Wait A Few

It seems like we just can’t help ourselves. Recently, I was attending a conference which was attended by church staff members. Christy and I sat at breakfast the morning after Trump had announced that he was going to meet with the Dictator of North Korea. The gentleman behind me, who also happened to sit at my table for the conference, gave us his immediate and prolonged opinion on this move.

As he opined to the group of unfortunate folks at his breakfast table, Christy and I spent a few minutes noting how pastors have a tendency to think that not only do they have an opinion about something, but they must all share that opinion. As children of pastors, and having served in pastoral roles for the past 15 years we realize that the blame for this behavior must be shared. The pastors, who are convinced that God has given them insight into crop planting, national security, and the correct way to discipline each individual child, are plentiful and obstreperous. Plentiful too are the members who want to shirk personal responsibility and seek to burden a pastor with a decision that he is unqualified to address due to lack of personal knowledge or limitations outside of his control.

I have spent some studying the need of Sabbath lately and have come to a conclusion: Our inability to wait is directly linked to our belief that we must always be in some type of production. Our culture, and yes, our desires, have convinced us that either we must be producing something or we must be planning to produce something. In fact, we have complete conversations in which we try to ‘out tire’ each other. This leads to constant sharing of opinions when we have given little thought, much less prayer, to the realities of the situations and opportunities which confront us in our lives.

This is one of Satan’s tools. You see, the enemy does not know the future. He only knows that right now, today, he has a chance for destruction and he wields that tool as forcefully as he can. God, however, knows the future, and encourages us to wait on him. He tells us that He will provide, while we scurry about like a chipmunk in November, hunting the few remaining nuts and then piling them around us as if they will prove to others that we are more resourceful than them.

To have an idea about the work of Satan we need only to look at Pharaoh of Egypt. When questioned as to whether or not he would allow the Israelites to stop work for a period of time to allow them to worship their God his response was that production must remain the same while their supplies would be drastically cut. The stipulation is clear; we must always produce more from less. Less information, more opinions. Less, time, more perceived work or production.

Just a few days into the wilderness God beautifully contradicts the economy and behavior of Pharaoh. Every day but one, manna from heaven fell on the ground. On the 7th day manna did not fall and the Israelites were forced to eat from what they had gathered the day before. The truth is clear; God can, and does, pause. He waits.

I need to learn to wait. Words spoken in haste often lead to anger and foolishness. Opinions formed at the drop of a hat are based more in our pride than our knowledge and as such are sure ground for destruction and peril. In a sermon I made an observation that Satan works in the immediate. He cannot wait. When we surrender to the rush of immediacy in our relationships and our lives we surrender ourselves to our passions.

As you think about waiting take a moment and listen to this wonderful song. You won’t have to wait long to figure out what it’s about, or where it’s at.

 

 

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The Babylon Bee is Hilarious – and I Won’t read It

We are all an odd mixture. Shaped by the environment that we were raised in, coupled with the choices we have made along the way, and the inner working and processing of our soul, we are a complex set of personalities. No matter our personality there is always that tipping point where the ‘good’ can become ‘too much.’

We can be the driven person who accomplishes task after task and yet be unable to enjoy rest or appreciate the people who make our tasks functional and possible. We can be the person without a care in the world – too the point that bills don’t get paid, thus depriving ourselves of the ability to be care free.  Balance is a word that we hear often and here’s a personal example of how I try to achieve some balance. 

Out of the mishmash of my life and choices has come an inordinate dependence and enjoyment in scarcasm. I shall not speak for my siblings but if scarcasm were a dialect then the Harding household had its own personal dialect. 

For me, I have found that a tendency towards scarcasm is a sign of a critical, and often, harsh spirit. Condemning would be a proper word. 

For all the laughs that the Babylon Bee offers there is the side effect on my attitude and treatment of others and for me it isn’t worth the jokes. 

Destroying the poor Scarecrow

scarecrow-in-overallsI don’t know about you all but life can seem to come at you fast. We eat fast, drive fast, attempt to bank fast, and on and on we could go. About the only thing we do slowly is watch TV, or possibly scroll through our social media.

As a result, we find ourselves feeling as if we have to make decisions quickly or form opinions in a matter of moments. Thankfully, there is Google and Twitter to help ensure that we form the correct opinion or vote for the correct person. To be more succinct, we are far too willing to let others decide and opine for us as long as it does not contradict our current focus and desires.

I would argue that many times the proof that we are actually thinking for ourselves is found in the contradictions that we experience and confront. The problem that I want to address today is what happens when we find ourselves attempting to defend the opinions of others that we have hastily adopted as our own. In these situations, the only thing that will do is to round up a straw man, or woman, and beat them down mercilessly.

The fine folks at Merriam Webster (m-w.com) describe the straw man in this way:  a weak or imaginary opposition (as an argument or adversary) set up only to be easily confuted

Straw men and straw women are awesome! They will wear whatever clothes – or argument – that you throw on them. They do not respond and they are so easy to skewer. In fact, the presence of these characters of straw only seems to embolden our positions as our voices grow louder and louder in the arguments.

Straw men can be used to attack religion and they seem to really excel. However, if a religious person is allowed the use of a straw man they can just as easily destroy any contrarian argument. This is probably the most attractive quality of these dusty creatures in that you can change your opinion about a subject and be just as skilled in destroying opposing opinions within a short amount of time, as the learning curve on straw men is extremely short. You cannot file to run for public office unless you have demonstrated sufficient skill in destroying these fearful creatures of the garden.

For those who claim to be a child of God then the following verses from Philippians 2 speak to how our speech and attitudes are to be shaped. If you would not claim to be a child of God or doubt the reality of God then the challenge would be to ask yourself what is so appealing about arguing with an unresponsive dummy, when your very reality depends on being correct.

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, if any consolation of love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by thinking the same way, having the same love, sharing the same feelings, focusing on one goal. Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus. Philippians 2:1-5

If you desire an example of a straw man then I’m sure that it wouldn’t be too hard to find someone in some public space holding forth on their victory over a wobbly scarecrow.

Refrigerator Art

“Mom, it’s terrible! I went across the lines, and my black crayon wouldn’t do the shoes right! I hate it!” With the last exclamation the 7 year old dropped the offending artwork on the kitchen counter and collapsed into a chair. With her head in her hands she still managed to keep one eye on her mother as she reached for the latest rendition of her child’s horrible art.

As a parent of 4 children, one of whom is currently 7, I have had this type of event happen with me on occasion. There are normally two possible outcomes to this situation and while one may be preferred above the other, the child wins either way.

In one scenario the mother responds by overly praising the artwork. Instead of just accepting the art and proceeding to hang it on the fridge the mother gushes over the dress and condemns the bad black crayon for its inability to operate up to snuff. If the child really gets her going, the mother may even agree to buy more crayons or, better yet, markers. Surely, the princess’ artwork cannot be left up to the folks at Crayola. The child is overly praised and leaves the room pleased with herself.

In the second scenario the mother may respond with a critical eye. She may give the child directions on how to stay within the lines and she may even point out that a crayon sharpener was bought for just such a crayon as the black crayon. In a push to make the little darling even more of a perfectionist she may point out some things that the child didn’t complain about; such as the fact that most princess’ dresses are pink or blue and not brown. The child realizes she did not please her mother and is pleased with herself for beating her mother to the condemnation.

This is a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s dangerous. It causes us to depend upon our own reasoning and ability. It inhibits our faith and leaves us looking to others for confirmation or condemnation.

As adults we probably don’t spend a lot of time crying over refrigerator art but the other topics in which we can participate in self-fulfilling prophecies are seemingly endless. This isn’t the way of the people who have joined the Kingdom of God.

When the Apostle Paul wrote to encourage Timothy he made this statement one of the first statements in his letter:

Therefore, I remind you to keep ablaze the gift of God that is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but one of power, love, and sound judgment. 2 Timothy 1:6-7

Speak out of power. Speak with love. Use sound judgement and leave the spirit of fearfulness which seeks to control the response of others in self-fulfilling prophecies. And if you have a few minutes take a listen to this song, Refrigerator Art, by Allen Levi.

 

I am with you always

Fear

And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age

I’m one of those who has found that it is easier to talk about what it ‘means’ to be a Christian than it is to talk about what Jesus actually said. I think this is something that we can all fall victim to as we find it easier to pair our ideals and desires with lists and functions that we seek to apply to everyone. It is much more difficult to love your enemy, bless those who persecute you, and do good to those who despise you. To illustrate; in all of the sermons that I have heard about Jesus’ indignation in flipping the tables in the Temple not one has referenced the fact that those he angered that day he offered forgiveness while he hung on the cruel cross.

When Jesus spoke the words above it was difficult for his listeners to imagine what lay before them. 40 years later the city of Jerusalem would be completely destroyed. More than one Roman Emperor would send armies to the city over a 4-year period during which many Jews were slaughtered mercilessly. Eventually, the Roman Emperor, Titus, would lay siege to the city and destroy it completely.

During these 40 years the Jews who became believers were murdered and killed by their own countrymen as they shared that Jesus was the true Messiah. Their message of Jesus’ salvation for all would have caused them even more grief in the 4 years that the Romans laid siege to the city. And yet they had been tasked by Jesus with sharing through his power and his authority.

Jesus’ reminder was there to help free them and us that one currency that has been used by the Deceiver and our Accuser for centuries: fear. Fear of consumption. Fear of rejection. Fear of loss. Fear.

If you doubt the motivational factor that fear provides I would challenge you to consider some of the means that we use to get our children or maybe a co-worker or an employee to do our wishes; I’ll take away your toys, I’ll send you to your room, and on and on could go. Sure, we might actually do those things at times as punishment for disobedient children or even for uncooperative employees but many times we speak the words hoping that their revulsion to the fear will motivate them.

There is no fear in the Kingdom of God.

Then Jesus came near and said to them, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Baling Hay is Easy


Baling hay is easy. Sure, you’ve heard the horror stories about the heat and the dust, but they’re really overblown. You lift the 70lb bale off the chute and stack it on the trailer. If you’re really smart you can build several platforms of bales that you climb to stack the new hay on. For a 15yo boy who was fairly active it was good exercise and made me feel like a man. 

What I didn’t understand was why these folks had waited to ask my brother and I for help. You see, as we approached the barn with our first load I could see that the only empty spot in the barn was where we were pulling the trailer – and there was still a lot of hay left in the field. The farmer and his wife, who were both closer to 70 than I was 20, then explained what was about to happen. 

I then discovered that putting hay away is an entirely different story. Focus. Pain. Dust. Heat. Fatigue. More dust. Unbearable heat. More fatigue. This farmer had filled his barn to the rafters. It was now our responsibility to fill the rafters. Each bale had to be dragged through a space that was barely large enough to crawl thru and wedged next to another offending bale. All the while this farmer pointed and prodded us to make sure no space was wasted. 

The difference between simply stacking hay on a trailer and cramming it into the overheated rafters of a tin-roofed barn is similar to having a theology and living with Christ as our focus. I have sure bailed a lot of hay as I’ve spent time telling others what I believed. It’s when I’ve begun to make Christ my focus that I see my enemy as my friend and am willing to bless those who would persecute me. 

I’m a long way from having this thing figured out but let me quickly remind you of Peter’s lesson from Jesus. Jesus was earning his disciples of the danger of leading children astray. As he pointed out that anyone who misled the children should be punished he gave them guidelines for dealing with someone who had wronged them. Peter, being the sharp thinker that he was saw an opportunity and sought some clarification from Jesus. 

What Peter wanted to know was exactly how far he had to go. Jesus’ answer was simple and concise: You don’t stop. 

You can read this story in Matthew 18 as I leave you with a few more words from Jesus. 

“You have heard that it was said, Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. For He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward will you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing out of the ordinary? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Control and it’s function

I love to read about history. From a young age I’ve dreamed of what it would have been like to travel with Lewis and Clark, rustle steers with Billy the Kid, stand with Jackson, charge with Custer, ride with Ford, march with Black Jack, or land a Hellcat on the bobbing deck of an aircraft carrier. This simply puts me among the many who have ever opened the pages of a book; a dream to live in a time that has come and gone.

As I’ve grown older I’ve realized some things about myself and my attachment to what is past. There seems to be a melancholic strain within each one of us. Some may lean towards the trumpeting section of brave men and women who lived as if life was simply to be conquered. Others may strain to hear the simple accompaniment of the cello and notice those who have toiled along giving peace and comfort to those around them. Still others seek to separate the orchestra in groups and pretend as if they are not all necessary to create the wonderful beautiful sound that can almost overwhelm our souls when every note harmonizes perfectly.

Why must it seem that we constantly move in a circular pattern? Why is it that smart people; people who have great wisdom and ability in their fields of study and work become so simple when it comes to their cultural choices and their promotions of leaders? Why is it that we at all times seem destined to repeat that which we have read about in the past? Why can we not see that riding in a train with no brakes is worse than plodding along in the dust?

In my state today it is Election Day. We are primarily voting for our local representatives; sheriff, commissioner, clerk of court, etc. As I cast my vote I think of Adolf Hitler. I don’t think of Adolf Hitler because of any of these candidates but rather because Adolf Hitler was himself elected into power by a group of intelligent, industrious people, the German citizens of the 1930’s. Yes, I know that in 1933 Hitler called for new elections and his party manipulated and bullied those results. However, the irrevocable fact is that Hitler began his career because others were willing to bet on him. In retrospect this is almost unbelievable.

Why did they do this? Why do we elect people whom we never hold responsible for their actions or avoid speaking against when it is potentially harmful to us? For me much of this answer can be found in the story of Israelites and their desire for a king. There was no king at their head when Pharaoh threw them out of Egypt. Nor was a king present a short time later when Pharaoh’s army was destroyed in the Red Sea as he sought to reclaim what he mistakenly thought belonged to him. No king gave the order to march around Jericho, nor was it a king that ordered an attack on the Philistine nobles that resulted in the deaths of many of their leaders, in this instance it was a blind man who called out to God for the power and hope that he had abandoned by serving himself. Yet, they wanted what they felt they must have to be like the nations around them – a leader who would put their interests first. (Read about this throughout Judges and 1 Samuel)

Folks, it seems to be man’s self-focused, self-reliant nature that calls out for a king. We must have someone to rule over us! Even those who claim they don’t desire a king would gladly submit to a king if they could receive what they wanted and desired. Our thirst, our desire is the same desire that flooded the minds of Adam and Eve as the Tempter twirled his evil lie; you will be like gods!

It is authority that we lust after. It consumes us. It propels us and in the end it leaves us slaves to those who would gain from our willingness to sell our souls for a momentary feeling of greatness or self-assurance. Remember the words of Jesus: Then Jesus came near and said to them, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Don’t claim authority over anything, for you don’t have it to claim. Don’t seek authority over anything for it’s not yours to earn or possess. Live in His authority. When we live in His authority the circular pattern of our culture may not change but for the believer there are two large signposts constantly pointing out a straight and narrow path before us:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart

Love your neighbor as yourself