Tag Archives: Christmas

Oh for Two

I have to say that I love the disciples of Jesus–the original twelve. I listen to them in the Gospel accounts and I keep saying to myself, “Those dopes!” They never, ever, ever got it on the first go. I have taken to calling them the “Remedial Boys” because of their recurring need for another go at the lesson at hand. Calming the sea? Not enough. Feeding 5000? Not enough. Raising Lazarus from the dead? Not enough. Never enough.

And the reason I love them so? They’re just like me. I am a remedial boy. Jesus moves in my life in small and great ways and, it seems, it’s never enough. That’s why my attention was grabbed during a recent sermon. It wasn’t the sermon itself that grabbed (with all due respect to the preacher). It was a section of scripture from the preacher’s pericope to which he did not call attention, but on which my warped and wandering brain landed.

The Gospel of Luke, chapter 22. Jesus is sharing the Last Supper with the boys. He has (verses 21 & 22) just shared that someone will betray Him. The boys–taken aback–wonder who in their posse might do this (v.23). I’m sure that none of them volunteered that it might be them. I’m sure there was church gossipy finger pointing about the “other guy.” But I am also sure that, in the back of their minds, each of them thought, “It could be me.”

They, every one of them, had many episodes where they failed Jesus. Each of them knew that failure was a daily possibility. Each of them knew that it could have been them. As they pondered the probability of failure, the boys ventured into territory that we all inhabit from time-to-time: the recognition that we are not the persons Jesus has called us to be. Some of us visit this place; some of us live in this place–the place of failure; the place of disappointment with who we’ve become or what we have done (or left undone). Each of the disciples (and each of us) wonder, “Will I be the one to betray Jesus?”

But, for eleven of them at least, the answer was no–it’s not you. You’re not a failure in this moment. They had missed this one–Oh for One.

Then–and only the remedial boys could pull this off–they pivot in v.24 to a fight about who should be considered the “greatest!” One minute they’re wondering who would be the worst; the next minute they’re speculating about who would be the best! And, no doubt, volunteering themselves for the honor. If texting were around then, there would have been SMHs and eye roll emojis all over the place.

But I was wrong when I said that only the remedial boys could pull this off. Sometimes, some of us (at least I know I) have this sense of grandiosity–I’m the greatest! They should see me now! If only they knew how gifted I am! Why aren’t they paying attention to me! Why isn’t my phone ringing?!?  I AM GREAT!  Not.

At least not in the ways we think of greatness–all tied to accomplishment and the myth of indispensability. Would be kings and queens and presidents and preachers and superstars and singers and craftsmen; we think we are the greatest (or, at least pretty darn great) in the Kingdom. But, like the remedial boys, we are not. Oh for Two.

It saddens me that I so frequently inhabit the place of performance. Failure or grandiosity—at their core they’re essentially the same thing–a sense that our relationship with God is a function of performance. If only I can avoid letting Jesus down; if only I can make Him smile; if only I can do well on this next test; if only I can bring home the bonus; if only; if only; if only…then people will like me; then Jesus will love me; then I will know that I am special.

This is Advent. I am sitting in Chik-fil-A. I am listening to Christmas carols. I am hearing the songs remind me: it doesn’t matter if I am Oh for Two–Jesus loves me because He called me into existence and chooses to love me despite my resonance with the experience of the remedial boys.

It is His Spirit at work in me to conform me to His Image. It is His work in me to accomplish His purposes. It is His call on my life that leads me to act on His mission. It is He who picks me up when I fall; it is He whose strength is made perfect in my weakness; it is He who walks me through the Valley of the Shadows; it is Jesus who says “come to me.”

So, Oh for Two (really, Oh for Oh So Many), I’m going to Jesus. Greatest or worst, despite my self-assessment, He calls me. He calls you too.

© 2016, All Scripture quotations from the New International Version.

 


Waiting to See Jake; Wondering about Wonder

I had just sat down for my haircut. The stylist asked me how I wanted my hair cut and I said, “Number two all over and rounded in the back.” Stylists love to cut my hair; it takes five minutes, they pocket the tip, and then they move on to someone with actual, you know, hair.

And…just to note…I am not a haircut conversationalist. If God had wanted me to talk to people, He would have said something like, “always be prepared to give a reason for the hope that you have.” Oh, wait, He did say that.

So, when I get a haircut, I throw the “extrovert on demand” switch, and settle in for a chat—a short chat, but a chat nonetheless. This time the haircut person said, “Have you seen Jake Gyllenhaal; he’s in town making a movie. I thought and said, “This town?!?” It’s not that the town is a bad place, it’s just kind of not your typical movie magic destination. The stylist said (cue excited utterance music), “Yes, he was in Jumbo (local grocery store) and Walmart (planet wide purchase stuff cheaply but endure Walmartians store)! I drove by where they’re shooting the movie but I didn’t see him!!”

She was excited and sad at the same time. But, alas, my haircut had come to its end and I got up to leave. As I was paying for the haircut (with the unsolicited “senior discount”—sigh), I said, “I hope you get to see Jake.” She giggled and said, “Me too!”

I thought about the level of excitement and, yes, wonder, that this young woman expressed over the possibility that she might see this movie guy—famous movie guy—who, I suppose, a twenty-something hair stylist might find handsome…cute…hot? Don’t know.

What I do know is that she was genuinely excited…starry eyed, even (yes, pun intended).

And I thought, “When was the last time I had that sense of wonder about anything?” And, in particular, when was the las time I had that sense of wonder about my faith and the author of that faith, my Lord, my Savior, Jesus.

I honestly cannot remember. I go through the things that constitute the practice of my faith, but wonder? Excitement? Can’t remember. I have settled into the steady rhythm of a confirmed faith, but I cannot find wonder; I do not feel excitement.

I know that the reality of my faith does not depend upon my feelings. But I long for some wonder…some awe…some…thing.

And now, Advent and Christmas are just around the corner. If ever there was a season that portended wonder, this is that season. Will I experience that wonder? The angels, the shepherds, the mom, the stepdad, all the other witnesses to the baby king’s arrival–Scripture records that they were struck with wonder. They ran to see; they heralded; they made a stable into a place of wonder and worship.
Jake is in town; he’ll leave and take his starry wonder with him. But Jesus had already been here and He will stay here with us. He calls us to a place of wonder and invites us to dwell in wonder with Him. I am ready for some wonder; are you?

(C) 2016

 


Look, Mom, No Hands! (or Feet) & Other Focus Issues

​It was a summer when I was in Junior High School.  They called it Jr. High and not “Middle School” back then (which, by the way, is just a ridiculous way to describe an educational era, but that’s a topic for another day).  I was riding bikes with a friend.  We had old clunkers (long before they were fashionable):  big, white-walled tires, one gear, rear pedal brakes, wide handle bars, striped fenders, and a bell).  These are sold as “classic” models these days; back then they were decidedly not classic (nor even fashionable–certainly not “awesome” or “epic” or “legit”; nay, not even “cool”).

Anyway…we were heading down a long steep hill on a street in an old mill town in Western Massachusetts.  As we were heading down the hill, we were doing various things that I later told my own children to never try…weaving in and out of traffic; off and on the shoulder of the road.  And, in those primeval times, there were no bicycle helmets, fewer seat belts, and even fewer motorcycle helmets.

Anyway (again)…as we headed down the hill, my friend (whose name has been redacted to spare him mocking by his own progeny) decided to really show off.  [Now, showing off presumes there is some audience for the display–usually, for junior high boys, the desired audience is junior high girls; since there were none of those within sight I later wondered exactly for whom we were “showing off.”] 

My friend decided to demonstrate the time-honored “no hands” technique.  He did it really well and managed to maintain course, heading, bearing, and speed all the while.  I was impressed enough to give the “no hands” technique a go myself.  And, I am still very proud to say, I did it with equal aplomb.  But, not to be glossed over in junior high history annals as a mere follower, I decided to augment my “no hands” technique with the rarely seen (and legendary–we’re talking Knights of the Round Table or Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. legendary) “no feet” technique.  So, I temporarily placed my hands back on the handle bars one at a time while I placed my feet up over the handle bars (I had to lift my left leg up over the bicycle’s bell–a tricky move which induced some unwanted bicycle wobble) and brought them into the center of the handle bars so that they were securely in place on the handle bars…feet neatly touching and resting right over the bike’s top tube.

Once my feet and legs were in place, I lifted both hands from the handlebars and “presto” I was riding “no hands” and “no feet.”  I looked over at my friend, wind whipping through my hair, a look of conquest on my face and said, “Look!  No hands or feet!!” in that triumphant tone known well in junior high school boy circles. 

[I did catch a momentary glance of what I later realized was “mouth agape” disbelief (you know, the cartoon kind–the jaw plummets to the ground and the entire mouth is left open like the entrance to some great cave) on the part of a passing car’s driver.]

However…my feelings of bicycling superiority and, yea, even near manly majesty, were quickly replaced by the sensation (at first ignored) that my entire bicycling enterprise was slowly listing to the right.  Then, realization and gravity both firmly set in.  Gravity, in particular, took hold in its insistent kind of way and we (that is, me and my bike…which, though chagrined at being ridden by such an idiot, was nonetheless gamely going down for the count with me) continued the glacially paced tipping to our right side.

I can only think that it was those super wide, white-walled tires that kept us up for as long as we were up.  And then, just as we (my bike and I) were nearly parallel to the ground, I had two near simultaneous thoughts:  (1) I was going to die and, (2) how was I going to explain my crumpled bike to my parents?  

[Those of you with more wits than I could corral at that moment will realize that if (1) came about, then (2) would clearly not be my problem.  But then junior high boys caught up in misadventure rarely muster anything remotely resembling keen intellect–Harry Potter notwithstanding.]

Finally we (my trusty bike and I) came into contact with the asphalt; we were probably going at least 40 miles an hour (I don’t know for sure; we didn’t have speedometers on our bikes in those days; we just relied on keeping up with the cars to gauge our speed.)  Once in contact with the asphalt we slid for several yards before coming to an abrupt halt caused by a close encounter of the concrete curb kind. 

And–I was not dead!  [I did have an abrasion the size of Fenway Park (Did you see how I snuck baseball in there?  Clever, huh!) down the entire length of my right arm.]  More importantly though…my bike was not crumpled!!  The handle bars would require some crude adjustment to once again be perpendicular to the rest of the bike and the right pedal had somehow been folded into a very cool “V” shape.  But all of that could be explained away using typical junior high school boy (JHB) syntax. 

[Parent, “Why are your handle bars and pedal messed up?”  JHB, “Ummm…are they?  I ummm…don’t know.  Maybe (insert name of any friend away on vacation here in valiant attempt to thwart fact checking) did it?”  Parent, “Isn’t (reinsert previous name here) out of town?”  JHB, “I dunno…is he?”  You can play this game forever; you just keep inserting different names until said parent assesses that the observed bicycle damage is not in the catastrophic range and loses interest.  Parent will then move on to, “What happened to your arm?”  JHB, “My arm, ummm slid hard into second?”  Parent, “Where’s your glove?”  JHB, “Ummm…I dunno…must be around here somewhere.”]

So I survived that moment of junior high stupidity.  As I’ve reflected on that experience over the years, I’ve thought several things.  Two primary things stick out:  (1) How could I be so utterly stupid?  But then, since I was a JHB, “stupid” was pretty much the default “operating system” for my life.  But, (2–which only eventually came to me) was, how important it is to keep one’s focus on the main thing.  In that case, showing off with stupid stunts was not the main thing (especially since there were no junior high school girls around); riding the bike was the main thing. 

God is good; I was not killed (and my bike was not crumpled beyond repair).  But less distraction than I experienced that day has been enough to derail the most significant of endeavors.  And that’s a shame–particularly in the Body of Christ.

I suppose this memory hits me at this time of year when I look around and see the so many (and so many well-intended) distractions of the Christmas Season.  How far we have come from the amazement of simple shepherds encountering the Baby Jesus for the very first time.  Wrapping (and rapping) and lights and K-Mart Joe Boxer commercials and Santa and Rudolph and the latest Hunger Games movie release and wars and rumors of wars and, well…you get the point, all have the potential to keep us from focus on the main thing–the main person:  Jesus.

“For me to live is Christ,” the Apostle Paul said.  “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life,” the Apostle Peter said.  If we lived 364 days with Paul’s motto in mind and we lived 364 days with Peter’s realization in mind, I think we would be less distracted and more focused as the 365th day (Christmas) approached.  We would be less prone to “fall off our bikes” doing stupid stunts and more likely to see past the distractions and discover the living Lord Jesus just there…behind the hustle, the bustle, and the tussles.  Jesus:  calling us to Himself; encouraging us to be laser sharp in our focus on Him…His will and His ways and His work. 

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


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