Monday, May 24, 2021

Bob Ross and God

 He's one of the most soothing personalities ever to appear on television. Joy and peace pour forth from his words. Bob Ross inspired countless viewers to paint, and he brought joy to the rest of us with his canvas magic.

Watching Bob Ross leads you down a constant path of cringing and relief. He begins with ugly blobs of color that quickly become recognizable and then beautiful. When the scene takes shape, he inevitably mars the beautiful landscape with destructive, oil-based funk. Then a few strokes later, the new image immerges. With a few more strokes the scene is more beautiful than ever.

On our vacation earlier this month we pulled up a Bob Ross episode. He went through his predictable, jarring pattern, time after time. At one point as he ruined his masterpiece, my daughter said, "Well, this is Bob Ross, of course, and I trust him." Bob knows what he's doing. He mixes odd colors together on his palette and makes new and beautiful shades. He takes errant brush stokes and turns them into "happy little trees." He puts formless paint on the canvas and quickly brings it to life. Then he adds depth and reflection.

So is the work of God in our lives. Unexpected circumstances or people come our way, and mar the landscape of our lives. The colors of strange experiences mix together to make hues we never desired. Ugly colors coat our preferred happiness. Then over time we can see these problems turn into something beautiful. The ugliness gives way to beauty, a deeper beauty than we ever imagined. Mistakes become happy little trees or grand mountains of meaning.

This is God's painting and we can trust him. And with that trust comes peace and joy.



Monday, April 19, 2021

Rest for Your Soul

I enjoy information, learning, processing. But I also struggle with getting to it all. I want to know about current events, biblical archeology, theology, gardening, literature. I enjoy reading, but it's hard for me to keep up. I am notorious for letting magazines--about stuff I care about--just pile up, month after month. When I finally get around to the magazines I often find issues that are over two years old. Has it been that long since I sorted through this stack?  

At some point, all this good information becomes a burden. I find this especially true in my email inbox. I subscribe to plenty of ministry newsletters. They all have so much compelling, important information. They have current events in evangelicalism, the latest leadership techniques, ways to set goals and improve communication. Many of them want to sell me this Bible study program or that sermon series. Does ministry need to be so commercial?

Then there are all the farming and gardening newsletters. Improve your soil. What to plant now. How to get rid of weeds. How to make market your produce. How to care for your livestock. How to take care of your equipment. How this successful farmer does it all.

It's all good. But it's too much. At least it's too much for me. Clearing out my inbox feels like a full-time job. I find a lot of freedom in deleting newsletters without even reading them. I have unsubscribed to many.

I need some space, some time, some breathing room. In this pandemic, it feels more important than ever. 

I keep coming back to the words of Jesus: "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." --Matthew 11:28-30



Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Experiencing Time

It’s coming soon: that weekend when we lose an hour of sleep. We lose an hour so we can save an hour of daylight. Have you ever saved an hour of daylight? Hmmm.

 I do like saving time. When go on a long trip in the car, I try to see how quickly we can arrive (without really speeding, of course). I like to beat my previous record. I might save 15 or 20 minutes. Yay! I like short cuts and learning how to avoid heavy traffic. And I can save time with a microwave oven and a cordless drill. I can save time with careful organizing and delegating.

Where is all that time I have been saving?

What have I done with all that time? The shortened travel time, the organization, the planning, the delegating, the proper tool usage—surely these have saved me hours, days, weeks over my lifetime. So what have I done with all that time. Maybe I had more time to read, more time for conversation, more time to relax. Usually, though, I take that time and try to cram more tasks into it. The never-ending list of responsibilities never gets fulfilled. I might tick off another thing or two, but the value of those completed tasks is often so fleeting.

Maybe I could stop being obsessed with saving time and start experiencing time. Live in the moment. Don’t obsess about the next thing. Be here. A wise person said, you can't manage time; you can only manage yourself.

If I can experience time, it comes alive. I experience it and remember it. I welcome God into the moments and he takes charge. That time is more than saved. It’s invested.



Monday, March 1, 2021

Losing Leverage

I am learning to spot my patterns of thought. I am constantly working to turn things to my own advantage. Any object, situation, relationship, or circumstance could be an opportunity for me. I can harness it, build something out of it, network with it, preach about it, or share it with a friend. A sunny day needs to be leveraged for outdoor stuff. A new acquaintance builds my network of friends. A fallen tree is firewood or building material. A cancelled meeting gives me time to catch up on my reading. My mind is bent on maximizing every opportunity.

 That is a matter of stewardship, of course. Paul tells the Colossians to make the most of every opportunity (Colossians 4:5). But this way of thinking also becomes a burden. I even feel like I have to maximize my times of quietly sitting in the Lord’s presence. What did I get out of that 20 minutes? Could I have gotten more?

Working to leverage everything becomes tiring. It keeps me from purely enjoying the moment—its depth, wonder, beauty, peace, simplicity. I miss out because I have to make sure that I don’t miss out. I’m focused on myself, not the Holy Spirit.

At some level I feel the pressure of Jesus’s parable in Matthew 25. You probably know it. That’s the story of the man who plans to go out of town. Before leaving he entrusts sums of money with some servants. He apparently expects them to invest the money and make more. When the master returns, some of the servants had doubled the money. The master praises them, saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” The servant who failed to invest his money is treated harshly and called “wicked” and “lazy.”

I want to be a “well done-r,” not a “wicked lazy-er.” That creates a relentless drive to maximize every opportunity. That drive can get us out of sync with the heart of God. We can work so hard for his commendation that we lose sight of his love. We want to make ourselves look good, especially in comparison to others. So we turn the work of God into competition. And we lose the joy. We actually miss opportunities to express and share the love of Christ.

I want to stop leveraging every opportunity to make myself look good. It’s not about me. I can stop engineering circumstances to my advantage. I can enjoy the beauty of a day or a flower without stressing over how I can use it. I can welcome friendships as opportunities to love others, not enrich my network.

I never really feel like I measure up to the, “well done” commendation. Maybe if I truly seek to love God and to love people... maybe that will be doing well. Jesus seems to say so.



Friday, February 19, 2021

Ready for Resurrection

This pandemic-induced season of hibernation makes us long for resurrection. We are ready to come out of the grave. We are ready for new life. This may be the most profound Easter season of our lifetimes.

Our most powerful experiences come after seasons of preparation. "You get out of it what you put into it." 

I went to see TobyMac in 2006, probably my favorite concert ever. He was featuring songs from his new album "Portable Sounds." It was a small arena, with probably 2000 people there, no seats, standing crowd. It was great music, great vibe, a great connection between artist and fans. I got into it. I had bought the album about a week before the event, and had listened to it a couple of times. After the concert, I listened to the CD over and over. I really let the songs get to my heart.

Then I realized that the concert would have meant so much more to me if I had really known the songs before. It was a great show, and I loved it. But I would have experienced it more if I could have freely sung along and danced with abandon.

That's how it is with Easter. The more we prepare our hearts, the more we can sing along and dance with abandon. The season of Lent encourages that effort of preparation. We look more deeply in the mirror, so that we can gaze more gratefully at Jesus.

We are beginning a new series at Crossroads this Sunday, "Ready for Resurrection," based on Genesis 3:17-19.

February 21, Humble Dust
We remember how frail we are and how prone to mess up.

February 28, Cursed Dirt
We dig into the frustration of having to fight for survival against the elements of creation.

March 7, Food Fight
The struggle of finding food is often lost on us today. But this battle is real, and it's heating up now.

March 14, Work of Work
Making a living means toil and sweat, but it still should be a blessing.

March 21, Life Cycle
Death is now part of life, and it's all part of a much bigger story.



Thursday, February 18, 2021

What's Lent all about?

I remember Lent from my teenage years. My friends at school would talk about what they would "give up for Lent." I didn't know when Lent started, but I knew that it was somehow connected to Easter. At  least I knew that my sacrificing could stop after Easter. In recent years, Lent seems to be catching on in wider circles among believers that I know. So, what's it all about?

The word "lent" literally means "lengthening (of days)," and the German word for spring is "Lenz" (from dictionary.com). According to wikipedia.com, the exact origin of the celebration of lent is uncertain, but it seems to date back to around A.D. 325.

Baptisms were often done on Easter, and candidates for baptism were encouraged to fast leading up to the ceremony. This linked the fasting of lent with Easter. People may fast from certain foods, beverages, or practices. The 40 days of lent recall the 40 days that Jesus spent in the desert, being tempted by Satan. There are six Sundays in the the season of lent, and fasts may be broken on those Sundays. So the whole season of lent lasts 46 days.

Today lent is celebrated as a time of preparation for Easter. In order to experience Easter fully, you need to have the right frame of mind, body, and spirit. The practices of lent help a Christian better understand the suffering, sacrifice, and compassion of Jesus. 

More about preparation next time.



Thursday, January 7, 2021

The Lure of Certainty

What really tempts you? Recognition, wealth, health, power?

Reading about the temptation of Jesus in Matthew (4:1-11) this morning, I noticed something. There are three temptations. First, Satan tempts Jesus to turn stones to bread. This temptation makes sense. Jesus had been fasting for 40 days. Obviously he was hungry. There's no reason for the Son of God to be hungry, now, is there? We easily understand the temptation of food, even when we aren't hungry.

The third temptation in Matthew is also easy to understand. Who would not want all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor? Satan offered this to Jesus, if only Jesus would worship the devil. That's a big payoff for a mere gesture of worship. 

But the second temptation is curious. Satan told Jesus to throw himself off the highest point of the temple mount in Jerusalem. Why would he be tempted to do this? Most of us have little difficulty avoiding throwing ourselves off tall buildings. What could Jesus possibly gain from this stunt? Worst case, Jesus would be dead, from apparent suicide. But Satan assures Jesus that God will command his angels to save Jesus. So the best case is that Jesus is swept up from the fall by angels and safely placed on solid ground. This would certainly boost Jesus' fame, and potentially spread his message faster. But maybe the real temptation was something else.

Maybe Satan was tempting Jesus to gain certainty. If he jumped off and splatted on the ground, it would all be over. But if he were saved miraculously, then Jesus would know for certain that he really was the Son of God. There's proof positive. Notice that Satan's temptation begins with "If you are the Son of God..." The payoff, the temptation here, may not be fame but certainty.

Jesus was willing to find his certainty in his trust of the Father. He did not need a stunt to prove anything. His certainty came from relationship.

Many of us want certainty now. We want to know that we can take that vacation this summer. We want to know that we will have a job again in three months or that we will still have a job next week.

I don't know what stunt we could devise to be sure about the future. But I do know that God calls us to trust him. Living by faith is trusting God, especially in times of uncertainty.

Jesus told his followers that he would be with us until the end of the age. Let's live like we believe it.

The Western Wall of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
The pile of stones in the distance is the rubble
of the Temple building, thrown down from the Mount
in A.D. 70 by Roman soldiers.