Tag Archives: self-help

Winnebangos and Other Self-Help Projects

Americans love self-help projects. Take the time to browse any bookstore (if you can find one) or tiptoe through Amazon.com and you’ll see hundreds of titles: everything from How to Build and Furnish a Log Cabin to Be Your Own Chimney Sweep. The aisles of local building supply stores are filled with weekend plumbers, carpenters, and electricians. “Home Improvement” was, in its day (I know, last century) a popular TV show, not only because it was funny, but because millions of Americans resonate with the heartbeat of the “do-it-yourself’ kind of guy that Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor represented.

These days, the self-helpers troll HGTV and Pinterest for the latest ideas. (Just a note–contrary to what you may have heard, I do not call “Pinterest,” “Dispinterest”–much.)

Many of you have probably had your own share of do-it-yourself triumphs. Years ago, I acquired a 25-year-old Winnebago. Why I bought it is another story but buy it I did. I took it on a 2,500-mile, round-trip to visit my parents who were then living in Brownsville, Texas.

I thought the Winnebago looked and felt sturdy. My first clue to the contrary should have been when I pulled into a gas station and the guy filling up the Mercedes in the next lane actually fell over laughing. He was still laughing when I pulled out of the gas station. He’s probably still there–paralyzed by the visual of that ancient RV.

Anyway, along the way on the trip to Brownsville, everything in the Winnebago that could break, did–some things broke several times. And–with each new breakdown–I (surprised and shocked and surprised) discovered a hidden aptitude for things mechanical. You see, my typical mechanical question is, “I wonder when the dealership opens?” But, along with the frustrations associated with breaking down, I managed to fix some stuff–all on my own.

But, there come in many endeavors a kind of “Dagwood” (of Blondie cartoon fame–thank you Chic and Dean Young) moment. You know the moment: would be-do-it-yourselfers find themselves at the end of their do-it-yourself capacity. In Dagwood’s case, it’s the moment when he reluctantly allows Blondie to call in the professional plumber, carpenter, electrician, etc.

In the case of the “Winnebango” as I, ummm, “affectionately” began to call the RV, the moment came while I was underneath the thing fixing a broken tailpipe. It was then I noticed that the right rear axle seal was gushing fluid. At that moment I knew I needed someone with skill and expertise far beyond my own. Doing it myself wouldn’t do.

Life is like that. We cruise (or bump) along, thinking that things are pretty well under our control. And, in those times when we do encounter difficulty, our first response is the classically American one: “I can fix this myself.”

But the Dagwood moments are out there for all of us. Moments when we stare at the  ceiling in the middle of the night or become oblivious to the beauty and blessings that surround us; moment when our souls just cannot rest; moments when we know that we have encountered something we cannot do, fix, or solve ourselves.

Those moments, when they come, force us to face the ultimate do-it-yourself dilemma. The Bible says that meaningful existence is found in relationship with the person of Jesus Christ. He said, “I have come that they might have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10).

He also said, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Hard words, words that run counter to our do-it-yourself notions, but words that reflect a truth we feel in our gut: some things require an expert’s attention.

And, who better to fix us than the God who created us and who desires to have eternal relationship with us? The reality is that the human existence is not a do-it-yourself proposition; it is a Do-It-Himself proposition.

I can remember the initial despair I felt when I looked over at the Winnebango axle and saw the growing and meandering pool of axle fluid. I can also remember the relief I felt when I realized that there were mechanical resources nearby to fix my problem.

You may be in a moment of despair generated by a host of challenges that you think are mental, emotional, relational, physical, or spiritual do-it-yourself jobs. The reality is that, in Christ, you can find the expert help you need–if you will acknowledge that your life is, ultimately, a Do-It-Himself job.

I think we should all carefully consider our do-it-yourself tendencies and embrace the care and attention of God in the person of His son, Jesus Christ. Things really do get better when we let the experts attend to their field of expertise.

You are God’s workmanship–the wonderful product of His creative ability. Won’t you let Him Do-It-Himself in the difficulties of your life?

© 2018. All Scripture references are from the New International Version.

 


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.


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.


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