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Archive for January, 2015

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As Stupid Does

Do not deceive yourselves. If you think that you are wise in this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. 1 Corinthians 3:18-19a

There is a verbal exchange that recurs several times in the movie, Forrest Gump. A character asks Forrest, “Are you stupid or something?” Forrest’s immediate and rote response is, “Stupid is as stupid does.” Forrest’s character is one with a very low IQ and, at least by common standards, would be considered marginally functional, at least intellectually. His mother taught him the saying as a defense against those who would imply that he was different or less worthy of love and kindness than anyone else was. Like many of Forrest Gump’s sayings, one wonders if he grasps the depth of the statement. I consider myself relatively intelligent, but I have spent much time pondering some of his one-liners. Indeed, that is part of the charm of the movie. There is no doubt that Forrest Gump, while a fictional character, is of low intelligence; but he is also of high understanding.

The saying, “Stupid is as stupid does,” is a variation of similar sayings in other works of fiction like, “Handsome is as handsome does,” or “Beauty is as beauty does.” The underlying theme is that we find real truth or beauty beneath the surface, and often times what is underneath is the opposite of the outside appearance. Stupid is not the one who appears stupid, but the one who chooses to act stupidly. In the movie, many of his classmates, soldiers, and other townsfolk act very stupidly.

Forrest Gump has an uncanny ability to cut to the heart of an issue. He has no intellectual capacity to waste on superfluous window-dressing. Forrest has a handle on what is important in life and keeps his focus on those things: family, friends, home. That limited and laser-like focus is what makes a person like Forrest, who appears stupid, to actually be deceivingly perceptive and wise. It also makes him a heck of a Ping-Pong player.

In his first letter to the church at Corinth, Paul labels earthly wisdom as foolishness to God. When we participate in wrongdoing – either as an active participant or as a passive bystander – we act foolishly. When we refuse to act contrary to others out of fear of what those others might do to or think about us, we are fools in God’s eyes. God’s instruction to us is unambiguous, at least in terms of how we are to treat others. Love, respect, and caring for needs – especially for the sick, unfortunate, and social outcasts – is our standard. Even Forrest Gump – low IQ and all – understood those directives perfectly.

Come home to church this Sunday. Faithful is as faithful does.

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Not Enough Rocks

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.

Psalm 51:10-12

In a touching scene from the movie Forrest Gump, Jenny returns to live with Forrest for a time as she strives to stabilize her wretched life. After years of drug abuse and wandering in search of something to build a life upon, she returns to her hometown and to the one person who had loved her in a healthy way since childhood – Forrest Gump. Jenny and Forrest walk leisurely together and end up in front of the run-down, deserted house where she grew up with her abusive father. Jenny’s countenance immediately changes to one of intense anger. She begins picking up rocks and throwing them at the house, eventually breaking a window. She falls to the ground in an exhausted and emotional heap, weeping. Forrest sits down beside her and says, “Sometimes, I guess, there just aren’t enough rocks.”

Jenny made many poor decisions in her life. The house of her childhood stood as a reminder of the years of anguish from which she had long tried to escape. She threw the rocks in a fruitless attempt to find peace by harming this physical remnant of her nightmare childhood – perhaps in hopes that it would suffer a portion of the pain she experienced within its walls. Although the house was not the cause of her childhood abuse, it was inseparable from the painful memories.

Similar recollections occur with us today. For example, I cannot drive by my old high school without remembering the violent racial tension that existed during my years there. Decades later, the memory makes me uncomfortable. The building, while having nothing to do with the unrest, stands as a reminder and a transport vehicle back to that difficult time in history. It is natural for us to develop aversions to people and places that are associated with pain from our past. We must remember, however, that the physical objects are separate from our suffering. Our on-going pain from hurts of the past is a spiritual issue that requires spiritual healing. The writer of the 51st Psalm cries for God to create a “clean heart” within, complete with a “new and right spirit.” If we truly desire restoration from pain to joy, we need a loving God, not a whipping boy.

Granted, there are times when we feel the need to strike out in retaliation against our pain, even when the objects were only innocent witnesses. That sort of striking back may actually help in some cases, if only temporarily. Some people feel a need to hold onto their suffering, and God gives us free will to do so. To actually heal our pain, however, requires the intervention of a Savior. Because sometimes, there just aren’t enough rocks.

Come home to church this Sunday. Throw the one true Rock at your pain…

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The Blessings Ledger

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven. Matthew 5:3-6, 12a

A blessing is a special favor, mercy, or benefit. A trial causes difficulty or suffering. Here is a test, with respect to blessings and trials:

  1. Are the blessings of today greater than those of yesterday?
  2. Are the blessings in your life increasing or decreasing?
  3. If your life were to end today, would the weight of your blessings outweigh the weight of your trials?

Everyone receives a mix of blessings and trials during their lives. How one experiences those blessings and trials, however, varies greatly from person to person. Some people seem happy regardless of their difficulties. Others seem perennially unhappy, even though their problems may seem trivial to others. One of the primary determinants of how we experience the ups and downs in our lives has to do with the perspective from which we view them.

There are times, particularly during times of trial, when we need to expand our perspective in order to see beyond the difficult moments. We need to look forward to a happier future or to remember a joyous past. Other times, especially when we are bored, call for us to look deeper into the moment for blessings we otherwise miss. For example, when we walk a route we usually drive, we allow ourselves to see in more detail that which is normally a blur to us. We slow down our experience in order to expose hidden or subtle blessings. January in Kansas can be a dreary, cold month. But even now, buds are swelling on the trees. In the middle of the dead, brown stems of grass, green crowns waiting patiently for their time to explode. The seeds of spring are preparing to burst forth. If I focus on the bigger picture – trees without leaves, brown grass, cold temperatures – January is a month without blessing. The blessing is there, but I must look closer to find it.

Here is the irony: our trials are often the stepping stones to our blessings, like traversing winter to arrive at spring. Granted, some of our blessings will not manifest on this side of the grave. Our lives are bigger than the days we walk the earth. But no matter our situation, there are blessings to be found in abundance, if we learn how and where to seek them. If our blessings ledger weighs heavier on the trials side, we may need to use a different scale. As Jesus said in his Sermon on the Mount: “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven!”

Come home to church this Sunday. Add a church family to your blessings ledger.

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An Epic Epiphany

 In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that is, the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. Ephesians 3:5-6

According to the Christian calendar, Epiphany occurs on January 6. It is a barely-noticeable speed bump lying just west of the mountain-of-our-own-making known as Christmas. Particularly in the United States, January 6 holds little more relevance than any other non-holiday. In other Christian cultures, however, Epiphany is the day Christmas is celebrated, complete with presents, food, friends, and family. All Christians recognize December 25 as the day of Jesus’ birth, but January 6 – the 12th Day of Christmas – is the day Jesus is revealed to us as the manifestation of God. It signifies the coming of the Wise Men from foreign lands to pay homage to this baby King. The Epiphany also celebrates that Jesus came not only for the Jews, but also for the Gentiles – the non-Jews, meaning us. The joy of Epiphany, then, is not that the baby was born, but that the baby was revealed as God-with-us, Emmanuel.

The dictionary definition of epiphany is a manifestation. We often use the term in the context of a sudden realization or understanding. For example, I recently told a friend that I had had an epiphany about fasting – that fasting was not just about giving something up, but about giving something up that would regularly remind me about something else of importance. This was an intellectual clarification of what had formerly been less clear to me. The birth of Jesus, however, was real, meaning he came in the flesh to be seen, heard, and touched. He was not just a vague concept, an intellectual creation, or some futuristic projection. God took on a human body and walked the earth as one of us.

The Christian season of Epiphany runs from January 6 through Ash Wednesday, which is the beginning of Lent. Epiphany provides an opportunity for us to ponder the meaning of God-manifest among us. If we were to invite Jesus to dinner, or to ride with us to work, or to live in our spare bedroom, what would change in our lives? If Jesus were to manifest himself into every moment of our every day, how would we be different? Even though Jesus is no longer on the earth physically, he is still present in the form of the Holy Spirit, which is always with us. Therefore, this season invites us not only to ponder God-with-us, but also to acknowledge that God is, indeed, with us and to live accordingly. God coming to earth in the person of Jesus was an epiphany of epic proportion. If we only celebrate the birth without allowing the manifestation to change us, we pack Jesus into storage with the rest of our Christmas decorations. Jesus becomes an ornament that we take out once a year and say, “Oh, what a beautiful baby!” Certainly, the baby is beautiful; but the baby wants to grow up – within us.

Come home to church this Sunday. Find your own epiphany with Christ.

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Beginning Again

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.”  Revelation 21:1, 5a

As an employer, I make certain my employees receive at least one performance evaluation each year. The process rewards a person for things done well, provides coaching in areas that need improvement, and encourages goal setting for the coming year. It is a time of reflection, as well as an opportunity to begin again.

It is common to mark New Year’s Day with resolutions for change. Some people want to lose weight; others decide to exercise more frequently, save more money, spend more time in prayer, mend broken relationships – you name the issue and someone wants to resolve it. For numerous reasons, few New Year’s resolutions actually succeed. First, resolutions are often made with little thought or research into what is required for success. Second, our sights are often set too high too quickly. Finally, having too many resolutions is a sure recipe for failure. Here are a few suggestions:

Research the desired change. Goal setting is a worthwhile endeavor, but goals need to be broken down into pieces that can be accomplished and measured in weekly, even daily or hourly units. For example, if I desire to lose 25 pounds in 2015, I need to research the types of foods I will and will not eat, the types and frequency of exercise that will be needed, and a reasonable expectation for how much weight I can successfully lose each week. Losing 25 pounds is a lofty goal. Losing 1 pound per week over 6-months sounds much more attainable. Prayerful research and planning is required for serious goals.

Set realistic goals and timelines. Everyone wants positive change, and everyone wants it now. Unfortunately, strategic changes that last seldom occur quickly. Rather, new habits must be consciously practiced over lengthy periods to become ingrained. There is no magic that happens on New Year’s Day that allows change to occur more quickly.

Focus. If everything is a priority, nothing is a priority. There are only so many hours in a day and success in creating positive change requires focused attention over time. The more we dilute our attention among numerous change projects, the less likely we will be to accomplish any of them. One project at a time is a good rule of thumb.

The writer of Revelation, referring to a new heaven and a new earth, writes, “See, I am making all things new.” I believe God will remake us anew; we can be born again and grow into better versions of ourselves. That sort of change, however, requires strategic planning and thoughtful participation on our part. It is easy to forget that God is our all-powerful partner in the change we desire. If we align our desired changes with God’s will and draw on that unfailing source of power, we will succeed.

Come home to church this Sunday. Begin anew in the New Year!

 

 

 

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