- Learn what he said. It seems obvious, but I need to say it.
- Do the things he said to do. Like any good teacher, the learning often happens by practicing, not just listening. Too often we expect perfection. Perhaps he didn’t. At first.
- Do things the way he did them. How did he live his life? What if we attached realistic time to the verbs? Walked from here to there. Spent time.
- Spend time with him. Conversation, hanging out, assuming that silence is presence rather than assuming it is judgment or disdain or detachment.
- Spend time with other people who are trying to be like him. Community. Conversation.
- Wrestle with hard questions. Instead of assuming easy answers.
- Do something that matters.
- Make mistakes. and then listen to his feedback, the way he worked with the 12. Because the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) are full of arguments and mistakes and misunderstandings.
- Talk to the people he talked to, like his dad.
- Be deliberate and intentional.
- Read what he read. We know it as the Old Testament. He knew it as the Law, the Prophets and the Writings.
- Go fishing.
- Pray for those who persecute you.
We’re struggling with some serious illness in our extended family. Hope was talking about it with a friend the other day. “It will be okay,” he said. “No it won’t,” she said. People will die. In the process they will hurt. Their minds will not work right. And other people will get hurt.
That’s why I loved the proverb I read the other day.
Like one who takes away a garment on a cold day, or like vinegar poured on a wound, is one who sings songs to a heavy heart. Proverbs 25:20
Nancy read it, too, and we talked about it while we walked. Before you start singing that really happy song of faith really loud, consider the audience. They may not just have a bad mood. Headache? Death in the family? Struggling with chronic pain? Uncertain about the future? Consider, for a moment, that your cheerfulness might be like acid in a cut.
There are other ways to encourage. Listen. Pray. Do some research to understand depression or dementia or chemo. Pray. Sing the songs to your own heart.
Do I trust in God? Absolutely. Enough to understand that in the short run, many things will not be okay. And, ironically, I’m okay with that.
(First published October 8, 2012)
It happens every Monday morning.
Every Monday is a restart of our pilgrimage. Every Monday we say, “I want this week to be different. I want to be more committed, more caring, more thoughtful, more loving, more focused, more significant, more successful.”
And then we open our eyes. And shuffle to the mirror. And the words of the psalmist become words in our bathroom: “I call on the Lord in my distress.”
Our resolve and our dreams and our plans run into “lying lips and deceitful tongues.”
Have you heard them yet today?
- This food will give you fulfillment, not just fill you up
- That candidate is the worst.
- These three simple steps will make your life easy.
- You will never amount to anything.
Some come from a screen. Some come from faces we know. Many come from the mirror. All run the risk of derailing us. And when we clear our head (and drink a little coffee) we warn the lying voices:
May the way your words stab my heart be pierced the way a warrior’s arrows find their target. May the way your lies cause fires in relationships and raise the gossip heat be burned away with coals of a broom tree.
The images seem harsh, but no harsher than lies and deception deserve when we consider the disruption they bring to pilgrimage.
Every Monday we start new, we will be challenged. We live in inertia. When we want to change our eating, we are surrounded by food ads. When we want to claim our team colors, we are surrounded by opposing fans. When we want to wage peace, we are surrounded by heckling hate.
But a pilgrimage always starts with one step. In the right direction. Like the people who sing Psalm 120 on the way to follow God.
The storm is getting worse by the minute. The small boat they are crossing the lake in is taking on so much water that it’s about to sink. He’s asleep in the back, even though water is splashing across his robe and the boat is rocking wildly. Who is this man?
They wake him up. “Don’t you care that we’re going to drown?” He gets up and tells the storm to be still. Deathly calm spreads across the lake. The clouds disappear and sun comes out. Who is this man?
I invite you to find out more about this man, Jesus. This story may be familiar to you. It is to me, but I’m learning new things about him by going through the four books in the Bible that are dedicated to his life: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Each one provides a different perspective on the life on Jesus, taking the viewpoint of each writer. Matthew includes details that are important to the Jews, who were expecting a savior, the Messiah. (He shows them that Jesus is that Messiah.) Mark gives a fairly short account, not even including the story of Jesus’ birth. Luke writes his account to a friend, Theophilus. John writes to those who were skeptical.
I have been reading these accounts slowly and am finding out new things about Jesus each day I read. Even if you have read these books 300 times, you will find something new about Jesus. Or if you’ve never read them, begin with Mark. Before you start reading each time, ask Jesus to show you new things about himself.
You don’t have to read slowly. Dedicate a free afternoon to reading as much as you can. You’ll get the view from an airplane, rather than from the walking path.
(Paul Merrill writes here every First Friday.)
Jesus said, “But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting.” It’s clear that Jesus was speaking before the amazing power of coffee beans was released.
Yesterday, many people gave up caffeine for Lent. Today, they are waking up. They are taking a couple Excedrin for the pain relief and the caffeine. And they are wondering whether Jesus would mind so much if they just had one cup. Because it’s really obvious that they are fasting.
Those people are walking into work and sitting next to someone who gave up television for Lent. As a result, for the first time in many Thursdays, that person has no idea what happened on CSI. And it is really obvious from the look of confusion on her face that she is fasting.
All across the cubicle farm, dark clouds of frustration gather as the commitment that felt wonderful and noble on Wednesday morning confronts the reality of Thursday.
And that is the point. Thursday is when we make the choice to keep going.
Of course, this is not just a Lent issue. This is a habit issue, an intentionality issue. Every time we take a specific step to focus on God, to be more aware of developing our relationship, there is resistance. Sometimes it is a spiritual resistance, but most often, we are our own resistance. The habits we have formed push back at us when we change them.
Which is why we take these small specific steps at Lent and other times. Because Jesus invites us to break habits of not following and make habits of following. Not so we can impress others; that’s why we do our best to not drag others into our pain. But so we can talk with God about the things we depend on.