Chair Thinking

 

blue deck chair

The Blue Chair.

Prayer times outside are my favorite areas for prayer. For instance, from this blue chair I can see the woods behind our house in all of their God-ordained splendor. This particular chair has nice arms for my coffee, my journal and my Bible (which is actually on the iPad that took the picture). And I’m spending time in nature; well, sort of, because the comforts of suburbia are only a few steps away (not to mention coffee refills). But the air is fresh and slightly crisp, the birds are all aflutter and the tiny and shimmering humming birds are especially vocal with their signature squeaky-chirp sounds. back fall tree

 

Jesus spent time in nature. There are many passages indicating Jesus stealing Himself away to be alone in nature with His father. One great example is in Matthew 14:23:

“And when He had sent the multitudes away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. Now when the evening came, He was alone there.”

This is interesting for a couple of different reasons. First, Jesus is alone in the mountains; He’s alone in nature. There’s something about nature that draws many of us closer to God. In nature we see much beauty alongside the wild. Much of nature is predictable but much of it is not and cannot be tamed. God reveals much of Himself in Scripture and, of course, Jesus was (and is) God in the flesh. Still, this same God, the creator of all that is, cannot be tamed, put in a box or outguessed. I get a sense of all this in nature.

Second, Jesus is alone; He’s alone by choice. Oh, I know, God is always with Him; but my point is He is purposely away for other human contact. Not to read too much into this, but alone-time seems to be an important ingredient in our relationship with our Father.
Alone-time means no distractions, no email chimes, news alerts, TV chatter, or side conversations. And, frankly, in this day and time, it is hard to find quiet. In fact, I would not be surprised to discover that many of us are afraid to be alone, to be quiet, to truly be ourselves with our Father. Jesus being alone with His Father is He being fully open and honest with His Father. This means He must be open and honest with Himself; so, do you and me.

What’s really going on deep in the soul? Am I as carefree as some think I am? Am I shrinking in my faith somewhere? On the other hand, where am I truly strong? Is my faith truly enlarging?

Many of these deeper issues crack into the darker recesses of our soul and are best accessed while being alone with our Father in prayer. These are quiet but courageous moments, because it takes courage to be real and be vulnerable with anyone, even in prayer with our heavenly Father.

But another thing you’ll notice about Jesus is He’s not always by Himself. In fact, He is just as often seeking the company of His friends. In other words, Jesus lives a balanced life. He balances time alone with His Father and time with His friends and family. Hmm, pretty practical if you ask me.

And all of this started in the blue chair on the back deck.

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Oops and Grace

I was late to an early morning meeting yesterday. It was our Elder meeting; and I’m the chair. Talk about a recipe for how not to be a good leader! And it was all just so silly.

The meeting started at 7 am and my alarm went off at 5:30, the same time as my work week mornings. I had plenty time to pray, to read, to “coffee,” and hop in the jalopy and head across town. All was going as planned and I was on pace to be early. But as I was nearing the main artery leading over to the east side of the river, I realized I forgot mySatchel wallet. Not only that, I forgot my bag which included my wallet, cell phone and iPad that had my Bible app and the agenda for the meeting! I did, however, remember my coffee.

Crap! I had no choice but to turn around and fetch my satchel. Now, not only was I not going to be early, but I was definitely going to be late; like ten minutes late.

Grumbling before leaving my driveway for the second time, I texted our pastor letting him know of my oops. I was so angry with myself and frustrated. I don’t want to be the reason for the delay, especially since everyone else is sacrificing time on an early Saturday morning.

Finally arriving at the meeting, I felt pretty low and a bit defeated. But the reception I got dispelled my brooding gloom. The others treated me cheerfully, welcoming me with warmth and only polite ribbing. There were no scowls or rebukes or terse greetings. I was welcomed and immediately included in the meeting.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is grace in action. Here I had an oops that was countered by grace. Bullinger defines grace as “an inclining toward, courteous or gracious disposition, friendly willingness; on the part of the giver of a favor, kindness, favor; on the part of the receiver, thanks”*. I was being extended kindness rather than rebuke, and I was, of course, thankful for that. I didn’t deserve the grace I received; but even so, grace is what I received.

God also gives grace. His grace has eternal gifts with it. It is purely by the grace of God that we have salvation in Jesus Christ. Scripture says:

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.
—Ephesians 2:8-9

A couple of verses before this the Apostle Paul speaks eloquently of mercy and grace working in tandem:

But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved).
—vv. 4-5

We have access to salvation in Christ through faith through no work of our own. We can’t buy it, we can’t earn it, we just express faith in Christ to receive this free gift from God:

If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.
—Romans 10:9

That’s it! There are no rituals, no works to accomplish or hoops to jump through, just a simple expression of faith from a sincere heart.

As the Elders showed me grace, so God shows us all grace; but His kindness opens up an eternal destiny to be forevermore with Jesus. So, have you experienced God’s grace yet?

*Ethelbert W. Bullinger, A Critical Lexicon and Concordance to the English and Greek New Testament; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1975, p. 341.

“Obnoxious!” Really?

“Obnoxious,” he said riding by me from the other direction.

High vis“Well, at least you can see me,” I mumbled under my breath. And that’s the point; every wise cyclist knows that the first most important thing about riding is being seen. Drivers in fast cars and big trucks run into that which they cannot see. Thusly, I dress in the high-vis gear pictured here. Okay, so it’s not the most attractive outfit, but ya gotta admit—it catches your eye. On top of the high-vis attire, I also have a bright, flashing headlamp and two bright, flashing tail lights (called torches in the bike biz).

So, how dare he call me obnoxious, especially as we’re both riding on paths shared by pedestrians. Why, I’ll have you know I’m riding wisely and safely; not like him, he had no lights and was wearing dark clothing that was even adorned with my undergrad alma mater—sheesh! But I’m visible.

Mom’s with baby strollers see me, couples with gigantic mastiffs or teensy poodles on leashes see me, and, obviously, other cyclists see me as well. This means no accidents, everyone leaves the park as whole as they arrived. But rather than trading insults, we usually exchange pleasantries like “hello” or “what a beautiful dog” and so on.

Obnoxious indeed!

But then again, maybe he’s right. No, I don’t mean about my on-bike wardrobe, but more along the lines of my thinking. I definitely had obnoxious thoughts about him after that ride-by insult. I compared his poor example to my good example. Then I got to thinking how I often I view certain bumper stickers as obnoxious; or certain body-adornments; or even some t-shirt slogans. Yes, I instantly judge others just as easily as Mister Dark Rider judged me. And that’s obnoxious. I don’t even know these people, I don’t even know Mister Dark Rider. I don’t know their backgrounds, their hurts, their fears, their successes or their failures. I just snap judge them based on some sticky paper attached to their rear chrome. Yes, I’m well aware that people intentionally put bumper stickers on their cars as a statement, often to rile people up; but what led them to feeling justified emblazing that message for all to see? I have no idea.

Another thought occurred to me later in the week. It was easy for Mister Dark Rider to see my “light” due to the high-vis gear. But does the Light residing in my soul by way of the indwelling Holy Spirit shine out as easily? When others see me to do they see Jesus? Do people sense the presence of the Lord in my life?
Jesus said in the Beatitudes that,

“You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill that cannot be hidden. … Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”
—Matthew 5:14 & 16

Maybe God meant for Mister Dark Rider to stir up some deeper thoughts in my soul. Maybe this was a way to allow the Holy Spirit to shine His light into the deeper, darker corners of the closets of my soul. Maybe the Lord was showing me what he wants to work on next.

Could it be that God wants me to be more sensitive to how quickly I judge others on little things like bumper sticker and t-shirt slogans? For behind these little cultural artifacts are hearts and souls that are dear to the heart of our Father. Perhaps the Lord used Mister Dark Rider as a way to move my thinking into a more eternal realm. Each soul, whether draped in high-vis gear or festooned with slogans, are souls that have eternal destinies. Am I helping these souls to consider salvation in Jesus, or do I drive them away?

Hard Lessons

We’ve had a good week. It’s definitely been busy; but at least it’s been a good-busy. It’s weird, though, because sometimes I feel guilty for having a good week when I realize there’s much suffering in other areas of our country. Granted, we’ve encountered our tough challenges as well the past few months with health issues and a pretty significant set-back in the parenting arena. But this last week was a good one.

What I’m learning, and you’d think I’d have this figured out by now, is that attitude and Perceptionperception play a lot of importance in having a good week. I have typically paid more attention to what I think someone else’s perceptions are rather than more carefully examining my own.

For instance, I recognized that challenges I encountered earlier in the year seemed more serious than they really were. So, I asked myself, why? Sadly, I discovered it was because I was perceiving these challenges as a personal attack or some intentional disparagement foisted in my direction.

In discussing this with my Bride she gently recalled the attitude of the older brother in the Prodigal Son parable. He was all bent out of shape because his world revolved around himself. His sphere of perception was barely beyond his own ego. Now I don’t think I was this far gone, but I was not properly examining the motives of others around me; I was, instead, being more protective and self-concerned and therefore misunderstanding other people’s words and actions. Neither my life nor employment were being challenged, no crimes were being committed, I was just uncomfortable with some of the challenges and expectations confronting me and a little jealous of someone else’s situation.

Shameful, I know. God has really blessed me. Yes, I struggle with health issues, but each one can be dealt with and even though my activity levels have been adjusted, I’m still as active as I want to be; I just need to do my activities differently than I used to.

So what am I learning? Well, to have a realistic view of my own perceptions. Oddly, I don’t think this leads to being self-centered, I think it actually leads away from it; that is, if I’m honest. Under the scrutiny of brutal honesty, I am better able to detect where my perception is skewed toward self-centeredness or self-protectionism.

ThankfulAnother key feature I’m learning more about is thankfulness. Scripture encourages us to be thankful. Philippians 4:6-7 encourage us to bring our concerns to God in prayer but to do so with a thankful heart. We’re thankful because the God of the universe cares enough for us to listen and respond to our cares. He may not change circumstances, but He can deepen or sense of peace and joy while also enlightening our wisdom (James 1:5).

Another lesson is being more intentional about keeping Jesus the focus of my life. We are to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, not on ourselves (Hebrews 12:2).

So, the next time I’m feeling stressed or somehow minimized, I need to stop and examine first what’s going on between my ears. Is my mental state appropriate? Is my perception of what’s going on what’s really going on—or am I fabricating a false perception because I’ve moved back into being the center of my universe? I’ll be able to more successfully navigate through this life once my mental state is on the right course and my perception is based on reality and not on fabrication.