Knotted – Faithfulness to One’s Wife

Slide2I was reading to our youth group the other evening from the Gospel of Matthew when Paul’s letter to the Ephesians fell out of my Bible onto the floor. A few moments later the 1 John through Revelations hit the ground.

The Bible I had been reading, highlighting, and marking for the past decade succumbed to the wear and tear. While I was a little sad, honestly, to “call it” for Bible, I was also a little excited about the prospect of getting a new unmarked Bible. I think I might be at a point in my spiritual life where I am hungry to read the scriptures with fresh eyes.

My new Bible arrived this past Friday and this morning I opened the still crisp pages to read the scriptures with a pencil (always a No. 2 Black Ticonderoga) in hand. Excited to discover the truth revealed in the pages of this magnificent and living book once more.

I began reading the first chapter of Genesis. After a few verses, I thought: “I always start at the beginning. Maybe I should read the two testaments in reverse…just to shake it up…”

I turned to the Book of Malachi and, once more, I began reading.

I was not looking for anything specific by turning to this Malachi. I was just looking for a good place to enter back into the story of God…

The book is short (there are only four chapters), but this brief oracle hits upon some seriously taboo topics. As specified by the prophet, “Ever since the days of your ancestors you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them.” (3:7a) Malachi speaks to the waywardness of the people Israel with the hope of encouraging them to “return to [the Lord] and [the Lord] will return to you…” (3:7b)

Malachi identifies some of the ways in which the people of God had turned aside from the statutes of the Lord. He speaks to the faulty instruction of the Priests; adultery and divorce; improper tithing; “polluted” sacrificing; and, harsh speech against God among other things. At one point, Malachi speaks frankly about the failure of the people of God.

Then I will draw near to you for judgement; I will be swift to bear witness against sorcerers, against adultery, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired workers in their wages, the widow and the orphan, against those who thrust aside the alien, and do not fear me, say the Lord of hosts. (3:5)

Yeah, there are certainly a few taboo subjects tucked securely into that one little verse: oppression of hired workers in their wages; thrusting aside the alien. But, I will refrain from adding my two cents on some of those issues.

Another section of the book caught my attention – The implied directive for husband to remain faithful to the wife of his youth.

Malachi begins his address of a husband’s faithlessness with a sobering image. He declares the faithlessness of these husbands have caused the altar of the Lord to be covered with tears.

And this you do as well: You cover the Lord’s altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offerings or accepts it with favor at your hand. (2:13)

The cause of the tears and weeping falls to the faithlessness of husbands who have not kept to the wives of their youth.

Because the Lord was a witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. Did God not make her? (2:14-15a)

Did God not make her?

Wow! That strikes at the heart.

Your bride. The woman you took as your wife from your youth. Did God not make her? What have you done to her? By failing to remain faithful to her, what have you done to this woman of God’s creation?

Here is the thing: Desire draws the eyes of man away from himself. This desire is the seed of his faithlessness. He looks outward to see the temptation before him. In another sense, however, looking outward is a redirection of his heart.

One might argue our passions are inward looking because they are self-serving. There is truth to that thought; but, let’s think along a different line.

A man and wife are knotted in marriage. Two become one through the unbreakable bond established within the covenant of marriage. Serving our passions is not merely self-serving; rather, it is something different. The self is no more through the covenant of marriage. The self becomes something new and different. And, ideally, through this knotting of two, the one becomes something stronger. To serve the good of self ought to mean to serve the good and the betterment the one formed from the knotting of two. 

When a husband is not faithful to his wife, he is equally unfaithful to himself. He is unfaithful to the beautiful thing to which he has been blessed to be bound.

Malachi chimes in with an instruction to the faithless husband. He declares,”So look to yourselves, and do not let anyone be faithless to the wife of his youth.” Look to your true self – the self God formed when you and your wife entered into the covenant of marriage.

You know the saying, “There is nothing wrong with looking!”

That’s just not true.

When you allow your passions to redirect your focus, your attention is no longer upon yourself. You are no longer looking to your true self. You are no longer focusing your attention of the self you became when you took to your wife in the covenant of marriage.

Did God not make her?

Look to yourself and see the wife to whom God formed.

Look to your self and live committed to the self God knotted between you and your wife.

 

Juggling Life Like A.J. Green

Unknown.jpegDo you know what happens when the tires on your car are out-of-balance? First, the car will begin to vibrate when it is driven – literally, it makes for a bumpy ride! But, if the tires stay out of balance for too long the added heat wears on the tread causing the tires to burn down until the eventually burst.

Does this feel like anything you have experienced or are experiencing? Is your life a bumpy ride? Are you burning out? Are you living your life out-of-balance?

I’m speaking from experience when I say life can get out-of-balance. Ensuring an area of my life does not consume a greater amount of my time or energy than other areas is a constant struggle of mine. When one area of life requires greater attention, other areas will be neglected. This is a life out-of-balance…when you feel like you are jumping from one thing to the next!

How is it possible to juggle everything in our lives all at once?

A.J. Green is one of the most talented young men to ever come from my hometown. Without question, Green is the most talented football player to ever come from Summerville, which is saying a lot in the McKissick era!

Green’s stats reveal his efficiency as a wide receiver. He currently has the second most receiving yards in the 2017 season of the NFL at 504 yards through five games. Green has caught over 500 passes for more than 7,600 yards in his six and a half seasons. He surpassed 1,000 receiving yards in each of his first five season. He only had 964 receiving yards in sixth season due to an injury. Had he caught the addition 36 yards he would have been only the second person in the history of the NFL to have more 1,000 receiving yards in each of his first six seasons!

Green is super-talented; he is efficient; and, he has proven himself to be a successful receiver.

I do not know Green. He and I met once at a USC game, when he his high school teammate were visiting schools. While I do not know him personally, I have followed his career – from high school to his college career at UGA and now his stint with the Bengals. His talent, efficiency, and success could be chalked up as raw-talent, but his story suggest a much more complicated system of influencers with one unexpected definitive skill.

Green has spoken openly about his early encounter with tragedy. Green lost two primary figures in his life at equally formative times in his life. Green’s older brother and only sibling lost his life in a car accident when the younger Green was only four years old. I would not attempt to suggest the impact the loss of his brother played on his life, but I do recall an E:60 profile of A.J. Green in which he identifies the influence his brother’s death has played on his life.

In June of 2007, nine firefighters were killed while fighting a fire at the Sofa Supper Store on Highway 17-A. Louis Mulkey was among the nine men who lost their lives fighting that fire. Mulkey was a coach at Summerville High School. Mulkey had first coached Green’s JV basketball team, but he was also an assistant football coach and basketball coach. Mulkey was more than Green’s coach, he became a mentor to the younger athlete. The coach and mentor passed the summer before Green’s senior year.

Sidenote – The high school basketball team won the school’s first and only state championship that year with an incredible twist of an ending.

The E:60 profile of A.J. Green addresses these tragedies and the influence they played in his life. Tragedy grounded Green and forged a sense of humility that would define his personality and his play. 

While the instability of tragedy could have redirected the trajectory of Green’s life, a greater influencer brought solidification. Green’s family has a reputation of being well-knit, supportive, and encouraging. His parents and his extended family are known for the sincerity of their faith and their service within their community of faith. Green may have been grounded by tragedy, but his family, his faith community, and the greater community have always sought to lift him up.

Certainly the instability of tragedy contrasted by the sturdiness of faith, family, and friends has influenced Green to be humble, yet determined.

Green, however, attributes one other decision to his talent, efficiency, and success. He joined his elementary schools juggling team when he was in second grade. Juggling would help to develop his hand-eye coordination, which would certainly prove useful as a wide-receiver, but also, this skill would influence his mindset…his attitude.

Green is a juggler!

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I do not know if Green’s life is “in balance,” nor would I take the liberty to infer his life is balanced. I’m certain he has his struggles. There are times when he drops the ball. 

Green’s story intrigues me, because I wonder to what degree juggling has shaped his mindset and his attitude and, therefore, his approach to life and adversity.

One advantage I would assume a juggler has over everyone else is the belief in the possibility for multiple entities to remain in play at any given point. A juggler trusts balance can be achieved.

If you feel like your life is out-of-balance, image what the skill of juggling could do for you. If nothing else, learning to juggle could shape your mindset, attitude, and approach! Juggling suggests maintaining a harmonious balance between multiple entities is a possibility.

Here is the good news. If you are experiencing a bumpy life it probably means you have a full life. When your full life gets a little bumpy it simply means its time for an adjustment; a realignment. Your need for a realignment does not make you unique. Everyone must regularly evaluate the quality of their ride through the complexities of life.

Approach life like a juggler. It is possible to maintain a harmonious balance between multiple entities at any one time.

But…

Keep one thing in mind, there is a limit to how much you can juggle at any one time! There is a video of A.J. green juggling while he is being interviewed. The interviewer asks Green if he can still juggle four balls, and he hands Green an extra tennis ball. Green attempts to add a fourth ball into his rotation and twice he looses balance. He suggests he has forgotten how to juggle four balls and he removes the ball…

There is a limit to what any one person can juggle!

When you push that limit, harmony will be lost and balance will be compromised. “Dropping the ball” does not make you deficient. Nor does it mean you are inadequate or a failure. It means you are human! It means, like everyone else, you have your limits.

Juggling does not simply allow you to approach life with a belief in the possibility of balance. Juggling also teaches you when a ball needs to be removed to maintain harmony.

If life is a little bumpy for you, then seek realignment. Trust it is to maintain a harmonious balance. But also, realize the adjustment necessary to achieve harmony may require you to let go of something so that you can focus your time and energy where it is most necessary.

Sometimes, letting go frees you to move forward.

As I posted earlier this week, there is still more available in this life. Because what is impossible for us is possible with God (Matthew 19:26). Letting go of our obstructions enables us to move forward…to go with the one leading to true life.

Balance is not easily kept. Juggling everything seems impossible. Take comfort in the truth that what is impossible for us is possible with God. A real and balanced life is available to all of us, but it may require letting go of the things proving to be obstructions.

So, juggle in confidence that which matters, but let go of what is obstructive…and, then, go with the one who leads to a real and authentic life.

 

Parenting in a World of Evil

I’m processing.

I woke up like many of you yesterday to the news of the horrendous attack upon vulnerable concert-goers at the Route 91 Music Festival in Las Vegas. My wife and I sat down with our coffee and listened to the reporting.

I began working on the commentary for my Weekly Message post, where I post my message from the previous Sunday. While I was preparing the commentary for the post, I found myself running off on a tangent of reflection upon the recent mass shooting.

I wrote these words:

I woke up yesterday morning to the news of the horrendous attack in Las Vegas. I felt many things as I am sure all of you did. I’m tired of waking up to the news. I am absolutely exhausted of waking up to the breaking news – whether it be a mass casualty shooting; terrorism – foreign or domestic; rallies, marches, and protests utilizing violence or aggression. I, for one, am done! I’m burned out on the hatred on display in America and throughout our world! I’m just plain tired of it all; and, you should be, too! And, if you are not tired of it, then wake upbecause you are already asleep! 

The reports of the news out of Las Vegas were disturbing, but I did not realize the extent to which I had grown tired of tragedy, hate, and blatant displays of evil in our nation and in our global community.

I may have been a little more reactionary than responsive with those words, but I do believe they articulate the depth of my frustration and my pain.

My frustration is similar to that as a child learning to tie his shoe – the child knows the shoe is capable of being tied and that she is capable of tying it, only she does not know how a shoe is tied. She works with determination, but grows frustrated as she struggle against her lack of coordination. That’s how I feel about the world right now – we are a child that lacks coordination. And, I’m growing frustrated watching us fail to meet our potential. 

There is pain within me, too. I referred to this in my post this morning. I feel we are a what’s more society. We are a what’s more people. Our searching, possessing, and consuming of more comes with a cost. And, often, the cost is imposed upon others. For one to have more, another must have less. In the most extreme cases, say the mass shooting in Las Vegas, this man’s attempt to acquire more (whatever the hell more looked like to him) required everything to be taken from those who were killed, injured, and attending the festival. We do harm to one another. We are harming one another. And, it is incredibly painful to watch.

My wife asked me, “Ross, do you think the world is coming to and end?” She asks me this question whenever something devastating is reported on the news…I’ve gotten the question a lot over the last year.

I told her, “No!”

My explanation is simple: The nature of humanity has not altered since the beginning of time. Human beings feel, think, and act just as our earliest ancestors. While humanity has become more logical, rational, and enlightened, the nature of the human is still susceptible and influenced by evil. There is an inherent flaw, but it is there by design…

The flaw is a necessary consequence of the greater ability to love.

The ability to love is quite possibly the most baffling thing. Some might object, claiming love is nothing other than an animalistic instinct towards self-preservation. Love may serve that objective, but consider what else the capacity for love offers to humanity.

I believe love enables humanity to know the existence of a supreme being, who I believe to be the One, True God. Discerning the presence of God in the life of God’s creation would rely upon the capacity for God to self-express. God can only be known by way of revelation! And, primarily, the revelation of God, which is seen and felt, is categorically expressed as love. God’s self-expression to humanity is God’s love, which enables humanity to experience the presence and activity of the Creator within the creation.

If humanity inherently possesses the ability to know love, then they by design must also be susceptible to experience the absence of love.

And, if love is an expression of the divine, then the absence of love would disrupt the one’s encounter and, therefore, their experiential knowledge of the divine.

Oppositional forces play a necessary role in this cosmic drama of ours…

Right?

If you have the ability to love; than, what is the absence of love?

Likewise, if the God can be experienced, than what is it when God is rejected?

We live in a world of possibility. It is possible to know the divine through the revelation of God’s love. Equally so, it is possible to know the absence of God, where we have chosen to reject God’s revelation of love.

I do not believe the world is ending. I do not believe I will experience an apocalyptic event in my lifetime. Nor will my sons experience an apocalyptic event in their lifetime. Rather, like our fathers before us, my sons and I will both continue to experience the world’s susceptibility for evil. Trusting the world’s susceptibility for evil is a reminder that we exist in a reality where love is felt as an expression of the presence and activity of God.

An important distinction must be made, especially if one intends to rear children within our world – The world is not evil; rather, evil is in the world.

My sons will continue to grow and live in this world. The fear I hear expressed by many people is what will this world be like for our children? or, is it fair or good to bring a child into this world? In faith, I profess it is good to bring children into our twisted and broken world. I hold this position, because I have encountered God and God’s unique love for us in this world. I have discovered the life and resurrection of God’s son, Jesus Christ, which has done more to reveal the authoritative power of God’s love for me and every other vessel blessed to receive the breath of God.

I have no way of knowing what the world will be like for my sons. I assume it will be like the world I have encountered and the world encountered by my fathers before me – a world where God is present and active; where love is real; and, therefore, a world susceptible to evil.

God has entrusted my sons to my wife and me. And, thanks be to God, my sons have also been entrusted to an incredible extended family and an amazing community of faith. My sons will inherit this world, but not before we have the opportunity to introduce them to the present and active God, who’s love can be felt and expressed.

I may not be able to change the world my sons will ultimately inherit, but I can influence the way they encounter the world. I can shape their perception. I can support them in their resistance of all things evil. I can encourage them to choose love and to live into the holy. Above all, I can show them how to see, hear, and feel the presence and activity of a loving God.

Parenting in a world of evil has its challenges, but it is none the less a privilege. We stride cautiously and with intention as we parent in a world of evil. But, it is only that – a world of evil. Ours is not an evil world; only, it is world susceptible to evil. Our world is susceptible to evil because it is a world where God is present, active, and available to us. Love is proof. But, for God to be present, active, and available, the opposite will be found, too. Where God is rejected, evil will reside.

The end of the world is not coming any time soon, but the time we have with our children is limited. The time we have is important. Our use of this time is critical. While we cannot change the world they will inherit, we can influence their perception of it. We can direct them in their approach of this world; and, we can teach them to encounter the present and active God, who is known by the power of love. Better still, we can demonstrate to our children the greater power of God’s love through our love of them and our love of others.

What’s More, Part One (and a reflection upon Las Vegas)

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I woke up yesterday morning to the news of the horrendous attack in Las Vegas. I felt many things as I am sure all of you did. I’m tired of waking up to the news. I am absolutely exhausted of waking up to the breaking news – whether it be a mass casualty shooting; terrorism – foreign or domestic; rallies, marches, and protests utilizing violence or aggression. I, for one, am done! I’m burned out on the hatred on display in America and throughout our world! I’m just plain tired of it all; and, you should be, too! And, if you are not tired of it, then wake upbecause you are already asleep! 

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Untamed

My son has recently taken an interest into bugs and insects, reptiles, and all the many other creatures he has begun to discover in his little world!

Several weeks ago, my wife and I picked our son up from school on a Friday afternoon. Our budding tradition is to stop at the local BBQ restaurant after school on Fridays to celebrate another good week at school!

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My wife and I seated the boys at the table. We plated their food off the buffet. The boys began to enjoy their meal after we put their portions before them. In the midst of eating, our oldest son reached into his pocket. He said to his mother, as he brought his hand out from his pocket, “Look what I found on the playground,” and he placed a large black beetle on the table.

My wife shrieked!

She sent him to the restroom to clean his hands and I returned the beetle to the parking lot…

Our son is still very young, but we are able to begin giving him a little bit of freedom to explore – in other words, helicoptering is not necessary at all times. We are a little more inclined to let him explore the depths of the backyard – to dig for worms, to look for beetles, to catch bugs.

He had me trap a large Golden Silk Orb-Weaver the other day. We placed it in a Tupperware container with air holes cut into the top. My wife was sleeping at the time. He ran into the house to show her the impressive size of the spider. He placed the container before her on the couch as she opened her eyes from sleep. She nearly leapt off the couch! I thought it was funny.

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The natural world is an amazing place for him right now. He is discovering the depth of creativity in our world. He is not distracted by the non-sense of the manufactured world we  have built for ourselves. The beauty of the created order is enough.

At the same time that he is discovering the beauty in nature, he is beginning to experience the disruption of the heart in the nature of the human. As my son is growing older and discovering greater things, he is also learning to communicate his thoughts and his feelings. His friends, classmates, and church “siblings” are learning to communicate, as well.

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And, quite frankly, teaching a child healthy communication skills and instructing a child on how to speak to others or how to receive the words of others, is no where as easy as it is to catch a bug or capture a spider.

Helping a child to see the beauty in the words we speak, the influence they hold, and the effect they can have upon others is dreadfully difficult. It is easier to stand in awe at the web designed by the Golden Silk Orb-Weaver than it is to explain the beauty in speaking words of kindness to another.

I thought about the world into which my son is entering this morning as I read the third chapter of James:

How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. James 5b-10a

Every species of beast, bird, reptile, and sea creature can be and has been tamed by the human species, but no one can tame the tongue!

The discussion of “good” vs. “bad” has come up a lot in our present “Jack Hanna” themed life. Which of the snakes are “good” and which are “bad”? Which of the spiders are “good” and which are “bad”? Which of the insects are “good” and which are “bad”? The deciding factor for us has been which of these creatures, if they bite you, could result in a trip to the doctor.giphy-1.gif

Venom and poison, therefore, have become part of our ongoing conversation.

It has been relatively easy to teach my son about the threat of venomous snakes or poisonous spiders or the other creatures that have harmful bites or stings! It has actually been pretty fun watching him learn. He’s learned about frogs, skinks, salamanders, caterpillars, butterflies, and so much more!

James offers an interesting observations about the harm done by the human tongue.

“No one can tame the tongue,” we read in James, for it is “a restless evil full of deadly poison.”

An evil full of deadly poison – Those words hit a chord with me.

I am so afraid of the stings and the bites that my son might receive in the natural world, but I’ve neglected the stings and bites he will receive from others. Even worse, I’ve negelcted the stings and bites he will impose upon others.

My concern should reside here, because the greater effect can come from the untamed tongue…

James says, “With [the tongue] we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God.”

You and I were created to glorify God. We were created to praise. Giving praise to God may be giving word to the beauty of the creatures in our midst; or, giving praise to God could be speaking words of truth, hope, and love to others. Giving praise can be many things, but it is not cursing those made in the likeness of God.

We offer stinging words and poisonous bites of the mouth when we could otherwise utilize the influence of our words to affect change in the hearts of others.

Teaching my son about the beauty of the natural world is important. It is also important to show my son there is beauty in the nature of the human, as well. I guess it starts with me. It begins with the words I speak. The words I speak to my wife, my sons, and those around me will have a far greater effect upon my son’s realization of the words he speaks and how he receives the words spoken to him.

Maybe if I speak words that bring glory to God, then my sons, who are learning to speak, will discover the power in their words, as well.

 

Preparing for Storms – Life and Otherwise

images.jpegA little less than a year ago, I wrote the original post, Preparing for Storms, in anticipation of Hurricane Matthew. As I read over this original post, I am mindful of the similarities of today as we are anticipating Hurricane Irma. We are preparing! I imagine many of you are preparing, as well.
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Sprout: Inspiration for Emergence

SproutWhat is holding you back from emerging from the depths of the dirt and living in the power of the light?

Many of my messages and reflections have given a great deal of attention to all things garden related over the past few moment. There is a simple reason: my son and I planted our first garden this past Spring. We really had no idea what all we were doing, but we had a fun time figuring our way through it and forging new friendships with people who wanted to help us in our efforts!

(Aside: Our first efforts for germinating seeds was pretty hilarious. You can listen to the story in this message from the series The Life of a Seed.)

There have been many blessings that have come from our gardening experiment: watching the plants produce fruits, eating the fresh vegetables, and sharing our vegetables with others! Of course, the greatest blessings has been the opportunity to spend time with my son…

Among all of the blessings, there was a most spectacular and awe-inspiring moment that helped me see the true beauty in farming! — A couple of weeks after my son and I placed the seeds into the germination cells, small sprouts began to emerge from the soil!

The emergence of these sprouts was, well, almost magical…better still, it was divine!

As these sprouts pushed through the soil, they began to unfold into the light. The first leaves opened up and exposed themselves to the light of the sun (or, in our case, the heat lamp). They made themselves vulnerable, accessible, but also receptive to the light that would nurture and sustain their growth!

The sprouting of a seed is a perfect image for a new found faith of a Christian believer.

Faith is like a seed sown into the heart. The seed begins to sprout and grow. As the sprout emerges, it (ought) to open to the light. The light serves the health of the sprout by nurturing and sustaining its growth into a productive plant!

The Word of God is sown into our hearts by the proclamation of Jesus. Those who receive and respond to his proclamation will see faith founded upon the Word begin to grow and emerge. The awe-inspiring beauty of the whole thing is faith emerges and begins to open to the light of the Son, which nurtures and sustains the faith through the power of the Spirit.

The Word of God has been sown into your heart through the proclamation of Jesus! What will you do? How will your heart receive and respond to this proclamation?

My encouragement to you today is to simply be inspired to emerge!

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Elevator: Awkward Encounters of God

Riding the elevator with a stranger is awkward. Bottled up inside a confined space with someone you do not know — very uncomfortable.

I do not like awkward situations, because – obviously – they are uncomfortable!

I usually attempt to break awkward tension in any given situation with a joke or some light-hearted comment! My friends know this about me. They think I am a kidder, who likes “to stir the pot,” but really, I’m just super uncomfortable in awkward moments. I guess making a joke or making a light-hearted comment is my attempt at taking control of the situation.

Inside an elevator with a stranger is a whole other level of awkward, though! I wish I had a standard comment on the ready to ease the awkwardness – something like, “Random fact: Hippos secrete red sweat when they are upset.” That type of knowledge bomb would certainly destroy any degree of elevator awkwardness!

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I once rode in an elevator with James Brown, the “Godfather of Soul.” I do not think I said anything to him. I remember staring at his teeth – also, random. Maybe that should be my elevator ice-breaker. “Hello, my name is Ross. I once rode an elevator with James Brown, the Godfather of Soul. And, now, my new friend, you can say that you’ve ridden in an elevator with a man who rode in an elevator with James Brown!”

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All of this to say, I rode in an elevator with a stranger today. A young man, with tattoos all along his arms and multiple piercings. I stepped into the elevator with him and the awkward tension. How should I stand? What should I do with my hands? Where should I look? What should I say/not say?

I went with the standard head nod and, “What’s up, man?” — You know, alpha male material.

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Apparently, that’s all the guy needed to start telling me his story – His father was in the hospital with a surgery, he was hoping to be released later in the day, he had come down from New York to help his mother with his father, he sold clothes for a living, and he was headed to Florida before flying back to New York.

Y’all, I was only taking the elevator to the 3rd floor! He told me like ten stories within 2 stories worth of an elevator ride!!

I guess the reason we feel awkward – the type of awkward we feel in an elevator with a stranger – is because we all have a story to tell. We have this inherent need to relate, and to relate well, to others. The awkward tension we feel in the elevator with a stranger is not the discomfort of sharing a small, confined space with someone we have never met. The awkwardness results from our resisting the need to relate to others.

There are times in life when we bump into God like a stranger in an elevator. We encounter God in the midst of our life and we have no idea what to say – “Hey, God! Hippos sweat turns red when they are mad, but you probably already knew that!”

God has a way of showing up when we least expect it and when we are least prepared for God’s presence. It can be a little awkward – How should I stand? What should I do with my hands? Where should I look? What should I say/not say?

The awkwardness we experience when we unexpectedly encounter God in the midst of our life results from the same inherent need to relate, and to relate well, to others.

Specifically, at the core of our heart is the inherent need to know God and to be known by God.

“Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; but anyone who loves God is known by Him.” — 1 Corinthians 8:2-3

Any awkwardness experienced when encountering God is normal! What to do? How to stand? What to say/not say? These uncertainties are the result of a natural need to exist in relationship with God. You have a story worth being told; and, God has a story for you to live. The awkwardness is simply the assurance that you are meant to know and be known by God.

Watch out the next time you step into an elevator. Who knows, you might find yourself riding with God the Father of your soul…not to be confused with the Godfather of Soul.

Live Bolder: On Turning 35

fontcandyI turned 35 last week.

I realize 35 may not seem old to some of you, but turning 35 feels like a milestone in the years. Technically, I am no longer considered a “young adult.” Perhaps, this transition of categorization is what seems so upsetting!

After all, if I am no longer to be considered a “young adult,” then it means I am supposed to be, well, an “adult” — and, quite honestly, I am not sure if I am ready for the responsibility! I have kind of enjoyed the privilege shrug off my mistakes with the comforting realization that I am still trying to figure out this adulting thing…

Not so much now!

Now, I’m not supposed to lean on the excuse that I am in the process of becoming an adult…because, well, it happened somewhere along the way.

And, I am already feeling it.

I had a fun birthday afternoon with JE. We blew up water balloons, threw them at one another, sprayed Solomon with a hose, and then went to VBS where we got to go down a huge waterslide and play in a jump castle…you know, a normal kind of 35th birthday.

But, while I was jumping in the jump castle, my foot slipped out and my knee buckled. I fell awkwardly to the mat with a grimace of pain.

JE laughed, because he thought I was playing around.

I wasn’t!

It hurt.

But, that’s just it – living exposes you too the rick of pain.

Embracing the life given to us can be a blast — it can look a lot like playing with water balloons, jump castles, and water slides! And, embracing life may expose you to the risk of pain, but the joy felt is always greater!

So, here is to being 35!

I’m not going to worry so much about getting older, but about living bolder – embracing the life God has given me with the expectation of being overwhelmed by joy and not so distracted by the risk of a little pain!

Speck: Choosing to See with Compassion and Empathy

fontcandy“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye. — Matthew 7:1-5

I got a speck of saw dust in my eye yesterday. The speck posed an annoyance yesterday evening as Ginny and I sat down to watch America’s Got Talent. I did not mess with my eye, figuring the speck would be flushed out when I slept later that night.

I woke up this morning in a bit of discomfort. The speck had not flushed out. Worse, the speck was rubbing against my eye forming tiny scratches. I tried a couple different approaches to remove the speck: rubbing my eye (not a good idea); wiping the eye lid; eye drops; and, flushing my eye with water. Nothing seemed to help. The speck remained and the discomfort increased as my eye became more bloodshot.

While delivering his “sermon on the mount,” Jesus asks his disciples, “Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s, but do not notice the log in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3)

The question is asked so Jesus can further encourage his disciples to first remove the log from their eye so they may see clearly to take the speck out of their neighbor’s eye.

These words are likely familiar to many of you. Jesus uses the imagery of speck/log in reference to the human tendency to judge others. The point of Jesus is to first attend to one’s shortcomings before addressing the shortcomings of others. Or, a more strident reading of this teaching suggests Jesus commands his disciples to attend to their sinful tendencies against the tendency to judge the sinfulness of others. And, of course, this is a teaching that speaks beyond the Twelve to all followers of Jesus — Judge not, lest ye not be judged! 

While judging others is certainly the central issue, Jesus makes a comment towards the end of his teaching, which brings another point into view. Jesus instructs his disciples to remove the log from their eye so they might see clearly to remove the speck out of the eye of their neighbor (Matthew 7:5).

Jesus does identify the ability to assist in the removal of a speck from the eye of a neighbor. The emphasis is a matter of one’s approach: do not seek to call out (judge) others for the specks that limits the view; but rather, approach your neighbor with compassion and empathy as one who knows the pain of having one’s sight blinded by a log!!

A little speck of saw dust is still floating around in my eye. It is uncomfortable; and, it is limiting my ability to see clearly.

Our tendency towards sin is no different. Sin limits our ability to see clearly. Sin blurs our view of God and it disrupts our ability to see and live into our relationship with God through Jesus. Life lived out of rhythm with God through Jesus Christ can be extremely uncomfortable.

That is the point we often miss!

Judging others is not just unhealthy, because it points out the flaws of another without acknowledging the faults of our own. Judging is ineffective! (Dare I say, negligent?)

When we choose to judge, we are choosing to withhold compassion and empathy from our neighbor. We forget the smallest speck can cause a great deal of discomfort and limit one’s vision.

When we choose to judge, we miss the opportunity to serve the well-being of our neighbor – to honor the pain they carry; to comfort them in their distress; or, to offer them a guiding hand.

I guess, at the end of it all, its a matter of the way you choose to see things…

Are you able to see clearly with the love of God? Or, is there a speck in your eye blurring your vision?

Blessings,
RC