The Challenge of Here & Now

One of the main ways to gain more readers is to blog frequently and consistently. I’m where_noweak in both areas. I desire to improve in these areas, but January added a new dimension in daily life; that is, I’m back in grad school, this time in a doctorate program. Yes, it’s my own decision to pursue this next level of study, and I do enjoy it; but WOW, does it take a lot of time. My normal blog writing time is now commandeered by paper-writing. Alas, somehow, I’ll figure out how to return to consistency!

In the meantime, however, I’ve been pondering the future; more specifically, my future. I’m not pursuing a doctorate degree for laughs and giggles, but because I have a dream of a second career. And even though I’ve blogged before about being a dreamer; I’m also realizing some significant drawbacks in always looking toward the future.

A first drawback is future-looking makes living in the present difficult. A portion of my mind is focusing on something else. This means that I’m not giving 100% attention to the here-and-now, I’m not fully living in the moment. Instead, what ever is going on or whom ever I’m talking with, is only getting partial attention. This means I am not fully present in the discussion and I miss details or fail to grasp the significance or gravity the situation poses for the other person.

In recognizing this propensity, I’ve been able to adapt new thought-behaviors. I’m intentionally reigning in my thinking so that I can better zero in on the moment. But it’s not as easy as it sounds.

Part of the discipline of living in the moment is stilling my inner voice. Much of my internal thinking is verbal, so I need to quiet that inner verbosity so that I can focus on the external stimuli coming in from the outside. If the external stimuli run into the wall of inner verbosity, then that stimuli becomes diffused, losing much of its impact. But stilling the inner voice opens this wall like a curtain of a stage and the stimuli can stand on the stage of my mind unhindered.

A second noticeable drawback about future-looking is that, since the desired future is not here yet, discontentment can move in, clouding the skies of joy that God is intending for us. Such discontentment filters the present into nothing but tasks to accomplish, hurdles to leap, or moments to hurry through. Such filtering leads to the development of unrealistic expectations which eventually lead to disappointment. If left unmitigated, such thinking will lead to attempts at overcoming the disappointment by setting even loftier goals, eventually leading to more profound disappointment. It is a doom cycle of thinking that the more I do the better life will be. It is dehumanizing and perpetually self-defeating; devoid of any sense of God’s peace or contentment (see Philippians 4:4-7 and 11-13).

The antidote? Prayer and balanced thinking. God encourages us to bring our concerns to Him so that He then can bring peace into our souls. Alongside this is also realizing that balanced thinking is important. It is important to have dreams and goals; these give us reasons to keep on keeping on. They breed a desire to not settle but to continue to explore improvement.

But they must be balanced. Or to put it another way, we need to be more grounded in the reality of our present situation. I only have so much time in a day; so I need to carefully make room to be present in whatever situations come my way. I still have task lists, but they need to be somewhat flexible. If everything doesn’t get done today, there’s always tomorrow’s list. If someone needs my help now, then I need to recognize that they deserve me to be fully present; this is right thing to do, and I can always return to the other thing I was doing at a later time.

So, here’s to being content in the present moment!

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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.