The Timeless Influence of Example

With wide-eyed enthusiasm and a hand clutching a host of wealth, almost daily my 2nd grade son bounds into the house with items he found on the floor of the bus.  Consisting of anything from half-used erasers, discarded dime-store toys, or the occasional lost Lego piece, he proudly presents them to us, the result of his keen eye and ever-aware mind.  For those who know me, I similarly enjoy poring over other people’s discarded household items, looking for the untapped properties of usefulness that were most likely overlooked by the previous owner.  My “resourcefulness” knows no bounds as not only do many of these riches adorn my house, but I’ve even furnished an entire stage production with lawn-tossed furniture.  So it should come as no surprise when, at an elementary school event, my son’s eye flickered over to something colorful and interesting on the floor.  He quickly bent down to pick it up, inspected it closely, dismissed it as not worth his efforts, and put it back.  I turned to my wife and laughed about how he picks up garbage in an attempt at treasure-seeking, to which she responded, “Well, where do you think he gets that from?”  What’s even more amusing is where I got it from.  As a child, my father and I would wait for what was dubbed “Clean-Up Week” in our town, a twice annual celebration of junk where homeowners could put anything and everything at the curb.  With flashlights firmly fixed in hands, we marched to our empty station wagon that would quickly fill up, much to my mother’s dismay.  As you can see, it’s a trait that’s been passed down through generations, whether purposefully or inadvertently.  Parents and authority figures, whether we like it or not, have strong influences on the younger generation, one of which the scripture writers were also aware.  There is an explicit responsibility for parents and teachers to bring up children in the correct way, but there is also an unspoken almost subconscious teaching that occurs in that same relationship.  Proverbs 20.7 writes: “The righteous lead blameless lives; blessed are their children after them.”  This verse leads us to believe that there is a cause and effect between the righteous ones’ choices and their children’s outcome.  We as Christians, by following God’s intended plan and path, heap blessings on those that we influence, thus giving us a responsibility to follow in His ways.  When we choose not to, we are not only negatively affecting our own lives, but also the lives of those who look to us for example.  As a teacher, I warn my students that they will end up being just like their parents, a song usually accompanied to the tune of groaning with a chorus of eye-rolling, but the truth is that they are destined to follow in their ways.  As parents and teachers, we can’t help but influence our children and students.  But where we falter is when we fail to put our best example and efforts forward, thinking that no one notices or will be subjected to and influenced by it.  When we choose to follow Christ, although He may take our yoke upon Himself, we also put upon ourselves a yoke of example and instruction: we directly influence those around us.  This week, take a good look around you as to who is watching.  Be keen and observant, looking for those who look to you for example.  More than likely, there are more than you think there are.  Then, because your impact is great, walk in His ways for their sake.  Following is the best form of leadership you can model.  Amen.

Finding Focus in a Proper Perspective

I don’t know about you, but if I take a look at my life from the wrong perspective, I find that I can really get myself down and incensed.  There are many times when the frustrating aspects of my life tend to get the better of me, and I begin to see the world in terms of its failings.  For example, this past week, I began reflecting on the role a few authority figures have in my life, and I began to be filled with indignation about the unsatisfactory job they are doing.  I started to write long speeches in my head of what I would say to them if given the chance and how they would finally realize the negative impact of their actions.  I then turned to individuals in my life who are trapped in endless cycles of self-destruction and launched an interior tirade laced with lessons on the proper principles of living and outrage regarding how these destructive practices negatively affect those closest to them.  My mind raced on and on as my intentions were squarely set on how these people needed to fix their lives because we were fed up with their ways.  I became so consumed with these intentions, that I was suddenly awakened from these misbegotten-musing when in an unrelated conversation, an editorial reading was suggested to me that was published last Christmas.  Entitled Moments of Grace in a Grim Year, the article suggests that we tend to summarize and quantify our lives through the negative moments instead of the hopeful ones.  Citing a 1968 occurrence, while we were embroiled in Vietnam and plagued with violence and assassinations, the Apollo 8 had sent a photo of the Earth as it was rising over the moon, putting into perspective the troubles we were experiencing that year. The article then continued in citing how difficult a year 2015 was, what with our various shootings, racial disparities, and ever-roughening politics, but that if we look at the good that was accomplished in that year (the positive global response to refugees, the Parisian climate change agreements with 195 nations, our country’s ever-increasing inclusion of immigrants both illegal and legal), we gain perspective on the ills that plague us; it’s our focus that is all wrong.  Paul wrote about this misguided perspective in Romans 8.18, about how we should not center on what is wrong in our lives but what is right: “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” For Paul, the things he was currently going through, although horrible, all came to nothing when he focused on God’s glory.  If we are viewing the world for all its misgivings and faults, of course we will be disheartened.  But it’s not the world that is off, it’s our perspective.  Going back to my original predicament, I can easily focus on the people over me and my accompanying displeasure, but I can also look at the blessing of having a wonderful job filled with lots of people that I look forward to seeing every day.  I can zero in on said individuals self-destructive behaviors, but I can also be thankful that they are in my life and will love me no matter what.  When we shift our mindsets from what is wrong to what is right, we find consistent reason for praise and celebration; we can more easily see His hand in all things.  Like the members of Emanual African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston who, when a racially-motivated shooter took nine, choose forgiveness and unity over hatred and vengeance, we too can look towards the good in life and find His blessings and mercy.  With the correct focus, your perspective and approach to life will change for the better.  Amen.

Feeling the Choice of Love

If you pay enough attention to advertising, you’ll notice that we are bombarded by choice in our lives.  According to a recent survey, we are exposed to approximately 3000 advertisements per day, which means that we are being given 3000 choices in these ads every day.  We can choose to have better breath, cleaner skin, shinier floors, trendier clothes.  One choice that I rarely if ever see in advertising, is the choice for love.  Often, love is portrayed as a moment of exhilaration, a point of sudden clarity, one filled with overwhelming emotion towards another where we become weak in the knees and in our constitution and can’t help but be taken over by these incredibly powerful feelings of desire for action.  In fact, if we are to believe movies, the process of decision-making when it comes to love is not present at all.  Love instead is a constant feeling of falling; it’s as involuntary as breathing; it’s something that just happens to us.  Yet, I’m sure when we wake in the morning to find our beloved next to us, covered in the glazed veneer that comes with sleep, love isn’t the first, or maybe even the fiftieth, feeling we feel.  In the heat of argument, when we are sometimes at our worst, we don’t feel helplessly in love with our mate, either.  The feeling of heated love may diminish as the years go one, so where is this feeling of love that songstresses so often croon about in ballads?  Our viewpoint on love tends to be romanticized, and we are too often led to believe that if you don’t feel consistent hopeless, helpless love about the other person, then something must be wrong.  You’ve lost that loving feeling, and you should probably move on.  Much like our earthly relationships, the same is with our feelings towards God.  We love to feel His love that dictates our love to others, but when we look to Him and don’t feel that life-changing love that we sometimes do, we feel that there’s something wrong and we shut down.  In Matthew 22, when the Pharisees question Christ about what the greatest commandment is, He responds with, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (22.37).  In this passage, Christ uses the word “love” not as a noun but as a verb.  Here, it is an active word indicating action and not feeling.  We might not feel love towards our mate, but should we choose love in that relationship, we make the decision that leads us towards actions that show love, instead of waiting around for feelings that motivate us to action. Choosing love dictates our actions, not the other way around where the actions of the other selfishly dictate our feelings of love.  We may not feel love, but when we choose to love that person, we grow in a loving relationship, and our actions dictate our feelings.  If we desire a close relationship with God, we must actively love Him and not sit around waiting for us to feel His love.  Love is a choice, not a feeling.  We must chose to love God even when we don’t feel love.  If we wait to feel His love, we then resort to bad decisions and poor choices, missing out on the blessings that await us when we choose to love Him.  Sometimes, the onus is on us to choose love.  This week, don’t wait for the feelings of love to overwhelm you to the point of action; choose the actions of love and enjoy the feelings that come with it.  Amen.

The Wisdom to Wait

Wandering through the amusement park, we had our destination set and our rides prioritized.  We were going to keep focus on the bigger rides earlier in the day, as the lines tend to build up as the day progresses.  With those rides on the other side of the park, we passed several other lesser rides whose promise of fun tempted us to them, deciding that we had enough room for them in our schedule.  A few rides later, along with some games of chance, we found we had missed out on the short lines, only to find a several hour’s wait when we finally got there.  Our decisions to take up the opportunities along the way lessened our chances at the bigger prizes down the road.  Lately, I found that my prayers have changed significantly regarding the things for which I’m praying.  Where I once used to pray for opportunities to change my world, the people in it, and my situations, with a desire to bring great change and victory for God and His kingdom, I lately find myself praying for wisdom, instead of opportunity.  As such, this approach has led me in different and unexpected directions.  I was recently offered an opportunity of church leadership where I would have opportunities to direct others, affecting a strong positive change in my environment.  The opportunities flashed before my eyes, as I considered all the chances that could be coming my way and how I could shape the outcome of my church through this position.  Now, the previous me would have jumped at the chance immediately, going for what is right in front of me, thinking that I would be winning great victories for Him by taking this opportunity.  However, having been praying for wisdom, I brought this decision to God, seeing if this new role was part of His larger plan.  As it turns out, God revealed that the time was not right, so I passed, knowing that my current course of action was to remain in its place.  In our Christian lives, when we are called to action, there is a distinct difference between hesitation and applying wisdom to choice.  Although I’m not really sure what His larger plan is for me, I know that it’s in place, and my current activities (writing these devotionals) is a direct component of it.  Even though I’m not sure where it’s leading, not really even knowing the effects they have, God has given me the wisdom to know that He is calling me to write as a contribution to my church.  James 1.5 suggests that, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.”  Of all the things that God offers us, wisdom is one of the few that we don’t seek often enough.  We desire and seek His love, acceptance, and ultimately salvation, but once we have these items, we tend to mindlessly float in the spiritual ether of Christian good feeling that is created around us.  Wisdom awaits for us in abundance, but we shun it too often for emotional fulfillment.  With wisdom, our decisions change course and we ultimately head for a greater destination.  I frequently tell my students to take opportunity if it comes your way, but they also need wisdom to sort out opportunities and choose the right ones, not just any one.  Much like my walk through the amusement park, wisdom helps us to turn away from the ease and temptation of what is directly in front of us, expecting the better unseen in its place.  This week, seek challenge over gratification and pray for wisdom.  A greater end awaits you.  Amen.

Trusting to Jump Without Risk

As the seller for the 50/50 raffle passed by, my instincts told me that I should purchase some.  At three for $5 and seven for $10, I felt it necessary to increase the odds of my winning by purchasing the full amount, times two.  Twenty dollars later, when it came time to draw the winner, I quickly figured the odds of winning and saw a decent chance.  So when the winning number was called, I scanned my tickets only to find it not amongst them.  It was a calculated risk that didn’t pay off.  We tend to take a decent amount of risks in life, and with risk there is the chance of great reward, but it is also tinged with the knowledge that there will be a chance of failure, too.  Similarities can be drawn between the concepts of risk and trust, as both involve a stepping out into an unknown where uncertainty exists on the part of the one stepping out.  It can seem that way when we don’t have all the answers.  Case in point:  picture the image of a small child sitting on a high ledge, where his father tells him “Jump, and I will catch you.”  As far as the child is concerned, there is an element of risk and danger involved, one where the child may get hurt.  Yet from the father’s perspective, there is no risk at all, as he is fully aware that he will indeed catch the child without issue.  So it must seem to God when looking at us, His followers.  When He tells us to take a leap in our faith, we too often associate that stepping out in faith with taking a risk, one where there is an element of danger and a possibility of failure, but to God and His promises, there is no risk involved, only trust.  In Malachi, a prophesy is delivered to Israel where the priests are being challenged in their actions.  They have been called to step out in faith, but hesitate to do so, holding back their offerings:  “‘Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it’” (3.10).  The idea of a tithe is that it is an offering that God has called you to give with promises of blessings in return, yet the priests in this story hold back some of the tithe, thinking that they need it, that the blessings will not be enough to cover the sacrifice.  They associate faith with risk, and God tells them to test Him.  Similarly, we hesitate to step out in faith because we associate trust with risk, and we limit His blessings by limiting our sacrifices, trusting in the tangible instead.  We see our broken heart as we hesitate to trust, limiting His healing.  We see debt as we hesitate to give, limiting His returns.   We see the frustration of our situation as we hesitate to hope, limiting His renewal.  If you boil down the Bible to a series of promises from God, you will see that God desires a trusting relationship, not one built on risk and chance.  He is faithful to His promises, put there so that we could put our trust in Him, eliminating chance and risk altogether.  When we needlessly hesitate, we limit the rewards.  So, this week, jump without hesitation.  Know that He will catch you with a host of blessings waiting for you.  Amen.