The Solo Crisis–Ecclesiastes 4:7-8

The lonely blogger is having an existential crisis today. After posting to this space for four months in a row, I determined to “sharpen the saw” and attend a WordPress conference. Over the last hour, I sat through a keynote address that left me thinking–and you have to imagine a powerful voice with reverb here–I am completely out of my depth.

I just want to write. I just want to share my struggles to discover wisdom with an audience. That’s it. But it sounds like, if I really want to accomplish this and get more than 13 hits a day, I’ll need to learn a hundred different technical factors or hire technically-minded people.

My crisis is this: I don’t always play well with others. That’s why I like teaching college English. They point me to a classroom and send me 24 students, expecting that I’ll achieve the course objectives and turn in grades 16 weeks later. That’s my perfect world, but the WordPress camp suggests that I’m doomed. I’m the “person without a companion” that Solomon mentions:

Again I saw futility under the sun. There is a person without a companion, without even a son or brother, and though there is no end to all his struggles, his eyes are still not content with riches. “Who am I struggling for,” he asks, “and depriving myself of good things?” This too is futile and a miserable task.

Ecclesiastes 4:7-8

Struggling Alone

As an introvert, I find this a frustrating and daunting couple of verses. Some of the people I know–I’d call them friends, but I don’t have all that many people who rise to that level–are natural extroverts and cooperators. These people maintain a vast network of contacts and know how to work with those people in a variety of ways.

But that’s not me. And I believe that even some of these extrovert networking types go into an introvert coma when the subject turns to matters of the spirit. Those extrovert people I know might go out with three complete strangers for a golf tournament and, by the end of nine holes, know the names of the other guys’ kids and have a skiing vacation planned for next January. But when one of those guys gets serious and says something like “Guys, I pray about it all the time, but I just can’t shake my porn habit,” the others will quickly steer the conversation back to golf or kids or skiing.

Getting in Tune

Many people–and I think it is men more than women–have a hard time talking about the serious issues of Christian discipleship. Instead, they tend to try to do a free-solo climb up the mountains of this world. But that’s not God’s plan for us.

In Luke 9, Jesus sends those first twelve disciples in pairs. That on-the-job training apparently yielded results, because in the next chapter, he’s sending out 72 disciples, again in pairs. Even Jesus Himself, the man I tried to describe as an introvert recently, took the disciples to support Him in Gethsemane.

Some things we have to do alone, but God gave us other people for a reason. We’ll grow more when we struggle together.

What’s It To You?

Am I a terrible person because one of the highlights of my week comes after I return my grandkids to their mother’s house early on Sunday afternoon. It’s not that I don’t love the daylights out of them and not that I don’t enjoy their company a good bit of the time. What drives me bonkers is the way that they pick at each other.

One of them specifically has moved into a season of life when he seems to love nothing more than to point out his brothers’ flaws. This Sunday, he exploded when one brother dropped a loose piece of trash on the floor at the church. Then a few minutes later, he was laying into his other brother over some hyper-important detail of a video game.

Although this sort of thing makes me a little bit crazy, I have to note that the behavior is not unique to a preteen boy in Kansas City. Almost universally, people do a better job of seeing the issues with others than they do with seeing their own.

This morning, I was reading over John 21, when I noticed the curious piece at the chapter’s and book’s end. After going through the whole “do you love me?” exchange with Jesus, Peter looks over his shoulder and spies John. “What about him?” he asks.

When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about him?”
“If I want him to remain until I come,” Jesus answered, “what is that to you? As for you, follow me.”–John 21:21-22

“What is that to you?” That could be the most significant question that Jesus ever asks. In fact, in John’s account of things, these are the last recorded words of Jesus before His resurrection. It’s not that John didn’t think that Jesus spoke the Great Commission and related things just before He ascended–after all, John was there–but for his gospel, these are the words that John elected for a closer.

And what profound words they are. Essentially Jesus is asking, “Why are you concerned about his fate? Just follow me.” Let’s apply this to today:

  • Why do you care if your brother drops a piece of paper? You follow me!
  • Why do you care if your brother is wrong about a video game? You follow me!
  • Why do you care if this sister has more talent than you? You follow me!
  • Why do you care if that brother doesn’t stick to his diet? You follow me!

Obviously, Jesus wasn’t calling Peter to apathy. After all, he’d just told Peter to feed the sheep several times. What he was calling Peter to do was set aside that very human tendency toward jealousy and comparison.

Following Jesus, we’ll need to keep our eyes on Him. If we also feed and care for the sheep, then any spare attention we have has just been claimed. If I dedicate myself to those endeavors, the opportunity to covet and compare almost totally disappears.

As for you, follow me. Indeed.

 

Head to the Potter’s House–Jeremiah 18:1-2

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord:  “Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.”–Jeremiah 18:1-2

id-10032215Supposedly, the famous photographer Weegee, Arthur Fellig, when asked about the secret to taking stunning photos, shared this advice: “F/8 and be there.” The f/8 part of that, if you’re not a photographer, refers to the aperture setting on the camera. Frankly, I don’t think that the f/8 part was what Weegee meant to emphasize. Instead, he wanted to impress on his hearer the notion of being there.

Do you want to take a great picture of a sunrise in the mountains? You’re going to need to be in the mountains, ready to shoot, before the sun breaks the horizon. Do you want to get fabulous shots of wildlife? You can’t expect to step out of your minivan, snap a couple of exposures, and step back in. Good photos come from photographers who go to the trouble of being there and shooting lots of shots while they’re there.

I’m reminded of that today as I read about Jeremiah’s encounter with God. I have to admit that, had it been me, I’d have probably been saying, “What? Go to the potter’s house? But the Royals game is on! Can’t you just tell me here? Maybe I’ll go there tomorrow when it’s not raining. That’s okay, isn’t it?”

But to get the word of the Lord, Jeremiah had to do it on the Lord’s terms. He had to go to the potter’s house. Why? I don’t know, but what rational person argues with the creator and sustainer of the universe?

How often do we miss out on the messages and blessings of God because we resist going down to the potter’s house? We want things according to our own desires and our own conveniences and our own expectations. Perhaps the first step in allowing the potter to make a beautiful vessel of us is to acknowledge that we’re nothing but clay.

 

Get Fit with 10 Easy Rules!

make-disciples-92814-1-638In a post at Health.com, Catherine Benedetto shares the “10 Rules Fit People Live By.” Besides ending that title with a preposition, I find Benedetto’s prescription just a trifle simplistic. Take for example, her second rule: “Maximize Inner Motivation.”

To do this you need to be absolutely clear about why you want to get fit. “Figure out what’s really important to you,” Harper urges. “Do you want to lower your blood pressure? Fit into a size two? Or do you just want to feel better?” Motivation that lasts can’t come from an outside source—like your doctor or a loved one who wants you to slim down. It has to come from a personal, deep-rooted desire for change.

That all sounds reasonable enough, common-sensical enough that you really wonder why it found its way onto the pages of a website. I can imagine someone reading that and saying, “Yeah! That’s so right. I need to get inwardly motivated.” What this article does absolutely nothing about is giving practical advice on how to maximize inner motivation. Pretty much all of the platitudes that make up the other 9 rules for fit people follow that same pattern.

Of course, a fitness blogger isn’t the only person who might be tempted to dispense bland, simplistic advice. Notice that Jesus did not take his followers out to the Mount of Olives and say, “Go and provide generic ideas to all people.” He told them to make disciples. Discipleship, like effective fitness coaching, requires a lot more effort than a 10-rule list. It will be messier, but it will produce results.

 

Without Delay–Mark 1:19-20

When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.

This morning, when I rose, I heard the blower on our woodstove still pumping warm air into the house, nearly eight hours after I had last added wood. Should I desire I warm house in the morning–and for the sake of this discussion, I’ll pretend that we don’t have the furnace as a backup–then I have to make sure to put a full firebox of big, high-quality wood in the stove just before I turn in for the night.

But actually there’s more to it than that. To stoke the fire just before bed, I need to have a stack of firewood sitting outside on the porch. And to have the firewood on the porch, I need to have split and stacked it by the barn. And to make that happen, I need to have cut it to length in the woods and brought it up to the barn. I could go on by speaking of the need to have chainsaw oil and sharp chains, but I think you get the picture. Most things worth doing require preparation.

There’s one word in today’s passage that suggests to me that–Sons of Thunder or not–the sons of Zebedee were not impulsive young men. Rather than just blundering out on the water, these men sat with their father “preparing their nets.” They must have understood that in order to get the most of their fishing labors, they needed to perform all the proper preparatory steps.

That’s what makes their obedience to Jesus “without delay” all the more remarkable to me. These fellows, unless they just really wanted to get away from home, don’t seem the sort to run off after the first shiny thing that appeared. They would prepare, but in this case they didn’t.

I must confess that I rarely follow Christ with reckless abandon. I don’t abandon the good and important work that I find before me, work that my family approves, to chase after this rabbi from Nazareth. But shouldn’t I?

Wouldn’t the church be stronger if the prudent and judicious people followed Jesus without a thought to the worldly ramifications of their deeds? Sure, it’s folly to go on a mission trip where you don’t know the language, but go anyway. Maybe it’s nonsense to charge into some exciting new program, but if that is Christ’s call, then let’s do it. Sometimes I think we use “preparing our nets” as an excuse to avoid an uncomfortable obedience.

 

 

 

Clothes Make the Man?–Mark 1:6

John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. –Mark 1:6

Standing at the checkout stand at our local Wal-Mart on the first day of deer season, I noticed two men, probably father and son, dressed from head to foot in camouflage gear. Actually, I exaggerate. Besides their various Real-Tree togs, these guys had on hunter-orange hats, a sensible way to keep from getting a 30.06 bullet headed your way from a less-than-attentive hunter. Clearly, they had been out in the deer woods that morning. Their lack of euphoria suggested to me that they’d not filled their tags just yet.

As someone who has spent several fruitless hours waiting for Bambi to stroll into the crosshairs, I don’t mention the guys at the store to mock their lack of venison. Instead, I just wanted to point out that when you dress like a deer hunter, people can generally tell that you are a deer hunter.

Apparently that’s the reasoning behind Mark’s inclusion of these details about John the Baptist’s attire. What is the well-dressed prophet wearing today? Apparently it’s a hair garment and a leather belt. We learn in 2 Kings 1:8 that Elijah not only wore such an outfit but could be identified by it.

Of course, everybody who dresses in camouflage is not a deer hunter. Everyone who dresses like a prophet is not a prophet. In order to fill out their outfits, they both need to walk the walk, actually sitting in a deer stand with a rifle at dawn or dusk, or speaking the word of the Lord. When somebody dresses up in a particular way but doesn’t live the life that accompanies the clothing, we consider that person a pretender.

What does the well-dressed Christian wear these days? There doesn’t seem to be much of a dress code when it comes to following Christ. One family in my church, a father and two sons, typically come to church wearing Christian-messaged t-shirts. While their clothing choice doesn’t make them faithful followers, it does seem to place a burden of behavior on them. If these guys show up buying a truckload of beer or robbing a store, it’ll look about as out of character as the deer hunters buying Justin Bieber posters.

The vast majority of us have not been and never will be called as God’s prophets, but we do have a calling to follow. Dressing the part does not require anything terribly specific, but acting the part cannot be optional. May our words and deeds be ones that allow others to know who we are and whose we are.