Thursday, November 24, 2016

A Day to be Thankful

Today is Thanksgiving Day. It is a day that has been celebrated, even if unofficially, for nearly 400 years in what is now known as the United States of America. On this year, many will argue that the states are more divided than united, but this is Thanksgiving, not a Misgiving, so let us stay positive.

That said, I have much for which to be thankful. This past year has been amazing in so many ways, but I want to focus on one particular aspect – my family. I mean this in a very complete sense as I am thankful for those to whom I am related by birth or by other circumstance that connects us. However, I am very grateful for my brothers and sisters and mothers and children (Mark 10.30) that God has put into my life over the past many years, with a particular thanks this year for the family I “discovered” in Kenya this year.

Like many who may read this, I will celebrate with close family this week. We will eat, talk, reflect, and hopefully have a good deal of fun. I am thankful for the time we will spend together including our first Thanksgiving with a son-in-law.

But today, I am thankful for many others as well.

I am thankful for the fun I had with a group of brothers while eating, talking, reflecting, and having fun this past Monday. 

I am thankful for my calling to lead the church to which He has brought me. I will think of those in the church I lead who are with families celebrating and others who are not. 

I am thankful for the town in which I live, and think of others in the town who find themselves filled with joy and anticipation as the holiday season begins in earnest. But I will remember those who struggle to celebrate at this time of year for any number of reasons. 

I am thankful for those in distant cities who have a place a special in my life – knowing that some of them I may never see again on this side of eternity, but a bond exists that will bring us together on the other side.

I am thankful for the opportunity to travel to Kenya and remember the lives we touched. I am also thankful for the lives who touched me deeply during the trip.

I am thankful that the rains have finally begun to fall in parts of Kenya which will bring an end to the year-long drought many have experienced.

I am thankful for a wonderful adventure with personal family, church family, and new friends that journeyed to walk where Jesus walked as we began this almost completed year.

And most importantly, I will express my thanks to the One who made all of the above possible, all of the unmentioned possible, and who is preparing a future which becomes reality day by day.

Thank You, Jesus for giving yourself to me, a sinner. May I never forget your sacrifice. May I never forget to express my thanks to You. Again, thank You, for who You are and for all you have done for me in 2016 and throughout my life.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Hard Hearts or "Well Done"

Like many people, I find myself busy. Like many people, it is because of the choices I have made. Most of my choices are not reactionary or the result of others, but rather my own decision and my own determination. That said, I have bitten off more than I am comfortable chewing right now and am learning a good lesson through this time. I am managing, but the past few weeks have been a test of time-management skills and I have found myself in Q1 far more than I wish (if you know Covey, that makes sense. If not, click here. The .pdf has a lot in it. Page 3 in the document, or page 4 of the file will help clarify).

That said, my wife has also been busier that usual with her own interests. She has reached a time for a break (earlier than expected), but she has also helped me greatly over these last four weeks as I have tried to stay afloat. I mention this because something she always tells me is that she wants me “to look good.” Frankly, I need a wife to do that for me. I create a good deal of content (blogs, sermons, lessons – church and seminary, communication pieces, meeting information, etc.), just like many others do. But I am grateful that after I create the content, with just a few notes, she is able to apply her skills to make the documents look uniform, create resources to help (e.g. PowerPoint), etc. It is not that I cannot do these particular things, but I cannot do them nearly as quickly, nor as well as she does. And while she takes care of these items, I can move on to other responsibilities. I am grateful for her. And I am grateful that she is my helper.

The word helper (ESV) is from the Hebrew word ’ezer. God says He will make a “helper” for the man because he was alone. Many may find this condescending (or worse), but this same Hebrew word is used in Psalm 121.1-2 when the psalmist asks “I life my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” Anyone who demeans the word helper in Genesis 2 does not understand the ramifications of doing so, because essentially, they are demeaning help from the Lord as well. (A real argument does exist on the role of gender in the Bible, and people do use Genesis 2 in support there, but not everyone demeans the “helper” in that argument and I do not wish to infer that all do.)

So my wife is my helper. And help she does! And yet sometimes her efforts are not exactly what I expected. Sometimes the result is better, but not always. In these instances, we usually work to correct the matter after some discussion to see what might work best. As we have done this over time, we both know one another’s expectations and the process has been easier.

Why do I write this? Because I very much appreciate my wife. She is my helper, but so much more. (I do not say more than I am, because I do not wish to embarrass her. She will read this before it is posted). And while neither of us are perfect, she is perfect for me. So when something is amiss, I simply need to remember God has provided her to me as my helper. God has provided me with the greatest gift I have received apart from my salvation through the blood of Jesus.

And that is why I struggle with the ancient Jewish practice of divorce. Divorce is a sticky subject in our world today, but the Bible is clear that God’s perfect design does not include divorce. However, in the ancient Jewish culture, a man could divorce his wife for burning the food, for not looking attractive, etc. I suppose a similar idea would be my throwing a fit because a word on the PowerPoint was misspelled. That’s ludicrous. She is helping me, just like a Jewish wife was helping her husband. I may be oversimplifying matters here a bit, but not much.

Thus, in Mark 10, when the Pharisees ask Jesus if it is lawful for a man to divorce his wife (the implied here is – “under any reason”), Jesus reminds them that Moses may have made an allowance, but God designed marriage under a different set of expectations (Genesis 2.24). It is the hard hearts of mankind that required Moses to intervene (to protect the woman, see Deuteronomy 24.1-3. You can see the notes from my message here.).

Ultimately, it is the hard hearts of men and women today that bring us to not keeping with God’s design in any number of areas. All have sinned, the Bible tells us. And thus, all fall short of God’s glory (Romans 3.23). Like the Jews with divorce, most all of us react far more harshly than is often deserved. But that does not mean we are resigned to that. No, we have a choice. We can choose to live as God’s children or not. We can choose to become more like Him (Ephesians 5.1) or remain tied to the world (1 John 2.15). The choice we make will have an impact in this life, but also in the age to come.

My choice is to follow Jesus. I will not be perfect in that, but I can further yield myself to be conformed to His image (Romans 8.29). As I do, I will continue become a better helper (in this case, servant) for His Kingdom. I may never be able to help Him as much as my wife helps me, but what little I may do in faith, I know will please Him (Hebrews 11.6). And as much as I appreciate all of the help I receive from my wife, my words to her pale in comparison to either of us (or truly anyone) hearing “Well done” from Him.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Perceptions, Paradigms, and Politics (Part 2 of 2)

In last week’s post, I asked the question: How do we form our perceptions? Then, I asked a deeper question: How do our perceptions form us? These questions are on the heals of a series of posts regarding how certain people or groups perceived Jesus based upon Mark 8. Today, I turn to Mark 9, but bring in the political process as well.

On Tuesday night, much of the country tuned into various television networks or internet sites to follow the election results. What some had estimated would be a short night with Hillary Clinton being crowned victor, turned into many hours of a “stunning development.” Finally, in the wee hours of the morning, a new president had been chosen and the winner was Donald Trump. Of course, this fact is known, but what is unknown (and now dominates the conversation) is what kind of President will Mr. Trump be. So what do you think?

Capture the thoughts you just had. Now, why do you think that is true? Whatever you think, realize, we don’t know at this point. He has not been president yet, and so we cannot know. We can discern from his past comments and behaviors, but at this point President-Elect Trump is just that – President Elect – not President Trump.

This is the problem with paradigms and politics. Many Americans have deep feelings on how the country should be led. But feelings may be misguided or based upon unsubstantiated facts. I am not saying that feelings are wrong, because facts can lead us to incorrect conclusions as well if we misinterpret their meaning or their application. However, the feelings or facts that most citizens have are based on far less than a complete understanding of the full picture of government. Only a select few have “all” of the information, and even then, not every detail or consideration can be known. 

Therefore, our paradigms of how to govern are skewed. First, they are often based upon the perceptions of others and how do we know if their perceptions are correct? Furthermore, many develop the attitude that anothers ideas are completely wrong without having an idea as to how/why the other person formed their ideas. I have said before that I believe that almost every politician (in any relation to the “aisle”) initially goes to Washington (or wherever) with the idea of making the country better – from their perspective. Many changes can and do happen (deals, corruption, etc.), but the original intent was honorable – even if it is different from others.

So, how does this relate to Mark 9. Well, in the middle verses, a father brings his boy to be healed by Jesus. He has not come down the mountain yet (with James, John, and Peter), so the man asks the other disciples to cast out a demon. They are unable. After Jesus does heal the boy, the group heads south, and along the way, the disciples argue about which of them is greater. When they arrive in Capernaum, Jesus confronts them and says that to truly be great, one must serve. To be first, one must be last. Jesus is taking another opportunity to affect the paradigms of His followers. (A detailed look at this passage from Mark 9 is found here.)

Unlike our politicians who may (or may not) have good ideas, Jesus knew exactly what needed to be done. But He still needed people to choose to do it. The people (in this case, His disciples) needed to change their paradigm in order to truly accomplish their purpose. They would have to put aside all of their goals and ambitions in order to accomplish a greater purpose for God. Making this change would not be easy, but such a change was truly possible only if they altered their paradigm and began to see matters very differently.

Jesus knew that the leaders of the day “lorded” their position over people. They led by position (Level 1 Leadership per John Maxwell), which was effective, but only because of power, not true persuasion. Jesus knew that true change was possible if leaders would serve others first, gaining the trust of the people. The approach would help the leaders see the needs of the people from the people’s perspective instead of approaching the situation with a pre-conceived notion because of a paradigm that was developed from a completely different mindset. Jesus knew that an approach of servant-leadership would create an opportunity to persuade others over time. Covey’s idea of “Seek first to understand then to be understood” carries a similar idea in this context.

For you and I, we need to understand the foundations of our paradigms. As we begin to better understand what we believe, we should ask what stimuli helped form those beliefs in us and why? Only then will we begin to understand ourselves. And we can only truly begin to understand others after we have an idea about ourselves.

So, over these next few weeks as we watch the transition from one president to another, consider your emotions, your feelings, the facts, etc. But consider how and why these aspects influence you. Then attempt to consider the same information from the side of someone who may be on the opposite side. If you stop there, you will likely be discouraged, so step back to get an even different perspective and think not as someone with a preference to a political party, but consider the perspective as an American over party. If we all do this, we might find more common ground than we might otherwise imagine, and if that is true, we might truly forge a bright future for this country by learning to serve others again.

If you follow Jesus, you have one further step. Beyond considering yourself an American, it is necessary to find the Christian perspective. Thus, beyond seeking to work alongside others through a new paradigm, we must love others through God’s paradigm. Everything else can be the same, but the work and attitude must be expressions of love.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

The Problem of Perceptions and Paradigms (Pt 1 of 2)

Over the past seven weeks, I posted a series of blogs about how the perceptions of the various individuals and groups present in Mark 8 might influence an evaluation of Jesus’ ministry. I have given quite a bit of thought to the idea of perceptions and paradigms over these past several weeks, and will flesh out a few ideas here.

I recall a situation from a previous church which caused me to begin to understand the adage “perception is reality” in a way I never had truly experienced. The perception of the individual was not reality (at least not more than a small part of it), but to that person, in that time, the way the situation was understood by that person, was completely through a particular lens. Thus, for that individual, a distorted reality was the result.

And that is the case with perceptions. Our perceptions are important, but they are how we perceive reality; they are not necessarily reality. This should lead us to consider the basis for our paradigms (or perspectives, which are created by perceptions), but most people are simply happy to believe what they want rather than understanding why? Actually, the previous statement is true of all people to a large extent. For instance, I have no idea how I can type or talk into my cell phone and have the message received elsewhere exactly as it was typed or said, and I don’t really care as long as it works correctly. You, on the other hand might understand that technology perfectly, but might not know how a brown cow can eat green grass and produce white milk (btw, I don’t know either – again, as long as it works, right?!) So, why do we care about some questions and not about others? I have no way of knowing that about you, but for me it usually comes down to priorities. But, if we don’t know the details, and we do know something about a topic or issue, then the question becomes: How do we form our perceptions?

The answer to such a question is relatively easy. Among other possibilities, our perceptions are primarily formed by people (parents, relatives, friends, schoolmates, fellow employees, etc), the media (books, magazines, television, social media, blogs(!), etc), as well as general observation.

But here is the better question: How do our perceptions form us?

We all have perceptions which then form our paradigms. But how do these paradigms inform our decisions, our structures, our lives? Let me provide an example.

DirecTV has the slogan, “Don’t just watch tv, DIRECTV.” This is a nice play on words, but is brilliant in concept. The perception they are trying to create is that you no longer have to be tied to the scheduled that broadcasters have established. Instead, you can take control of when (and even where) you want to watch. In other words, instead of racing home from wherever you might be in order not to miss a certain show, you can simply set the show to record and then watch it on your own time. Again, brilliant. To take advantage of this idea, our perceptions (and our paradigm) have to change from one of letting the television studios control the time, to taking ownership of when to watch.

But! But because of the DVR, you can now record shows that you otherwise would not watch. Or record movies that you do not have time to watch, but for which you pay anyway. Thus, you find yourself being directed by the DVR instead of the television so you are no better off than you would have been. In fact, in many cases you are in a worse position. This is what I mean with the concept of our perceptions forming us. The perspective formed from the perception that we are now in control (in this example) may lead to a behavior in which we lose the control again. Sometimes the result may be inconsequential, but they might also be devastating.

As I mentioned above, our priorities and schedules often dictate what we are willing to evaluate and what we merely accept. And truly it is impractical for any one person to fully evaluate the basis for every perspective we have. However, we all have certain beliefs, understandings, and practices that are important to us and those ideas should be reviewed in order to gain clarity not only on what, but on why, we understand (or think ) what we do. The advantage is that we will then begin to know the reasons for our actions (or lack of action). Or, if our actions do not align with our beliefs, we will be better equipped to change our patterns in either direction until they do.

I will conclude these thoughts next week by bringing these thoughts in line with Mark 9.