Good Odds Going On?

citycouncilIt’s warm today.  And dry.  In February.  And the next week of weather forecast appears to bring more of the same.  So it came as no big surprise—a little, for sure—to find seagulls flying overhead this morning, even though I live about an hour from the Pacific Ocean.

Yes, friends, the drought that has hit me and my southern California neighbors is taking its toll.  For once, we’re thinking of ways to not use as much water as we usually do.  Do we mellow if it’s yellow (yes, I said it)?  Perhaps not wash down our driveways everyday?  A whole new sense of responsibility is hitting us (do sense my sarcasm here).

Seriously, though, the oddness of the weather is just one factor in my own life of the oddities of life.  And as I look at these places within me, I notice that there is a strong drive to make things easy.  To make them right.  To make them…controllable.  The activities of my life must have some aspect of control, lest I get jumpy, anxious, grumpy, out of sorts.

You’ll remember in the movie Horton Hears a Who that Mr. Mayor’s city council was quite determined to the same thing.  When the mayor announced that he had noticed tremors, clouds swirling in the sky, and that sort of thing—“odd goings on”—the council was determined to make sure that they were indeed good odd goings on, all for the sake of maintaining a face of calm and control even when the evidences showed otherwise.

So, whether seagulls fly over your Omaha skies or clouds swirling in the skies show up outside your window, may each of us be willing not to hide ourselves from the truth that is at the end of our noses.

Reliance

It’s the Christmas season.  The weather outside in southern California is not too frightful, but it recently brought a sickness to our home where words like “sore throat,” “phlegm” and “vitamins” were part of our daily vocabulary.

And wouldn’t you know, my schedule was quite busy, where there was enough to do that a day off, while probably needed, was not that easy to come by.  And so the choice was to either push through on my own strength or to admit my inability to do it on my own.   And it’s always easier to do one over the other.

This was also Peter’s journey.  As the Lord called Him to climb out of the boat and walk on water, Peter was faced with a similar situation—to admit that he could not do the seemingly incredible task on his own.  And so he stayed afloat as long as he kept his eyes on Jesus.

In this busy Christmas season, we, too, have the invitation from Jesus to rely on Him in our own lives’ situations that seem all too ominous, to keep our eyes focused on Him and remember that we cannot do it on our own.  As we follow Jesus, may we remember that He goes before us as He did for His disciples into Galilee, and look for His presence at this busy time of year, keeping our eyes fixed on Him and admitting to ourselves, and to others, where we could use their help, want their assistance, and need their grace.

Remaining Grounded in a World of Ungroundedness

In recent weeks, my extended family has experienced some crazy events that have really left all of us unglued. Some of us are sad. Others are angry. All of us feel frustrated at the situation we’ve been put into.

At first glance, a time like this is one of those times to rip your hair out and scream. Yet, if one can step back a little from our scenario, it’s a time to take a deep breath and seek out where Jesus is moving in the midst of it all. And He’s there. He’s there in the family conversations already had and still to be had. He’s there in the support from friends near and far. He’s there in the gentle reminders that what’s taken place is indeed impactful, yet not defining of who we are. Rather, it’s a reminder to remember who we are in Him as we turn to Him.

It’s a time to remember that our delight is found in the Lord and in His word. It’s a time to remember that our roots are deep, like this tree in Yosemite planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither, that whatever we do in the power of the Holy Spirit will prosper. Amen.

Flavor of the Month

Back in the day, Baskin Robbins used to have a flavor of the month.  Remember that?  And it would be something pretty special.  A unique combination that you’d want to be sure to try because you knew you would like it.  Well, fast forward some years later, and a part of me has taken a liking to the idea of problem of the month.  It’s gotta be something pretty special and doesn’t everyone want to know about it because you know that they’ll want to worry about it with you.

 

In recent months, it’s occurred to me that my flavor-of-the-month syndrome doesn’t really help me much.  Because as soon as one perceived problem is solved another one pops up to replace it.

The truth of it is that so much of my worry is learned.  I’ve learned over time that it’s normal to worry, that something in my life must bring me to a place of fear and dread.  And yet in the back of my mind another part of me knows that problem-of-the-month just doesn’t cut it.  It’s the part that wants to believe Jesus words in Matthew 6 when He told His followers:

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?

And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin.  Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 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. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own (Matthew 6:25-34).

Live for today.  Remember that Jesus’ Father knows what we need—that is, what we truly need.  And in our seeking first God’s kingdom, it will all work out.  That’s been the journey as of late.  And it’s been fun to see how God has showed up “more” than He has previously.

Try it with me this week.  And as you do, remember that we’re in good company!  The Apostle Peter encouraged those to whom he wrote his first letter to cast their anxieties on God.  King David asked God to search him and know his heart in Psalm 139.  May we follow their examples, be brave and rest in the fact that God is right next to us in our own lives.  And may you remember that as we seek His kingdom, all else falls into place.

Burnout and the Willing-Doing Gap

I’m back from my travels. Great to be home, great to have caught up with friends and good to put the suitcase away for some time. Having not been on the road for awhile, I’d forgotten what it was like to catch a plane here and ride the rails and have a meeting there all while trying to have some semblance of rest and peace. Needless to say, I feel for many of my fellow Americans for whom this is the norm.

One of the main things I saw during my travels was the effect of burnout—long-term exhaustion and diminished interest—in the workplace and in the Christian life in general. Many of the people I saw and even new folks I met in passing told me of their busy lives and how that lifestyle does not help them to rest or connect well with God. James Bryan Smith in The Good and Beautiful God talks about how the number one enemy for Christian spiritual formation is exhaustion and that we live beyond our means not only financially but physically as well.

Oftentimes we believe that if we just try harder in the spiritual life, things will get better. Yet this belief is false. If we’re to have any long-lasting impact in how we counter burnout, we need to slow down, which is quite a paradox from the “try harder” mentality we might usually think would work. Theologian Klaus Issler says that “willpower alone was never meant to carry the weight of right living. It is too limited to defeat the various temptations we face and to change the sinful habits and compulsions we have developed over a lifetime. Will power is also too weak to bring about positive change—we cannot will joy, peace, kindness. We can will certain actions, but not character traits. Rather, as Jesus taught, our mode of life is primarily directed by our inner life or heart.”

May each of us this week examine our lives and see where we are nearing burnout. Let’s also take Smith’s suggestion of sleeping more so that we can be more alert to others, our selves, and to God.

Try this with me this week (quoting Smith): “At least one day this week sleep until you cannot sleep any more. If you need to, find a day when you can sleep in. Your aim is to sleep, or stay in bed, until you can finally say, ‘I am completely rested. I do not need to sleep or stay in bed a minute longer.’” As you practice this discipline this week, what, if anything, did you learn about God or yourself in the process? Keep me posted on how you progress in this easy way to fight burnout in your life.