Tag Archives: God

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.

 


Blobs Anonymous

At the gym…on the treadmill…listening to some shuffled song on my iPod…sweating like a pig (sorry, Piglet)…feet hurting…back screaming for relief…trying not to feel intimidated by the guy on the treadmill next to me running REALLY fast…hoping he doesn’t look at my pace (or lack thereof) digitally writ LARGE in RED LIGHTS visible from the international space station…puzzled by how I let myself get to be such a blob. 

And…wondering:  “Why is it so easy to get out of shape and so hard to stay in shape?”  I have pondered this over the last several years as my waist size has expanded in direct proportion to the national debt.  It used to be that I could not comprehend a number in the trillions; now, when I shop for belts, I get it.

At each juncture during my journey into blobness, I have chastised myself for continued deterioration of physique.  I have actually sat there, on the couch, enduring Downton Abbey–my brilliant wife is a fan–I am not…how they manage to cram a 13 minute show into an hour is beyond me…and I know…this will cause some blogosphere angst…I am at peace with that)…but meanwhile, back on the couch, enduring Downton Abbey, crunching potato chips (I am more of a salty snack guy than a sweet snack guy), resting the chip bowl ON MY STOMACH, saying to myself, “You have to do something about this; it’s getting (gotten) ridiculous!”

Lately I have also endured additional, gently firm chastisement from my physician who, though not the Great Physician (but certainly a great physician), has done his best to warn me about the consequences of my lack of physical discipline.  High blood pressure, type II diabetes, back trouble, having to adjust the seat in the car so that I can barely reach the steering wheel, wondering about the weight capacity of office chairs, having the police say, “Break up that crowd!” when they see me walking down the street, etc., etc., etc.

Those of you with trim physiques and for whom this is not an issue are probably snickering at my lack of self-discipline and my pitiful penchant for chips.  Go ahead; your barely masked ridicule and disdain will never match my self-deprecation.  Not even close. [I had a friend in the military who once, in a staff meeting, chaired by the (ahem) general) meant to say “self-deprecating” but instead said, “self-defecating.”  Go ahead, take a few minutes to giggle; I still do.]

You see, it’s not that I don’t know that being a blog is unhealthy, it’s just that it’s so very easy to become a blob and so hard to deblobify myself.  And being a Christ-follower makes this doubly difficult because I am convinced that the power of God is available to me to assist me in overcoming every challenge–including blobness–to “carry [His work in me] on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).  So again I wonder, “Why is it so easy to get out of shape and so hard to stay in shape?”

“Enter through the narrow gate.  For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.  But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life and only w few find it” (Matthew 7:13,14).

Jesus is certainly speaking in the salvific sense in this excerpt from the “Talk Up On The Hill.”  But the passage seems to have wider application to all of life’s “stuff,” even for one trying to follow Jesus.  It’s just so easy to become a blob when there are so many blob enablements around.  And it’s so hard to fight the blobness when there are fewer (or at least fewer self-promoting) counters to blob enablement.  This is not excuse; it’s simply fact.

Plus, to fight the blobness as a believer, I have to walk that curious path between the “self-control” that is the product of the Spirit of God in my life (Galatians 5) and the “self-control” that is a product of a turning of my will toward the things of God (bunches of places…look them up).

You see, it’s not merely the physical blobness that is troublesome (as troublesome as that is).  It’s my spiritual blobness that is so disheartening.  I want to be a believer who is so immersed in the things of God and the purpose of the Kingdom that all of those things that enable me to “run with perseverance” are not just “things to do” but “things in which to revel.”  But instead of reveling in the disciplines that keep my body and my spirit “in shape,” I rebel against them.

And, I have to be wary of turning my anti-blob campaign (both physical and spiritual) into another self-help project (“Let’s Build Something!”).  This is tricky biblical and theological territory.  This being “all in” with Jesus, looking to cooperate with His Spirit at work in my life, and yet realizing that it is ultimately God who enables my very feeble efforts in the first place.

The Apostle Paul, summing up his latecomer apostleship, put it this way, “I worked harder than all of [his apostlemates], yet not I, but the grace of God that was in me” (1 Corinthians 15:10).

There too am I.  In my ongoing battle against the blobness within me, I throw myself onto the grace of God.  “As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be.”  I could not save myself, only Jesus could do that.  I could not even self-muster the faith to believe in the Jesus who would save me, only God could grant me that faith.  I could not “self-justify” any more than I can now “self-sanctify.”  And yet I, myself, am in it; I am an active and free moral agent with some (apparent) capacity to decide to cooperate with the Spirit of God within me.

What’s a blob to do?  Celebrate the reality of the presence and power of God.  Recognize that the “ability” to accomplish anything, is itself, a gift from Him.  Pray for the courage in every moment to open myself to His great gifts.  Be “at home” with the reality of the tensions in the Christian life.  Laugh…a lot…at my frailties and foibles.  Shake off the allure of the wide gate.  Step on the treadmill.  Pass by the chips.  Stop comparing myself to the guy running REALLY fast on the adjacent treadmill.  Thank God for each opportunity to say, “YES!” to His Spirit.  Thank Him again for forgiveness when I say, “No.”  Look for others who need some cheering on in the midst of their blobness (while resisting the temptation to call them “blobs”).  Perhaps form a chapter of “Blobs Anonymous.”  Oh, wait a minute, Jesus already did that.

“I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Matthew 16:18)

 © All rights reserved.  Scripture quotations from the NIV.

 


It’s Not Easy Being Green…

​Kermit the Frog, here.

Years ago Kermit, the only huggable frog (all others are prone to slime and hopping about), sang a song about his amphibian pigmentation problems, “It’s Not Easy Being Green.”  [This was before the word “green” had been entirely swallowed up by the environmental crowd.] 

Here are the lyrics (sung to the tune of, ummm, “It’s Not Easy Being Green”):

It’s not that easy being green,

Having to spend each day the color of the leaves.

When I think it could be nicer being red, or yellow or gold

Or something much more colorful like that.

 

It’s not easy being green;

It seems you blend in with so many ordinary things.

And people tend to pass you over ‘cause you’re

Not standing out like flashy sparkles in the water

Or stars in the sky.

 

But green’s the color of spring

And green can be cool and friendly-like

And green can be big like an ocean, or important

Like a mountain, or tall like a tree.

 

When green is all there is to be

It could make you wonder why, but why wonder why

Wonder, I am green and it’ll do fine, it’s beautiful

And I think it’s what I want to be. 

 

Kermit is humble and honest and, eventually, “at home” with being green.  Green is who he is and, even though his life lacks splash and sparkle and “standing outness,” he circles back to peaceful contentment.  It may not be easy being green for Kermit, but he wears the “ordinarity” (yes, I made up another word) of his “greenness” with poise and quiet dignity.

Oh how I wish I could be more like Kermit.  You see I wear a different green and it is decidedly not easy being so.  It is the greenness and the meanness of envy.

It is odd, in this Christian life, how easily I tumble into envy.  Greater gifts desired; larger crowds to hear; more cooperative saints to sustain; brighter lights to illuminate.  The discontent of green burrows its way deeply into my spirit and slaps leg irons on my will, crippling my capacity for service in the Kingdom, all the while pointing me toward others, more nobly and selflessly engaged in this thing called ministry. 

Envy strangles contentment; envy buries joy; envy blinds my eye to the beauty of the ordinary; envy misdirects me away from God’s plan for me and down the path of coveting His plan for another; envy derails my capacity to celebrate others’ work for the King.

Just today, in the car, en route to my “ministry central,” I was railing at God about His distribution of various things ministry.  [By the way, it is easy to rail at God in the car, as long as you are alone therein and occupants of the other cars don’t think you’re railing at them.]  I know I disappoint Him; I disappoint me.

Shakespeare, in Antony and Cleopatra, branded envy the “green sickness” and it is just that–a cancer, if you will, corrupting my “spirit cells” with its rapid advance and willy-nilly ravaging of my spirit’s health…taking no prisoners and offering no benignity.  Envy is pernicious and pervasive; it simultaneously winds me up and wears me out.

I’ve written before about John the Baptist and his capacity to diminish himself and point people to Jesus (John 3:30).  I have that all backwards.  I think, if I am honest (“TBH” in social media speak), I want Jesus to point people to me and have them fawn in awe and wonder.  Sigh…“What a wretched man I am.”

“Envy slays the simple” (Job 5); “envy rots the bones” (Proverbs 14); “envy…defiles” (Mark 7).  Yep, it does.

I have to see, somehow, that God’s call on my life is not to be better than somebody else (or be someone else), but to be the best “me” as He empowers and enables.  This is not a Lowe’s, “Let’s Build Something,” self-help campaign (as much as I would like it to be).  No, this has to be an Apostle Paul type effort:  a “working harder…yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me (1 Corinthians 15:10) acknowledgement that only He can slay the green dragon within me. 

Create in me a pure heart, O God,
    and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
    or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
    and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me (Psalm 51:10-12).

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


The “Not So New Math” or When Does $29 Equal $1340?

Confession:  I am not a math whiz…adding and subtracting, simple multiplication and division; those operations pretty much exhaust my math skills.  I figure (get it? “figure”?) that, if God had wanted me to be a math whiz, He would not have overseen the creation of the MyScript Calculator app for my phone.  And, calculus?  Math with no numbers?  Why oh why oh why?

But, I am also not an idiot.  Stop:  put those hands down; I know you want to object to my self-descriptor, but you cannot.  Unless, of course, you post a comment; then I suppose you can…object…that is. 

So I was mildly (only mildly; I’ll unpack that momentarily) surprised when we were at the auto dealership last night.  My car’s lease had come up and it was time to make the dreaded decisions: purchase or lease; new or used; same make and model or different.  Some people love car shopping.  I rank car shopping down there with root canals (with or without Novocain) and expressing the slime from a MRSA infection.  [Yes, I know that was a gross mental image, but it’s truly how I feel about car shopping.] 

Meanwhile…back at the car dealership.  A nice chap (The Cheerful Car Chap or CCC) was very happy to see us when we arrived.  He held the door for us as we entered the showroom (partially to escape the ridiculous cold).  [On another note:  Polar Vortex, go back to the Pole or Poland, or wherever you came from; I’m done with the subzero wind chill.]  He asked us why we were there and that’s when I produced the ad his dealership friends had so kindly emailed:  the ad for a $29 lease!  I figured I could afford a $29 lease.  The CCC inquired as to our car preference. 

I shared with him that we were looking for something a little bigger than we’d had.  The compact I had driven for three years had been great: terrific gas mileage coupled with car doors that locked and unlocked electronically (that last bit is an entirely other story); that car had gotten me around town and up and down the East Coast. 

But it was a small car and I have, ahem, “girthed up” somewhat over the last few years. [Comments about my increased girth are not welcome and will be ignored.]  So I was looking for something with more ease of ingress and egress.  The CCC took us on a test run in a larger car and it seemed to be just the thing.  The CCC showed us the various available colors and we picked one:  blue (the lighter blue because the dark blue looks kind of purple in the dark under street lights; I know this because my friend has one and I had teased him about it.  Purple is fine for many people; just not me). 

We then sat down with The CCC to “do the deal.”  That’s when came the “math surprise.”  It wasn’t a complete surprise (as I mentioned earlier).  Unfortunately I have come to expect “car dealership surprises” packed into the fine print or hidden behind some obscure link on some not so crystal clear web site. 

The “fine print” (in this case) meant that $29 was just the beginning of the math problem.  To the $29, it seems, one must add:  the first month’s lease payment, dealer prep charges, documentation fees, taxes, tips, licenses, bonuses, flea dusting charges (threw that last one in there to see if you were paying attention), etc.  Final tally:  $1340 NOT $29. 

Since I had been half expecting additional fees and the final amount was in the price range we had anticipated, we went ahead and closed the deal.  My girthness now girths itself in a roomier ride. 

But the auto dealership is not the only place where very little can mean much, much more. 

When we come to the place where we recognize our need for Jesus Christ, we realize that we have very, very little to offer: broken and sin-scarred souls and a spiritual pauper’s faith (not even $29 worth, really…and…it turns out that the $29 we thought we gave Him, had itself been a gift).  He takes our $29 then does some Not So New Math:  grace “operations” that have been performed since eternity by a loving, Heavenly Father:  He turns our measly $29 into ever much more. 

Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know” (Jeremiah 33:3).

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every familyin heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:14-19).

Not bad…our meagerness being turned by God into a life that is much, much more than we dreamed possible:  wider, longer, higher, deeper.  Not bad at all for $29.

I think I’ll hoist my girth into the new car and go for a ride. 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 


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