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Archive for the ‘Commentaries’ Category

It’s popularly held that a person ought to use their “platform” to speak to the issues of the day. But that has created an atmosphere of nearly constant conflict, where our opinions are elevated above sustaining meaningful relationships within our communities. Now even tragic events are seen as an opportunity to advance our particular agenda. We’ve become a society that is more passionate about its ideas than compassionate for its neighbors. Unless we reverse that trend, the quality of our existence will continue to erode.

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I believe that if we ever hope to live up to the potential of Philippians 4:13 (I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me), we must first succumb to the reality of John 15:5 (apart from me, you can do nothing). Human nature is such that as long as we think there is some alternate route to reach our destination, we’ll take it.

 

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Our son Patrick has a big heart, and when he was younger, his response to seeing a hurting child (e.g. starving, abused, poor..) was always the same, “We could adopt them, and they can stay in my room”. I always loved that impulse in him; not only the desire to reach out to those in need, but also a willingness to sacrifice something of his own to make it happen.  I’d like to think we cultivated that in him, as we’ve tried to be a family that consistently extends ourselves for the people we encounter.  Throughout his formative years, my wife’s mother, who was legally blind and unable to walk, lived with us.  After my dad passed away, my mother came to live with us for some years as well.  At other times, we’ve housed folks who were homeless, addicted, and/or otherwise at risk.  Like Patrick, we had a hard time walking by someone who was hurting, and not wanting to help.  But in those years, when the kids were really young, there was a practical reality that also set in.  With so many people depending on us for physical, financial, spiritual, and emotional support, our resources (e.g. time, energy, patience, money..) became taxed way beyond our capacity to replenish them.  After a period of years, we found ourselves exhausted, deeply in debt and becoming somewhat cynical about our fellow man.

 

At that point, there were many people who stepped up to share their wisdom with me, which essentially said that I was foolish to have poured so much into other people’s lives, and that I should have been more focused on taking care of my own. Some pointed out that I had ultimately compromised my family’s security because I’d not been more protective of our assets.  As much as I wanted to argue with them, there was ample evidence that we needed to make some changes.  Even so, I never wanted to become the kind of person who was oblivious to other people’s struggles, and I definitely didn’t want to be the kind of neighbor feasting on prime rib, while my neighbors are rummaging for scraps.  So I began to look for the middle ground between my son’s eagerness to take in every orphan, and the pragmatists, who were urging me to be more cognizant of our limited resources.  It’s a balance that we’re still working on all these years later.

 

My reason for sharing this little narrative is that I think it is representative of where the United States of America finds itself today. There are those idealists who are constantly identifying new groups of people who are in need, and who they believe the U.S. has a moral obligation to care for.  Like my son, I can relate to their passionate urge to reach out to these people.  And then there are the realists, who rightfully point out that even a country as grand as this has a finite capacity to meet all those needs, and that our national credit cards are already maxed out.  As much as I don’t love their message, they are not wrong that something needs to change.

 

Even though the two ends of this philosophical spectrum are speaking the loudest, I believe that most people find themselves somewhere in the middle. Though we can’t do everything we’d like for everyone who’s in need, it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t do anything for anyone other than ourselves.  We need to pick our spots, and to find ways to reach out within the bounds of our resources; both as a nation, and maybe more importantly, on an individual basis.  We need to quit expecting the government to do something on a national scale, that we ourselves are unwilling to do on a local scale.  I believe that the response to the recent natural disasters is a beautiful example of what is possible.  No one needed the government to tell them what had to be done.  We didn’t need to wait for legislation to be passed before taking action.  “We the People” saw what was needed and got busy.  The government has their part too, but it was just regular people who made the immediate difference.  That is the country I still love, and I still believe in.  If we could take all the energy that is currently being spent on protesting what we don’t like, and invest it into tangibly practicing what we say we believe in, there is no end to what we could accomplish.

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There is no painless path to growth.

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One of the more familiar parables of Jesus has come to be known as “The Parable of the Seed and the Sower” (or sometimes just the Parable of the Sower).  This title is somewhat of a misnomer, as the focal point of the story is neither the seed nor the sower; ultimately, it is about the soil.  And for those of us who count ourselves as believers, it is the words in verse 22 that most directly apply.

 

Matthew 13:22 “Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful.” (NKJV)

 

Implicit in the manner this example is given, the depth of ones roots is not at issue here. The lack of a deep rooted faith is addressed in verses 20-21.  This passage speaks to the object of our focus, and it may be surprising to consider that it isn’t necessarily sin or evil that chokes off the seed of God for the believer.  Often times it is simply the cares of this life.  It also worth noting that the consequence of this distraction isn’t necessarily the loss of one’s salvation, it is generally a lack of fruitfulness.

 

It is tempting to gloss over the words and to convince ourselves that He is talking about caring about what the world cares about (i.e. fame, social status, the praise of men…), and/or about being greedy, but I sense the message of this passage runs much deeper than that.  I believe that the “cares of this world” quite naturally occur as part of living in a fallen world, and dealing with the world’s system for getting things done.  I also sense that when He speaks of “riches”, He isn’t necessarily talking about money.  He’s referencing what the world sees as valuable.

 

On a personal level, this passage hits me where I live. As I’ve endeavored to answer the upward call of God upon my life, being a good husband, a good father and a good neighbor have become a much higher priority.  But embracing those roles also creates an endless supply of practical issues that need to be dealt with, and those things often grab hold of my attention and require the bulk of my energy.  In those instances the reality of my circumstance tends to overwhelm my grasp of the reality of God’s word, and when it does, I flounder.

 

No doubt, there is a balancing point that needs to be reached with all this, as we are called to be in the world, but not of it. It is an equilibrium which I doubt that I’ve experienced for any sustained amount of time.  I don’t generally struggle on issues that relate to me personally, but I can be very susceptible when it comes to the people I love.  The truth be told, I often ride the rollercoaster of their situation until it dawns on me how nauseous it is making me, and I choose to step off.  In those moments I must cast my cares on Him who sustains me.  And when I do, I always wonder at my tendency to get back on that ride.

 

Jesus said that the key to producing fruit was “abiding in the vine”, which means maintaining a constant connection to Him. The Hebrew writer encourages us to fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.  Ultimately, it’s all a question of what we’re focused on.  Like Peter, we are capable of “all things” when we’re looking unto Jesus, but when we fix our eyes on the storm, we are bound to sink.

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In the deepest part of our hearts – we all yearn to be loved, and each of us comes with the capacity to give love in return. We instinctually draw together in relationship with each other, and gather ourselves into communities.

 

And yet somehow we struggle to believe that we come from a God who embodies love, and who yearns to be in relationship with us.

 

In the deepest part of our hearts – we all yearn for justice, and each of us comes with an inherent sense of when that justice has been violated. Even as small children, no one has to teach us to cry out, “It’s not fair!”

 

And yet somehow we struggle to believe that we come from a God who embodies justice, and who would demand a price for sin.

 

In the deepest part of our hearts – we all yearn for shelter from the storm, and comfort in times of trouble. Something within us inherently knows to run for cover, and to seek a place of refuge.

 

And yet somehow we struggle to partake of God’s Spirit, who stands ready to manifest Himself as the “Comforter”, and who offers a peace that surpasses our understanding.

 

In the deepest part of our hearts – we all yearn for a sense of significance, and of belonging. It is within our very nature to fight wars, to fly banners, and to adorn ourselves in accolades, in order to establish our place in this world.

 

And yet somehow we struggle to believe that we were created in the image of God, and that we were meant to be the heirs of His Kingdom.

 

In the deepest part of our hearts – we all yearn to believe in something that is bigger than ourselves, and that is beyond what we can understand. From the beginning we are drawn to fairy tales, magic, legends, the depths of the ocean, heroes, outer space, Sci-Fi… or anything else that might carry us beyond the boundaries of what we have known.

 

And yet somehow we struggle to accept a God whose ways are much higher than ours and who can do abundantly more than we could ever ask for, or imagine.

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The day after your child is born

You realize that pain and discomfort can be worthwhile

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The day after you utter piercing words

You realize that hurt cannot be taken back

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The day after you are swindled

You recognize all the signs you should have noticed

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The day after you receive that “thing” you thought would change everything

You recognize that no “thing” has the ability to do that

*

The day after you enact revenge on someone

You realize there is no satisfaction in it

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The day after you lose someone you love

You recognize the void they filled in your life

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The day after a “One Night Stand”

You find the emptiness within you

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The day after you forgive someone

You realize that it is you who have been set free

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The day after the “Dark Night of the Soul”

You find that God’s mercies are new every morning

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The day after a tragedy

You realize how blessed you were two days ago

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The day after you see one of your children step into their destiny

You find yourself being thankful for the sacrifices you made for them

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The day after you compromise on the things you truly believe

You realize the power of shame

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The day after you die

You’ll realize that how you lived really mattered

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The day after Jesus comes back

You’ll realize that the truth was never really negotiable

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(Proverbs 14:12)

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