Tag Archives: Christian

A Girl Named Sue — “The Middle” — And Rejection

rejectLately, most likely due to the parched land of the television desert known as “late summer viewing,” we had stumbled across voluminous repeats of a show called “The Middle.”

[I know, some of you are leaning snobbish right now because you eschew the pedestrian land of television (or, at least, you say you do).  That’s fine…I’ve been called worse (than pedestrian, I mean).]

The show’s about a middle (who knew?) American family named Heck (as in “what the?”)–and it unmasks a collection of decidedly not-put-together reverse caricatures of the perfect family.

The Hecks are the anti-Cleavers, the non-Huxtables of yesteryear.  Nor are they the realistically flawed but earnest Bravermans of current “Parenthood” fame.  And they are certainly not the cartoonish kids-are-always-smarter-than-the-adults small (and large) screen family portraits painted by many of today’s screen writers.  The Hecks are flawed, flawed, earnestly & deeply flawed people…both individually and as a family unit.

They love each other in a nearly impossible to predict, frayed edges, trying too hard in a not-very-hard kind of oblique attempt at family success.  Messes abound: personally and corporately…in their lives and in their environs.  They survive but nobody knows how.  They’ll never, ever thrive.  And yet they somehow do…thrive, that is.

Another blog post would be required to completely profile this whacky five-some and give them all the attention they deserve.  But, I have to confess, their antics on some of the shows have made me laugh at the number 10 belly pain level (dripping tears and all).

Amongst this bunch is Sue…the middler of the Heck progeny.  Sue is a forgettable non-person, invisible to most of the world, most of the time.  Her teachers do not know she is in their classes.  Her achingly embarrassing moments (and there are oh so many) are hardly ever recognizable as hers because the other kids in the school have no clue about Sue…at all…in any context.

Sue’s main dream has been to be picked…for something…for anything.  She has been on a quest to “make” the (a, any, please just one) team…club…committee…just something…please.  It is simultaneously gruesome and darkly hilarious to watch.  Well, mostly gruesome in a you-can-never-turn-away-from-the-train (car, bicycle, moped, you get the picture) wreck kind of way.

Sue had never been chosen for anything; she worked in rejection as her medium like some painters wallow in oils.  She was masterful at not mastering, nor even being able to muster, for anything.  Until, that is, her Mom (Frankie) MADE the school principal declare at least one sport a “No Cut” team.

But Sue, being Sue, nearly didn’t make the “no cut” cross country team because she almost didn’t make the requisite five-lap track requirement.  She dragged herself across the finish line (after first stopping at the “not finished” line), crawling on the track through a thunderstorm and pelting rain.  Sue, God bless her, who never gets picked for anything, by anyone, ever, was finally on the receiving end of a tossed team t-shirt from the Cross Country Coach.  YEAH!

Some of you may have never known rejection…the end of a relationship, the termination of a job, the thin envelope or terse email from the college, the “we’ve found someone more suited for the job.”  Good for you; the aura of self-sufficiency is firmly in place.  Good for you.  Really, I mean it: good for you.

I have had rejection recently, the particular category is not important.  You’d think at my age I’d have established some resilient baseline to help me navigate the jagged edges of the word, “no.”  Such a small word; such power packed into its tiny-lettered twosome; it’s a short-hilted, verbal dagger that slices through to the heart.  “No–not you.”

Of course, as we mature as persons, we need to learn to hear a certain kind of “no.”  We have to learn to damper the power of destructive whims and capriciousness, not to mention selfishness.  This is also not the other “no”–the one that believers need to embrace–the “no” to sin that we all need to grapple with as we are empowered by the Holy Spirit.

But the “no” of rejection…a Sue kind of “no” is neither of those.  It’s the “no” that drains our spirits and rattles our minds and stifles the sense of unique createdness to which the Scriptures testify.  And sometimes it seems as if “no” is the only word that the whole world knows.

But there is another word; a word that flows from the center of a deeply loving and ever present Savior.  It is the word, “Yes.”  This is the word of secure connection; this is the word of everlasting and lavish love; this is the word that looks past our many “tryouts” and “cuts” and “fails”; this is the word that transcends our plethora of personal “no’s” and reaches into the place deep inside us where we need to hear, “Yes.”  This is the word from Jesus.  This is the cure for the “no’s”—this is the word I need to hear; perhaps this is the word you need to hear.

“I will give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:28). 

“Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). 

“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20b). 

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38,39). 

“For no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ” (2 Corinthians 1:20a). 

© All rights reserved.  Scripture quotations from the NIV.

Some Assembly Required

some-assembly-required-mainThere are word combinations in the English language that I love:  “Pepperoni, Sausage, Extra Cheese,” hovers near the top of the list. 

There are word combinations in the English language that I despise:  “While you are up, can you…?”  Note to readers…waiting until I am up to have me satisfy your whims is not adorable; it’s annoying.  But I stray from the topic at hand. 

Because there is one word combination in the English language that makes me want to heave (as in, you know, projectile vomiting).  I am not talking about the mildly upset stomach followed by the quasi-catch-in-the-throat-near-miss vomit.  No, I am talking about solar system departure trajectory, full on, don’t-get-in-the-way-or-you’ll-be-knocked-down-and-covered-with-gastric-juices-for-life vomit. 

What words, you ask (so as to never utter them in my presence), might generate such a depraved, visceral (literally) response?  Here they are…mark them down…do not say them to me:  “SOME ASSEMBLY REQUIRED.” 

Now, I know that there are genuine he men and she women whose day is made more delightful by put-it-together-yourself-because-they-were-too-lazy-to-do-it-at-the-factory projects.  My hat is off to them (actually, my hat was off anyway, but I needed a handy cliché). 

Seriously, I know some ace project people who are both genuinely good at what they do and whose hearts thump with delight at the mere prospect of such projects.  You probably know some people like that too.  You may even be one.  You know who you are…you are barely on step one of the current project and yet you have already cast your eye on the next project.  God bless you. 

But…I am not a “SOME ASSEMBLY REQUIRED” kind of person.  This whacked me again when I was beginning to put together a chair.  Why I was putting the chair together is a post for another day.  But there I was, through no fault of my own, taking the chair pieces out of the boxes so as to lay them out and have each piece handy for the assembly. 

Unpacking the pieces is what got me riled up.  The pieces were each heavily fortified with nuclear detonation proof plastic and then sealed with THAT KIND of tape.  The kind of tape that will not detape itself…until you have tried to cut it with every sharp object at hand…and then cut your hand…until the tape finally yields only to reveal the INNER PLASTIC and TAPE. 

And this was my thought in that moment:  wouldn’t it have been easier just to assemble the stinking chair?!?  I mean, rather than wrap each little piece in multiple shrouds of bomb proof tape and plastic, wouldn’t it be simpler to just assemble the stinking chair?!?  [I know, I have said “stinking” twice…it’s for, you know, emphasis.] 

Of course the mere unwrapping of all the pieces is followed by the preliminary reading of the assembly instructions.  You have seen these instructions.  They are cobbled together by people whose first language is, indeed, English, but who have such demented minds that they use Google Translate to render the instructions through the entire list of available languages in the app before re-rendering the instructions in English. 

That process takes a sentence like, “Identify the four hex nuts and lay them side-by-side,” and transmogrifies it into something like, “Put your left hand in, take your left hand out, put your left hand in and then you shake the nearest dog’s tail until the dog eats the turnips left over from the guillotine.”  [This is not hyperbole; you know it’s true.] 

You have to read the instructions so many times that you forget why you started reading them in the first place.  And then you remember:  SOME ASSEMBLY REQUIRED. 

I so loathe those words…unless, of course, unless…they are about me.  Because I know that I am a horrible mess of a work in progress and I am so very grateful that Jesus has decided to work in me (and sometimes…rarely, but sometimes, through me).  I thank God that His work in me is not dependent upon my ability to bring it about. 

Oh sure, I read the instructions (His are plain enough) and I do my best to follow along.  But then I remember that it is God who is at work in me to accomplish His purposes. 

And the very funny thing is…He delights in the project–He’s one of those project types.  The Master Carpenter who labored over His neighbors’ household needs, is now at work to perfect His strength right here…in the middle of me.  

I, of course, am very much more complicated than a chair that comes in a box.  Presuming that I slog my way through the instructions, stick with the project, find that runaway bolt that must have rolled into the heater vent (again!), and connect all the connections…the chair will be assembled.  It will stay that way; it won’t try to disassemble itself.  But I will…try to disassemble myself, that is. 

And Jesus starts again…with me…putting me back aright and pouring out His compassion while I am in the very process of self-disassembly.  Oh, great love!  Oh, great mercy!  Oh, great power!  Oh, great patience! 

“Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).

 © All rights reserved.  Scripture quotations from the NIV.

Carrion Drivers a.k.a. Parking Lot Vultures

You’ve seen them; you may even be one…you know…the car driver in search of the perfect spot in the lot.  The one who will circle the lot for an hour to snag the spot just outside the drug store door so they can run that five minute errand.  The one who will “stand their ground” hovering adjacent to the spot being vacated by the previous parker; giving the “Death Stare” to any nabob utterly foolish enough to think that they were there first and that somehow they were entitled (by the parking lot squatters laws) to the about-to-be-emptied space.  

I was (in a land far away and long ago) ready to park in a spot at a Taco Bell restaurant when some Carrion Driver dispatched his diminutive son to STAND IN THE PARKING SPACE and therefore claim it as his own.  Fleeting moment wise, I did ponder the possibility of running the little, OshKosh B’gosh-bedecked animated parking cone down to emphasize that the spot was ACTUALLY MINE…but then, with my son in the car, I thought, perhaps, that would not demonstrate the most Christian response to life’s little irritants. 

Then, just last week, there was the little old lady from Pasadena (“Go, Granny Go!”) who blocked my wife’s exit from our parking space just so she (Granny) could claim it before anyone else did.  The trouble was, said little old lady WAS BLOCKING OUR WAY OUT so that not even she could gain access to the coveted spot.  It was a complete parking blockade:  we could not get out; she could not get in; no other car could maneuver around us to get anywhere at all.  I wondered what she was thinking and then I wondered why I wondered what she was thinking because she was clearly not thinking at all. 

Anyone who doubts the reality of original sin or the extent of same should spend a few minutes in parking lot observation mode.  There, unscripted (“spontaneous and unrehearsed”), the persistence of our perniciousness plays out for all the world to see. 

And that’s another thing: (with a special warning for those prone to auto nose picking…not, you know, automatic nose picking, but nose picking in the auto)…when you are in your car, other people can see exactly what you are doing.  There is no Klingon cloaking device; when you gloat to yourself and pump your fist in the air with glee because you pounced on the parking space…We.Can.See.You. 

Enough you Carrion Drivers…you Parking Lot Vultures…give it up already.  There are acres of parking available just a few yards away.  Studies on the psychology of driving abound.  Numerous theories float out there in the “PhD-sphere” on what motivates us to act so selfishly and stupidly when we get behind the wheel.  I don’t know how much truth is in any of them; I do know that, when we pursue a parking space as if it’s a divinely bestowed right, no good can result.  Our anger can burst forth like a ripe pimple…and nobody wants that. [Please hold your “Eewws” and “Yucks” until the end of the blog post.]

I once asked a fellow driver [name withheld lest I have to go into Witness Protection] if he OR she (notice my clever disguise of the driver’s gender) would have responded in a church parking lot to Parking Lot Vultures in the manner he OR she (see, consistency in my gender masking) reacted out there in the mall parking lot.  I did not get a response; well, I did get a glare which is, technically, a response (of the non-verbal but borderline-lethal-anyway kind). 

Gentle is the way; generous is the way; being slow to become angry is the way.  How can we say that Jesus–author of the call to meekness and mercy–is our Lord if we seek lordship of the parking space?  Or lordship of anything else for that matter. 

I have to go now; my parking space just opened up…why do people take so long to put the car in reverse?  Can they not see that I am waiting here?  I am VERY late for my Parking Lot Vultures Anonymous meeting. 

© All Rights Reserved.  Scripture Quotations from the NIV.

Sisyphus Days

I am not much of a Greek mythology aficionado. You can keep your Zeus and Hercules and Aphrodite. I prefer my fictional super heroes as caped or web wielding crusaders (with the occasional starred and striped shield thrown in for hometown fun).

But the Greek myths do sometimes captivate–woven as they are with threads of moral substance and ethical expectations. And there are the times when the myths clang in the head like an out of tune but much rung gong…echoing over and over, “This is your life; this is you.”

And so I have my Sisyphus Days. Sisyphus? He was (according to the myths) the rascal king of what would be later called Corinth. He lied and he killed in order to maintain his grip on power. He tricked and beguiled and even managed to get the better of Hades and Thanatos (the personification of Death) for a while.

Eventually he became just too much trouble and was sentenced to roll a huge boulder (not the city in Colorado; a large, you know, rock) up a mountain side. Within sight of the mountain’s summit, the boulder would tumble back down hill and Sisyphus would have to start all over again. Sisyphus thought he was smarter than Zeus; he wasn’t. You have to admit, the Greek gods were judicially clever.

So Sisyphus becomes the rascal condemned to never finish anything. He will roll that rock over and over and over and over and over again up that hill. But Sisyphus will never be done. The rock will always falter just short of the peak and will begin again its smash and trash, high speed plunge to the bottom of the mountain.

I have days like that; sometimes weeks; sometimes entire enterprises that seem like they will never be done. Just when I get the “rock of the day” close to what I think is the summit, it slips away and careens down the hillside; lurches to a stop, and beckons me to come once more to begin the push.

There are vocational days like that; there are relational days like that; there are a whole lot of Christian days like that. Sisyphus days…days that frustrate with the ends not tied up or the things concluded. Days that mock with their sense of pseudo-finish only to then point to the boulder just beginning its return trip…back to the beginning…back to the place of “again.”

Character issues, maturity issues, church issues, are all fodder for Sisyphus Days. So many times of dealing with so much of the same faltering near finishes.

I know, perseverance is key. But perseverance wears one out…particularly on the Sisyphus Days.

Holding onto the hope of ultimate completion in Christ, I open the calendar to see that it portends yet another Sisyphus Day.

“being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6).

(c) All rights reserved. Scripture from the New International Version.

30 Days to Spring Training or What’s Wrong with Christian Free Agency?

Coming off last year’s World Series win for the Boston Red Sox, it’s a sure thing that Red Sox Nation is eagerly anticipating (nay…salivating for) the annual signals that America’s Pastime will resume.  Thirty days from today, pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training.

Plus…it’s been (already) enough of a miserable winter that any sign of spring approaching is most welcome.

Of course, given the vagaries and complexities of modern baseball, the 2014 team will not be identical to the 2013 team.  Some of the names that we got used to during last year’s playoff run will, sigh, be playing for other teams [Jacobi is off to the Bronx…though he did leave with class].

One of the highlights of last season’s really fun run was Boston Designated Hitter, David Ortiz (Big Papi).  He had an incredible .959 On-Base Plus Slugging Percentage (OPS) and led the team in his inimitable style.  That style included the tide-turning pep talk to his posse during game four of the World Series.  Baseball writer Kevin Paul Dupont called it Ortiz’s “Fall Classic carpe diem” and the “series’ seminal moment.”  That’s our Big Papi, wading in unscripted to engage Fenway’s baseball boys with his own brand of insight and determination.

National audiences had previously seen this when, post the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings at the very beginning of the baseball season, Ortiz dared anyone else to mess with “our f_____ng city.”  Did I wince (well, simultaneously wince and smirk) at the choice expletive?  Yes.  Did I resonate with the voice of determination?  Absolutely.  That same determination led Ortiz to challenge his teammates to be the team they had been all season long and bring the World Series title home to Boston.  They did.

David Ortiz is apparently, at this writing, in talks to extend his contract with the Red Sox.  I don’t have any special insight; I just know what I’ve read.  He wants to stay another year and I think the team wants him to stay another year.

After the 2014 season, Big Papi will become a baseball Free Agent.  He will have more room to maneuver with respect to his contract negotiations, but he will also be on the edge of player viability.  He doesn’t seem to be slowing down but you never know.

Besides the fact that I love to watch the Red Sox boys play (hence the Big Papi preamble), I am fascinated by this notion of Free Agency…the movement of talented (and sometimes not so talented) players between teams.  In baseball’s yesteryear, players were often married to the same team (for better or for worse) for their entire career.  Now team rosters are much more fluid from year to year–that fluidity a byproduct of Free Agency. 

As a Christian I am also fascinated by the Church’s own version of Free Agency.  Players (a.k.a. church members) who regularly migrate from place to place (church to church) in search of that perfect place that dispenses perfect ministry that perfectly matches their needs (desires, whims, preferences…insert your own noun).  

While recognizing that there is no such thing as a perfect church, I am puzzled by the seeming fragility of contemporary church connections–a fragility that rests on this notion of Free Agency.  Of course, I suppose it is largely a blessing that there are so many “options” for believers for worship and service.  But, there it is, the tendency to think more in consumerist North American terms than biblical terms: options. 

I pastored a church in Colorado for several years.  By “steeple envy” standards we did alright.  We may even have done well by God’s standards.  All that to say, we weren’t the “coolest” place in town but we were in the “top tier” [I know…worldly standards misapplied to Kingdom endeavors] of places to be “checked out” by the town’s new arrivals and by those who were somehow disenchanted with the place in which they worshipped. 

In that resort community, during my eleven or twelve years there, I was regularly amazed at the number of people who had been “called” to plant churches amongst the sun and winter frolicking destinarians (yes, I made up a word).  At the time, by my count, there were about 25 evangelically minded churches in a town of (then) 6,500 in a county of (then) 14,000.  If you spent a year at each church, you could move from place to place to place for a quarter of a century before having to start over.  By then, presumably, the church(es) fostering the disenchantment would have been able to get their act(s) together…or not.

Then came the archetypal Christian Free Agent.  She was in her 60s; she was grumpy; she had a mild-mannered (rarely heard) husband and she (one sunny winter’s day) alighted in our worship center.  She engaged pretty well and was initially upbeat, but after five or six months came a litany of “concerns.”  Upon further exploration with her it seemed that the church had failed to meet her expectations on several fronts. 

I was younger and dumber and less full of the kind of grace, tact, and diplomacy (and warmth and fuzziness) for which I am known today (sarcasm is hard to render blogwise).  I finally said, “Junia [that’s not her real name and perhaps me using that name is one of the reasons she huffed so…not really…I actually used her real name when I spoke with her, but I have changed the name to protect the guilty…and dodge litigation]…Junia,” I said, “You’ve been to eight churches in the last ten years [I am not making that up].  Is it at all possible that perhaps there might be an issue with you that has nothing to do with any of those churches?” 

Her husband slunk out of the room like a dog who had messed the carpet.  If I had been smarter, I would have left with him.  What followed was an explosive airburst not seen since the first hydrogen bomb (“Mike”) was tested at the Enewetak Atol in 1952.  Well…it probably wasn’t that bad…it just seemed that way.  Leaving her house that evening, shaking the fallout from my brain, I again pondered the fragility of church connections and the multiplicity of options available to those in the Body of Christ who largely think of themselves in “Free Agent” terms.

This is not to say that some churches sometimes aren’t egregious in their wounding of the gathered saints.  This is not to say that some solid saints haven’t gone the extra mile (or hundred miles) to try and redeem church circumstances such that they can remain and thrive.  Sadly, the church sometimes grossly disappoints, dissatisfies, and disheartens, thwarting even the most committed Christ follower’s attempts to make a go of it. 

It is to say that, in my view, the threshold for moving on to “another team” in our Christian Free Agency system is much too low.  It is to say that a distorted view of “freedom in Christ” tends to minimize the biblical call for perseverance, restoration, forgiveness, and plain old “hanging in there.”  The Bible commends persistence through difficulties and the beauty of brethren and sisteren dwelling in a unity based, not on preference satisfaction, but on commitment to Christ and each other, even when we disappoint.

“Do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature,” the Apostle Paul said, “Instead, serve one another humbly in love” (Galatians 5:13). 

© All rights reserved.  Scripture from the NIV, Zondervan.







Have You Had Your Affluenza Shot?

​I trust that you have had your flu shot this year; I’ve had mine.  I’m hoping it works this time; last year’s was a “fail” (at least that’s what I thought while I was lying in the hospital with simultaneous double pneumonia and the flu–which I thought was entirely unfair–surely I could have shared at least one of the pneumonias with someone…anyone). 

The very wise, fifteen-year-old emergency room physician advised me that I had waited “too long” to get my flu shot.  She said that it needed to “cook” (her word) in my system for a while to be completely effective.  [Does anyone else mind that flu vaccine manufacturers are allowed to “cook” their anti-flu juice in our systems?]

But there is apparently another kind of “flu” virus at work out there.  It’s not Influenza; it’s Affluenza.  The most recent case of which was diagnosed and reported in Texas. 

Dateline Tarrant County, Texas:  A Texas teenager has been spared juvenile detention for four deaths he caused while operating under the influence.  The judge ordered probation and therapy.  The teen’s defense team argued that the young man had “been a victim of his family’s enormous wealth.”  

The psychologist who testified for the defense in the trial used the term “Affluenza” (from the 2001 book by the same title) to describe the teenager’s plight.  It seems that the sad, young man had been so often afflicted by his parents saying, “Yes,” to his every whim, that any notion of personal responsibility for his drunken driving was unreasonable.  His family’s “enormous wealth” degraded his moral faculties; the weight of Affluenza broke his “I shouldn’t do that” meter. 

This would be perplexing and heartrending if there was just this one instance.  But, sadly, I sometimes think our entire culture has fallen over and hit its collective head on a huge rock.  Because, truthfully, the “very rich” aren’t the only ones suffering from Affluenza.  We all, it seems to me, catch a touch of it from time to time.  Not everybody’s Affluenza results in traffic fatalities but it is debilitating nonetheless.  

Affluenza also seems to be horrifically contagious–striking irrespective of socio-economic status or Christian identity.   It can become deeply ingrained and doggedly take hold even among God’s people in the church.  Affluenza frequently appears in the form of entitlement that seriously derails our ability to be “all in” with Jesus and available to partner with Him in His purposes.

We live in times often characterized by not merely a “What’s in it for me?” attitude, but by a more sinister, “You owe me,” mindset.  Think about it.  Our government is increasingly the deep pocket for a massive array of knowingly labeled “Entitlement Programs.”  Even in (perhaps particularly noticeable in) the church there is a recurring plethora of self-centered emphases that can derail both genuine Christian community and the effectiveness of our witness to the wider culture. 

Of course, we tell ourselves, it’s not the wealth, per se, that is the problem; it’s our attitudes toward it (it’s the love of money, not money itself which is the root of all kinds of evil) and it’s what we do with our affluence (being good stewards not bad stewards) that counts.  But the simple truth is that, unless we take active steps to derail the onset of Affluenza, it can easily ensnare.  And wealth is so insidious that we can have Affluenza for years unawares.

I’ve previously posted about generational besetting sins and, therein, acknowledged that, irrespective of generational demographics, we share common sinful proclivities.  Have you heard any of these (spoken/thought any of these) church-related evidences of entitlement?  Wondering:  “How will they minister to me?” or “Will the preaching speak to me?” or “I hope I like the worship team,” or “Are the leaders ‘genuine’ enough for me?” or “I wonder if they have the right programs for my kids?”  You can dress up the cultural particulars in Boomer, Buster, or Millennial garb, but the questions, at their core, are the same ones–centered around self and in pursuit of the latest flavor of “You owe me.”  It’s Affluenza.  

Oftentimes inoculation doesn’t work for Influenza and I’m not pretending that it will work here, but I have to hope we can provide a way to prevent a pandemic of “Affluenza” and perhaps curtail its consequences among those already infected. 

So, here’s the Affluenza shot:  “It is more blessed to give than receive” (Acts 20:35).  “Hang on,” you say, “that’s just another bloggily simplistic cure for such an insidious problem.”  I don’t think so.  Coming off the celebrations of Christmas (God’s great gift) and Epiphany (the Wise Guys’ response of gifts to the Newborn King), I think there is something to embrace about the simplicity of giving that can overcome our shared tendency toward Affluenza. 

New Testament scholar Craig Blomberg develops the notion of material giving in this way: 

“First, if wealth is an inherent good, Christians should try to gain it. If some of us succeed more than the majority, our understanding of it as God’s gift for all will lead us to want to share with the needy, particularly with those who are largely victims of circumstances outside their control. Second, if wealth is seductive, giving away some of our surplus is a good strategy for resisting the temptation to overvalue it. Third, if stewardship is a sign of a redeemed life, then Christians will, by their new natures, want to give. Over time, compassionate and generous use of their resources will become an integral part of their Christian lives. Fourth, if certain extremes of wealth and poverty are inherently intolerable, those of us with excess income (i.e., most readers of [Blomberg’s] book!) will work hard to help at least a few of the desperately needy in our world. Fifth, if holistic salvation represents the ultimate good God wants all to receive, then our charitable giving should be directed to individuals, churches or organizations who minister holistically, caring for people’s bodies as well as their souls, addressing their physical as well as their spiritual circumstances

‘Give me neither poverty nor riches,’ prayed the writer of the proverb; but, since most of us already have riches, we need to be praying more often, ‘and help me to be generous and wise in giving more of these riches away’ (Blomberg, Craig.  Neither Poverty nor Riches: A Biblical Theology of Possessions, 247, 253–italics added). 

I would widen Blomberg’s summary of application related to material wealth.* In addition to reorienting our thinking about monetary giving, we can all, I believe, consider the giving of ourselves in more fully orbed ways. 

We can move toward a giving of ourselves that transcends merely money or stuff and that includes time and energy and a willingness to transition our questions from what’s owed us to what we can provide.  In the Body of Christ, questions like these can help reorient us away from Affluenza:  “How can I pray for those who minister here?”  “Who should I approach to see how I can pitch in?”  “Am I asking God to bless all those here in worship today?”  And, if we sense a ministry need (even one borne from personal ministry desires), perhaps we can ponder this thought:  “Since God has laid this ministry need on my heart, maybe He is calling me to help be part of its implementation.” 

Perhaps it’s long past time to stop worrying about what we’re due in order to more earnestly consider what we’re to do.


*P.S.  I do not intend to imply that Dr. Blomberg’s application recommendations are somehow deficient or any less robust.  Please delight (and challenge) yourself with a read of his entire book. 

© All rights reserved.  Scripture from the NIV, Zondervan.

Unpotential Realized or Why I Never Ran for President

“You can do anything you want!”  I can’t recall the number of times I’ve heard those words in the context of some well-meaning adult encouraging some young person to tackle the next challenge in their lives. Everybody is on a quest (or encouraged to be on a quest) to do something…wait for it…AWESOME!

By the way…may I just mention that the overuse of the word, “awesome,” hurts my head?  I know that “awesome” is giving way to “epic” (how many “awesomes” does it take to make an “epic” anyway?), but still…awesome?  Seriously (which is also getting way too much play)…few things are genuinely awe-inspiring and I have not heard much recently that deserves the term…a Red Sox World Series win…maybe.  Or a child coming to faith in Christ.

But meanwhile, back at the ranch…I can remember believing as I was growing up, that I would one day run for (and, of course, be) President of the United States.  I didn’t….run, that is.  Along the way, despite my “potential,” I never had the opportunity to impress the voters with my calling to be their leader.  (I also didn’t have the half a billion dollars to pull it off, but that’s another story.)

But still it keeps happening…most high school or college or kindergarten graduation ceremonies are marked by someone in the room saying that the students can do anything they want; they can be anything they want.  They can scour the stars and boldly go where no one has gone before.  They can invent the next must need, over-priced electro-gadget.  They can solve all the world’s ills.  They can be President of the United States. 

(Oh, and not for nothing, but honestly, kindergarten graduation ceremonies?  What’s next?  “Ladies and gentlemen, we are happy to welcome you to this morning’s ceremony honoring the Hospital’s most recent “Womb Graduates.”  Yes, these students successfully negotiated the rigorous “Pre-Partum” course of study, featuring our most intense coursework [“Ultrasound 101 & 102,” “Nausea Inducement 220;” topped off by “Umbilical Cord Jumping 341”] and we are proud to recognize them as recipients of the prestigious “Post-Partum Prize.”  These are not ordinary scholars, ladies and gentlemen, these students have enthusiastically and successfully trod a path that few [well, everyone, really, but then announcing that wouldn’t be “awesome,” would it?] dare attempt.”) 

But again, back at the ranch…is it really the case that everybody can be anything?  Does everyone have the potential to hit life’s grand slams?  I think not.  And I think it’s a mistake to try to make people believe that.  That is, I believe, faux encouragement…and an impediment to helping people see genuine potential.  I think it’s more important to help people (particularly young people) see that they can find and know God’s purpose for their lives and cooperate with Him in making their way toward that.  In our “Everybody Gets a Trophy” world, we delude ourselves (and our progeny…but just for a moment because they eventually catch on) by insisting that there is an unlimited path toward societal definitions of success–that everybody is equally capable of climbing the highest mountain…of dreaming the impossible dream. 

By now you have likely decided that I am some curmudgeon whose mission is to dampen the spirits of anyone who comes my way.  Perhaps.  But I think more realistically that we, Christian parents, grandparents, leaders, and teachers, do our young charges a disservice when we direct them toward unrealistic (and unbiblical) ideas about success.  We better serve them, I think, when we encourage them to find and pursue God’s purpose for their lives.  Encouragement along those lines aligns with God’s intention for parents and grandparents and other influential adults in young people’s lives. 

In case you’re wondering…vocationally…I have had a reasonably successful military career; I have been blessed to be a local church pastor, a Christian and secular college faculty member, a seminary adjunct professor, and a health care administrator.  Things have been just fine…though along the way I have hurt people and strayed from my purpose.  I have messed up and been brought back by God into His gracious presence.  But I am not the President of the United States–that was Unpotential Realized.  That was not God’s purpose for me; He had other things in mind.  And, smack in the middle of God’s purpose, genuine potential is realized. 

Philippians 4:10-13, 10 I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through Him who gives me strength.”

Paul, speaking primarily here about material needs, makes, I think, a larger point about potential:  we should be content to find and know God’s purpose for our lives and rest in that.  Someone will be President; someone will scour the stars; someone will be invent the world’s next must need, over-priced electro-gadget.  But not everyone.  And more importantly many, given the right encouragement, might find and know God’s wondrous (though perhaps not presidential) purpose for their lives. 

© All rights reserved.

%d bloggers like this: