams represent my workplace, not my alma mater or hometown.

In essence, my delays, near misses,unfinished plans and unfulfilled desires don’t really matter much except in the economy of a loving God.

Of the above, I think near misses frustrate me the most. “Nuts. The Orioles were close to the World Series and didn’t make it after 35 years of not being there,” I think.

One of my most common near misses is  missing great pictures. Most of the time it is the result of the event occurring before I can get my camera ready, not an obstruction like at the game on Saturday.

But I have learned from one of the great near misses of all time. One of Jesus’s disciples, Thomas, missed the Lord’s appearance to all His other followers.

Thomas didn’t believe that Jesus had been resurrected. He complained that unless he saw the nail scars in the Lord’s hands, he wouldn’t believe.

Thomas wanted proof! As a result, he has gone down in history as “Doubting Thomas”.  I don’t think I would like to be give a moniker which would be used as a negative byword for two thousand years.

When Thomas finally did see Jesus, he exclaimed,”My Lord and my God.” (John 20:28)

In fact, as the Life Recovery Bible notes, Thomas went on to exhibit great courage as one of Jesus’s apostles. Church history credits him with founding the church in India.

Thus, I know I can repent of my own doubts and have faith and still have a successful life.

It could be worse. At least I am not my school’s football coach, who has to wonder what happened on that fade route on fourth down at the end of Saturday’s game!

If he is a man of faith, it would help him to believe that Jesus is at work regardless of appearances.

 

 

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” Each of you should continue to live in whatever situation the Lord has placed you…(I Corinthians 7:17a).”

I sometimes get my epiphanies in the middle of the night, and this weekend a pattern of thinking came to me in the wee hours. I realized as I lay there in the sack that I have a problem with envy.

This little issue centers around three things. First, I have noticed that one of my best friends is living a dream I have of attending major sports events. It seems almost every weekend he is at some football game, race or other noteworthy sports happening.

Now this fellow has been quite generous with me in recent me years, having spotted me some tickets a couple times to some nice football games, and taking me to a race. However, I want more. I want to be him: an uber sports fan. I had thoughts of being a sports journalist when I was young, and did do some reporting as a stringer. I even got a journalism degree. Alas, that dream died, as I decided to stay in the big city I was in working in customer service so I could do Christian ministry. To develop my journalism career, I would have had to go to some Podunk to start, and I did not think this was God’s will for me at the time.

Secondly, speaking of ministry, for much of my life I wanted to be a missionary. I went to grad school to get a degree in teaching English as a foreign language and intercultural studies so I could have a ticket overseas. I understood at the time that I had no skills to offer anyone abroad. I investigated mission boards, but none of that ever came to fruition. Oh, I did spend some years abroad and before that did work to develop an English program for international students in the States, one where they could freely be exposed to the Gospel. But there was no real personal fruit from any of that. At best, I was more of a middleman in the latter work, connecting students with other people desiring to minister to them.

What happened overseas? Life happened. I got so wrapped up in the job and other issues that I never had time or an inclination for mission work. I dabbled in church ministry and even went on a two-week mission trip with my kids. But, personal gospel work for many reasons never occurred to any extent.

What does this have to do with my night time confrontation with the green-eyed monster? Well, many of my contemporaries from my younger days are in full time Christian work. They are missionaries, pastors, staff workers and evangelists. I want what they have, or at least I used to until I became rocky ground. (See Mark Chapter 4 for the Parable of the Sower, which Jesus related to his disciples.)

Finally, on one of my overseas stays I met a man who is someone I call “ a bruthah from anothah muthah”. Abroad we were colleagues. He and I are much alike in personality. Both of us are writers, (In fact, he has trumped me there, too. He has published a novel, a lifelong ambition of mine.) We also share a certain wanderlust.

Unfortunately for me, in comparison to him I am a cross-cultural hick. This buddy has traveled and lived in places I could only dream of visiting—four times over! Like my sports pal, he has treated me to a bit of his lifestyle. But again, I just have barely scratched the surface when it comes to global trekking if I view his life.

I think the thing I grasped as I lay there in bed was that trying to become any of these people is a fruitless endeavor. As Popeye said, “I yam who I yam,” and they are who they are.

I also determined that in the final analysis, God could care less if I go to the Super Bowl, become the next Hudson Taylor or jet set around the planet. He has other fish to fry when it comes to me.

The Scriptures seem to provide evidence to support my thought that God just isn’t that interested in my achievements in comparison to others.

For example, after Jesus mapped out Peter’s future, even giving him an indication of how he was going to die, the latter asked about the plans for his fellow disciple John. Peter too seemed to like the comparison game.

John refers to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” in relating this conversation. He is following Jesus and Peter, and perhaps was eavesdropping.

When Peter saw John, he asked Jesus, “Lord, what about him?” Jesus answered, ”If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you. You must follow me.” (John 21:20-22)

Jesus’s response reminds me of several “mantras” I have developed in my relationship with him over the years: 

  • Where are you going, Lord? I’ll follow.
  • (Jesus says) “Listen to me.”
  • You choose.
  • (Jesus says),”Watch me work!”

My nocturnal wrestling helped me to once again ascertain that if I am truly one who belongs to Jesus, I will do what He tells me to do, regardless of how it impacts my desire to keep up with the Joneses. Planting this in my noggin’ will keep me from spending much needed time and treasure trying to maintain a level playing field with my friends, which in truth is a wasted effort.

 

 

 

 

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“There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me (John 15:13-15).” 

We were ready to sit down to dinner on Easter Sunday.  My brother Mark and his wife Christine were awaiting the arrival of some close friends whom they were hosting, along with me.

The couple and their daughter came in and there was this joyous reunion. Then something surprising happened.

The guest wife and mother came over and gave me a big hug.

Later, I commented to Christine about this event. I told her that it was amazing that this woman who didn’t even know me would come over and give me a warm greeting like that.

Christine replied,”Your Mark’s brother. That’s all that matters.”

I learned a big lesson at that moment. I knew intellectually that when God the Father viewed me, He saw me as Jesus’s brother.

However, in that couple seconds when I was being hugged by this lady, I experienced what that meant. I was valuable to her because of my relationship with Mark. She joyfully embraced me because I was connected to him in a close way, and this gave me value in her eyes.

I thus gained an understanding of how valuable I am to God the Father. I am an adopted son, the brother of Jesus, His beloved.

While Mark is my brother, an official, legal status that in our case is based on having the same mother and father and the same genetics and blood, he is also my friend.

I think of how my parent’s viewed my close friends when I was growing up. They were always welcome at our house.

My friends were important to my parents because they were important to me. I had a tight relationship with those boys, and that gave them worth in my parent’s eyes.

God the Father not only sees me as Jesus’s brother, but also as His  friend. Therefore, I have double the value to Him.

The wise man of Proverbs gives us some idea as to what it means to have a close friend in his writings in the book’s 27th chapter.

The heartfelt counsel of a friend is as sweet as perfume (v. 9). Furthermore, a true friend will never abandon you, even when disaster strikes. In fact,  it is better to ask a nearby friend for help at such times than to run to a brother far away (v. 10).

Finally, Proverbs 27 tells us that two friends will sharpen each other, as two pieces of iron give each other a fine edge (v. 17).

A good friend’s heart-to-heart is like a sword which can pierce through all the muck in my soul and spirit and help me get to the heart of the matter. The Word of God has the same function,  although it is infallible and my friends definitely are not! (Hebrews 4:12)

Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson has gone down in history as one of the top military leaders in American history.  Jackson was known not only for his prowess as a soldier, but also for his complete dedication to God.

He once said,”We are all children of suffering and sorrow in this world. Amid affliction, let us hope for happiness. However dark the night, I am cheered with an anticipated glorious and luminous morrow. No earthly calamity can shake my hope in the future so long as God is my friend.”

Jackson was tested on this statement when his young wife and first child died in childbirth.  He said at the time,”I do not see the purpose of God in this, the most bitter, trying affliction of my life, but I will try to be submissive though it breaks my heart.”*

How do we know these words? He said them to a friend.

Stonewall Jackson hit on something here. He understood the nature of friendship with God.

Jesus wants to be my friend. However,  being Jesus’s pal has requirements not seen in most close friendships.

My buddies don’t expect to have to do what I tell them to do to keep my friendship. Likewise, I would be shocked if one of them thought I would obey their orders as a private would an officer.

A friendship with Jesus, on the other hand, comes with the understanding that I will obey Him. It’s taken me a whole lifetime to get this.

Jesus doesn’t confide in everyone. He only divulges his secrets to His friends.

I’ve always struggled with having to obey anyone, God included. Having a tight, transparent friendship with the Lord of the Universe is worth it the blind obedience it takes to get it, though.

* The life of Stonewall Jackson is eloquently written about in James I. Robertson’s work “Stonewall Jackson: The man, the soldier, the legend.”

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“In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, O Lord, will keep me safe (Psalm 4:8).”

It’s hard sleeping this time of year. I live in a Nordic country which is currently experiencing “white nights”.

One former colleague posted the sunrise and sunset times in her hometown above the Arctic Circle on Facebook yesterday. There was about 45 minutes in between these events.

In my location farther south it isn’t as bright,but it’s close. The sun officially sets between 22:00 and 23:00 and rises again about 3:30 am. In between is twilight and perhaps about 45 minuted of darkness.

It’s hard enough to sleep in this kind of environment unless you have good curtains or eyepatches. But it’s even worse when your heart is troubled.

I will be unemployed in about three weeks and I am looking for work. Having to write and talk about myself so much to strangers, especially professional ones, is nerve wracking.

Although I have a lot of strengths on a professional level, I haven’t been perfect. In fact, my recent history includes a failed work experience.

 There are all kinds of details I will leave out here. Also, I do not intend to use this space to argue my case or assign blame. Let’s just say that things did not end well.

This makes it difficult when I go to apply for similar jobs as the one I had. When they ask to speak to my supervisor at this place of employment, I inwardly cringe.

I have no choice but to give them a name. I then know that my prospects with the employer I am currently talking with aren’t good.

 So, there’s a lot of stress right now. I really don’t care what time it is because I just sleep when I feel like it. (As an educator my schedule is pretty flexible in the summer.)

It’s easy in my situation to beat myself up over this whole thing.  People have expectations and sometimes you don’t meet them.

Author and pastor Bill Merritt tells of his own experience where he almost lost his job. He notes that talent isn’t enough anymore.

Merritt says that people want you to actually be able  to relate to them. They want you to ask questions and be interested. They want you to be nice.

“Imagine that!”, he writes.

“Nice” was not always my forte on the job I left badly. I think I did an excellent job there, but I could have handled relationships better. As a result there is an irreparable rupture between me and this company.

My apology was not accepted. Subsequent correspondence to this organization has gone unanswered. 

I’ve improved some since then. However, as noted above joblessness is hovering and I don’t have much going on, and this failure hangs around and occasionally surfaces. 

It is hard to recover from personal failure. This is true in the workplace and at home both.

When you fail people don’t trust you. They get mad at you.  Not only that, you get mad at them, especially if you feel as if your treatment is unjust.

You lose fellowship and friendship. What to do?

Well, as a Christian I know that it’s not a good idea to quit on God.  If I stick with Him, He will stick with me. 

However, if I abandon God, He will abandon me. It’s my choice (II Chronicles 15:2).

I noted above that when there is a relational fracture in the workplace that the parties get mad. I notice that God tends to get mad when people don’t treat Him with respect, too.

The Psalmist tells leaders that they had better submit to Jesus, or else!  Destruction is on the way when our Lord is ignored, rejected or rebelled against (Psalm 2:10-12).

The Psalmist says that God is an honest judge. He gets angry at the wicked every day and takes action against them (Psalm 7:11-13).

So, what’s my part?  Well the Psalmist tells ME if I want to sleep at night that I should:

-submit to Jesus myself (Psalm 2:12b);

-control my 0wn anger and trust God (Psalm 4:4,5);

-pray for God’s active protection and action against my enemies (Psalm 3:1-4,7);

-ask God to take care of my reputation (Psalm 4:2,3);

-ask God to rescúe me from the mess in my heart and out there in the world (Psalm 6:1-10).

This last point is especially  profound. Until last night I thought of God as someone who would come in like the calvary to perform his rescue. I didn’t see Him as someone who stuck around the garbage dump I’ve created in my heart and life.

However, it occurred to me yesterday evening that Jesus is down there with me in the junkyard. He is there waiting patiently for me to acknowledge Him while I sit in the stench.

This thought reminded me of an old booklet from my youth. Robert Munger wrote a short story called My Heart Christ’s Home which was popular at the time.

In this piece Jesus is invited into a man’s home. Room by room he begins to set the man’s house in order.

Eventually, the man realizes he can’t keep his house clean and asks Jesus to do it. However, Jesus tells the man that He has no authority there: He is just a guest.

The man turns the deed of the house over to Jesus. From then on, the man is just the servant in the house and Jesus is master.

I learned last night that Jesus is not content to stay on the outskirts of our lives. I had forgotten this and didn’t think He wanted to be down there in the muck with me, but He does.

Yet, the Psalmist says He does. He wrote,”For you look deep within the mind and heart, O righteous God”. (Psalm 7:9)

When we give over ownership to Jesus, we can sleep soundly. David found this out. He wrote:

I lay down and slept,
    yet I woke up in safety,
    for the Lord was watching over me.
I am not afraid of ten thousand enemies
    who surround me on every side (Psalm 3:5,6)

When Jesus enters the trash heap, it is not His intention to let it stay messy. He intends to clean it up, if I let Him.

If I do, I think I will sleep better despite the white nights. I will have the assurance and peace that He is there to take care of my messy heart and the rest of my trashy life out there.

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Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls,  yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign LORD is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights (Habakkuk 3:17-19).

THE BUCKETS

 
 

I didn’t get this comic, because I didn’t understand the term “Parkour”. Therefore, I looked it up Parkour.

Here is what that great, sometimes unreliable, Internet source Wikipedia says about it:

Parkour (sometimes abbreviated PK) is a method of movement focused on moving around obstacles with speed and efficiency. Originally developed in France, the main purpose of the discipline is to teach participants how to move through their environment by vaulting, rolling, running, climbing and jumping. Traceurs (parkour practitioners) train to be able to identify and utilize alternate or the more efficient paths.

Now I get the humor of  comic.

Woman: “Toby, are you running from the bullies at school?”

Toby: “It’s only cool if you call it Parkour.”

Just running from his those seeking to beat on him isn’t cool to the boy. However, if fleeing from them involves an avante garde activity, then  it’s what the people in the 60s called “groovy”.

People who particpate in PK are called “traceurs”. The unofficial motto of those who are engaged in the movement is “to be and to last”.

Obviously this is the goal of the Bucket kid. If he is truly running cool, he is actually developing his self confidence and critical thinking skills according to the traceurs.

Philosophically, Parkour is characterized by freedom and the lack of competition. Thus, having a dedicated site for doing this kind of activity is contradictory to PK’s purpose.

Furthermore, it is a practice which involves the reclamation of humans. Doing PK is supposed to help the enthusiast interact with the world, not be protected by it.

Traceurs prefer real places with real obstacles. This is why Parkour is practiced in gyms, offices, parks and abandoned buildings.

Even the British military has begun to incorporate it in their training. In addition, the United States Marine Corp is introducing Parkour.

PK is really nothing new. This free running style has been around since Neandrathal days.

Prior to the First World War, Georges Hebert went to Africa and noticed the agility of the the people in the tribes there. He began to develop PK-like training based on the following traits:

  • Energetic or virile sense: energy, willpower, courage, coolness, and firmness
  • Moral sense: benevolence, assistance, honor, and honesty
  • Physical sense: muscles and breath

Despite the potential dangers, Parkour appears at its core to develop positive aspects in its advocates.

 This morning when I read  an episode of the life of David in the Bible (I Samuel 27), I questioned his state of honor at this time. It didn’t seem like the experience, which involved his fleeing to the Philistines and away from the bully King Saul, was very positive or right.

David seemed to possess during this period some dishonorable characteristics. They included to me fear, cowardice, and dishonesty.

However, I am now reconsidering my thoughts about David’s jaunt to the Philistines. I think he might have been engaging in an ancient form of Parkour.

David surely was attempting to survive (“to be and to last”). In addition, he was seeking to find the best method to get around his obstacles, which mainly involved King Saul and the thousands of men he was employing to hunt him down in Israel.

In addition, David didn’t ask to be sheltered from harm in Philistia. He asked the Philistine king  Achish to let him live in the free and open spaces of the countryside instead of in the well-protected   royal city.

David wanted his freedom and he got it. He wouldn’t allow other men, including the two most powerful men in his region, to control him.

It is possible that David moved over to Philistia in order to train himself, his family and his men for the future. After all, he had been anointed as the future king of Israel by the prophet Samuel at God’ direction and would need to prepare for the day he inherited that responsibility.

While among the Philistines, he and his followers kept fit in the qualities needed  in the art of war, and continued to assist Israel in fighting its historic enemies. Sure he lied to King Achich concerning whom he had fought against on his raids, but this can be written off to clever strategy against the Philistines, who were also long-time enemies of Israel (I Samuel 27:8-12).

As the life of David shows, things are not always as they seem. Boys running from bullies may actually be developing themselves.

I have recently become a big fan of the HBO series called “The Wire”. Although I am a Johnny-Come-Lately to the show, I am looking at old DVDs and continue to be intrigued by its portrayal of my hometown of Baltimore, which has been called “gritty”, but is constantly trying to escape that image.

In this series, just about everyone is trying their best to make the best of a bad environment.  The worst off are the African American kids in the ‘hood.  With drug dealers controlling their neighborhoods, they have a tough time not becoming involved in the crime and the business.

For example, middle schooler Michael Lee sells drugs. However, he has kept his self respect and freedom by bravely resisting the enticements of Marlo Stansfield, the young new kingpin of the drug trade.

Another middle schooler, Randy Wagstaff, has unwittingly become an accessory to murder. He was told by those involved in the killing to tell the victim that a young woman was waiting for him in a park. There, the victim was taken away and put to death.

Randy is greatly disturbed by his inadvertent role in the killing when he learns the truth. Yet, he isn’t totally pure. 

He continues to walk  a difficult line between goodness and evil. The police consider him a good kid, however,  and do their best to protect him.

The police are also moving and shaking to survive, even thrive. For example, rebellious detective Jimmy McNulty takes a demotion to patrol officer in order to straighten out his life.

Dedicated police such as Major Crimes Kima Greggs and Lester Freamon manage their way out of the division when a politically motivated new boss comes in as a “unit killer”. They move over to Homicide where they can continue to maintain their nobility as real police.

Life surely deals us what appears to be a bad hand at times. It would behoove us, though, to step back and consider what really may be going on.

It could be the Lord wants to use the circumstances so that we engage in a little Parkour.  What may seem like like disastrous slavery could  really be God’s means to give us our freedom.

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“You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others. Join with me in suffering, like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer (II Timothy 2:1-4)”.

It’s the middle of August, and I’m cold. I am sitting in the  harbor in my Finnish town,  late in the afternoon.

I am cold physically, but as I reflect  I know my whole spirit is chilly. I am in a blue funk, one that is not caused by the weather.

Oh, the weather exacerbates it. I mean, there are few places in the Northern Hemisphere like Finland in August.

The summers here are short but intense. Now, the holiday is over.

The resort-like atmosphere at the harbor is gone. So are the people.

The kiosks are not busy at all. There is no one but me buying a cup of  coffee.

I am pretty much alone.

I later talk to a friend, telling her that I am in a state, but I don’t know why. She tells me that it is easy to know.

She says,”You miss your wife. You miss your kids. And you wonder what the hell you are doing here.”

I think she hit the nail right on the head.

Yesterday, the work I came here to do began to pick up steam, also. As the shock of the initial move settles down,  I am faced with the reality of working, working, working, and not having my loved ones around for support. That reality hurts.

In my mind, I came here to support my family financially, and that is what I intend to do. I can’t get away from the idea, however, that this exile is some kind of disciplinary measure from the Lord.

I am thinking,”Couldn’t you have whacked me back in the States just as well, with my family and friends nearby?” I guess not.

I chose to do this. It isn’t the Lord’s fault I suppose. I just couldn’t see any other way out of our financial mess except by working in my field, which pays much better abroad than it does in my own country.

The apostle Paul didn’t have to make tents. He had as much right as the rest of the apostles to get his support from those to whom he was ministering.

Paul also had the right to move around with a wife, also. The other apostled did.

However, in Paul’s walk with the Lord he determined that he should minister AND work for a living. He also apparently had foregone marriage.  His  plan was within the will of God for him (I Corinthians 9:1-23).

This choice wasn’t going to be easy to implement for Paul. He saw the need for a lot of discipline to carry it off (ICorinthians 9:24-27).

In my own case, I have a lot of independence here to do what I want. However, I know it would be self-destructive to use it wrongly.

Knowing this, I see the need to build some structure for myself in order to accomplish what I came here for. At the moment, I am mulling over exactly how it is the Lord would have me use my time when I am not engaged at work.

If the Lord has it in mind to discipline me, than discipline it shall be. I have a role model in Sergeant Thomas “Gunny” Highway.

In the movie “Heartbreak Rídge”, Gunnery Sergeant Highway (Clint Eastwood) has been assigned to train a bunch of slovenly, undisciplined Marines, whose previous leader had allowed to slack off. When he shows up with his gruff, demanding ways, the platoon rebels.

One of the Marines in rebellion is Corporal “Stitch” Jones, a self-absorbed trickster and night club singer. Gunny Highway is partícularly hard on him because Jones, not knowing who Highway was, stole his bus ticket on the way to camp and left him to pay a bill at a diner.

The Marines  even go so far as to sic their most powerful and muscular member on Highway. “Gunny” is not intimidated, however, and despite the age and size difference he beats the young man handily. He continues with his rigorous training program.

Highway eventually brings the men around. They learn to respect him for his methods and his heart because they know their sergeant’s motivation is to keep them alive.

In addition, his men have learned that Highway knows what he is talking about. In a previous war, he won the Congressional Medal of Honor.

When they actually enter combat, their training pays off. They are successful against their enemy.

While teaching his men, “Gunny” Highway is in his own training program, one involving how to relate to his ex-wife and win her back. She is initially hostile, and Highway goes so far as to read Cosmopolitan Magazine in order to learn about the female mind.

Highway is eventually successful in this endeavor, also. At the end of “Heartbreak Ridge”, he wins his wife back.

Highway and Corporal Jones end up with a mutual respect. Jones has proven to be a capable soldier under Highway’s leadership. He goes so far as to tell Highway he intends to make a career  in the Marines.

The Scriptures state the obvious and the not so obvious when it comes to training. The book of Hebrews notes: “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:11). 

What is clear is that discipline hurts. What is not so obvious at the time we endure it is that it has a positive effect in the long run.

The passage in Hebrews 12 also gives some other perspectives:

* God’s discipline is a sign of his love and that we are truly members of His family;

* God disciplines us so that we will live;

* God wants us to become like Him, i.e., holy.

With this perspective, the writer of Hebrews tells us what our response should be. He tells us not to lose heart in the midst of the discipline (Hebrews 12:5b).

We are told to respect God for what He is doing for us and to submit to Him in the training. His intent is for us to build up our weak and lame areas and be healed.

God’s boot camp for me isn’t going to be easy, but in the midst of the hardship there is His grace. He wants to heal me and keep me alive, and He is there to teach me.

Keeping this knowledge in front of me will help me avoid the blues.

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