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“Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things; his right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him (Psalm 98:1).”

A new year is supposedly a time of change. What most people think about is making resolutions to change themselves in some way.

This isn’t the theme of the current animated fantasy movie “Brave”.  According to the protagonist Merida, a princess, the person that really needs transformation is her mother Elinor.

Elinor and her husband King Fergus have invited allied Scottish clans to their castle so that the first-born sons can compete for the hand of the teenage Merida. However, the spunky young lass wants no part of this arrangement.  This is understandable, as she can run rings around the doofus boys who are her suitors in every way.

In scenes as old as the hills, Merida and Elinor have clash after clash. Teenager against parent. What a surprise.

Merida is out in the forest one day when she encounters a “will o’ the wisp” which leads her to a witch’s cottage. Merida arranges to buy a cake which the witch has promised will “change” her mother.

After Elinor unsuspectedly eats a piece, she is changed alright. She is turned into a bear.

This is bad enough, but the impact of the event is exacerbated by the family history. Her husband King Fergus is renowned for having fought and defeated a monster bear, losing his leg in the process. So the king has no love for bears.

Merida and Elinor flee the palace and find a holographic recording left by the witch. This message says that the spell will become permanent “by the second sunrise” unless Merida “mends the bond torn by pride”.  Merida takes this to mean that she is to repair the family tapestry she tore during one of her fights with her mother.

Merida and Elinor reenter the castle and take the tapestry as they are being pursued by Fergus and the clans.   Merida mends the tapestry as they once again flee.

In the exciting conclusion, Merida fights off her own father and the others, telling them “”I will not let you kill my mother!”.  Of course, they have no idea what she is talking about.

In the process, the evil bear defeated by her father shows up and attempts to swallow Merida. Elinor fights off her fellow bear and this enemy is killed.

As the sun rises on the second day, Merida remembers the parameters of the witch’s curse and throws the tapestry over Elinor. However, it appears to be too late.

Merida cries and kneels before her mother and exclaims

“Oh, no! I don’t understand. I… Oh, mom, I’m sorry. This is all my fault. I did this to you, to us. You’ve always been there for me.  You’ve never given up on me. I just need you back. I want you back, mommy. I love you.”

Merida feels the touch of her mother and looks up to see that her mother is once again human. Elinor hugs and kisses her daughter.

“You’ve changed!”, Merida screams. Elinor replies, “Oh darling. We both have.”

The real bond torn by pride has been mended: by love.

I think many of us are like Merida. We claim we need to change, but what we really want is for the people who are causing us grief to be transformed.

What we don’t understand is the impact our own negative behavior has on those around us, especially those close to us. We most likely have had a major role in making the person who they are today.

We like Merida could state,”I have done this to you.” Our barking, cajoling, yelling, manipulation and and abuse have done major damage.  Furthermore our attempts to remake others to suit us have actually harmed them.

The teenager Merida had to go through hell to see that the solution to the problem she was having with others lay within her. At the end of the movie, she says:

“Some say fate is beyond our command, but I know better. Our destiny is within us. You just have to be brave enough to see it.”

Merida took the first step in changing herself. She had the courage to look within. Then she  confessed her lack.  God calls us to do this as well (I John 1:9).

However, we shouldn’t  just stay in remorse. We ought to move on to love, compassion and understanding of the other, as Merida and her mother did.  Doing this will at least change us.

More than likely, though, continued love of the other will also result in their changing as well. However, even if the other person doesn’t change, we will engage in what Emerson Eggerich calls “The Rewarded Cycle”. Even though the other person doesn’t respond to our love (and we may have to wait a long time), God will reward us for our effort.

If you are like me, you have a tendency to dwell on  the results of the curse we are under in this world and our own failures and say “Woe is Me!”. However, the third stanza of a popular New Year carol tells me that this is not God’s desire for us:

“No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.”

Jesus came at Christmas to dispense with the evil portrayed in “Brave”.  The curse doesn’t have to be allowed to stay in our homes, our workplaces or other spheres where we have influence. It can be booted.

What is needed is  the courage at the New Year to change ourselves by appropriating and spreading His encouragements in our relationships with others.

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“Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well (3 John 1:2).”

“The cowards never started

The weak died on the way

Only the strong arrived

They were pioneers.”

In the movie “About Schmidt”,  Warren Schmidt is reflecting on his life after visiting a memorial arch to the people who crossed Nebraska to settle the west. Among the other exhibits is a sign with the above quotation.

At the close of the move Schmidt, played by the indubitably great Jack Nicholson, is driving home in his RV from his daughter’s wedding in Denver to Omaha. He went to Denver, not to attend the wedding, but to try to convince his old maid daughter not to marry the loser she intends to wed.

His thoughts are recorded in a letter to a foster child he sponsors in Tanzania.

Dear Ndugu,

You’ll be glad to know that Jeannie’s wedding came off without a hitch. Right now, she and Randall are on their way to sunny Orlando,  on my nickle, of course. As for me, I’m headed back to Omaha. I’m driving straight through this time, and I’ve made only one stop. The impressive new arch over the interstate in Corney, Nebraska. An arch that commemorates the courage and determination of  the pionneers who crossed the state on their way west. You’ve really got to see it to believe it. And it… kind of got me thinking,  looking at all that history and, reflecting on the achievement of people long ago kind of put things into perspective. My trip to Denver, for instance is so insignificant compared to the journeys that others have taken, the bravery that they have shown,  the hardships they’ve endured. I know we are all pretty small in the big scheme of things. And I supposed the most you can hope for  is to make some kind of difference. What… what kind of difference have I made ? What in the world is better because of me ? When I was out in Denver, I tried to do the right thing,  tried to convince Jeannie, she was…making a big mistake but…I failed. Now she is married to that nincompoop and there is nothing I can do about it. I am… weak. And I am a failure. There is just no getting around it. Relatively soon, I will die. Maybe in 20 years… maybe tomorrow… It doesn’t matter.Once I am dead, and everyone who knew me dies too, a little, it will be as though I never even existed. What difference has my life made to anyone ? None that I can think of. None… at all.  I hope things are fine with you.

Yours truly,

Warren Schmidt

Warren has had a tough time of it. He has recently retired, his wife  has died, and his sense of purpose has dried up.

One day he sat at home watching TV and saw an ad for the support of African orphans. Warren is moved (and a little bored), and writes a check.

Throughout the movie he poors out his adult thoughts in letters to a six-year old boy. As a woman whom he met at an RV park told him, Warren is sad, lonely and even angry.

Warren, however, has sold himself short. In the movie, despite a few quite human mistakes, he proves his character.

He calls a close friend to tell the man he forgives him for an affair he has discovered his wife was having with him 30 years before. During the wedding reception, he compliments his daughter’s new husband and is completely gracious in a speech he gives.

Even the attempt to strongly dissuade his daughter from marrying is an act of courage. He endures her abuse and anger for his efforts.

Yet, he tried to save her from herself. It is she who has made the choice.

Unbeknownst to Warren, the transparent letters he has been writing to Ndugu have worked a healing he did not know about. As he walks in his office after arriving home, he opens a letter from Tanzania.

It is written by a nun and conveys Ndugu’s pleasure in receiving Warren’s letters. Ndugu wishes his friend a good life and health, and although he can neither read nor right, he has enclosed a “painting”.

The drawing shows a picture of two figures, one adult and the other a child, standing in front of a huge sun ball. They are reaching toward each other and grasping one another’s hand.

Warren begins to cry, then smiles.  Nicholson perfectly captures Warren’s emotions and own healing at that point. The movie ends, since there is nothing more to be shown or said.

Early in his own suffering, Job felt as Warren did. He wanted God to kill him. Furthermore, like Warren he considered himself too weak to go on:

“But I do not have the strength to endure. I do not have a goal that encourages me to carry on. Do I have strength as hard as stone? Is my body made of bronze? No, I am utterly helpless, without any chance of success.” (Job 6:11-13, New Living Translation)

Even great athletes sometimes get discouraged when things go wrong. Peyton Manning, the stellar quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts , got very upset when he was recently disabled by neck surgery.

Manning had played in over 200 consecutive games and was a football “Iron Man”. Without him, his team is floundering.

“I walked around for a while angry, in a bad mood. … ‘Woe is me,'” Manning told The Indianapolis Star on Friday. “I’ve gotten over that. It doesn’t do any good. I’m learning to deal with it and trying to have a good attitude. I’m not walking around looking for any pity party.” (from NFL.com)

What seems to be helping Manning is that he does indeed have a goal:

“I do hope to get healthy, and when I’m healthy and cleared to play, I want to be out there,” Manning said. “This is new to me.”

Health is a great goal. I have determined that this is my aim for the coming year as well.

This summer as I sat in the midst of a group of pastors, elders and a pastoral intern, the latter of all people made the most poignant statement about what my objective should be.  To paraphrase, he said I needed to do the things that lead to health.

At the time of that meeting, different areas of my life were in poor condition. One of the unsound aspects has led me away from my family in the coming year.  This intern’s comments, brief and almost drowned in the statements of the others in the room, were the most significant of all.

What will give meaning to my life in the coming months is to get healthy: physically, spiritually, emotionally, mentally, financially. The list could go on.

With this end in mind, I hope to give my life new energy. When I reach my aims, I want God to be up there like the Spanish language broadcaster who, after a score in a soccer match, yells into the micophone:

“GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOALLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL!”

I suspect He will. I bet I’ll get a letter or a postcard from God that heals my soul.

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“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror  and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do (James 1:22-25).”

“Don’t matter how many times you get burnt, you just keep doin’ the same.” – Bodie, in an episode of the HBO series “The Wire”.

In the hard streets of my hometown of Baltimore, as they are portrayed in the TV show “The Wire”, drugs are a hot commodity. In fact, they are a “hot potato”.

You might remember this children’s game. A group of kids stand in a circle and pass around a bean bag (the hot potato) while music is playng. When the music stops, the person left holding the “hot potato” is out of the game.

In once scene of an episode called “Time After Time”, a squad of police are planning a sting on a corner drug deal operation. The sergeant of the group tells the officers to ignore a “runner” when they show up because, inevitably, he will not have the stash of drugs.

When the police arrive, a runner comes down the street as expected. He runs to a hiding place and picks up a bag and keeps running.

The sergeant changes his mind and the police pursue the boy. However, he loses them and the drugs indeed remained in the hands of the dealers in any case.

In another scene, a legendary drug runner named Cutty is released from jail after 14 years. A drug boss in the prison with him gives Cutty a phone number to call when he gets out so he can receive a homecoming “gift”.

The present is a large amount of narcotics. Cutty sits in his house amidst the stash thinking about how to deal with it.

Cutty observes a dealer one day making sales and approaches him. He doesn’t want to sell the stuff himself as he just got out of jail and doesn’t want to risk going back.

Cutty makes a deal and turns his drug stash over to the dealer. Of course, when Cutty returns for his money, the dealer stiffs him.

Cutty has no recourse because the dealer pulls a weapon on him. There isn’t any paper trail either.

In “The Wire”, the dealers, especially the big bosses, are very careful to avoid being caught with any connection to the drug trade. To them, the drugs are a hot potato to be kept out of their hands.

The police try awfully hard to position themselves to catch the leaders with drugs. However, this is well nigh impossible because the dealers are clever and know the game. They don’t want to be tossed from the game and end up in prision.

The Bible had its own “hot potato”. It was called the Ark of the Covenant.

The Ark was built in Moses’s time to house the Ten Commandments, which were written by the hand of God. It was a holy piece of furniture, not to be treated cavalierly.

How one fared when they came into contact with the Ark all depended on their attitude toward it. If they treated it with holy respect and treated is as the gift of God it was, then they fared well. However, if anyone disrespected the Ark and its status as coming from the Holy God, then they suffered for it.

The Ark once fell into the hands of Israel’s enemy, the Philistines. They put it on display next to their god Dagon.

The Philistines casual atttitude in handling the Ark, treating as a symbol of another god in a pantheon, was not pleasing to God. After their god had been half demolished and their people afflicted with tumors, the Philistines wanted nothing to do with the Ark. 

When the leaders called for the priests and diviners to tell them what to do, they were given a history lesson. The religious leaders told them:

“Why do you harden your hearts as the Egyptians and Pharaoh did? When Israel’s god dealt harshly with them, did they not send the Israelites out so they could go on their way? (I Samuel 6:6).

The religious leaders of the Philistines told their boss’s to send the thing away and to do it with a proper honorarium. They did just that, sticking it on a cart with some golden symbols and sending it in the direction of Israel.

When the first town in Israel received the Ark, the people rejoiced. They held sacrifices and a celebration.

However, some of the people were no better than the Philistines. They treated the Ark as a carnival-like curiosity and pried off its lid to see inside. These people died.

When this town saw this, they didn’t want this hot potato. They sent it away to another town.

The people of this new town obviously knew how to respect God and His Ark. They appointed a priest, who guarded it. This town kept the Ark for 20 years (I Samuel 7:1,2).

The Ark obviously could be detrimental to your health. It was no wonder people treated it like a hot potato.

One man touched the ark on its cart when the oxen stumbled, and the Scriptures called it an “irreverent act” .  God killed him right then and there  (II Samuel 6:6,7).

King David was not happy about God’s actions here. Indeed, he was angry and also afraid of God afterwards.  He dished it over to someone else like a hot potato (II Samuel 6:8-10).

This fellow named Obed-Edom The Gittite housed it for three months and his whole family was blessed (II Samuel 6:10-11).  Perhaps this Ark was not such a hot potato do be gotten rid of after all.

We believers today may not have an Ark pass our way anytime soon, but God does offer us its equivalent: His holiness. My experience with this modern “ark” is that I treat it like a hot potato, also.

I say I want it, but I am not willing to take it seriously. When I interact with this thing called “holiness” and don’t follow God’s recipe, I end up getting burned like the people of old in Palestine who didn’t handle the Ark correctly.

Like them, I am just to cavalier about God and obedience to Him. God doesn’t take kindly to this kind of double-mindedness (See James 1:5-7).

Like the Ten Commandments in the Ark, my new birth in Christ is a gift. I actually have His Word and His Spirit planted in my heart (James 1:17,18).

Is it any wonder that God smacks me when I ignore the holiness He has given me as if it was an old relic in a box to be pulled out when I felt like it?  When I get mad or sulk over His rebuke, it just sends me farther away from what God wants of me (James 1:19-21).

Those Ten Commandments that were from the hand of God are now imprinted on my soul. If I am serious about them, I know where to find them.

The question is,”Am I?” Or do I intend to keep playing with fire and getting burned?

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 “Before his downfall a man’s heart is proud, but humility comes before honor (Proverbs 18:12).”

I have very bad memories of the 7th grade. That year I moved shortly after the beginning of the school year.

My family and I left a small city in the mountains of southwest Virginia for the the urban sprawl of Baltimore. It was the ultimate culture shock.

It was bad enough that I was experiencing all the effects of entering puberty at the time. Add to this sudden exposure to new ethnic groups I had never encountered before, a penintentary-like junior high school, and being made fun of because of my “southern” accent, and life became rather droll.

The above memories were raised when I watched the movie “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” with my family over the weekend. I think this flick portrayed what is now called “middle school” to a “T”. It was hilarious.

Greg is your typical self-absorbed teeny bopper.  Yet, he”s smarter than most. He has a plan to navigate the social minefield of middle school and make himself popular.

His problem is that his best friend is Rowley, who is still stuck maturity-wise back in grade school. Being connected with Rowley is bad for Greg’s ratings among others at the school.

While Greg continues in his self absorption and tries to reform Rowley, the latter remains who he is. Rowley has few issues with self acceptance in his ignorant condition.

Greg’s selfishness ends up causing Rowley problems. Greg knocks Rowley into a snow drift, breaking his friend’s arm. Rowley is also kicked off the safety patrol when he gets the blame for directing kids in his charge to hide in a mudhole, something Greg actually has done to avoid his own harm when some bullying teenagers come by.

Greg remains unrepentant, however. He doesn ‘t apologize for breaking Rowley’s arm and he let’s his friend “take one for the team” instead of confessing his wrongdoing to the teacher in charge of the safety patrol.

Greg also refuses to cooperate with Rowley on a competition to become the new cartoonist for the school newspaper. He dismisses Rowley’s ideas and the two submit separate cartoons in the contest.

Despite Greg’s preoccupation with his own social standing, Rowley thrives. The girls fawn all over him about his broken arm. He wins the cartoon contest. Rowley, just by being himself, becomes popular.

In fact, he is maturing also. He sees through Greg’s selfishness and breaks off their friendship.

In the meantime, Greg slides far down the social scale. He is lumped in with the nerdiest kid in school popularity-wise.

Greg’s problem is that he has lost sight of the truth about selfishness, Self-love  is extremely unwise. If one is to make friends, he or she  has to be friendly.

The wise man of Proverbs understood this. He wrote,”An unfriendly man pursues selfish ends; he defies all sound judgment (Proverbs 18:1).”

Jesus was the King of the Universe, but in His darkest hour even He didn’t look out for Number 1. He was more concerned with the welfare of his friends than His own hide (John 18:8,9).

In some ways, Greg’s efforts to succeed at climbing his school’s social ladder was meant to make a mockery of the whole warped scheme of things.  However, the narcissistic way he went about it caused him no end of grief.

Robin Gibb once got an idea for a song sitting on an airplane. He listened to the engine drone on, got the melody and later finished the lyrics with his fellow Bee Gees:

“I started a joke
That started the whole world crying
But i didn’t see…
That the joke was on me
I started to cry
That started the whole world laughing
If i’d only seen
That the joke was on me.”

Says Gibb, “To me, that was a very spiritual song, about faith and survival in life. It wasn’t a love song, it was one of the first songs we wrote about struggling to survive emotionally alone in the world.”

Greg’s motivation in middle school was to survive. However, his methodology was flawed.

 His excessive concern with his own well-being without regard for others set off an odd cause and effect in which his plans negatively boomeranged on him. Ironically,  his buddy Rowley benefited.

(SPOILER ALERT!)

At the bottom, Greg finally learns what is important.  His lesson comes from a moldy piece of cheese.

This piece of cheese has been sitting on the playground forever. It has developed a horrible aura similar to cooties. If a kid touches it, they become infected and thus ostracized.

One day a group of teenage bullies haunting Greg and Rowley forces the latter to eat this piece of cheese. As a crowd of kids gathersd, Greg does something completely out of character: he takes the wrap.

Greg says it is in fact he that has consumed the cheese. He says this to protect his friend. He then lectures the kids about the folly of the whole culture they have developed at the school.

The kids don’t  buy Greg’s sermon. They flee in disgust, perpetuating the cheese myth.

In the end, however, Greg gets what he is looking for. He receives notoriety in a place he never thought of: in the school yearbook, he is pictured with Rowley. The caption reads,”Cutest Friends.”

Greg learns he doesn’t have to be Mr. Popular. He just needs to love and be loved by those who care for him.

One day he gets out of bed and understands the wisdom of  the Proverb which says,”A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother (Proverbs 18:24).”

Robin Gibb finished his lyrics this way:

“I looked at the skies
running my hands over my eyes
And I fell out of bed
hurting my head
from things that I’d said

Till I finally died
which started the whole world living
Oh if I’d only seen
that the joke was on me.”

Sometimes we have to die to live. We definitely have to die at times if others are to live. Jesus knew this.

If there is a formula in the Christian life. it is this: we die so others may live. Then God looks out for us.

Practically speaking, this means we use our resources so that others in our sphere get their needs met. We then let God take care of ours. To me, it’s an exciting adventure to watch how God will go about doing this!

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“I said to the LORD,’You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing.’… LORD, you have assigned me my portion and my cup; you have made my lot secure.  The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;  surely I have a delightful inheritance …You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand (Psalm 16:2,5-6,11).”

 I just started a small “staycation”.  We just moved into a new home this weekend, and we’re busy sitting up shop, getting ready for school to start  and various and sundry other things.

I would have liked some time in the forest or at the beach, but that’s ok.  In the midst of setting up the electric service and driving my family to their appointments, I can sneak in things I like to do (like writing these pieces, for example)

To me, the best pleasures are those that I didn’t know were coming. This idea isn’t original with me. I have to give credit to early 20th century British journalist G.K. Chesterton for it. In his book “Orthodoxy”, in a chapter called “The Suicide of Thought”, he wrote these words:

“It is only with one aspect of humility that we are here concerned. Humility was largely meant as a restraint upon the arrogance and infinity of the appetite of man. He was always outstripping his mercies with his own newly invented needs. His very power of enjoyment destroyed half his joys. By asking for pleasure, he lost the chief pleasure; for the chief pleasure is surprise. Hence it became evident that if a man would make his world large, he must be always making himself small. Even the haughty visions, the tall cities, and the toppling pinnacles are the creations of humility. Giants that tread down forests like grass are the creations of humility. Towers that vanish upwards above the loneliest star are the creations of humility. For towers are not tall unless we look up at them; and giants are not giants unless they are larger than we. All this gigantesque imagination, which is, perhaps, the mightiest of the pleasures of man, is at bottom entirely humble. It is impossible without humility to enjoy anything– even pride.”

Thus, according to Chesterton, I don’t have to keep up with the Jones’s in seeking out the hottest villa or the most pristine beach. I can humbly accept what God has given me, and revel in His plans for me and mine.

He has given me imagination,also, the most powerful of the pleasures He has bestowed. As a result, during my “staycation” I can use it to the full to make the most if  my time away from the regular routine.

I can write. I can spend time with my wife and kids in creative ways. Best of all, I can wait on God to surpise me.

He does surprise. For instance, He did it for us a couple of weeks ago.

We needed a place to live for a couple of weeks while we waited for our new place to become available. Practically speaking, we were homeless.

Then I asked a pastor of ours if he knew someone who needed some people to housesit for a couple of weeks. Almost immediately he contacted me about a family who were traveling and wanted someone to watch their pets while they were away.

This family’s house is out in the country, with deer running around and a beautiful view of the forest and distant mountains. We were happy to accept this opportunity.

I didn’t get to spend much time there because of my work. However, I did enjoy some times out on their deck, enjoying the fresh air and the view.

This housesitting opportunity was a complete surprise. I didn’t go looking for a palace, just a place where my family could have a roof over their heads for a while. God suprised me. He did far more than I could have asked for or thought about (Ephesians 3:20).

Chesterton was right. I get much more joy out of watching God work to give me His pleasures than to try and engineer my own. I might even do so, but it’s still more satisfying and enjoyable to receive from Him.

At least I know that in this “staycation”, God is along for the time. He’s a welcome Guest, One with plenty of largesse to pass around while He’s staying with us on our “staycation”. What a deal!

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“May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine upon us, that your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations…May the peoples praise you, O God; may all the peoples praise you. Then the land will yield its harvest,  and God, our God, will bless us. God will bless us, and all the ends of the earth will fear him (Psalm 67:1-2,5-7).”

Gayle Sayers was one of the great running backs of all time.  He played for the Chicago Bears of the NFL in the late 60s and early 70s.  Sayers was NFL Rookie of the Year his first season. He set many records and is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Brian Uhrlacheris currently one of the best defensive players in the NFL.  He plays linebacker for the Chicago Bears. He was NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year and has played in several Pro Bowls (the NFL All-Star game).  Uhrlacher has played in a Super Bowl, and himself may be on his way to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

These two all-time great Chicago Bears are now sniping at each other in the media. It all began when Sayers commented on the state of the team today. He said,”(quarterback Jay) Cutler hasn’t done the job. Urlacher, I don’t know how good he’s going to be coming back.  They need a couple wide receivers, a couple defensive backs.  If (coach) Lovie (Smith) doesn’t do it this year, I think he’s gone.”

Uhrlacher didn’t take kindly to the remarks.  “Let me ask you a question: ‘How many championships did Gale Sayers win?”’ Urlacher told the Chicago Tribune. “How many playoff games did he win when he played? None. None. None.”

And on it goes.

On the other hand, Mike Martz, the new Bears offensive coordinator is all sweetness and light when it comes to the team’s prospects.  He praises Cutler, who has been known to be insubordinate when he played for another team.

“I never let hearsay and gossip determine what I think of a player, and I haven’t with Jay”, Martz told Sports Illustrated. What I’ve seen in him so far is he has no flaws. None. He’s got no ego. I’m sure I’ve not met anyone as intelligent as him at quarterback. He’s been a great leader…”.  And so on. Martz also praises other members of the team.

The Chicago Bears are surely one of the greatest teams of all time. As of 1978, they had the most wins of any NFL team.  However, they have definitely been underachieving of late.  On February 4, 2007 they played the Indianapolis Colts in the Super Bowl and were expected to continue their excellence, but they haven’t reached that level since.

When a favorite team doesn’t achieve, their fans and the media raise questions.  For the Chicago Bears, the verbal showdown between Sayers and Uhrlacher adds fuel to fire.

When a Christian doesn’t fulfill their potential, questions can also be raised.  Friends and family can wonder why a seemingly gifted person is underachieving.

The answer to the question of why a Christian underachieves is most likely complicated and, thus, not easily answered. Here is one possibility:  a Christian underachieves because they themselves are not serving God and seeking the welfare of others.  They are not being a blessing to God and people, so they themselves are not blessed.

The idea is that when a Christian obeys God and serves others, they release the blessing of God for themselves.  The cause and effect relationship is a little difficult to analyze. It is somewhat like the question of, “Which comes first, the chicken or the egg.?”  People can argue all day about that one. However, the cause and effect relationship does appear to be  cyclical one.

Abraham is a good case study of how blessing operates.  God told him to take his son Isaac, the miraculous boy of his old age, and offer him as a sacrifice.  This didn’t make any sense. After all, it was God Himself who engineered the birth of Isaac as the fulfillment of His promises of blessing to Abraham and his family (Genesis 17:15-21).

Abraham did what he was told, though. The story is well known. He took Isaac to a hill, put him on a stack of wood, and prepared to kill him.  At the last second, an angel of the Lord stopped him (Genesis 22:9-12).

But the angel of the Lord didn’t just stop Abraham from slaughtering his son.  He added a message from God.

  “I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son,  I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies,  and through your offspring  all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me (Genesis 22:1-18).”

The cause and effect relationship in Abraham’s case looks something like this this:”Abraham blesses God — God blesses-Abraham–Abraham’s descendants bless all nations-God is blessed.

I think Mike Martz will have a similar effect on the Chicago Bears because he is blessing with his tongue instead of cursing.  This will bless his players, which will lead to victories, which will return to Mike Martz in the form of a blessing of some kind (a pay raise or a better job, for instance.)

We believers can follow Mike Martz’s example.  We can serve our wives and children, or a” significant other”. In blessing them, we will bless God and release blessing for ourselves. Who knows, we might even end up blessing the whole world. Now that would be an achievement!

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