I heard the following quote from a podcast earlier this week:
“If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.” – G.K. Chesterton
Upon hearing it, I did a quick Google© search to check its veracity. It is, in fact, genuine. Chesterton (a writer, poet and lay theologian from England) did write these words at the end of the fourteenth chapter of his 1910 book What’s Wrong with the World. The context for the quote was the education of children and the point of his comments were to do what is necessary, even if it is done poorly.
Our society, at first blush, seems to contradict Chesterton’s words by telling us that if it is worth doing, it is worthy doing well. Chesterton’s point, and my reasoning for quoting him, does not disagree with this prevailing wisdom. When we endeavor to accomplish a task – in the home, in the workplace or in the church – we ought to do our best. We must not enter into the essential activities of life half-heartedly. That being said, we rarely are able to accomplish our best, whether it be due to an inaccessibility of resources, an insufficiency of energy or a lack of passion.
When our best work and our real work are incongruent, we tend to get discouraged, and when we get discouraged, we quit. We flip the above-stated cultural mandate on its head and think to ourselves, “if I cannot do this well, I should not do it at all.” That is where Chesterton comes in, reminding us that it is perfectly acceptable to do something, even if it is done badly. We are always to do things to the best of our abilities, understanding that there are days when our best is bad. On those days, instead of giving up the fight, we can resolve to do better the next time.
My life is full of moments when I am doing what is worth doing, but doing it badly. There are times when I am hungry and I diet badly. There are times when I am angry and communicate badly. There are times when I am lonely and manage my time badly. There are times when I am tired and pray with the family badly. There are times when I preach badly, teach badly, father badly, husband badly, perform sonly duties badly and witness badly. But I do not quit, and instead commit to doing better the next time.
But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 2 Corinthians 4:7
As Paul reminded the early church in Corinth, we are simple, easily broken, earthen vessels. Anything we do, any excellence we accomplish, any power we display is not from us; it is from God. We cannot (and are not expected to) do everything well every time. We will, occasionally, do things badly. But we will do them because they are worth doing. I pray we all will always be doing good, even when we can only do it badly.
Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Galatians 6:9 (NIV)
On Monday of this week we celebrated my wife’s birthday. Without sharing a specific number (a woman never tells her age), I will say that it was a ‘milestone’. She and I went ‘in town’ to a fancy restaurant for lunch, then returned home for presents and cake with the kids, and finally had supper together (all the while enduring the hottest June 12th on record). While some may say that our festivities were meager given the circumstances for celebration, it was exactly what the birthday girl wanted – a time to break from the routine of laundry, dishes and ‘taxi service’ and simply enjoy the blessings of life with those we love.
I don’t believe I am ‘telling tales out of school’ in saying that milestone birthday can be hard. In the days leading up to her birthday, as was the case 16 months ago with my milestone birthday, my wife voiced some uneasiness in acknowledging another candle was being added to the cake. It is at these times that we all tend to reflect on those missed opportunities, regret those unwise decisions and recalibrate to what now seems possible. We joke with one another about being “over the hill” (as long as it isn’t our birthday we’re talking about) and wonder if our best days are behind us.
Milestones, like big birthdays, also remind us of where we’ve been and how far we’ve travelled. I have known my wife since she was sixteen and celebrated it with her ever since she was eighteen. We’ve celebrated a few times during summer break from college, once while planning our wedding and as even newlyweds and new parents. We’ve celebrated at her parents’ home, at our six different homes and at dozens of diverse restaurants. We’ve celebrated some birthdays after long days at work, others on warm weekends and one at a High School awards ceremony. Each year has been different. All those celebrations have now become mental snapshots of a life well lived and a life well loved.
I know that I have given Jeanine a present or two each of the years we’ve been together, but, for the life of me, I cannot remember a single one with any specificity. I think this is because, in my opinion, the best gift given on her birthday is not the one she receives from us but the one she is to us. She is the anchor of our family, preventing us from drifting toward disaster. She is the glue in her relationships, keeping us together. She is the optimist in the most pessimistic of predicaments. All those who know Jeanine understand that the world is a better, kinder, sweeter place because she is in it.
May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth. Proverbs 5:18
As the cliché goes, age is just a number. While that may be true, birthdays are special; it celebrates the day God gave us one another. I praise God that I could spend so many days celebrating the important people in my life, especially Jeanine. Happy Birthday to you.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. Psalm 100:4
It may be culturally ‘old-fashioned’, but let me extend a belated “Happy Thanksgiving”. I hope you were able to spend a few precious moments with loved ones yesterday expressing your gratitude to God. Although mainstream advertisers may have wanted me and mine to celebrate “Friends-giving”, “Thanks-gathering” or “Thanks and Giving”, I am unashamedly and uncompromisingly sharing my “Thanksgiving” this weekend. I am committed to using my words and taking my thoughts captive with the specific goal of giving thanks to God – the One who gives every good and perfect gift. I want to be not only thankful but thanksgiving.
My thoughts and expressions of thanksgiving are framed by four words that have occupied my prayers since Sunday – wealth, health, hearth and dearth.
- Wealth is defined as “an abundance of valuable possessions or money”. Being in the northeast region of the most prosperous nation on Earth means that God has given me much more than most. I am blessed by God with a peace that comes from needn’t worrying about clothing, food, shelter or transportation. I am also blessed with a wealth of non-monetary possessions – vocation, friendship, education and liberty, just to name a few – for which I am grateful.
- Health is defined as “the state of being free from illness or injury”. This year I reached a ‘milestone birthday’ which meant that I was required to endure more than an annual physical exam. I thank God, as I had appointments with four specialists, all of whom, after poking and prodding, gave me a clean bill of health. I am also blessed with health in other areas of life – spiritual, mental and relational – for which I am thankful.
- Hearth is defined as “the floor of a fireplace”. I am thankful for those that surround the figurative hearth (and the fact that we have a figurative hearth at all). I praise God for my wife and children. I praise God that we celebrated birthdays, graduations and holidays together with love and laughter. I am also blessed for the ‘hearth’ of Calvary Community Church and the brothers and sisters that God has given me – for them I am also grateful.
- Dearth is defined as “a scarcity or lack of something”. There were challenges this year (a requirement to move, a daughter departing for college, family members battling cancers, and more) that brought me to the needful point of prayer and contemplation of God’s word. I am thankful that God supplied and continues to supply in these darker moments, teaching me to trust in Him more and rely on earthly pleasures less. I am blessed for the trials we are enduring through which God is triumphing – and for all these I am thankful.
Whether you are enjoying a banquet of leftovers or a list of bargains this weekend, I hope that you will also continue to give thanks to the Lord for all the blessings He has showered upon you. And after all the food and extended family have gone and all the touchdowns and sales have been scored, remember that every day is a good day for thanksgiving.
According to Albert Einstein, “Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous.” We all can remember times when insignificant details accumulate to significantly shape our lives. Coincidence often takes part in how we meet our soulmates, determine our vocations and develop our strengths. When it is looked at objectively, so much of each our lives are built on coincidences. Few of us who are married first laid eyes on our future spouse with the expectation of nuptials. Few of us had a detailed plan for our career and then worked the plan. Objectively, we should agree that the world is too random to assume that most of the major developments in life are left to chance. Objectively, it makes more sense that there is someone who has a plan for us, whether he wants to remain anonymous or not.
This truth became clear to me once again as I studied the second chapter of Ruth last week. In two places, the author makes the point, with cultural wordplay that God’s plan is so coincidental that it cannot be random. First, the author writes:
“So she went out, entered a field and began to glean behind the harvesters. As it turned out, she was working in a field belonging to Boaz, who was from the clan of Elimelek.” Ruth 2:3 (NIV)
Then, one verse later, the author writes:
“Just then Boaz arrived from Bethlehem and greeted the harvesters, “The LORD be with you!” “The LORD bless you!” they answered.” Ruth 2:4 (NIV)
So Ruth just happened to stumble into a relative’s field at just the same time that this relative, Boaz, returns to check on that same field. Objectively, it seems too specific to be random.
Objectively, it seems more rational, and more honest, to acknowledge that the God who designed the orbit of planets, who placed every star in the sky and who builds and topples nations directs the path of each and every person in all creation, including the big pictures and small details of our personal histories. Since this is true, we ought to appreciate those big pictures that provide clarity as well as those small details that regularly go unnoticed. And since so much of our lives are shaped by the accumulation of individually insignificant events, it is in our best interest to occasionally take notice of the ‘coincidences’ that guide our lives.
Maybe God is guiding you when you see an old friend in a hotel lobby while you are on vacation so that you renew a relationship, so that you have that contact when a better job is available at that friend’s company. Perhaps He is guiding you through an article you read in a waiting room, then a conversation over the phone and then a relative’s diagnosis so that you make an appointment for that cancer screening and you avoid having to endure treatments. Then again, maybe He is guiding you to move so that your travel pattern to work is changed so that you share a smile with a kid who, unbeknownst to you, is going through a tough time at home and needed someone to give him hope. God is in it all.
Thank God that He is Lord of the details of life, whether He chooses to reveal His hand or not.
As I was going through a box that that had remained unpacked from a previous move in anticipation for our impending move, I came across a picture of me (and the other members of the Stoughton High School Show Choir) from 1981. After I posted the picture onto social media, many from the photo began commenting about how time had flied and how they remembered those days of singing and dancing long before “Glee” entered the cultural landscape. It was good to electronically ‘catch up’ with people I hadn’t seen in thirty-five years, making me think that I still had the agility and stamina to replicate some of the routines.
A long time has passed since the day that picture was taken – I’ve gone from fifteen to fifty years of age– and I know I cannot do now what we did then. All this illuminates the problem with time: it is constantly passing but we rarely sense its passing. If I am a typical person, there will come a day – Lord willing that I am blessed with a long enough life – that my working days will be over, my driving days will be over and the days of handling my own affairs will be over. Will I understand that I cannot do what I could do in the days of my youth?
The other day, I was shown the following passage of scripture describing a moment in King David’s life as his earthly days were drawing to an end.
Once again there was a battle between the Philistines and Israel. David went down with his men to fight against the Philistines, and he became exhausted. And Ishbi-Benob, one of the descendants of Rapha, whose bronze spearhead weighed three hundred shekels and who was armed with a new sword, said he would kill David. But Abishai son of Zeruiah came to David’s rescue; he struck the Philistine down and killed him. Then David’s men swore to him, saying, “Never again will you go out with us to battle, so that the lamp of Israel will not be extinguished.” 2 Samuel 21:15-17
When David was a boy, he faced a Philistine named Goliath who held a spear with a spearhead weighing 600 shekels (1 Samuel 17:7), and we all know how that ended. The above-referenced scripture takes place many years later, as David is approached by another giant Philistine, but this time with a spear half the weight of the one Goliath held. David thought he could relive his ‘glory days’ and begins to engage, but a warrior-brother steps in, fights for the king, and slays the enemy. Then David’s confidantes tell him, more or less, “You can’t do this anymore. You are too precious to us to allow us to risk your life.” At some point, we all need to put down our sling shots (and our dreams of recapturing our youth) and let someone else fight the giants.
We all need people around us who care enough to stop us from harming ourselves and others. I encourage those who are still young and strong to engage in the battle that rages, humbly taking the place of those who valiantly fought when they were young and strong. I encourage those who are being asked to sit the next one out to humbly appreciate that there are those around you that love you enough to protect you. At whatever station of life you may find yourself in, know that God has a perfect plan for every day of your life, whether you are singing and dancing or joyfully reminiscing about the ‘good old’ days. I believe that I still have some warrior days in the future, but I remain aware that at some point I’ll need to lay my weapons down…may I be blessed with wisdom when that day comes!
Most of us are accustomed to seeing things as either good or bad. There tends to be very little ambiguity in our conception of what is right in our lives and what is wrong. We would all likely agree that hospitalizations, evictions, firings, rainstorms and car accidents are bad things. We would all also agree that promotions, vacations, weddings, days of unlimited sunshine and occasions for a party are good things. We all seek ways to avoid the bad and embrace the good as we go about our daily routines. We all try to move past those dark moments and move into the brighter ones.
There is an alternative to this black and white thinking, however; what if every moment had the opportunity for good or bad? This point came through to me the other night as a group of men and I studied the first two chapters of the book of Daniel. For those of you unaware of the plot of this portion of the Old Testament scripture, let me give you a brief synopsis:
- In 605 BC the nation of Babylonia conquered the tribe of Judah and took the choicest items and individuals back to its capital city;
- Four Judean young men from among the captives brought to Babylon were raised up to the positions of chief advisor to the king;
- When the king’s dream went uninterpreted by the Babylonian magicians or enchanters, Daniel – one of the four Judean youths – told the king what he had dreamt and what it meant.
One would think that being conquered by a foreign government would be a bad thing, yet the Bible states, “And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with some of the vessels of the house of God (Daniel 1:2 ESV).” God gave the people and land of Judah over to Nebuchadnezzar. Is God bringing about bad things for His people?
Righteousness will go before him and make his footsteps a way. Psalm 85:13 (ESV)
Simply stated, the answer is no. We know this because we can also see that God gave the four youths “favor and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs (Daniel 1:9 ESV)” and gave Daniel “understanding in all visions and dreams (Daniel 1:17 ESV)”. We even know that after Daniel sought God’s mercy in the matter of the king’s dream, “the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a vision of the night (Daniel 2:19 ESV)”. Through all those assumptively dark moments in Daniel’s life, God was there equipping Daniel for a great blessing – for the interpretation of the dream given to that secular leader of that secular nation was that all the great kingdoms of the earth will be crushed by the kingdom of heaven, which will rule forever.
If I were Daniel, I would have had many questions as I took the long journey from Jerusalem to Babylon. I would have wondered if God was with me in the midst of this awful situation. I think the same questions surface when our good lives are interrupted by hospitalizations, evictions, firings, rainstorms and car accidents. Perhaps we can gain a lesson from Daniel and expect that God has a good purpose in all of lives moments, sometimes something for us and sometimes something for those around us. Perhaps God could use some of us to interpret the visions God has given to someone who would deny His very existence. Perhaps we could be used as a rainbow in the midst of another person’s storm.
There are plenty of things I love about serving in ministry in a small church: despite my introverted nature I love preaching and teaching people from various walks of life; even though only a handful of people read these posts I love relating the truths of God to everyday realities; and, maybe above all, although it will only reach a couple dozen kids during one week in July I love directing Vacation Bible School. Vacation Bible School is both exhilarating and exhausting. While it brings out the best (it gives an outlet for my creative silliness) and worst (I am woefully inadequate in encouraging our volunteers), I am blessed every year by God’s presence, experienced by and through all those who participate.
My first experience with VBS was at First Church of the Nazarene in Brockton when I was invited to participate by Patty Stanley, a third grade classmate. While I don’t remember much more than going, the experience planted deep seeds within my soul. These seeds would take about a dozen years to bear fruit, and now, after 25 summers of leading children through VBS, I am beginning to realize why I love this week so much. VBS reminds me that:
- Church should be fun: Sometimes I feel that a typical Sunday morning is not what most participants would categorize as fun – majestic, illuminating, encouraging and equipping, yes, but ‘a blast”, sadly not. VBS is lively music, energetic games, sweet food, sometimes messy crafts and silly surprises. It is fifteen hours of exuberance and laughter. That is what I picture heaven to be like and those lucky enough to participate get a little glimpse of it in church basements across the country every summer;
- Church should involve everyone: I wish every program in the church involved as diverse a collection of people as VBS. Not only can kids from every aspect of our society participate (regardless of age, education, religion, race, ethnicity or economic status), VBS also attracts volunteers that reflect the same diversity. It is not uncommon for a 70 year-old to interact with a 7 year-old or a teen to laugh alongside a toddler. Again, this is what I picture heaven to be like, and those who participate in VBS get to experience that joy here and now;
- Church should share the love of Jesus: VBS does this in word and in deed. Certainly, the Bible lessons are intended to share the great truth that God loves us so much that He sent His son to pay the penalty for our sin on the cross and restore our relationship with Him. But the willingness of volunteers to give of their time, talents and resources, sacrificially spending hours of retirement or vacation time simply to share the Savior with our smallest family members expresses the great love of God. Perhaps VBS is the best example of evangelism most churches portray.
That is why I love VBS. I have fun, interact with others and share God’s love. This year, as in years past, I was blessed by all that occurred in a little church in the big city as we went on a “Deep Sea Discovery”. It has been a good reminder that God is with me wherever I go!
“I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go….” Genesis 28:15 (NIV)
About a month ago I received a belated fiftieth birthday present: a prescription for an ACE inhibitor (Lisinopril) for hypertension/high blood pressure. Because of this daily reminder of bodily deterioration, I have had to establish a new routine – every morning I take my pill before I do anything else. By maintaining this pattern, I don’t give a second thought to whether or not I have already taken it (although there are times that I still think I might have forgotten to take it, only to be reassured that I must have taken it at the start of my day). It is this type of personal discipline that will improve my overall well-being.
Now, if only I could maintain some discipline in other areas of life. How much better would my well-being be if I simply had the discipline to eat less at mealtimes and much less at other times? How much better would my day be if I added one hundred steps or a few flights of stairs to my daily exercise regimen? How much better would my health be if I committed to reducing stress and increasing my sleep? My hesitation arises from the knowledge that any beneficial discipline will require an amount of denial and denying myself is frequently painful.
No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. Hebrews 12:11 (NIV)
The writer of Hebrews expresses the positive benefits of discipline – the production of righteousness and peace – and I have to wonder if a few extra bites, a few more snacks, a few quicker trips, a few more minutes of vacuous television is worth what is being forfeited. Just as I take something to control my blood pressure (and, I hope, extend my life expectancy to see my eight-year old’s wife and children), I need to practice other disciplines to procure an opportunity to live strongly as a good steward of the physical body I have been given by God.
And why stop at God’s gift of my physical health? What about my relational health, my intellectual health and my spiritual health? There are disciplines I ought to incorporate for my relational well-being (such as holding my tongue more frequently than I am now), my intellectual well-being (like reading something from a dead author instead of watching television) and my spiritual well-being (maybe spending an hour in silence instead of being surrounded by technology). Perhaps there is wisdom in the words attributed to a number of great thinkers:
“Sow a thought and you reap an action; sow an act and you reap a habit; sow a habit and you reap a character; sow a character and you reap a destiny.”
If I believe that the practice of discipline will produce righteousness and peace (and I do), and if I can develop the pattern of thinking about these promises instead of the initial pain (and I can), perhaps I will begin communicating these promises and living better to the point in my life where I am no longer thinking about what I have surrendered. Then all that initial pain will give way to pleasure as I am afforded opportunity to spontaneously do things I would not have had the ability to do had I forgone the discipline in the first place.
All this heavy thinking has made me hungry…but I can wait until mealtime.
The other day I saw, via Facebook, a picture of me from 40 years ago. It was the fourth grade class picture of Room 13 at the Central Elementary School in Stoughton, Massachusetts. As I looked over the miniature portraits of my 23 classmates and our teacher, Ms. Berman, it was amazing to me how many names and memories flooded my mind – playing in the school yard during recess, getting a ‘pen’ for penmanship, staging a production of “The Point!”, reciting the Pledge of Allegiance each morning, marveling at our neighboring class’s Miss Walsh’s record setting nails, and preparing for the Bicentennial.
As I read the comments attached to the picture and clicked through a number of links, I was saddened to discover that two of those nine-year olds did not survive to their fiftieth birthday. Some have remained in Stoughton, but most have not – moving within and beyond Massachusetts. Most went on to college and a variety of careers. Many have been married. Some, like my Facebook page, have posted pictures of children and some even had pictures of grandchildren. Much has happened to all those little kids from the autumn of ‘75 – successes and losses with many good days and many bad days.
Looking back and reminiscing about life during the Ford administration has made me wonder about another group of pictures I have in my house and in my mind – the cherubic faces in the class pictures of my kids. The kids in those portraits live in a much different world than my fourth grade classmates did. My children come from an environment of cable television, smart phones and the internet; that is a far cry from three networks (and no remote), a single corded telephone in the kitchen and encyclopedias. My fourth-graders live in the shadow of 9/11 and Columbine; the worst we had to fear was the nebulous Soviet Union. I’m not sure which childhood I would prefer.
The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD, and He delights in his way. Psalm 37:23 (NKJV)
Whether we are in the suburbs in the 1970s or the city in the 2010s, the paths of our lives are arranged by God: this is not to say that all the bad times were given by the Almighty (after all, there is that pesky dynamic known as the consequence of sinful behavior) but rather that the Lord has a delightful plan for each and every one of us, and the Lord is delighted when we remain in it. As I look at that tiny face in the corner of that yellowed picture, I think about all the things I wish I could have told him. I’d tell him that God’s got a plan for him. I’d say that there will be relationships that will not be worth the emotional investment and others that will be. I’d tell my nine year old self to save the saxophone, avoid getting a perm at all costs and play a sport in High School.
Much as one may want to, you cannot relive your childhood, not even vicariously through your own children. All you can do is trust that God has a plan in all the details, and that somehow it will all work out…like the day you saw an old photograph and thought about ‘the good old days’ at the Jones School.
A number of years ago I gave a small group of men who attended Calvary a book as a gift. We were about to study its themes and thought it would be a nice thing to hand out this inexpensive resource. One of the men, who will remain nameless, asked me as I gave him one, “How much do I owe you?” I simply said that he owed nothing, that it was a gift. “I can’t accept that; I can buy my own,” was his reply. Later on, I found out that he had, in fact, ordered his own copy of the book and paid for it himself.
It was a small thing, but the ramifications of that interaction have remained with me. As we enter into another gift-giving season, I am thinking about the difference between a gift and an acquisition. We, as human beings, acquire things from many sources – some things are inherited, some are purchased, some are salvaged and some are made. A few things we acquire are given as gifts, an extension of someone else’s kindness toward us. Most acquisitions are practical, secured in one fashion or another based upon necessity. Gifts are relational, received unsolicited based upon generosity.
“And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” 2 Corinthians 9:14-15
As we approach Christmas, we have a choice: Do we accept God’s gift of grace, best demonstrated through Jesus, as an unsolicited expression the Creator’s kindness or do we attempt to acquire this immeasurable resource by any other avenue? Are we willing to receive a gift (an outpouring of the relationship God desires to cultivate with us) or not? Are we able to see that the incarnation of Christ at Christmas is an indescribable gift?
The New Testament records a number of gifts that have been given by God, including the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38), the gift of life (1 Peter 3:7) and a myriad of spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 14:1). It seems foolish to me to reject the offer that the Almighty has made or, looking at the Savior resting in the manger, ask of God, “How much do I owe you?” The wise among us know that there is no such thing as compensation for a gift, for it is an expression of unmerited favor restoring a relationship we cannot repair with our own power or at any price.
Imagine that there is a present, simply wrapped, beneath your tree with an announcement accompanying its arrival stating that the gift is for you. Don’t say that you cannot accept it because you have nothing to give in return. Don’t say that you will pay for it and in so doing reject the gift. Don’t say you don’t deserve it because a gift, by its very nature, is undeserved. Accept the gift of Christ – and with Him the forgiveness of sin, eternal life, spiritual guidance and the hopeful peace of reunion with the Father. Who wants a gift they could buy for themselves, anyway?