Sunday, November 28, 2010

What Good Am I?

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” - Howard Thurman

I recently discovered a song from the 1980s that speaks volumes to us all.

What good am I, if I'm like all the rest?
If I just turned away, when I see how you're dressed
If I shut myself off so I can't hear you cry
What good am I?

What good am I, if I know and don't do?
If I see and don't say, if I look right through you
If I turn a deaf ear to the thundering sky
What good am I?

What good am I, while you softly weep?
And I hear in my head what you say in your sleep
And I freeze in the moment like the rest who don't try
What good am I?

What good am I, then to others and me?
If I've had every chance and yet still fail to see
If my hands tied must I not wonder within
Who tied them and why and where must I have been

What good am I, if I say foolish things?
And I laugh in the face of what sorrow brings
And I just turn my back while you silently die
What good am I?
- Bob Dylan, Oh Mercy, 1989

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. - Ephesians 4:1-6

What a great question. Would that I would be alive. Not only to the needs of the around me, but to my own as well.


Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Only Thing We Have

“Those who danced were thought to be quite insane by those who could not hear the music.”
- Angela Monet

I love my deck.

Its not much, really. Some comfortable chairs, some floral arrangements and greenery. Surrounded by woods.

Its quiet. Occasioned by the sounds of the distant neighbors dogs barking at imaginary bogey men. My iPod plays out my favorite songs du jour. I can drink my favorite adult beverage. My wonderful wife usually joins me for a while and we talk. Sometimes its just me, or just me and the dogs.

From my deck you can see nothing. But from my deck you can see everything.

Good weeks and bad weeks both find their homes on my deck. Sometimes its triumphal relaxation. Oftentimes its reflection and planning. Sometimes, its nothing more than relaxing and de-stressing.

This past week could fairly well be said to be one of those "what-just-happened-to-me?" weeks. The week started with an unplanned trip to the dentist (which can never be good) and was finished with the yearly physical with my family doctor (something every middle age man dreads). These wonderful events sandwiched two fifteen hour days and a third trying to get caught up. Nothing, but nothing, went as expected. Especially the visit with my family doctor.

I like my doctor. He reminds me of "House", except his humor isn't quite as sharp.

I'm not the type to worry too much about my health (a fact you can probably tell) but his congratulations to me for beating out 25% of my compatriots made me stop and think. Typically, that would be a good thing. But he was referencing the fact that the first symptom 25% of people with heart disease have is sudden death.

Come again, doc? Hmm.

That will wake you up some. My ticker, he says, is making a sound that it shouldn't. Instead of "tic-toc" its saying "tic-ta-toc." Think that clicking sound under the hood when your teenage daughter thinks driving the car with the oil light on is a good idea. Its one of them things that make you go, hmmm....

The good news, he said, is that its still making a sound. So I win something, just not quite sure what. He says its some new doctors in my not too distant future. Won't Blue Cross / Blue shield love that?

I'm sure I will tell them they same thing I tell my family doctor: I'm the best patient you will ever have; I know I am going to die, your job is to keep it at bay so I can live.

So back to my deck. What does this have to do with my deck?

"What does the worker gain from his toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on men. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live. That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil—this is the gift of God. I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that men will revere him." Ecc. 3:9-14

The Teacher caps off his famous "for everything there is a time, and season for everything under heaven" passage with this simple observation. Clearly, the Teacher had a back deck. And clearly, he sat in the stillness to appreciate all that God had done already. He knew the rest that the writer of Hebrews spoke: a rest that says we may approach our God in the quietness of the deck and find mercy and grace in our time of need. (Heb. 4:16)

From my deck I can see into the master bedroom and my wife working hard at her job. I can see into the living room as the kids watch TV and dogs play. I can hear the sounds of the trees, and look into the sky. I can try to fathom the things of God, and laugh at my failure. And I can relax in the moment. And think of nothing. And everything.

In those moments the world is right.

Perhaps blogging about it shows that the doctor's news bothers me. But I really don't think it does.

As I sit here on the deck I can see the most important people in my life, that which I toil for, and I feel the presence of God. From the deck I can see how He has provided for me while I have been living my life. And I have no doubt that will continue.

If anything, my deck reminds me that no matter the outcome of any medical exam or work experience, I can refocuses my mind on the things and places and people that are really important.

These are the things I frequently lose sight of. And something God quickly brings back to my attention.

For when I lose sight of that which is ultimately important I cease to live anyway, and merely begin to exist.

And that would be something to really fear.


Sunday, April 12, 2009

Fads, Fictions and Faith

"A thing is not necessarily true because a man dies for it." - Oscar Wilde

Are you willing to die for what you believe?

That was the bold statement of a Christian of his personal committment to Christ in a local community forum while discussing Christianity with a professed forum atheist. It was a typical amateur religious debate. But the thread caught my attention. It dealt with how persecuted Christians are (or at least believe themselves to be) in the current liberal media culture, and how being a Christian is such a challenge with the current shift in world views in our society.

Now, religious debates can often be quite amusing, mostly because of the seriousness that each side takes in their positions, and the fun to be had in attacking the other's position. Local community forums are often the hot bed of such amateur joustings and forays into expressing beliefs and opinions on all things godly (and ungodly). But they usually devolve into parrroting the latest dispensational sermon they heard, of the most recent airing of Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity.

I must admit that in my younger days I relished such experiences, and felt as if I was defending not only the one and true faith, but also the one and true God. Such is the naivete of youth. Little did I realize that the true and living God got along quite nicely without my aid for many an eternity.

And, unlike the professional debates, like the recent one at Samford between John Lennox and Christopher Hitchens, the amateur debates tend to ultimately devolve into "God said. I believe. And that settles it." A kind of Madalyn Murray O'Hare vs. Bob "Chaplain of Bourbon Street" Harrington, round 34. Usually the Christians involved begin to talk about how they would willingly die for the cause of Christ, and strangely how they fear that America is turning so godless that martyrdom will be a real issue facing Christians in this country in the not too distant future if Christians don't act now.

Now mind you, I am all for hyperbole, and don't mind using it myself to make a point, but the analysis of current American culture, godless and liberal, does not even begin to suggest to me that Christians in the country will face a persecution that will end in death on any kind of noticeable scale. And, ultimately, would it be such a bad thing that our society would so despise Christians that death would be quick and sure for those who follow Christ?

But really, is dying for Christ really the test of one's Christian beliefs? And by making such grandiose claims do Christians really believe they will win the world for Christ?

I don't think so. Shall we ever forget that in the early morning hours of September 11, 2001, 19 men, armed only with their religious convictions and box cutters, hijacked four airplanes, killing 3,000 people and themselves? These men, like so many of their brethren, were willing not only to die for their convictions, but kill for them as well. Christian, Muslim, Hindu (!) and other world religions have all had their share of dying and killing for their convictions.

Ultimately, as a test of truth, death tells very little of the veracity of one's convictions. And how absurd it is to use it as a test in a society where the chance of martyrdom is so remote as to be nonexistent.

The other answer often promoted in such debates is a willingness to live for Christ. The "WWJD" mentality. That is most often translated into some moral life lessons on what a Christian should "look like". What positions Christians (or at least, white middle class Christians) should take on godless issues confronting society, how they should confront ungodliness and godless people, make daily devotions and prayer, and register church attendance and giving. It means learning the appropriate head wag at the sins of others, while whitewashing our own sins. It means Peter Pan outfits and plastic smiles. And "purposefully" learning this year's "Prayer of Jabez", whatever that might be, in the Basement.

It is attaining the a form of godliness, but denying its power.

But then, if martyrdom is not in my future, what is the test of my Christian faith? Is it defending God in the forums? Fighting for the political cause du jour? Learning the latest Christian fad? Gaining positions of power to make the face of Christianity less absurd and more accepted? Is it living, and dying, for Christ?

I think Christ had the answer to that question. In his parable of the sheep and the goats, Christ made clear at least a part of His answer to the question.

Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.' "Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you? The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me. Matthew 25:34-40.

Of note in the parable is the nonchalance of the sheep. They did their acts of charity not for the rewards of heaven, and not in their search for deeper Christian meaning, but because of who they were, where they found themselves, with whomever they came into contact, and because of who He had transformed them into.

So casual and unassuming were their loving deeds, that they did not even notice they were doing them, and thought nothing of doing them because they were simply the right thing to do, the loving thing to do. There were no "purposeful acts" or ulterior motives, nor seeking of enlarged borders. They were simply being sheep. His sheep.

Paul, I think, said it well. "If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love." (I Cor 13:13).

The older I grow, the more I truly realize there is nothing I can add to an already perfect God, or the work completed by His perfect Son, Christ. He needs no defense. And my death will complete none of His work. That doctrine becomes real, that head knowledge becomes real, and more and more becomes heart knowledge. I can add nothing to what He is doing in my life I must simply trust that He is, and He will do with me His purpose.

The older I grow, the more I realize that the real question, at least for me in this society, is not "Am I willing to live, and die, for Christ." It is, "Am I willing to love because of Christ?"

And that is a much harder question.

Happy Easter.


Thursday, February 12, 2009

It Always Rains on Wednesday

“There is no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather.” - John Ruskin

Its Wednesday, it must be raining.

The garbage has to be at the curb by 7:00. AM. But its raining. And I've already showered. But the garbage has to be at the curb by 7:00. Maybe I can miss it this week? But we'll be overrun with garbage by next. But its raining. And its Wednesday.

It must be raining.

Late night last night. Bills to send, letters to write. Still not finished. Wished the weekend was longer. Wish the weekend was here. Drop kids off at school. Drenched. Drive to work. Drenched. I look at the sky.

Its Wednesday, it must be raining.

Still drenched from pushing the garbage to the curb. Clients calling to push theirs on me. Late night last night. Clients calling. Clients to call on. Wished the weekend was longer. Wish the weekend was here.

Its Wednesday, it must be raining.

Lunch time. Finally dry. Not hungry. Clients calling. Clients to call on. Lunch meeting, work to be done. Couldn't they come here? Its Wednesday, don't they know? Mad dash to the car. Wished the weekend was longer. Wish the weekend was here.

Its Wednesday, it must be raining.

Drenched as I drive. No parking place close! The handicap don't go out on Wednesday, do they? Its Wednesday, you know. Surely they don't. Better not risk it. The cops know. They look at the sky.

Its Wednesday, it must be raining.

Drenched as we talk. I force a smile. Wonder if I got the garbage to the curb on time? I look out the window as we talk. Wonder why the sun never shines on Wednesday. Or does it, and I just can't see? I look a the sky.

Its Wednesday, it must be raining.

Clients talk. Sometimes too much. Lunch is too long. Don't they know its Wednesday? Wished the weekend was longer. Wish the weekend was here. I'm sure clients are calling. So many clients to call. Finally dry. Parked so far away. Mad dash to the car. I look up.

Its Wednesday, it must be raining.

Drenched as I drive. No parking place close! Late for the next appointment. Don't they know its Wednesday? Mad dash to the office. I'm drenched. Clients calling. Clients called. Clients to call on. I'm drenched. But force the smile. I look out the window as I talk. It looks like Wednesday.

It must be raining.

Its late. Its night. Again. Finally dry. Where has the time gone? Wished the weekend was longer. So much to do. Wish the weekend was further away. I look out the window and see that its Wednesday. Time to go home.

Its Wednesday, it must be raining.

Mad dash to the car. Drive home. Drenched. Its late. Its Wednesday. Did they pick up the garbage? Yep, left the lid open too. Again. Don't they know its Wednesday? Dump water from garbage can. In the rain. I'm drenched. Again.

Its Wednesday, it must be raining.

Look out from the garage. At the rain. Its Wednesday. Head inside to see the mail. More calls to make. Issues. Wished the weekend was longer. Wish the weekend was here. Wish the weekend was further away. Not enough time tomorrow. Clients calling. Clients to call on.

Its Wednesday, it must be raining.

Forgot to read this morning. Understandable. Its Wednesday. And its raining. Again. Find my Bible.

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly."
(Matt. 11:28-29 "the Message").

He doesn't know my schedule. He doesn't know who I have to call. He doesn't know that the garbage has to get to the curb. He doesn't know the clients calling. Or the ones I must call on. He doesn't know the unbearable lunches. The weekends aren't long enough. The weekend is too close. Why would He dare say such to me. Doesn't he know its Wednesday? Doesn't He know its raining?

Yes. He does.

Look at my calendar before bed. What's tomorrow?