Tag Archives: discipline

A Matter of Course

How does that old saying go?  “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”  Seems that my family is entering another season of transition: Joshua is entering his Middle School years, David is off to college, Rebekah is finishing college, and we are moving (again).  As we navigate these changes over the next few months, we are seeking God’s wisdom and provision.  We are asking questions that will only be answered by some sort of divine intervention.  I write all this not to solicit advice, but rather to seek prayer for His provision and direction in the days ahead from those who are so inclined.

Transitions come in all shapes and sizes.  Everyone goes through times of relocation, recalibration and recuperation.   We cannot eliminate transitions, but we can anticipate them and appreciate them.  Transitions offer us all the opportunity to eliminate the clutter that accumulates in life and acknowledge the course corrections that every life must experience.  Transitions provide us with times to cleanse ourselves from the toxins that sap us of life and place us in environments for growth.  Transitions, like every form of change, are truly challenging, but when navigated properly they can be a blessing.

The author of Hebrews has wisdom from God for all those entering into a season change:

And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.  Hebrews 12:1-2

We need heed God’s advice to run the race of our life with perseverance.  According to Merriam-Webster, perseverance is the continued effort to do or achieve something despite difficulties, failure, or opposition.  Life is fraught with difficulties, failure, or opposition that can either frustrate us or fuel us.  God’s encouragement to all of us is to continue exerting the effort necessary to accomplish our goals.

We need to contemplate that there is a course marked out for us by the creator of the universe.  We each have a unique path, filled with peaks and valleys, that we are called to complete.  We could, I suppose, choose to run someone else’s race and reach a place that will not fully satisfy, but it would be better to remain on the road that God has established to bring us where we ought to go.

We need to fix our eyes on Jesus: He has run this race before and now waits for us at the finish line.  He is the pioneer (or author or source) of our faith – He is the one who is trustworthy and reliable.  He is the perfecter of our faith – He is the one who teaches us how to finish strong and avoid the distractions that drown our dreams.  He will lead us to the right and proper places when we trust in Him.

Would it be easier if life was absent of adversity, where we all were following the same formula and where it all works out in the end?  Sure.  But life is not like that.  Our lives are continually in flux and difficulties and detours must be expected.  Thankfully, we have a focal point, our Savior, who waits for us at our ‘forever’ home.  All we need to do is stay on course until we reach the finish line.

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Nail’d It!

Recently, I have been watching a captivating show on Netflix called “Nail’d It!”  According to the streaming service’s website, the program is described in this way: “Home bakers with a terrible track record take a crack at re-creating edible masterpieces for a $10,000 prize.  It’s part reality contest, part hot mess.”  Here is what happens during each 30-minute episode: three amateur home cooks, with limited time, resources and experience try to copy baked goods worthy of Pinterest created by professional bakers with unlimited time, resources and experience.  The facsimiles never quite match the originals, but that is what makes the show so delightful.  The home bakers work so hard and fail so often, incurring the good-natured ribbing of the diverse panel of judges.  Yes, the end-products are woefully awful in comparison, but they are also delightfully ambitious.

This show appeals to be because it turns a particular cultural fascination on its head – capturing perfection through a post on social media.  There are millions of selfies that go unposted because of some imperceptible flaw that the sole picture posted does not contain.  There are hours devoted to staging furniture and furnishings so that uploaded photos of real estate are displayed in the best light.  We rarely expose our sub-par efforts, let alone our failures, to the scrutiny of public opinion.  Unless it is perfect, we are left to assume it is without value.  Social media has created a cultural expectation of quality where ‘good’ is rarely good enough.

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.  2 Timothy 2:15

I think Paul would have a tough time adapting to our culture, replete with social media’s expectations of perfection.  When he wrote to Timothy, he encourages him to give his best effort and, therefore, never feel needless shame.  He did not say that Timothy should cover the façade of life’s messiness with a veneer of superficial perfection, pretending that he could master every aspect of life and ministry.  Perhaps there is a blessing in knowing that we cannot do everything perfectly, but that we can always do our best.  Life is not expected to look like a magazine photo-shoot.  Life is often troubling to look at and imprecise, and that should be okay.

One of the more redemptive aspects of “Nail’d It!” is that the judges place a value on presentation, but they also value taste.  If it doesn’t look pretty but is delicious, the judges may still declare that entry the winner.  Mastering the fundamentals of baking counts for something.   Mastering the fundamentals of life and living counts, too.  This is true when it comes to relationships, service, ministry, faith, communication, compassion and about a million other things.  There is something deeply biblical in that.  Life does not always look pretty but treating the ingredients of life and living properly will, at worst, make it palatable.  Handled properly, it may even be delicious.

The cake with the elevated teapot is not the norm.  The photo of the beachside sunset is not typical.  The brochure with all the smiling faces is probably not real.  But the simple cake, the salt air and the full spectrum of human emotions are what life is composed of…and often times it is delicious.

Proper Prayer

I was recently with a group of pastors where one of the participants prepared a devotional based on Acts 12.  As we discussed this portion of scripture, the topic of prayer was brought up due, in no small part, to the mention (in verse 4) of the church earnestly praying to God for Peter, who was at the time in jail, and the mention (in verse 12) of the people gathered in Mary’s home who were praying throughout the night.  Despite all this prayer, earnestly offered, the church was not prepared for Peter’s miraculous escape and were astonished when he knocked at their gate.  The dynamics of engagement with God through prayer is a wonderful mystery.

I wish I could tell you how prayer works.  I wish there was a formula where you could plug in your request and you would know the outcome.  I wish I was not like the early believers written about in Acts 12 who powerfully and persistently prayed for Peter but were unable to comprehend the answer.  It seems that we are consistently praying in one direction and the answer comes unexpectedly from another direction.  Is it possible that our faith effects our ability to anticipate the answer, or do we pray with the realization that our faith will grow through the unanticipated ways the Almighty will work the resolution?  Whatever the machinations or motivations for our prayers may be, we are called to present our requests before God.

[Jehoshaphat prayed,] “Our God, will you not judge them?  For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us.  We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” 2 Chronicles 20:12 (NIV)

I like Jehoshaphat’s prayer.  Here is the king of Judah, the earthly ruler of God’s people, crying out to God because of an impossible situation – a vast army from Edom was just beyond the city gates.  What would you pray for if you faced certain destruction unless the God of creation intervened?  To strengthen your forces?  To give success to your plans?  Thankfully for us who are puzzled by prayer, Jehoshaphat’s petition takes a different tack.

“For we have no power….”  It is as if Jehoshaphat is saying that God will have to do something if anything is going to be done.  We would be wise to reflect upon the truth of these words: we cannot arrest cancer, we cannot end violence, we cannot create wealth, we cannot change a human heart.  We pray because we are powerless to effect much of what we pray for.

“We do not know what to do….”  Jehoshaphat has no plans, so asking for success in the abstract is fruitless.  We would be wise to reflect upon the truth of these words as well: We are often unable to process all the details of our situation, let alone formulate action steps to bring about change.  We are much better off to leave the process to the one who holds all things in order: God.

“…our eyes are on you.”  Ultimately, Jehoshaphat determines that the only thing to do is watch for God’s movement and follow Him.  A better prayer has never been uttered: to paraphrase, “Show me where you are and enable me to remain there.”

We have no overwhelming power, but Christ does.  We have no earth-shattering plans, but Christ does.  But we do have the ability of focus our attention on the things that matter…may that singular point of focus be Christ as we make every petition and request to Him.

Walk This Way

In January, as a birthday gift from my family, I received a Fitbit© fitness tracker.  Because of this high tech ‘wristwatch’, I have become aware of so many aspects of my life and health: this little gizmo tracks things like my steps, my sleep, my resting heart rate and my hours of activity.  I am particularly obsessed with my step count and have begun to enjoy the sensation of personal accomplishment that comes from reaching my daily goal of eight-thousand steps.  Plus, when you are walking 8,000 steps, generally over the same terrain, you begin to notice things that have escaped your attention if you were driving by.  As I evaluate where my steps have taken me, I realize that where I walk is how I live.

Walking gives you the time to exchange pleasantries with those you are passing on the sidewalks or front porches along the path.  Walking affords you the opportunity to observe the repairs being made to gorgeous old houses and those that are still desperately needed.  Walking prepares you to keep your distance from that big unfriendly dog that is always guarding his fenced front yard (the fence of which is seriously too low).  Walking provides you the time to check out what others are discarding and time to think about how you could use that dresser or night table on that great and glorious day when space is no longer a concern.  Walking enables you to feel the sunshine and the gentle rain, invigorating the soul.

It has given me great joy to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as the Father commanded us.  …  And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love.   2 John 4,6

John’s second letter to the church tells believers that we must walk (or have the lifestyle) of truth and obedience and love.  These are not individual commands but a singular multi-faceted directive.  Part of my daily walk involves walking in the truth, putting feet to the gospel, walking in such a way that shows that God loves the residents of Geneva Avenue as deeply as the residents of Commonwealth Avenue.  Part of my daily walk involves walking in obedience, putting feet to biblical integrity, walking in such a way that shows that God’s people stay on the sidewalks and resist trespassing onto the lawn.  Part of my daily walk involves walking in love, putting feet to grace and mercy, walking in such a way that shows those who I encounter a willingness to offer my assistance and my understanding.

I have been asking myself a question as I walk: does how I go and where I go project the truth, obedience and love I have in God?  In order to answer that question as I should, I need to remind myself that walking is more than a means of getting from one point to another, but an opportunity to slow down and engage in the life all around us.  Walking is one way we serve the community as the body of Christ.  It is more than an exercise for fitness; it is an exercise of faith.

Running After More

 

Like many smaller churches, we have trouble meeting our ministry budget.  In the past, we have engaged in appeals and fund-raisers, but still our revenues are insufficient to cover our expenses.  Last week we discussed converting some of our land into a revenue source, but the scope and size of the project were not ideal.  We voted not to proceed with this project, but we know something needs to be done.

As the meeting progressed, the words Jesus spoke to the crowd, known as the “Sermon on the Mount” reverberated in my mind:

“So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.  But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”  Matthew 6:31–33

We know that God knows what we need – food, drink, clothes – and that we ought not adopt an earthly obsession with chasing down these things.  We know that God instructs us to instead engage in heavenly pursuits and chase after the kingdom and righteousness of God.  This proper perspective leads the heavenly minded to gain the promises of God’s reign, as well as satisfaction of all their earthly needs.   One application of this portion of scripture is personal: in a culture of “keeping up with the Joneses”, we must not get caught up in running after the trappings of earth and instead seek the treasures of heaven.  Another application is ecclesial (church-related): Calvary ought not focus our energies on account balances but on kingdom building.

But what does it look like to “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness”?   Unpacking the biblical meaning of the “kingdom” is as hard as nailing Jello© to the wall.  Understanding the kingdom of God is akin to defining the United Kingdom: it includes both a reality (an actual place) and a conception (the nature and ethic of the ruling crown).  When we are told to seek this kingdom, we seek the habitation of heaven (for ourselves and others) and we seek to demonstrate the culture of the King.  We get a glimpse of this kingdom – the dwelling place and desires of the king – toward the end of Revelation:

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look!  God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them.  They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.  ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”  Revelation 21:3-4

Perhaps this means we are supposed to seek the presence of God (through worship), the removal of suffering (through instruction and service), the elimination of death (through prayer and evangelism) and the end of mourning and crying and pain (through fellowship).  These are the pursuits of those seeking His kingdom.  If we can do that, while maintaining what is right, just and true for ourselves and others, all His manifest blessings for this world and the next will be given to us as well.  Then, whether we balance our budget or blow it all, we will give honor and glory to God.

Making the Grade

My family and I missed church on Sunday – skipped church, actually – and did something else that morning.  We all still got up early, donned our ‘Sunday best’, shared breakfast together and drive to the Matthews Arena on the campus of Northeastern University.  It was there that we remained for the next four or so hours, along with the other friends and family members of the 2019 graduating class of Boston Latin Academy.  After a regal processional, greetings from dignitaries, speeches and special presentations from students, and addresses from the Suffolk County District Attorney and the school’s Headmaster, we finally saw our son (and brother and grandson), David, receive his High School diploma.

While it may sound like boasting, the truth is that my children, including David, are (extremely) bright.  That being said, education has not come easily for David.  In second grade he was referred to and treated for dyslexia at the Massachusetts General Hospital Institute for Health Professions’ Speech, Language and Literacy Center and shortly after that was diagnosed with ADHD.  Still, despite these difficulties, David showed sufficient aptitude to warrant acceptance into one of Boston Public School’s exam schools.  Throughout his time at BLA, David experienced academic highs (honor roll and advanced placement) and lows (a month-long drudgery called summer school).  As I watched he who has become a young man graduate from High School, my thoughts brought me back to the frequently frustrating times we endured together over the past 13 years as a result of homework or clinic work or parent-teacher conferences.  Those frustrations seem to have disappeared as I witnessed him hide behind his diploma, victorious.

Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.  James 1:12

The Bible says that those who withstand the trials that test us will be awarded the prize.  I witnessed that, first-hand, on Sunday.   I’d like to think that David’s days of testing are through (I’d like to think that about myself as well), but I know that for all of us, each day brings with it their challenges.  There will continue to be peaks and valleys along his path, but now he has evidence that hard work pays off and perseverance has its rewards.  He has tasted victory, and I hope that will whet his appetite for the next chapter (pursuing a BS in computer science at Fitchburg State University).  I could not be prouder of David than I am right now…he is an overcomer!

We all have things that do not come easy: education, relationships, socialization, coordination, just to name a few.  Fight through those things, persevere and battle with all the strength and resolve you can muster, knowing that they may never be mastered but they can be overcome.  Remember that there will come a day that we will receive the just compensation for enduring the necessary struggles that accompany our successes.  And, after you’ve endured and come out the other side, I hope there is someone there to witness it and cheer for you.

On behalf of my family, we say ‘thank you’ to all who helped David achieve this significant milestone.

Bee Perfect

Last Thursday night, I was captivated by a contest televised on ESPN: the 92nd Annual Scripps National Spelling Bee.  Let me say that I am not an advocate for the cultural predilection toward presenting  “participation awards” (the ubiquitous practice of giving everyone on the team a trophy, regardless of the score); both winning and losing has the ability to build character and excellence ought to be recognized.  So, as I began watching the ‘evening finals’, beginning with round nine where sixteen children were still competing, I was very-much looking forward to seeing a champion crowned and the other 15 children cheered as they walked off the stage, defeated but undaunted.

The ninth round of words was perfectly executed – all 16 mastered the words they were given.  Then, over the next 5 rounds, eight participants misspelled their word and exited the competition.  At that point, the remaining eight spellers broke the system, correctly spelling the next 47 words.  It was announced at one point that they were running out of words and, after a few more rounds, all those still spelling would win.  After a total of 20 rounds, the directors of the bee declared all the remaining contestants the winner of the competition.  Rishik Gandhasri, age 13 (who spelled ‘auslaut’), Erin Howard, 14 (‘erysipelas’), Saketh Sundar, 13 (‘bougainvillea’), Shruthika Padhy, 13 (‘aiguillette’), Sohum Sukhatankar, 13 (‘pendeloque’), Abhijay Kodali, 12 (‘palama’) Christopher Serrao, 13 (‘cernuous’) and Rohan Raja, 13 (‘odylic’) all walked away with the $50,000 and the trophy as champions of the National Spelling Bee.

This was not, in any way, a participation award.  It was a pronouncement of excellence, as each one perfectly executed the task before them.  These eight great spellers finished the competition without error and were declared the winner.  The unfolding of this competition reminded me of the words of Paul to the church in Corinth:

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize?  Run in such a way as to get the prize.  1 Corinthians 9:24

These young competitors all expected that there would be only one winner and they prepared accordingly.  They competed to win the prize and they finished the competition in first place.  They won – they all won – together, giving one another High-fives and cheering on one another’s correct (always correct) efforts.   The rules of the competition did not change, only the fact that many finished perfectly, together.

In many ways, I saw a glimpse of the heavenly in the very early moments of May 31st.  The conclusion of the spelling bee reminded me of the concluding moments of life: we are diligently competing for the prize, surrounded by our fellow competitors, when the director of the race, the Lord Almighty, states that all who cross the finish line first will be declared winner.  At that moment, we interlock elbows and all step across the finish line together, all securing the prize.  We celebrate one another, realizing that we are not competing against the other runners, but the course itself.    All those still standing at the end will receive the prize.

One last word to spell:  H-A-L-L-E-L-U-J-A-H!

Together Together

Last week, a number of people in my family, including me, watched the series finale of “The Big Bang Theory”.  It was a fitting conclusion to the show, as we witnessed one of the main characters, Sheldon, uncharacteristically consider others more highly than he considered himself and utilize the spotlight afforded him through professional success to speak words of affirmation and appreciation to his typically disregarded friends.  It was an exceptional picture of the concept of community.  Those watching the program, 18.5 million in all, including the people in my home, were much less a demonstration of community: while we were all doing the same thing at the same time, we weren’t truly together.

‘Together’ is a word we like to use in the church.  We gather together, worship together, pray together, serve together, learn together, and rejoice together.  But is this togetherness similar to the relationships portrayed on television or to the relationships displayed in millions of homes on a Thursday night?  What does being together, from a biblical standpoint, look like?

All the believers were together and had everything in common.  They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.  Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts.  They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts….  Acts 2:44-46

The other night, as part of a Bible study on Acts 2:42-47, we were discussing the word ‘together’.  The word is used twice in the passage, but two different Greek words are utilized: ἐπί (epi) is verse 44 and ὁμοθυμαδόν (homothumadon) in verse 46.  These two Greek words mean two very different things.  ‘epi’ is a preposition meaning ‘with or upon’, used to describe location or geography: in the context of verse 42, the disciples were in the same place or were locationally close.  ‘homothumadon’ is an adverb meaning ‘having or sharing in the same strong emotion’ and is used to modify an action emotionally: the disciples were sharing the same passion or were emotionally close.

The togetherness that the church aspires to experience includes both proximity and community.  It requires both being in the same place (proximity) and having the same heart (community).  We need to be together in the same place: we must see one another and breath the same air as we hear and do the same things; we cannot help one another if we do not know one another and we cannot know one another if we are never with one another.  We need to be together in the same spirit: we must embrace the same passionate pursuit – to know Christ and to make Him known – as we practice the disciplines of faith; it is not enough to do things together if we do it individualistically.

Spiritual growth and maturity require both proximity and community.  We need to be close geographically and close emotionally.  Think about that when you are making your plans for the weekend, and perhaps choosing to get together with others and be together with others at a church in your neighborhood.

Losing After Winning

It was supposed to be the fastest two minutes in sports, but the Kentucky Derby turned out to be the longest 20 minutes in horse racing.   As a way of providing a quick recap from the race that took place a couple of weeks ago, here is what the stewards of Churchill Downs officially recorded:  the lead horse, Maximum Security, strayed from his lane and impacted the progress of another horse, War of Will, which in turn interfered with two others, Long Range Toddy and Bodexpress; because of this infraction, Maximum Security was disqualified and considered not to have participated, and the second place finisher, a horse named Country House, was declared a winner.  Earlier this week, ten days after the race, the owners of Maximum Security filed a federal lawsuit seeking to overturn the disqualification.

I have an insufficient knowledge of the rules of thoroughbred racing to posit an opinion about the merits of the disqualification or the lawsuit.  Was one horse’s veering from its path into the path of another sufficient cause to force the forfeiture of the substantial purse and the even more substantial legacy that goes with winning the Kentucky Derby?  I cannot say.  But then again, hypothetically, was my traveling ten miles over the speeding limit, along with everyone else, sufficient reason for a state police officer to cite me for speeding?  Hypothetically again, was my fabrication about a little thing like coffee consumption sufficient cause for people to question my truthfulness?

But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.  1 Corinthians 9:27 (ESV)

Call it what you will: a competitive edge, a social construct, an ethical dilemma or a way of doing business; if it is unlawful, unethical or ungodly, it ought not to be done.  Those who do these things are in danger of disqualification.  Paul’s advice: stay in your lane.  He tells us the secret to his spiritual integrity – if it takes away from the message we are telling or tarnishes our witness to the gospel, it is not worth the price.  When we step over the line, we risk everything: it is possible that we could also forfeit our reward and forgo our legacy.

The antidote for disqualification is discipline or, as other translations put it, beating our bodies.  We need the Holy Spirit to ride us like a righteous jockey, coaxing us with the crop to continue running on the right track and spurring us on to expend our greatest effort and achieve God’s goal.   We need the Word of God to be a faithful trainer, strengthening us through resistance exercises and building our endurance through running the course.  We need the Church to be a constant companion, challenging us when we are slogging through the mud and encouraging us to finish the race.

We are so much more than racehorses.  We, who know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, are children of the Almighty and we ought never do anything that might jeopardize our birthright – the crown of life reserved for the victor.  Trust the Holy Spirit, the Word of God and the Church to keep us on track and finish the race properly.

Unsung Heroes

“All that I am, or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.”  Abraham Lincoln

Sunday is Mother’s Day, when three out of four of us will purchase a greeting card and over two-thirds of us will buy flowers for our mom (or our children’s mom).  It is the least we can do for those who have given us so much of themselves.  There is something in our mother’s kisses that are more therapeutic than the best medicine and something in her voice that is more comforting than the best psychotherapy.  Mom was likely the first to read to us, pray for us and cry with us.  She made sure, for most of us, that we had a birthday cake on our special day and a new outfit for the first day of school.  It is right and good to honor and remember the ones who endured painful labor and sleepless nights for her children:  God bless Mom!

As I think about Mother’s Day, my thoughts come back to a commercial I recently saw for the Portal from Facebook.  In the commercial, actor Neil Patrick Harris decides to call and celebrate his mother on Mother’s Day using the Portal from Facebook.   He sees that she’s not alone; she has company: the mothers of Serena and Venus Williams, Odell Beckham Jr., Snoop Dogg and Dwayne Johnson among others.   While Neil knows who they are, most people watching the commercial are unfamiliar with the women on the video-chat screen and are given only a clue by Neil’s references – Odell’s mom, Jonah’s mom and the like.  These women, no doubt, have done great things in their own right but are willingly recognized as someone’s mom.  We ourselves may not actually know some women’s names, only that they are so-and-so’s mom.  God bless you, Neil’s mom.

I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.  2 Timothy 1:5 (NIV)

One of the moms of the Bible who lived a life of seemingly quiet obscurity is Lois – the mom of Eunice, who was the mom of Timothy.  All we know about this woman is what we read in the verse I have quoted.  All we have as a historical record is that a sincere faith lived in her.  There are so many unanswered questions: Did she have hobbies or a favorite story?  Where did she grow up?  How long was she married?  Was she like the Proverbs 31 woman and worked outside (as well as inside) the home?  Was she tall, attractive and wealthy or petite, plain and poor?  All we know is her name, her heart and her grandson.  But, in God’s economy, that is enough.  God has blessed us with moms like Lois.

Happy Mother’s Day to all those who are known by the world only as someone’s mom.  God knows you are much more than that: you are leaders of industry, educators, medical experts, investors, inventors and artists – and then you go out the front doors of your home and do even more.  Happy Mother’s Day!