Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Aim Low

"But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place. . ."
Jesus, Lk 14:10

". . .If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all."
Jesus, Mk 9:35

"Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted."
Jesus, Mt 23:12

"I urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 
with all humility. . ."
The Apostle Paul, Ep 4:1-2

"Humble yourselves before the Lord. . ."
James, Ja 4:10

Aim low.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Sunday Post for Shepherds -- The Gift of Relief

"No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another."
Author, Charles Dickens

"I relieved his shoulder of the burden, 
his hands were freed from the basket."
Yahweh, Ps 81:6

"Bear one another's burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ."
The Apostle Paul, Ga 6:2

Friday, January 11, 2013

Friendship: It Flows from the Humble

Several weeks back I was asked to consider blogging my thoughts on friendship, specifically, "What do you think is the essence of 'friendship'? Why do you think some people end up being better friends than others? Do Christians have to be good friends with each other? How might you counsel a believer who often feels 'lonely,' acknowledged by many but pursed by none?"

I've gone over these things on "friendship" in my head (which is the way to go over things). And if I were to write those thoughts it would be a blog longer than perhaps anyone is willing to read. Therefore, I want to say a little something instead ("little"is relative), for whatever it's worth.

Jesus says great love is the love in the hearts of those who lay down their lives for their friends (Jn 15:13). In saying this, Jesus speaks more about love than friendship. But He does imply that being the best kind of friend entails sacrifice. Then the Apostles Paul and John write of laying down our possessions for friends (2 Co 8-9; 1 Jn 3). Actually, they speak of doing this for any Christian. So certainly we must do it for our Christian friends. And while Jesus is our ultimate example of friendship, we do see it modeled, though to a lesser degree, in others, like Jonathan and David, in 1 Samuel 18-20. Jesus connects friendship with love and then with sacrifice (Jn 15:1-17), as does the account in 1 Samuel. So in answer to my friend's question on the essence of friendship, I would start there, with love evidenced by sacrifice. This is basic; "For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son. . ." (Jn 3:16), to make us His "friends" (Jn 15:1-17).

If we take the above as foundational to friendship, then the other questions can be answered rather easily, at least at the beginning. So yes, Christians do have to be good friends with each other because Christians must love each other. Some of those relationships will be more enjoyable than others because some folks are just more likable than others, more pleasant, easier to be with. And I think there are other factors like common interests, personality types, and simply how someone makes us feel when we're with them. From reading the Gospels, it appears that Jesus, in His humanity, was "closer" to some of His disciples than others.

My friend's final question caught my attention because of the way it describes the lonely as "acknowledged by many but pursued by none." My opinion is that this is precisely where so many of us live, wrongly. We acknowledge but do not pursue. Perhaps the most ignored commandment in the Bible is from Philippians 2:3-5, "Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests but also to the interests of others. Have this mind in yourselves. . ." Who does this with any consistency? Answer: only the humble. Love evidenced in sacrifice flows from humility. Humility means counting others more significant than ourselves and looking to their interests. This is the pinnacle of friendship.

I believe that many Christians hear Philippians 2:3-5 and wrongfully reckon that it can't be done; the Apostle asks too much. He asks us to assume the mentality and humility of Jesus, who (if you continue in the chapter), though He is God, laid down His divine rights and privileges and not only condescended to become a creature, but a servant, and then a crucified sacrifice. This is friendship -- humility driven sacrifice rooted in love that puts the significance and interests of others above our own. So instead of reading Philippians 2 as if it contained fantasy commands, we should ask God to make us like His Son -- good for and useful to our friends. Next, we should consider those friends by making a list of their needs and then go about meeting them, sacrificially and abundantly, like Jesus met our greatest need. And if we can't meet them ourselves, let's find someone who can.

We must learn to stop, and to get quiet, and to put ourselves into the situations of our friends so that we can begin to feel the weight of their burdens and the extent of their needs. And then, instead of only praying for them, let us lay down our possessions, our time, and our help, at their feet, for Jesus' sake. In other words, let's love on them in ways that matter.

Consider, if you have a friend who is going thorough marital and/or parental hardship, what do they need? What if their beloved pet has died? What if they're enduring sickness? What if they're children with absentee parents? What if they're injured? What if they hate their job? What if they've lost their job -- what do they need? What if their vehicle has broken down?; their parent has died?; they're moving to a new place?; they're being deployed?; they're changing vocations?; they're depressed?; they're lonely?; they're poor? Think, and pray; and then do something, friend.

The call of this post is for more deliberate, and less casual, and distinctly Christian, friendship.

"Heavenly Father, may we get over ourselves, and become a blessing." Jesus will smile.

Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.
1 Jn 3:18

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Echoes of His Image - Kasey Chambers on the Desire for Order, Comfort, Freedom, Courage, and Meaning

Well I never lived through the great depression  
Sometimes I feel as though I did 
I don't have answers for every single question  
But that's okay cause I'm just a kid  

I've seen pictures of my mother  
She looked exactly like me  
And I've seen all my friends running for cover  
Running from something they can't see

And it's not easy to get a handle on my life 
But I have tried it time and time again

But I still cry just like a baby  
And I answer back to feel a little free  
And I still fly even though I'm gonna fall  
But I'm too far gone to let it get to me

I'm not much like my generation 
Their music only hurts my ears 
And I don't hide my pain to save my reputation  
It's too hard to keep up with these years

And it's not easy to make a habit disappear 
But I have tried it time and time again

But I still cry just like a baby  
And I answer back to feel a little free  
And I still fly even though I'm gonna fall 
But I'm too far gone to let it get to me

Lyrics from "Cry Like a Baby," from her album "The Captain"

Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness. 
Delight yourself in the Lord; and He will give you the desires of your heart.  
Commit your way to the Lord, trust also in Him, and He will do it. 
 The steps of a man are established by the Lord, and He delights in his way. When he falls, he will not be hurled headlong, because the Lord is the One who holds his hand.
Ps 37:3-5, 23-24 

Friday, January 4, 2013

Lessons from a Long Ride North

On my family's recent road trip to Maine, I noticed (and I'll limit this to only ten):

1. There are Subway and Dunkin Donuts restaurants everywhere, at least on the east coast, even in the tiniest towns. Good to know.

2. Delaware has, according to my observation, the most liquor stores per capita in the U.S. Considering it is the oldest state, perhaps it contains the greatest wisdom. I mean, if you have a good product to sell, make it easily accessible.

3. The pie in ME, in seemingly every restaurant, and at my in-laws, is excellent.

4. Myrtle Street Tavern in Rockland; it's "not just for sailors and whores anymore." So I went in.

5. Joah's powers are ever increasing. Here he is relaxing and learning, with his toddler-esque kind of sophistication.

6. Tess adores snow; sledding on it, laying in it, eating it, whatever.

7. Marian adores pictures; mostly taking them. I knew this already but discovered it afresh. While on this trip she took several hundred. I took one; the one to the right there.

8. How good it is to have the proper equipment for a work. I observed this while running comfortably in ME's cold winds; I had good clothing designed for such a task. And I thought of it again while moving lots of snow in a short amount of time due to a shovel suited for the labor. Of course I knew this already and learned it best while trying to work on my vehicles without proper tools. We're not all MacGyvers.

9. Road tolls are unpleasant and disruptive, while road toll takers are quite pleasant and gladsome. I noticed this because we passed over so many toll roads, so I got a larger sample than I have had before. These folks sit in that outdoor cubicle with the window open, repeating the same monotonous task, for what I'm guessing is not great pay. Yet they smile and wish you well on your journey. At least that was our experience. Contentment is a powerful force.

George Washington Bridge, connecting New York and New Jersey
10. That I didn't notice as much as I could have, like this bridge we crossed, twice. It was night on both occasions and I had been driving a long time. So I imagine I was in task mode.

Connecting Leadership and Learning

"A wise leader is passionate, but this passion has to be built on the bedrock of foundational conviction. Thinking and teaching are essential. But, as should go without saying, you don't have anything to think about or anything to teach if you are not a reader."-- Douglas Wilson.

You can read the entire article here.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

New Discoveries via Fresh Exertion: Another Reason to Run (and/or Walk) in 2013

2012 has been, perhaps, the most unusual year of my small life. This is true concerning things that matter much, but also things that matter less. It is true of my inner man; but it also true of my outer man, to use the Apostle Paul's terminology (2 Co 4:16). One of the things that matters less, but does matter (1 Ti 4:8), is my running practice. Here, I want to commend running to you, and also commend walking, by a list of delights discovered during physical exertion, in these cases, while traveling in 2012. I'll count these down in reverse order.

5. Seneca, SC:  I am slow to list this at #5 because in some ways it is #1 (as are perhaps some of the other locations). The way this one is first is its demands, i.e. lots of long and/or steep hills, which I go out of my way to climb and descend. Three of the four other locations offer nothing like the foothills of SC in this regard. Loving hills is not only good for the body but also the mind. Climbing, then, grants a double dose of toughness and growth. But here I list the Seneca runs behind the others for a purely subjective reason associated with the theme of this post - discovery. The Seneca routes were all known to me. I have run them many times. The other routes were all first time excursions. Objectively, and normally, I put Seneca first. But today she places 5th. I ran here while visiting family for Thanksgiving. It was on this stay in Seneca that a friend introduced me to "Duck Dynasty."

4. Salisbury, MD: I left the hotel in Salisbury for a morning jaunt anticipating it being a road run. But a mile into the exercise I found myself on a dirt trail connected to a city park and the city zoo -- a pleasant surprise. I ran here while on a trip to attend my niece's baby shower cook out. Good times, except for the traffic citation I received on the drive home (I was charged with failure to yield to a stopped emergency vehicle).

3. Fairfield, CT: Like the run in Salisbury, I left the inn headed out for a refreshing strain of the body, seeing that I had spent most of the previous day driving. Fortunately, I discovered Old Post Road which led me through a beautiful old New England residential community. The houses were large and distinct. And I ran by a church building built of some sort of stone with which I am not familiar (seen at left). The church sign said the church was organized in 1639. It did not say when the building was constructed. But it looked to be the oldest church building that I have seen. I continue to be impressed with the skills of those who know how to construct beauty in a durable manner. This run came while on a trip to spend Christmas with my parents-n-law.

2. Greenville, SC: The route in Greenville, which I got to run 3 times, could easily be #1 on this short list. It certainly would be if my standard of measurement were uniqueness (in my own experience, of course). The route consists of a network of trails, mostly paved, that belong to a high-end neighborhood into which I was not invited, but was located only a mile from where I was staying. As a matter of fact, the signs marking the trail entrances told me that the trail was for residents only. I get that. The folks of that particular neighborhood do not want their trails over-populated or abused by those who have no investment in them. However, should not good things be enjoyed by those who appreciate them? So I read the warning signs and kept on running. I have never seen such a network in such a place. What a tremendous resource. The network ran throughout the woods all over the beautiful community, by fantastic houses and rushing river waters, along the backside of many immaculately landscaped yards, over bridges, and into a tiny park. It is a fantastic set-up. I asked the Lord if He might grant my family a house in that hood. Time will tell. I got to enjoy this splendor while visiting friends in SC on what I will call a vocationary expedition.

1. Andover, MA: The Merrimack River Trail gets first place today for a couple of reasons: 1 - the surprise factor, and 2 - sheer beauty. I left the Springhill Suites by Marriott expecting to run a previously eyed trail built into a large business park. But while standing outside waiting for my Garmin watch to link with a satellite, I noticed that in the direction going behind the hotel, the trail went into some woods. I love woods. So I went that way soon to come across the sign in the pic next to this paragraph. Behind the sign is a lake around which a dirt trail lays. On this particular morning, snow covered just about everything (I got the pic online. I don't run with a camera. So sorry, no snow in this shot). And in some places the lake was frozen on the surface. I also enjoyed many streams rushing into the lake, and the bridges that cross them. This was so much better than the paved route by the large business buildings. This was just me in the woods in an unknown place already beautiful, but made more so by snow and ice. This grand surprise was given to me on our trip home from our stay with my in-laws in Maine.

Other places I have enjoyed running this year include various cities in Virginia, North Carolina, and Maine. And I also regularly experience the benefits of walking. This is an option for the one who refuses to run but desires the perks of getting outside, as God intends. It's also a good way to pray, which is my use of it.

One of the fun things about a new run in a new place is not knowing what to expect. Another thing is not knowing the roads. In other words, it's good to remember how to get back to the hotel. The simplest way is to find a road and stay on it for half the distance you mean to run, then turn around and retrace your steps. I've done that. This can, however, make for much interference in the discovery arena. So I commend some degree of risk. It's good sometimes to "go out on a limb", as they say; because that's where the fruit is.

Merry New Year.