“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.”

 

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.

 

Pace yourself or push yourself?

Pace yourself

My mom is a marathon runner, and I’m a martial artist.  She’s used to running for hours at a time, whereas I’m used to short explosions of hand-to-hand combat.

Long-distance runners like my mom have to learn to pace themselves during their runs, to spread their energy evenly over a distance of several miles and a time of several hours.  Martial artists have to learn to push themselves, to expend their energy in bursts that last just a few minutes at a time.

But if you think about it for a moment, you’ll realize both kinds of athletes need to learn how to both pace and push themselves in order to be truly successful.  Marathon runners have to pace themselves, but in training they must gradually push themselves, otherwise they will never achieve faster times.  Martial artists must push themselves, but if they expend all of their energy at the start of a fight and fail to defeat their opponent quickly, they’re going to be in big trouble.

So you see, neither of these approaches is bad, unless you completely exclude the other.

There are some people who use “pace yourself” as an excuse to never rise above the challenges they face, to never test the limits of their potential.  Just when they’re about to break a metaphorical sweat over the work they’re doing in their lives, they quit in the name of not doing too much too fast.

Then there are those who push themselves not simply because they are hard workers, but because they don’t believe in the value of consistency.  They work really hard at achieving their goals for a short while, expecting progress to come quickly, but they burn themselves out and yo-yo between grueling effort and extensive, unproductive rest.

So find the balance in your life.  As a believer, I think that balance comes when we really start trusting God and the plan he has for our lives.  Trusting God means I don’t have to push myself past my breaking point, because I believe God is working even when I’m not.  It also means I’m motivated by the purpose for which he has created me, and I’m ready to push the limits of what people perceive to be possible because all things are possible with God!

 

 

 

Can God trust you with more?

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A few years ago my wife and I took our dog, Bear, to a local dog park to play and swim.  Despite being an intimidating 85 pounds at the time (he’s a Newfoundland mix), he was a big-ol’ lover who wouldn’t even bark at a fly, let alone hurt one.

But something changed that day.  At the park there was one dog who towered over him, a Great Dane puppy that was young and eager to assert his dominance.  The Great Dane wasn’t growling or biting, but he incessantly tried to mount Bear, and on several occasions did so in the water, pushing Bear under, leaving him gasping for air.

Each time this happened we tried to  put an end to it as quickly as possible, but the damage was done.  From that day on Bear had the equivalent of puppy PTSD.  We tried taking him on walks in public places, but every time he passed another canine, no matter how big or small, the hair on the back of his neck stood on end and he growled and snarled and tugged on his leash.

It was heartbreaking.  During this time Bear never showed any aggression toward humans, but because of his size and his behavior toward all other dogs, we decided for a long time to not walk him in public.  We couldn’t trust him.

That is, until recently.

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Bear and I

Recently I started taking Bear on walks up and down our road, a quiet “no outlet” street in the country.  I thought it would be a good idea, because he really needs the exercise and companionship, and I rarely see anyone walking another dog down the road.

We had almost made one full lap down and back, when suddenly a little terrier came sprinting off of my neighbor’s front porch, aggressively growling and barking at Bear.  It all happened so fast I didn’t even react.  I felt a paralyzing pang of fear, and I just held my breath.

The little dog came nose-to-nose with my monstrous beast, but Bear didn’t bite or growl or anything like that.  He simply wagged his tail.

I seized the moment, tugging gently on the leash and saying, “Come on, Bear,” and my dog trotted up beside me as the terrier returned to its stoop.  I was as proud as a father watching his 6th grader graduate from elementary school.

The next day, during another walk, the same thing occurred.  A dog (this time a larger one) ran aggressively toward Bear, and again Bear passed the test.

I don’t know what changed in Bear’s mind.  I don’t know if time caused him to simply forget what happened with the Great Dane, or if he simply has more courage now, but what I do know is this: I can trust him again.  Why?  Because he’s passed the test (twice).

I believe that God wants to trust us with more, too, but he won’t do so until we show we can be trusted with what he’s already given us.  We have to pass the test we’re currently taking before he’ll give us a harder one.

In Matthew 25, Jesus tells a parable in which a man is going away on a long trip.  Before he leaves, the man gives his three servants some money, trusting that they will invest it wisely and earn more for him while he’s away.

When he returns from his trip the master finds that the first two servants generated more money for him, prompting him to declare about each of them, “Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities.”

The third servant, however, failed to use well what he had been given, prompting the master to take the seed money away from him and give it to the first servant.

“To those who use well what they are given, even more will be given, and they will have an abundance,” the master says.  “But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away.”

See, my dog passed the test.  And because he passed the test, because he could be trusted with little, I now know I can trust him with more.  I can trust him in public places again, which means he’ll get to enjoy the experience of public parks and paths again soon.

But can you be trusted with what God has already given you?  Are you passing the test?  Even if you feel like he hasn’t given you much, are you using whatever time, talent, and treasures he’s provided in a way that honors him?  If not, can you really be upset if he doesn’t eventually (whether on this earth or in the Kingdom to come) give you more?

 

You can stay stagnant, or you can get agitated

you-can-stay-stagnant-or-you-can-get-agitated

There’s a part in many washing machines called the agitator.  It’s job is to…well…agitate.  It does so by swishing back and forth, stirring up the water and detergent and clothes.

If it weren’t for this particular part, the clothes would never truly get clean.  Filling up a tub with laundry, soap, and water, then letting the whole concoction sit still for an hour, won’t make them as spotless as you’d like.  You have to shake things up–literally.  It’s in this chaotic swirling that things are made right again, and your clothes come out as fresh as a spring rain.

Isn’t the same often true of our lives?  We don’t like to be agitated, but it’s for our own good, because the opposite of agitation is stagnation.  So many of us get bogged down in the same-old-same-old of everyday life that we feel like we’re standing still while the world around us is pressing forward.

Here’s the thing: The situations we lament as inconvenient obstacles are often God-given opportunities in disguise.

I was recently speaking to the students at my church, and I told them that good friends always tell the truth.  Sometimes truth is painful to receive, but in the long run it makes us better.  I used Jesus as an example, showing them how he constantly shared truths that, even to this day, pierce the hearts of men and women, revealing their sin and their need for a Savior.

Jesus’ words are agitating, because if they weren’t they wouldn’t benefit us.  If he didn’t challenge our way of life, we wouldn’t have known there was a better way at all.  He made us uncomfortable for a moment so we could experience eternal comfort with him later on.

So don’t just endure the agitations in your life, identify and embrace them!  Ask God, “What do you want me to learn from all this?”  Discomfort is a friend of progress, so if you want stop being stagnant you’ll have to start getting a little agitated.