Watch out for the boomerang!

Have you ever been the recipient of some sharp criticism by someone who either should have known better or someone who didn’t know what they were talking about to begin with?  Have you ever been in a crowd where you saw such criticism take place and wondered, “What in the world were they thinking?”  Worse yet, have you ever been the one to speak that stinging criticism?  I’m sure if each of us would be honest, we’ve all been a part of all three–unfortunately, including the last one.  I know I’ve been guilty of looking at certain people through “black-colored glasses,” and seeing in them only the negatives that I think I perceive.  I recently saw a situation where several people became so upset with what they thought they were seeing in someone, that they separated themselves from him and from his friends.  It turned out that what they were accusing him of had a perfectly logical and appropriate reason behind it.  Unfortunately, the accusers had made a big deal of their criticism and were unable to take a step back and offer their apologies.

While some people have a hard time with the Bible, read what Matthew had to say in chapter 7, verses 1-5: “Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults— unless, of course, you want the same treatment. That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging. It’s easy to see a smudge on your neighbor’s face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own. Do you have the nerve to say, ‘Let me wash your face for you,’ when your own face is distorted by contempt? It’s this whole traveling road-show mentality all over again, playing a holier-than-thou part instead of just living your part. Wipe that ugly sneer off your own face, and you might be fit to offer a washcloth to your neighbor.”

Sounds like a great suggestion to me–unless you like being bombarded by boomerangs.

Who are you?

I was listening to my pastor in church this past Sunday, and I was struck by something he said about human beings.  It seems like many of us are human “doings.”  We seem to want to define ourselves by our jobs, our careers, the things we do to fill up our daily lives.  He asked, though, do we do what we do because that’s our life’s desire or simply to get a paycheck to survive from day-to-day?

When I was much younger, I was simply looking for a way to have some spending money, or to pay for my driver’s license and , eventually, to pay for my college tuition.  Those jobs (jack-hammering out a new cellar hole, kitchen worker at our local hospital, mail room at the factory where my dad worked, painting houses with my future bother-in-law, working night shifts at the nearby paper mill, cooking at a local restaurant–the last three all at the same time!) were, for the most part simply to make money–although cooking has become one of my favorite hobbies.  I didn’t want to make any of these jobs my life’s work.  At this point in my life, I was a human “doing.”  Unfortunately, many of us get caught in getting a steady paycheck and find ourselves getting locked in to something we really don’t want to spend the rest of our lives doing.  Ask a mix of some of the people you know and find out how many are working to simply get money to survive and how many love what they are doing.

I was going to become a lawyer.  I loved words and I loved arguing.  Perfect match, huh?  Two years into college, I discovered that I didn’t really want to become a lawyer.  I wanted to teach kids.  So, I earned my teaching certification and as soon as we got married, my wife and I began to teach little kids at our church.  Then I began to teach a Sunday School class.  Then I started coaching.  Then came substitute teaching and full-time teaching.  Then more coaching jobs.  And then, finally becoming a youth pastor.  I was never happier than when I was teaching, coaching and pastoring–all at the same time.  Sure, I got paychecks.  And, while these various types of teaching were my jobs, I wasn’t limited or “stuck” with them because they were what I wanted to  do.  It was who I was–and still am though in many different ways.

God made us human beings to accomplish the things he gave the talents and abilities to do.  How sad it would be to simply do what gives a paycheck and never to enjoy the opportunity to become what He designed to be.

Christmas Past

God so loved us that He gave us the greatest gift, His Son, so that whoever believes in Him,….will have eternal life.  (John 3:16)

My first Christmas memory was being awakened by my mother and, along with my sister, being led into the living room where this wondrous tree was glowing with large colored lights.  The brightly wrapped gifts under the tree were almost an afterthought.  Opening the gifts to find out what was inside was great fun, but playing with the boxes and the wrapping paper was even more fun.  I was 4 and my sister was 2.

My next memory was of the following year.  I discovered tinsel and threw handfuls of it all over the tree.  This year I had a better idea of what to expect from this guy called “Santa.”  So, I got up at 4:00, put on all the Christmas lights, ate breakfast, organized the presents by name into nice neat piles and then watched TV until everyone woke up.  Mom and Dad were not all that appreciative of my unsolicited help.

At age 6, I discovered a hidden hoard of presents in my mother’s closet.  Somehow, she managed to convince me that some gifts came from her and Dad, but the rest were delivered by Santa.  I was always amazed at the number of gifts under the tree.  Of course, my parents were very imaginative.  Mittens were wrapped one hand to a box and a toy requiring 4 batteries would fill 5 separate boxes.  Christmas stockings made their debut this year.  They were Dad’s real socks (freshly laundered).

During the summer I turned 7, I got into the first and only fight of my life.  It was with one of my best friends because, right there on my front lawn, he informed me that Santa Clause wasn’t real.  Boy, did I feel foolish when Mom admitted he was right.  By the way, I lost the fight, so it was a bad day all around.  Somehow, we managed to keep the truth about Santa from sister for a few more years.

When I was 11, Mom and Dad were pleasantly surprised (shocked!) to find themselves adding a new baby girl to the family.  I was a big brother–again.  So, for the next 7 or 8 years, we went through the entire children’s Christmas all over again.  I was now at an age where it was more fun watching her reactions to everything Christmas than it was opening gifts myself.

When I was 12, my dad found a picture of some snowmen caroling that he liked, and he asked me to help him make an outdoor sign out from it.  I always liked art, so I painted the images on a 4 x 8 piece of plywood and then painted “Christmas Greetings” at the top and “The Knowltons” at the bottom.  We fastened that sign to the side of the house and shined a spotlight on it.  He used that sign until they moved away nearly 20 years later.  The sign now hangs from my fence wishing all who see it, “Christmas Greetings.”

I’ve always loved the excitement and festivity surrounding Christmas.  Getting together with family and friends has always been one of the highlights of the season.  But once I became a young adult, I began to realize that the reason for this season was more than family, friends or gifts.  It really was about the birth of a tiny baby in a straw-filled cattle trough, attended his mother, his stepfather, some shepherds and a few animals.  Yet his birth was so amazing that angels sang and kings traveled to bring him gifts.  That child was, is and always will be the greatest gift any of us will ever receive–one that no one can ever buy and one that need never be exchanged.  It’s been delivered and is sitting at your heart’s doorstep, waiting for you to pick it up and claim it.  That’s what Christmas is all about.

I know too much to do anything!

“Be doers of the Word…not merely hearers.” (James 1:22)

With thanks to “The Word for You Today:”

A businessman known for his ruthlessness, arrogance and religiosity told Mark Twain that before he died, he intended to visit the Holy Land, climb Mount Sinai, and read the Ten Commandments aloud.  “I have a better idea,” Twain replied.  “Just stay here in Boston and keep them.”

Most of us would rather think about what we don’t know than act on what we do know.  The growth in the internet, 24-hour television and mobile phones means that we now receive five times as much information every day as we did in 1986.  But that pales into insignificance compared with the growth in the amount of information we churn out through email, twitter, social networking sites and text messages.  It’s been said that until 1900 human knowledge doubled approximately every century. By the end of World War II knowledge was doubling every 25 years. Today on average, human knowledge is doubling every 13 months.  According to IBM, the build out of  the “internet of things” will lead to the doubling of knowledge every 12 hours.

That’s too incredible to even imagine.  So, our problem isn’t a lack of information.  It’s knowing too much and doing too little.  Here’s an everyday example: People would rather debate the merits of proteins vs. carbs, French cooking vs. vegetarian, lifting weights vs. cardio, than change how they eat.  The bottom line is simple:  Expend more calories than you take in.

In the same way, some people would rather debate church doctrine than simply do what the Bible says.  Instead of reading and talking about the idea of living a “good” life, practice loving a difficult person; try forgiving someone; give some money away; stop and say thanks; encourage a friend; bless and enemy; when you’re wrong, say, “I’m sorry.”  Face it:  You already know more than you’re ever going to use.  And nothing turns people off faster than someone with a head full of knowledge, who lacks grace and character.  It’s the same today as it was when James wrote, “Be doers of the Word and not merely hearers.”

Financial Slavery

“…Anyone who borrows is a slave to the lender.” (Proverbs 22:7)

Financial Slavery

I’ve always been rather fanatical about keeping track of our family finances.  We have a detailed monthly budget that we usually stick to.  We update and balance our checkbook regularly—often each day.  We use credit cards, but always pay them off the same day as the purchase.  Yet, twice I’ve had a problem with one store credit card.  Both times I forgot to follow my “pay it off immediately” rule and, for some reason, I never received their emailed monthly statement.  Getting late notices (somehow those managed to reach me) and knowing how our credit score will be affected is driving me crazy.  This store has me at their mercy.

This reminded me of a story I read about a handyman who had been called out to a millionaire’s mansion to refinish the floors.  The rich man’s wife said, “Be especially careful with this dining room table.  It goes back to Louis XVI.  The handyman replied, “That’s nothing.  If I don’t make a payment by next Friday, my whole living room set goes back to the furniture store.”

It’s been said that the average person today drives a bank-finances car, over a bond-financed road, on gasoline they bought with a credit card, to a department store to open another charge account, so they can fill their house that’s mortgaged for thirty years to the bank, with furniture purchased on an installment plan.

People seem to be divided into three categories: the “haves”; the “have-nots”; and the “have-not-paid-for-what-they-haves.”  It’s not wrong to borrow money.  It’s just wrong to put yourself in a position where you cannot repay it.  According to Psalm 37:21, “The wicked borrow and do not repay.” And for New Englanders (and everyone else), that would be “wicked” bad.

 

Use it or lose it!

Good Fruit

 

My nephew owns an apple orchard.  He manages several more.  He also has blueberries and hopes to have peaches and plums.  He’s in the finishing up stage of this year’s crop.  There are certain qualities that make a good apple or any other fruit.  When he grows his fruit, he wants to sell it, so people can eat them.  The fruit isn’t just for show.

Suppose you were to stop at a roadside produce market with your heart set on buying fresh vegetables.  You see homegrown tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, and several varieties of peppers.  Just as you start to select your items, the farmer who owns the stand says, “Sorry, this produce isn’t for sale.  I just like to grow it and enjoy looking at it until it rots.  Then I throw it away.”

You probably have never run into that situation (at least I hope not!) and never will, because farmers and customers know that produce is for consuming.  Sure, it’s beautiful to look at, but the purpose is to bring nutrition and health to people.

Our lives are a lot like those vegetables.  There are certain qualities that each of should have love, joy peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness gentleness and self-control.  Just like fruit and vegetables, these are not for show.  They are for sharing with others.  Otherwise, they are like fruit that was left to rot or not even grown to begin with.  So, shine yourself up, and give those fruits to others.  They will feed and nourish them and give you the chance to continue to grow and provide more fruit.

22-23 But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.

23-24 Legalism is helpless in bringing this about; it only gets in the way. Among those who belong to Christ, everything connected with getting our own way and mindlessly responding to what everyone else calls necessities is killed off for good—crucified. (Galatians 5:22-24)

Just do it!

 

Just do it!

Have you heard the one about four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody and Nobody?

It seems there was a rather important job that needed doing and Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it.  Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it.  Somebody got angry about that, because it was Everybody’s job.  Everybody thought that Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn’t do it.  It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have done.

You’ve probably heard this story before.  And, like me, you’ve probably been a part of a similar story as at least one of the characters.  But, the way many of our lives are heading, don’t be like any of these.  Our cities and towns, our nation, the world–are headed in dangerous directions.  Somebody needs to begin to do something.  Anybody can do it.   Everybody knows it needs doing, but nobody seems to be doing anything about it.  Be the one who does it—whatever it is.  It would be  a good start.

When you help someone out, don’t think about how it looks.  Just do it – quietly and unobtrusively. That is the way your God, who conceived you in love, working behind the scenes. helps you out (Matthew 6:3-4)

Act on what you hear! Those who hear and don’t do it are like those who glance in the mirror, walk away, and two minutes later have no idea who they are, what they look like. (James 1:23-24)

 

So you think you’ve got troubles?

Don’t panic. I’m with you. There’s no need to fear for I’m your God. I’ll give you strength. I’ll help you. I’ll hold you steady, keep a firm grip on you. (Isaiah 41:10)

Trouble? Really?

My wife just returned from the hospital to recover from a partial nephrectomy, where they removed part of her kidney to get rid of a cancerous tumor.  She had never stayed at a hospital for any health issue before.  So, after all these years, this initial admission was quite scary.  The fear of what the surgery might find, the actual pain of the surgery itself, her frightening experience with a bad reaction to her meds—were all new experiences to her.

Finally, after 5 days, she was discharged and headed for home-sweet-home.  Except she now discovered what 6-8 weeks of recovery meant.  The limitations included no serious bending or twisting, no lifting anything over 5 pounds and taking a lot of pain meds.  She hates swallowing pills.  It makes her feel like throwing up.  To avoid the nausea, she needs to have food in her stomach.  But it’s hard to put food in her stomach because it makes her feel like throwing up.  Kind of a catch-22.  None of which helps in alleviating her pain.  But she’s always been a tough person and she’ll get past all this—probably much quicker than the projected 6-8 weeks.  Certainly, much quicker than I probably would.

It made me think of the Apostle Paul.  Think of the trials he faced.  First, he was dumped of his donkey and was blind for 3 days.  He was put in prison a number of times,  he was whipped more times than he could remember, he faced death over and over, he received 39 lashes from the Jewish religious leaders 5 times (40 lashes were considered a death sentence), he was beaten with rods 3 times, he was stoned once, he was shipwrecked 3 times, he spent a day and a night in the sea, was in continual danger from rivers, robbers, from his own countrymen and everyone else, he was often weary, in pain, and without sleep. Yet somehow, he managed to write nearly half of the New Testament (13 out of 27), start at least 14 churches and then revisit many of them as they grew.

And sometimes I think I’ve got troubles?  Really?

 

Leave no one left out or left behind

                   (I Thessalonians 5:11)

One of my pet peeves while I was teaching, coaching and leading a youth group was the impatience some kids had with the other members of the groups who weren’t quite as talented, as athletic or as quick to learn something.  It made those kids feel like they had nothing of real value to offer others.

An unknown poet once wrote,

            One song can spark a moment;

One flower can wake a dream

            One tree can start a forest;

One bird can herald spring.

            One smile begins a friendship;

One handclasp lifts a soul.

            One star can guide a ship at sea;

                        One word can frame the goal.

            One vote can change a nation;

                        One sunbeam lights a room.

            One candle wipes out darkness;

                        One laugh can conquer gloom.

            One step can start a journey;

                        One word can start a prayer.

            One hope can raise our spirits;

                        One touch can show you care.

            One voice can speak with wisdom;

                        One heart can know what’s true.

            One life can make a difference;

                        You see…it’s true.

The question we should ask ourselves is, which one are you?

Just do it…Now!

This is my new favorite T-shirt.   Unfortunately, the saying applies to many of us in many areas of our lives.  I know that it definitely applies to me.

I’m going to go on that diet…later.    I’m going to start saving for retirement…later.    I’m going to paint that pool fence…later.     I’m going to work to develop those creative areas of my life…later.     I’m going to work to get rid of those nagging habits…later.   I’m finally going to get my act together…later.

Notice the repetitive “I’m going to.”  It occurred to me that, while the T-shirt is humorous, it also made me aware of how self-absorbed I can be.  While it’s good to get things done and improve our own lives, it’s even better to get things done to improve the lives of others.

As time goes on, people are going to be self-absorbed… (ouch!) self-promoting…dog-eat-dog…the kind…who smooth talk…and take advantage.  By the way, this is almost a direct quote from the Bible (II Timothy 3:1-6) Not the “ouch” part—that part was me.

If you think I’m wrong, try sliding into a parking space another motorist wants. Or watch shoppers in a checkout line elbowing one another to save thirty seconds.  And how about your seat in church; you know, the one you’ve been warming for thirty years?

When I think about what I should be doing, I look back to the Bible where Philippians 2:3-4 says, “Be humble and consider others more important than yourselves.  Care about them as much as you care about yourselves.”  Jesus said, “Ask yourself what you want people to do for you, then grab the initiative and do it for them.” (Matthew 7:12)

And do it now!