Tuesday, August 30, 2016

"Do What You Did At First"

Reviving one's first love, zeal, or even organization may require the same correctives 

I've always needed structures in my life to help me do certain things well. Part of that has been structure in my schedule, and I've used various tools to help me do that well. For a number of years I used a written "diary" of my days, not to recount them but to order them. From the old "Five Star" Diary to a Day Timer for years, and then eventually to the Franklin Covey Day Planner, I had a calendar, notes, and daily "to do" lists, along with a tool to visibly remind me every day to do certain things. Then came technology, and I was given a Palm Pilot. Anybody remember back that far? It was small, it was clever, and the stylus was fun (if you didn't keep losing it). From there it was on to Microsoft Outlook's calendar, which was great on my computer, but in the pre-tablet and smartphone days still meant carrying something written. Then came those two other devices, along with cross platform calendars like Google. I've learned how to use them all, and do. My diary was put away, and I've now got an Outlook calendar, a couple different Google calendars, and I've also found a few programs with reminders.

I was thinking about all this recently, in terms of how I feel about my productivity, and I came to a startling conclusion. I'm less organized than I used to be. Oh, I still make and (usually) keep appointments. I have lots of addresses stored in my phone. And that same phone dings and vibrates at all sorts of times during the day. I've linked my calendars and can access them on various devices. But where are the regular times of sitting down with my calendar/diary and looking at what is going on and asking "what's really important here?" Where are the intentional reminders to build things like scripture memory into my day and week? Oh, I know that I can put it in a program, but I don't see it until it dings! 

This is not a rant about technology--some of you are doing all these things so well. It's a confession about me. Somewhere along the way, my shifting to new ways of doing things has cost me some hard earned ground in becoming a more organized (and I think in some cases) better follower of Jesus. 

So, I got my diary out again. I am transferring (by means of pen, not USB cable) my calendars, notes, etc. to it. I'm recreating my list of roles to fulfill and goals I want to fulfill. You see, I've discovered that some things I didn't want to slip have done so, and the best way I can find to deal with that is to go back to what I know helped me gain that ground in the first place. 

That is a biblical principle, by the way. When Ephesian Christians had lots of good going on in their church, there were some important things--especially one--that had been left behind in all sorts of progress they had made. They had left their "first love" behind. It's the love, the zeal, the passion for Christ and his people that had once been present, and until Jesus stopped them in their tracks and pointed it out, they hadn't realized it. Yet, in my mind, I wonder if there had been indicators in their lives, or longings for some of the joys of days gone by. The answer was to "repent"--change their mind and their direction--and do the things that they used to do at first. Maybe it was to sing together more, or memorize God's word together, or more regular times of prayer alone and together--I don't know. Maybe someone would mention an event from ten years ago and it would make someone feel a pang that "things aren't like that anymore." Perhaps the solution was to remember the things they were doing when that love was so strong and seek to walk in those familiar ways once again--not because they are old, but because they were good.

Is there anything about your life right now that might have you saying, "What happened to the progress I'd made?" If there is, perhaps a return to the things that helped you make that progress might be a good start toward gaining back that ground. If you ask me, I'll pray for you and with you about that. I'll write it in my diary. 

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Strong Convictions; Soft Words

Learning when to seek to win an argument winsomely, and when to pass

In the world of social media, polarized politics, and a society that seems hell-bent on drawing lines between people, I find myself being smacked in the face (metaphorically) by all sorts of arguments and assertions by people of varying degrees of thoughtfulness, demanding that I pay attention to what they say, or arguing for a point with such woefully weak logic or Scriptural support that it almost makes my eyes or ears bleed. I see it on Facebook, hear it on the news, and read it in the paper (probably an electronic version). 

I understand the passion that people feel over the issues they make such pronouncements about. In fact, my own passions make me want to take up my pen, keyboard, or microphone, and answer with just as much passion. I can just imagine how my slashing, incisive counterarguments would leave the original writer repenting in dust and ashes. But, usually, I don't do it. In fact, more and more I am checking my impulse to show these people just how flawed, unbiblical, or just plain wrong their reasoning is. Often when asked directly for a comment, I will encourage the writer/speaker that such passion or concern about an issue is good, and perhaps she/he should examine certain conclusions or reasons on one particular aspect of what was said. I have found that if a person responds defensively to a small inquiry, challenge, or question, spending more time trying to engage will probably be one of those "giving pearls to pigs" activities that Jesus discouraged. That's not to say all my thinking is "pearl-ish" because it isn't. But engagement on an issue requires a willingness to listen, to allow one's ideas to be challenged, and to be willing to change if one is convinced by an appeal to higher authority (not me, but Scripture, or logic, or history, depending on the subject discussed).

However, I fear that some people may think that because I don't respond, especially with passion, when such things are posted and the authors know I must see it, let me offer these general disclaimers.

First, my failure to comment on your statements does not imply agreement or disagreement. I may have not even read them. And I may have read them and concluded that this is not a case where dialogue is being sought, but a diatribe being made. I have no interest in engaging in the social media equivalent of standing toe to toe yelling "oh yeah?"

And you can be pretty sure I'm not going to willfully be drawn in to a social media argument, especially one between commenters on one of my or another person's posts. I've sometimes written something and had a commenter go off on what he perceived was an error or mistake, and then someone else joins in attacking the comment, and pretty soon I have 185 comments, none of which are really about what I wrote. 

I would encourage us all to develop strong convictions--but convictions that are not an emotional response to a moment, but rather the thoughtful consideration of truth revealed in Scripture as it then applies to life. Yes, I must insist that convictions must be anchored in a biblical worldview and by the truth claims of the Bible. Those that are not will not carry weight with me, and they shouldn't with believers. That doesn't mean that any of us perfectly reflect all biblical truth in our thoughts or writings. But I work hard to do so, and I hope that those I would engage would do so as well, or be open to an apologetic as to why biblical truth can and should be heard.

If you know me, you know I have strong convictions and opinions. I am also willing to share them, but less and less in an accusatory or angry, argumentative venue (which social media has increasingly become). Yes, as a pastor I do have to warn, and sometimes with great energy and indignation against damnable heresies such as the prosperity gospel. Such soul endangering lies do not deserve courtesy. But sometimes people who hold such views do not know they are in error, and while I can condemn the heresy, I might first wish to speak more engagingly to that person and help them see that Scripture nowhere supports what they are thinking. 

I've shared one of the more puzzling parts of Proverbs with you before. In Proverbs 26:4 we read "Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself." In the very next verse, it says, "Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes."


How can I follow both of these wise pieces of advice? I do it by realizing that there are degrees or types of foolishness according to Scripture. There are those who say silly things because that is what they were taught and they don't know any better, or they have reacted to a situation based on their feelings or what their foolish peers have encouraged, but they haven't really examined their thinking. Many in cults and false religions are here. 

Then there are those who have a measure of intellectual ability but reject God's truth as revealed in creation and Scripture (think Romans 1-3), and assert what is false, and sometimes ridiculous, as true. For example, those who argue passionately that gender is a "construct" divorced from biological and physiological realities, is fluid, and is "choosable" are demonstrating a willful foolishness. 

I am happy to engage the former (a verse 5 kind of fool) in order to keep them from full embrace of error. My approach to the latter (a verse 4 kind of fool) will only come if I see an opening to try to break through error or to protect others from the error being espoused.

In either case, one further principle comes into play. It is that other proverb, "A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger" (Proverbs 15:1). I don't want to promote anger but understanding. And it is here that social media is so dangerous, because "soft" is as much a tone as it is word choice. How does someone hear my inflection or see a compassionate look as I write? This is why I will often invite a person into a personal conversation if they want to talk about something rather than an exchange of posts. Writing can certainly accomplish the task, but the discipline of writing well, and with an irenic spirit, is not one that Facebook encourages or models for us. 

So, don't be surprised if you don't see me engaging your latest #neverTrump or #neverHillary rants. I have strong opinions (hopefully formed and governed by Scripture) on gender identity and gender roles, but I'll probably not weigh in on your latest rants or reposts of the latest hot blogger on the subject. But I'll like the pictures of your children and grandkids, and your insights into your life as it unfolds.

Oh, and when you post something that begins, "I want to see how many of you will post this..." you can be sure I won't. I won't be cowed by social media shaming!

Friday, August 12, 2016

Vacuums, Hoes, and Striving for Godliness

Giant Tasks, and the Small Steps Needed to Accomplish Them

The other day I was waling the track in the CU field house when I noticed a worker doing what seemed ridiculous. The field house had been used for weeks by various youth groups and conferences, and the residue of these groups still remained on the floor. The red, rubbery track section had all sorts of dirt, small pebbles, wrappers, etc., all over. And as I began to walk I saw, ahead of me, a girl with one of those portable vacuum cleaners you wear like a backpack used to clean in hallways and rooms. There she was, vacuuming the track--all six lanes, plus the surrounding red surfaces. Back and forth the vacuum stroked the track, again and again as she worked from the outer wall inward to the blue infield, and then back out. It was a massive job, and here was this one girl and one vacuum. It seemed overwhelming to think that she would be doing this. Imagine showing up for work, picking up a vacuum and heading to a cavernous building to start--you and your "wand." And yet, as I completed lap after lap, I noticed that she would be a little further along each time--not a lot, but still noticeable. As I was finishing I was passing her and looked back--she had covered nearly a quarter of the track! It was still a long way to go, but look how far she had made it!

This reminded me of a time I'd faced a similar task--actually a number of them. For two summers, I worked for my uncle in eastern Washington on his farm. He had grape vineyards, but also pasture for his cow and a grassy field for his horses. One day I was given the challenge of grabbing my hoe and going out to the nearly 20 acre section of the vineyard with immature grape vines. My job was to hoe out the weeds--getting below the surface to try to pull at the roots. And of course I was to miss the grape vines! I was to start on the first row, work my way all the way down, and then back up the next row. I don't know if you have an idea of how big a 20 acre vineyard looks, but I couldn't believe what I had to do. But I started, and I hoed, and hoed, and hoed. I can't even remember how long it took (more than a day or two, I believe), but I remember when I finished the last row and couldn't believe it.

Another time my uncle decided to have my cousin and me fence a large area for his horses--again the size of the field was daunting, and each post for the fence had to be dug using (what else) a post hole digger that was heavy, hard on the hands, and tedious work. Each post seemed like a personal challenge. And there were hundreds of them. But, post by post, we progressed until one day, we were done. At various times I remember looking and thinking, "we'll never finish this," but we did (and I got paid $2.00 an hour, before taxes, too--woo hoo!).

That is how I think about godliness. It is such a giant goal to reach, and even after all these years of walking with Christ, I feel like my obedience and efforts are so small, so feeble, and really don't seem to be accomplishing much. And yet, if I take to heart God's encouragement that he will complete what he has begun in us, and I believe that grace is at work in every step of progress I make, I can think of my progress as being like those back and forth strokes of the vacuum, those swings of the hoe, and the holes dug and posts placed. They add up. They move you forward. And while there are plenty of moments when you might look ahead and think, "I'll never get there," one day, by God's grace, you will.

Keep at it. Don't give up. Be faithful. Don't quit. Remember the old joke--"How do you eat an elephant?" Answer: "One bite at a time."