Saturday, August 9, 2014

The Greater Power

When we think of power, we think of force. We believe in power to change circumstances and people. We think of power as some overwhelming force that cannot be withstood, and which alters the course of things whether for good or for ill.

Often we associate anger with power; that the motivating energy of anger results in power to promote change. Certainly anger can push a person toward acting where perhaps they had not acted before, creating motivation to change circumstances that need addressing. A person may become outraged by some injustice in a society or ongoing destructive behavior in a loved one and finally act in an interventionist way for change. It took a tipping point of positively motivated anger to finally act.

Often, I would say usually, anger is destructive, caustic and damages more than helps. The most regretful things we will ever say, words we wish we could pull back, are words blurted out in a fit of anger. If anger is our habit, then a life long tendency toward angry outbursts over time corrodes relationships, scarring and pitting them into a gross misrepresentation of what they should be. When we are angry we become irrational. We say things and act in ways that in more lucid moments we would never consider.

The difference between anger that can lead ultimately to healing and anger that destroys is what the motivation is behind the anger and also if the anger is managed, controlled and channeled in a constructive way. If the anger is fueled by care and compassion for another and if it is not allowed to become an all consuming fire, then the anger has a chance to be channeled for good. If the anger emanates from selfish motivation or other ill motives, it will prove destructive.

If, in the daily give and take of relationships, my anger toward another is because they have inconvenienced me, or they have shown disrespect toward me, or because they will not conform to my desires that benefit me, then my self centered anger alienates the other person because they know that only my own self interest is at stake. But if my anger is clearly directed toward their betterment, or toward the betterment of others, and if my anger is managed and under control, not a raging wildfire, then even if the person who is the focus of my anger doesn't grasp that yet, in time they may change.

Throughout Scripture God expresses anger toward His people. I have often been tempted to think that God had an anger management problem in OT times, but in reality His anger toward His people was provoked by His burning and passionate love for them and their recalcitrant disregard for relationship with the Living God who called them to Himself. He gave them commandments for their benefit, yet they repeatedly strayed from them, to their own destruction, wounding the heart of the God who loved them.

Yet ultimately God expressed a greater force for change than anger. Neither God nor we can ever bring about change in another through anger alone, nor through discipline alone. Our love and compassion must reign supreme. Paul tells us in Romans that "God demonstrates His own love for us, that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."-Rom. 5:8 Yes, our sin and alienation from God causes justifiable anger in God. But His compassionate love for us, that we are mired in flesh that is bent away from Him, motivated Him to to rescue us from our desperate condition. It is not His anger that transforms us, but His compassion. Paul also tells us in Romans that it is God's kindness toward us that calls us to repentance.

Jeremiah says,"'but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,'declares the Lord"-Jeremiah 9:24. God's nature calls for justice to be carried out for sin. Yet his lovingkindness and compassion provided a way for us to be saved.

It is the greater power of compassion, of self sacrificial love, that provides the power to transform, not anger.

Anger, even when justified, should be rare and under control. One of the marks of maturity is a cool head in provoking circumstances. We must calm the rising storm within. Let our words and deeds be loving, even when we are nettled. James tells us that "the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God"-James 1:20. There is no place in our lives for selfishly motivated anger. Even justifiable anger should be a remarkable change in our demeanor, not a common trait. Frequent anger becomes ineffectual through familiarity: the person who has seen it often will learn to ride out the storm, knowing the tempest will pass and things will continue on as usual.

We are called to be imitators of God, and as such, we should discipline anger into submission, not allowing it to become our fearful master, but instead allowing a compassionate love to be the transforming power with our own lives and which we also use to minister to the needs of others. See the other person not through the lens of how their actions affect or benefit us. Rather see them through the eyes of a compassionate God who loves them...and us...and seeks their good and ours for growth and good.

That is true power, the greater power that changes lives and the advances the good news of the Kingdom of God.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Your Refrigerator Just Ratted You Out

Some time has passed since my post on the need to get away occasionally to a place of solitude, seeking to recharge and replenish inner strength by escaping a nattering world grasping for our attention. How fitting then that this week a webinar I attended confirmed my conviction for this need even more so.

I'm in the marketing business and the webinar I attended on Millennials, Social Media and the Future of Digital Marketing had some interesting and somewhat unsettling revelations. Besides updating on trends in usage of social media sites, the host revealed that connectedness to the internet is expanding beyond our computers, cell phones and tablets. Cars are already connected. Soon, household appliances will be. One example given was the humble crockpot. New ones will have sensors that detect what you are cooking, will upload that data to interested advertisers and a display screen on the crockpot will receive recommended recipes and coupons to use at your grocer.

Your refrigerator will, like the crockpot, solicit your business with offers to your local grocer. Your stove and microwave will similarly play the role of informant. Your TV already has the technology to do so, awaiting empowerment from cable and satellite providers to upload your viewing habits to the hands of eager marketers. Your computer browser yields up your search history for "retargeting".

Eventually every electronic device will be so connected. And besides advertisers, charitable organizations will solicit donations this way. Remember your parents urging you to finish your dinner because children are starving in Africa? Soon, your microwave will urge you to give money to feed the hungry. (Will your garbage disposal scold you when you put food down the drain?)

In other words, your life, already laid bare by the consumer choices you make, will be assaulted from the most mundane devices you own, equipped with the latest technology to unleash a bombardment of commercial solicitations from every corner of your electronic world. Its not that your personal information will be "out there". It already is. What's new is the pervasiveness by which you will be reached with messages into every corner of your life.

How long until such data is shared with, say, your life and health insurance companies who will charge you according to your habits? And not to go all "black helicopter", but with health care inching inexorably toward eventual direct government nationalization, how long until the feds have all your life data? Oh wait, they probably already do, according to Edward Snowden.

Trust me, I'm no wild eyed conspiracy whack job. I roll my eyes at most of that stuff. But these trends don't have to be the stuff of deliberate "Bilderberger" conspiracy. They are just the natural progression of societal and technological trends. Its not hard to see where this is going.

Certainly I'm aware that observers have been lamenting the loss of privacy for a long time, so I'm not just joining a chorus of other voices expressing this concern. My point here is not so much the regrettable stripping away of our privacy as it is about the need to shake off the leeching attachments of modern culture to find lasting strength and character in timeless spiritual disciplines. Returning to the theme of my post "Alone, Still, Silent", as these societal trends progress, the need for retreat time becomes even more imperative. The ancients of many world faiths, not just Christianity, have recognized the value of drawing away from the clamor of the crowd and the demands of daily living, spending time alone with God in reflection and prayer, replenishing inner strength.

Already I've said that I truly believe we western worlders are afraid to be alone, still and silent. We squirm if there is no music or talk or video continuously streaming into our already overwhelmed senses. Now, through technology, you will be hotly pursued to yield up the last scraps of your private life.

What else will it take for us to set a boundary around our lives and say, "this is my private space, come no closer"?

I cannot emphasize enough how refreshing and replenishing it is to wean ourselves away from the shrieking furies of modern demands on our attention and cultivate stillness within so that the quiet, gentle voice of the Living God can be heard. Daily time of quiet reading, thinking and praying and occasional retreats for more extend time are empowering in a way our frenetic culture cannot comprehend.

The promptings you will receive on that holy ground in the presence of God will be of a surpassing eternal value that no "buy one get one" offer from your appliances can ever match.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Alone, Still, Silent

A word is worth one coin. Silence is worth two.—The Talmud

Recently I spent a day out on a ranch owned by our aunt and uncle. I was virtually alone for 24 hours and sought solitary time with God, peace from the frenetic pace of my daily life at home and work. I spent my time in solitude, quietness and reflection, sitting by a lake, under an oak tree, journaling. It was a sorely needed time of recharging that I wish could have been longer. Even my time of refreshing was, sadly, curbed by the maddening pace of daily obligations to be somewhere and do something.

Of the many, many truths that the ancients knew but which we moderns have lost, I think that seeking time to be alone, still and silent in order to be refreshed and recharged is one of the most valuable relics lost. “Relic” is the right word. To get away for time of solitude would be considered an oddity, an artifact, in today’s world. In fact I would say that we in some ways find it unnerving to be alone, to be still and to be silent. We have become so accustomed to a frenzied lifestyle that we would avoid them at all cost.

To be alone: Certainly there is comfort and reassurance to be in the company of ones we love. But sometimes we need to be alone with our thoughts, alone with God, able to look deep within and be introspective. We need the depth of communication with God and our own inner person that can come only from solitude. Our time with others will be enhanced and strengthened by our time alone.

To be still: In order to hear more clearly the voice of the Lord, to be able to focus on His presence, we have to stop rushing around and being hyper active. Can we hear God when we are in motion? Yes, absolutely, just as we can carry on a conversation with a friend as we walk down the street or move about the home doing household duties. But think of how rewarding conversations with friends and family are when we stop, sit and look one another in the eye and communicate transparently. To do that, we must sit still. So it is with God. We can talk with and hear from God when we are in motion, but we can go deep when we are still before His presence.

To be silent: Oh, my, where do I start here? We talk too much. We natter and chatter. Our conversations are merely stream of consciousness thought made audible. Furthermore, thanks to the electronic age, we cannot ride in the car without the radio or mp3 player on, nor can we be home without the TV on. To these things I say: turn them off. Talk less, listen more. Turn off the stream of consciousness babbling, turn off the radio and TV for a change, and drink in the silence. God has to compete for our attention with these noises. Small wonder we don’t think we can hear from Him.

The truth is that we are afraid to be alone, still and silent. We are so accustomed to hyperactivity that we don’t know what to do with ourselves otherwise.

When I was alone at the ranch I wrote my impressions in a journal and I will share here some of the things I wrote: Get apart from other people for a season and be alone with God. Dwell in His presence and drink it in. Be refreshed. Worship. Become aware of His activity in the common ways of life around you. Yet also be aware of His stillness.

In being still God can “catch up” to us. We are like a hyperactive child. God is like a daddy who wants us to sit still on his lap so he can read to us from a story book, but we won’t be still. We squirm off his lap and want to run around and play with our toys. And we fill our lives with noise because we cannot stand quiet.

But when we are alone with God…and still…and silent…God can be heard. And His word for us refreshes, rebuilds and strengthens us for what lies ahead in our life. In our stillness we can hear the gentle whisper of God which gets drowned out by the daily cacophony of our frantic lives.

Remember Elijah, who did not hear the voice of the Lord in the earthquake, nor in the roaring wind, but heard Him in the still small voice that whispered to him in the wilderness. When he heard Him, Elijah covered his face with his head scarf, in awe and worship because he knew suddenly that he was in the quiet yet mighty presence of the Living God.

Certainly we cannot completely retreat from the world and in fact to do so risks becoming self-absorbed and no good to anyone or anything. We have to live in community. We have to be productive and responsible. And we have those in our lives who are dependent upon us for help with their needs which we cannot neglect. Times of solitude and silence are meant to be an oasis in the midst of restlessness and noise, a time of refreshing and recharging. We are better and more effective in community from our times of aloneness.

Then, like Elijah, like Moses, like Paul, like the Son of God Himself, leaders who changed the world yet sought strength in these disciplines, the quiet but powerful voice of God can restore our souls.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

A Quality Most Rare

Often small clues provide insight into people's character. Small gestures, offhand comments, the accumulation of small behaviors can provide a glimpse into a person's soul.

It is June 6th of 1944 and the largest invasion force in world history has gathered in England and is preparing to cross the English Channel to storm the Normandy beaches of France in the assault to free Europe and the world of Hitler's Nazi tyranny. Months of preparation and training have led to this colossal moment in world history. Soon hundreds of thousands of American, British and other Allied forces will pour across the Channel, facing withering fire from Nazi emplacements fortifying the coast to claw out a beach head from which to begin the liberation of Europe, but at a fearful cost in lives. Of each of the five beach heads, the one code named "Omaha Beach" will produce the most ghastly casualties as 3,000 mostly American soldiers will die on just the first day of fighting, devoured in the "Jaws of Death" as Omaha came to be known.

In the lead up to the invasion, Dwight Eisenhower, Commander in Chief of the Allied forces in Europe, toured the troops preparing for battle. He walked among the common soldiers, shaking hands, engaging in small talk of hometowns, families,fishing and baseball with men who quite possibly might not survive the next 24 hours. At one point, in a gesture of humility and service, the former Kansas farm boy who now headed this mighty military expedition noticed that a soldier burdened down with his pack and equipment had an untied boot. Eisenhower kneeled before the soldier and tied his boot for him. This man who, with a word, had the power to send forth hundreds of thousands of soldiers to fight humbly served one of those men in a momentary, simple act of kindness.

Humility is that most precious and least esteemed of character qualities. Pride and vanity are the most seductive and therefore most pervasive of flaws. It is ever so easy, especially as one gains success in life, to be infected with self. In both my work and in ministry I have had occasion to meet quite a number of celebrities and people with nationally prominent ministries. It is instructive to see how success affects people.

Among the celebrities I've met in my years in broadcasting some have been very full of themselves and a few...a few...have remained humble. The worst was a television sit-com star who was rude to the point of being mean. By contrast, we once brought in comedian Dana Carvey when he was at the peak of his popularity. He was personable and I happened to ride on the elevator with him. At one floor the building's janitor came onto the elevator and Carvey struck up a conversation with him.

Once I went to the airport to pick up a nationally known ministry figure who wordlessly thrust his bag at me to take for him then walked toward the exit to the parking lot. To be fair, his plane had been delayed and it was late and he was very tired. In the car he warmed a little and made conversation, then the next day was more engaging. But still...

By contrast I once was in Washington D.C. for the National Religious Broadcaster's convention. In the hotel lobby I walked around a corner and literally bumped into Billy Graham. We actually collided into each other. He was tall and his brilliant blue eyes had a merry twinkle to them. He smiled, stuck out his hand and warmly shook mine and said, "Hello!" I was pretty flummoxed and didn't know what to say except a stammering hello back. I can't recall if we exchanged other words or not. He went on to the entry door of a hall where then President George Bush the elder was to speak with him to a crowd. I noticed that every person passing through the door was wanded by the Secret Service, but when Billy Graham approached they just waved him through.

How refreshing and rare it is to encounter people, both the great and the small, who retain a sense of humility, who realize that no level of worldly success and esteem justifies arrogant self absorbtion. We wrongly associate humility with groveling and self degradation, when in reality, a person with healthy humility is strong and has a better self image than a person with an exaggerated sense of self importance. After all, from dust we were formed and to dust we all return, no matter what station in life we reach.

In physics a black hole is a dead star in which its matter has collapsed inward upon itself, generating a gravitational field so powerful that the very fabric of space itself warps into the hole and nothing passing too near can survive without being consumed. An apt description of the self aggrandizing personality and what happens to their world and relationships around them.

Scripture often commands us to be humble. Let another's mouth praise you and not your own, Proverbs tells us. Christ said that he who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. James admonishes us to not be too proud to associate with the lowly people in life.

Jesus Himself, King of the universe, came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.

Through our words, our deeds, our acts of kindness and selfless giving, we distribute the love of Christ to a hurting and dying world around us and daily defeat the relentless tyrant of self seeking to rule us. It is the crucifying of self, the taking up of the cross of Christ daily, moment by moment, that molds us each day closer to reflecting His image, moves us to serve others and which will one day bless us with the word of the Master, "Well done, good and faithful servant".

Saturday, February 1, 2014

We're Too Little

One of the most profound lessons on God's grace came to me 20 years ago when my oldest daughter was just a little girl. A household calamity produced an "out of the mouths of babes" moment that has stayed with me for a lifetime.

We had just moved to central Texas from the Dallas area. One afternoon we went to the house of my wife's grand parents, Nanny and Pappaw for lunch along with other family members. While the adults talked the kids played around the house.

Suddenly there was a loud crash and sound of shattering glass, followed by the shrieks of a child. We rushed into the living room to find our daughter Danae sobbing beside a table. She had been walking behind two chairs with a table between them, passing between these pieces of furniture and the wall behind them, when she hooked her foot on the cord of the lamp standing on the table, yanking it off the table to crash to the floor. It was one of those Victorian style lamps typical to homes of that generation, all glass with flowers embossed on the shade. Now it lay in shambles on the floor to Danae's utter horror.

And there was wailing and gnashing of teeth.

It was a childish accident so we saw no need for discipline, but while my wife Joi cleaned up the lamp I took a sobbing Danae back to a bed room to calm down by having her lay on the bed for a while. Through tears Danae asked if she was in trouble and I told her no, but that we would have to buy Nanny a new lamp. I left her to calm down, hopefully to nap, and returned to the group.

About 45 minutes later I gently opened the door to the bedroom and peeked in to see if she was sleeping. I couldn't see her face, but she was still and quiet, so I thought she had fallen asleep. But just as I was backing out of the room, in a timid, tiny voice Danae said something that I couldn't make out.

I went to her and sat on the side of the bed and asked her what she had said. She meekly replied, "I can't pay. I'm too little."

It was sweet and vulnerable and I couldn't help but be overwhelmed with love for my sweet daughter at that moment. I gave her a smile and hug and reassured her. "Don't worry sweetheart. Daddy will pay for the broken lamp."

Now I can be pretty dense and slow so the implications of what Danae said didn't settle in with me right away. But a few days later the Lord showed me a lesson from that moment that has stayed with me ever since.

Danae had realized that she was responsible for breaking the lamp, but that she had no way to pay for it. And in that realization she grasped her helplessness and knew that she needed another, her Daddy, to pay for her. A substitutionary price must be paid to set things to right.

Our own sin and brokenness cannot be paid for by us with our puny attempts to make ourselves right. We can't pay. We're too little. But don't worry, our Daddy has paid for our brokenness and the brokenness of this world through His Son's work on the cross.

We may try to assess our lives by how much of a mess we may or may not have created, or think that we "are a good person" and have our lives reasonably together. The degree of messiness in our lives is not the issue. We are still broken. Some of us may be better at cleaning up the pieces, be better at "sin management", but all of us are broken because we are alienated from God by the separation from Him permeating our very nature. We are a study in dualism: made in God's image, but separated from Him by the fall of humanity from the very start of the human race.

In moments of candid lucidity we realize that we cannot possibly "pay" for our brokenness. We are too little. But our loving Daddy has already seen to it. He made the very costly payment for our sin and brokenness at the cross of Christ, His Son. And so in our vulnerable timidity, as we meekly admit our weakness and our need for Him and what He has done for us, He wipes our tears, quells our quaking hearts by holding us close to His, and reassures us: the debt is paid, "It is finished."

With those words all is restored and we are free from the guilt, free from obligation for a debt we could never pay, free to rejoice in the Father's unconditional and boundless love. We are free indeed.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Joys of Aging

In an era and culture that hyper values youth and beauty, I'm rather enjoying some aspects of aging. Like any other season of life, the steady progression into elderhood presents its own unique challenges. Overall though I'm finding it so far to be positive. Better check back with me in ten years though. Meanwhile, I propose an inventory of the good and the not so good at this early stage of aging.

Good: Reflectiveness. Perhaps my favorite aspect of getting older is that I am more reflective on issues, more intentional about trying to understand people and behaviors and life situations. I'm getting better at asking questions and really listening, listening to understand rather than listening to respond back with my opinion. I'm less reactive, desiring to understand rather than respond with predetermined templates in my thinking. I value what others think more and I value people and concepts from my past that made me who I am today.

Annoying: Forgetfulness and absentmindedness. With breath taking speed I can think of something I need to do, then completely forget it moments later. And I have a distressing tendency to leave my blinker going for several miles after making a turn or lane change on a highway, a behavior that I used to ridicule when I saw the elderly do in my youth. Yep, its returned to haunt me.

Acceptable: Gray hair. It seems that every time I get a hair cut the stylist urges me to color my hair. What nonsense! I love having gray hair and in fact think it would be rather cool to have completely white hair. I have a good friend who has a full head of white hair and its a magnificent mane that conveys such a dignified appearance. I don't have the thickness of his hair, but I have enough. Better it turn gray than turn loose.

Best: Watching kids and grandkids grow. My children have each grown to be great, responsible adults, embracing life with maturity and ambition to better themselves. And now I have two handsome identical twin grandsons.

Distressing: Health issues. I was blind sided by a heart attack in 2011 and I have chronic pain from osteoarthritis in my right wrist, pain that almost never relents. In a perverse way, however, that pain has become almost a like a life long companion, a reminder of my mortality, like Paul's "thorn in the flesh" that reminds me of my weakness and hope of the future resurrection when God will provide a new, incorruptible body, free from pain and disease. See "Reflectiveness" above for an explanation on how I arrived at this perspective on bodily decline.

Wistful: Passing of loved ones. Each year brings the passing of family and friends who have succumbed to diseases. Watching them disappear from my life, one by one, generates a nostalgia for the days when they contributed so much to my life for which I am thankful, and creates yearning to see them again one day.

The best thing about aging though is the certitude that I too am drawing nearer, day by day, to the ultimate experience of being face to face with the Lord. That I will enter into that eternal radiance and joy of his presence. Meanwhile, as that day steadily approaches, I know that He watches over me:

Even when you are old, I will be the same. Even when your hair has turned gray, I will take care of you. I made you and will take care of you. I will carry you and save you.--Isaiah 46:4

And that is the greatest joy of all in aging.