Boooo!

The first time we took our son to a baseball game he was not even a year old. We dressed him in a Cardinal uniform and took him into the always packed Busch Stadium. It was the original Busch Stadium where so much Cardinal baseball history happened. I don’t remember who the Redbirds played that day or even if they won. I just remember watching Joe take it all in for the first time. There was Fredbird and cheers and chants, vendors selling hotdogs and beer, the constant noise of the fans and lots and lots of red. Cardinal fans love their red! Our son didn’t really talk yet but he did participate in the noise of the crowd. He cheered a lot but I have to say his favorite part was booing for the other team and the umpires. At the first hint of booing from anywhere within earshot he began making that familiar sound to sports enthusiasts everywhere. Booooooo!

It is such a natural thing for humans to express their displeasure with things. I spent nearly half a century booing the world. I booed this president and that president. I booed my parents, I booed my church, I booed my co-workers. I focused most of my energy on what everyone else was doing wrong or at least what I felt they were doing wrong and led the chorus of boos on their efforts. I became that obnoxious fan at the ball game. You know, that fat guy that never played a sport, the guy that never gets out of a chair and couldn’t run around the living room without passing out, the one that blows cigar smoke in your face and coughs on your neck. He is the one that points out everything everyone on the field is doing wrong. He never cheers, he only sees the negative and the mistakes. He not only sees them, but he goes on and on about every transgression. He could write a book about Stan Musial, and never mention one single good thing Stan the Man ever did.

I was that guy every where I went. I criticized everything that went on around me. I criticized everyone that tried to do anything. I lost the ability to cheer. Booing was my specialty and it was the one thing I was good at. I had no skills anymore. I had lost them all while I sat and watched everyone else live life. I booed everyone else even though they were doing things I couldn’t even begin to do. Being that negative guy is easy. No one does anything perfectly. Getting something done is what counts. It doesn’t have to be pretty and it definitely doesn’t have to get done my way. I fell into the trap of pointing out the bad in good things. This trap is a pit and it is easier just to sit in it and keep booing than it is to climb out and become a part of what is going on around me. To get out of that trap I have to learn to cheer.

Ephesians 4:29 Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.

How could I claim to be a Christian and feel that I was justified saying so many things that were not good and helpful? I had become an expert at finding what was wrong with everything. I felt I had to let everyone know. What if God wanted me to see what was wrong and get up out of my chair and help make it right? Wow! I would sure be busy.

Deuteronomy 22:4 “If you see that your neighbor’s donkey or ox has collapsed on the road, do not look the other way. Go and help your neighbor get it back on its feet!”

First of all, this does not only mean donkeys or oxen qualify my neighbor for help. Next, God doesn’t expect me to boo the donkey for falling down and my neighbor for not getting to his destination on time. I am called to action not criticism.

Galatians 6:1 Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself. 2 Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ.

Helping someone back on the right path is a lot harder than helping a fallen donkey. It is really easy to sit back and talk about how far from God someone has gotten. That is no help to them at all. God is clearly not calling me to do the easy thing here. I have to be gentle and humble, not a couple of my strong points. God expects me to change. I have to do it if I want to get back into the game. Sharing burdens sounds like work. Running my mouth burns zero calories. I have to remember that if I am speaking of what others are doing wrong that I am probably not helping them back onto the right path. They need to hear me cheer. Boos will make them want to give up.

Galatians 6:3 If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important.

I don’t know why but I just love the way that verse reads. I am not that important. Today I must shut up and help those that need it.

God, make my mind focus on the good and when I see wrong give me wisdom and courage to help. Make my words please you and be encouragement to others. Amen.

How Will I Treat Jesus Today?

Today I feel like I need to look at how I rate people.  I don’t look around and say, “That guy is a nine!” or “That kid is a three”.

I like to think I treat everyone the same.

As usual, what I like to think and what I do think are two different things.

There are people that I think are better than me.  They speak better, they look better, they are in better shape, they have a better house or a better job.  They are just better.

There are people that are better than me at some things but are more my equal.

There are people that I think I am better than.

I don’t like to think that I feel this way but I really do.  Now, there was a time not too long ago that I felt like everyone was better than me and I felt the need to level the playing field by tearing others down to make me feel better.  It is easy to see that this is wrong and the results were that I had no friends at all, even my family didn’t really like me.

In reality, I have to remind myself that no one is better or worse.  Christ died for all.  We all needed him.

But I still fight with pride.  Something inside me sends me a message that I am better than someone else because I smell better or I pay my bills or I have a job or whatever it is that causes me to compare myself to some struggling soul on any particular day.

That message is clearly wrong and Jesus reinforces the wrongness of that message pretty clearly.

Matthew 25:40  “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’”

If I want to find Jesus, he is in those that I consider the least.

Matthew 25:35 ‘For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. 36 I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’

Jesus wasn’t just giving me a list of kind things to do, he was telling me that I need to elevate the least to a position of equal.  That is a hard thing to do.  Pride tells me that I am wasting my time and that I can’t do much and honestly, people like to have lesser people around.  But Jesus says to pull them up and keep pulling till I enter the kingdom and he finishes the job.

Matthew 25:45 “And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’
46 “And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life.”

To tell you the truth, I don’t always like when God tells the truth.  I tend to overlook these scriptures a lot.  I don’t think I am living them the way I should be.  I am all religious and all but I kind of feel like the hypocritical religious leaders Jesus is addressing in these words.  I don’t feel like Jesus was fooling around here.  I do feel like I am.  I should be doing more.  The least aren’t getting enough of my attention.

Sharing a Great Testimony!

My name is Paul. I am a grateful believer in Jesus Christ, and I have struggled with perfectionism, excessive pride, anxiety, OCD, religious extremism, and violent tendencies. I know that nothing good lives in my sinful nature. I always wanted to do what is right, but I couldn’t. I always wanted to do what is […]

via The Apostle Paul’s Twelve Step Testimony… — Lessons In Recovery

Some Thoughts on Love

Depression has always pushed me to isolate myself.  But it doesn’t always push a man or woman into an isolation that others see well.

When I recently heard of the suicide of Chris Cornell that happened not so long after he had performed before thousands, he probably didn’t seem isolated and alone.  But having stood painfully close to the place he was standing before he left this world, his problems, whatever they were, had become too much for him to bear.

The truth is, all of us bear more than we can stand to bear alone.  It is the self-imposed isolation, the urge to carry what we cannot carry and the refusal to share the load that often kills us.

I can’t sit here and say, “If only this or that had happened he would still be alive.”  I can’t speak into the ultimate outcome of someone taking one step in the right direction in their time of crisis.  But a step in the right direction is a good start.

I only know what happened for me, the step out of my own self into a world filled with other people.  I always knew they were there but I didn’t know I was a part of them.

Although I want to walk as far as I can down the path to recovery, I don’t ever want to forget that I stood on the edge of life and what it was like to live without sanity or a place in a world full of people that care about me.

I have a reason to get out of bed in the morning and a goal for each day.

Romans 13:9 For the commandments say, “You must not commit adultery. You must not murder. You must not steal. You must not covet.” These—and other such commandments—are summed up in this one commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to others, so love fulfills the requirements of God’s law.

Love fulfills God’s requirements.  Love requires me to reach out of my isolation.  Love is the one thing I can never do alone.  Love needs more than one participant.  Love will guide me along the path to recovery and show me sanity.

I’m called to love more than myself, more than my things, more than what I can imagine.  I’m to love others, others that are happy, others that are sad, others that deserve and others that seem not to, others like me and others far different.

Love takes away my self-imposed limits, how much I can take and how much I can give, and lets me experience a way to become more than my flaws as I become a part of something bigger than what I am or what I can become.

I don’t know what all Chris Cornell or anyone else that has taken their own life needed in order for them to still be here today.  But I do know that a little more love would have helped in some way.

As I sit here this morning, I can’t help but feel the need to seek someone out that is approaching that place, that point of no return and showing them some love.  I know that having just plain old me to show that love isn’t like winning the lottery or anything, but I have more than what I am to give.

 

But I’m Not Just Any Fool

What If???

For about a year I worked for General Mills up in Hannibal, MO. It was a fifty mile drive each way, almost every day of the week. When I worked there, the people in charge didn’t believe in giving the maintenance guys much time off. If the production lines didn’t run on the weekends we repaired them. The good news is that as much as I didn’t like this job, it was a ton better than the job I had before that. I was at work all the time. I had no life other than driving an hour to and from work and work. Outside of that was a little time for sleeping and that was about it.

So one afternoon I was heading north on Highway 61, heading to the big factory that smelled like soup, taco shells and tomatoes cooking. The drive was usually uneventful, except for those times the weather was bad, but on this day the weather was perfect. I was my usual zombie-like self as I cruised up the highway. I passed one small town on my journey I approached a semi. He was going slower than my nice and easy pace of between seventy and seventy-five mph, so I got over in the left lane and started around him. I was next to the trailer when his blinker came on and he immediately started into my lane. There was no way I could accelerate around him and no time to slow down and get behind him. He had no idea I was there. There was no shoulder on my side of the road, only a median between me and the oncoming lanes. I honked my horn but the puny little tooter on my car couldn’t be heard by the driver of the massive truck. I had one choice. I had to leave the road and I turned into the grass.

I don’t know if you have ever watched a NASCAR race and seen a car drive into the grass. It seems to speed up, the steering wheel doesn’t appear to do much and the brakes don’t have much effect. It looks like a scary thing. I can honestly say it is a scary thing. When I got that car on the grass I was basically out of control. I made modest movements with the wheel and the results were unpredictable. I was terrified that I was going to go out of control and go speeding into the traffic coming towards me, but I managed to get the car going in a straight line down the middle of the median.

Just as I thought I would be able to ride this thing out I realized that I was heading for a crossing. I was going too fast to hit the sign posts and concrete in front of me. I started working the brakes, searching for a place where they provided resistance to the ground beneath me without losing complete traction.

The truck driver had realized what he had done and pulled over. The traffic behind me had all slowed down, probably to be able to watch and see what my outcome would be. I am glad they did because that opened the highway up for me. As I neared the crossing between the northbound and southbound lanes I took the chance that I had slowed the car down enough to turn it and maintain control. I eased it within inches of a metal signpost and came back onto the pavement.

For a few seconds there was a lot of noise as dirt and grass came out of the treads on my tires and flew into the body of my car, but shortly the sound of rubber on the road was the same old familiar tune I was accustomed to.

I had survived. I still wanted to fight the truck driver but I survived. What seemed like a sure tragedy faded into just another close call.

Those few seconds looked like the end or the beginning of a long recovery from something really bad. It turns out that I handled it well. I handled the part afterward the worst, I think I screamed and yelled at that truck driver for the next ten miles down the road. When I got to work I had pretty much lost my voice.

The out of control parts of my life can last for seconds or days or weeks. Sometimes I only have time to react. I think those times are the easiest. Sometimes I have lots of time to think. That is dangerous stuff. I think about all the “what if’s” and the “what if’s” that go along with all of those “what if’s” and pretty soon I am “what iffing” the end of life as we know it. I can “what if” myself from bad fishing to “what if the government has poisoned all the fish?” This exercise never fixes any problem. It just keeps me looking for all the possibilities of a myriad of new problems that will probably never occur. Why is it so much easier to focus on the problem than on the solution?

1 Peter 4:7 The end of the world is coming soon. Therefore, be earnest and disciplined in your prayers. 8 Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins. 9 Cheerfully share your home with those who need a meal or a place to stay. 10 God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another. 11 Do you have the gift of speaking? Then speak as though God himself were speaking through you. Do you have the gift of helping others? Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies. Then everything you do will bring glory to God through Jesus Christ. All glory and power to him forever and ever! Amen.

Isn’t it interesting that Peter says the end of the world is coming soon and then tells the church to pray, show deep love, share what we have and use the gifts He has given us? I don’t know exactly why Peter uses the phrase that “the end of the world is coming” but I do know that none of my upcoming problems are on that kind of scale. If Peter’s instructions would suffice for the end of the world then they surely must be good enough for the trials I am going through. He certainly doesn’t tell anyone to “what if” the end of the world to death. He pushes them (and me) into Godly action. He gives us the solution to the problem.

Satan lives in our “what if’s”. God doesn’t work in that world. He works in the solution.

God, help me focus on the things you have called me to do today. Help me let go of my need to look at all the possibilities of how this trial can grow worse and to get a firm grasp on the things You have told me to do. Amen.

Waiting for a Good Smack

We’ve got a dog, well, actually it is my son’s dog, that hangs around our house. That’s not quite right either, he is an inside dog so he hangs around inside the house. He is a beautiful Siberian Husky that my wife somehow managed to find in the shelter among all the lab-mixes and little shrill-barking ankle-biters. He stood out like a king surrounded by the dogs with no pedigree.

The first time I saw him on the leash, with his head held high and the lightness of his step, I knew he was a special dog. If he just didn’t have so much hair, he would be the perfect mutt.

We know nothing of his life before he came to our home, not a lot anyway. I know one thing, though. He knows that a hand can hit him. Many times I raise my hand to pet him and he winces and lowers his head expecting to get whacked. I can’t imagine what he would have gotten whacked for. He doesn’t hardly ever bark, so he never needs to be told to shut-up much less get a rap on the noggin. He doesn’t chew things up. He doesn’t bite (even though his favorite game is to chew on my hand gently while he growls and makes other weird dog noises).

He is a good dog that doesn’t need to be smacked…ever. Sometimes, he gets too rambunctious on the leash but a good tug stops that. Sometimes, he doesn’t listen so well the first few times he is told to do something but that seems to be an inherited trait that is somehow shared by the entire breed. Usually making some eye contact or changing the tone of voice overcomes this.

I wonder about his life before us every time he ducks his head and tenses up awaiting the impact of my hand before I touch him. It stirs something in my heart to see this. I simply want to pet him before I leave for work but his instinct is to brace for the worst.

I guess he is much better off than before now. He was running loose and got captured and we got him out of one of those shelter cages and made him a member of the family.

I think that many times I see some of this stuff in me. I am so much better off than I was before. But I just don’t see it all the time. Rather than run to the arms of God, I duck my head and wait for him to whack me up side my melon. When I really sit down and think about it, getting whacked, in my past experience did not come from God. He has never seen the need to inflict physical or emotional damage on me to make his point. That damage comes from me. I really need to stop acting like drawing close to God is going to get me smacked around.

Maybe life would be easier if every time I got too close to the fence, I got zapped by some electricity or took the sting of a BB on my backside. But God doesn’t work that way. If I want to go explore greener pastures or chase the neighbor’s horses, he will patiently call me back home. It isn’t God that causes the horse to kick me in the head, it is caused by me aggravating the horse.

Luke 15:13 “A few days later this younger son packed all his belongings and moved to a distant land, and there he wasted all his money in wild living.”

We’ve all heard about the prodigal son (It seems like I wrote this line yesterday, too, and promised to tell the whole story, but yet again, today I only touch on part of the parable). He ran away to spend his money and live a life free from rules and things he thought were holding him down. It turns out that in reality he was just being held. He found out before long what being held down was really like.

Luke 15:14 “About the time his money ran out, a great famine swept over the land, and he began to starve. 15 He persuaded a local farmer to hire him, and the man sent him into his fields to feed the pigs. 16 The young man became so hungry that even the pods he was feeding the pigs looked good to him. But no one gave him anything.”

The bible doesn’t speak much to what the prodigal felt when he arrived home. I’m sure he winced and waited for the smack up side the head. He was willing to live as a slave rather than face the world he had known again. He must have felt he deserved to get knocked around a little, maybe even a lot.

Luke 15:22 “But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. 23 And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, 24 for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began.”

I have to remind myself that the beating I expect at the hands of God for my past and my mistakes, my choices and selfishness, is just not going to happen. It is not God that sets off the inner motion detector that puts me into panic mode when God moves toward me. This is a lie of Satan. He wants me to fear drawing close to God. He will yank and pull trying to keep me from being pulled into the safety of God’s arms. He will kick me, punch me, sabotage me, and do anything he can think of. When I turn to look at who is doing this he will be standing there with an innocent look on his face, pointing his crooked finger at God.

I must come to my senses and turn back to God and realize that I am welcome where I belong.

Psalm 5:11 But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them sing joyful praises forever. Spread your protection over them, that all who love your name may be filled with joy. 12 For you bless the godly, O Lord; you surround them with your shield of love.

Hey Big Brother!

We’ve all heard the parable about the prodigal son (if you haven’t and would like to, be sure to read tomorrow’s post here).  Today isn’t so much about the long-lost son but the faithful son that didn’t leave home, didn’t want his inheritance before it was rightfully his and didn’t abandon his duties serving his father.  He didn’t live his life covered in filth, chasing after his lustful desires or drinking till his liver was about to burst.

One day, the not so prodigal son was out in the fields working, just like he did every day. He was sweaty, dirty and hungry and just about ready to hit the showers (well, get cleaned up but I’m sure if there were showers back in those days, one would have been pretty great about then).

Well, he headed home and heard music and partying going on inside the house.

“Wow!  There’s a party going on.  What’s up with that?”

Luke 15:25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the fields working. When he returned home, he heard music and dancing in the house, 26 and he asked one of the servants what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother is back,’ he was told, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf. We are celebrating because of his safe return.’

Here was an opportunity to celebrate his brother’s safe return but not only that, the restoration of his family, an end to his father’s pain of losing a son and having a younger brother to talk into doing stupid things to put on YouTube (well, that last one is something I would celebrate).

But big brother would do no celebrating.  In fact, he would try to steal his father’s joy.

Luke 15:28 “The older brother was angry and wouldn’t go in. His father came out and begged him, 29 but he replied, ‘All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. 30 Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!’

Nope, not the least bit happy his brother isn’t dead.  In fact, he wouldn’t even allow himself to enjoy some great brisket, baked beans, fried taters and an ice cold Coca-Cola after a hard day’s work.  He was willing to punish himself just to prove his brother didn’t deserve a party.

Big brother, let’s just call him Mike, was more concerned about himself getting slighted that he was willing to slight himself.  Mike was not too bright.

My name is Mike and I am often not too bright.  I have to wonder, not because I am brilliant and think of lots of interesting things (I’m not too bright), but because someone mentioned this to me, what would have happened if the first person the prodigal ran into on the way back home was Mike?

I’m afraid the meeting might not have gone well and the prodigal may have turned and left home unwelcome and alone and the story may have ended with a prodigal dead in the pig slop and feces.

I think I forget that I too was a prodigal, without anything and wanting for nothing more than enough to survive and far too often I look down my nose till I’m cross-eyed at the poor brother of mine trying to get back home.  I try to decide if they deserve to be restored to the family when the whole concept of getting what one deserves is not applicable to here.

Our father gives what he gives to all who come humbly to accept it.  It isn’t my place to be angry or jealous or judgmental.  It is my place to join the party and be glad another one hasn’t been lost forever in a cruel world.

The Fireplace

When mom and dad built their house back in 1971 it didn’t have a fireplace. I wanted to have one but since I was only in sixth grade and didn’t offer to pay to have one put in the house I wasn’t taken too seriously. I could imagine getting up on a cold morning, throwing a couple of logs in and sitting in front of a roaring fire while I tried to think up a good excuse to get mom to let me stay home from school. Yep, a fireplace would have sure been cool.

I wasn’t disappointed for long because somewhere along the way my parents bought a fireplace. They brought it home in a big box and hung it on the wall in the basement. The basement was finished and we played down there a lot. You are probably wondering how they managed to hang the fireplace on the wall. It wasn’t actually a real fireplace. It had a light rigged up to make some plastic coals look like they were flickering. In fact the whole thing was plastic. It put out a little heat though. There was some sort of electric heater inside and so if I used my imagination and squinted my eyes, it was just like the real thing, sort of. OK, it wasn’t like the real thing at all. There was no popping of the logs, no leaping flames, no smell of hardwood burning and the heat just wasn’t the same. It didn’t even really look like a fireplace. It looked more like a grade school kid’s art project of a cardboard fireplace. It was a lame substitute. It was worse than my mom’s meatloaf.

So when I say I wasn’t disappointed for long I guess that just isn’t true. That fake fireplace just didn’t cut it. It was the worst fireplace I have ever seen. It was around for years. It hung on the wall and kids would come over and ask, “What is that?” I would explain that it was supposed to be like a fireplace, kind of and they would say, “Oh.” Even kids were puzzled about why it was there. They probably thought I made it out of cardboard.

We called this conglomeration of fake brick, fake fire, fake wood and fake heat “The Fireplace” What else could we call it? But no matter how many times we called it a fireplace it was still just a cheap imitation. It just hung on the wall pretending to be something it could never be. It wasn’t even pretty.

I have been that fireplace. I hung around my family, my church and my friends packaged as a “Christian”. But when I look at my life I have to ask, “What is that?” I was just a collection of lies assembled to resemble a Christian. Under close, or even not so close, examination I can see now that I didn’t even do a good job of faking it. There was nothing genuine about me. I did the things that I could to make it look like God was working in my life but yet I wouldn’t allow Him to do the work. What I accomplished was to create a phony, a travesty of what I thought God might do in me. I wasn’t even worthy of being hidden in the basement.

John 14:6 Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.

I cannot go to the Father and make myself a Christian on my own. I cannot change on my own. If I try I am a cheap knock-off worth nothing. The only way is through Jesus. Who would think that such a simple lesson would be so hard for me to learn? Yet, I have to relearn it often. It is a lie I believe far too many times.

Proverbs 26:23 Smooth words may hide a wicked heart, just as a pretty glaze covers a clay pot. 24 People may cover their hatred with pleasant words, but they’re deceiving you. 25 They pretend to be kind, but don’t believe them. Their hearts are full of many evils. 26 While their hatred may be concealed by trickery, their wrongdoing will be exposed in public.

If I am not real and genuine in front of everyone then I am deceiving others. That means I am a liar. Once I begin to lie, treachery and evil will follow. Being a good man on my own is just impossible. I cannot even begin to be the man God wants me to be without allowing God to make me that man. I cannot be man-made!

Ephesians 2:10 For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.

I am not my masterpiece. I don’t make a great life for myself. I don’t become a good enough guy to make it into heaven. I don’t impress people with my kindness and wisdom. God adds all those things to me. God has every brush stroke thought out before he touches it to the canvas of my life. When I serve God and become real, people no longer see me, they see God in me.

Help me, God, to be a genuine representative of you and not to deceive. I want to be truthful with those around me and myself and take the gifts you so freely give.