Don’t try this alone.

I was driving to work, listening to Philip Yancey and Lee Warren conversing on Lee’s podcast. Phil’s working on a memoir. So I started thinking about my own memoir. I thought, “What have I accomplished in the last ten years?” And of course, I mean, what have I accomplished that matters.

The first thing that I wrote as I was driving was “small group.” We have a group of friends that we could call if our life collapsed. We have a group of people we can meet for supper, because we do it almost every Saturday night. We’ve watched family deaths, a wedding, a birth, hospitalizations. We’ve talked about the previous Sunday’s sermons for five years.

I smiled. If the only thing I’ve been part of in the last decade is making Saturday feel empty if we aren’t with our group, I’m pretty pleased.

I kept listening to the conversation. The last question Lee asked was, “What one piece of advice can you offer to someone to help tomorrow be better than today.”

Phil talked about a book which starts, “Life is difficult.” He talked about the fine print warnings in car ads, which read, “Profession driver, don’t try this at home.” He said, “Because it is difficult, life should have a label like that.” He said it should read, “Don’t try this alone.”

rob and meNow I laughed. The very thing I had just realized mattered so much was the thing Yancey identified as essential. He’s got credibility. He’s wrestled with questions about pain and God and suffering for thirty years of books.

I’m not a relational person. I’m introverted and more task-oriented than I let on. But I know that I need to be with people, that that it is in our love for each other that we obey Jesus.

I hope you find some together time this weekend. Because we can’t do this alone.

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Here’s more about our sabbath group.

Bowling stories.

I put my bowling ball in the dumpster.

Goodwill doesn’t take bowling balls.

It’s monogrammed. It was custom drilled.

But the initials aren’t mine. The hand it was customized for wasn’t mine.

I’ve had this bowling ball for thirty years or so. I’ve used it twenty times in those years. It was always too heavy. It’s a 16-pound ball. The grip was always off a little. I often wanted to think about trying a different ball, but this one was mine.

I don’t know where I got it. It was someone else’s trash or garage sale. At most I spent fifty cents for it. And once I paid the price, I carried the weight.

A couple years ago I decided to get rid of it. That’s how I found out that Goodwill doesn’t take bowling balls. One day I thought, “I wonder what it would be like to roll a bowling ball down the long center hallway at our church.” So I took it to work. It’s fun. A couple other people tried it and laughed. Because no one ever rolls a bowling ball down the hallway at church.

Even though I wasn’t a good bowler, even though you can use bowling balls for free, even though it didn’t fit, I kept it. I made it part of the quirky part of my identity, or better, it was part of what made my identity quirky.

IMG_1293But I put the bowling ball in the dumpster. Because carrying the weight of the story, the oddness, the salvage, the space under my desk, finally proved too much. I need to let go of some of the objects, some of the stories. Because in my world, everything has a story.

You can’t write new stories if the old ones are always having to be told. And some old stories aren’t worth telling.

I’d rather tell stories, for example, of the rock from the floor of the church in the dump in Korah, or the mug of family photos, or the map of the world. I’d rather tell stories of preparing to run faster by letting go of the things that distract us.

I’d rather be the person that let go of the bowling ball for the sake of things that matter more.

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More on throwing away and Hebrews 12: Applied minimalism.

Mirror realities.

A reflection on James 1:23-25

I look in the mirror when I comb my hair. That happens once a day. Sometimes that’s the only time I look in the mirror. I look long enough to draw a line along a part that has been in the same place for more than forty years, since I went from crewcut to hair. I see the same round face, insecure eyes, staggered tooth that I saw four decades ago.

Sometimes I look in the mirror long enough to shake my head and move on. Sometimes I look long enough to scold myself or call myself a name.

IMG_1100I usually have a picture of myself in my head, but it seldom reflects the image reflected back from the mirror. It’s distorted by memory, by history, by time.

My nose isn’t actually as wide as I believe it to be. My smile is less wry than I believe it to be. I look like my dad both more and less than I think I do.

But I seldom look long enough to see me. The facts as they are right now. And lacking the facts, remembering only the myths I’ve built, I find it difficult to act with confidence and courage and accuracy.

James warns us about this. Not for how we look at ourselves but for how we look at scripture. We glance at it and live our lives based on what we think we might remember. We part our heirs along straight lines.

Which means that we may miss the better way James suggests. Look at the law God lays out, not as legalism but as direction. As we look, long enough to reflect, he says, actually do what we read. See a forgiven face, and forgive. See a loved heart and love. See a healing wound, and heal.

 

 

Notes on teaching

Guest teaching is hard to do. Recently, I was scheduled to teach an unfamilar group. The subject matter, apart from “something that can help them grow spiritually,” was up to me. I had prayed off and on for weeks. Now, it was the night before and I still had no idea what I was going to do.

It’s not that I didn’t have options. I took a legal pad and wrote words across four columns. James. 2 Timothy. Colossians. Nehemiah.

coffee-04-doha-americano

Those represent four books of the Bible that I’ve taught from in the last couple of years, each more than once. I’ve spent a lot of time reading and reflecting. Some of you have read some of my reflections or been in the groups.

Under each, I wrote a theme that I could use to guide the teaching.

  • James – practical obedience.
  • 2 Timothy – last words to an apprentice.
  • Colossians – clear teachings about Christ.
  • Nehemiah – accomplishing a great work.

Each theme resonated for me. Each can be a blog post, a sermon, a teaching series, a book. Each gets me excited. But as I looked at them and thought about the group I was teaching, I felt … nothing.

There is an element of teaching that is more than simply delivery of information. At least for me. I want to know that there is a connection to the needs of the group I’m teaching.

It’s a commitment that I struggle with regularly here. More than content, I desire connection. I want relevance, not in a way that dilutes the teaching, but in a way that allows us all to see that words written millennia ago resonate with our lives.

I ended up with Colossians. There were no voices from heaven, no glowing words on the page. There was just a sense that it was the right thing to do.

And it was.

A dilemma.

After Jesus healed Lazarus from death, the Pharisees had a problem. People were believing that Jesus was telling the truth. About everything. Which meant that people weren’t believing that the Pharisees were telling the truth.

The Pharisees had been pursuing a two-part strategy of debating Jesus from time to time and of folding their arms in disapproval. But the presence of Lazarus as an anti-zombie created an argument too large for tut-tutting.

“If we let him go on like this,” they said in a strategy meeting, “everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.”

They didn’t particularly care that Jesus was successfully conducting a campaign of undermining the medical system, of removing psychological barriers to relationship by forgiving the sin that was underlying the tension. They didn’t care that he was right.

They cared that the equilibrium between religion and politics which they managed to their own benefit was at risk.

Too much unconstrained populist activity and the empire would respond with forces greater than Pilate and Herod. And a young rabbi rumored to have regal intentions was appealing to the people tired of Roman occupation and Pharisaic religiosity.

I understand, by the way.

Those in middle management are always trying to balance forces larger than themselves.

You understand, too.

When, through careful planning and negotiating, you have a solid five-year plan to retirement, or to the sale of the company, or to the kids moving out on their own, or to the marriage happening, or to the degree being finished, or to the lenders being satisfied, or to the reorganization, the idea of a self-styled savior upsetting everything is infuriating.

And if it’s possible that he actually is right and we actually are wrong, it’s terrifying.