DIY

Do-it-Yourself

Cable and satellite tv, the internet, Lowe’s and Home Depot, and many other influences have enabled me to be handier than I can ever have imagined. I assure you, I was not born with abilities to fix things in my house, car, etc. If you know me, this is where you express your most heartfelt and enthusiastic “amen!” It’s incredible how my ineptitude has been transformed with so many skills I never envisioned. My dad did a good job as I was growing up, and especially after Helen and I got married and owned our own homes, showing me how to change outlets and switches, fixing leaking faucets or unclogging clogs. But the true metamorphosis continues especially with being able to Google anything and to watch the “how to” on YouTube. It … is … AMAZING!

It strikes me that this isn’t just a Michael thing. I suspect that all of us have skills we once only wished we could have. The sheer unadulterated POWER I feel when I can make that “service engine soon” light in my Prius is worth my weight in gold. This is evidenced these days by the advent of the initials D-I-Y (do it yourself) … which I recall nary a mention before the emergence of the various media that have equipped those of us previously unequippable.

This newfound freedom from newfound ability emboldens us. As I was reading this week from Numbers 26-36 and Deuteronomy 1-4, I had a tinge of conviction about the DIY capability I put to use around the house, but not outside of it. Allow me to share from Numbers 32:1-9, and to explain thereafter …

The tribes of Reuben and Gad owned vast numbers of livestock. So when they saw that the lands of Jazer and Gilead were ideally suited for their flocks and herds, they came to Moses, Eleazar the priest, and the other leaders of the community. They said, “Notice the towns of Ataroth, Dibon, Jazer, Nimrah, Heshbon, Elealeh, Sibmah, Nebo, and Beon. The Lord has conquered this whole area for the community of Israel, and it is ideally suited for all our livestock. If we have found favor with you, please let us have this land as our property instead of giving us land across the Jordan River.” “Do you intend to stay here while your brothers go across and do all the fighting?” Moses asked the men of Gad and Reuben. “Why do you want to discourage the rest of the people of Israel from going across to the land the Lord has given them? Your ancestors did the same thing when I sent them from Kadesh-barnea to explore the land. After they went up to the valley of Eshcol and explored the land, they discouraged the people of Israel from entering the land the Lord was giving them.

Let me start out by saying that in fairness, the men of Reuben and Gad were misunderstood to be wanting to beg off of the battle to occupy the land the Lord had provided to the Israelites on the west side of the Jordan river. But let’s set that aside for the moment. Because the message here derives from a common thread that may well have been the motivation of the men of Reuben and Gad before they were rebuked by Moses and perhaps “clarified.” We’re not totally sure either way.

Anyhow, when I read this I thought it to be a powerful illustration of the mentality we see in Christendom today. There was a sense on Moses’ part that the men of Reuben and Gad weren’t so much content with the land where they were on the east side of the Jordan. Rather the concern was that they were willing to let the other tribes do the difficult work of going over the Jordan and fighting the foreign tribes that were occupying the land the Lord was providing. Either they were unwilling to join the fight or too afraid to engage in the fight. One way or the other, they were happy to let the others do the hard work. DIY wasn’t exactly uppermost on their minds or burning a hole in their hearts.

Encountering that angle on the passage made me think of our modern day churches. The 80-20 rule is alive and well … 80 percent of the ministry tends to be done by 20 percent of the people. The rest of us engage with church in much the same way we would our favorite DIY television show. As observers, spectators and too infrequently as doers. So much for the D of DIY, at least when it comes to church.

Why are we so unwilling to take on the D of the DIY? I suspect much of it has to do with the assumed hesitation of the men of Reuben and Gad. Crossing the Jordan in and of itself meant having to once again pack up their belongings and move from the comfortable place they were in. It meant messy and arduous work. It meant potential hazards in the actual crossing. It meant being willing to fight the enemies on the other side, and it meant possible taking losses in the short-term to gain victories in the long-term. What it also really meant … and they weren’t seeing … is that even in the DIY there was help. GOD had ALREADY done the work, fought the battle, and won the victory. Even when I take on a DIY project, I still always have available the help and expertise of someone more knowledgeable. When it came to taking the land on the west side of the Jordan, God had already accomplished the task.

And so it is in ministry. On one hand, we have to decide to cross, to battle, and to get involved in often difficult and messy endeavors. But God is the One who does the actual work and wins the actual battle. Hence the folly of being unwilling to minister and get involved. Hence the folly of leaving it to someone else. All we’re signing up for is the willingness to be used … and to be blessed. I can tell you with 100 percent assurance … the times when I’ve been willing to DIY in ministry (which is anything but Y) I have always been the greatest recipient of reward. It’s senseless to DIY at home, but not to DIY where Jesus called us to … Jerusalem (our neighborhood), Judea (our surroundings), Samaria (“across the tracks” where people are different than we are), and the ends of the earth. My prayer for all of us is less and less frequently, will we leave the DIY of God’s work to others.

Soli Deo gloria!

MR

Super(est) Hero

atom-ant

An ant superhero. Yeah, someone back in the 60s thought that was a good idea. And somehow Atom Ant became a thing. For two years (and lots and lots of reruns) one of the smallest critters on planet earth was considered super enough to be a super hero. In Atom Ant’s case, he had lots of powers … super strength (he’s an ant, after all), super speed, he could fly, and generally was invulnerable. He also had a super computer and exercise / gym equipment (because he wasn’t strong enough somehow?). In other words, he had abilities, knowledge, and powers that others needed in order to fight crime. So much so, that in the cartoons the police were otherwise incapable of fighting crime without having to turn almost incessantly to Atom Ant. Thank God our real police aren’t inept like those in Atom Ant’s metropolis! Regardless, this infinitesimal insect was somehow able to garner our credence that he could secure the world as a super hero.

We give that same credence to Superman, Spiderman, Mighty Mouse (yeah, I know … not so much), Captain America and on and on and on. But how about … God?

As I read this week from Numbers 8 to Numbers 25 and Psalms 90, we find a continual reminder about the incredulous Israelites who, smack-dab in the midst of the Lord’s miracles, can’t muster sufficient confidence in His Ability, Knowledge, and Power. Let me be clear that I’m not intending to bust on them … because when we read Numbers 11:8-23, it’s more than a reflection of them, nearly 4,000 years ago. It’s a reflection of us in relation to the Superest Hero there is.

“And say to the people, ‘Purify yourselves, for tomorrow you will have meat to eat. You were whining, and the Lord heard you when you cried, “Oh, for some meat! We were better off in Egypt!” Now the Lord will give you meat, and you will have to eat it. And it won’t be for just a day or two, or for five or ten or even twenty. You will eat it for a whole month until you gag and are sick of it. For you have rejected the Lord, who is here among you, and you have whined to him, saying, “Why did we ever leave Egypt?”’” But Moses responded to the Lord, “There are 600,000 foot soldiers here with me, and yet you say, ‘I will give them meat for a whole month!’ Even if we butchered all our flocks and herds, would that satisfy them? Even if we caught all the fish in the sea, would that be enough?” Then the Lord said to Moses, “Has my arm lost its power? Now you will see whether or not my word comes true!”

The past few months we have watched turmoil reign in our son. When they say that the college application process is difficult, “they” are not exaggerating. It’s brutal … on everyone. It’s especially so as the answers begin to come back. As I noted in a prior post, part of the brutality of the process is in the waiting. For us, the more amplifying factor was when our boy got “deferred” by the school of his dreams. That is, he was neither accepted nor denied.

Of course for him, disappointment, anger, frustration, fear, uncertainty and timidity ensued (if you read through the post-Exodus journey of the Israelites, these are many of the sentiments you will see them express). Perhaps understandable. But Helen and I tried to encourage him with what we feel we know as fact … that God is able. We told Him, while we don’t know whether God will (let him be accepted to the school), we know without a doubt that God can. But despite our best intentions and efforts, he was unyielding. He decided that there was no way the school would accept him, and he didn’t want our encouragement getting his hopes up falsely any more. And that was that. You see, just like the rest of us at times, he was unable to accept and acknowledge the Ability, Knowledge, and Power of the Superest Hero.

It’s the same story for Moses. After the miraculous rescue by God to deliver the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, the Israelites spend as much time complaining as they do escaping, wandering the desert, constructing the tabernacle, and creating a nation. As would happen in the course of relocating an entire nation, food and water became scarce and the people began to complain about not having meat. God tells Moses not to worry, there will be more than enough meat, to which Moses – tugging at the proverbial cape of the Super(est) Hero – challenges God, asking how in the world that’s plausible.

“But God, there’s no way we can feed this crowd with meat … there’s too many of them!” Let’s face it, anytime we say “but God!” in a disbelieving way, we’re setting ourselves up for a lesson and maybe a painful one. Fortunately for Moses, not in this case, but God responds simply, rhetorically, and powerfully … “Has My arm lost its power?” Wow! Think about this … this is the arm that God has not had to use throughout the Israelites’ journey, because the very power of His will caused plagues to amass against pharaoh and Egypt. It also opened up the Red Sea for the safe passage and rescue of His chosen people. The power of His voice created the heavens and earth and everything in them. Imagine IF He decided to use His arm, how powerful that would be! I don’t think human minds can contemplate the superest powers of the Superest Hero, let alone observe them and survive.

And yet, Moses forgot, and questioned. Just like I do. Just like you probably do. We wonder whether God can do the things that matter to our hearts and our lives. And as a result we’re stuck in the limited possibilities of our capabilities. It’s no wonder we feel unable … we are. But we still resort to the equilibrium position of our powerlessness, mired in a fear of “can’t.” It’s like the police in the Atom Ant show (or any of the other superhero shows frankly), we are overrun from the outset. They consistently had to resort to the power of the superhero … but we pause when it comes to calling upon the Superest Hero.

God CAN. It’s that simple. The question most times is whether God WILL. I get it, that’s rough to wrestle with, no doubt.   Even for Moses who had seen deliverance and miracles the likes of which none of us ever will. So no wonder we have a tough time seeing it too. But like Moses, I think we only have to reorient ourselves to the superest power God has shown time and time again, so that we too can draw certitude in His supremacy.

For our son, well he learned quickly that God CAN, as a direct result of seeing God WILL. Our prayer for him though is that he’ll harken back to this situation when future situations arise. Our prayer is that he’ll look back to see that God CAN without having to see that God WILL.   Hopefulness doesn’t arise from knowing God WILL, it comes from knowing God CAN. Superheroes didn’t always have to use all their abilities to fight off bad guys … they just had to have the abilities. The Superest Hero has ALL OF the abilities. My prayer for us is that we too will be able to look back and know that God CAN, even when we’re uncertain whether God WILL.

Soli Deo gloria!

MR

Mind the gap, please. Mind the gap.

mind_the_gap

I love traveling to the UK. For a while I did so for business several times a year as one of my former companies had an office about an hour north of London. One of my favorite things about the daily living during my travels was experiencing the “English” language. Hearing “Mind the gap, please. Mind the gap,” while trying to board the “Tube” (subway) was a sublime but caution-invoking occurrence. But minding a gap has other intuitive significance. I awoke to it a little this week … for reasons that will make sense shortly.

Over the past several months, we’ve watched the development of our oldest child through the luge chute that is early adulthood. An assortment of unwise and wise choices in reaction to the stimuli – real and perceived – of social pressures, acceptance, identity, and comfort in one’s skin harken back to my years going through that same gauntlet.

When I look back on my years, as I’ve said before, I wish that God long ago would have deleted the video in my head of the things I did, said and thought. Mostly I say that for my benefit. Even though the Bible assures us that “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” (Romans 8:1, NKJV), I have to admit that there remains a feeling of indignity I’ll perhaps never ditch so long as I live and recall those discrete events. I did some really perverse, stupid things … most of the time I danced on a razor’s edge and for some reason, God allowed me to avert critical injury.

But my actions were sinful. They emphatically flouted the Creator’s standard for not just my behavior, but also for my wellbeing, and my fellowship with Him. That’s what sin is … not just what you or I might say is bad or unbecoming … it’s falling short of GOD’S standard of holiness. It damages our fellowship with Him. Ultimately WE lose when we sin. Anything not holy – which seems sometimes to be everything I do, certainly it was in my younger years – is sinful. The Bible says that my compensation for such deportment is eternal separation from God. However … God minded the gap for us.

As I read this week through Leviticus 1 – 27 and Numbers 1 – 7, I peered into long-familiar passages with a refreshed perspective because of how my eyesight has been keenly sharpened in this season. We read through these verses and see the incalculable detail of the construction of the tabernacle, the holy place, the holy of holies and all the accouterments therein. The requirements to experience God’s presence were profound … as we’d expect based on the fact that we’re talking about the Creator of the universe here.

We’re also reminded about the specificity of the conduct of the various offerings, which is summarized in part in Leviticus 9:1-4

After the ordination ceremony, on the eighth day, Moses called together Aaron and his sons and the elders of Israel. He said to Aaron, “Take a young bull for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering, both without defects, and present them to the Lord. Then tell the Israelites, ‘Take a male goat for a sin offering, and take a calf and a lamb, both a year old and without defects, for a burnt offering. Also take a bull and a ram for a peace offering and flour moistened with olive oil for a grain offering. Present all these offerings to the Lord because the Lord will appear to you today.’”

Reading through these passages and the four verses above can lead us to think that we have to construct, organize, orchestrate, sacrifice … do, do, do, do, do … in order to experience God’s presence, receive God’s forgiveness, restore God’s fellowship, etc. We can assume it’s solely upon us to mind the gap. True, this is inherently what the Israelites had to go through, until Jesus came to fulfill, not abolish all the requirements (paraphrased from Matthew 5:17).

With that, we have to think more fully through what do we need to do in order to prepare for the Lord to appear to us? The answer: Not a thing. He’s just waiting for us to receive Him.  He wants to have a relationship with us and wants us to be in the proper spiritual mindset, but that isn’t a predicate requirement to have His presence.

That’s how much He loves us and why Jesus’s sacrifice was so powerful and merciful. It’s over and done. The steps weren’t removed. The requirements weren’t eliminated. The sacrifices weren’t modified. They were completed in full by Jesus, because God realized we’d never be able to uphold the standards.

I guess I’ve just been struck and have been reflecting on the colossal love Jesus showed in covering what was an infinite distance between His perfect holiness and my filthiness. When I recognize that He didn’t just excuse what I did, He actually allow the extremity of the penalty to be exacted … just on Himself and not on me … I can’t help but marvel. He didn’t just mind the gap, He closed it entirely.

Don’t misconstrue, I never murdered or molested or raped anyone … acts in the extreme most people associate with “sin” and “perversity” … but in the framework of a holy God my lies, partying, and general depravity measured up equivalently. And yet, Jesus stands before us, arms outstretched, ready to receive, embrace, and carry us when necessary, looking at us not as if to ask, “what have you done for me lately?” but rather to express in love, “do you know all that I did for you and how much it pleased me to do so?”

My prayer for you and me this week is that we’ll just stop and reflect a little. If you’re a Christian, reflect on the gaps God minded for you through Jesus and just position yourself with a heart of gratitude. It’s warranted. If you’re not (yet) a Christian, please consider the gap that exists between you and your Creator. Not to beat yourself over the head, but simply to observe, as you would when boarding the Tube, the gap. In other words, mind the gap, but recognize that Jesus closed it for you (for us) if you’re just willing to accept it. Mind the gap, please. Mind the gap.

Soli Deo gloria,

MR

Credit where credit is due

businessman hiding face not my fault

Old habits die hard. It’s a statement, and it’s a fact. Credited to Jeremy Belknap, a clergyman and historian in the 1700s, perhaps the reason for its longevity is because it’s descriptive of our reality and experience.

We can go back to the garden of Eden, to the history of the Israelites, to modern days, and frankly to my days personally. What’s the habit that dies hard? Well, when Adam and Eve sinned in the garden, and God confronted them, Adam’s response was “It was the woman you gave me …” (Genesis 3:12). When things went wrong, it was God’s fault. As the Israelites were wandering through the desert after being rescued from their 400 years of slavery at the hand of the Egyptians, they complained about dying, starving, and thirsting in the desert and wished they could be back in Egypt. When things went wrong, it was God’s fault. God got the “credit” for when circumstances went wrong. Things haven’t changed.

And yet, isn’t it incredibly natural to pat ourselves on the back for when life goes right? I’m not even talking about entertainers, professional athletes, business moguls, and politicians. I’m talking about me. And you. Us. I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished. The hard work I have given over the years to achieve results. And I’ll spend a lot of effort letting me and you know about it. I’m unabashed in my willingness to jump in front of the line to get the credit for when things go right. It was true for Adam and Eve (in fact, it’s the way Satan coaxed Eve into eating the fruit from the forbidden tree of the knowledge of good and evil). It was true for the Israelites when they fashioned a golden calf when Moses didn’t return off the mountain of God within a short time. Things haven’t changed.

When things go wrong, we blame God and give Him the credit. When things go right, we give ourselves the credit. At the crux of the issue is our God complex. We want to worship ourselves too often, and God not often enough. It’s why I think God reminds us that only He is God. As I read this week from Exodus 22-40, a brief but critical reminder shone a light on my (our) tendency to not give credit where credit is due. In a simple and short exhortation, we read in Exodus 23:13,

“Pay close attention to all my instructions. You must not call on the name of any other gods. Do not even speak their names.”

I love that it doesn’t necessarily take chapters and chapters and pages and pages of God’s word to drive home a point. Here’s the deal …

Sometimes we’re so busy trying to be God, that when God shows us that HE ALONE is God, we can’t handle the reality. The reality that things don’t always go our way. The reality that Someone else is in charge. The reality that we don’t control everything in life. The reality that God knows, understands, and does better than we ever could. But giving credit where credit is due still comes in short supply. When we make our bed, we do all we can not to lie in it.

Why is it God’s fault that He gave us free choice out of the abundance of His love for us, and when we choose outside of His best for us, we complain about the consequence? My consequences … for actions over years and years and years … were quite the bane of my existence. Bad choices in social behaviors, partying, alcohol, you name it. Even though the major potential outcomes some people go through weren’t my plight, I still had to deal with some tough realities my behaviors created. The problem is, I didn’t deal with them. I spent time running from God, questioning and accusing Him for where I wound up. In the end, I suffered from some health issues that – while in many ways the result of my decisions – resulted in me raising my fist at God wondering why He would let such bad things happen. We all do it.

On the flipside, even with some of the stupid behaviors I chose, I still had gifts and talents that allowed me to excel academically in other areas of life. I did well in school, received a number of scholastic awards and recognition, and had the opportunity to further my education at some great schools. All because of me, of course. I mean, I worked hard, I put in the effort, I studied, I put my mind to things. I, I, I, I, I. All credit to me. We all do it.

When God told His people … and us, by extension … “You must not call on the names of any other gods,” and even, “Do not even speak their names,” He was talking about ANY other gods. Including us. The god of me and the god of you. He doesn’t want anyone else to get the credit, because no one else deserves the credit.

Over-attributing credit to (blaming) God when things go wrong both 1) attempts to absolve us from responsibility for our choices and actions, and 2) fails to realize that God may sometimes use the times when things go “wrong” to help us grow, mature, and increase in faith.

Over-attributing credit to ourselves when things go right both 1) fails to acknowledge God’s providence, power, and love, and 2) highlights our desire to worship ourselves instead of God by wrongly letting us assume that we somehow created ourselves, endowed ourselves with gifts, skills, abilities, etc.

In the end, God should get the credit for everything … good, bad, and indifferent. He created us, He created the universe, He created our ability to have abilities. Yeah, even the bad stuff is up to Him and wouldn’t occur without His somehow allowing it, and when we realize that He allows it for purposes that bless us and glorify Him, we can put all things in the proper perspective. So it isn’t about giving credit where it’s due, it’s about realizing the He alone deserves credit for it all. This week, let’s pray not for understanding but for faith. Let’s ask God for faith to accept His will, and to help us forget our will. I need it, badly. Maybe you do too.

Soli Deo gloria!

MR

Multiple choice

dont-walk

It always perturbs me, when I go to Orange County airport and park in the outside parking structure, having to push the crosswalk button. You’d think that such minor annoyances would be of equally minor import and by and large they are. It isn’t about the act of needing to push the button or even having to walk across the often un-busy road that circumnavigates the airport. What tends to push my buttons is when I push the button, whoever installed the crosswalk system saw fit to use an annoying voice to acknowledge the push. In an obnoxious, authoritative, masculine, and curt voice the system responds with an abrupt, “Wait!”

One would think such insignificant happenstances would not even register on the irritation scale. I suspect it has less to do with the voice and brusqueness and more to do with the concept. Let’s face it, who among us enjoys dealing with the notion of waiting, for anything? We’d all likely agree that it’s a propos for the word “wait” to be a four-letter word. But there’s an importance to waiting especially in terms of crossing a street. Waiting promotes safe crossing. Waiting allows for impediments to movement to be cleared. In other situations, I’ve had waiting result in discussions and encounters that wouldn’t have happened without the waiting. Waiting at a railroad crossing certainly seems to be a wise choice. Hence, waiting isn’t always bad; but waiting is always poorly received.

It’s bad enough that we lose our cool when having to wait to cross a street, or at the grocery store (don’t even get me started with Costco), or on the freeway, or to board an airplane. Perhaps the most unbearable type is in the multiple-choice manner in which God can answer our prayers. It’s said he has three primary ways …

  1. a) Yes
  2. b) No
  3. c) Wait

Hold on … that last one, item c), was just an example. No need to get angry with me. 😎

Yes, anything equated with waiting is anathema these days. It was also in the days of the Hebrews in the Bible, particularly around the multiple choice response of God to our prayers and petitions. Perhaps there’s a purpose in the multiple choice “wait” response. One example of how this is so arose this week as I read from Exodus 1-21. When we look through God’s deliverance of the Hebrews from their Egyptian captivity, the multiple choice seems to be the choice of greater blessing. Let’s check it out in a couple snippets from Exodus 5:22-23

Then Moses went back to the Lord and protested, “Why have you brought all this trouble on your own people, Lord? Why did you send me? Ever since I came to Pharaoh as your spokesman, he has been even more brutal to your people. And you have done nothing to rescue them!”

and Exodus 6:6-8:

“Therefore, say to the people of Israel: ‘I am the Lord. I will free you from your oppression and will rescue you from your slavery in Egypt. I will redeem you with a powerful arm and great acts of judgment. I will claim you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God who has freed you from your oppression in Egypt. I will bring you into the land I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I will give it to you as your very own possession. I am the Lord!’”

Here’s the situation … the Israelites were under the oppression of slavery to the Egyptians and pharaoh for 430 years. God situated Moses to serve as His instrument of deliverance for the Israelites. Moses was hesitant and felt ill-equipped to accomplish the monumental task of overcoming the persecutors of his people. When God properly positioned and motivated Moses (saying it lightly), Moses and his brother Aaron confronted pharaoh as God instructed them. Pharaoh’s immediate response was to come down all the heavier on the Israelites, which is what leads to Moses’s lament in 5:22-23. Essentially, Moses is saying, “God, what are you waiting for? Why are you making your people wait for your deliverance? Why is this getting worse? Where are you?”

Waiting stinks. But when we’re talking about God, waiting is not frivolous or purposeless. The verses in chapter 6 make this clear, and God anchors his response in some incredibly formidable ways. He articulates His promise to Moses and the Israelites in the most magnanimous way He can … the four most potent words we can ever depend on … “I am the Lord.” And all the more crucial, He bookends His response by finishing with, “I am the Lord.” It’s the strongest reassurance any of us can receive. And then in regard to the multiple choice answer (e.g., choice c. wait) God earlier provided, He gave the reason for the answer … eight successive instances of guarantee of encouragement, hope, and comfort … accompanied by the words, “I will.”

So the totality of God’s substantiation for his multiple choice method of answering His peoples’ prayers, including yours and mine, is in essence, “I am. I can. I will.” He’s saying that with the wait comes the work, and with the work God can accomplish His wonders. It’s only with and through the waiting, however, that this can happen.

In light of this, we should draw comfort or at least more easily be willing to envelop ourselves in the methods of God as He answers the multiple choice question of our prayers with “wait.” We can take solace in the fact that He is the Lord … the Creator of the universe, the Creator of us, the Sustainer of all that exists. In His love for us, He then declares us that He “will.” He will see His purposes through to fruition. He will keep His promises. He will deliver us from our personal bondage and our afflictions. He will never change in His love for us. With that as the backdrop … perhaps the “wait” won’t be quite so unpleasant. My prayer for us is that we will rest in that.

Soli Deo gloria!

MR

Ready position

MLB: Oakland Athletics at Texas Rangers

Baseball professionals do it almost without noticing. It’s almost as natural and involuntary for them as blinking. As I was coaching little league when our son was growing up, it seemed that we had to instruct the kids to do it with each and every play, and usually multiple times each and every play. It’s what we used to call “ready position” … kids putting their bodies in the physical position of attentiveness to the game around them, observing what was going on in case the ball was hit to them. It’s the position you need to be in to make a play. Put yourself in the right position, chances are good stuff will happen. Allow yourself to be poorly positioned, and the chances are greater than bad stuff will occur.

As I read this week through Genesis 32-50, a familiar account reminded me of the importance of our being in ready position. Joseph, the favored son of Jacob, had been sold into slavery by his brothers and was taken to Egypt. He became the most trusted aid, the right hand man of a captain of pharaoh’s guard, a guy named Potiphar. While serving in Potiphar’s house, he managed Potiphar’s affairs. The problem was, Joseph wasn’t sufficiently in ready position as it pertained to Potiphar’s wife, who made Joseph the object of her malevolent affections. The crux of the situation is told in Genesis 39:12

One day, however, no one else was around when he went in to do his work. She came and grabbed him by his cloak, demanding, “Come on, sleep with me!” Joseph tore himself away, but he left his cloak in her hand as he ran from the house. When she saw that she was holding his cloak and he had fled, she called out to her servants. Soon all the men came running. “Look!” she said. “My husband has brought this Hebrew slave here to make fools of us! He came into my room to rape me, but I screamed. When he heard me scream, he ran outside and got away, but he left his cloak behind with me.” She kept the cloak with her until her husband came home. Then she told him her story. “That Hebrew slave you’ve brought into our house tried to come in and fool around with me,” she said. “But when I screamed, he ran outside, leaving his cloak with me!” Potiphar was furious when he heard his wife’s story about how Joseph had treated her. So he took Joseph and threw him into the prison where the king’s prisoners were held, and there he remained.

Joseph was, as we colloquially say today, in the wrong place at the wrong time. Trouble is, anytime we’re in the wrong place, it’s the wrong time. I don’t want to cast judgment on Joseph but I think it’s fair to say that Joseph wasn’t in ready position. He allowed himself to be in a stance that was unready for the situation that was going to arise. In baseball parlance, rather than playing the ball, he let the ball play him. By this time he knew that Potiphar’s wife was out to get him and yet he allowed himself to be mis-positioned straight to prison.

We stand no less perilously demised if we allow ourselves not to be in ready position in our lives. How many times have we fallen victim to sin because we didn’t somehow put ourselves in ready position? Either by staying in close fellowship with God through His word or through prayer? Or not to be in ready position because don’t allow ourselves to be in community with others who keep us accountable to the right behaviors? Or how often do we take ourselves out of ready position by putting ourselves in situations that we know don’t suit us as Christians, or that bring us to places from which we’ve asked God to deliver us?

So it is that we can be spiritually not in ready position. I know firsthand that my propensity to do unwise or sinful things is heightened by my failure to stay consistent in my spiritual disciplines. If I’m not close to God in His word, in prayer, in study, in service of others or in church, I surely take myself out of ready position and no longer can make a play on the ball, spiritually. Instead, the ball plays me. This is true whether or not I actively move myself out of ready position, or passively allow myself to be distracted or dissuaded out of ready position. It doesn’t matter if I do it or if it’s done to me … either way, I will not succeed.

So it is too that we can be physically not in ready position. I think Helen and I think of this most expressly when it comes to our son leaving for college in six short months. Perhaps it’s because she and I have both been there. We take ourselves out of ready position by hanging out in the wrong places, or with the wrong people, or doing the wrong things. It’s the old adage of guilt by association, or as Sylvester Stallone’s character said in the ever-classic movie “Rocky,” “Eh, you gotta boyfriend? No, you ain’t gotta boyfriend? Y’know why? Why do you think you don’t got a boyfriend? Because you hang out with those coconuts on the corner, y’understand? You hang out with coconuts, you get nowhere. They’re eleven, eleven. You hang out with nice people, you get nice friends, y’understand? You hang out with smart people, you get smart friends. You hang out with yo-yo people, you get yo-yo friends! Y’see, it’s simple mathematics.” Well, maybe it isn’t exactly mathematics, but it is simple. Story after story after story bears out the wisdom of being in ready position … meaning don’t hang out in dangerous places with dangerous people. Don’t fly close to the flame without expecting to get burned. Who we hang out with, where we hang out, when we hang out, what we’re doing when we’re hanging out … they all matter.

Let’s all of us prayerfully consider in what ways we’re in ready position. Ready for God to work His wonders and extend His blessings in His timing.

Soli Deo gloria!

MR

After you … ?

goofy-gophers

By now, those of you who know me or who read what I write frequently, realize that I have a tendency to encapsulate life situations and lessons in the framework of TV, music, and movies. Perhaps that is an indicator of my intellect (haha) or an embodiment of the fact that when I was growing up those were often my “babysitters.” Regardless, one of the things I find most enticing about those arts is how much they really do touch upon life and reflect truths that we all experience, whether or not the artists intended to do so.

Looney Tunes cartoons were among my favorites. One particular series of them included two gopher characters, known as Mac and Tosh, who together were known as the “Goofy Gophers.” Created by the cartoon genius Bob Clampett, these two syrupy critters were known both for their devious antics, but also for a penchant of being overtly and overly polite, to a near-sickening degree. In one exchange, the British-accented rodents pause before exiting their tree to allow the other to exit first, saying “You first, my dear,” and “But, no, no, no. It must be you who goes first!” As I read this week through Genesis 12 to 31, I was reminded through a passage about how infrequently this mentality – this “after you” mentality – exists in our culture today.

Now I don’t mean to be cynical, but as I write this I am returning from a trip with my wife and our son, visiting colleges in the south. Known for “small town” and “old fashioned” values, the south as many of you know, is set apart in this way. Manners, politeness, consideration, and the like are all hallmarks of this area of the US, and in that respect, it’s different and unique. Perhaps that’s because we live in a time when the notion of “after you” has fallen victim to an “after me,” “look at me,” “listen to me,” and “it’s all about me” society, and the stark contrast between the extremes is all too constant and in our faces. As I camped out in Genesis 13:5-11, though, it reminded me that “small town” and “old fashioned” values are supposed to be the norm, not the exception limited to the midsection of our country …

Lot, who was traveling with Abram, had also become very wealthy with flocks of sheep and goats, herds of cattle, and many tents. But the land could not support both Abram and Lot with all their flocks and herds living so close together. So disputes broke out between the herdsmen of Abram and Lot. (At that time Canaanites and Perizzites were also living in the land.) Finally Abram said to Lot, “Let’s not allow this conflict to come between us or our herdsmen. After all, we are close relatives! The whole countryside is open to you. Take your choice of any section of the land you want, and we will separate. If you want the land to the left, then I’ll take the land on the right. If you prefer the land on the right, then I’ll go to the left.” Lot took a long look at the fertile plains of the Jordan Valley in the direction of Zoar. The whole area was well watered everywhere, like the garden of the Lord or the beautiful land of Egypt. (This was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.) Lot chose for himself the whole Jordan Valley to the east of them. He went there with his flocks and servants and parted company with his uncle Abram.

Abram is traveling with Sarai and the rest of his family, including his nephew, Lot. All of them had gone down to Egypt to escape famine that had developed where they were previously. Abram lied to Pharaoh and others about Sarai’s identity (he was concerned because Sarai was beautiful and if they knew she was Abram’s wife they’d kill Abram to take her), telling them she was his sister. When Pharaoh took Abram’s “sister” into his palace as his wife, God sent a bunch of plagues upon Egypt in reprisal. Pharaoh figured out that the plagues were punishment for taking Abram’s wife, and so he expelled Abram and all his family. So off they go.

So now this whole caravan is traveling to the north to find a place to settle. Because both Abram and Lot had amassed a lot of wealth they realized they would need to live in separate places. Now realize, God had already promised Abram that his descendants would be blessed, and that many nations would be born from his lineage. Also, Abram was Lot’s uncle so he bore an honor and preeminence culturally. By all rights, Abram could have claimed land he desired and could have given Lot the leftovers, so to speak. He had all the reason and authority he would want to be able to say to Lot, “after me.”

Abram did the opposite. As they surveyed the panorama, Abram’s and Lot’s servants were bickering. Abram could have shut it down and directed Lot to a location of Abram’s choosing, and could certainly have done so punitively. Rather, Abram said, “after you,” allowing Lot to choose first among the land. Lot had the opportunity to select the best with Abram accepting the rest. Selflessness. Humility. Generosity. All hallmarks of Abram’s personality. Faithfulness. Faithfulness??? Yep, that too. How? Remember, God promised to make a great nation … in fact, nations … of Abram. I suspect Abram remembered that God made a covenant to provide for Abram and on the basis of that covenant, Abram realized that God would honor it. So Abram didn’t need to shove Lot aside with an “after me” attitude. God would deliver.

When we see the behaviors of our society, whether depicted via music, movies and television, or frankly by my innately sinful tendencies (just watch me drive on the freeway sometime, it’ll be plainly evident haha), it’s clear that selflessness, humility, and generosity are hardly trademarks. Social media, inaptly named, stands epitomized as the carrier of the “after me” germ. The recent tide of protests we see in the US also seem to be tempestuous reflections of the me-first propensity we have as a human family. [Please don’t misunderstand … I support our categorical right as American citizens to peacefully protest, and I acknowledge some who exercise that right have justifiable and proper motives … however, that is not all of those who elect to do so.]

My point? The “after me” disease affects 100% of us, unfortunately. However, we can choose to realign ourselves in the manner Abram did. He chose to be selfless, he chose to be humble, he chose to be generous, he chose to say “after you.” It’s a choice, and a choice we all have dozens of times every single day. It’s a choice of faithfulness, because as Abram was choosing, “after you,” let’s see what the Bible says in Genesis 13:14-17,

After Lot had gone, the Lord said to Abram, “Look as far as you can see in every direction—north and south, east and west. I am giving all this land, as far as you can see, to you and your descendants as a permanent possession. And I will give you so many descendants that, like the dust of the earth, they cannot be counted! Go and walk through the land in every direction, for I am giving it to you.”

The Bible says the first shall be last and the last shall be first. That speaks of the blessings of an “after you” lifestyle. It starts with individual choices at individual times. It comes from a heart of faith, knowing that God will provide the reward … hence, we don’t have to look out for it ourselves with an “after me” mentality. Let’s prayerfully ask God to help us find ways and choose to live out an “after you” life. God knows our society needs it.

Soli Deo gloria!

MR