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Archive for the ‘Purpose’ Category

” 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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Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus (II Timothy 2:3).”

Many think that the idea of embedding reporters with military combat units is a new development.  This method of news gathering was publicized heavily during the recent war in Iraq.

However, it’s  not a new thing.  Ernie Pyle was an embedded reporter in World War  II.  His experiences were documented in the 1945 film The Story of G.I. Joe, which received four Academy Award nominations.

In the movie, mostly based on Pyle’s true life, Ernie is shown volunteering to go to the front lines in North Africa. Later Pyle reported the grunt’s struggles in Italy.

Ernie became famous in America and among the troops for his folksy style and true-to-life journalism. The soldiers saw him as “one of the boys”.

Where the Story of G.I. Joe really catches your eye is in the depiction of Pyle’s life among the Army in Italy. His unit is pinned down in front of a religious landmark, an ancient  monastery on a hill called Monte Cassino.

Because of the historical and religious significance of the site, the American military leadership refuse to bomb the monastery in order to dislodge the Germans there.  As a result, the American soldiers have it tough.

The Story of G.I. Joe shows them in all their agony. They live in caves and mud.    Many of them, including green replacement soldiers are killed. One of the more experienced sergeants goes mad.

Sharing their suffering is Ernie Pyle. He could have been home in the comfortable States at Christmas, eating turkey with all the trimmings. Instead he is stuck in downpours and slime in Italy during a horrible war with smelly, unshaven men.

The toughest thing was watching men with whom you had developed friendships and respect die in front of you. The movie script combined a couple of quotes from Ernie’s reports about the plight of the lowly infantryman.

Pyle wrote that the common solider “live and die so miserably and they do it with such determined acceptance that your admiration for them blinds you to the rest of the war.” In comparison, Pyle said that airmen “died well-fed and clean-shaven, if that was any comfort.”

In the Christian life it seems their is the same dichotomy at work. Some Christians appear to have lives of wealth, comfort and ease. On the other hand, other believers suffer in poverty, disease and live in day-to-day hell.

I suppose you could say that we all are fighting in the same war against the devil. However, I think that is probably little comfort to the Christian who has the life of a foxhole private.

What is comforting is what the Scriptures say about this contradictory grouping of Christians into the well-to-do and the suffering. James writes this:

“Believers who are poor have something to boast about, for God has honored them.  And those who are rich should boast that God has humbled them. They will fade away like a little flower in the field.  The hot sun rises and the grass withers; the little flower droops and falls, and its beauty fades away. In the same way, the rich will fade away with all of their achievements.” (James 1:9-11).

Indeed, James tells suffering believers in the same passage:

“Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy.  For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.  So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. (James 1:2-4).

Yes, in the Christian life, the reality is not as it seems circumstantially.  We not only can rejoice when we suffer because we know that God can clean up our messes. We can also be joyful because in some measure we are sharing in the same trials that Jesus endured in his time on Earth.

In sharing his suffering, we get to know Him better and become intimate with Him.  He not only knows what we are going through, but we can also grasp in our tough times what he experienced as well (Hebrews 4:15).

It almost makes all the suffering worth it, doesn’t it.  However, it doesn’t mean we have to like the pain.

Ernie Pyle went home from Europe exhausted.  He said,”I am leaving for just one reason . . . because I have just got to stop. I have had all I can take for a while.”

Yet, he went back to war, this time in the Pacific at Okinawa.”I’m going simply because there’s a war on and I’m part of it”, he wrote,”and I’ve known all the time I was going back. I’m going simply because I’ve got to–and I hate it.”

We’re not called to be masochists. Jesus didn’t have that attitude. In fact, He went to the cross “despising the shame” (Hebrews 12:2).

We can do our duty though by focusing our sights on Jesus, letting Him lead us in the battle, and keeping in mind the eternal joy that is coming when the final victory is won.

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“When darkness overtakes the godly, light will come bursting in. They are generous, compassionate, and righteous (Psalm 124:4).”

Today is an absolutely gorgeous late autumn here in Virginia where I live. My schedule this morning allowed me to take my walk through the pastures of the local university–a walk I treasure.

It occurred to me as I closed in on the well-known pond on campus,”What a difference a year makes.” Last year at this time I was living in a Nordic country where the daylight comes late and goes away early

As I walked I recalled the emotions of that late November. I was definitely depressed. I was apart from my family (I hadn’t seen them in almost three months), and the sun was a thing of the past.  Not only did its light only appear a few hour a day, but there was some much overcast that I rarely saw the object itself.

Yet, today there was a bright sun ball in the blue sky. I was surrounded by greenery and water. It was like I had gone from hell to heaven in the space of 12 months.

A passage from the devotional Streams in the Desert describes well my emotional state one year ago:

“All-loving Father, sometimes we have walked under starless skies that dripped darkness like drenching rain. We despaired of starshine or moonlight or sunrise. The sullen blackness gloomed above us as if it would last forever. And out of the dark there spoke no soothing voice to mend our broken hearts. We would gladly have welcomed some wild thunder peal to break the torturing stillness of that overbrooding night.

Yet, something came out of that period. It drove me to my knees.

When I wasn’t working, I had time to spend with the Lord. And I did a lot of that, especially on Sundays.

Streams in the Desert, in the same passage, goes on to portray  what happened to me as well as this author:

“But Thy winsome whisper of eternal love spoke more sweetly to our bruised and bleeding souls than any winds that breathe across Aeolian harps. It was Thy ‘still small voice’ that spoke to us. We were listening and we heard. We looked and saw Thy face radiant with the light of love. And when we heard Thy voice and saw Thy face, new life came back to us as life comes back to withered blooms that drink the summer rain.”

Somehow in my loneliness and darkness my relationship with God grew to be the best it had ever been. It was just me, the Lord and the black.

One of my friends recently told me that he thought of me as Job’s second cousin. I have been thinking of that comment ever since.

In one way I think of it as an honor to be mentioned in the same breath as a man like Job. On the other hand, I have thought that my life and that of Job differ in one respect.

His plight eventually came to an end.  God restored his  fortunes. My difficulties go on and on, with no end in sight.

My pastor told me a couple of months ago,”You’re just in a season of life right now.” The inference was that “this too shall pass”. I looked at him with an expression of,”I don’t know about that.”

Sometimes I see light at the end of the tunnel. For example, I am so boxed in that I pretty much have to use my one talent to get by.

As a result, I think that perhaps God has enclosed me so as to force me into using my gifts. Otherwise, my attitude would be,”I can’t do that. I must do this.”

Now, it appears He has placed me in such a condition that He is telling me,”No. You must do this. You must listen to me (finally!) and do what I called you to do  a long time ago. You just need to trust Me and the promises I have given you.”

That is astounding to me, that God would think that much of me to actually set me on a path to my dreams being fulfilled, especially this late in the game. The jury is still out on whether or not that is what is happening, but I’m listening–and watching for the light to reappear!

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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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“Tremble, earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob, who turned the rock into a pool, the hard rock into springs of water (Psalm 114:7,8).”

“My head is stuck in the clouds
She begs me to come down
Says “Boy quit foolin’ around”
I told her “I love the view from up here
Warm sun and wind in my ear
We’ll watch the world from above
As it turns to the rhythm of love” (Plain White T)

I’ve been told I live between my ears. On the negative side, one could accuse me of being too heavenly minded to be any earthly good. I hope I am not worthy of the criticism.

It just seems sometimes that all I have are my wits and my brain. Is that so wrong?

Since I was a young man I have been told I could write. I am now not too far from old age, and I have never used that gift to its fullest.

My mind just seems to be able to connect the dots on some things. Then I can produce them on paper.

Not always, though. I can write as much junk as anyone else.

“A penny for my thoughts, oh no, I’ll sell them for a dollar
They’re worth so much more after I’m a goner
And maybe then you’ll hear the words I been singin’
Funny when you’re dead how people start listenin.” (Kimberly Perry)

The song these lyrics come from concerns the tragedy of dying young. In my case, the tragedy in dying would be to leave nothing behind.

When you get to be my age, you begin thinking about your legacy. I know.  I know. The real legacy for a husband and father like me should be what I leave to my family. In that regard, I know I have a long way to go.

For the sake of this piece, let’s just stick to the outside world. Although I think I can think and I have written that I can write, I have very little in print at the moment to leave to anybody.

I think I might be a little what Richard Ford, the Pulitzer Prize winning author, portrayed his character Frank Bascombe to be: dreamy. Dreamy is when you go into a trance and forget the real world.

But is that so bad? Maybe being dreamy is what makes someone like me happy.

One of my friends just posted an article on Facebook which discusses the “10 happiest jobs”. The happiest people tend to be like me.

(Why are we Americans so into lists of 10? Is it David Letterman’s fault?)

The number one job on the list is clergy. The author of the piece, Steve Denning, says of them: “the least worldly are reported to be the happiest of all”. I am not a preacher, but I have studied a lot of theology, have been writing this devotional for two years and over the years have spent a lot of time with God. fellow Christians and in the ministry.

Also on Denning’s list is  author, which is my dream job.  “For most authors, the pay is ridiculously low or non-existent, but the autonomy of writing down the contents of your own mind apparently leads to happiness”, Denning writes.

Finally, number six is my current job: teacher. Denning notes:

” Teachers in general report being happy with their jobs, despite the current issues with education funding and classroom conditions. The profession continues to attract young idealists, although 50 per cent of new teachers are gone within five years.”

Count me as an old idealist. I guess I may have burned out on teaching 10 years ago, but at my age it is the only thing I can do to make a regular living.

I still enjoy it somewhat, too. Some of the same skills I would use as a full-time writer are employed in the position.

I read one article in one of those magazines for writers in which the author wrote that he preferred working other types of jobs. He was a paralegal at the time of publication and writing on the side. I kind of agree with him, although I am still drawn to sitting and pondering in a home office all day with a great cup of coffee on my desk.

Denning speaks of how our jobs provide meaning:

Why were these jobs with better pay and higher social status less likely to produce happiness? Todd May writing in the New York Times argues, “A meaningful life must, in some sense then, feel worthwhile. The person living the life must be engaged by it. A life of commitment to causes that are generally defined as worthy — like feeding and clothing the poor or ministering to the ill — but that do not move the person participating in them will lack meaningfulness in this sense. However, for a life to be meaningful, it must also be worthwhile. Engagement in a life of tiddlywinks does not rise to the level of a meaningful life, no matter how gripped one might be by the game.”

This is what underlies the difference between the happiest jobs and the most hated jobs. One set of jobs feels worthwhile, while in the other jobs, people can’t see the point.

When I do other things besides having my head in the stratosphere and writing what I think, I just don’t see the point. I am not happy and I make others miserable in my unhappiness.

I wonder if that’s what was troubling Fool. That is the translation of the name Nabal, who had to be one of the unhappiest creatures portrayed in the Bible.

The Scriptures describe Nabal as a curmudgeon of the first order. They say he was surly and mean (I Samuel 25:3).

Ole Nabal was described by his own wife as wicked and a person who was living up to his name. She gave that description to David after Nabal refused to help out the future king’s entourage with provisions, although even Nabal’s own workers lauded them for them.

It took Abigail his wife to calm David down and provide for his men.  The Scriptures say that when  Nabal learned of the plans David had for him,  “his heart failed him and he became like a stone (I Samuel 25:37).”

While it is clear that Nabal’s trauma was mainly mental and emotional, it seems that perhaps he also suffered some kind of stroke. He died 10 days after his wife told him of her meeting with David over their morning tea.

Ole Nabal was really not a happy man. He had no real purpose in life except to make money and get drunk.

Connecting the dots about my own purpose is what brought me to the Lord when I was 17 years old. I figured I was soon going off to school, which would only lead to a meaningless cyclical cause and effect.

“Why go to school?” I asked. Answer: to get a job.

“Why get a job”? I thought. Answer: to make money.

“Why make money?” I queried. Answer: so I can get married, have kids, who will grow up, go to school, get a job, get married, have kids.

It all seemed so empty.

I came to Christ looking for a purpose to life. It is the fool who says there is no God (Psalm 141), and I knew there was one. If there was a purpose to life, I determined in high school that He had it.

In the movie “Chariots of Fire”, missionary Eric Liddel is late for a meeting related to ministry because he has been training. His sister is quite unhappy, thinking his  attempt to be an Olympic champion is without meanng:

Liddel tells his sister, “When I run, I feel God’s pleasure”. Lest the pragmatist think he was too dreamy, Eric went on to China to do missions and died in the midst of World War II.

When I think and write, I feel God’s pleasure.  Writing these devotionals is one way I connect to God.

The trick for someone like me is to not to be overly dreamy.  Brett McKay of the website Art of Manliness writes of the dreamer:

“He spends too much time dreaming, and not enough time learning how to have relationships with other people, and thus developing the social skills needed to make his dreams comes true. He is stunted and unconnected.”

McKay says the “uber dreamer” (my term, not his) is like an immature boy. To move into manhood, the boy has to learn to be a gentleman. Says McKay of the gentleman:

“He can be warm, even “sweet” with others, and he can be introspective and spiritual while still keeping his feet on the ground”.

One minister told me he thought writing a blog was self centered. Given what was going on in my life at the time, he may have been correct and I at least understand his perspective.

In any case, in my heart of hearts I believe I think and write hoping that one day I will leave a legacy to others. My problem is that in my personal relationships I have a bit of the Nabal in me.

I believe God is with me when I think and express my thoughts online. It believe it’s a good thing for me and others, even if some critics don’t.

Writing engages me. Yet, I have a suspicion that the down-to earthers are correct in respect to being engaged by more than your own head.

Perhaps I can depend on God  to get through my thick, boulder-like skull that meaningful personal relationships with flesh and blood people are both meaningful and worthwhile.

In addition to the Facebook and blog posts, I can ask Him to, on a moment-by-moment basis, help me express love practically to other people when I am dealing with them in person also.

My mama didn’t raise no fools. There’s a balance here somewhere.

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I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being,  so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love,  may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen (Ephesians 3:16-21).

As I went to put cream in my coffee, I glanced down at the USA Today. The headline read, “US $62 trillion in debt”.

The magnitude of this is too difficult for me to grasp.  I mean, who can imagine this amount of money?

It seems indeed that the economy is in big trouble.  Another headline reads “Chronic Unemployment Worse Than Great Depression”.

A lot of people don’t have jobs. What the headline above means is that the longer one is out of work, the more difficult it is for them to find a job because employers are wary of gaps in their resume.

My wife and I were recently discussing the economic situation in Europe, where she is from and where we have lived. We  talked about Greece, a country where one of our relatives is from.

This nation is bankrupt. It appears more European countries may follow in its footsteps.

As I said, this is all hard to fathom. Furthermore, the economy is just one aspect of the world that is undergoing great earthquakes.

In the 1960s, a period of great social change, Bob Dylan wrote and sang a song about dynamic change. It begins this way:

“Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’.”

Dylan says in this poem, “Do something!” The inference is that if the people of his time didn’t take action, they we’re going to drown.

What is curious about his poem is that even Dylan didn’t quite understand the events of his times. When asked by a friend,who picked up a draft of it, “What is this (expletive deleted) man?”, Dylan replied,  “Well, you know, it seems to be what the people like to hear.” Even with rockers and folk musicians, it’s all about marketing.

Dylan opened a concert the night after President Kennedy was assassinated with “The Times They Are A’ Changin’ .  He thought people would throw rocks at him, but instead they applauded.

Dylan said,”I know I had no understanding of anything. Something had just gone haywire in the country and they were applauding the song. And I couldn’t understand why they were clapping, or why I wrote the song.”

“I couldn’t understand anything. For me, it was just insane.”

Dylan knew something was wrong in the world. He just couldn’t put his finger on it mentall.  Dylan said of  his song, “I didn’t mean ‘The Times They Are a-Changin’ as a statement… It’s a feeling.”

When I read the headlines these days, I could say the same thing regarding them that Dylan did about “The Times They Are A’ Changin'”. I just get this feeling of immensity, of events  beyond my capacity to handle after I come away from a newspaper or a webzine.

One lyric from Bob Dylan’s song seems to refer to  the generation gap which characterized  in the ’60s.

“Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don’t criticize
What you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is
Rapidly agin’
Please get out of the new one
If you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’.”
 
Dylan, however, says of this lyic:”Those were the only words I could find to separate aliveness from deadness. It had nothing to do with age.”
 
For Dylan, the parents and everyone else for that matter should in the 1960s should have obeyed the old adage: “Lead, follow or get out of the way.” This is rather prof0und considering Dylan himself didn’t know where he was going.
 
In summary, Dylan didn’t quite get what was happening around him in the world when he wrote “The Times They Are A’Changin’. He just “had a bad feeling about this”. 
 
He just knew that people couldn’t just stand around and be swallowed up by unstable happenings around them.  They needed to DO something, anything. They had to be “alive” to their times and not have their heads in the sand.
 
When I think of the craziness today, I have the same feelings that Dylan did in the ’60s. I want to stand up and shout, “Somebody stop the madness and DO SOMETHING!”.
 
Thus, philosophically, Bob Dylan and I are great postmodernists. Michael Ramsden said in this talk that the normal modus operandi in this postmodern age is either “knowing, feeling or doing.”
 
Consequently, it seems to me that when postmodernists like Dylan or myself can’t make sense out of the world through our  intellects, emotions and wills, we are in  big trouble. The postmodernist has no place to go for answers after those aspects of our humanity are exhausted.
 
Ramsden said that, for believers, however, that the postmodernist approach is wrong.  Our point of concentration as believers, he says,  should be “being”.
  
This is exemplified in a negative fashion in the life of Saul in the Scriptures During tumultous times God listened to the ancient Israelites pleadings and  gave them a king. He chose  Saul.
 
Saul was anointed to be king by the prophet Samuel. Samuel told Saul:
 
“The Spirit of the LORD will come powerfully upon you, and you will prophesy with them; and you will be changed into a different person. Once these signs are fulfilled, do whatever your hand finds to do, for God is with you. Go down ahead of me to Gilgal. I will surely come down to you to sacrifice burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, but you must wait seven days until I come to you and tell you what you are to do.”  As Saul turned to leave Samuel, God changed Saul’s heart, and all these signs were fulfilled that day. (I Samuel 10:6-9)
 
God gave Saul a task, a big one.  But before He sent him out to do that job, God changed Saul’ s heart and put His Spirit upon him.
 
Being a different person, one led by God’s Holy Spirit, was the only way Saul could live up to the job ahead as King of Israel, God’s people. Unfortunately, Saul disobeyed God’s Word offered through Samuel.
 
He acted when he should have waited, went with his feelings, and took on a role God did not assign to him. As a result, Saul aborted God’s work in his life. God took Saul’s task away from him because he focused on doing something instead of being someone (I Samuel 13:1-13).
 
“To be, or not to be, that is the question”, wrote Shakespeare. This is the opening line to his play Hamlet.
 
Hamlet is deciding in this play to be alive or dead. Will he kill himself or not? That is the question.
 
In his songwriting Dylan stumbled onto some truth. Our path in this world is getting old and getting us nowhere. Will we choose to be alive or dead as we make our way in it?
 
At creation, God breathed His life into us. We were meant to be human “beings”, personages with His life in us, not inanimate, dead objects (Genesis 2:7, Psalm 139:13,14).
 
We lost the breath of life when Adam and Eve sinned. However, when Christ comes into the believer’s heart, His life is breathed back into our dead persons. t is in God that we “live, and move and have our being (Acts 17:28)”.
 
As believers, we aren’t called to understand the craziness of this world. God calls us instead to grasp His deep love in the midst of it. 
 
Further, God doesn’t ask us to react with our messed up emotions. When we respond in emotionally, it should be in gratefulness, amazement and joy at His wondrous love.
 
Finally, God doesn’t require that I do anything in this mad planet. He justs wants to powerfully act  THROUGH me to enact His loving will in the mania.
 
There’s very little I can in and of and by myself  anyway. Only God can deal with the ginormous problems of our time anyway, and He will do so out of love.
 
The times are definitely changing. So should I.
 
I can be a different person, one alive to Jesus and His love. Only then can I help out in this state of utter confusion we are in today.

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 But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.  We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair;  persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.  We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.  For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body.  So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you (((II Corinthians 4:7-12).”

This morning as I drove my kids to school, I saw a bumper sticker that read, “It ain’t no sin to be glad you'[re alive.”  I admit it. Sometimes I wish I was not.

I suffer a lot from depression, and have tried many ways to deal with it. For instance, I take medicine.

Still, on mornings like this one, it’s hard to overcome. It’s a miserable, cold, rainy day and I am stressed.

My wife has said something to me recently, though, that is beginning to get through to my tough hide and connect. She has been telling me,”Enjoy your new job.”

This statement has caused me some cognitive dissonance. I think this is because I don’t really think I can, will or am supposed to enjoy it. As one friend once told me,”Work is…work is…work is WORK!”

I recently got hired to coordinate a short project at place of employment. It pays better than my regular gig, and it seems like it’s going to be interesting.

Yet, I am focusing at the moment on negative things and I am worrying. These both are common traits of mine when I am under stress.

But my wife is right. Why not enjoy it?  Why not have fun with it?

Sure, things could, and probably will, go wrong. But that’s life. It’s a fallen world.

My job is to make sure the people I serve have a good experience. I think it may also be that I have to be sure I have a good one, too.

Where do my thoughts of potential doom and gloom come from? I suppose they come from a lot of places.

Perhaps one of the sources of my pessismism about life comes from being an adult child of an alcoholic. There’s been a lot of research about the effects of that situation.

Maybe there is a generational curse at work. I have thought of that recently, also.

Whatever the spring, I see myself much of the time as a person going through a life which is a dry wasteland, where there is no water. Mine is an unfulfilled life from my own perspective.

Bruce Springsteen wrote a song describing a person in this emotional state:

“Lights out tonight, trouble in the heartland.
Got a head-on collision, smashin in my guts man.
Im caught in a crossfire that I don’t understand.
But there’s one thing I know for sure girl:
I don’t give a damn for the same old played out scenes
I don’t give a damn for just the in-betweens.
Honey I want the heart, I want the soul, I want control right now.
You better listen to me baby:
Talk about a dream; try to make it real.
You wake up in the night with a fear so real.
You spend your life waiting for a moment that just don’t come.
Well don’t waste your time waiting

Badlands you gotta live it every day
Let the broken hearts stand
As the price youve gotta pay
Well keep pushin till it’s understood
And these badlands start treating us good

Workin in the field till you get your back burned
Workin `neath the wheels till you get your facts learned.
Baby I got my facts learned real good right now.
You better get it straight darling:
Poor men wanna be rich, rich men wanna be kings,
And a king aint satisfied till he rules everything.”

What is the way out of these badlands? Will they ever start treating me good?
The answer to the latter question is that in this life I can’t necessarily expect  my circumstances to treat me well.
However, there is an escape route from my depression and poor outlook on life resulting from things like broken dreams and heredity. God is the way out of the badlands. Springsteen writes:
“I wanna go out tonight, I wanna find out what I got.
Now I believe in the love that you gave me.
I believe in the faith that could save me.
I believe in the hope and I pray that some day it
Will raise me above these Badlands.”
My way out of my badlands is through the love God has given me, the faith in Him which saves me, and the hope He continually provides.  The path out of my depression is hope in the living God.
My hope can’t be in my lineage and my good or bad work.  Even the people of God in the flesh don’t have that hope.
The true people of God aren’t the physical sons and daughters of Abraham, as the Jews believe. The Bible tells us the people of God are the children of Abraham that come from faith in His promise of a Savior, a Person  who would bless all mankind (Hebrews 9:8).
  
Jesus experienced a short, and by earthly standards, an unfilfilling life. He was not upwardly mobile. He was rejected and despised, and ultimately executed.
Yet, He fulfilled God’s plan for Him, even though from the world’s point of view at the time it looked like defeat. His death brought life to all mankind.
That’s got to be pretty fulfilling to Him in retrospect (Isaiah 53:1-6).
Jesus was victorious.
Springsteen ends his lyrics in a note of hope that tells me my life on this planet can also be one of  triumph, also.
“For the ones who had a notion, a notion deep inside
That it aint no sin to be glad you’re alive.
I wanna find one face that aint looking through me
I wanna find one place, I wanna spit in the face of these
Badlands.”
Jesus doesn’t look through me. He is looking right at me, even as I type these words.
Jesus despised the shame that came with his horrible lot in life, but he kept his eyes on the prize, that of  the joy to come. Just as Jesus has His eyes set on me after His victory, I need to fix my eyes on Him to lead me through the badlands (Hebrews 12:2). 
 
If I am going to enjoy my new job, and my life in general, as my wife admonishes me to do, I have to get my eyes off of myself and onto God and others. This is the way to life that is truly life  (I Timothy 6:17-19)!
In a recent communion service, a lady shared how the resurrected Jesus met some disciples on the road to the town of Emmaus. They talked with Him, ate with Him, but didn’t know Him until one point when their eyes were finally opened and they knew who He was (:Luke 24:13-32).
This dear lady further shared her thought that the men knew Jesus well enough to finally recognize Him. Her encouragement was to know Jesus well enough that we too would know who He is.
My hope is that the things I go through serve to help me know Jesus and to make Him known to others through my life.  Along the way, as this is brough about why not enjoy the process? At least I know where it’s going to end: out of the badlands.
 

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