Monday, September 8, 2014

Love Your Neighbor

We had a little adventure the other week where two (or three) stories collided:

Story 1: We live in a neighborhood with 100's of homes, and have been trying to be a little more assertive meeting and getting to know our neighbors. It's hard because most of the time we are home, we are exhausted and interested in quiet, uninterrupted family time. None-the-less, we believe that we should have an impact in our neighborhood and that we should tangibly "love" our neighbors. There's a particular house on the next street over that I have taken note of for years. Perhaps it's strange, but I know who the woman is who lives there - I've seen her family members (people I know) coming and going and have put two and two together. I've also observed her as I've driven by the past several years - her bumper stickers, her aesthetic tastes - and thought, "she seems like a phenomenally interesting person, and I should totally stop and introduce myself to her". But I've kept walking, or running, or driving by, and I still had not met her. One recent Tuesday, I was out to lunch with some co-workers and there she was - at least I was 95% sure it was her. We made eye contact, and I did the "do you recognize me?" eye-brow lift. She clearly did not, so I didn't risk embarrassing myself making an introduction in case it wasn't her.

Story 2: That same Tuesday, after a long day at work and a short dinner break at home, I was preparing for a wedding-planning meeting with a couple who I had been counseling. They were scheduled to arrive at our home in about 10 minutes. As I relaxed upstairs for a few minutes, casually perusing the daily Facebook fodder, I noticed it was National Dog Day or something similarly ridiculous. I thought, I'll join the mayhem and posted a lovely post about my pup, Prada. I stated that she was a wonderful dog, hardly causing any trouble for anyone as she spends a good 22 hours a day sleeping! In a hilarious twist of irony, at the same moment my post was arriving on the world wide web, my dog was running out our front door, as the couple arrived. We live in a "must have leash" homeowners association, so our dog doesn't know what to do if she's not on a leash...and she split! No looking back! She just followed her nose and was off on her joy run!

We checked the houses she typically visits when she runs away, but saw no signs of her, so with great shame, I hopped in my car and started the awkward creeper drive around the 'hood to look for signs of her. Fast-forward. I was making my second loop and returning to my home, dogless and unsure of what to do. As I crested the hill, there she was, on a leash, held by none other than the neighbor I mentioned in Story 1. I couldn't believe it. I stopped my car and the further-awkwardness ensued.

First, I introduced myself and said, "this may sound terribly odd, but I think we ate lunch at the same restaurant today...and also, I know who you are...and also, I've been wanting to meet you for several years!" She laughed (thankfully) and I further explained my comments. After that brief exchange, she explained to me how my dog ended up on her leash. It turns out that she is a self-proclaimed cat lady. She takes care of making sure the lingering neighborhood felines are fixed and fed. Her elderly mother lives with her, and she had just explained to her mother that she was going to go let one of the cats in the house. As she opened the door, MY DOG ran in their house instead, still following her nose and heading straight for the dish of cat food, which she quickly inhaled. The mother said "well that's not a cat"!

We ended up connecting on Facebook after the entire incident, where my new acquaintance gave me her contact information and suggested that we meet at that restaurant for lunch sometime. I think I'll arrange that very soon!

As I re-tell the stories, I can't help but laugh. But I am also reminded of my need to be more pro-active in getting to know the people I come in contact with on a daily basis. If I say I believe Jesus is who he says he is (and I do), then I MUST - as a primary priority - care about every person around me. "Saving" them is not my responsibility. Loving them is. I need to be better about reaching out a friendly hand. Or maybe I just need to let my dog loose more often...

What about you: Who do you "pass by" every day? Do you need to stop and introduce yourself? Do you realize that any/every interaction you have with someone may be their only exposure to God - as He shines through you? How do you show that you prioritize the commands and example of Jesus to love your neighbor? Your brothers and sisters in Christ? Your enemies?

Sunday, August 31, 2014

What's that smell?

On Fridays and Saturdays, I head out to a old railway-bed-turned-running-trail to "run". It's my treat to run there on the shaded, flat, peaceful trail compared to dodging school buses and angry morning school traffic around our hilly neighborhood the rest of the week. Because I'm not much of a runner, but merely a "runner", I become quite the heavy breather at times. I'm always a little embarrassed when I pass someone I know on the trail because instead of smoothly saying hello it usually comes out like more of a cough or spit as I gasp for breath. Okay, I'm not that bad. But I do breath heavy enough through all orifices that take in air to notice many distinct smells.

Muggy days are especially interesting. In addition to the freshly cut tobacco in the field next to the trail, and the freshly paved parking lot at the adjacent sports facility, you can smell the baking "road apples" from the horses who walk the trail, as well as the cows chilling in the field along another section. There are distinct smells in distinct locations. The worst is a chicken barn after crossing the first roadway. That's the section where your drive is tested as each breath of putrid fowl-ness (get it?) seems to steal more oxygen.

One very strange thing I have noticed, however, is how pleasant most of the people I pass smell. Strange, right? I don't know if people perfume up before they run, or if they have some Old Spice body wash action going on, but you inevitably get that windy waft when you pass them by. And when you're huffing like me, you can't avoid a whiff. Today I wondered how awful the whiff I'm wafting must be...maybe that's why people shower before they run...common courtesy?

It got me thinking about the aroma that I'm wafting in a spiritual sense. The word aroma appears a lot in the Old Testament, typically connected to the system of sacrifices that produced an aroma pleasing to the Lord. Things change with the New Covenant as Christ fulfilled the Law and instead of the system of animal sacrifices, we instead become living sacrifices (Romans 12:1-2). Instead of burnt animals, vegetables, or grain, our lives should produce an aroma; an aroma that is pleasing to the Lord, and an aroma that captures the attentions of others breathing in the air around us (2 Corinthians 2:14-16).

What are you wafting? What whiff are those around you getting? Is your life producing an aroma that is pleasing to the Lord? Are people blessed by the aroma your life is producing, or are they gasping for air and wishing they had taken a different route around you?

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Get it RIGHT!

Tomorrow, the mechanical tech will visit for the third time - maybe THIS time he'll get it right and fix our air conditioning. I still haven't figured out why I'm responsible to pay for something that he has yet to actually fix.

As I wait for the cool evening air to replace the stagnant, sticky air of the day, I can't help but recognize the first-worldness of my discomfort. How quickly I can complain about a lost luxury, forgetting that it's just that. A luxury.

I know people personally - I have friends who aren't confident they will be able to feed their children tomorrow; who are praying that they won't get sick because they have no access to healthcare; who will spend a massive amount of energy to retrieve a tiny bit of fresh water miles from home today. But I'm feeling 'hot'! Poor me!

I don't know why God chose my birth place, but I know that there is a great responsibility that comes with the bounty of these circumstances. It's not my place to determine anyone else's convictions, but I'm trying to live more simply, to be more aware of the plight of the poor and destitute in my community and in the world, and to give and serve in ways that help them. I guess I'm saying that I'm thankful for the occasional discomfort.

What about you? What's your latest complaint? A lost luxury? Or something a little more "relevant"? How's your gratitude? What are you doing with your bounty? Should you give up something today to help someone else?

Philippians 2:14 - "Don't grumble...ever" (DK version)

Friday, September 7, 2012

What You Need, When You Need It

I had two random, but similar experiences the other day.

I had a particularly busy and stressful morning and early afternoon. Upon returning to my office from a meeting, I decided that a cup of coffee would really help me stay motivated for the many hours of work that were still in front of me. Typically, this requires a walk to the office kitchen, and about 10 minutes to prepare and brew a pot. To my great surprise, as I walked into the kitchen, there were two giant carafes filled with piping hot coffee from an event earlier in the day! I thought, "this is great, the coffee is already made"! And then it dawned on me, that I would have to walk ALL THE WAY back to my office to grab my mug (pathetically, it's only about a 30 yard trip...but I was REALLY tired...or something). But as I turned around I saw one of my mugs in the drying rack right next to the kitchen sink! This is highly unusual, as I typically do not leave my mugs in the kitchen. I still don't remember when or why I left it there, but I was thankful I did. So, in a matter of seconds, I had a great cup of coffee.

Later that same evening, I was feeling the need for some more liquid encouragement. (This particular day was a 14-hour work day). I took my exact change ($1.25) to the vending machine - another 30-yard trip from my office. I carefully put my dollar in the machine and looked at the selection before me, trying to decide which beverage would be my victim. But as I looked, I realized that the price had been changed. Drinks were now $1.35!!! Again, in great frustration, I tried to decide if it was even worth the trip back to my office for the additional dime, or if I should just give up on the drink. I pushed the "return" button to get my dollar back out of the machine. It spit out four quarters, and as I reached into the slot to pull them out, I found in addition to those four quarters, a dime! Perhaps it's bad theology, but I think God wanted me to have that soda!

I probably would have thought nothing of these two random occurrences, except that they happened in the same day, only a few hours apart. It got me thinking about God's promises to provide for our needs, all the time. Sometimes it seems impossible that He will provide. Sometimes He keeps us waiting until the last minute. Sometimes He provides differently than we had expected. But He ALWAYS provides what we need. The money for that bill. That vehicle that keeps on running though every mechanic says it shouldn't. A child, through different means than you planned. The right word from the right person. The perfectly timed card or verse of Scripture. There's no doubt: His love for us is clearly demonstrated in His provision of every need.
Philippians 4:19
And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.

As a Matter of Chat:

How has God provided for you? Why do you suppose we so easily run from the opportunity to express faith in His timing and provision? Why do we try to insure and ensure so much - and eliminate our need to trust God to provide, when He has promised to do so - and made good on His promise? Why are we so impatient? How have you shown gratitude to God for providing for you - even for the small things?

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Enemy's Brilliant Plan

Someone recently told me of an "addiction" they have. They wanted help from me. As I've processed the situation a bit, I have wondered how this person knows it's an addiction. I did some reading recently that suggested that we often call things addictions prematurely. I'm not trained or experienced enough to know the proper definitions...but I have noticed something.

A lot of people I know (cough, cough, myself included, cough, cough) have a tendency to focus more on the specific sin issues that we struggle with, than on getting to know the One who has provided victory over sin for those who place their faith in Him. I'm not suggesting that we shouldn't pursue holiness and address the temptations and failures in our lives. However, we have to be careful that we don't spend so much time focusing on these "particular" sin issues that they become an idol. The battle against these weak points needs to be accompanied by a holistic approach to sanctification and holiness.

Here are a few ways I've seen this play out.

Accountability - If people who are holding me accountable are always asking me about whether I "did" or "didn't do" something, rather than asking me about the real state of my relationship with God, my life becomes about religious duty. Sure, some of the do's and dont's are good indicators, but the push has got to be for me to fix my eyes on Jesus - not just to do or not do. I can read my Bible, "not" sin in my particular areas of weakness, and pray, and still have a non-existent relationship with God.

Focus - I've also noticed how quickly we can focus on one particular sin issue in our lives to the point that we let our guard down in other areas. The person to whom I referred earlier - if this person is stuck focusing ONLY on his/her particular sin issue, they leave themselves vulnerable for attack in other areas. This is why I'm concerned about a premature title of "addiction". I've experienced the same in my own life - where you get to the end of a day and are praising God that you succeeded in one particular area that is a constant struggle, but suddenly realize that in your amazing, super-human, almost Godlike focus on succeeding in your fight against it, you have fallen short in many others.

If my attempts to become free from sin that enslaves are not properly focused, I can become a slave to a false gospel - one that depends on me, rather than the one who has already given me victory in His name!

I need to continue to fix my eyes on Jesus. Thankfully, God's grace is sufficient!

As a matter of chat...

Can you relate to this at all? Have you ever experienced it? Why is it so easy for us to lose focus? Are there areas where a "seemingly good" focus has actually distracted you from what really matters to God? Is it fair to say that we can be "too focused" on defeating a sin area in our life?

Thursday, July 12, 2012

I "Pray" That...

"God, I pray that..."

What does that mean?

For me, that phrase actually represents a lack of faith. In Jesus' example of prayer it was pretty clear what He was praying for. For example:

- Holy is your name..
- Your kingdom come...
- Give us...
- Forgive we forgive
- Lead us not...but deliver us

Do you see what I mean? There is not wishy-washy language. He's talking to his Father, telling Him things directly, and asking Him things pretty bluntly.

Maybe it's like this:

"God, 'I pray that' you would help me not to sin."


"God, forbid me from sinning."

I can't judge anyone's heart or prayers, but the first one (something similar to what I often pray) could be translated "God, I'm probably going to screw up big time today, and to be honest, it's not that big a deal to me. Maybe you could help me out by making life a little easier - or by making this whole "Christian" walk a little more attractive and a little less difficult".

If I'm at a place where I'm praying the second one, I'm likely at a place where I'm saying: "God, I recognize who you are, and I recognize who I am in light of your saving grace. Do whatever it takes to keep me on the paths of righteousness that you've called me to. I'm committed to obeying you no matter what the cost. Help me."

Maybe my prayers need to be a little more direct - need a little more conviction. Maybe, I need to record my prayers and listen to the other bad habits I've fallen into.

What does "bless this food to my body" mean anyway? Probably not worth praying over a Whopper and fries...

As a matter of chat...

Are you missing out on God's blessing because you're not really asking for much, in faith? Do you pray with conviction? Is your mindset one of actually communicating with God? Or are you simply going through the motions of a cliche, "good work" because it's what you've always done? How would your prayers be different if you eliminated the phrase "I pray that..."?

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Engaged in Church. Engaged in Life.

There's a great church right up the street from our home. On our way home the other night, it was clear that there was some sort of event going on. As we turned the corner, we saw a guy that we graduated from high school with. He was walking around the flower beds, pulling weeds. He wasn't dressed in work clothes...I assume he was at the event, and just pulling a few weeds on his way to leave.

I was blown away - partly because my impression of this guy in high school was that he was definitely not a church-goer. But moreso, because people who are that engaged in church - that engaged in life - that they simply see needs and meet them without prompting, programs, or payment are so inspiring.

This Sunday, as I arrived at my own church, I was frustrated by the mulch that the birds had scattered all over the sidewalks...I notice it every Sunday and think "someone should clean that up!" But I KNOW where a broom is stored. I KNOW how to sweep sidewalks. I had every resource needed to get the job done, including I just did it.

As a matter of chat...

Are you truly engaged in life? Are you responding to the opportunities that arise each day? Are you a spectator at church? Or are you engaged? Do you call it YOUR church? What kind of investment and engagement are you practicing?