Tag Archives: obedience

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.


Learning to Count

2-plus-2

2 + 2 = ??

You know the answer to that math puzzle, don’t you? And yet you hesitate because you fear there is some bloggish mystery about the equation that will result in a case of the chagrins if you blurt a wrong answer. You’re still holding back, aren’t you? Even though you are alone, in front of your computer or tablet and there is NO ONE watching. You are afraid; you are very afraid. Hey! It’ll be OK…give it a whirl…

So, 2 + 2 = ??

2 + 2 = 4 (Tada!)

You knew the answer all along because you mastered basic math skills back when you were a wee lass or lad. Simple operations, like addition, came right after the primary math skill: counting.

Crawling, walking, talking, household pet aggravation, accurate aim in toileting (at least for boys), reading, writing, arithmetic…these are some of the skills people aspire to acquire as they grow up. These are also some of the skills that we hope our progeny develop as they grow up. And the last one, in particular, is a skill Christians need to master as we grow up.

We want kids to learn to count; God wants His kids to learn to count too. Why is that? Because Christianity is not all “get”; there is a great deal of “give.” Now, let me quickly add (Ha! Get it? Add?) that this is not a “give” to earn or buy but a “give” that is a response to the lavish love of God.

How do we know this is true? Why, the Bible. Jesus, in cautioning a burgeoning yet perhaps uninformed enthusiasm in Luke 14: 25-33, tries to make sure that His followers “get it”–that is, that they “get” that counting is a key element in Christ following.

In that Luke passage, Jesus cautions the crowds to beware that family connections might become casualties if those in the crowd choose Him. He cautions the crowds that their very lives might be forfeit if they choose to follow Him. Count, He says! For the sake of it all, count!

Jesus points to construction contractors who count to make sure they have the resources in place to finish their projects. In similar fashion, Jesus says, governmental leaders, intent on warfare, do their “battle damage estimates” before firing the first shot.

This counting is not, I believe, a call to hesitation–a discipleship “speed bump” if you will–it is rather a call to “eyes wide open” discipleship. Knowing that following Jesus has some associated risk makes for more determined disciples. This is not a “Wow, that’s going to cost way too much so I’m going to back off,” message. This is a “Wow, this is important enough to mean something,” message.

A hundred years ago Eleanor Porter wrote a book about how a cheerful girl changed the outlook of an entire town with her indefatigable optimism. In 1960, Walt Disney (ever the marketer of good feelings) made the novel into a film starring a teenaged Haley Mills. The book and movie: Pollyanna. By sheer force of cheer, Pollyanna rescues a town, a church, and her family from a distasteful tendency toward the dour. The film paved the way for a label that came to mean a disingenuous cheerfulness: Pollyannaism.

That label, unfortunately, describes many in the believing community. It is talked about as a matter of faith: “just believe” and, to be sure, there is the highly commended, scriptural faith essential. And…if we have to lean…we should undoubtedly lean in the faith direction.

But there is also this call to count…and I think it’s a call often ignored in the Christian community. Again, not the counting to avoid, but the counting to proceed with determination down the path Jesus has marked for us.

Friends may indeed abandon; family may wince and walk away; treasure may be given over; reputations may be tattered; lives may be surrendered. All of them happily ceded as a result of this very basic math skill: counting.

I believe Jesus wants His followers to have eyes wide open. If our eyes are not wide open, they cannot see the cost of the following. But neither can they see the joy of the following. This is a joy in the same “joy family” as Jesus’ “joy set before Him” in Hebrews 12:2. This joy came as a result of enduring the excruciating challenge of the cross and finding joy on the other side of a hard obedience. Our joy can come in a similar way; it can come on the other side of “eyes wide open” discipleship as we count the cost of following Him.

This joy is not mere relief that the endurance test has passed; it is the incomprehensible delight at the things that God has prepared for those who love Him (1 Corinthians 2:9). Eyes wide open indeed.

© 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.

 


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