A Little Rain

The steady staccato of drops splashing on my camper awning reminded me this morning that “into each life, a little rain must fall.”  This whole trip we have been blessed with near perfect weather: highs in the 70’s and lows in the upper 50’s or lower 60’s.  Partly cloudy to mostly Sunny.  The rain that had fallen, happened at night – while we were sleeping.  Ideal.

On this, the first morning of our second week of vacation, I need to pack up the camper…but it’s raining.

It is fascinating to me that if we could choose our weather any given day, we would choose that which leads to death…a desert.  We even have a children’s rhyme for it: “Rain, rain go away. Come again some other day.”  We just don’t seem to ever want that other day to come, or at least not in any way that inconveniences us, you know – it should rain at night. 

Life requires rain.  That’s why “God causes the rain to fall on the just and the unjust alike.”  This is not a curse, but a blessing!

There are positives to the pitter-pat of rain upon the awning…a little extra time time to sip my morning coffee and reflect with you upon the many facets of God’s grace.

Thank you, God, that I am not in control.  That you send the rain and the wind whether I want them or not.  That your goodness to me goes beyond my capacity to choose it…and that “this too shall pass.”

Take a few moments and reflect on the inconveniences of your day…then thank God that He is in control, and creating a better life than you could plan.

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The 7Up Principle: Managing Expectations

I like 7Up.

I like an ice cold glass of water.

I don’t like getting one when expecting the other.  Spit-take ensues.

In sub-Saharan Africa, a young boy re-inflates his one toy, a worn out soccer ball.  He jogs down to the open “field” of dirt after finishing his bowl of UNICEF rice for the day, and starts kicking his soccer ball around…soon to be joined by other similarly impoverished youth in a game of football – world style…and they are all happy.

In Suburbs USA, a young boy rolls out of bed early in the morning without prompting, and rushes downstairs to the annual celebration of Christmas, and is soon disappointed that he didn’t get the go-kart he had asked for.  He got plenty of other things, he even got several things he had asked for…he just hadn’t gotten the thing his heart was set upon.

Before you start bemoaning the American youth, or praising the African one, think about expectations. The African boy got what he had expected, and was in fact rich in comparison to his playmates.  If his soccer ball had burst in the midst of his daily routine, happiness would have likely not been the result.  The reverse was true for the American.

What do you expect today to bring?  How do you expect to be treated?  What do you expect you will have to do?

God wants to give us as a gift to the world, our expectations are generally the reverse.

Do you want to be happy today?  Begin with a simple prayer something like this:

“Dear Lord, please help me to roll with the punches today.  Help me to focus on bringing joy to others and pride to you.  May I handle problems, people, and problem people with grace and understanding.  Thank you for this day.  Please help me to not waste it.  Amen.”

Specificity

“The LORD told him, ‘Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying.'” (Acts 9:11, NIV)

“You should come over to the house sometime!” means so very little.  It means something along the line of “It was mildly enjoyable to run into you, but I’m leaving now and would like a comfortable end to the conversation with no required follow up.”  If you were to respond, “Oh, I would love that!  I have Thurs. and Sat. evenings open next week, which one would you prefer?”  You may get put off politely, or have successfully trapped yourself into being invited somewhere you’re not really wanted.

We so frequently tell God that we are just wanting to know what He wants us to do so that we can be faithful and at peace, but the truth is that whenever God was specific in His revelation, it wasn’t really wanted.  There are lots of general commands of God that we should be following on an ongoing basis: love your neighbor, bless those that persecute you, do not forsake the fellowship of believers, etc.; but nothing bites quite so deeply as God specifically telling you to do something.

From Adam & Eve (don’t eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil) to Moses and the burning bush (go to Pharaoh and tell him to let my people go) to Jesus (die on the cross and be resurrected on the third day) to Ananias (go to Straight St.) the reason God seems to tell us specifically is because He knows we don’t want to do it.  Ananias knew that Saul had been sent to capture/kill people professing Christ – people just like him!

“Be careful what you ask for…you may just get it” seems to apply to this sort of situation.  Do you really want God to reveal His will to you?  The three times He has done so to me, they weren’t welcome, they cost me greatly, some of my dreams died, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.  He has called me into ministry, convicted me of a besetting sin, and told me to give up the family farm.  Each time I was forced into choosing Him as God of my life all over again.  Each time I became more His.  Each time through loss, I have gained more.

Remember, “our God is a consuming fire” not a cozy campfire.  If He speaks to you, it will cost you everything…and it will be worth it.

 

Reference

At the end of U.S. History, our teacher gave us a challenge worth 5 extra points on our next test.  We had to be the first one to come to him with an answer to an obscure frontier history question (I can’t remember the question).  Immediately as the bell rang, I made a b-line to the Library and its reference section – specifically the encyclopedias.  I gladly arrived late to my next class, because I had made it to the U.S. History teacher with the right answer before any of my classmates had.

Today of course, everyone would just whip out their smartphones and snapchat the teacher a picture of the answer with a screenshot.

In woodworking, a reference surface is everything.  In a modern shop, it is usually the bed of the jointer from which flat boarjointer planeds come.  In a traditional shop, it’s the sole of the plane.  This flatness is what everything gets referenced from.  A reliable source of information that transmits throughout the entirety of the piece to be built.  If the reference is flat – the piece will be accurate.

In our lives, we all measure ourselves compared to something.  For some of us it’s our parents’ lives, for some it’s a childhood hero or even a friend we are always trying to best.  The problem is that each of these will mislead us.  While they may be good people – they aren’t perfectly true.

The life of Christ is the only sufficient reference for us.  Every other comparison will lead us astray, even if it only starts as a small degree of error.  The encyclopedias were references because they had been tried and found to be accurate.  Christ has been tried by generations, and those who have used Him as a reference guide have made the most beauty with their lives.

The problem has been as G. K. Chesterton put it, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.”  Don’t let difficulty keep you from achieving something of true worth.  Hold the life of Christ next to yours.  Where are you a bit off…in need of truing up?  Keep referring back to Him, and your life will turn out beautifully.

*Picture taken from Lie Nielsen’s website depicting their no.8 Jointer Plane: https://www.lie-nielsen.com/product/standard-bench-planes/no.-8-jointer-plane?node=4171

 

How to Pray

How to PrayThere are a lot of questions that I get asked every year about this subject, so I thought I would give my Top 10 on the subject:

10. With Confidence.  “Boldly I approach the throne” is intended within the context of family.  God is overwhelming in every aspect, but he’s my Daddy; So I can talk to him with confidence that he hears my prayers and cares about them.

9. With Humility.  Don’t get so caught up in the confidence part that you forget to whom you are speaking!  The Ancient of Days whose days are as a thousand years, who creates worlds with words and defeats Satan just by showing up.  The Alpha and Omega, the Bright and Morning Star, the Judge and Healer.  I could go on, but just remember that you are not His equal.

8. With Respect.  This is a natural combination of the previous two.  He is worthy of your respect, you are not speaking to a peer.  Growing up in the South, we learned to call adults with Mr., Mrs. or Miss; and to say, “Sir” and “Ma’am”.  It is a way of stating your respect verbally.  Using phrases like, “Lord” are appropriate…

7. With Silence.  Repeating “Lord” 82 times in a five minute prayer defeats the purpose of the term.  It is no longer a term of respect, it is a filler to give you time to think that has no greater significance than, “um” or “uh”.  If you can’t think of the next thing to say, then be quiet for a while.  Who knows, maybe He’ll say something to you!

6. With Sincerity.  You are literally speaking to the One who knows every thought you have had or will ever have.  Faking it is just stupid!  Be honest.  Be real.  Who are you trying to impress anyway?  Express yourself, not the self you think you should appear to be.

5. With Simplicity.  When Jesus taught His disciples how to pray, it wasn’t with any flowery phrases or powerful prose.  Ask for what you need, thank Him for what you have and seek His will for your life.  No redactions necessary.

4. Without “Religionese”.  Listening to some people pray you would swear you have to learn a new language.   People suddenly start using words and phrases from the year 1611 that they never use any other time.  Not only does this come off as fake, but as showy and makes new believers feel even more awkward and inept when it comes to praying.

3.  With Brevity.  If I take my time and read with meaning the Lord’s Prayer…it consistently takes me 27 seconds.  That’s it.  If you want to pray a marathon, that’s fine, but our Lord only needed 27 seconds.

2. With God.  Even if you are praying aloud with other Christians, you are supposed to be talking to God…not them.  Don’t preach at them, don’t teach them, don’t speak to them.  Speak to God.

1.  With Submission.  Remember that “to pray” literally means “to ask”.  You are making a request.  It is not a demand.  God chooses His response.  We cannot force Him to do anything.  After all, if we could force His hand, how strong could He be?

There are some obvious other entries: With Faith, With Persistence, With Courage, etc.; but these seem to me to be the big ones that get us into trouble.

Tough and Tender

Tough and TenderWhen forging an axe head, there needs to be a specific shape that is designed to function for a desired task: a massive, fairly blunt shape for a splitting axe; a sharp, light shape for trimming purposes (think a hunter’s axe) or a compromise for the American Felling Axe design which, well, fells trees.  The length and shape of the handle should also coincide with that task – imagine a splitting axe head with a hatchet handle 😉

This is all rather obvious to the casual observer, but the axe head itself also needs to be constructed of two different types of metal.  The bulk of the head is of a relatively soft steel to be able to provide mass, but be malleable to absorb the vibrations of the blows without shattering.  This head is split while red hot to accept a high-carbon steel for the blade of the axe.  This is very hard and will hold a good edge…but is brittle, and would shatter without the benefit of the softer steel’s sandwiching of it.

There are more details of course such as wood grain and Rockwell hardness, but suffice it to say, that there is more than meets the eye with the making of a good axe.

This is also true of the people you meet.  They have been shaped for a purpose, and no two of them are exactly the same.  They have been forged by different fires and designed for different functions.  They also have a mixture of toughness and tenderness – one protecting the other.  Many a hardnosed CEO is wrapped around his granddaughter’s little finger, and many a tenderhearted elementary school teacher can whip 30 kids into line better than a drill sergeant can a platoon.

The trick is knowing when to be which.  A CEO whose employees had him wrapped around their fingers wouldn’t last long – or the company wouldn’t; and a granddaughter would certainly not flourish in the presence of a hardnosed, no-nonsense Grandfather.

The beauty of a human being is that we can shift gears based upon the needs of the moment.  A splitting axe is good for splitting…not for trimming; but people can wield either one based on the need.  The axe is a tool…you don’t have to be.

The same Jesus wept at the death of his friend Lazarus, that called Simon Peter “Satan” and drove the moneychangers out of the temple.  He not only told the adulterous woman, “neither do I condemn you, but go and sin no more”; he also told the spiritual leaders of his day that they were “whitewashed tombs”.  He was able to embrace little children at the end of a long day while being angry with his disciples.  He was adept at matching himself to the situation.

Are you adept at wielding your different personas, or are you smashing everyone with a “splitting axe”?

Tough and Tender.  Neither is sufficient.  Both are necessary.

Photo Credit to: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/57/Felling_ax

Advice

Monthly CalendarReclining in my usual leather love seat locale one morning at coffee with the guys, my friend John hangs up his iPhone to ask a rhetorical question:

“Well, why did they ask me my opinion anyway?  Seems they were just hoping I would bless their decision.”

John is a 50-something self-employed mechanic.  He has been doing this work in this town for over 30 years.  He’s good at his job, and work comes looking for him now rather than the other way around.

Apparently, these customers of his had bought a new car and were very excited about it.  They called their mechanic up to tell him the good news, but they broke it in a way that would give them his honest opinion…they asked him what he thought of the make and model before telling him they had already bought one.  His opinion was very low.  Their mood followed suit.  They then tried to argue with him about his view.

As a pastor, I get asked a ton of questions that fall well outside of my wheelhouse, and my normal response is:

“Find a professional in that field that you trust, ask their opinion…then follow it.”

The order is important!

“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” (Mark 1:35, NIV)

This seems to not simply be a stand-alone occurrence, but rather the pattern the LORD followed.  He would pray, then follow the advice He had received.  This seems to be how he chose His disciples as well as His locale (which is what He did in this instance after His prayer time).

No one is more professional, more trustworthy or more willing to “lead, guide and direct.”

Get His advice early in the morning…then follow it.  But whatever you do, don’t argue with Him after you find out He disagrees with what you have already done.  Just be glad He’s pretty good at fixing broken things and making them new.