Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Lesson from a Monster Truck

I’d like to think that as a driver I check my mirrors regularly. If I had, though, it wouldn’t have seemed that this monster truck appeared out of nowhere. The truck filled my mirror so suddenly that I actually jumped in my seat.

I was doing 40 in the left lane. 40 is the posted speed limit, and I had previously received a warning for driving over 40 on that exact stretch of road. I wanted to hit the approaching onramp, though, and there wasn’t space to move over and let the truck past.

The driver of the truck didn’t seem interested in doing 40.

For a second I felt like that big old truck was trying to intimidate me in my little Honda. I could see the driver’s eyes in the top of my mirror, and he didn’t look too menancing, yet I felt pressured to speed up or get out of the way. I was willing to do neither.

I didn’t get run over. I was passed very soon after entering the highway, but whether the police stop a monster truck for speeding is their business, not mine.

I realized I too often and too easily suppose that drivers of large vehicles intend to intimidate those of us who drive small cars. Surely some of them do, but it is unfair for me to attribute such motive to every driver of every large vehicle.

Then I realized that it isn’t just with cars, trucks, and traffic that this happens. It is easy in any of our relationships to attribute motive, to assume we know the thoughts and intents of the other person. Very often we do so unfairly. Too often relationships are broken and even ended for just such presumption.

I know I wouldn’t want someone assuming my motivation. I will practice, then, treating others as I want to be treated.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Afraid of God?

Picture with me an auditorium full of college students gathered for a chapel service. The young men are all wearing coat and tie. Each of the young women is in a dress. They are quiet, attentive, and hanging on every word the preacher preaches. This was the scene as I was channel surfing one night several years ago. I would be glad to have such an audience, I stopped on this channel to listen to what the preacher had to say. His words made such an impression on me it is with me to this day.

My life and ministry are devoted to countering the poisonous message the college chaplain was delivering that day. Here’s what he said, “If you accepted Christ for any reason other than for fear of going to hell, you salvation is not real,” the chaplain asserted to a thousand eager ears.

People wonder why the church gets such a bad rap today! Paul wrote to Timothy that God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, and love, and self-discipline (II Timothy 2:7).

I do not know what god this supposedly Christian chaplain was talking about, but it certainly is not he same God I serve or we worship. His god of fear is not the God who sent Jesus to teach us to live and love. His god of fear must not be the God who sent the Holy Spirit to comfort and encourage His people.

I do not lightly question the faith of others. I do not have a narrow set of requirements for what I deem “Christian.” I have no fear that I do not have all the right answers or that others may disagree with me. Why should I fear? The God I know is not about fear!

Sometimes nothing is best

Let me pass on to you all some of the best advice I ever received. It was given to me in the context of counseling hurting people; but I have found it useful in many situations. The advice is simple. When you don’t know what to say, don’t say anything.

Whether sitting in the ICU waiting room with a mother whose daughter just died, or comforting young parents after a stillbirth, to listening to someone pour out the unfairness of life to them, our tendency is to try to offer answers. We want to calm, to soothe, to comfort. Too often we try to counsel so with words that pass blame to others. We offer up explanations for things we cannot and never will understand.

Instead of offering answers, hear beyond the questions. Instead of placing blame, share the hurt. Don’t think that some words must be better than none. Being willing just to listen. It is ok not to have answers.

Let us learn this lesson with Job: God is not at all offended by our questions and doubts, but we may not get answers. Humanity may have advanced over the centuries, but there is and always will be much we do not understand. Let us also learn with Job that God’s presence and blessing do not depend on our understanding.

You don’t have to have answers to listen to questions. You do not have to have solutions to share the weight of problems. Listen. Be there. Many times, this is enough. The one who listens never ends up with one’s own foot in one’s mouth!

Monday, November 21, 2005

Thankstelling v. Thanksgiving

For what are you thankful? I know, what boring question to read in a newspaper!

It is Thanksgiving week, after all, and we are being bombarded, even accosted, by the same question: "For what are you thankful?"

But the more astute of you notice I worded the question differently: I did not write "what are you thankful for;" but rather, "for what are you thankful?

Of course the main purpose of my changing the word order is to avoid ending a sentence with a preposition. Wouldn't my English teacher be proud?

But not only have I worded the question differently, I want you to take it differently. I don't want the rehearsed list of "family, friends, comfort, peace,
yada, yada, yada." For what are you REALLY thankful?

In fact, don't answer the question. Don't say a word. I may not believe you.

You see, we have a problem running rampant through our society that allows us to believe that saying something is enough. Saying I love you or I am thankful for this or that is all we ought or can do.

The tragic consequence is that if we say it, we think we do not have to live it.

So, this year, instead of telling anyone for what you are thankful, show them. Live it.

Friday, November 11, 2005

How does life fit you?

I remember when I got my first pair of cowboy boots. We didn’t move to Texas until I was 13, so I didn’t grow up wearing boots. While in high school, though, I came to realize I needed a pair of boots.

I found a pair of gray antelope boots. Even on sale they cost far more than I have ever spent on a pair of shoes, but it was a good brand from a reputable store and the salesperson taught me something interesting for my feet, and for my life.

The boots didn’t feel right on my feet. They pushed at parts of my feet that weren’t used to being pushed at. They were, in fact, uncomfortable. As it turns out, the discomfort my new boots caused was not a bad thing.

I had never worn a pair of shoes with actual arch support built into them. These boots cost more than twice what I had ever paid for a pair of shoes, and apparently they were built like it. What was better for my feet, and therefore for my back, my posture, and my well-being, hurt at first.

We cannot doubt God would rather have us live our lives much differently than most of us live them. Perhaps you have tried to change the way you live. Perhaps making changes has brought discomfort.

Discomfort in life can be a good thing. It can mean you are living in ways your body, or your soul, isn’t used to. If you have made changes in the way you live because God has lead you to do so, I can assure you the discomfort comes from your having never lived as well as God intends you to live.

It wasn’t long before my boots became comfortable. I just had to keep wearing them. Don’t let the discomfort you live change your commitment to walking into the kind of life God wants you to have.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

When is a game just a game?

How do you know when you've got things out of proportion?

I was at a high school football game a couple of weeks ago. Just before halftime the quarterback was on the sidelines, and was smiling. I heard an adult not far from me say, "I wish I could wipe that smile off his face! Does he think this is just a game?"

No, I am not making that up. What a tragedy for so many adults who live their dreams of glory vicariously through kids.

What makes News News?

Part of my morning ritual is watching Fox News Channel’s “Fox & Friends” morning show. For those of you who think my watching this channel makes me a conservative, we will take that up in some other column.

This morning the show was broken into for yet another high speed chase. It seems a 2-door Saturn had run a stop sign somewhere in the Los Angeles vicinity and didn’t stop when a police car gave chase. Apparently a news helicopter was already in the air and had nothing better to do than follow the chase.

For the next ten minutes all that was covered on this cable news network was the gripping video of a Saturn speeding down a highway. As the camera struggled to stay centered on the car, various voices dredged up all the information they could about the runaway Saturn. They even found at least one man who was willing to speculate that the car might have been stolen, may have a hostage, for that matter, it could be driven by Osama bin Laden himself!

Unlike the rest of America, I had no interest in the chase, even after the great speculator told me what could be involved. No, my mind wandered off into what exactly is it about a “high speed chase” that makes it worth covering on a national, even an international, news channel.

I left before the chase was finished. I don’t even know who won! I don’t know what to make of an alleged news channel deciding to skip over the news of the day to focus on a Californian car chase. I do know that it is illustrative of how out of touch our culture is with reality.

It is too easy for us to get caught up in the immediacy of the moment. The “if it feels good, do it” philosophy has carved its way so deeply into our societal psyche that news is the event/adventure of the moment.

Life is meant to be deeper and richer than this! Live in the moment, but not for the moment.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

New Tragedy, Old Question

Why does God let bad things happen to good people?

The Reverend Kyle Lake, pastor of the University Baptist Church, was electrocuted this past Sunday while preparing for a baptism. Why would God allow such a horrible thing to happen?

From what I have read, Rev. Lake felt called to take the Gospel to people who were not comfortable with traditional church. What a wonderful calling! The institutional church has injured so many people over the years there is a huge mission field among those who feel they cannot be a part of traditional churches!

I think the Good News of Jesus will help us understand why bad things continue to happen to good people. It will also help us see why the opposite, and just as frustrating, also happens: why good things happen to bad people.

In creating the world, God desired fellowship with creation. As such, from the outset people were given the freedom and opportunity to choose to live in fellowship with God, or not to. How meaningful would a relationship be if it was not entered into freely?

In allowing us the freedom to choose a relationship with him or not, God also allows us freedom to live and move as we decide, not as he decides. Scripture tells us that God is “not willing that any should perish….” (2 Peter 3:9).

God gave up controlling the world that he had made so that we might indeed have the opportunity to choose him. Because God gave up this control, things happen that would not happen if God were running every event.

The real Good News of the Gospel is that in spite of all the things that happen due to our freedom, God has established that all who choose him can have a relationship with him forever; in this life and the next.