Category Archives: bible reading

trimming.

I keep mail lists, just in case. It’s what everyone says to do if you want to sell online.

I created one for Lent, one for this project, one for that project. Each of those lists was for a good idea, an occasionally helpful project. After all, I wrote the Nehemiah book to an email list. It gave me purpose and accountability to have to send a conversation with Nehemiah out every Sunday afternoon.

But there is a cost to maintaining those lists. Part of the cost is financial. My Mailchimp account has charges associated with tiers of numbers.

PruningBut there is another kind of cost to maintaining possibilities. The “what if” and “I should do this sometime” projects create a weight on our hearts and our plans. If we have the list, we tell our selves, we can maybe do more to offer impact. If we have the list, email theory tells us, we have more opportunities to monetize. To make money through selling to the names on the list.

In my writing, that’s a risky thing to try. I remember a few years ago on a Bible reading project I was doing. I sent out a followup email using the statistics available to me. I quickly heard back that the person didn’t appreciate my spying on their reading. And they unsubscribed.

(This is different from the friend who has worked with me to see whether Mailchimp can keep no trace. It’s not about me in this case, it’s about the notion of tracking. And we’ve decided that there isn’t much we can do.)

Last week I sent out emails to a couple of my lists.

“Thanks,” I said, “for being part of that project. If you want to hear from me from time to time, you can sign up for Social Media Chaplain updates. But I carry forward too many threads and so I’m going to delete the list you are on.”

And on August 23, I’ll delete them.

I want to suggest to you that you might want to do a similar pruning of your archive of “what if” and “maybe someday” and “It’s a great idea for them”. I’m thinking that the good but not essential things I drag along might be part of why I’m dragging.

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I’m not deleting the list for 300wordsaday.com, by the way. That list of some of you, which carries just this blog, is too important to me.

Simple compassion.

HelpIt was a very challenging day for Northern Indiana. Which meant that it was a very challenging day for people working in the hospital. Which meant that it was a very challenging day for chaplains.

As each new unrelated event happened, coworkers would look at each other and say, “What is going on?” Some people decided that it’s the eclipse effect. It’s probably not.

At the theoretical end of my shift, as I was walking back to the office down a back hallway, a nurse said, “You’re going the wrong way. You need a little desk in our area.” She was almost right, given the day. And she was teasing. But we had a good and honest and helpful conversation about our work. And I felt less crushed.

Later, in another area in the hospital, I was waiting for a coworker to copy a document. Someone said, “You need this,” and handed me a cookie, double chocolate. The kind that my friend Kent calls “energy bars.” I was grateful. When I walked back through the unit I told her why.

I think that when we read Jesus saying, “love one another” we think big, expensive, dramatic thoughts. And that may be true. But most of us are in the middle of really long days doing work that we love and that often costs us more than we want to acknowledge to each other. And what we need to offer and receive is conversation and compassion and courage and chocolate chip cookies.

Nothing more. But nothing less.

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The mug is available at chaplainmugs.com

It’s not up to you.

So after suggesting that we aren’t as alone as we feel and that you aren’t really the worst failure in the world, we come to our third reminder for what feels like the worst day of your life: You don’t have to fix yourself to make God happy.

We make the wrong connection between God’s love and our actions. We say that God’s love, God’s openness to us, affection for us, willingness to die for us, depends on how deserving we are, how good we act. We work really hard to live up to what God must want.

committed completelyAnd on really bad days, sometimes we think that we have to make ourselves better for God to pay attention to us. That’s why we try to make deals about what we’ll do if God fixes things. And, I suppose, it’s why we then are frustrated when God doesn’t keep his part of the bargain, the one that he didn’t actually make.

God’s attention to us is more compassionate. Paul says:  “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” And then he says, “For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

But this isn’t to say that there is no connection between God’s love and our actions. There’s an calling and opportunity to show God’s love in our actions. As we understand that it isn’t our actions that make God love us, we can act in a loving way because of love.

And we can stop blaming God for punishing us or being afraid that we’ve offended him or thinking he must be trying to get our attention on what feels like the worst day of our lives.

Sometimes on what feels like a terrible day, God is with us, God doesn’t regard us s a failure, and God’s not waiting for us to fix things. Sometimes, on these days, God is quietly speaking and reaching out his hand, for a person he loves very much.

Like you.

Not as bad as you think.

The second truth on what feels like the worst day of your life is this: You aren’t really the worst failure in the world.

wavesAfter the feeding of the 15,000 and Jesus spending time on the mountain while the disciples rowed into the wind, Jesus came walking to the disciples. When Jesus identified himself, Peter said, “If it’s you, command me to come to you.” Jesus said, “come” and Peter was walking on the water toward Jesus. He realized how strong the wind was. And Peter went down.

Many people have talked about that moment and have turned this into a story about not doubting, about continuing to look at Jesus.

And it is likely that Peter may have lost faith for a moment.

But he was walking on the water when it happened. Seriously. He.Was.Walking.On.The.Water. He was out of the boat. He was looking at Jesus. He was moving.

You know, it’s possible to describe Peter as the second biggest failure in the Bible. Paul is the first one, of course. Paul was killing Christians.

But Peter argued with Jesus. Peter questioned Jesus. Peter denied knowing Jesus. Peter fell into the water. Peter could have been viewed as the worst failure among the disciples.

And Jesus loved him, forgave him, rescued him.

On the days that feel like they must be the worst day of your life, even if you’ve done those things, even if you feel like God must be forgetting you because you are such a mess-up, relax. Peter, at the time, was at least as distracted as you. And Jesus grabbed Peter’s hand over and over and over.

So please listen to this. (And remind me of it) You aren’t as bad as you are afraid you are. And God’s not as mad at you as you think he is.

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Tomorrow is the last of the things to remember on what feels like the worst day of your life, but isn’t.

You only feel alone.

I mentioned that Elijah had been polishing a speech for God. Here’s what happened for the six weeks before he talked at God on a mountain after hearing a soft wind.

For the previous 39 mornings, Elijah awakened in the wilderness. He was on a cross-country hike to this place, this mountain. He’s been preparing this speech for that whole trip, planning exactly what he was going to say to God, to complain to God.

He was alone in the wilderness, not eating, just trekking.

Two mornings before that, Elijah was on another mountain, praying for rain.

There hadn’t been any rain for years, not since Elijah had told King Ahab that the rain would stop. Ahab and his wife Jezebel had led the country into disobedience. God was ignored completely. And the rains stopped.

tea-mountainsAnd 42 days before this day before God, Elijah challenged the prophets hired by Ahab and Jezebel to a divine duel. There were altars with gallons of water poured on top,soaking the wood. There was fire from heaven, consuming the altar, in one of the comparatively few examples of fire from heaven.

God won. The rains came. And then Jezebel threatened to kill Elijah.

And Elijah started running for his life toward God. He laid down and begged to die.

When he woke up, there was an angel. Elijah felt alone but God assured him that he wasn’t God also provided supper, and then, after another nap, breakfast before this 40 day journey. And God even provided a safe place to sleep.

We’re never alone. We always have God. But often, as God told Elijah, there are faithful people that we can’t see. But God can.

Just because that person says they want to kill you doesn’t mean that they will or can or should.

So on what feels like one of the worst days of your life, you aren’t as alone as you feel.