Safe at home

World Series Cardinals Red Sox Baseball

Last week was the birthday of my beautiful bride. It was a celebratory occasion as usual, and a privilege to know that not only did she get to enjoy another year of life, but I got to enjoy it with her. As I reflected back on all the other birthdays we’ve shared with one another, I also cast my thoughts forward to all the future ones we’ll share and the memories we’ll make. So it was both a nostalgic time in thinking through the celebrations of the past, and an expectant one as we look forward to exciting times yet unmade.

The combination of nostalgia and expectancy also bubbled up last week as I had the privilege of wishing a happy 76th birthday to another very influential woman, in this case not a member of the family. But as a young high schooler I had the privilege to get to know Joyce and Carl Dieda, the mom and dad of a couple good high school friends. You see, they were among the first truly authentic Christian people I knew as a kid. They had a nice home in Huntington Beach where I grew up and in which they still live to this day. In fact, I still have their address and their phone number committed to memory … 30 years later!

Mr. and Mrs. Dieda were truly like second parents to me. I always felt safe in their home. It wasn’t that my parents were bad … they just had their personal and relational struggles during my high school years, and in addition to the normal teenage attitudes and weirdness, there were times I didn’t want to hang out at home and needed some normalcy in my life. Safe at home … at Mr. and Mrs. Dieda’s home. I went there often, sometimes under the guise to see my friends Cindy and Cheryl, sometimes just to pop in. They always welcomed me. Mrs. Dieda would offer me something to eat, which I never declined (what teenage football player ever declines food?). And mostly, they just loved me. They “shared” Jesus with me … rarely in words, but vociferously in love and action. Through the years, we’ve stayed in touch. They’ve met Helen and the kids, have consistently sent us all birthday cards, anniversary cards, and encouragement galore under many different circumstances.

I was always safe at home at the Dieda’s home when nothing else felt safe. As much as I appreciated a safe place to go and to spend difficult times without judgment and only with loving reception, I also now realize there was a different purpose to Mr. and Mrs. Dieda’s warm home. They were there not just to make me feel safe at their home, but to point me to where my ultimate home will be, where I will forever be safe. It wasn’t about them making me feel comfortable, it was about them pointing the way. The way up.

Often, I refer to the Dieda’s when I think about how Helen and I have grown through the years and how we like to open our home to the young men, women, and couples we mentor. Or even just open it for ministry. We know … our job is to make it safe at home for others, and to point them to their ultimate home. It’s an incredible blessing to do that with Helen.

So all of that preamble leads me to where God pointed my attention during my reading this week, from John 1-21 – Acts 1-8. Interestingly, it was in reading a short simple initial passage about John the Baptist in John 1:6-8 (Message paraphrase) …

There once was a man, his name John, sent by God to point out the way to the Life-Light. He came to show everyone where to look, who to believe in. John was not himself the Light; he was there to show the way to the Light.

John was serving God with the primary purpose of showing folks the way home … the way to eternally be safe at home. It was challenging for him because people wanted to venerate and elevate him. Often times in this world, the enemy can use our open heart for serving others and start to push us to “believe our own press clippings.” In other words, for us to start to feel like it’s because of us that people want to engage with us, spend time with us, be mentored by us. No. It’s about Jesus. It was for John, and it is for us. It was that way for Mr. and Mrs. Dieda, and Helen and my prayer is that it is for her and me as well.

Frequently through his ministry, John had to reorient folks back to Jesus … to point to Him and say, “That’s Who you need to follow. I’m not even worthy to buckle his sandal.” That should be our hearts too.

BUT … and this is important … just like Mr. and Mrs. Dieda, there has to be a connection to others, a way for them to begin to see and know Jesus, through us. For Mr. and Mrs. Dieda – and Helen and I pray, for us – it was by helping others feel safe at home. At our home. It doesn’t matter how big or nice or comfortable your home is … I doubt the Dieda home is more than 2,000 square feet, but for me when I went there and spent an hour with them, it felt like a palace. That’s our calling too.

Who are you helping feel safe at home? It doesn’t need to be young teenagers (they’re not for everyone, to be sure – haha) or young adults. We all need to feel a place of safety in the journey of life, particularly when the footing gets dicey. It’s just a heart of welcome, openness, and comfort that allows a home to feel safe. A cup of tea or coffee, a loving conversation … a relationship … can help others not only feel safe at home, but can ultimately help them find the eternal home that Jesus promised when He said, “Don’t let this throw you. You trust God, don’t you? Trust me. There is plenty of room for you in my Father’s home. If that weren’t so, would I have told you that I’m on my way to get a room ready for you? And if I’m on my way to get your room ready, I’ll come back and get you so you can live where I live. And you already know the road I’m taking.” (John 14:1-4)

Maybe you’ve never quite felt safe at home. Can I at least point you to the way that you can find one that will be comfortable eternally? Just as Jesus pointed out, He is preparing one for you right now. But without a relationship with Him, unfortunately you’ll never be able to take residence. Like Mr. and Mrs. Dieda, He wants to help you feel comforted, welcome, part of the family, but here’s the deal … unlike Mr. and Mrs. Dieda when I went to their home, Jesus comes to us, and he knocks on OUR door and we only need to open the door and let Him in. It’s like Mr. and Mrs. Dieda’s outgoing answering machine message …

“If you’re looking for Carl and Joyce, please leave a message at the beep. If you’re looking for joy and peace, those can only be found through Jesus.”

If you’ve never felt that safety that comes from a relationship with Jesus, please send me a message or talk to someone perhaps you know who has. I pray you will open the door of your heart if you haven’t already. I pray we all get to be safe at home eternally together.

Soli Deo gloria!

MR

No such thing as a free launch

hot-wheels

Hands down. Coolest toy EVER was Hot Wheels. I remember growing up as a kid playing for hours and hours and hours. I have to admit I think Hot Wheels were WAY better than Matchbox. It was something in the suspension of the wheels. I’d bet some of you know exactly what I’m talking about. And while I loved the cars, I think what made them most amazing were the tracks. Even though they weren’t super high-tech, they were flexible enough that you could bend them and configure them in ways that most times didn’t work, but just the prospect that they would was good enough.

There were also track sets. These were sort of pre-configured setups that got the imagination flowing in vivid ways, conjuring a combination between race car driving and Evil Knievel. Somehow, even though those cars were really small, I could practically imagine myself being inside, whipping around these amazing tracks – on tv – blew your mind. That said, it never seemed to work the way it did on tv. Somehow the car always made the jumps and loops and maneuvers in the commercials, but when we tried to do those all at home it never quite did the trick. Still Hot Wheels had to be the most fun toy, and had utility long into my teenage years.

An important component of those track sets were the launchers. The cars didn’t move on their own, they had to be propelled by something and usually it was by hand. But these battery-operated launchers would fit on the tracks, and using a couple fast-spinning wheels, would zoom the cars out on the track, around a figure-eight, over a loop, whatever. The problem was sometimes that the car wouldn’t get enough propulsion to make it around the track, depending on the configuration. Most times, the car would get just enough zip, to just barely make it over and around the track to get back to the launcher and vroom! it would crank around the track again. That is, until the batteries started wearing down.

Isn’t our life and spiritual life a little analogous? Sometimes we seem to just barely make it from point to point in life, nearly running out of momentum to clear the lap. With that in mind, I reflected on the gospel reading I did this week through The Message paraphrase, from Mark 14-16, and Luke 1-24. Two passages caught my attention … Mark 14:32-40 and Luke 4:1-13:

They came to an area called Gethsemane. Jesus told his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took Peter, James, and John with him. He plunged into a sinkhole of dreadful agony. He told them, “I feel bad enough right now to die. Stay here and keep vigil with me.” Going a little ahead, he fell to the ground and prayed for a way out: “Papa, Father, you can—can’t you?—get me out of this. Take this cup away from me. But please, not what I want—what do you want?” He came back and found them sound asleep. He said to Peter, “Simon, you went to sleep on me? Can’t you stick it out with me a single hour? Stay alert, be in prayer, so you don’t enter the danger zone without even knowing it. Don’t be naive. Part of you is eager, ready for anything in God; but another part is as lazy as an old dog sleeping by the fire.” He then went back and prayed the same prayer. Returning, he again found them sound asleep. They simply couldn’t keep their eyes open, and they didn’t have a plausible excuse.

 Now Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wild. For forty wilderness days and nights he was tested by the Devil. He ate nothing during those days, and when the time was up he was hungry. The Devil, playing on his hunger, gave the first test: “Since you’re God’s Son, command this stone to turn into a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered by quoting Deuteronomy: “It takes more than bread to really live.” For the second test he led him up and spread out all the kingdoms of the earth on display at once. Then the Devil said, “They’re yours in all their splendor to serve your pleasure. I’m in charge of them all and can turn them over to whomever I wish. Worship me and they’re yours, the whole works.” Jesus refused, again backing his refusal with Deuteronomy: “Worship the Lord your God and only the Lord your God. Serve him with absolute single-heartedness.” For the third test the Devil took him to Jerusalem and put him on top of the Temple. He said, “If you are God’s Son, jump. It’s written, isn’t it, that ‘he has placed you in the care of angels to protect you; they will catch you; you won’t so much as stub your toe on a stone’?” “Yes,” said Jesus, “and it’s also written, ‘Don’t you dare tempt the Lord your God.’” That completed the testing. The Devil retreated temporarily, lying in wait for another opportunity.

These are pretty commonly known passages, but they display for us a model to use for constant launch in the laps of life.

In the first, Jesus embodies His surrender to His Father and a devotion to prayer. In the second, He shows us His knowledge of and reliance on scripture. When I think about the two wheels on the Hot Wheels launcher, I see these two imperative spiritual disciplines as the launch wheels in our daily walk with the Lord.

All of desire more out of life than just enduring between laps, exhaustedly crawling into the completion of one, desperate to muster the strength to commence … let alone survive and say nothing about thrive … the next lap as perilous as it might seem. For me, I’d like to come into that next lap accelerating, prepared to stand nose-to-nose up to that next lap with confidence in our Lord, that not only will He get us through, but that there will be growth and victory in that lap. But there’s no such thing as a free launch into that next lap, and Jesus demonstrated it well as He always does, showing us the way.

In the case of the Hot Wheels track, if we’re going to set up the car to do more than barely make it to the next lap and launcher, we simply place more launchers along the track. That way, we have multiple ways to get acceleration and hum around the turns, figure-eights, loops, etc., that accompany living life on a daily basis. And so it should be in our spiritual lives. Jesus demonstrated His dependence prayer and the Word of God as ways you and I can be launched. So it follows that the more dedicated we are to both, the more regular we engage in them, the more seriously we approach them, the more launches we’ll have through the laps and loops of life.

The question for us, then, is what are we doing? How serious are we devoted to prayer? To the Word? To studying what God’s Basic Instruction Before Leaving Earth tells us? Are they afterthoughts? Or Christmas and Easter events? Do we approach prayer frivolously, infrequently, passively? Do we have God’s Word on our bookshelf or do we open it from time to time? Or do we read it? Devour it, as the very food to our lives God desires it to be? If this hits home, welcome to the club with me. And join me in realizing that I really shouldn’t be surprised if the Hot Wheels track of life sometimes seems too difficult to circumnavigate.

Let’s you and I prayerfully decide today that we’re going to realize that there’s no such thing as a free launch. We need to devote ourselves to placing more launchers on our track, to incline ourselves to make them frequent, intentional touch points to propel us not just to the next lap, but through the next lap of life. Jesus already showed us how.

Soli Deo gloria!

MR

Our steering wheel ain’t connected

steering-wheel

One of my favorite songs almost ever is by Randy Travis (yup, I’m a Puerto Rican version of a “hick” … call me a “browneck”) called “Ants on a Log.” I’ve probably cited it before on this blog, but the lyrics, in part, go …

 

Ants on a log
Floatin’ down a river
Runnin’ around
But not gettin’ anywhere
Our steerin’ wheels
Just ain’t connected
And we can’t jump off like flees on a dog
Can’t fly away like flies on a hog
We’re really just along for the ride like ants on a log

 

Bottom line, we’re not in charge. We think we are. We try to seem like it. We talk about “looking out for numero uno.” Can you think of one thing in life that you 100 percent control? I can’t. Like the song says, “our steering wheels just ain’t connected.” I love that visual … turning a steering wheel actively, aggressively, confidently, when all the while it is not connected. We can steer and steer and steer but there is no effect on the car. Honestly, that’s a lot like life.

Now before you start to argue with me, I understand that there is still an inherent cause and effect aspect to our lives. There are consequences to choices and decisions, but even those in some ways are not totally within our ability to control them. And you can’t refute the bottom line … we’re not in charge. Trust me, you don’t want me in charge of things. I’d mess it up. Frankly, I sure don’t want you in charge either. We just aren’t capable in the way God is. Jesus reminds of us that in a portion of scripture that I read this week as I read through Matthew 27 – 28 and Mark 1-13. Reading in the Message paraphrase, Mark 8:34-37 shares the words of Jesus …

Calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to saving yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? What could you ever trade your soul for?

Jesus says we’re not to look out for “number one,” we’re supposed to look out for the “other one.” He says we can’t depend on ourselves, we need to depend on Him. He says helping ourselves can only result from our dying to ourselves. We can’t control what goes on to us let alone what goes on around us. Our steering wheels ain’t connected. We aren’t “in the driver’s seat.” He is the One driving.

This is a fact, whether or not we choose to accept it. Our choosing not to believe it does not change the validity that He’s in control, He’s driving. We might think we’re driving, but the steering wheel ain’t connected. So much of our pain in life comes from fighting against this reality. We wrestle and wrestle with the truth, but Jesus says, “Don’t try so hard to take care of yourself, I’ll take care of you. In fact I’ll take care of you better than you ever could. Don’t worry so much about setting up your future, I’ve already got your future set.”

One of the best examples of applying this principle that I’ve ever seen is one of my best friends Scott Cubbler, but the reason might not be quite what you might think or even believe. Scott realizes that there are times in life when things go in directions we never would envision or even allow if left to our own devices. God provides situations for His purposes and in His way for reasons we might never know or understand. It’s those moments when we have to recognize that our steering wheels ain’t connected and the best thing to do is simply take our hands off of the wheel and let God drive.

You see, my dear friend of 25 years, Scott Cubbler is a write-in candidate for president of the United States. Yup, the United States of America. No joke. And he has my vote.

Is it likely Scott will be elected? Probably not. Is it possible? Absolutely (brush up on your knowledge of the 12th Amendment of the US Constitution). God has the steering wheel. Scott let go of it long ago, trust me. I believe the reason he’s running, and certainly the reason I support him, is because these days the presidential campaigns are so pervasive and yet so painful to watch. The self-aggrandizement and self-promotion are overwhelming to the point of nausea. Regardless of what side of the political aisle you sit on, can any of us truly be proud of either of the major party candidates? More than ever in our history this election is more of a non-election … that is, I’d bet more people are voting against a candidate rather than for one. Why? Because it seems today few politicians are truly motivated by actual service to others let alone service to God. I don’t mean to offend, just to observe.

With that backdrop, Scott felt called long ago to run for president. He’s a business person, a former Marine combat and public relations officer, a former counterterrorism leader for the state of New York, and a current protective security advisor for the US Department of Homeland Security. All of this he pursued with hands off the steering wheel, allowing God to drive, even into incredible and perhaps perilous territory. Let’s face it, running for president is … well … crazy. But not to God, and that’s something Scott understands well and a principle to which he’s subscribed all his adult life. I can attest personally.

God is in the business of doing the impossible, the improbable, the unbelievable. My dear friend Scott Cubbler long ago chose to let God lead, to let him drive, to follow Him regardless of what that means … to realize that Scott’s steering wheel wasn’t (and ain’t) connected. In this presidential election despite what the media want us to believe we are not stuck with the two major party contenders, neither of whom seem to have a modicum of morality, ethics, temperament or frankly humility and experience to lead our country out of the sad state of affairs we currently find ourselves in. We’re less prosperous, less safe, less united … less “in God we trust,” than at any other time in our history. The “none of the above” situation we’re in demands we realize we don’t have to choose only between the two unsavory choices we have. Our constitution allows another way, and perhaps it’s the way God intended it to be, not just for Scott but for you and me. I invite you to see Scott’s web site (to learn why he feels led onto this course at this time) and watch and share his videos and like his YouTube channel.

My prayer for you and me (and Scott) is that we continue not only to realize that our steering wheels ain’t connected, but to embrace the freedom that comes from letting go of the wheel and letting God drive our every journey. After all, His is the only steering wheel that is connected!

Soli Deo gloria!

MR

I got it, I got it … I don’t got it

i-dont-got-it

It’s one of the goofiest plays in baseball. A relatively routine pop fly goes to say a mid-depth part of the field, causing three separate players to converge on the ball while it’s in the air. Now mind you, each of those three players are likely being paid in the millions of dollars to stand on that field and catch the ball when it’s in the air. While I realize that’s an oversimplification, that’s essentially what they do. On average, each of those players gets probably one or two of those opportunities a game. They may have a game where they never get an opportunity to catch a pop fly. So you’d think the routineness of it, coupled with the infrequency of it, would yield a near-perfect success rate.

Well, it does. But, there are times when the goofiness kicks in. Three players converge on the spot where the ball is going to land. They all call it … “I got it, I got it.” Problem is, all of them may call it, and while these guys are professionals and the absolute best at their sport on the planet, they’re also human. Each calls it and yet realizes that each other called it. And “plunk,” the ball hits the ground right in between all three of them. It’s been the stuff of blooper shows for decades. It’s like they said, “I got it, I got it … I don’t got it.”

Most of the time, there’s one particular player who is in the best position, facing the right way, who sees the ball better than the other two and that player calls off the others. The others, of course, have to allow that player to make the play who’s best equipped to and in doing so they have to back off and let him catch the ball. It’s the times when they don’t that the ball goes “plunk.”

Unfortunately, it’s how life works at times as well. This past week, I read through Matthew 10 – 26 and as I mentioned last week it is through The Message paraphrase. Incidentally, it’s interesting to read through that paraphrased version … I would not rely on it for in-depth Bible study or for doctrinal matters, but it is a nice supplement to reading the Bible in a more diligently-translated version. Anyhow, I camped out on Matthew 14:15-21 because it thematically struck me along the lines of the “I got it, I got it … I don’t got it” concept from a life perspective.

Toward evening the disciples approached him. “We’re out in the country and it’s getting late. Dismiss the people so they can go to the villages and get some supper.” But Jesus said, “There is no need to dismiss them. You give them supper.” “All we have are five loaves of bread and two fish,” they said. Jesus said, “Bring them here.” Then he had the people sit on the grass. He took the five loaves and two fish, lifted his face to heaven in prayer, blessed, broke, and gave the bread to the disciples. The disciples then gave the food to the congregation. They all ate their fill. They gathered twelve baskets of leftovers. About five thousand were fed.

Life can sometimes be overwhelming. It’s funny, too, because a lot of the time we take things upon ourselves thinking, “I can handle it. I don’t need anyone’s help. Getting help will only show that I’m weak. I’m not weak.” Sort of like thinking, “I got it, I got it.”

In the case of the apostles being worried about feeding the 5,000, it was related … while they may not have been over-attributing to themselves an ability to do something without help, they clearly were evaluating the situation in that way. They defaulted into the realm of, “I don’t got it.”

What both situations demonstrate is that regardless of what you “have,” you have enough. It depends on how you define what you have. A lot of times we don’t think we have enough, know enough, are equipped enough to serve God’s people. “There’s NO WAY we can feed 5,000 people with only five loaves of break and a couple fish!” All the disciples needed was whatever they had, plus God. God used what they had and multiplied it to what they needed … more than they needed. The enemy wants us to think we don’t have enough that we can’t work or accomplish anything. God says “if you have me, you have more than enough!”

I don’t realize this often enough. So much of the time, my default position is to try to handle things on my own, to see things from only my point of view. If a tough situation comes up, I spend my energy, time, and effort trying to manage situations through my own strength, only to find that I’m incapable. I holler out, “I got it, I got it!” But not too long after, I have to concede “I don’t got it!” And plunk! The ball of the situation bounces haplessly before me, uncaught.

What if, instead, I realize there’s one particular Player who is in the best position, facing the right way, who sees the ball better than I and others around me do. I can then let that Player call me off to make the catch, to successfully handle the situation before the ball drops. Before it goes “plunk.”

That’s our God, folks! He’s always in the best and most advantageous position. He always faces the right way and has a far better vantage point of the ball while it’s in the air. He never loses sight of it, never loses it in the sun, and never let’s the ball “plunk” on the ground. He knows where the ball is, knows where I am, knows where the other players are, and always … ALWAYS … makes the play. He’s got it.

The key for us is to let Him make the play. To say, “You got it,” long before we frivolously and foolishly say, “I got it, I got it … I don’t got it!”

Soli Deo gloria!

MR

On your marks … set … on your marks …

Athletics - Men's 100m Semifinals

I don’t know about you, but I couldn’t believe what I was watching. It was during the Olympics … I’ll explain more in a moment. But I love watching the Olympics. It’s pretty funny, in fact, because I’ll literally watch any sport with the possible exception of rhythmic gymnastics. No offense but seriously? That’s a sport?

Anyhow, when I get particularly geeked is when I watch the hardcore competitive sports like gymnastics and track and field. Which brings me back to my point. My mind was literally blown this past summer watching the Olympics and particularly several of the track and field events … in fact, the races that Usain Bolt ran. One particular race was staggering, like nothing I’d ever seen and probably won’t ever see again. But it serves an important basis for my reflection this week.

It was one of the 100-meter heats where the runners were running to qualify for the finals. Bolt was, as you’d expect, competing against many of the fastest men on planet earth. The buildup by the announcers was pretty intense and you just knew that something special was going to happen during the race. But I’m not quite sure I expected a bit of a life lesson from it.

So the runners take their marks and get set. The gun goes off, and the field starts off understandably fast. But … Bolt is in the middle of the pack at first. He remained at the middle of the pack even at about the 50 meter mark, too. Then, what seems to be literally out of nowhere, without any visible exertion and while all the runners are running, it looks like Bolt begins his race. Now granted, he was running the entire time, but then it looked like a whole new race began. And Bolt? Well he looked like he came out of nowhere midway through a 100-meter race, like his race started in the middle of someone else’s race, and he won … easily. The craziest thing is every other race he ran seemed exactly the same. It was like when Bolt was competing it was difficult to see when one race began and another ended.

That’s sort of the filter applied to my reading this week.   I read John 16 – 21, and then started the Gospels once again in Matthew this time in the Message paraphrase (in keeping with my plan of reading over and over through the Gospels through the rest of the calendar year). This notion of not knowing when one race begins and another ends … in life … is a metaphor borne out of the cycles in life that we go through. In John 20:11-18 gives us a picture of such a situation:

But Mary [who had returned] was standing outside the tomb sobbing; and so, as she wept, she stooped down and looked into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white sitting there, one at the head and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. And they said to her, “Woman, why are you crying?” She told them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.” After saying this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you crying? For whom are you looking?” Supposing that He was the gardener, she replied, “Sir, if you are the one who has carried Him away from here, tell me where you have put Him, and I will take Him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to Him in Hebrew, “Rabboni!” (which means, Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene came, reporting to the disciples that she had seen the Lord and that He had said these things to her.

In the proper context, Mary, Jesus’ disciples, and the rest of the community had just watched Jesus die on the cross, laying His life down for the sins of the world. Although He had told them multiple times to expect that, they still struggled to understand (see last week’s post) what had happened just a couple days earlier. To them, the horrific end of a glorious race had just concluded, but He had just started another, glorious race forward. That was the essence of Jesus’ earthly ministry in a sense. The glory of His birth was somewhat muted by the threat of King Herod’s order to kill all male babies under two years old (an attempt to destroy Jesus), and then the jubilant commencement of Jesus’ actual ministry only to be followed by His arrest, torture, and crucifixion, completed by His victorious resurrection and defeat of death. Hard to see when one “race” begins and one ends.

Life is like that. From one moment to the next it’s hard to know where we are in a particular race. Sometimes it feels like we are on sprint after sprint after sprint. At other times, it’s like we are running a marathon for the purpose of arriving at the start of a marathon. Perhaps for you it feels like you’re running a marathon, but at the pace of a 100-meter dash. How incredibly taxing that would be. At other times, it’s like we know we only need to cover 100 meters, but we’re running at a distance pace and although the finish line is closely and clearly within view, it’s taking forever to get there.

I totally get it. I’ve been there. In some ways, right now, I feel like I am there.

Sorry to break the news … though it probably isn’t news … but it feels like it’s difficult in life to figure out when one race begins and another ends precisely because it IS difficult. Our lives are a series of races, a conjoining of each other’s races, and races that are orchestrated, developed, and overseen by God. Just like Jesus, we will all have seasons of starts and stops, times when we’re running a sprint, hurdles, middle distance, long jumps, and marathons. It can be tough.

Ever realize that in an Olympic race there’s one and only one winner? Sure you have. So the question is, what makes the other runners run? Let’s face it, in the 100-meter final, there were probably three of the eight runners that had a legitimate chance. In the marathon in Rio, 155 men started the race and it’s probably not a stretch to assume that probably 120 were long-shots to win. So what’s the point?

Competing. Giving it your all. Representing your country. Doing better than last time. Setting a “personal record.” Getting experience in the top competition level, on the biggest stage. Taking the chance of actually winning. Improving your technique. Honoring your coach and teammates. Not looking back and wondering, “what if I did?” There are some pretty interesting parallels in there for life, isn’t there?

In life, we can get stuck on the fact that there’s little chance of winning when it’s all said and done, or we can focus on the experience of running the race. We can focus on the finish. We can focus on honoring our Coach and teammates. Yeah, it can be hard to tell when one race begins and when one race ends, but our job is to finish. To continue. To run to win, and even if we don’t, at least try to set a “personal record.” Good thing is we have Jesus, who ran the race ahead of us and showed that it can be done … and stands at the ready to encourage, teach, train, and – when things get real tough – to run the race for us.

Soli Deo gloria!

MR

Gift wrapping

gift-wrapping

You probably react the same way I do. You know you do. Anytime I see a box with gift-wrapping on it, I automatically wonder two things: 1) what’s in it? and 2) is it for me? There’s something about a gift-wrapped package that peaks our interest because we know that generally whatever’s inside is a good thing, even though at the time we can’t see what it is.

I remember when the kids were growing up … heck, they’re still this way now as teenagers … on Christmas morning when they’d come downstairs and see all the presents under the tree their eyes would be as wide as saucers and their energy level would be in the “overload” zone. That’s after waking up at a ridiculously early time of the morning, as they still do to this day. Now remember, that reaction happened without their having a single idea of what was inside all those gift-wrapped items. They just saw the gift-wrapping and they knew something awesome was just waiting for them inside.

This was my reflection this week as I read through Luke 15 – 24, John 1 – 15. When I came across a passage that is pretty familiar in Luke 18:32-34 it struck a thought in me that is the basis for my sharing this week.

Then taking the twelve [disciples] aside, He said to them, “Listen carefully: we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things that have been written through the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled and completed. He will be betrayed and handed over to the Gentiles (Roman authorities), and will be mocked and ridiculed and insulted and abused and spit on, and after they have scourged Him, they will kill Him; and on the third day He will rise [from the dead].” But the disciples understood none of these things [about the approaching death and resurrection of Jesus]. This statement was hidden from them, and they did not grasp the [meaning of the] things that were said [by Jesus].

Note something … “This statement was hidden from them, and they did not grasp the things that were said.”

Why was it hidden?

Sometimes God hides stuff from our understanding, not to be mean … like a bully who steals our ball on the playground. It can be because we’re not yet ready to receive and comprehend what He’s positioning to happen or what He knows will happen. I might be so He can reveal something to us about faithfulness, trust, dependence, reliance, etc. It could be to reveal to us something about Him.

Consider it somewhat of a gift that God desires to give us, but it’s gift-wrapped. There’s something great inside, but it’s covered up. I think the only difference between a material gift and the type of gift God gives us, say, in our circumstances is that a physical gift is familiar to us and we assume on sight that it’s a great thing inside, so much so that our initial reaction to it is to wonder if it’s ours.

When it comes to the gifts of God in our circumstances and challenges, we’re not quite as readily apt to look at it with anticipation and excitement. Rather, we almost try to flee from it for fear that something scary is inside. And while that’s possible, when fully-unwrapped, it’s always something awesome. Eventually.

So back to the thoughts above about how God gift-wraps our situations at times.   Why is it that He hides matters from our understanding?

There are times when we’re simply not ready to understand things once God takes the gift-wrap off … when He allows us to see what He reveals. I know there are a variety of situations I’ve gone through in life, when I would not have been able to handle the full knowledge of a situation earlier. Either my maturity hadn’t grown enough … and in some ways I think that’s still the case today … or other things had to happen around me to add the proper context for the situation to fully make sense.

Sometimes God is gift-wrapping something for the purpose of allowing us to grow in faithfulness, reliance, fidelity, surrender, or something similar. It’s sort of analogous to when gifts are under the Christmas tree days or weeks in advance (like it happens most years at our house) and the present is almost better because we had to wait to open it. The process of waiting makes it seem or feel more valuable. Now, I recognize that seems frivolous or gratuitous, but with God it’s quite otherwise. On the one hand, just expressing faithfulness is important but in the waiting God can actually make our situation more valuable. Frankly, just our learning to be faithful and dependent on God is probably gift enough.

It’s also the case that in the gift-wrapping of our life’s circumstances, God can reveal something to us about Him. Most of the time I think He shows us that our circumstances are indeed a gift. That what we might see right now … maybe a poorly- or shoddily-wrapped dingy old box … can be opened to reveal the situational equivalent of gold and jewels. That is something ONLY God can do, and perhaps at times our circumstances, when unwrapped, are packaged to allow for that realization. To take a really valuable gift and hide it by putting it in cruddy wrapping. I’ve done that in the past for Helen … wrapped a really small, really nice gift in a package that is exactly the opposite. Not to be weird or mean-spirited, but rather as a different or creative way to demonstrate my love. Same with God.

Maybe we can all agree that God will hide our understanding of situations at times for a variety of valid and beneficial reasons. He’ll gift-wrap them. But I think we can also agree that in those situations we don’t always choose to see the gift-wrapping for what it is. Only the covering of a gift. God doesn’t give us situations for frivolous, purposeless, evil reasons. He just covers them with something that potentially looks different or delays the revelation of the true gift inside. The question is, do we see it that way? Like Christmas gifts, or presents wrapped in attractive wrapping, do we choose the circumstances God serves up with excitement and enthusiasm; with a feeling of wondering 1) what’s in it? and 2) is it for me? I pray each of us does more often.

Soli Deo gloria!

MR

Caving in

Cave

(Dedicated to “Big Tommy” Tom Sirotnak, USC Football Alumni and man who was faithful enough to be one of those who helped me navigate the cave and decide to follow the Guide)

There are certain things that you’ll never see me do. Most of them happen on the Discovery Channel or Nat Geo Wild. You know, those guys like “Survivorman,” who go into these crazy places, eat these crazy things, don’t worry about the bugs and other creepy-crawlies walking on them. Uh … no. [though, for the record, this Sunday at church I did eat the head half of a deep-fried, barbeque-flavored grasshopper and no, it did NOT taste like chicken]

I don’t mind the outdoors, hiking, exploring, etc. Where I begin to draw a very solid dividing line is places like dark caves. Spiders, insects, bats … any one of those is enough to keep me out. Couple in there the potential for holes, cliffs, and assorted other dangers, and there’s just no reason to explore. I’m happy to let others have the opportunity.

That being said, if I were to consider exploring it would have to be with an experienced guide. You know, someone who is familiar with the cave, knowledgeable about the perils that are there, where they exist, and how to safely navigate them. They would be the type of person who has a full perspective and gives me a frank and honest assessment of what’s ahead, regardless of whether I want to know or not. I mean, who wouldn’t want that person ahead of us, and who of us when warned wouldn’t heed the advice. Seriously, if that guide were to tell us, watch out here, step around there … are we going to argue? Are we going to be offended? Are we going to object to their telling us because it’s not what we were hoping to hear? Will we be mad that they tell us the surroundings are caving in? Oddly, in life, that’s exactly how it can be sometimes. I’ll explain momentarily, but it was the nudging I got as I read this week from Luke 2 – 14, and camped out on Luke 6:23-25

Rejoice on that day and leap for joy, for your reward in heaven is great [absolutely inexhaustible]; for their fathers used to treat the prophets in the same way. But woe (judgment is coming) to you who are rich [and place your faith in possessions while remaining spiritually impoverished], for you are [already] receiving your comfort in full [and there is nothing left to be awarded to you]. Woe to you who are well-fed (gorged, satiated) now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now [enjoying a life of self-indulgence], for you will mourn and weep [and deeply long for God]. Woe to you when all the people speak well of you and praise you, for their fathers used to treat the false prophets in the same way.

These words of Jesus during the Sermon on the Mount reminded me of the people in my life who took the time and had the courage to guide me through what otherwise would have been some scary journeys in the caves of my life. Jesus, the ultimate example, demonstrated through his earthly ministry what it meant to meet people where they were, to help guide them, to tell them about the perils that lay ahead, and share the truth about their situation regardless of whether or not they wanted to hear it. Think about the passage above, do you think any of His hearers, particularly those he was telling, “Woe to you,” wanted to hear the message He was conveying? Hardly. But they needed to hear it.

In our society today, people are offended by darn-near everything. It seems no matter what we say, what we don’t say, what we think, people get offended. Set aside for the moment that we might be telling them the truth, they get offended. After all, who are we to tell them the truth?

If I were navigating a dark cave, led by a guide who knows the danger inherent in the environs, when that person alerts me to the fact that just a few yards ahead hidden by the vast darkness lies a cliff that would lead to a 500-foot death-drop, one might think that I would honor him / her, not be offended by them for pointing out that certain death lie ahead. But in our world today, if I love someone enough to point out that their spiritual journey is taking them eerily close to a fall from which they’d never recover and not survive, I’m vilified for telling them their path is heading to hazard.

Think about it … your slowly and carefully walking through the darkness. The person in front of you, who’s navigated the cave before tells you, “okay, watch out, because there’s a deadly drop three steps ahead.” Are we going to get mad and say, “well, that’s just your opinion!” Or, “I don’t believe that way … what’s true for you is true for you and what’s true for me is true for me!” Or, “that’s pretty judgmental of you!” Or, “how narrow-minded of you, don’t you know there are many paths through here and all of them lead to safety?” Let’s face it, we can accept truth and guidance in physical contexts in life, but when it comes to the eternal spiritual matters of life we flip out.

Maybe you’re already across the most important line … and walking with Christ. But maybe even so, you’re still teetering through the darkness and the walls are close to caving in. If someone is trying to warn you, please pay attention and tread cautiously, change direction, whatever. That person means well, and is trying to stop you from destruction.

Or maybe you’re someone familiar with the cave. You’re doing no one any favors holding back from telling them of the dangers ahead. Yeah, you take a chance of offending them … particularly if you tell them in an offensive or obnoxious manner. The world has enough annoying people. Don’t be another one while you’re trying to alert someone to avoid peril. Tell them. Help them. If the walls are caving in, loving them is letting them know.

Soli Deo gloria!

MR

No disassembly required

Car parts

Remember a long time ago (for those of you who were around a long time ago, like me) how popular model cars were? Frankly, I’m not sure they even exist any longer. But you know what I’m talking about, those models where all the parts were connected to a plastic tree and when you took the parts off there was a little plastic leftover tag on the part? It always messed up trying to connect the parts. And then there was the glue … it never seemed to work well or really hold the parts together. It probably goes without saying, but I was never really good at putting together model cars as a kid. To me, it was basically like buying a car but getting only each of the parts. It never quite came together well.

Our 18 year-old son wants to buy a used pickup truck. We told him if he earns a certain amount of money in his part-time job, we would meet the rest of the cost. It would probably disappoint him if when we make “good” on our commitment, instead of buying him a truck, we bought him all the parts of the truck, but disassembled. Getting all the parts of a truck (or even a model car) disassembled is not the same as getting the actual truck.

In life we sometimes feel like God gives us the disassembled parts rather than the whole in a situation. Fortunately, nothing could be further from the truth.

There are numerous examples of this throughout scripture, and I’d argue that the whole of scripture is itself an example. With that said, my reading through Mark 6 – 16, and Luke 1 stimulated in me a little deeper reflection on this truth. In Mark 14:12-16, we read:

On the first day [of the festival] of Unleavened Bread, when [as was customary] they sacrificed the Passover lamb, His disciples asked Him, “Where do You want us to go and prepare for You to eat the Passover?” And He sent two of His disciples, saying to them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him; and say to the owner of the house he enters, ‘The Teacher asks, “Where is My guest room in which I may eat the Passover with My disciples?”’ He will show you a large upstairs room, furnished and ready [with carpets and dining couches]; prepare [the supper] for us there.” The disciples left and went to the city and found everything just as He had told them, and they prepared the Passover.

What I love about this passage in particular is … look at it … Jesus tells the disciples “There’s a guy that I have pre-ordained is going to be carrying a jar of water who will meet with you. Then when you get to the house, I have pre-ordained that the owner is going to have the room upstairs all set up, furnished and ready to go.” What’s so cool about this (and this is why I LOVE the Back to the Future movies) is that a nearly infinite number of precedent steps and events had to happen in each of just these two details in order to bring them to fruition. And then, think about the steps and events that had to happen to other people in order to bring these things about. No matter what point of view you take on whether God directly makes everything happen regardless of our free will or that God only indirectly reacts to the free will choices we make and redirects events to fit His will, it’s still amazing that He causes every detail to come to pass the way it needs to for His maximum glory and our maximum blessing.

And there’s the point … unlike how we probably view many of life’s events, as situations where God basically just throws a bunch of disassembled truck parts at us and says, “Go ahead and drive your truck,” my reflection this week shows far from that. When I look at this story, or even look at the Bible as a whole, it’s clear to me that there’s no disassembly required … or even involved … when it comes to God. He knows, thinks about, provides for, ordains, orchestrates, and lovingly (key word) carries out every minute and unimaginable detail to ensure His will will be done.

One profound example … when you consider there are over 300 prophecies in the Bible about Jesus, at least for me it makes my head spin. These are all facts foretold about Him that all came to pass. Not a single detail fell short regardless of how long before they were expressed. God told us in excruciating detail all the truths in advance about Jesus (because He knew beforehand) and then ensured that things lined up so that every prophecy would be proved true. Isaiah chapter 53 has 34 such prophecies on its own.

So why should we care? Just this …

If God has previously caused every miniscule detail to come to pass as He called it to, why would He not also be right this very second working out details in, through, and for us? In other words, regardless of the good, bad or not-sure circumstances we’re in, He is still in the midst, orchestrating and situating such that His maximum glory and our maximum blessing is the result. When we overlay onto that fact the very nature of God as LOVE, we can be assured that nothing is random, nothing is disorderly, nothing is meaningless, and nothing is out of His control. That’s incredibly comforting to me … I pray it is to you too.

God is not a frivolous God. He isn’t sitting above His creation scratching His head and wondering, “what the heck is going on? This isn’t how it was supposed to be!” Rather He’s sitting above creation, saying, “This (my loving will and plan for your life and My creation) is what is going on. This is how it’s supposed to be.” And He sees it all at once, knows the end from the beginning and loves you and loves me more than we can fathom. If that’s what it means for me to be out of control and to turn it over to Him … I’m glad I signed up. I pray if you haven’t, you soon will.

Our world seems irreparably jacked up. Well, it is. But it’s not outside of God’s will and God’s plan. Does that make it good? Well, yes and no. It’s horrible that life is routinely and repetitively disregarded by us humans and that it only seems to be going downhill. But somehow God understands and knows not just what is happening now, but what now will cause to happen later. And He’s in the middle of MAKING IT GOOD. I don’t know precisely how, but I know it’s true. The Bible is the evidence (hint: read the back of the book).

The pieces are assembled. We just don’t (yet) see it. The model is put together seamlessly, and the truck parts are together and it drives beautifully. There’s no disassembly required. Our job? Trust and know He’s assembled it and await the completion. I pray for all of us this week we choose to see what He allows us to see in the parts and the whole, and what we don’t see we just take on faith that it’s in process of being assembled.

Soli Deo gloria!

MR

Fear itself

FDR

I’m not a particularly knowledgeable history buff, but I have found over the years as I get older I find the things of history more and more interesting. Maybe it’s because I’m getting closer year-in and year-out to becoming history myself … haha. In seriousness, I think there is so much wisdom throughout history that we tend to neglect. Don’t misunderstand, I’m not trying to equate written history on level footing with the truth of God’s word, but I do strongly believe that God allows the occurrence of history to happen – in part – for our knowledge, instruction, and blessing.

In our country’s history, there are arguably few presidents who have the legacy that Franklin Delano Roosevelt had. Regardless of what you think of his politics and the New Deal, his leadership – some would argue, fortified by his personal battle with and victory over polio – came during an unprecedented period during our country’s and our world’s history. Taking office during the plunge of the Great Depression, leading the US and co-leading the free world during most of World War II, he won four presidential elections and guided our nation through a perilous phase the likes of which few ever have. Let’s hope few will ever need to. While he ultimately died shortly into his fourth term (yes, a president is typically limited to two four-year terms, but in wartime an exception may be made and understandably was by congress), his mark was no doubt made indelibly.

It’s no wonder, then, that his first inaugural address contains an oft-quoted (and misquoted) component that at that time served to muster the belief of a nation scarred and scared, with 25 percent unemployment, anguish and hopelessness serving as the albatross around society’s neck.

So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.

I highly recommend reading the rest of the speech … I just find it interesting to hear how our presidents approached the trials and travails of their times. But camping out on a couple elements of this statement and weaving it into my reading this week from Matthew 20-28 and Mark 1-5 is my primary goal. In particular, I love how FDR worked to wrench hopefulness from hopelessness by identifying the true enemy of the time (would that our current president would take the example of his predecessor … but that’s a separate topic) … fear. He says fear is the primary impediment to hope and survival and rising above the circumstances. He actually points out aptly that fear, “paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” Masterful! Fear stops us from believing and overcoming and moving forward beyond our present circumstances to our future hope and promise.

In Jesus’ day, the hopes of the Jewish nation were scarred in similar ways. They lived under the thumb of an authoritarian and suppressive Roman regime, and had all but lost hope after hundreds of years of oppression and exile that their promised Messiah would actually come.   And we note that when He did, they struggled to embrace and believe Him, and misapplied their anticipation to expectations that wouldn’t (yet) come, further plunging them into the spiral of a different sort of “depression.” But it personified by the same sort of fear.

In Mark 5:14-17 we see a brief indication of my point …

The herdsmen [tending the pigs] ran away and reported it in the city and in the country. And the people came to see what had happened. They came to Jesus and saw the man who had been demon-possessed sitting down, clothed and in his right mind, the man who had [previously] had the “legion” [of demons]; and they were frightened. Those who had seen it described [in detail] to the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man, and [told them all] about the pigs. So the people began to beg with Jesus to leave their region.

God can do anything. Many times He will, like He did in this situation. Effectively, Jesus had just freed a man long-struck with a “legion” of demons and had the demons indwell a herd of pigs (that’s how many demons there were) and ultimately the poor little piggies were run off a cliff by the demons and drowned. But the formerly-possessed man was freed from a horrendous affliction. The people in that region of the Gerasenes had received something from God they’d hoped for (the man was a terrible danger to their region and probably incredibly scary to have around), and yet instead of seeing Jesus’ liberation of the man as they’d sought, they responded in paralyzing fear. After what must have been a profoundly powerful moment, and seeing the power of the One who could do anything, they said not help me, help us, etc. They said, “Argghhh! Please leave! You scare us. You’re not what we expect.”

See, we sometimes ask thinking we know what we want and … audaciously … what we need. But will we ask God what He wants or what He “needs” and be willing to accept it? Or are there other times when we won’t ask something because we fear He can’t or won’t give it? Here the people in this region were probably seeing in human form the Answer to centuries of prayer and petition to God. And yet, because it didn’t fully fit their expectations of His response … they received what they needed rather than what they wanted, they were overtaken by their fear.

Instead of accepting, we fear. We fear what we see sometimes. We fear what we don’t see other times. This is what FDR was trying to help our country overcome in 1933 during his first inaugural address. Fear is an intruder. It was intruding upon our nation’s ability to rise from the ashes of a depression that tore our country apart at its core. And it intrudes from us receiving what God wants to do. It can intrude from what God wants to undo.

The folks around during Jesus’ time SAW directly what He was doing and what He was undoing and still they feared. For us not only do we see what He does in our lives but we have the whole of scripture to see what He did in others’ lives. And yet … we still fear. In the same way that FDR said, when it comes to our relationship with God, and His work in our lives, fear most certainly “paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” Our retreat is our inability to trust in the provision of God, like the people in the region of the Gerasenes. Our retreat is our unwillingness to see God’s work being carried out in a different frame of reference than our own. But letting go of that fear unlocks the command of God as He takes us from retreat to advance in His way, in His time.

So what fear is stopping you today from the advance God wants you to have? We all wrestle with it somehow and it affects us all, while perhaps not equally, certainly pervasively. What is it that God is currently doing that differs from our expectation and that we are seeing with eyes of retreat rather than eyes of advance? Where is His provision being received with doubt rather than confidence? My prayer for us this week is that we realize our real enemy is fear, and that God would reveal to us the magnitude of His ability to take our hand and walk us through the hazardous times into the safety of seeing His advance already underway. An advance that has already conquered the legion of demons, carried us through the pit of great depression, and reigned victorious in a war against an enemy set on world domination.

God can do anything. He will do anything. Let’s realize He already is at work on our behalf and the only thing we really have to fear about His victory is … fear itself.

Soli Deo gloria!

MR

No reflection on you

no-reflection

It’s not just the current election season we’re in, but in general in our society – and globally – we’re obsessed. With ourselves. You don’t have to look to far, frankly beyond our bathroom mirrors, to figure out who matters most to many of us. These days, while our presidential and other elections are bubbling up, we are getting the most acute sense of self-aggrandizement in recent memory as far as I’m concerned. There’s a great quote in one of my favorite movies “A Few Good Men,” where Tom Cruise’s character asks Demi Moore’s character, “Why are you always giving me your resume?” Doesn’t that seem like a question we can ask about people we know or watch on TV every day … or perhaps, ourselves?

This past week I began rereading the Gospels, this time in the Amplified Bible version (it’s a cool version … check it out!). I’ve grown to appreciate how it helps bring additional context and vibrancy to words and topics I’ve read dozens of times, and how it has been equipping me with greater resolution in how I see the themes as I read them.

One such section brought to light this week’s focus for me as I read through Matthew 1 – 19. The specific passage, Matthew 6:1-4, says …

“Be [very] careful not to do your [a]good deeds publicly, to be seen by men; otherwise you will have no reward [prepared and awaiting you] with your Father who is in heaven. “So whenever you give to the poor and do acts of kindness, do not blow a trumpet before you [to advertise it], as the hypocrites do [like actors acting out a role] in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored and recognized and praised by men. I assure you and most solemnly say to you, they [already] have their reward in full. But when you give to the poor and do acts of kindness, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing [give in complete secrecy], so that your charitable acts will be done in secret; and your Father who sees [what is done] in secret will reward you.

Last year I had the chance to travel with Helen and the kids through the southeast on a tour of colleges that Jared has since applied to for a year from now when he begins college. During that trip, we had a cool opportunity while sitting in a Starbucks somewhere in Tennessee. A young couple walked in, one of whom was in a military uniform. I got up from where we were sitting and went to the opposite side of the counter and prepaid the order for the couple without letting them know. It was fun to watch the reaction they had when they attempted to pay and were told it was covered. Perhaps the most rewarding part was that they didn’t know who had paid or even why … it was most rewarding because we were able to help them without any motivation other than helping them. Now, I realize the irony of telling this story in a post where I’m advocating not telling such a story … but a little grace on that, please. 😎

But the purpose of the illustration in some small measure is to align with Jesus’ admonition during the Sermon on the Mount, from which the passage above is excerpted. He’s speaking about things that are generally considered good … doing good deeds, performing acts of kindness, charitable acts, etc. But He’s speaking about the motivation behind doing those things. He’s talking about the “Why are you always giving your resume?” nature of our intentions when we do things. Let’s face it, listening to any politician aptly fits this scenario and most of us consider it part of what makes politicians repulsive (perhaps I’m speaking for myself, who knows?). But the illness in that sense is not confined to politicians.

In the end, we need to think through the things we do in an attempt to be benevolent and ask ourselves: Who are we trying to serve? Who are we trying to impress? Who are we trying to be?

Interestingly, when our benevolence is askew, we are not trying to serve others. We’re usually trying to serve ourselves. It’s one of the things that bugs me about many politicians these days. Yes, I understand that there are many politicians who legitimately have an other-focused motivation at heart. But all too often these days there’s both a self-interest and a self-preservation at heart. Instead, Jesus is saying when we serve, we should truly have the interest of others at heart and to be focused on serving others.

Similarly, our misaligned intent is often shown through who we’re trying to impress with our giving or serving. Too frequently, we’re trying to impress others, to show them how “good” we are. Jesus’ point in the passage above is that our goal should be to impress no one other than God, our “Father who sees [what is done] in secret.” Any time we’re working to impress others, it’s fleeting at best, and it serves no lasting benefit. I’m not saying we should do good things to gain God’s favor, but I am saying we should do good things to show God’s favor.

Finally, our misalignment in doing good often is shown when we’re trying to be someone else or someone we’re not. Or, perhaps better said, someone we feel like we’re not. It’s not a stretch to conclude that when someone points the spotlight at themselves it’s because they don’t feel illuminated without it. There’s always a sense that they’re trying to fill some gap about themselves that they feel. God sees who we really are, so trying to put up airs serves no purpose for the One who knows us best. Instead, we should focus on just being who we are, and giving in light of that.

Our goal should be to give and serve and do without trying to give the reflection to ourselves. We should be reflecting God. My prayer for us this week is that in our acts of kindness, we focus on serving others, conveying to others to be impressed by God, and to be ourselves and use the gifts God has entrusted to us. Then, as Jesus says, a lasting, eternal impact and reward can follow.

Soli Deo gloria!

MR