Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Message

 I wrote this meditation a few years ago. It's included in Words for Winter.


The season speaks to us, a secret signaled incessantly in blinking lights and garland flags of pine and tinsel. Green with hope and red with joy, the message turns our thoughts outside our own needs, desires, and wants.

Trees suddenly grow indoors, decorated with memories, bearing the fruits of love and time. Gilded and ribboned packages magically appear under these incongruous evergreens – expectations and dreams captured in cardboard boxes.

At night, the air aglow with star shine on the snow, wisps of angel songs drift white and pure straight into our hearts. We gather inside our homes around hearths ablaze, warmed by goodwill and God’s grace. On the mantle, the story of Christ’s birth is played out in a motionless menagerie, objects of simplicity and awe.

Through eyes of innocence, we look past the nascent Nativity, just beyond the horizon of the season, where the new year waits poised with promise. The Message of the season fells fear of the future as the immanence of Christ’s presence is again heralded by the world.

Childlike, we are reborn, our voices and souls caroling the Gift of the Ages, in whom we live, and move, and have our being. It’s Christmas. Emmanuel is come. Maranatha!







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What are some of the Christmas memories you treasure? Share them in the comments! Read more like this in Words For Winter: A small collections of writings for the season, available for Kindle or in Paperback.


http://www.amazon.com/Words-Winter-collection-writings-season-ebook/dp/B006O1GEE0/ref=la_B001HQ1DDE_1_11?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1387914688&sr=1-11

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Telling the truth in love & paying the price

(Originally posted August 24, 2012;
posted here with minor edits)

Just about any time a heated discussion crops up and Christians are involved, someone will invoke the “Tell the truth in love!”rule.

The implication is that someone is saying something that is uncomfortable for another to hear. Perhaps there’s the feeling someone’s being a tad harsh or judgmental. At the least, the concern is that someone is being told something they don’t want to hear or don’t agree with.

So, we exhort one another to “Tell the truth in love!” as if that will unsquirm the situation. This falls into the “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down!” wisdom lore. The added sugar is not particularly healthy for you.

To soften the blow of a harsh but necessary truth, we’ll mince our words, shuffle our feet, preface our remarks with qualification, and seek permission:
“Uh, do you mind if I’m honest with you…?”

“You know, to be perfectly truthful…..”

“Well, I don’t mean to harsh your mellow, but it is, you know, the truth after all….”

Often, when the one being truthed is resistant they will respond with something like, “Well, that’s your truth, but it’s not my truth!”

Who says the truth isn’t supposed to hurt?

Somehow we’ve fallen under the delusion that telling one another the truth isn’t supposed to ever be painful, especially when it’s done with “love.”

This leads to the false conclusion that if the truth hurts, what’s being said or done is hateful or mean.

The reality?

Well, to be perfectly honest and truthful – the truth, when it’s really the truth, will probably sting a little.

Truth calls out wrong and says there needs to be a change. Truth separates the good from the bad, righteousness from sinfulness, light from dark, the truth from lies.

Truth is absolute and firmly grounded in God’s word which is “living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12, NIV).

For Christians all truth is God’s truth, and Jesus is the Truth.

Applying truth to a situation is going to sting and that’s a good thing. Like when you put iodine on a cut.

Everything hangs on the hinge of love

The phrase “telling (or speaking) the truth in love” comes smack dab in the middle of chapter 4 from Ephesians (scroll down to see the full text at the end of this post). This is one of the Apostle Paul’s great letters where he is taking the church of Ephesus to task on several items. In other words, using the Gospel truth, he’s intent on whipping them into shape.

In the first half of the chapter, Paul is telling the Christians of Ephesus (and us) how they are supposed to behave, reminding them of their calling in Christ. He points them to unity in Christ through being true to the gifts (specific callings, talents, aptitudes, etc.) that they have been blessed with.

In the second half of the chapter, he goes on to tell them how not to behave. He contrasts the Christ-redeemed mindset against the mindset of the world around them (the Gentile world, meaning the unredeemed, unchristian world).

The goal is to grow up in spiritual maturity by serving one another and through thinking and behaving differently; providing a contrast to the lost, sinful world swirling around them.

One of the evidences of spiritual maturity and a key component to differentiating the faithful from the faithless is the act of “speaking the truth in love.”

In fact, love is the hinge upon which the Christian life hangs and the mark that sets us apart.

Just before Jesus was crucified, he declared to his followers, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35, NIV).

A great exposition on this is The Mark of the Christian by Francis Schaeffer which you can read (abridged) online for free at http://www.ccel.us/schaeffer.html.

Sharing hard, inconvenient truths

As Christians doing our imperfect best to live godly, biblical lives through the power of the Holy Spirit, we are both called out and set apart from the world, as well as called to be salt and light into the world.

When it comes to our culture, our society, our community – however you wish to define your world – we are to be in but not of.

To be perfectly honest, this often puts us at odds with those around us when certain topics arise and we take our responsible and rightful stand on the truth.

For example, when it comes to homosexuality, the Bible is very clear that engaging in a same-gender sexual relationship is wrong in any context (Romans 1:24-32).

It’s just as wrong to engage in a heterosexual sexual relationship with someone you are not married to, whether fornication or adultery (Galatians 5:14-24, Ephesians 5:1-8).

The Bible is also clear that marriage is a different-gendered union involving one man and one woman (Genesis 1, Matthew 19:6, Ephesians5:21-33, 1 Corinthians 11:1-3).

There are many more issues like these where the Bible is clear on what is right and what is wrong in God’s eyes.

Christians have no problem with these truths.

Those who are not Christians do.

Why?

Because as Paul writes,
“[Christians] have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. The man without the [Holy] Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Corinthians 2:12-4, NIV).

When, as followers of Christ, we stand on our convictions which are aligned with the Word of God and enlightened by the Holy Spirit, we are generally not going to be well-received by others who do not have a biblical perspective.

They didn’t like Him, so they’re not going to like us

Being a Christian in the 21st century means the same thing it did in the 1st century: We will be walking out our faith in a hostile world.

  • There will be haters: Jesus said bluntly, “All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved” (Matthew 10:22, NIV).
     
  • There will be betrayals: “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved” (Mark 13:12-13, NIV).
     
  •  There will be false friends pretending to be Christians: “For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve” (2 Corinthians 11:13-15, NIV).
     
  • There will be lies preferred over truth: “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry” (1 Timothy 4:3-4, NIV).
     
  • There will be wolves among sheep: “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them” (Matthew 7:15-16, NIV).
     
  • There will be scoffers: “First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, 'Where is this 'coming' he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.' But they deliberately forget that long ago by God's word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water” (2 Peter 3:3-5, NIV).
     
  • There will be persecution: “There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven. But before all this, they will lay hands on you and persecute you. They will deliver you to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. This will result in your being witnesses to them” (Luke 21:11-13, NIV).

So now what are we supposed to do?

It can be hard being a Christian knowing that merely living out our beliefs will mean we are viewed and labeled (wrongly) as bigots, homophobes, haters, prudes, unintellectual, backwards, stupid, and many more much worse things.

In fact, being open about our faith could cost us jobs, relationships, clients, promotions, and more. It can draw abuse to ourselves and our families.

But living out our beliefs, our calling, our commitment to Christ does entail from time to time speaking truth to others and into our culture, our society, and our communities. It’s what Jesus did and commands us to do as salt and light.

A few years ago, atheist comedian Penn Jillette received a gift of a New Testament from a business man who had attended his show. He posted a video about the experience. He described the man as a sane, nice, kind, and a good man who looked him in the eye.

  
Note: This is a revised, shorter version of the original,
better video that Sony Pictures has removed from YouTub
e.

Jillette stated, “If you believe that there’s a heaven and hell and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life or whatever, and you believe it’s not really worth telling them this because it would be socially awkward...how much do you have to hate someone to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that.”

The bottomline is that telling the truth (the Gospel) about the Truth (Jesus) is about as loving as one can be, even when it’s not what others want to hear.

To do otherwise, to withhold the truth, is to truly be a hater.

Yes, there are fools in the world & God loves us

Not too long ago someone posted on a social media site a statement to the effect that “God has an opinion about atheists.” They then quoted Psalm 14:1 that states, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good.”

Another person, an atheist, took offense and posted, “So, are you saying God is calling me a fool?”

This was followed by a well-meaning Christian who was trying to tell the truth in love who posted, “Oh, no! God doesn’t mean that you’re a fool. God loves you!”

The truth of the matter is that, yes, God does love atheists! But that’s not the whole truth. Yes, God loves atheists…

When it comes to “speaking the truth in love” it’s not about being nice, sweet, and conciliatory.

It’s about saying things, intensely, sincerely, in our best Jack Bauer demeanor, but non-threateningly, such as, “You and I are going to die and spend an eternity in hell if we don’t make some serious changes. Now!”

We say it because it’s the truth. If they walk away, we don’t shoot them in the knees, but we also don’t pat them on the head and say “It’s okay,” as if we’re validating their sinful choice.

Instead, we love them, care about them, stand with them when they’re in pain, pray for them, give them a cup of water when they’re thirsty, be a friend to them, and continue to remind them from time to time of their need of salvation.

Truth applied lovingly pulls no punches, stands firm in its God-endorsed validity, and is spoken with humility and tears, knowing those who reject God’s truth and who reject God are facing an eternity in hell.

And hell is no party. And that’s the truth.

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Ephesians 4, New King James Version (NKJV):
I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ's gift. Therefore He says: "When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, And gave gifts to men." Now this, "He ascended"--what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.) And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head -- Christ -- from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love. This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. But you have not so learned Christ, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness. Therefore, putting away lying, "Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor," for we are members of one another. Be angry, and do not sin": do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil. Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need. Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you.

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Have you ever struggled to tell the truth in love? Have you been hurt when someone told you the truth in love? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

I never got to be a wiseman, until now

(Originally posted December 25, 2012;
posted here with minor edits)

Christmas growing up always centered on church with the big event being the Christmas pageant.

In those days, we just called it the Christmas “program.” We were simple folk and “pageant” sounded a tad too uptown.

I always wanted to be a wiseman, but never made the cut. It was very disappointing and I’m not sure I’ve ever gotten completely over it.

By the time I was grown enough to fit the part, our little church had moved into the “modern day” by discarding the traditional reenactment of the Nativity.

Instead of the brilliant simplicity of the Christmas story read from the Bible and enacted by kids and teens costumed in bathrobes, towels, ingeniously pinned sheets, and a silent toy baby in a manger playing the part of Jesus, we moved to “skits” and “cantatas” that were supposed to make the Bible story more relevant.

These were miniaturized dramas and musicals cast in some contemporary setting that modernized the story of Jesus’ birth. It wasn’t so much about Him any longer as about the season and good feelings. Or so it seemed.

My attitude toward this was not progressive. I preferred the traditional retelling of the events. Still do.

Getting to the big day

On Christmas Sunday, which was whatever Sunday fell just prior to December 25th, that’s when it all happened.

In the morning service, it was always the little kids reciting lines from pieces of paper the size of fortune cookie fortunes.

All ages from the little to the small to the tiny participated. But no big kids, adults, or teens; they were on in the evening service.

Always there were a couple of little ones who couldn’t remember the four or seven words they were tasked to memorize, and so had to be coached by their teacher or parents mouthing the words, s-l-o-w-l-y, one at a time, exaggeratedly.

And, of course, there were the precocious kids that recited perfectly every word with the diction of an experienced Thespian.

Show offs.

But it was all adorable. And touching.

Parents ran to the front and jockeyed for position to capture the precious moment featuring their child sharing some tidbit about the coming of the Child.

In between the shuttling off stage and on stage the various age groups, we all sang Christmas carols.

Silent Night. O Come All Ye Faithful. Joy To The World. All the traditional greats.

We knew the tunes. We knew the words. And we sang our hearts out.

In fact, the carols during worship service (or what we called “the song service”) began on the first Sunday of December. The typical hymns, songs, and choruses were all sidelined. The month of December was all about singing the Christmas carols – the songs of the season sung only this one time of the year – and nothing else. Period.
Sidebar: Editorial comment 
I find it infinitely ironic that, today, there are worship leaders who refuse to sing more than a smattering of carols, claiming that people are tired of the them because they hear them over and over again in stores and on the radio throughout the month. Yet, these same worship leaders will put up the same choruses and songs week after week all year every year! Their arguments are baseless and they are nothing more than Christmas carol Scrooges and Grinches.
Back to the pageant prep

We began preparations right after Thanksgiving for the pageant. The casting calls went out, adult assistants were recruited, and the rehearsals began.

But really, we all knew the different parts by heart. The only questions were who would be cast as whom based on age and growth spurts. Whoever had the better looking bathrobes also factored in.

I moved up dutifully through the ranks.

I did the morning service several times as a small child, saying my part, and, later, participating in the song flute choir.

Everyone knew that every fourth grader was given a song flute at school so there was no dodging this duty.

And now the big show!

After my years of morning service appearances, it was onto the big stage of the evening service, our stage being nothing more than the raised front of the sanctuary. A wire was strung across the front and hung with sheets that acted as curtains. We kept it simple.

Over my years of Sunday performances I was an angel and a shepherd.

For boys, the progression went more or less like this: angel, shepherd, wiseman, and then, if you were lucky, Joseph, or maybe the innkeeper.

Every once in awhile a Roman soldier or miscellaneous bystander was tossed into the mix.

Do you see the problem here?

The same number of kids moved through the ranks, but while there was always a need for a “host” of angels and any number of shepherds, there were only three wisemen, one Joseph, and one innkeeper.

The competition for these roles heated up as we aged. It was all a matter of numbers. Although I’m guessing some backroom politicking went on among the mothers.

For girls, it was worse since they had to jump directly from angels to Mary and that was pretty much it.

Again, on occasion there would be a need for a female bystander or the innkeeper would get a wife. Sometimes girls even got to play shepherds. But these were all hit and miss.

Don’t forget the candy!


The pageant wasn’t the only thing we looked forward to on Christmas Sunday. Besides dreaming of the sweet part in the pageant we also longed for the special bag of candy.

Every year on Christmas Sunday every person in attendance got a small white paper bag of candy. There was also an orange or an apple included, but the candy was the real prize.

We all prayed that the bag we got would have one or two extra of those little caramel candies with the white sugary filling. Those were gold.

The handing out of the candy happened after the morning service and was executed decently and in order. No one took more than one bag unless a family member was home sick. After all, it was the season of colds and flus.

But the men who handed out the bags knew who was there and who wasn’t and we didn’t even have to ask for the extra bag; they knew.

As times changed and inflation grew as steadily as we did, the bags held less and less and the selection of candies became more limited.

Finally, before they were abandoned altogether, the fruit was eliminated and all that remained were a few pieces of the cheaper hard candies. The anti-sugar movement was the final stake. Bah! Humbug!

Being a real-life wise guy

I miss the bags of candy and the pageants. And I’ll most likely never get the chance to take on the role of one of the three wisemen in one.

But, for all of us, there are opportunities to be wise men and wise women every day. The Bible offers a lot of guidance on how to be wise. Here are four key tips:
  • Shun Evil: “Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and shun evil” (Proverbs 3:7, NIV).
  • Embrace God: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding. To him belongs eternal praise” (Psalm 111:10, NIV)
  • Seek Wisdom: “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5, NIV).
  • Bank Knowledge: “Wise men store up knowledge, but the mouth of a fool invites ruin” (Proverbs 10:14, NIV).
Being wise in life is a lot tougher than donning a bathrobe and a cardboard crown and standing silently next to a makeshift manger as the narrator intones the Christmas story from the Word.

Real-life wisdom requires doing the Word.

There have been days that wisdom ruled. Others where, well, I played the fool way too well. Fortunately, God’s grace can redeem even the dumbest episodes.

His grace was made flesh in a manger in a cave a couple thousand years ago. About two years later, the original wisemen, the Magi, found him, were overjoyed, and worshipped him.

Those wise men had to travel from afar to find the Child, the King of kings. Today, we only have to travel to our knees and this King will take up residence in our hearts and be near to us day in and day out.

How to be a wise man or wise woman today? “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6, NIV).

So, I guess I made it after all!

But I still miss those bags of candy.

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What are some of your Christmas memories? Does your church still hold simple pageants or conduct a larger “event” for Christmas? Feel free to share in the comments!

Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Hanging of the Greens (#WeekendUpdate #Haiku)




THE HANGING OF THE GREENS

Cats hide under here
and there as decorations
appear everywhere.


-- Stephen R. Clark

Thursday, November 27, 2014

And for what we got, oh Lord, we thank Thee?

Thanksgiving!

What a wonderful day of food, fun, fellowship, and football. We gather with friends or family, enjoy a lovely feast, and contemplate how fortunate we are.

We are thankful for our health, wealth, and whatever. We each have our lists of the “things” for which we are grateful that we contemplate like beads on a rosary.

But I’m not sure we’re doing it right. I mean, doesn’t it all feel so -- what’s the word -- smug?

After all, being thankful for what we have carries the unspoken implication that we’re also thankful that we’re not without. Or, in other words, we’re not one of those “have nots.”

Which is a convoluted way to say, “I’m thankful because I have what others don’t and am what others aren’t.”

Which, if we’re brutally honest, ultimately boils down to thinking of ourselves more highly than we ought, and not enough about Who we ought.

A Pharisee & a tax collector walk into a temple

The disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray. He did and that’s how we got “The Lord’s Prayer,” a lovely little litany nearly all of us can recite from memory.

The disciples did not ask Jesus how to be thankful.

But he taught them anyway, using a cutting little parable from which we get another prayer that Jesus says we shouldn’t pray. But I think we do, in some form or another, all too easily, and all too often.

It’s “The Pharisee’s Prayer.”

It goes something like this: “Oh, God, I thank you that I am not like other people - robbers, crooks, adulterers, or, heaven forbid, like this mere tax collector [aka, someone I view as beneath my station]. I fast twice a week and tithe on all my income. I’m a good person -- a better person -- a thankful person.”

Um.

Okay.

Anyway.

Standing a distance from the Pharisee, the tax collector, “would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’”

This is thanks of a different color.

Thankful for the “who” rather than the “stuff”

Being thankful is a good thing. Paul encourages us in Colossians 2:6-7, writing, “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving” (ESV).

But when we exhibit an “attitude of gratitude” by giving thanks for stuff and social position, it can be wrong-focused, even marginally idolatrous.

For example, when expressing our gratitude on Facebook with a list of the “things” for which we are grateful. You know, the new car we've been blessed with, the big promotion at work, the good test results from our recent health check up, the expensive exotic vacation, and so on.

Sounding just a tad like the Pharisee, eyes open and heads up, we display and show off our thankfulness to God for these “things” that He has blessed us with to our benefit. And look around to see if anyone’s noticing our good fortune. And our “gratitude.”

So what might be a better approach?

The Apostle Paul was a very thankful guy. Maybe he can offer a few clues.

I thank God for you & you & you

In Romans, Paul shouts out thanks to Prisca and Aquila his “fellow workers in Christ Jesus who risked their necks for my life.”

In 1 Thessalonians Paul tells us to give thanks in “all circumstances” even when things aren’t going very well at all.

In 2 Thessalonians he advocates that “We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing.”

In Ephesians he explains that he does “not cease to give thanks” to those he ministers to by unceasingly, and long-windedly, praying
“that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.”
Whew! Take a breath and let’s continue!

The point?

Paul expressed and exhibited an attitude of gratitude. Not so much for what he had, but rather for those who were being Christ-like by allowing the grace of God to be expressed through them as they were being empowered by the Holy Spirit.

He gave thanks to God for the manifestation of caring, love, and provision that was evidenced within and out of the extended body of Christ, the church.

This overriding attitude of gratitude was directed toward God, the Great Provider, who gave them more than money could buy.

To God be the glory & our thanks

Don’t get me wrong, it’s okay to be thankful for stuff as long as the stuff we have is not the ultimate focus of our thanks. We need to keep in mind that our having stuff or social position doesn’t necessarily glorify God. It doesn’t feed our faith.

Focusing on the stuff we have makes us aware of the stuff we don’t have. This opens us up to buying into the “Black Friday” hype that misdirects so much of our attention at Thanksgiving toward getting more stuff.

When we gather with our families on this special day, will our thanks-focus be, “Boy, howdy, I’m sure thankful I was able to get to the store before everyone else and score those great deals!”

Or, rather, will we humbly, like Paul, say, “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world.”

My hope is that, along with Jude, we will center our thanks-focus by praying, “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.”

May you and yours have a God-directed, gratitude-filled Thanksgiving!


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How do you and your family celebrate Thanksgiving? What are favorite memories and traditions? What / who are you thankful for? Share in the comments!


Just for fun and because I love Garrison Keillor’s wit:

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Stance & Slant: Stand and deliver with respect

(Originally posted April 15, 2011;
posted here with minor edits)

There’s a great commercial by Xerox that shows a guy interacting with a cardboard cutout of the “Fighting Irish” mascot. The mascot, of course, doesn’t speak a word, but his “stance” speaks volumes.

Stance refers to a person’s posture, body language, and the physical expression of their attitude: the way they hold or carry themselves.

For athletes and musicians, the stance is the position they take just before performing. The attitude being expressed is to perform well and win.

Stance also can refer to a person’s attitude, state of mind, or the specific position they hold on a topic.

People who hold liberal views are referred to as left-leaning, which is their stance; while those of a conservative bent are said to lean to the right.

The stance we hold when we take a stand on an issue translates into writing as slant, but with a bit of a twist.

Slant is not just about where we stand, but is more about connecting with our intended audience.

Avoiding the spin cycle

When someone abuses slant, they move into spin. To put a spin on something usually means bending facts, stretching truths, and embellishing reality to make something more appealing; kind of like trying to gild a cow pie and presenting it as an acceptable centerpiece for the dinner table.

On the other hand, the purpose of slant is not to distort, but rather to clarify, connect, and convince using clear facts, plain truths, and unvarnished reality.

Slant takes into consideration the intended audience and casts messages in a tone and style acceptable to that audience. Wording and terminology used are selected and crafted carefully to ensure the audience will be able to receive and understand the message.

Engineers, lawyers, and accountants

For example, when I was developing technical sales proposals with AT&T, the majority of these documents were written by engineers to engineers and incorporated a ton of acronyms and technical terms only engineers could appreciate.

However, these proposals also included financial sections, legal sections, and the always critical executive summaries. Each of these sections were crafted to appeal to their intended audiences.

The executive summary was always one of the more challenging sections to write. It was slanted toward a non-technical reader who wasn’t a finance or legal expert, while providing a brief but thorough overview of the entire proposal that would allow the reader to make an informed decision.

Engineers, lawyers, or accountants didn’t write executive summaries primarily because their personal stance was too heavily weighted toward their specialties. This made it impossible for them to slant their content in a way that would connect with someone who was not deeply versed in their specialties.

Leaning in to make connections

Writing slant means you need to be objective about your own viewpoint while being sensitive to your intended audience. It means you lean toward them like you lean in close when chatting with an intimate friend.

Slanted writing is real, personal, and accessible. It isn’t loud, acrimonious, or pointedly insistent.

We all have a variety friends, relatives, and acquaintances who are very different from one another. The way you chat with your buddy, Gus, the 30-something architect, can involve more complex ideas and language than when you chat with Aunt Gertie, who is in her 70s, dropped out of school after 7th grade, and spends all her time watching reruns of “The Andy Griffith Show.”

With each, you’ll modify your conversational style to match their conversational style as well as taking into consideration their frames of reference, etc.. If you don’t, there will be a lot of “Huh? What?” going on.

Slanting expresses respect

When you write slant, you are being aware of who you are writing to, what’s happening in their world, the key points you want to get across, and how to connect with them in a respectful way at their level.

You will want to be aware of essential demographics, but more importantly, you want to see the people you are trying to reach as human beings and not just an “audience” you are “targeting” with a “message.”

To slant your writing never means to “dumb it down” or come off as if you are talking down to your audience. That’s just another form of spin. Slant is about getting close to your audience, leaning in, looking them in the eye, and respectfully sharing your story in a manner that draws them in.

Tell it slant

To best connect your message with your intended audience;
  • Be aware of your own stance on the topic
  • Stay away from spinning your message
  • Tap into the language of the audience’s community
  • Lean in and write to them as if you are addressing a friend
  • Talk to them, but never down to them
  • Be respectful.
Carefully crafting a message means to slant it to be accessible to the various audiences you are trying to reach. It’s about finding away to talk with them, not at or to them.

It means stepping off your soap box, putting down the megaphone, and standing alongside those with whom you wish to connect.

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In his book Tell It Slant: A Conversation on the Language of Jesus in His Stories and Prayers,” author Eugene Peterson advocates for “...cultivating a language that honors the holiness in words; the God-rootedness, the Christ-embodiedness, the Spirit-aliveness.” Emily Dickinson declares in a poem:
Tell all the truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth's superb surprise
As Lightning to the Children eased
With explanation kind
The Truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind —
In what ways do you incorporate slant into your writing? What are the dangers of writing slant? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Stifled Yarns, Unknit Stories (#WeekendUpdate #Haiku)




STIFLED YARNS, UNKNIT STORIES

Standing, holding coat,
the best chairs bearing samples,
I yawn amidst yarns.

-- Stephen R. Clark

Friday, November 21, 2014

Booklovers (#FlashFictionFriday*)

“Description is a bunch of crap. Waste of time,” the short, large-framed, rumpled man spoke disparagingly as he manhandled the stack of marked-down-to-a-dollar novels.

“I want something that tells the story straight with none of that fancy schmancy elaboration. You know, no dream sequences, no flashbacks, no mood setting narratives. Just give me the damn story already. And action. Lots of action. All the rest is just a waste of words. Not to mention ink and paper.”

No one was standing near him in the warm, musty-smelling second-hand bookstore. He was talking to the dust motes, or maybe to invisible elves watching over him from the tops of the bookcases.

“Hmmm. This one looks interesting. I like the cover. The title is catchy. Yep.” He headed to the counter with his prize gripped in his thick-fingered left hand as he dug in his pocket with his right hand, grabbing a wad of crumpled, damp bills. He tossed them on the counter next to his book and went back in for the coins.

“That’ll be $3.17, sir.” The female clerk spoke with confidence and a smile, looking straight into his eyes. She was an inch taller than him with a smattering of pale freckles scattered across the bridge of her nose and dusting the tops of her cheeks. Her hair was a natural reddish brown and her smile was genuine and charming.

He stared at her for a moment, eyes receding into his head as he calculated what was happening, then spoke with a gruff hoarseness, “The sign says all those books are only a dollar!”

The clerk continued grinning pleasantly as she glanced back at the book and the price tag adhering to the cover which illustrated in violent graphics the general plot arc of the story. Something on the cover made her blush as she replied, “I’m sorry sir, but another customer must have put this in the dollar stack by mistake. This one is $2.99, plus the tax of course.”

She spoke with a lovely lilt, her tone not condescending and only slightly apologetic. It was soothing and sweet. He was entranced, disarmed.

“Well, okay, I guess,” the words falling from his mouth like half-chewed food as he counted out the exact change from his sloppy cache of money.

The clerk picked the bills and change off the counter, sorted everything neatly into the cash register, closed it, bagged his book with his receipt, and handed it to him nearly singing, he thought, “Sorry about that, sir. Here you go. Have a nice day and come again!”

“Yeah, yeah,” he growled and grumbled as he shuffled toward the door. “You have a good day yerself, missy.”

He stepped outside into the cool early-winter air grasping his treasure in one hand as he closed his coat with the other. It was a windy and snow-streaked day. “Time to go home,” he spoke spewing steam, speaking to the wind, the snow, the day, the elves. “And meet these new friends.”


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* It’s flash fiction Friday! (To learn more about FFF, click here and scroll down.) 
Flash fiction is nothing more or less than a very, very short short story. This one is 500 words. What do you think? Know anyone like this guy? Who are the new friends he is planning to meet? What is the story really about? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Don’t be fleeced into thinking of this mighty introvert as one who shilly-shallied

When you’re a kid growing up in a small Pentecostal church, knowing God’s will is a big deal. You want to know the formula for getting it right.

Just when you thought you came across something in the Bible that might be “it,” the “anti-fleece” sermon would roll around the next Sunday to remind you that you were wrong. Again.

The “anti-fleece” was a popular sermon I heard a lot growing up. The gist was what not to do when seeking God’s will.

Sigh.

But that’s not the reason I’m bringing this up. The antihero of the “anti-fleece” sermon was poor, old Gideon. Gideon was characterized as a cowardly, hesitant, God-doubting wimp.

In fact, he was described the way a lot of people think of introverts.

Be honest. When you hear someone label themselves as an introvert, adjectives that come to mind probably include at least one of these: backward, bashful, cowardly, fearful, halting, hesitant, indecisive, shy, slow-witted, stand-offish, tentative, timid, wimpy, one who shilly-shallies.

While an introvert may possess one or more of these qualities, none are true synonyms for “introvert.”

In fact, there are many extroverts who are cowardly, indecisive, and more. And there are introverts who are quite courageous.

For example, Gideon.

Gideon’s story is found in the Bible in the book of Judges, chapters 6, 7, and 8.

Other than a brief mention in 1 Samuel 12:11 where he’s referenced by his alternate name, Jerubbaal, the only other notable place he’s cited in scripture is in Hebrews, but I’ll get to that later.

Introverts are cautious

The story of Gideon opens with him hiding in a winepress, secretly threshing some wheat.

And, therefore, he’s a cowering coward.

Of course, this characterization completely ignores that Gideon was hiding from marauding hordes of ruthless Midianites and their buds who “would come like locusts in number,” laying waste to the land, taking everything and anything they wanted by force.

Within the context of the story, hiding in the winepress seems shrewd and responsible, especially given the viciousness of those he was hiding from.

Typical wise introvert behavior.

Introverts tend to avoid the spotlight

As an introvert, Gideon is not shy, timid, or cowardly. His Creator doesn’t believe he’s a cowerer, either. God sends an angel who addresses Gideon as a “mighty man of valor.”

Gideon’s first reaction is typical of an introvert. He tells his angelic messenger, “Please, Lord, how can I save Israel? Behold...I am the least....”

In fact, his overall response is very introvert-like:
  • He asks for more information so he can better assess what’s happening.
  • He takes time so he can process what’s happening.
  • He seeks clarification to ensure he’s heard correctly.
After all, Gideon is being instructed to go against savage hordes and save his entire people.

True to his created nature, Gideon carefully weighed what was happening before launching into action.

Introverts build on smaller victories

From what I’ve observed in extroverts, they’re response might have been to shout an enthusiastic “Yo! Let’s roll!” while grabbing a sword and running headlong into the fray to do battle, and probably die on the spot.

Extroverts act before they think. Introverts do the opposite.

Gideon’s first task was to destroy an altar and idols Gideon’s father, Joash, had built to Baal, a false god. He plans, gathers trusted helpers, and waits until the whole town is asleep to do the deed, then quietly goes to bed. He recedes until someone points the finger at him.

In the morning, after discovering his involvement, the townspeople demand that he be stoned. But Gideon escapes this close call thanks to Joash intervening.

This would have been a knee-knocker moment for Gideon or anyone; he was only inches away from being killed. But emboldened by the grace God administers through Joash, Gideon uses this success as encouragement to keep going.

Introverts are creative problem-solvers

As the Midianites rally with their allies in preparation to ravage the land, Gideon is empowered with the Spirit of the Lord to sound a trumpet-call to arms.

Following this burst of energetic enthusiasm he has a reasonable crisis of faith and needs a little more reassurance. After all, he was about to confront a godless, head-lopping mob of thousands.

With reverence, humility, and respect Gideon seeks a visible sign from the Lord to ensure he’s heard correctly and is taking the proper course of action.

He gets creative and sets out his fleece.

Some view this as “testing the Lord” and another example of Gideon’s many flaws, pointing to Deuteronomy 6:16 where God cautions the Israelites, “You shall not put the LORD your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah.”

But what happened at Massah? The children of Israel had just recently witnessed the parting of the Red Sea, among other miracles, and were traveling in the wilderness guided by an ever-present pillar of smoke by day and fire at night. Now they were thirsty and threw a tantrum. Like grumbling, fussy children they demand water, claiming they were better off as slaves in Egypt! They were “testy” and impatient with Moses and God.

This isn’t what Gideon is doing. He comes humbly before God seeking one final assurance. This is a natural expression of Gideon’s introvert temperament and personality. The Lord shows no anger or impatience with Gideon.

Introverts appreciate feedback & assurance

Once reassured, Gideon asks for no more signs, but without hesitation does what is asked. And what he is asked to do next is pretty remarkable -- to trim his fighting force from 32,000 to 300!

Later, again recognizing the person Gideon was (and how He had created him), the Lord offers Gideon an opportunity to seek further reassurance even though Gideon didn’t ask.

God tells Gideon to go eavesdrop on the enemy camp. There, he hears a man reveal a dream predicting an Israelite victory, is spiritually bolstered, and without hesitation launches a massively successful assault with only 300 men.

Introverts make bad decisions under pressure & when tired


After successful conquests, with peace and safety restored, Gideon is ready to settle back into a quiet life. But the men of Israel press him to be their king, an opportunity he eschews.

I can imagine the introvert Gideon tired of having to be “on” for such a long time, just wanting to live out the rest of his life in peace. He’s fought a lot of hard, exhausting battles.

Tired introverts tend to make poor judgments, especially under pressure. And that’s what Gideon did. Instead of agreeing to be king, or suggesting everyone take a break so he could think things over, he creates an “ephod” which was a kind of idol.

While the details are sketchy, Gideon takes this ephod and erects it in the city, perhaps in the same place where the altar to Baal he’d torn down a few years prior had stood. His intention may have been to create a visual reminder of all God had done for him and his people, but instead, the ephod became an object of worship and a “snare” to those who worshipped it.

Introverts can adapt to cultural expectations

In the concluding verses of chapter 8, it’s noted that Gideon had “many” wives, a concubine, and at least 71 children. Only sons are mentioned so he probably had some daughters as well. How, you wonder, could someone with such a large extended family be an introvert?

Simple. Introverts know how to adapt to and live within cultural expectations. This ability often causes introverts to be mistaken for being extroverts.

As the influential patriarch of his family, Gideon would have had control over his environment. In his culture and his time, the women watched the children and the men did what they wanted to. It would have been easy for him to manage ample times of solitude to recharge.

Introverts are quiet leaders

Sadly, after his death, “the people of Israel...did not show steadfast love to the family of Jerubbaal (that is, Gideon) in return for all the good that he had done to Israel” (Judges 8:34-35, ESV).

Talk about tossing the baby out with the bath water!

But God viewed his situation differently.

Hebrews 11 is known as “the faith chapter.” In it, the writer lists heroic Old Testament characters. These are extraordinary individuals whose stories serve as examples to encourage and challenge our own faith.

Despite his faults, Gideon makes the cut.

Along with others, such as David and Samson (both marked by glaring flaws by the way), they and Gideon are described as having “through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.”

The story of Gideon is a wonderful example of how God acknowledges different personality types, and in this instance showing how He deals patiently and encouragingly with an introvert.

The result was Gideon rising to the occasion as an exceptional leader.

He was not an extroverted, outgoing, charismatic, or flashy warrior. He was a quiet leader who faced a tremendous challenge successfully. He was not in it for his own glory. He was in it for the Lord’s glory, and to help his people.

Yep, introverts can be heroes, too. They may not be as visible as Gideon was in his day, but you probably know one.

Or, maybe you are one.


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Do you agree that Gideon was an introvert? What other Bible characters would you view as introverts? Why? Do you consider yourself an introvert or an extrovert? How do you view those with the opposite personality style? Sound off in the comments!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Freak Storm Blues (#WeekendUpdate #Haiku)




FREAK STORM BLUES

Snow falling on leaves,
Leads me to stew, wondering,
To shovel or rake.

-- Stephen R. Clark