Tag Archives: God

We Ain’t Edward VIII — The Great Boomer Abdication

Caricature Blog HWCMAbdications acquired a kind of romantic glow when Edward VIII of England abdicated to marry his American fiancé, Wallis Simpson. Many Americans gushed with the prospect of a King of England giving it all up for his “colonial” sweetheart. Simultaneously, many in the British Empire were aghast at the prospect of a royal not doing his duty.

Whatever we feel about abdications, we must, as a baseline, acknowledge the essence of the word: they are, well, abdications–a willful surrender of inherent responsibility.

Christianity in the West faces a crushing abdication–it is, in fact, a generational abdication as Baby Boomers decide (and the culture tweets in celebration) that it is time to abdicate–to step aside–to surrender responsibility–to retire.

Fueled more by cultural preference for the young and Social Security retirement income thresholds than by biblical mandate, Boomers have (in large part) decided to “move on and take it easy” (thanks, Eagles) rather than stay the course.

I am reminded of an interim pastorate experience I had in a small church in the coves of Massachusetts’s North Shore. The founding pastor had passed away, but I was entranced by stories congregants told of him sitting in worship (when he could no longer stand) and sharing the truths of God’s Word with the people he loved and who loved him dearly–right up to near the very end.

Most ministries will not end that way. Our youth-obsessed culture won’t let it. And there is genuine wisdom in the older pouring their lives into younger ministry leaders; finding the appropriate time to let go of the back of the bike and watch younger ministry leaders head off in their initial wobbly ways. But that is not, I believe, supposed to take place on a time table established by the Social Security Administration nor should it be triggered by the maturation date of Individual Retirement Accounts.

When God wants us to “retire,” He has specific and obvious ways of letting us know. The ultimate way He lets us know is by calling us to the retirement home whose threshold is the mortuary door.

This retirement phenomenon was highlighted in what I thought was a panicky sort of way when the Barna organization released its recent reports on the State of the Church and the State of Pastors. There was angst over the fact that the average age of pastors has increased and an implied wonder about what will happen next. As I read the report and heard the presentations, there seemed to be palpable distress over the rising average age of pastors.

All of this, I believe, runs counter to the consistent biblical teaching: respect the elders, listen to their counsel, watch them lead, watch them “press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called [them] heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). Boomers, let’s “run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (Hebrews 12:1). It is certainly a relay race, destined to be continued by those who come after, but let’s not drop the baton before God Himself calls, “Time!”

Winston Churchill, speaking in the early days of the World War Two horrors, said these oft-quoted words: Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty–never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense.” Of course, Churchill was not speaking from within a Christian world view, but his point remains: stay until the job (your job) is done. This was likely made more poignant by him giving his speech a slight five years after the abdication of Edward VIII.

But, here’s the question: do we honestly think that God will not raise up leaders for His Church? Do we think God doesn’t have a “succession plan?”

This cuts many ways, as I know some Boomers who have been shunted to the side who would joyfully engage in ministry, were the opportunity restored to them. And I know many Millennials who are hungry for ongoing investment in their lives by ministry leaders who have an abundance of notches in their belts.

Ben Sasse, in his book, The Vanishing American Adult, calls ours “an age that gives short shrift to the transmission of wisdom from old to young.” No kidding–and the Boomer abdication is not only a result of that but, in my view, likely a primary cause of that.

Perhaps we should look more to the sovereignty of God and rest in the reality that His plan for His Kingdom is not undone by “aging” pastors. And, perhaps Boomers should get back on the job.

© 2017, All Rights Reserved. Scripture quotations from the NIV.

 


Anti-Trump Trumpeting

Caricature Blog HWCMI did not vote for either of the two major party candidates in last November’s presidential election.

I could not vote for Donald Trump. He was so egregious in his remarks and evident attitude toward women that I could not countenance showing support for him by checking his name on the ballot. I have a wife and a daughter and granddaughters and nieces (and many, many women in my life–friends and ministry partners) who deserve better. I have a son and grandsons who need to know that they are to never disrespect women–ever. In addition, while it is likely that many of our presidents have been closet narcissists, Donald Trump seems desperately in need of personal approval in a way not even assuaged by actually winning the presidency. His conduct on the campaign trail; his apparent lack of grasp of public policy issues; his failure to analyze any of those issues (beyond either, “It’s terrible!” or, “It’s great!”), gutted any potential I may have had to mark a ballot for him.

I could not vote for Hilary Clinton. She was, in my view, deeply flawed as a candidate in many ways but–and this was the key point for me–the Democrats’ migration over the last couple of decades from being euphemistically “pro-choice” to being aggressively “pro-abortion” was one I could not countenance. There is simply no room in the Democratic Party (at least at the national level) for pro-life persons. This, despite recurring and reflexive references to “children” as the rationale for policy proposals. We have many stains on the national fabric: 50 million (and counting) aborted babies is, in my view, the deepest crimson stain.

So, I didn’t vote for either of the major party candidates. In my state, a ballot write in was not available–a vote for a third-party candidate as a way to say “none of the above” was my only option. I cast my “none of the above” vote, even while realizing that one of the two major party candidates would be the winner on November 8th.

Given Trump’s Electoral College victory, there are at least three realities in the face of his presidency: He gets to try to govern. The opposition gets to oppose. And the public (in support or opposition) gets to protest. Those three realities have been at the heart of our republic since its inception.

By now I have likely lost or incensed many who read this. That’s fine. But a more pressing issue, for those who embrace Christ, is: how do those three realities play themselves out now that Donald Trump is president? For those willing to venture on, I offer these thoughts.

As Christians, we have multiple responsibilities: preach the Gospel, disciple those who come to faith, deepen our relationship with Christ, tend to the marginalized, pray for our leaders. And, in a democratic republic like ours, we also have a stewardship responsibility for our government–we get to vote for those who make our local, state, and national decisions. We must listen, engage, vote, protest. But having entered into the arena, we also have a responsibility to accept the outcome–win or lose. If we win, we celebrate magnanimously. If we lose, we lose graciously. If the other side wins, we give them the chance to govern.

However, there is another issue. Sometimes the civic responsibilities of governance collide with the compassion responsibilities of Christians. Biblically, the first responsibility of governance is the safety of a nation’s citizens (Rom. 13:1-7). Biblically, the first (but binary) responsibility of Christians is to love God and love people (Matt. 22:37-40). Sometimes our efforts to love people–particularly people “in the ditch” (Luke 10:30)–will run counter to (or at least complicate) the government’s responsibility for safety.

We must, in those cases of conflict, speak the truth of biblical compassion to those in authority and encourage them to continue to enable the American model as the refuge for the teeming masses who need protection and a place to launch their lives afresh. We must hear and speak truth. We must know that refugees coming to this country through the legal channels are among the most thoroughly vetted people to ever land on our shores. I am heartened by statements from evangelical leaders in support of compassionate refugee and immigration policies.

When we protest (and this president seems on a path to prompt much protest), we owe it to our neighbors to “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15, 29). Truth is the content of our speech; love is the manner in which we speak that truth. Failure to be people of truth belies the essential content of Jesus’ message. Failure to be people of love betrays the very nature of God’s relationship with us and our call to reflect His love in our relationship with Him and with others.

If our sympathies lie with those in opposition to this chief executive, then we get to (must) oppose. But this is not opposition for the mere sake of opposition. This is a call to measure each and every proposal against biblical standards for truth and justice and oppose, in principle and by any lawful means, those policy proposals that run counter to biblical standards.

Christians should not, in my view, be people characterized by sore losing. We’re not to be the player who kicks dirt at the umpire or “rushes the mound” because we think the call at the plate was wrong. Baseball fisticuffs can be fun to watch, but Christians should be trying to break up the fight–not get in a few discreet punches of our own (Matt. 5:9).

Because–and here is, I think, a key point–this president gets to try to govern. The Christian call to pray for those in authority (1 Tim. 2:2) is an important element here. If the Roman Emperor Nero was a worthy prayer focus, a democratically elected leader can be no less. National success is in everyone’s best interests. Certainly, there are debates about the elements of national success. But to hold that each and every element of the president’s agenda is intrinsically evil, just because he is the person proposing the agenda items, is simplistic and runs counter to Christians’ biblical warrant to be persons of discernment (Phil. 1:9,10).

So, there is anti-Trump trumpeting. As, I am sure, there would have been anti-Clinton caterwauling had she been the Electoral College victor last November. But perhaps the trumpeting can be tempered by some appreciation for the three realities mentioned above.

Besides, there is the primary means of protest in our democracy coming in 2018–the midterm elections. Not happy with President Trump? Energize your congressional district to empower the democrats. Happy with President Trump? Continue to empower the republicans with the possibility of national governance.

© 2017, All Rights Reserved.


Seven Things I Learned When They Told Me I Likely Had Cancer

I don’t have cancer…at least they don’t think so; they want me to get retested in three months to see for sure. But there were a couple of weeks when those who should know said, “Cancer is the most likely meaning for this MRI result.”

I wasn’t prepared; I don’t think anyone really can be, but I really wasn’t prepared for this preliminary result. I am on the other side now. And, as I said a moment ago, they don’t think I have cancer. But during the process of testing and waiting and testing and waiting, I think I learned at least these seven things:

I. Prayers can be palpably felt. During my Christian life I have seen amazing results from God’s people praying, but I had never felt the power of those prayers deep in my spirit. The cadre of people who committed to pray and who actually prayed made me weep (actual sobbing and weeping) with gratitude. But then I genuinely sensed the praying deep in my heart and mind. It was tangible; it was touchable; it was so deeply encouraging. I told those folks when I got the preliminary “all clear” that I felt a little silly spinning up the praying, but the simple fact is that we could not have made it through those weeks without the praying.

II. Family members who weep with you and for you are beyond precious. A loving wife, children, “in-law” children, grandchildren, and brothers and sisters-in-law were my rocks of support. Without exception, they were ready to drop everything and do whatever it took to work our way through the medical implications. I am most thankful for all of them and their love for me has tightened its grip on my heart.

III. Perspective is hard to get and harder to keep. The word “cancer” has a powerful focusing effect. Lesser concerns (and most other concerns are lesser) tend to fall away in the immediate wake of hearing the “c” word. But I was (and am) amazed at how quickly the lesser concerns magnify themselves in my mind. Keeping the lesser things lesser and the major things major is an ongoing and difficult project.

IV. “Most likely” doesn’t mean “definitely,” even though it feels like it does. Now, in the post test era, I can see that more readily. But truthfully, in the first days, “most likely” felt like the gateway to a whole other turned-upside-down-life-shortening existence. I have to admit that hope was not my initial reflex; sadness at the prospect of loss was my initial reflex. But it turns out that “most likely” doesn’t always mean “definitely” and I am grateful for that.

V. “Thy will be done” is much easier said than lived. I am a champ at asking God for “my will to be done.” And, if the prospect of God’s will seems harder than my will, I will scurry back to my will. It was very hard during those first “most likely” days to settle into a sense that God may be doing something or allowing something that did not comport with my plans and dreams and schemes. Be careful when you pray that radical Lord’s Prayer, “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

VI. Health care people who actually care make all the difference in the process. My personal medical pros at Oasis Family Medicine  and the various testing gurus at Stormont Vail Hospital deserve more than a shout out. They deserve gratitude in perpetuity. And they have it. I can remember saying to my dear wife (post each encounter with various folks in the medical community) that if kindness alone could cure, I would be permanently well.

VII. We’re all still Vanishing Mists. When I wrote my last blog post I had no idea there was a period of medical angst ready to pounce just over the next hill. And it remains true that, even with this reprieve on the medical front, we are still not guaranteed the next day or the next minute. I truly want to live my life with an eternal focus and a quest for the things of God, making Jesus smile, and the treasured family and friend relationships I have.

I have been paying more attention to the Beatitudes this week. I have been especially hit by the call to “hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Mt. 5:6). I am hoping that these things I have learned will continue to fuel that hunger and thirst.

© 2016, All rights reserved. Scriptures from the New International Version (Zondervan).


Maybe Gene was Right and Failure is Not an Option; I’m Still Not Sure (Part 2)

I have had lots of input since my last post (link here).  Many, many folks have been insistent that, in Christ, failure is not an option–if (and this, I think, is a big IF) we are honoring His call and committing ourselves to His purposes.  They have said (as I noted last time) that we do, indeed, live by faith and not by sight.  They have reminded me that human perceptions and evaluations are inevitably incomplete…handicapped by a lack of data and obscured by the sinful nature that continues to blur the plans and purposes of God.

So maybe Gene Kranz was right (or, at least, the Apollo 13 screenwriter who had Kranz’s character say), “Failure is not an option.”  I’m still not sure.

Perhaps it’s just vocational or existential angst.  [Don’t you love the onomatopoeia of “angst”?  Don’t you love the onomatopoeia of “onomatopoeia”?]

Anyway, perhaps it’s just vocational or existential or even life stage angst.  I don’t know.  I do know that the feeling of failure still hovers–faintly whispering like the revolving rotary wings of a black ops helicopter–just waiting to touch down with its rapid assault team to confirm my fears.

But I have been deeply appreciative of the encouragement.  And that is definitely something.  Really, definitely, something.

And I have been prompted to do what I have encouraged so many others to do when faced with hard questions for which there seem to be no easy answers.  When faced with what I don’t know about the Christian life, I hearken back to what I do know.

I know this: God is good all the time (go ahead, you can toss back the response, “And all the time, God is good”).  It’s worth reminding myself that the God we worship is not arbitrary nor capricious nor tantrum tossing nor ignorant of our circumstances and peccadillos.  His goodness is who He is; His goodness is what He does; His goodness flows from His love; and His love is deeper, wider, and higher than we can comprehend.

I know this: God has resources–has them all, in fact. And, though those resources are most often arrayed just beyond our sight sense, that doesn’t mean they’re not there.  It simply means that we don’t always get to see them.  Sometimes we hardly ever get to see them.  And maybe it’s the “hardly ever” that makes it seem, well, hard.

It was panic time.  The ancient city of Dothan was surrounded by an Aramean army which had snuck in overnight.  It was a manhunt…more accurately a prophet hunt.  Elisha kept derailing the King of Aram and his plans to destroy the Israelites.  The King thought he had a double agent among his people; but Elisha was giving the Israelites divine intel about Aramean troop movements.  Aram’s King wanted Elisha…badly.

So Aram surrounded Dothan in the night.  Not a good next morning for Dothanites (Dothanians?).  Elisha’s servant was mess-your-pants scared. Elisha prays and asks God to show nervous servant boy what’s really there.  Massed in the hills–masked to normal human sight–the Lord’s horses and chariots of fire surround the Aramean army.

That time, a servant of God got to see all that God had at His disposal.

I have to confess that I’m envious of Elisha’s servant.  Not envious of his era with its lack of indoor plumbing and all things “i” (Phone, Pad, Pod, etc.).  I am envious of that real time get-to-see-it experience in the middle of what looked like failure.  Man, what a day!

But part of what marks that day as spectacular is that it was not the norm.  To be sure, hanging around with Elisha heightened the probability that supercalifragilistic things would happen.  But even by God’s-prophet-is-in-town standards (see ax, floating), the vision of the Army of God for the servant of God was blockbuster stuff.

But it was not the norm.  The norm: we live by faith, not sight.  Right?

And I highlight that on the list of things I have known about God and this Christian life.  I live in the tension between what I know to be true about God and what I see happening around me.  So, maybe Gene was right, “Failure is not an option.”  But I have to confess I still hear the whispering blades of that black ops chopper.  Sigh…

“Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29).

© All rights reserved.  Scripture from the NIV.


With Respect, Gene, Failure Is An Option

apollo-13-failure-is-not-an-option-bumper-sticker-1608-p

They made a movie about it; they called it, “Apollo 13.”  The film dramatized the heroic and herculean efforts by the ground and space crews to get three astronauts home after a malfunction that cost the Apollo 13 crew their moon landing and had real potential to kill them outright or leave them stranded to slip into a deep and cold space death.

When confronted with the breadth of multiple systems failures, Ed Harris, portraying Gene Kranz, the NASA Flight Director, crisply insists that “Failure is NOT an option.”

Ironically, the words actually came from the “Apollo 13” script writer, Bill Broyles, and not Gene himself.  Kranz later adopted the phrase (which certainly characterized the NASA mindset…and his own), and used it as the title for his autobiography.

But, with respect to Gene, it is actually the case that failure is, not only an option, but an all too frequent reality for many, many, many, maybe most, perhaps all.

I was still in high school and was, ahem, “mastering” piano playing of the: you-can-be-in-a-party-band-and-plunk-chords-but-don’t-get-any-professional-real-musician-ideas kind of way.  My piano teacher had been offered a gig at a small honkytonk in Vermont.  He was not available, so he offered me the gig.  Problem: they did not have a piano; they had a two manual (read keyboard) Hammond B3 organ instead.

Now, I had seen Hammond organs before and heard some folks who could play really well, but I WAS NOT ONE of them.  I had never, ever even actually sat down at an organ to try to play.  When I mentioned this to my piano teacher (who was, in the “by the way” department) COMPLETELY AWARE of this, he said (and I quote because the entire episode is seared in that part of my memory labeled, “trauma”), “No problem; come on over this afternoon and I’ll run you through the basics and you’ll be fine.”

Assuming he knew what he was talking about, I went to his studio and sat with him for (another “ahem”) WHOLE thirty minutes, during which I apparently grasped organ playing to a degree he thought would bode success way up there in Vermont honkytonkdom.  Vainly trying to adopt his confidence (but not his skill…really and truly), I got in the car for the two-hour trip to the aforementioned honkytonk.

[Aside number one:  assuming you can play the organ because you play the piano and they both have keyboards is like assuming you can drive a tandem tractor trailer rig for UPS because you drive a car and the car and the truck both have tires.]

[Aside number two: this was before they had “The Voice” or any of the other searching-for-new-talent-because-there-is-a-worldwide-shortage-of-superstars shows.  I suppose there could be a show called “The Organ” but I’m confident too many people would get exactly the kind of wrong idea you’re getting right now.]

I got to the honkytonk.  I took my place at the organ on what passed for a stage.  I went on at 8:00 p.m.  I left at 8:25 p.m.  During the intervening 25 minutes I slaughtered several songs–killed them dead, dead, dead–mashing them into unrecognizable pseudo zombie songs; notes falling off like appendages from the undead.

Faux music was flung from the defenseless Hammond B3 by the sad combination of my less-than-novice organ playing and my mist-like confidence that vaporized when a honkytonk patron said (upon sighting this then skinny high school kid with his BIG FAKE BOOK of music), “Do have any idea what you’re doing?  We’re partial to GOOD music here.  You don’t look like you know what you’re doing.  Get me another beer!”  [That last part was aimed at the barkeep.]

After 25 minutes of organ-based torture (since outlawed by the Geneva Conventions), the honkytonk proprietor (who was kind of nice enough but insistent…really, absolutely insistent) said (again, words seared into the previously mentioned trauma memory section), “You can go now; we’ll just drop quarters in the juke box.  You wanna donate some quarters?”  [I made up that bit about him wanting me to donate quarters…but with the look on his face, I could tell he wanted me to feed the jukebox on my way out.]

Failure is most certainly an option.  Since the “organ episode,” I’ve had a not exceptional, but successful military career, been moderately effective in the classroom, had an advancing business-world effort as a health care administrator, and, in my primary vocation, pastored not “mega,” but certainly (except for one purposeful “church hospice” experience) churches that moved in forward directions (by those things we can measure).  Some super sweet kids and a terrific wife and blessingly adorable grandkids round out the resume. [I know, these should have been first on the list…mark my list making fail as yet another, ummmm, failure.]

Now, I am beginning to feel “failure” again on the horizon.  It seems tantalizingly close by.  It is stalking me–I see its shadow and its reflective glimpse when I turn quickly.  But this time with much bigger stakes.  And it scares me…really scares me.

And it raises so many questions.

After mustering experience-based wisdom and genuinely seeking God’s heart and plans and purposes for my enterprise, what if I fail?

Or, can it not be failure and still look like failure?

And, where is God in the middle of the failures?  Are they lessons in humility?  If so, why do so many other people have to be affected or tainted by my failed effort?  I am most certainly handicapped by lack of eternal perspective in moments of failure.

And, how much of our failures are we supposed to own?  Because, honestly, my tendency is to own all of it–even those pieces well outside my illusory control.  But if I haven’t purposed to fail (and who, in their right mind, would), then it seems as if failure is a divinely permitted dagger aimed straight at the core of my spirit.

And I know that God is sovereign and that we are called to live by faith and not sight.  But how much faith?  And is any sight permitted in the process?  No sight?  Never? Never ever?

And I know that conflating what we do (for good or ill) with who we are is always problematic.  Lean in one direction and you get pride; lean in the other and you get despair.  Traveling the road of pride is a recipe for disaster; taking the byway of despair drains one’s physical, emotional, and spiritual energy.

I could (and do) run to the scriptures in these moments…but is there anyone else who is left unsatisfied with the delayed response that they most always offer?  I know I’m not supposed to think that or (certainly not) say it out loud.  But there it is.  How many “somedays” and “perseverances” and “patiences” is one soul called upon to endure?

And I know that this feels like a little (ok, maybe a very lot) of whining when people around the world lose their lives or their livelihoods for their faith.  But it is real; it is here; it is scary.

Failure is most certainly an option, Gene.  When I am on the cusp of one, I struggle with all of the above and more…and I do not know what to make of it.  Do you?

© All rights reserved.


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.


Working the GPA

It was one quarter of Hebrew that did me in.  I don’t know which excuse to camp on:  that it was an 8:00 a.m. class and I had to drive 84 miles to get there or that the prof was a mediocre adjunct (or a combination of those two things).  Or maybe (here’s a thought) it was just plain old me being lazy and not doing the requisite work…but no…wait; that couldn’t be it.  Could it?

Anyway…it was one quarter of Hebrew that did me in.  Up until that point my seminary GPA (you know, Grade.Point.Average) had been cruising in the stratosphere.  And, since self-aggrandizing pride is a not very Christian thing to have, let’s just say I was…aw…the heck with it: THRILLED!  I was on my way to a semblance of academic notoriety and a possible award and all kinds of recognition that seemed (at the time) like it would have meant a great deal.

But that one quarter of Hebrew did me in.  It tanked my GPA.  Dropped me from the stratosphere to a mere 3.76 (I knew you were lusting after the actual number; so I complied).  That was back in the day when all you could earn for a GPA was a 4.0 (I don’t know how the “new math” allows for some GPAs to now exceed 4.0, but they are out there…weird…and just somehow wrong).

And that 3.76 made me miss the academic award by (hats off to Maxwell Smart) “thaaat much” (I know, outdated cultural reference; look it up; or maybe Steve Carell and Anne Hathaway will make another “Get Smart” movie [that would be fun!]).  The guy in front of me at seminary had a 3.8 something or some such nonsense.

I worked really hard for that number.  Lots of hours studying and juggling other responsibilities.  I worked really hard for that number and then I missed, by “thaaat much.”  It’s the way of the GPA world.  We can’t all be 4.0s all of the time.  Or, if we are, we are haunted by the time when we will inevitably encounter something out of our 4.0 reach…some endeavor other than the one in which we excel…some endeavor when someone else will steal the show and the award and walk away with “our” prize.

We live in a GPA world.  Everything about us is assessed and graded.  On those days when we make the grade, we feel OK…or maybe even spectacular…for a moment.  But then we know we have to get up the next day and try to trek into 4.0 territory again.

We live in a GPA world.  Most every encounter…with the school…at the job…with the family…with our friends…has a “graded” component.  Something that tells us we have to work really, really, really (yes, three reallys) hard.  Performance fuels our forward progress.  Performance saturates our souls.  Performance haunts us with the inevitability of missing the mark.  Because we will…miss the mark.

We are human; we are finite; we are less capable than we think.  Even if we are caught up in momentary acclaim; we know we will miss the mark.

And…when it comes to our relationship with God…we are sunk.  Even though we may work our hardest to earn the right to stand with Him and before Him, we know that our hardest is not enough.  The best that we ever do is inevitably tainted…and it’s certainly not 4.0.

And here’s the thing:  God is looking for 4.0s.  His abhorrence of sin stain means that He can only dwell in the presence of the 4.0s.  In the moment we ponder that idea; in the moment that idea reaches the core of our soul, we know we are sunk.  Because we know that a 4.0 by God’s standards is well beyond our reach.  Even a 3.9999 won’t do if 4.0 is the standard.

But what if you could, in all openness and honesty, submit someone else’s transcript rather than your own?  What if you could say to the “admissions committee” that you have a 4.0?   What if both they and you knew that it wasn’t your 4.0 but they were willing to accept it anyway?  Wouldn’t that be great news?  Wouldn’t that be the best news ever?  Wouldn’t that mean we could relax and savor a relationship with God?  Wouldn’t that mean we could pour ourselves into our work and our relationships and our recreation with the giddiness that comes with a lack of performance pressure?

Wouldn’t that mean everything?  Wouldn’t it?

Well you can.  Substitute someone else’s transcript, that is.  Jesus made the grade.  He always was a 4.0; He always will be a 4.0; and…if you trust in Him and His performance, then all the Heavenly Father ever sees when He looks at you is a 4.0.

If you are outside a connection with God, then let Jesus make the grade for you.  It’s a little humbling to admit that you will never consistently maintain a “life” 4.0, but once you do there’s a transcript with your name on it that has Jesus’ grade.  There’s no “good enough,” there is only “perfect” and only Jesus has reached that.  Let Him submit his transcript for you.  Just look at His grades:   Love…4.0; Forgiveness…4.0; Mercy…4.0; Grace…4.0; Everything…4.0.

If you’re inside; if you have a relationship with God through Christ, then you can quit trying to “make the grade” as a series of self-propelled, spirit-sapping efforts, “I sure hope God is happy with me today” kind of works.

Because…and here’s another thing…rather than making us lazy ingrates; substituting Jesus’ GPA for ours means that we are free to pursue an excellence of gratitude rather than an excellence of servitude…a pursuit that leaves us energized and “good tired” rather than exhausted and ever fearful that we cannot…will not make the grade.

I’ve always wanted a 4.0; I think I will take the one that Jesus earned and offers to submit on my behalf.  Then I can quit working the GPA and be freed to rest in Christ and be energized to pursue that excellence fueled by gratitude.

It was that one quarter of Hebrew that did me in.

© All rights reserved.  Scripture quotations from the NIV.

 


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