“Make like a tree…”

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I teach my four-year-old son a lot of questionable things.

I’m not saying I teach him bad things per se, just that they could become bad things if he chooses to use them in the wrong context.

For example: If I’m eating ice cream out of a mug at home and he sees me, sometimes he’ll come up and say, “What are you eating, Dada?” I’ll respond by saying (jokingly), “Nunya…nunya business!”

He always gets a kick out of that, but it’s only a matter of time before I get a call from a certain preschool teacher who wants to know why my son disrespected her with that exact phrase.

So as I’ve been teaching him these things I’ve also been waiting for the moment he gets in trouble using them, but the other day something completely unexpected happened: He used one of my sayings in a way that made me proud of him.

Here’s how it went down (as was recently recounted by my son to my mom):

My son was in class at preschool playing with a little girl who is one of his best friends. Another boy from the class came over and started picking on the girl, and in response my son looked at the boy and said, “Make like a tree, and leaf my friend alone!”

Chip off the old block, eh?

One of the things I’ve always loved about my son is the way he sticks up for people who he feels have been wronged. In fact, I think most of us could learn a lesson from his boldness in the face of injustice.

Here’s a hard truth: Many of us (including myself) have mistaken apathy for kindness.

We’re called not to sit idly by as a parade of injustices marches by. We’re called to step up and speak up to defend those around us.

This idea is first and foremost exampled to us by Jesus, but it is also stated explicitly in passages like the following:

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves;
ensure justice for those being crushed.
Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless,
and see that they get justice. (Proverbs 31:8-9)

and

Learn to do good.
Seek justice.
Help the oppressed.
Defend the cause of orphans.
Fight for the rights of widows. (Isaiah 1:17)

So you see, you are your brother’s keeper. That’s not to say we should go berserk or seek revenge on those that wrong others — vengeance belongs to God. But we need to recognize that love requires us to step between a bully and his victim. After all, Jesus stepped between our greatest enemies (Satan, sin, and death) and us.

Let’s follow his example.

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Poverty, Possessions, and Happiness

I’m not a big poetry guy.

I try to be, but if I’m honest I don’t understand it as easily as I understand prose. Reading poetry is sometimes like trying to draw water from a well that’s deeper than my rope and bucket can reach.

But every once in a while I’ll come across a poem that quenches my thirst, like I did last summer while I was on vacation.

My family and I rented an Airbnb in the mountains of Virginia, and one rainy night I started thumbing through the books the cabin’s owner had left for guests and came across a thick, textbook-like poetry book. In it I uncovered a poem that stopped my outward search for entertainment and jump-started some serious introspection.

The poem was Ezra Pound’s “Salutation,” which hooks you right away with the opening lines:

“O GENERATION of the thoroughly smug / and thoroughly uncomfortable…”

Sounds like is, doesn’t it? The narrator then goes on to explain to the reader how he’s seen some of the greatest happiness among some of the poorest people, then he finishes with this thought:

“And I am happier than you are, / And they were happier than I am;  / And the fish swim in the lake / and do not even own clothing.”

Wow! The moment I read those words I was flooded with conviction, because far too often I’m the one who finds myself chasing happiness in success rather than celebrating the good gifts God has already placed in my hands.

Listen: Stuff will never satisfy you, because once you get what you want you’ll almost immediately start craving more.

Remember these words from the scriptures:

“He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 5:10 ESV).

and

“Yes, a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God” (Luke 12:21 NLT).

In Christ alone can we not only experience salvation, but satisfaction too.

Passion: A Parable

adventure-1836217_1920A long time ago a father built a campfire with his son.  The father had to go away for a few hours, and night was getting close, so he warned his son to be careful not to let the flame go out.

The son received this responsibility with great care and seriousness at first.  He added wood to the fire every few minutes for the first hour or so, until the flames grew to three times his own height.

But after realizing the great size of the fire, as well as the fatigue that was beginning to set in from running back and forth to collect wood, the boy sat down on a log to admire what he had created.

As time passed he just sat and watched, until eventually the flame stood no higher than his shins.  He then got up and added a little more wood, but not as much as he had at first.

He did this several more times, letting the fire rise and fall, rise and fall, until eventually he fell asleep.

The boy awoke several hours later when he heard his father return to the campsite.

“What happened to the fire?” the father asked.

“I don’t know,” said the son.  “It just went out.”

“It didn’t just go out,” said the father.  “It went out because you stopped watching it.  You can’t expect a fire to stay lit if you only admire it and never attend to it.”

The son, in his shame, kept his eyes fastened on the ground, that is until he heard his father poking around the inside of the fire ring with a stick.  Digging through the gray ash like a miner in search of a diamond, the boy’s father finally stopped when he uncovered a glowing, red ember.

“Look here,” his father said.  “See that?  The fire may be gone for the moment, but if we care for what’s left the way we cared for the fire at first, we might yet see the flame restored.”

 

The creative road

The Creative Road

I have a problem: I’m an impatient, procrastinating perfectionist (in recovery).  I like things to be a specific way, but my timing is often too late, and my attention span too short, to get me to where I want to be.

This problem manifests itself most clearly in my work as a writer and pastor.  I love the beginning of the creative process, when ideas are running through my mind like a Lamborghini on the Autobahn, because progress is rapid and smooth.

But the moment I choose a topic to address, progress begins to slow until I eventually feel like my mind is in a horse-cart on some cratered, back-country road.  It sucks, but I don’t think this feeling is unusual for people who do creative work.  In fact, I don’t even think it’s a problem, unless I start looking for a shortcut, an easy way off the road.

When you take the easy way out, when you don’t push through the potholes, you sacrifice the quality of your product.  When you procrastinate and start on a project too late, you almost force yourself to skip the struggle, on the other side of which is a greater product that has the potential to make a greater impact.

It's better to experience difficulty in the process than disappointment in the product.Listen to me: Even if you’re really skilled at what you do, don’t use your talent to justify turning off the road prematurely.  It’s better to experience difficulty in the process than disappointment in the product.

Earlier this week I was writing a sermon for this Sunday.  I had some good notes, and had invested a significant amount of time in explaining and illustrating two major points before I realized they weren’t really major points at all (it’s a long story).

In the past I might have told myself, “I can make this work.  I didn’t invest all this time in these points for nothing!”  But this time I took a step back, identified the main point of the text, and made my previous points sub-points of a sub-point!  And you  know what?  I’m really, truly excited to preach this weekend, because the product is good.

Don’t procrastinate.  Don’t take shortcuts.  Stick to the process so you can celebrate the product!

 

What do you expect from God?

What do you expect

When was the last time you prayed and expected God to respond?  When was the last time you attended a church service or small group gathering and really expected God to show up in an incredible way?

There was a time in my life when I might have thought it was arrogant to expect anything of God.  Many times I tagged “thy will be done” onto the end of my prayers not out of a healthy reverence for God, but out of a fear that he wouldn’t answer at all (I thought it would save me some embarrassment if he stayed silent or chose not to act the way I had asked him to).  I was praying, but not in faith.

“Faith” in the dictionary is defined as belief in a person or thing.  “Expectation” can be defined as belief that a person will act in a certain way.  I think that in the church, just as in the dictionary, we’ve divorced these two words from each other, even though they’re really nuances of the same idea.

See, those of us who know God can expect some things from God, not because he owes us anything, but because we understand his character.  We understand he is good, loving, just, generous, faithful, and more, so why not expect him to answer our prayers in accordance with his character?

I’m currently reading through the Psalms, and I recently came across this little morsel from King David:

“Listen to my voice in the morning, Lord.
    Each morning I bring my requests to you and wait expectantly.”

(Psalm 5:3, emphasis added)

I want to live a life of expectation, one where I’m constantly excited about what God could do in any situation.  I want to pray “thy will be done,” but out of honor and reverence rather than fear.  I want to trust that my Father wants what’s best for me, because he’s told me that he does.