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Layman's Walk

“These Spiritual Windowshoppers”

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American society is one of consumerism. We are constantly bombarded with messages telling us about all the things we have just got to have. We shop. It used to be mostly in stores, then also in catalogs, and now it’s largely online. While the mediums have changed, the concept remains largely the same.

“What does this do for me?”

“Can I get it somewhere else for less?”

“Is it worth my time or money?

“What will others think of me if I buy this?

And while this most certainly applies to how we acquire consumer goods, it also increasingly seems to apply to our spiritual lives.

A new friend of mine introduced me to this poem the other day. It’s called “These Spiritual Windowshoppers” and it was written by a Sufi Mystic known as Rumi. It was translated into English by Coleman Barks as such:

These spiritual windowshoopers,
who idly ask, “How much is that? Oh, I’m just looking.”
they handle a hundred items and put them down,
shadows with no capital.

What is spent is love and two eyes wet with weeping.
But these walk into a shop,
and their whole lives pass suddenly in that moment,
in that shop.

Where did you go? “Nowhere.”
What do you have to eat? “Nothing much.”

Even if you don’t know what you want,
buy something, to be part of the exchanging flow.

Start a huge, foolish project,
like Noah.

It makes absolutely no difference
what people think of you.

There are a variety of ways we can read this poem.  I’d be very interested in hearing the interpretations that others have.  In fact, if you feel so inclined as to reflect on what this poem means to you, lease stop reading this post until you have had a chance to do so.  I do not want my thoughts on this to unintentionally influence you.

If you have now given it some thought, I’ll share with you what I gleaned from this poem.

We live our lives seeking purpose; to find that which is greater than what we are as individual specs of dust in a seemingly infinite cosmos.  We see a variety of options available to us in prominent faiths and secular causes.  We consider getting involved; doing something; finding our meaning and purpose and trying to gain an understanding of the purpose of life, our Creator, and the other mysteries we ponder.  We seek out various options.  Even if we have chosen a given faith or cause, we consider the various ways we can be involved, how we can contribute.  And yet, when we consider the costs, (What will this involve?  What will it cost?  What will others think?  Will it really matter?) we shy away–“Oh, I’m just looking.

In our failure to do anything–to make a difference, to reach out to others and to God, to simply “look” and not truly “do” (or to be “in” but not “involved” or “committed”), we remain unfulfilled and unsatisfied.  Our ability to love also lessens.  (Love is truly one of those marvelous things that only grows larger and larger the more we try to give it away.)  The longer we stay this way, the more of our lives we waste until we suddenly realize, it’s over.

If we do nothing greater with our lives than “make a living” without delving into the richer things of service and love, in the end, our answer to the questions, “What did you do?”  “Where did you go?”  “How will you be remembered?” will ultimately amount to, “not much.”  This is regardless of professional/vocational/financial success.  People are not remembered simply for what they did, but what they did for others.

So even if we’re not sure our choice is perfect, even if what we envision is not complete, go for it.  Jump in.  Do something.  Have faith.  Join “the flow.”  Be a part of what is larger than yourself and more significant than any individual life.

Even if it’s something crazy–something that everyone else says can’t be done……..GO FOR IT!  And to hell with the doubters and the trolls.  Those are the folks who are scared of your success and will rejoice in your failure.  But do it anyway.

Have faith.  Have love.  Be big.  Be bold.  Do good.

This is only my personal interpretation of the poem.  I’m sure there are as many interpretations as there are readers of it and I would in no way claim mine to be correct nor would I claim any others incorrect.  Like any other reading or form of art, we interpret what we see/read/hear through the “lens” of our own experiences and understandings of the world.  (Frankly, I find that to be one of the most beautiful things about any type art–including scriptures–that each person who experiences it will have their own unique response to it.)

Should you have looked up the author of this poem, you will see that he died in the 13th century.  Certainly, he wasn’t speaking about our modern society, right?  I would simply say:  “There is nothing new under the sun.”  Human nature has been consistent for centuries.  We do gradually improve, but the more primitive parts of our brains and bodies are the last to evolve.

My friend interpreted Rumi’s poem in a more Christ-focused manner and connected it with what has become one of my favorite passages from the Gospel of Matthew:

[Jesus said,] “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy, he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearl; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.

If we consider the first half of this passage (the kingdom of heaven is a treasure that someone found in a field and then hid), we can see a parallel with Rumi’s poem.  Both are telling us to “spend,” to commit with all that we have and all that we are.  Because once we find that which is a joy–in particular, joy in Christ and the promised kingdom–we will be willing to forgo all we have to pursue it.

Of course, that is easier said than done.  Take me, for example.  I’m planning to start my seminary training this fall.  Have I walked away from my profession to dedicate myself to this pursuit?  No, I have not.

I also believe that God is working through me in his own timeframe.  I do not believe that today I am the person I need to be in order to be a pastor.  I see myself lacking in spiritual discipline and in the strength of my faith.  I still feel the calling, and I know that I need the time to grow into what I believe God is calling me to be.  As I heard in a song this morning, “God is not done with me yet.”

I mentioned this had become one of my favorite passages.  This is not because of the first half, but because of the second, which my friend explained so well.

In the second portion, we easily miss that Jesus tells us that the “kingdom of heaven is like a merchant.”  Because of how the first portion goes, it is easy to mistake that we are the merchant and the kingdom is the pearl.  However, it clearly states that the kingdom is the merchant.  This means we are the pearls.

And this is why I love this passage:

Just as the first portion says that when we find the kingdom of heaven we will willingly give up everything we have to obtain it, God, when finding us, loves us so that God is willing to give everything that we might be obtained.  This refers directly to Christ’s coming to earth and his death on the cross.  Because God finds us and loves us so much that God is willing to give up everything–including infinite power–to suffer as a human to prove the love that God has and to compensate for our weaknesses.

God knows that even if we are the person who finds the “treasure in the field,” we remain unable to give up all we have to acquire it.  Even though we fail, God still sees us as valuable–so much that God is willing to sacrifice all God has in order to have us.

That is love.

God is love.

Go and share that love with others.

 

Peace,

Brett

Layman's Walk

Vacation Bible School!

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God made you.  “Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex.” (Psalm 139:14)

God is for you.  “If God is for us, who can ever be against us?” (Romans 8:31)

God is always with you.  “The Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)

God will always love you.  “Your unfailing love will last forever.” (Psalm 89:2)

God made you for a reason.  “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

Last night ended one of the longest but most rewarding weeks of our family’s summer:  

Vacation Bible School at First English!

(The statements above are the lesson points for each of the five nights of VBS.)

My wife, Kari, and I both serve as instructors at different stations where the various groups of kids rotate through each night.  By the end of the mere two hours of leading groups you are left exhausted, but also left with a sense of peace and thankfulness.

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It’s really amazing to see how much work goes into putting on a VBS each year and how many people contribute to making it a success.  Preparations start months in advance.  The week before the program is spent setting up all of the props/scenery.  Instructors prepare their lessons for each night and gather supplies.  Volunteers prepare the service projects the kids complete during the program to help others in need.

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And that’s just a start!  The church’s praise band, Stained Glass, provides live music for the program opening and closing each night.  A huge crew of volunteers serves as leaders for the 15 different groups of kids who go from one activity to another each night.  Kitchen staff prepares snacks for all the kids to enjoy about halfway through the program (on top of serving a meal each night before the program starts to all the staff members and their families).  Additionally, we have a variety of congregants who show up to help randomly throughout the week or specifically for the setup/teardown work.

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And of course, none of this would happen without our amazing youth leader, Raylee Brown.  God has blessed this woman with seemingly unlimited energy and drive. (And a very healthy dose of patience, too!)  She leads the whole effort and more or less lives at the church for several weeks in order to pull this off.

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It is truly a labor of love.  And it shows.

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We ended up having 50-60 kids this year who attended; I don’t have the exact figures.  That’s 50-60 young people with whom we were able to share the love of God and promise of Christ this week.  We have a lot of participation from our own congregation.  However, we are making a deliberate point to reach out to neighbors in our church building’s neighborhood, the Peoria East Bluff.  Each year, we have lots of kids from the area join us, and it was even more so this year.  It was wonderful!

I instruct a portion of the program called “Bible Adventures.”  The objective is to take the Bible story and lesson of the day and make it into something interactive so that we “relive” the story rather than just hear it.  We have a lot of fun in my rotation, but it can be hard to compete with other parts of the program like “Kid Vid Cinema” and “Games!”  Keeping the kids’ attention is a challenge, both with younger and older ones and their levels of “energy” vary from night-to-night.

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As we get towards the end of our session, I really try to drive home the key lesson.  Throughout the night, I make a point to not “kidiefy” the message, but still make it appropriate for their age. I speak with the kids honestly and frankly.  You can tell they appreciate not having things “dumbed down” or being talked to “like little kids.”

There are nights where the Holy Spirit really makes her presence known. 

You can see it in the faces of the kids.  They’re not scrambling around on the floor or looking around.  They look directly at me as I speak to them.  When I share the promises God has made to us–to love each of us, without any merit of our own, forever–you can see their expressions soften, their eyes get a little wider and brighter, and room takes on a calmness that at any other time in the night simply cannot exist.  You can tell they’re listening and you can tell the Spirit is working in them.

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As if that were not enough or a reward, I had a few different kids I hadn’t known previously come up to me and ask for a high-five and thank me or run up and catch me by surprise with a big hug at the end of our last session.

Maybe I read too deep into it, but if God was able to use me to bring even a small bit of faith or peace to one kid, I’ll be back to VBS year after year after year!

 

Peace,

Brett

 

Layman's Walk

One Step at a Time

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One of the things I’ve been most nervous about taking steps towards public ministry is the amount and intensity of the changes that would occur in my life and in the lives of my family. The idea of leaving a job, moving, leaving friends and family here, and the other associated social and financial changes involved made me feel like I was standing in front of me as a mountain I wasn’t ready to climb.

Today, I made it through the foothills. After about 11 and a half years at State Farm, I will be resigning on 5/19. I’ll then be running my IT consultancy full-time. I’m most excited about this because I’ll now be geographically flexible. I do most  of my work remotely, so I could pretty much live and work anywhere there is a good internet connection.  Also, due to the nature of my work, if I want to go the kids’ school and have lunch, or help out on a field trip, of whatever the opportunity, I can flex my hours and fit it all in.

One step at a time!

Layman's Walk

Money. It’s a gas. (Just keep your hands off of my stash.)

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Ah, money.  What in our world today does not somehow involve the “almighty dollar?”  From even a young age, we recognize the power that money possesses, how it affects those around us, and all the things it can bring us.

We can’t really get away from it.  We need money to acquire the necessary things in life:  food, shelter, clothing.

It’s the subject (directly or indirectly) of many of our favorite movies and books.  It’s the motive behind countless crimes.  The lust for it rises above the desire for fairness, preservation, respect, and sometimes even the recognition of others’ basic humanity.

It’s the underlying issue in nearly all political debate (who gives, who gets, how much is spent).  It tarnishes friendships.  It can destroy family ties.  The relentless pursuit for more of it can blind us to the world around us and the needs of those closest to us.

Most people have heard the phase from 1 Timothy, that “the pursuit of money is the root of all kinds of evil.”  While on the surface, this may appear extreme, though it is quite arguably true.

 

I’ve had my own love affair with the pursuit of money, of wealth, of prestige, of status, of continuously having “more.”  And on some days, it’s harder for me to ignore her charms than on others.  Sadly, I feel certain that as long as I am a part of this world, the siren song of “cha-ching” will continue to enchant me.

When I was younger–a teenager for sure, maybe even younger than that–if someone were to ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, my response was:

“Rich.”

Yep–not much clarification needed there on where my heart and mind were focused.

When reminded that money would not buy me happiness, I would respond immediately:

“Well, it may not buy happiness but it sure as hell makes being miserable a lot better.”

(Sometimes I miss the days when my thoughts were simpler–black and white–and the unquestioning confidence I had that I was right.  It was a lot easier than living in the ambiguous gray area I find myself in today.  Of course, with few exceptions, when does anything great come without any effort?)

 

It’s at this point in this writing where I expect some people to start thinking, “OK, great.  Now he’s going to start spouting off about how bad it is to have money, how terrible I am for not giving to every request for funds that comes via the mail, a phone call, a GoFundMe page, or the church.  Doesn’t he understand that people also have a responsibility to be self-sufficient?  Doesn’t he recognize the value of working hard?  Shouldn’t I feel just fine about using what I have acquired in whatever way I see fit?  And if that means I keep it for myself, that’s my perogative?”

Yep!  That’s where I’m going!  But not like that–please stay with me for just a little bit further!

 

Christ’s followers live in “two worlds” at the same time:  the world we live in every day, and the world to come where all is perfect according to God’s will.  I realize this can sound a little metaphysical or illogical (or just plain weird). (See John 17:619 and 1 John 2:15-16.)

Here’s a simple example of what this means:  I’m an American.  When I meet someone, I reach out to shake their hand.  In Japan, instead of shaking hands, they exchange respectful bows.  If I were to visit Japan, would I continue to try to shake hands with people I meet or would I bow?  While I am not “of Japan,” I am “in Japan” visiting, so I would adjust to the customs and norms of their culture in order to operate within it.  It doesn’t mean that I forget about shaking hands and that when I’m back home I’ll continue to bow when I meet people.  (This is sometimes summarized in the expression, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”)

Yes, principles such as hard work, self-sufficiency, and enjoying your blessings is fine, as is having money.  Hard work and self-sufficiency are valued traits It’s alright to celebrate a job well done.  It would be largely impossible to survive in this world without any money at all.

 

The problem is when the pursuit of money, when our own greed and desire for more in “this world” outweighs what we know is good and right about the “world to come.”  This fault, this greed exists in all of us.

So many things happen in this world due to human greed.  In the quest for more money, we destroy the environment, treat others as less-than-human, lie, cheat, steal, and even kill.

Take hydraulic fracking, for example.  In the quest for more natural gas to sell, companies willingly ruin the water supplies that communities rely on.  Sometimes its to the point where the water is so polluted that people can set their tap water on fire.

Or on a larger scale, take world hunger.  It’s been shown that we produce enough food that no person on earth should go hungry.  Yet how many people (even in our own backyards) are either starving or suffering from food insecurity (i.e. not being sure when they’ll have their next meal and where it will come from)? More than the populations of the United States, Canada, and the European Union–combined.

 

The next thing that I’m often told after pointing this out is, “Well, what?  Am I just supposed to give up everything I have?  I can’t fix this!  I don’t see you giving every dollar you earn away!”

And that’s correct–you cannot fix this alone. We don’t have to give up everything we have.  (Although, Jesus might disagree with me because that is exactly what he tells us to do.)

But just as a single drop of water does not a flood make, if every drop of water refused to fall out of belief that it would not make a difference, there would be no flood.

It only works when we all do our part.  When we are all willing to consider the well-being of others above our own selfish desires, we are on the right path.  When we give even though the other “doesn’t deserve it” we’re on the right path.  When we give not only of our excess, but even when it hurts, we’re on the right path.

And if we each make it our responsibility to do our share, it would be phenomenal what we could all accomplish together.

 

Fight the love of money and greed with generosity.  God loves a cheerful giver.  I’ve personally found that sometimes, the cheerfulness comes not only when I’m giving, but after I have given and I know that I’m making the world a better place for someone besides me.

 

Peace,

Brett

Layman's Walk

Yep, I’m still here!

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Hello!

It’s been a while since I’ve posted. April was a long month, but a great one. We took a trip with our kids and some friends and celebrated Holy Week and Easter.

This past weekend, I completed the first major step in becoming a certified Dale Carnegie trainer, and quite a lot of time went into that as well.

If you’re not familiar with Dale Carnegie Training, it’s a program that focuses on improving people’s lives though the application of human relations principles, methods to handle stress and worry, and leadership training. This little blurb fails to truly do it any justice; a quick Internet search would yield better information.

Now that things have calmed down a bit, you can expect to see more reflections here.

Peace!
Brett

Layman's Walk

God Is Love (Part 2)

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Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends.  — (excerpt from) 1 Corinthians 13

 

In my previous post (God is Love – Part 1), I discussed what Christianity is not.  Having clarified what it isn’t, let’s look at what it actually is.

Quite simply put, Christianity is about love:  Unconditional, never surrendering, unending love.

The core of the faith is a belief in a creating and loving God, who demonstrated to God’s creation God’s love by becoming like one of the created in the person of Christ Jesus, serving and loving humanity, understanding them, experiencing life as one of them, and being willing to die a horrible and humiliating death, all while still expressing God’s love for all God’s creation.

I understand that last paragraph is a lot to unpack, and probably raises as many questions as it answers.  Questions like:

  • Why was God’s creation imperfect?
  • If God really loved his creation (and all people), why do so many terrible things happen in the Old Testament–particularly all those terribly violent things, and things that are completely contrary to what is in the New Testament (Jesus’ Gospel)?
  • If God is really all-powerful, did God really need to “die” to “save” humanity?
  • How is the story of Jesus Christ’s gruesome death a “love story?”

All of these, and others you may have, are completely legitimate questions.  Frankly, they are all significant enough to merit their own article for discussion–because they are big, legitimate, and complicated questions.  (Now I know what my next several posts will discuss…)

But the bottom line is:  Christianity is LOVE:  Love for God, Love for Others, and Love for God’s Creation.  As Christians, we are called to love all of these and nothing more.  No hate; no judgement; only to love.  After an Old Testament (that makes up most of what Christians refer to as the bible) that is full of failed human attempts at righteousness, goodness, and purity, God realized we needed more than just “rules to follow that we can never satisfy.”  That was the mission of Christ–to show that while we were imperfect people (sinners–i.e. people who do what we want, when we want, for our own selfish reasons), God still loved us without end.

As Christians, we are called to LOVE GOD and LOVE OTHERS as we love ourselves. You’ve probably heard this called the “Golden Rule,” and it is.  In Christianity this is also referred to as the “Greatest Commandment.”  That’s right, it’s more important than the Ten Commandments.  It doesn’t negate them, but it is superior.

Christianity is about showing love to all the world in the same way Christ did:  Selflessly, without judgement, without condition, without anyone deserving his help or love, without being loved in return, and even when that love is returned with hate, or maybe even worse–with indifference.

The New Testament is full of stories that reflect this.  Jesus heals ten lepers, yet only one even bothers to thank him.  Jesus heals countless others–none of whom have done anything to “deserve” his help.  But he helps them nonetheless.

Even while dying on his cross, Jesus prays for forgiveness for those who are murdering him.  Jesus does not pray damnation on those who have beat him, humiliated him, and who are ultimately killing them. In LOVE he prays for their salvation.

It is this love that Christians are called to–and when we fail to demonstrate it, we fail to send Christ’s message to the world.

Who among us (myself included) would be willing to continue using our own strength to make the lives of others better when there is no thanks?  Who of us would be willing to immediately forgive (let along pray for) someone who beat us, or abused us, let alone was going to kill us?

This is exactly the love that Jesus demonstrates.

So when you want to know what Christianity is, know that it is believing is God’s unrelenting love for creation–and in a Christians’ recognition of that love, we want to share that love with all who will listen, all who will hear, and all who seek to fill the void in their lives that only an amazing love can fill.

And when you see a professed Christian doing anything otherwise, know that their actions are not “Christian.”  But also know, that every single Christian you meet is every bit as undeserving, as imperfect, and as sinful as any other person who has ever lived.  Christians are NOT perfect and they are NOT better than anyone else.

We are only called to love as Jesus loves.  And we still screw that up.  But when we do, we try again.

And that’s Christianity in a nutshell.

 

Peace,

Brett

 

 

 

 

Layman's Walk

God Is Love (Part 1)

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“Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.”  1 John 4:8

In post-modern America, “Christianity” has earned itself a pretty mixed reputation.  Granted, people who identify as “Christian” have a relatively positive view of the faith, its teachings, and its followers, but there are major segments of society which have the opposite view.

And I don’t blame them.  There are plenty of good, legitimate reasons that people have no regard for (or even outright hate) “Christianity.”

You’ll notice that to this point, I have only referenced the faith in quotation marks.  The reason for this is simple:  Much of what masquerades as “Christianity,” particularly in the United States, is anything but Christ-like.

In the New Testament, there are many warnings about “false prophets (teachers)” who will corrupt the message of Jesus and us it for their own means and benefit.

This may come as a surprise, but Christianity in America has become infested with these false teachings.  The corruption that lies at the root of these falsehoods is largely the reason that so many people look at Christians and Christianity and say, “No thanks,” or even, “Hell, no!”

As we move further into this discussion, there are a few things I want to make sure are clear to the reader:

  1. I’m just a human, too, and thus I am no better or worse than anyone else.  Period.
  2. Just because I say something is not Christian does not mean that that concept or philosophy is wrong–but it does mean it is misattributed to Christianity.
  3. I am and will always be learning more and growing in my faith–I claim not to have answers that are absolute–but I do have plenty of support for these statements.

Now that the disclaimer is out of the way, let’s talk at a basic level about what Christianity is not (part 1) and what it actually is (part 2).

Christianity is NOT about “Us” versus “Them” or “the Good people” versus “the Bad people.”

If you have ever been made to think this is a Christian belief or idea, let me apologize to you on behalf of all Christians.  This is one of the biggest corruptions of the faith and it is inherently human.  For millennia, humanity has divided itself into segments, groups, and categories to describe itself and this has too often led to fights between the “us” and the “them.”  Christ’s teachings and others in the New Testament actually profess that we are ALL both “good” and “bad” at the same time. No person is just “good” and no person is just “bad.”  All people have elements of both–Christian or otherwise.

Christianity is NOT about following all the “Rules.”

Two key points here:

  1. Christianity is more about how we are completely incapable of following the rules to meet God’s standard that he sent Christ to both demonstrate how it was done and to demonstrate how much God loves us despite our ability to do what we should.
  2. Christ Himself was a HUGE rule-breaker!  It should be noted, his rule-breaking was to make life better for others, not just for the sake of being a rebel.  Still, he rebelled against the establishment’s arbitrary laws were either nonsense or oppressive.

Having said that, I’m not advocating you go out and do a bunch of stupid/wrong/mean stuff.  Just know that your screwups are understood and forgiven.  And more importantly, God’s love for you doesn’t vary with how “good” you are.  It’s consistent, constant, and unchanging.

Christianity is not about all the “Good Things You Do.”  (But you should do good things.)

Christians do NOT do good things in order to earn salvation.  We do them because in the joy of knowing we are saved in Christ we want to do good things for others and share Christ’s love with the world.  If you’re doing good things (or abstaining for bad things) in order to be “OK” with God, you’re missing the point.  There’s nothing you can do that will put you in better or worse with God.  No one is worthy; only through Christ are we made righteous.

Christianity is NOT about Nationalism or Patriotism.

Again, I’ll restate–having pride for our/your country is not in of itself a bad thing.  A healthy dose of patriotism is good; it’s very important to support our men and women in uniform who are both sacrificing and performing a very important service.  Do not interpret this as “anti-American” or “anti-troops.”  It’s just not a Christian characteristic–it’s an American (or whatever country you live in) characteristic.  Don’t confuse national pride and Christ’s Gospel.  And it’s easy to–we Americans love songs like “God Bless America” and “God Bless the USA.”  No worries there–it’s perfectly OK and appropriate to pray God’s blessing on our democratic experiment and those who protect it.  But don’t confuse national pride and prayer for its continuation for Christianity.  There is not a “nationalism” or “patriotism” requirement in Christianity.  If anything–the only national/patriotic pride professed by Christ is in that of His Kingdom–not of any kingdom or nation here on earth.  In fact, he rebelled against both the religious and political establishment to such an extent that they executed him as a criminal.

 

In my next post (Part 2), I’ll discuss what Christianity IS.  But before doing that, I think it was important to clarify what it is not……because often the people who are shouting the loudest (those who are heard on TV/radio/televangelists/extremists) are doing Christ’s Gospel (and humanity) a terrible disservice.

 

Peace,

Brett

 

Layman's Walk

At the Edge of a Dream

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I was in a void–neither bright nor dark.

I saw a desk much like the one in the room where I was staying.  A key was on the desktop.  I picked it up and used it to open the bottom drawer.  In the drawer, I found a black leather-bound book.  I picked it up and as I went to set it on the desk, it fell open near the midway point.

I looked and saw something beginning to sprout from the book’s gutter.  It continued to grow–slowly, then faster and faster–until it had become a massive tree that had overtaken the book and the desk.  It was larger and taller than any tree I had seen.

Staring up into the canopy, a nut of some sort fell to the ground and broke open  I looked inside of what seemed similar to a walnut, and there were three pieces.  As I looked at each of them, I knew immediately what each represented.

The first piece represented the Gospel of Jesus Christ, a message of love and compassion for all people.  This is the message I am compelled to live and share.

The second piece represented the fight for social justice and equality–that in all things I must not only seek to do no harm but also to make things right where there is wrong–to “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly” as instructed in Micah 6:8.

The third piece represented an open mind and humble heart.  It reminders me to be open to the thoughts, feelings, and ideas of others.  While I may not always agree with them either at first or at all, it is important to listen with openness and humility. As a human, I certainly will never know everything, my logic and opinions will be flawed, and I’m prone to mistakes and my own selfish tendencies.

As I looked away from the nut and back to the tree, it was etched into my mind that if I were to base my life and ministry on these three core concepts, it would be a healthy and helpful one.

Layman's Walk

“Cry a Little; Laugh a Lot.”

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These were the words a man spoke to his niece regarding how they should approach his death, which would occur before the end of the following day.

This is a phrase that has been burned into my brain; I hope I retain the ability to state this during my own final days.

Earlier this week, I had the honor of presiding over a funeral service–my third in total, and my first for a person who was not a family member.

Even in a time of true, sincere grief, the spirit I witnessed in the departed’s wife, family, and friends, was simply awe-inspiring.

I delivered a message that highlighted some of the events of this man’s life–specifically those that involved his wife, family, and friends. Then I continued to discuss God’s plan of salvation for all people. It was a message meant to soothe the hearts of those who were grieving; for them to know their loved one was in the care of God –safe, secure, and no longer in pain or facing any of the trials of this live.

While a message like this is meant to help people feel confident in the state of their lost loved one, I learned a lesson that I believe is equally important for those who remain in this life after the passing of a treasured person.

This man and his widow had developed, over the year,s such rich and wonderful relationships within their own families and friends, that there was a small army of people who could both simultaneously grief their dear loved one and who could also be the support, strength, and shoulder to cry on that was also needed for one another.

Even with the strongest faith in the live everlasting that is promised through Christ, it still hurts terribly when a loved one is lost from this world.

But together, this tightly knit group of people were able to do exactly as they had been instructed: they cried a little at a loved one’s passing–but they also laughed a lot at the memories created, the love shared, and the rich and wonderful relationships they all shared.

May you be so fortunate as to have those relationships with the family and friends who surround you, that when a loved one leaves this world for the next, you too may receive not only the comfort that comes only from God, but that which comes in the warm hug of a friend, the recalling of a treasured story, or a toast to great memories made here on earth.

Peace,
Brett

Layman's Walk

Guilt and Grace

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I read a post on Facebook the other day that said something to this extent:

“The forgiveness that is given to others is also for me; I need to accept it.”

Over the last few days, I’ve wholeheartedly embraced this idea–not because of some big bad thing I’d recently done, but because of all of my seemingly minor failures that have accumulated into a large mass that I continually carry around with me.

Some examples:

  • Harshly judging others with whom I disagree.
  • Writing off the legitimate concerns of others in favor of those which benefit me.
  • Being intensely jealous of other people’s circumstances.
  • Swearing, cursing, and the like.
  • Neglecting the needs of my wife and kids.
  • Not being the role model I want to be for my family.
  • Delivering work of inferior quality because I’m lazy or just “don’t feel like doing it.”
  • Neglecting my daily devotions.
  • Snapping and speaking harshly to others with the excuse that I’m in a “bad mood.”
  • Being less than a good steward with the gifts (money, time, talent) I’ve been given.

The list goes on…

A person might look at this list and think, “Hey, no big deal.  Everyone does this stuff.”  And it’s true.  I know everyone screws up–it’s in our nature.  But lately, I have felt like the screw-ups have piled-up.

This morning, I remembered the statement above–that the forgiveness that God offers freely to everyone includes me, too!

Maybe it’s because I’m “in my own head” 24-7 or maybe it’s because I’m the only person who truly knows all my actions and understands my motives that I overlook this important concept.  But whatever the cause of it, I overcame it this morning with the help of God.

Remember, God loves everyone and will forgive anyone.

Including you.

And even me.

 

Peace,

Brett