Undos vs. New Beginnings

Posted on 16, Sep

Don’t you love that little button in your word processing program that allows you to undo any keystrokes you’ve made or actions you’ve taken that turn out to be mistakes? And for those of us who have DVRs don’t you appreciate the way they allow us to rewind what we’re watching on TV so we can see something that interests us over and over again?

The problem is that we can get used to this ability to “rewind” and “undo” and assume that we can treat real life in this way as well.

Just the other morning I was out for my morning walk. I turned a corner just in time to see a waste managagement vehicle (garbage truck) loading some big item that a homeowner had apparently requested be taken away into its cavernous bowels. It was really none of my business but I was curious as to what discarded item the truck had just swallowed. For a split second I sort of mentally “reached” for the “rewind” or “undo” button in my brain! Has this happened to you yet? Have you ever caught yourself thinking, if for only a moment, that you’d like to do just hit that magical button and have a go at a redo of some kind?

Alas, there is no such button in real life. We can’t simply undo something we’ve said or done, can we? It’s this fact that makes God’s grace and the forgiveness he offers us on the basis of it so very important.

1 John 1:8-9 contain the familiar words:

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:8-9)

While this is not exactly an undo–the temporal consequeces of our sin remain, consequences we still must live with–it is a new beginning. I often remind people I’m counseling or simply encouraging conversationally that we serve a God of new beginnings. He never tires of providing truly penitent people with the opportunity to begin anew, to have a fresh opportunity to get things right. The Gospels are filled with such stories.

So, on the one hand, we should be careful how we live, fully aware that there is no “undo” button that will magically make our mistakes disappear. On the other hand, isn’t it good to know that we serve a God of new beginnings? Do you need one today?

Something to think about.

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Remaining a Life-Long Learner

Posted on 14, Sep

The Book of Proverbs contains many passages that warn the reader to either steer clear of, or to avoid becoming, a mocker. There is some serious stuff here. For example:

Whoever corrects a mocker invites insult; whoever rebukes a wicked man incurs abuse. (Proverbs 9:7)

Do not rebuke a mocker or he will hate you; rebuke a wise man and he will love you. (Proverbs 9:8)

If you are wise, your wisdom will reward you; if you are a mocker, you alone will suffer. (Proverbs 9:12)

A mocker resents correction; he will not consult the wise. (Proverbs 15:12)

The proud and arrogant man–“Mocker” is his name; he behaves with overweening pride. (Proverbs 21:24)

Drive out the mocker, and out goes strife; quarrels and insults are ended. (Proverbs 22:10)

The schemes of folly are sin, and men detest a mocker. (Proverbs 24:9)

The idea is that a mocker, due to a combination of intellectual arrogance and cynicism, is essentially unteachable. 

How sad.

This is why every semester I frontload a couple of my courses with a lecture in which I present the following chart which depicts four very different learning attitudes:

The Learning Matrix

I tell my students that I’m hoping they will choose to spend the semester with me endeavoring to function as “critical” thinkers and learners. While I don’t want to indoctrinate them, it is my hope that they will at least have an open mind and be willing to have their worldviews tweaked.

I’m thinking that this is an issue all of us need to think about from time to time. Am I still a learner? Am I willing to have my worldview tweaked? To what degree am I dedicated to the truth?

The wold has enough mockers. I am committed to doing my best to remain a humble, eager, life-long learner. How about you?

Something to think about.







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Are You Archippus?

Posted on 11, Sep

Many years ago, while preparing an expository sermon, I focused on the individuals to whom Paul refers in Colossians 4, a passage that functions as the letter’s conclusion. In this pericope (discrete portion of Scripture) Paul is either explaining why someone (like Tychicus) is doing something, or sending saluations on the behalf of someone (like Artisarchus), or expressing his own heart toward people located in Colossae or nearby Laodicea (like Nympha and Archippus). Whether it was good exposition or not, the tack I took in this sermon was to comment on what might be deduced about the ministry potential of each person named, and to challenge the members of my congregation to emulate the best while eschewing the worst.

For example, there is Tychicus–a Christian who is willing to be sent. There is Onesimus–a new convert willing to make things right between himself and another brother in Christ at great cost to himself (see Philemon 1:8-21). There is Aristarchus–a devoted Christian worker willing to suffer imprisonment for Christ. There is Mark–a brother willing to bounce back after an embarrassing ministry set-back (see Acts 15:36-40). There is Justus–a believer willing to put aside inherited cultural distinctives because he felt an even greater loyalty to the kingdom of God. There is Epaphras–the prayer warrior with a pastor’s heart. There is Luke–a highly educated man who humbly believes and serves the cause of Christ. There is Demas–a Christian worker who, sadly, will later defect from the ministry, if not the faith (see 2 Tim 4:9-10). There is Nympha–a Christian woman willing to have a church meet in her home. Finally, there is Archippus–the brother in Colossae who has received a ministry assignment from the Lord, and who, apparently, needs to be encouraged to complete it.

Believe it or not, the sermon went over pretty well!

Recently, while reading this passage as part of a morning quiet time, Paul’s reference to Archippus in Colossians 4:10  seemed to jump off the page at me. I got the distinct impression that I was supposed to create a post that would direct someone’s attention to these words. Why? I can only surmise that someday, someone will read these words and have the Holy Spirit whisper into their heart the message: “You are Archippus. You need to complete the work you have received from the Lord.”

According to Philemon 1:2, Archippus seems also to have been host to a church meeting in his home. Perhaps Archippus was saying to himself, “I’m already doing enough. I can’t, or shouldn’t have to, do anything more for the cause of the kingdom.” Then came Paul’s letter to the Christian community there in Colossae. Just before the missive concludes, Archippus finds himself being called out by Paul. “Archippus, you need to complete the work you have received from the Lord.”

Are you Archippus? Is there something (maybe something else) you know down deep in your heart that you’re supposed to do for Christ?

Something to think about.

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Diamonds in the Grass

Posted on 10, Sep

After a couple of overcast days, yesterday’s morning walk was bathed in sunshine. This allowed me to experience anew the phenomenon of “diamonds in the grass.”

I first heard this phrase while I was participating in a Doctor of Ministry seminar taught by Dallas Willard. “Spirituality and Ministry” was a two-week intensive course of study that was conducted at a Catholic retreat center nestled in the foothills above Sierra Madre, California. Sharing the center with us Fuller Seminary D. Min. students for part of those two weeks was a group of nuns from a neighboring parish. One afternoon I overheard a nun speaking to a staff member of the center. When she discovered that he was the groundskeeper she said, “Oh, you’re the one we have to thank for the diamonds in the grass!”

Early the next day I went out for a walk and observed for myself what she had been referring to. When the bright morning sun shone upon the center’s recently watered lawns, the droplets of water on each blade of grass glistened like sparkling diamonds.

Eventually the course concluded and I returned to my home, but the image of those diamonds in the grass stuck with me. While out for a walk one morning I realized that the phenomenon could be experienced here too. The bright morning sun shining on the freshly watered, long-bladed grass-like plants located in my neighborhood’s greenbelt glisten just like the diamonds portrayed in the Snow White ride at Disneyland. (Remember those scenes?)

Obviously, whenever this occurs I think of that nun and her expression of gratitude to the retreat center’s groundskeeper. That’s a good lesson right there: the need to let people around us know that we appreciate what they do. But beyond that, I’ve learned to allow this sight to serve as a cue for me to express afresh my gratitude to a good God who put so much beauty into the world, and then gave us human beings the capacity to appreciate it. When I’m at my best, witnessing the simple beauty of nature will lead me into moments of worshipful intimacy with its beneficent creator.

I hope that everyone reading these words will have the opportunity sometime soon to observe for themselves the phenomenon of diamonds in the grass. Then again, the phenomenon need not require a special time and place. We can see the “diamonds” that remind us of God’s goodness just about anywhere—from the twinkling of the stars at night, to the twinkle of light we observe in the eyes of the people we love. The question is: How will we respond to this beauty? Will we develop the habit of allowing these “diamond” sightings to result in special moments of intimacy with God?

Something to think about.

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In our book, Beyond the Bliss: Discovering Your Uniqueness In Marriage, my wife Patti and I wrote:

All of us have to make some basic choices about what our life (or existence) is going to be about. The question is not whether we will choose what we want to be and do in our lives, but in what direction that choice will take us. Frankly, some choices simply work better than others due to the fact that we live in a universe that operates on the basis of moral and spiritual laws as well as physical ones.

We began this chapter talking about the need for balance when it comes to tires, garage doors, and washing machines. Referring to life issues much more serious than these, Gordon Dahl indicates the importance of existential balance when he writes:

“Most middle class Americans tend to worship their work, to work at their play and to play at their worship. As a result, their meanings and values are distorted, their relationships disintegrate faster than they can keep them in repair, and their lifestyles resemble a cast of characters in search of a plot.”[1]

This quote underscores the dramatic importance of our existential choices. Dahl seems to be suggesting in this cogent observation that the frenzied, frenetic lifestyle of most middle class Americans is due to the rapid disintegration of their most important relationships. This disintegration of their relationships is caused by a profound distortion of their meanings and values. This distortion of their meanings and values is, in turn, the direct result of a lack of existential balance when it comes to their engagement in three key activities: work, play, and worship.

Though we believe it’s also possible for people (especially church-going Christians) to be guilty of playing at their work, worshiping their play, and working at their worship, Dahl’s observation strikes us as fundamentally correct: a lack of balance when it comes to these three very basic endeavors is the root of many of the ills that plague contemporary culture, not only in America but in all western industrialized nations. Existential choices matter! A truly healthy and functional lifestyle requires that we, taking into account the way God designed the world and human beings to function, strive to achieve balance in all aspects of our lives. An imbalance in the area of our existential choices will simply ruin our lives as well as the lives of those closest to us.

The kid in the movie, The Sixth Sense, uttered the famous line: “I see dead people.” That’s not my problem. My problem is that everywhere I look I see people living unbalanced lives. Sometimes this occurs when I’m looking in the mirror!

Is this true of you, too? Something to think about.

[1] As cited in Tim Hansel, When I Relax I Feel Guilty ((Elgin, IL: David C. Cook Publishing Co., 1979), 33.

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Hope: The Key to Generosity

Posted on 8, Sep

In yesterday’s post I referred to the fact that when I see a friend or family member I haven’t talked with for a while, I might ask if they are encouraged or discouraged at the moment. Another way to get at the same information is to inquire: “How’s your hope?”

The question may sound trite but it’s actually quite profound. I’m convinced that we human beings are wired to run on  a sense of hope. If we lose it, we’re toast.

But what is hope?

Somewhere along the way I came to think of theological hope as a confident, enthusiastic expectancy regarding the future. It’s the idea that because of who God is, what he has done, and what he is doing in my life, I have absolutely nothing to worry about. It’s all good; my future is secure!

The experience of this kind of hope is so important to the life of the Christian that the Apostle Paul made it the focus of his prayer for the believers in Rome: 

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13)

Indeed, if you read Paul’s various letters carefully, I think you will discover that he wanted all of his readers to be filled with this sense of expectancy regarding the future.

I have a theory as to why.

In 1 Corinthians 13:13 we read: “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” Yes, love is the greatest virtue, but in what sense? Surely, Paul was not dissing faith and hope here, was he?

When you stop and think about it, our capacity to love in the present in based upon the hope we have regarding the future. This, in turn, is based upon our faith in what God has done for us in the past. Do we truly believe (have faith in) the message that Christ died for us and has been raised from the dead as the firstfruits of our future resurrection (1 Cor 15:20)? If so, then we will possess a truly profound kind of hope: it’s all good; our future is secure! It is this kind of confident, enthusiastic expectancy regarding our future that frees us to love in the present. We don’t have to be selfish with our time, or talents, or treasures. We can afford to be gracious toward other people. Our future is not at stake. We are not just set for life; we’re set for all of eternity! It is this kind of theological hope that frees us to be loving people. Faith, if genuine, produces hope which, in turn, frees us to love.

There is a sense in which hope functions as the anchor virtue between faith and love. It’s no wonder then that Paul talked about hope so often, even doing his best to pray it into his readers’ lives!

So, if you want to function as a more loving, gracious, generous person today, you might ask yourself: “How’s my hope? Then take a moment and give some thought as to how secure your future is in Christ. It’s all good! You can afford to be really generous toward others today. 

Now, go and do it!

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What Are You Anxious About?

Posted on 7, Sep

I was having dinner with a dear friend the other evening. I asked him to share with me any issues in his life that were causing him anxiety. After naming a few, he inquired as to the reason for my question.

He knows I am an intovert and don’t really do well with small talk. So he nodded in an understanding way when I explained that it’s just natural for me to ask the people I care about such questions as “Are you encouraged or discouraged today?” or “What are you anxious about right now?” This is just my way of getting down to brass tacks and discovering how I can pray for my friends and loved ones. Which I do!

In his book Walden Henry David Thoreau made the observation that “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” Though Thoreau may have had the idea of resignation in mind, I think the word “desperation” covers a lot of territory and can include the dynamics of anxiety and despair. How sad, if true, that most human beings are walking around each day with low levels of anxiety rumbling beneath the surface of their conscious thoughts, motivating problematic attitudes and actions in an unnoticed way.

This is why I think it’s important for us to be in touch with what we’re anxious about. It’s only then that we can ask others to pray for us with the kind of specificity that triggers powerful responses. It’s only then that we can make the quality decision to surrender our anxiety to God a la Philippians 4:6 and experience his peace instead.

So, I ask you what I ask all my friends: What are you anxious about today?

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I lost sleep last night because I thought of someone I wronged a long time ago and now have no hope of finding so as to express my regret. (Don’t even remember the person’s name!) Has this ever happened to you? Please pray for me to find a way to do the right thing. Second, I want to pray for you. Feel free to let me know how I can do so. You matter to me (jerk that I can be sometimes). Blessings.

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