Tag Archives: Paul

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.


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.


One “Aw Sh**” — Sin and Grace in the Christian Community

I know that I am a sinner.  I have often thought in recent years of a theology lecture I heard in seminary.  The professor was dealing with the notion of “sinless perfection.”  He was in his late 60s and, during the course of his lecture, he paused in a personally poignant moment to say, “The longer I am alive, the more aware I am of my sin.”

I know that I am a sinner.  I resonate with the words of the Apostle Paul who called himself “the chief of sinners.”  I listen with intensity to Romans 7:14-25, echoing Paul’s sentiment in verse 24, “What a wretched man I am!”  In concert with the Reformed theologians I admire, I know that all the decisions I make and all the actions I undertake are tainted by my sin nature and frequently directed by my “own evil desires” (James 1:14).  Trust me:  I know that I am a sinner.

So, when I stumble in major ways, I am never completely surprised.  Of course the word “stumble” might seem an attempt to soften the impact of one’s sinful missteps.  Perhaps so.  But I think that many of us, much of the time, are limping along through life anyway.  Stumbling is what we do–sometimes others see it; oft times they don’t.

Unfortunately, in the aftermath of any particular stumble, a “stumbler” can feel like the embodiment of an expression I encountered years before while in the Air Force.  And it demonstrates, I think, how far short the Christian community can fall from the biblical mark with respect to treatment of those who stumble.

The expression in question goes something like this:  “One Aw Sh** wipes out a thousand Atta Boys.”  Former military readers will immediately understand.  For others, let me explain.

The military is a place that is intentional about the recognition of jobs well done.  But it is also an institution that has few tangible ways to reward folks when they do well.  You can’t give raises or bonuses; you can’t immediately promote people; you can’t even excuse them from facing hostile fire the next day.  What you can do is pause during the action long enough to say, “Well done!  Good job!  Thanks for serving your nation so faithfully!”  When I was in the military we called those kinds of expressions “Atta Boys” (Yes, women are also recipients, “Atta Girl!”) “Atta Boys” come in several varieties (medals, letters, etc.), but they are key instruments of reward and recognition in any commander’s leadership tool kit.

However “Atta Boys” have an evil big brother:  The “Aw Sh**.”  The “Aw Sh**” is often a knee-jerk response to some gross error in judgment on the part of the offending military member.  The power of the “Aw Sh**” is overwhelming.  If an “Atta Boy” is a shiny package, dressed with a bow on Christmas morning, then the “Aw Sh**” is September 11th–towering careers simply collapse.  I grant that the stakes are unusually high in the military, but I have seen one “Aw Sh**” take down officers in the middle of stellar careers, people who had accumulated a mountain of “Atta Boys” over the course of decades of service to their nation.

Now, what does this have to do with sinful stumbles in the Body of Christ?  This: everything a person has been or striven to be as a Christian can easily be swallowed up in one “Aw Sh**.”  I know the biblical standards for church leaders and the heavy investment in character the Scriptures mandate; I am not diminishing any of that.  What I am saying is that, particularly in moments of crisis, when church leaders are struggling with appropriate responses to failure, we must take the whole person into account.  Otherwise we may discard people as if they are so much septic tank toxic waste.

Jesus was heavily invested in the recycling business, but some reflective observation leads me to believe that church leaders often quickly bypass the recycle bin and head straight to the dumpster.  It is sometimes the case that an entire body of work, life, and ministry is compressed so tightly as to be seen through the lens of one episode of failure.

I believe that grace is “sloppy.”  The legalists own the bright lines in the sand and the sharp-edged shades of black and white.  Agents of grace, those who carry the name of Christ, and who believe that His model in dealing with sinners was gentle restoration, often color in more nuanced shades and move with less clear lines drawn in the sand.  Look with me at a few episodes from Jesus’ ministry.

I think one of my favorites is John 21:15-25.  Peter, the leader of the “remedial boys,” had committed the seemingly transcendent sin:  at a key moment in Jesus’ journey toward the cross, Peter had looked over at Jesus and said, “I don’t know the man!”  Surely Peter’s action is a contender for the unpardonable sin.  Jesus:  Messiah, Lord, Master, Teacher, Healer, Miracle Worker, The Son of the Living God (by Peter’s own confession), had been denied.  How much worse can it get?  All the sins packed into all the sin lists in Scripture seemingly fade away into nothingness in the face of this monstrous thing.

And yet, post-Resurrection, when Jesus encounters Peter on the Sea of Galilee shore, He deals with Peter in a supremely gracious way.  Jesus uses simple math (one statement of love to match each statement of denial) to restore Peter to first among equals within the gang of (then) eleven.  Peter was so deeply moved he said something goofy–again (see verse 21).  I think this passage has transfixed everyone who has carefully read it.  It particularly stirs my heart because of the spiritual and emotional distance Jesus traveled to restore Peter, the fallen leader.

A second favorite episode involves the little tree climber, Zacchaeus.  Zacchaeus was not a leader among Jesus’ followers.  He was a notorious “sinner”–a “chief” tax collector no less, one of those men responsible for the weight of fiscal oppression felt by the populace of Galilee and Judea.  Zacchaeus was short in stature and short on character.  But he had heard that Jesus was coming and wanted to see Him.  We don’t know what Zacchaeus had heard about Jesus or what Zacchaeus thought of what he had heard; we just know that he wanted to see Jesus.  So Zacchaeus climbed a tree to secure a better view of Jesus.  Jesus spotted Zacchaeus among the tree branches and said that He wanted to go to Zacchaeus’s house.  Of course this caused the crowd to grumble; they knew Zacchaeus and they wondered why Jesus would want to hang out with such a dishonored man.

Yet Jesus did want to hang out with this particular sinner.  And, because Jesus chose to join Zacchaeus in his home, sometime during the course of that visit, Zacchaeus mended his ways and decided to make restitution to those he had cheated.  All this occurred without Jesus having done anything more than being a house guest.  Merely being in the presence of Jesus was enough to restore Zacchaeus to wholeness and “spur him on toward good deeds.”

I think the culminating episode is the account of the woman caught in the very act of adultery (John 8:1-11).  This pericope is not well attested in early Greek manuscripts.  But something about it demands its continued inclusion in English Bible translations.  The elements of the episode resonate with everything we know about Jesus and His compassion and His grace.  Many questions surround this story:  How did it come to be that she was caught?  Was she set up as a test case for Jesus?  Where’s the guy with whom she must have been caught?  Was that guy in collusion with those who wanted to test Jesus?  Was there no one in the crowd who felt any mercy toward her besides Jesus?

We don’t have the answers to those questions.  What we do have is Jesus dealing with a horrific situation in a way that transcends the legalistic impulses of that day and time.  Because, on one level, the legalists were right–this woman’s offense demanded the Mosaic death penalty.  That is perhaps the most dangerous part of legalism:  on one level, legalists are often right.  But Jesus doesn’t operate on the level of “I’m right; you’re wrong” or self-righteousness.  He operates at the level of genuine righteousness.  And His genuine righteousness is always fully flavored by grace.  After Jesus challenges those in the crowd to assess their capacity to throw the “first stone,” He looks at the woman and says she is not the object of His condemnation; she is the object of His forgiveness.  He challenges her to live rightly and He restores her–right there; right then.

Those episodes from the Gospels are typical of Jesus and several things strike me about the way He dealt with those who stumbled.  The most significant is that Jesus was never in the “Aw Sh**” business.  No one failure, indeed no pattern of failure, was large enough to eliminate people from life with Him or even leadership in the Kingdom.  Peter was not left in the throes of his betrayal, consigned to some structured rehabilitation period; he was fully, completely, and immediately restored to his leadership role.  Zacchaeus had his eternal inclusion in the Abrahamic heritage emphasized for the doubters in the crowd.  And the woman caught in adultery heard those most precious words from Jesus, “neither do I condemn you.”

The second thing that strikes me is that Jesus had total awareness of the nuances of each and every situation.  Of course, He’s Jesus and, being fully human and fully divine, He had thoroughgoing information about the hearts and minds of people.  When Jesus made judgments, and He made many, He made them in that fullness of understanding.  Church leaders will never have that complete understanding of the behavioral particulars, emotional dynamics, and spiritual complexities of situations of sinful failure.

The third thing that strikes me about how Jesus dealt with the failures of those around Him is that He didn’t have to worry about Paul’s caution in Galatians 6:1.  There, Paul reminds his readers, “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit (NIV, “you who are spiritual”) should restore that person gently.”

Since those charged with church leadership are not Jesus, I have five suggestions for those of us who act in His name on behalf of His Church.

My first suggestion flows from James 1:19.  Especially when dealing with life altering consequences and the potential for shattered lives, leaders must be “quick to listen; slow to speak; slow to become angry.”  In the middle of what appears to be (and may likely be) gross failure, leaders must understand, as best we can, exactly what has transpired.  That need for understanding demands extraordinary listening, careful investigation, and avoidance of rushes to conclusions or penalties.  We are, I think (at least I know I often am), too quick to assess a situation and draw conclusions.  I think that my ministry experience tends toward rapid diagnosis and response.  I am usually wrong–or at least incomplete–with both.  Each case is unique and demands meticulous attention.  We need to listen; we must resist the temptation to speak too quickly.  We need to not think of people as their “category of failure” and think of them as, well, people.  This need to “cruise” in a lower gear is a factor in the next suggestion as well.

My second suggestion is simple, yet close to impossible:  we need to ensure that we are “spiritual” in the Galatians 6 sense.  Jesus didn’t have this problem, but contemporary church leaders surely do.  Certainly the Bible is full of admonitions about sinful patterns of behavior, prescriptions for leadership responsibilities, and outlines of restoration processes.  But what I want to know is:  Where are “those who are spiritual?”  Because they are the only ones commissioned as agents of graceful restoration.

Looking back over the course of my ministry, I’m convinced that I haven’t really met many “spiritual” people capable of this restorative task.  Perhaps I have been hanging out with the wrong crowd.  I have met many who thought they were “spiritual” and I have participated in leadership meetings where we all thought we were.  But I am not sure many (maybe any) of us were.  And–I would be so bold as to say that if we think we are spiritual, we are probably not.  For myself, I am convinced that I was rarely among “those who are spiritual” when I was attempting restorative stewardship of the flocks assigned to my care.

I am not completely certain as to a conclusion about this business of spirituality.  Fallen, sinful, stumbling church leaders do, indeed, have this task of reconciliation and restoration.  I suppose I would simply flash a giant, yellow caution light in front of all who undertake this task.  Slow is the way to go.

Third:  We must realize that we can never have all the information we need to make the kinds of weighty judgments we will be making.  Omniscience is a non-communicable attribute of deity.  We cannot and we do not know all things.  Therefore we must be more tentative, less dogmatic, and more graceful in the application of consequences based on our assessments.  We must choose our words carefully, knowing that they have immense power to further wound the already wounded.

Fourth:  We need to ask, “How does this fit with the rest of what I know about this person?”  In order to avoid an “Aw Sh**” situation, we must carefully put anyone’s failure in the larger context of their whole person, refusing to simply see the last thing (particularly if it’s a failure) as the totality of truth about that person.  It simply cannot be the case (most of the time) that an accumulated lifetime of service is so fragile as to be destroyed in a single instance of failure (*Please see Postscript below).  And, as leaders, we need the maturity to see past immediate circumstances in order to bring to bear our wider understanding of the lives we hold in our hands and the issues with which we wrestle.

Finally, I think we must err on the side of inclusion rather than exclusion, involvement rather than disconnection.  There are places in the Scriptures (e.g., 1 Corinthians 5:1-5) where a period of exclusion from fellowship is discussed as a means of restoration.  Two things seem to be true about this practice.  The first is that we mere humans inevitably get this wrong.  If the subsequent reference in 2 Corinthians 2:5-8 is to the same person discussed in 1 Corinthians 5, the Corinthian church had let the whole thing go on way too long.

The other issue connected to exclusion is that I believe we often seriously misinterpret Jesus’ own words about the restoration process.  Jesus’ prescription for restoration does not, I believe, involve exclusion.  Matthew 18:17 is not, I contend, about excommunication or shunning or other exclusionary tactics.  It is exactly what it says:  a call to treat those who persist in stumbling the way Jesus treated Peter, Zacchaeus, and the unnamed woman–with grace and mercy and an invitation to Christ’s own presence.

I spoke earlier of “sloppy grace.”  What does sloppy grace look like?  As in all things Christian, I think it simply looks like Jesus; no condemnation (except, perhaps, for the legalists), gentle restoration, the realization that Jesus’ mere presence would be enough to spur folks on toward good deeds (Zacchaeus).  The cure for all things that ail stumbling believers is more time in His presence.  Jesus will help us kill our “Aw Sh**” tendencies and He will help prevent our discard of precious Kingdom citizens, but only if we watch Him in action and take our cues from His approach to people who stumble.

[*Postscript–Caveat & Alert:  There are particularly egregious failures (child sexual abuse as an example) that require: immediate removal of the person from any situation in which they can inflict further harm, a root level analysis of any person’s future leadership potential, extended periods of rehabilitation, and great caution so as to not create other opportunities for those who fail to wound additional innocents.  But even those failures, I believe, require an intentionality and purposefulness about restoration to some expression of Christian fellowship (not necessarily leadership) modeled after Jesus’ dealing with the failures around Him.]

 


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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