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Archive for the ‘Word Pictures’ Category

Most people are familiar with the “Serenity Prayer”, which goes something like, “Lord give me the strength to change the things I can change; the patience to live with the things I cannot; and the wisdom to know the difference between the two.”  And while this is not directly from the scripture, I have found it to be a very worthwhile approach.  Years ago, when I was wrestling with something that I could not change, the Lord said, “You’re trying to ride a bull.”  And while I certainly felt beat up by my circumstance, I wasn’t really sure exactly what He meant.  After some time of meditation, the Lord added, “I never created a bull to be ridden; a man came up with that idea.”  That image has remained vivid for me ever since.  Now, when I try to wrap my arms (and emotions, and energy…) around something that is not mine to control, I see myself on that bull, and I try to quickly let go.

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“Survivor’s Guilt” is a term used to describe a mental & emotional state, that arises when a person perceives themselves to have done something wrong, by surviving a traumatic event when others did not.  And while this term is most often associated with life and death situations, I would argue that this same phenomenon can occur in people who simply choose to get off the path of destruction.  That could be overcoming additions, or leaving an abusive situation, or deciding to surrender your life to God, or any other thing that causes a radical change in the trajectory of our lives.  As I think back on my own experiences, I can see that the decision to depart from certain destructive patterns has often had the unintended consequence of alienation from people I genuinely cared about.  All I really wanted was to escape the carnage, but that often entailed distancing myself from those who couldn’t, or wouldn’t, negotiate that same turn.  In those life-altering moments, you have to seize the opportunity, push every hesitation aside, and drive yourself across the threshold of a new life.  But after the fact, it’s easy to feel guilty about those you left behind.  I expressed some of those feelings in a piece I wrote some years ago, which I called, “Homeless” (see below).  It was bore out of the revelation that my decision to pursue God had put me on a different path from some people that I truly loved, which eventually caused us to live in very different worlds.  Sometimes the chasm between those worlds has been too wide to reach across, and you can begin to feel selfish; as though you are the kind of person who is unwilling to run back into a burning building.  But ultimately, it’s a real struggle to convince someone to evacuate their home, when they can’t smell the smoke, or sense the flames.  And trying to save a drowning person, when you yourself can barely swim, generally ends with two funerals.  I have found that the only person who can really change a heart, mind, or life is God; and that all rescue attempts must be orchestrated by Him.  We just need to prayerfully stand at the ready, and play whatever role He assigns to us.

 

Homeless

As the shadows begin to crawl across the walls of my little room

The memories emerge from the corners of my mind

Not so long ago, we roamed these streets together

And I guess we thought that’s how it would always be

But here I am living a couple of floors above the pavement

And you’re still out there somewhere

*

I admit that this place isn’t much of a home

But it has running water

And is shelter from the weather

And it has a door that locks

And most of all

It has room for you

*

I never meant to leave you behind

I just assumed you’d want to come with me

But what I saw as a pathway to freedom

You viewed as a cage door

I can’t pretend to understand that

But I miss you just the same

*

I remember the time I stepped on that broken glass

And you wrapped my bloody foot in your only shirt

And the times we huddled together in the cold

And the way you’d hum the tune to “Silent Night”

Because of you, I never felt alone

And yet, that’s how I left you

*

I’m sorry that I wasn’t strong enough to stay

But when you can’t lift your head, you’re apt to drown in a puddle

It wasn’t so much the eating from the dumpsters

Because everyone does that at one time or another

But I couldn’t handle the never ending nights

And the hopelessness of it all

*

Tonight, I’ll once again leave a light burning

And I’ll unfurl the bed sheets from my window

I’ve tied them together so that they’ll reach the alley below

And I’ve anchored them to the radiator to support your weight

As I lay awake, every peep from the alley will stir my hope

And when I sleep, I’ll dream of you

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Bill was an independent contractor in a large metropolitan area.   On nice days, he’d pull into the city park, and eat lunch in his truck.  One summer, after seeing the same homeless man for several days in a row, Bill decided to make an extra lunch and bring it with him.  Sure enough, the homeless man was there, and Bill was able to share the food with him.  For several weeks after that they’d meet at the same time and place.  Soon, other homeless people began to appear, and Bill started bringing whole loaves of bread, and lunch meat, and big bags of chips.  When the local media caught wind of the story, local merchants began donating food.  But Bill quickly found that his charity work was interfering with his business, and he wondered how long he could keep it up.  It felt good to help people, but he knew he couldn’t do it alone. 

 

At first, he arranged for a business to donate some space to store the food; and then he enlisted some other people to help distribute lunches in the park.  For a while it was all volunteers, but when monetary donations began to come it, he was eventually able to hire a few people to coordinate the effort.  As things continued to grow, he created a non-profit corporation, and they eventually moved into a building of their own.  By now, their story spread, and homeless / low-income people from all over the city were benefitting from their work.  Articles were written, awards were given, and praise was heaped upon Bill.  Despite this, his primary motivation remained centered on helping people.  The logistics of running what had become a huge operation eventually caused him to give up his contracting business, and to work for the corporation full-time.  Soon the organization branched out into other parts of the state, and representatives from other cities came to Bill, asking to start chapters in their area.  Within a few years, the organization was on a national scale, and Bill spent most of his time representing the corporation all around the country.  For a long time he felt good about what he’d accomplished, and for all the people who were being helped.  But one day, that came to a screeching halt.

 

On that day, he was reading the paper over his hotel breakfast, when he saw an article about charitable organizations, and how they spend their money.  The author rated the organizations by how many cents out of every dollar actually reached the people it was meant to help.  And to his great dismay, Bill saw that his organization was listed as one of the least efficient in all of America.  According to the article, only about 28 cents out of every dollar donated actually reached the hungry.  It also cited Bill’s extensive travels (e.g. flights, hotels, rental cars…) as a contributing cause for this inefficiency.  Bill couldn’t believe it, and he immediately dialed the Chief Financial Officer for the organization.  He wanted to know if what this reporter was saying was true.  The office told him that it would take a while to work up the numbers, and that they’d send them via computer.  Bill went back to his room depressed, and cancelled his meetings for the day.  All he’d ever wanted to do was to help the poor, and now people were implying that he was actually taking advantage of them.  That thought made him sick to his stomach.

 

In a little over an hour, Bill heard his phone chime, indicating that a new e-mail had come in; and he quickly flipped open his laptop.  Though it took a few minutes to weed through the information, he finally got to the bottom line.  And to his utter dismay, he found that the 28 cent figure was actually from the previous year, and that in the current year, that number was down to around 22 cents out of every dollar.  His mind reeled as he searched for an explanation for how they’d reached this point.  After all, he had to hire people, and it was only right to provide them with benefits.  They also needed facilities and equipment.  For a while they’d leased trucks to haul the food, but the accountants suggested that they could save money by purchasing vehicles.  They even cut the cost of that by buying used trucks.  Unfortunately, those trucks broke down a lot, and maintenance costs skyrocketed.  So, they eventually bought new trucks.  And on and on it went.  The bigger they had gotten, the more it had cost.  Though he continued to pour over the figures, all of his justifications began to sound hollow, as they soon gave way to an overwhelming sense of failure.  All he’d ever wanted to do was feed hungry people, and now he was faced with the reality that he’d unwittingly built an organization that consumed most of the resources to sustain itself.  As Bill’s head hung in dejection, he wondered how things had gotten so off track.

 

This little story is a parable of sorts, and I believe that it could be similar to the testimony of many ministers of the Lord.  So many set out in the simplicity of the gospel, only to build institutions that consume all of their time, energy and resources.  Along the way, the main objective becomes obscured, or even eclipsed, by the need to sustain the ministry itself.  Unwittingly, it stops being about the people, and it starts being about the entity.  Though we can rationalize that the entity is doing “good” things, it’s hard not to wonder if this is really what God had in mind.

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When Nicodemus asked Jesus about being, “born again,” He told him that he needed to be “born of the Spirit”; explaining that, “Flesh gives birth to flesh”, while “the Spirit gives birth to spirit.”  I’m not sure whether that cleared it up for Nicodemus, and I’m equally unsure of how well we grasp the implications of what He was saying.  Ultimately, we humans exist in two realms, the natural realm, and the spiritual realm.  Because God is Spirit, the heavenly realm is eternal, while creation (i.e. the natural realm) is God’s gift to mankind, and is temporary.  By His design, the resources of heaven have been made available to mankind within the natural realm, through the power of His Holy Spirit.  His word tells us not to focus on the seen realm, which is perishing; but to look to the unseen realm, which is eternal.  He instructs us to pray that His Kingdom come and His will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  And He warns us that, “what is pleasing to the flesh, is not pleasing to the Spirit”; encouraging us to follow the leading of His Holy Spirit.  By these, and many other scriptures, He makes both His desire to interact with us, and to bring the things of heaven to earth, clear.  Yet, He also gives us a free will, and allows us to decide for ourselves how we want to live.

 

As I pondered this design, I was reminded of the power distribution system for the submarine on which I served many years ago.  This ingenious system supplied power for both the Alternating Current (AC) and the Direct Current (DC) electrical loads.   The AC side was equipped with two large, turbine driven generators, which were capable of providing all of the power the ship would ever need.  A nuclear reactor provided a tremendous source of heat, which in turn produced the steam needed to drive those generators.  The DC side was equipped with a battery, which was really just a backup for when steam was unavailable.  These two systems were connected by a unique machine called a motor-generator (MG).  When the turbine generators were producing AC power, the AC side of the MG was a motor, which drove the DC side to be a generator.  In this configuration, the turbine generators could supply all of the power loads (both AC & DC), and charge the battery.  But when steam was lost, the battery supplied power to the MG, making the DC side a motor, which drove the AC side as a generator.  In this configuration, the battery could supply only critical loads, for a limited amount of time.

 

The similarities between these two power distribution systems is striking.  The thermal energy produced by the nuclear reactor represents the infinite power stored within the heavenly realm, while the battery represents our limited capacity to function under our own power.  The MG’s are a reflection of mankind, which is connected to both realms, and has the ability to be a conduit for the flow of power in either direction.  When we choose to live by what is seen (i.e. by our own understanding, by how we feel, by our own sense of righteousness, by our appetites, by our instincts, by our wits, by our fears, by our gut…) we are ultimately sustained by our own limited resources.  While we may be able to create some sense of normalcy for a season, we live at a very low ebb, easily becoming weary, and discouraged.  The repercussions of this choice transcend the natural realm and carry over into the spiritual realm.  Conversely, when we stake our identity in the One who made us, and invest our hope in His plan for us, and yield our lives to the leading of His Spirit, we tap into the source of life eternal.  Not just for the next life, but for our lives here in the natural realm.  In this configuration, we become a conduit for love and light; not just for ourselves, but for those around us.  It is a life that few of us have witnessed, and even fewer have lived.

 

I believe that this is what Jesus means by “abiding in the vine”.  Connected to the inexhaustible source of love and light.  If that isn’t what our lives are like, maybe it’s time for us to reverse our polarities, and to allow ourselves to be driven from the heavenly realm.  Maybe then we will become generators of the light that we’ve been called to be.

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Being an auto mechanic isn’t necessarily a prerequisite for being a race car driver.  Indeed they are two distinct skill sets.  But without a fundamental understanding of how a high performance automobile works, a driver’s competitiveness is likely to result in shredded tires, overheated brakes, locked-up transmissions, and/or blown engines.  And so it is for coaches, especially those who work with players who are in their formative years.  The Little League coach, who thoroughly understands baseball, but knows little about the capabilities of 8 & 9 year old boys, or the Middle School volleyball coach who knows bump/set/spike, but has no understanding of the capacities of 12 & 13 year old girls, is bound to struggle and become highly frustrated.  In these instances the player is the vehicle through which the game is played, and a coach who lacks insight into their inner workings is likely to cause damage in the pursuit of victory.  With this in mind, I would suggest that the evaluation process for coaches who work with young people needs to look beyond the individual’s knowledge of the game.  As a parent, I would submit that a coaches ability to effectively connect with their players is far more important than their expertise in the given sport.  On the surface, a great Shakespearean actor may seem well qualified to teach a simple university drama class, but if that university is located in Beijing, and the actor doesn’t speak Chinese, their legitimate expertise may be rendered useless.

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What kind of words would you use to describe a father, who builds an elaborate obstacle course for his children, and then disowns them if they can’t get through it?

Would the word “compassionate” come to mind?

Would your opinion of this man improve if I told you that he took the time to write a manual to let the kids know what was expected?

Would that be enough to convince you that he was really a “good” dad?

Would you think less of him if I told you that he wrote those instructions in such a way that most of his kids don’t really understand?

Would that make you question his sense of “justice”?

What if I told you that most of his kids don’t make it, and end up fatherless?

Would that seem “merciful” to you?

Maybe those questions seem absurd.

But as I talk to lost people out in the world, this is not far from the image of God they’ve received from organized religion.

They’ve heard of all the stuff they need to do.

And of all the stuff they’d better not do.

And of the dire consequences of failing.

And we wonder at their reluctance to accept our invitation to “church”.

And we wonder at their confusion when we say, “God is love”.

And we wonder why they aren’t excited about the “good news” of the gospel.

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There is a world of difference between teaching your children to be considerate of diverse perspectives, versus raising them to be truly “open minded”. Encouraging young people to try on other people’s ideas and philosophies, as though they were trying on outfits at the Mall, is akin to having them accept rides from strangers in order to better understand human nature.

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