And Forceful Dogs Lay Hold of it …

It’s 8:00 Saturday morning, and I’m sitting here in the quiet drinking my coffee, trying to catch up on my mail.  Zack, one of my dogs, has been sitting at my bedroom doorway, grunting a bit to get my attention.  He’s already been out, had his morning snack, and it’s too early for his morning feeding.  His immediate needs are taken care of, so what’s this grunting all about?  Can’t be anything important, I think, so I turn back to my computer screen and resume my reading. Suddenly he jumps up in my lap, nearly making me spill my coffee, forcing himself between my arms as he makes himself comfortable. But he’s content now, cuddled here in my lap even as I type.   His need for attention and affection apparently would not wait.  

But his assertiveness compells me to stop what I’m doing and think.  There’s a powerful message here, something stirring in my memory, a moment of spiritual recognition of truth.  And it suddenly dawns on me: this is how we should be with God and with our lives. “From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it” (Mt 11:12).  

Zack knows I love him.  He knows I’m willing to hold him, to pet him, and that I’ll interrupt what I’m doing to attend to whatever he needs if he’s persistent enough.  And sometimes, like just now, he won’t wait for me to initiate the affection. 

This is what we are supposed to be like.  We all know that God loves us, that he cares for us, that he wants the best for us.  Jesus describes him as the loving Father, yearning for our presence, to gather us in his arms, and eager to help us.  And like a Father, expecting us to grow, become mature and functional in life and in our relationship with him.  He expects us sometimes to take the initiative.

The advancing Kingdom of Heaven that Jesus speaks about is not a place, it is simply the reign of God in our daily lives. It is the divine presence at work in us and through us, touching the world around us.  The Kingdom of God is an active force in this world now, energized by God’s power, governed by his principles, enacted by his people as we put his teachings into practice.

What is striking to me as I consider this, is that this leaves no room for passivity — either in life or in our relationship with God. 

How often do we complain (even if just secretly to ourselves) that we wish God would show us his love more, or in a more personal way?  How often have we quietly expressed our frustration at the lack of “real” signs of God’s power in our lives?  Where are the miracles, the signs and wonders?  And why don’t things work out better, a little easier for us, or the way we expect?  Sure, sometimes we’re not ready to have our prayers answered, and God withholds things from us for our own safety, but what about when we ARE ready?  Maybe we’re too busy — too busy waiting.  Perhaps we’ve settled comfortably on that verse that says “those who wait upon the Lord will renew their strength.”  But what is that renewed strength for?  More waiting, or inactivity?  

The power of God never falls upon those who sit passively with their hands folded, eyes perpetually turned to heaven.  Jesus walked the earth, healed the sick, cast out demons, taught and mentored those seeking the truth.  He went off by himself to rest and to reconnect with the Father. He spent time with friends, built loving relationships, went to weddings and dinner parties, fully enjoying being with people.  So much so, in fact, that the religious people of his day called him a drunk and a glutton.  He went about all the routines of daily life, just as we do — but he allowed the love and power of God to be expressed through him in everything he did.  And when he did, it was “by the Finger of God, the Kingdom has come upon you” (Mt 12:28).

So when my relationship with God feels dry and stale, God’s love is waiting for me.  When my life seems uneventful, pointless, and stuck in the mud, he’s made his strength, his power, and his wisdom available to me to help those around me.  Maybe I just need to shake myself out of my passivity, to stop waiting with folded hands for a personal invitation, and get up and do something.  God’s love and power only flow through action. 

Zack could have stayed at the doorway making those little grunts, or he could have given in to the sense of futility and walked away.  But then his need, his desire, would have gone unfulfilled.  Instead, in confidence (dare I say, “in faith”?), he forced his way onto my lap and was rewarded to his satisfaction.  Sometimes in order to experience the love and power of God we’re looking for, a little assertive activity may be required on our part.  Like Zack, sometimes you just have to jump into it instead of waiting for it to come to you.

Just something to consider …

Better a little inconvenience …

Michael brought home a puppy the other day.  Great.  Now we have three dogs.  Oh, don’t get me wrong, he’s cute enough and loveable enough. But he’s a handful.  He chases Zack and Clarice† around, so full of energy.  And you always gotta keep an eye on him until he’s trained, making sure he’s not underfoot in the kitchen, or when you’re walking (anywhere).  Making sure he’s not chewing on power cords or pooping in the corner.  Not that he does those things (much); Michael is very watchful of him.

The past two days, though, Michael has had to be out all day making out of town trips, and I’ve had the pleasure of bearing some brunt of the watching responsibilities.  But my work schedule is less flexible, and I’ve had to put the pup in his crate while I’m at work.  I feel so guilty, so worried, about it, and I rush home for lunch, stay a little longer, and come home a bit earlier at the end of the day just so the little tyke won’t be boxed in too long.  Once at work, I’m fine; I become absorbed in my tasks and don’t fret much until it’s nearing time for me to make my stops home.  And on the way home, my mind races with images of him locked up, wimpering, wanting to play or having to go potty, and whether he’s been holding it too long or whether he’s gone in the crate.  How horrible for the little guy. What if I were to just leave him out, close the bedroom door? Then he’d be free to stretch his legs, chase Zack for company, grab some water or munch on some dry food for those 3-4 hour stretches.  He’s learned to use the doggy-door in the bedroom, so he could go outside if he wanted.

But that’s the problem.  He’s still too young to be left unattended. Zack and Clarice are fine by themselves; they can be trusted.  They’ve learned the rules and know how to be safe and well-behaved.  But little Rascal could chew on those cords, get dangerously caught in something, or if he goes out, might be mistaken by a hawk for a juicey rabbit.  And today I realized that simple truth.  Better to inconvenience him a little, better that he be a little uncomfortable, than to allow him to be at risk or endangered. 

And with that thought came that same nagging sense that there was a spiritual principle to be gleaned there.  How many times have I been “inconvenienced”, or things did not work out the way I’d been praying?  When I felt like I’d been left in a box unattended or fogotten?  How many times had God not given me what I’d requested, when I wanted it, and how I described it?  Why were some things slow in coming, seemingly put on hold for a time, even indefinitely?  What’s wrong with God?  Why isn’t he making things easier for me?

The connection seems obvious, doesn’t it?  And sure, there may be other reasons things don’t work out the way I pray. “You have not … because you ask amiss ….”  Maybe I’m simply not supposed to have or do certain things, and I’m just too obtuse to recognize it yet.  Or maybe there are other things on my plate that I haven’t attended to yet, and my request would be just one more thing to become neglected.

I do not believe God is stingy or begruding of good things.  “Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32).  I’m sure his heart, like mine toward Rascal and the other dogs, is to lavish his love and affection, and not to withhold any good thing from me.  I’m confident he is not trying to make my life difficult just to build character or something.  I have to believe that when he withholds things from me, either for a short time or permanently, it is for my own good. 

If my request is not some frivolous or selfish desire, then perhaps I’m simply not mature enough to handle it yet. Maybe if granted, it would do me more harm than good.  Maybe I’m not ready.  In that case, withholding the thing is an act of love on God’s part.  So perhaps instead of whining about the delay, I ought to be looking for the reason, the area of my life that needs development, growth, or improvement.  Maybe I should take a good, hard look at my life and make sure the groundwork is laid, that I’ve made space for the thing I’m requesting, that I’m at a place where I can handle it, take care of it, be responsible with it. 

I believe God wants to free me from my constraints, wants to let me out to play.  So when I’m feeling stuck in a crate, the variable must be with me.  Am I ready to come out yet?  What must I do to become ready?

My puppy Rascal is energetic, eager to explore new things, and wants to play all the time.  But he isn’t mature enough to handle the liberties and privileges of the other dogs.  And until that time, better a little inconvenience than to place him within harm’s reach.

Just something to consider …

Dogs’ names have been changed to protect the innocent.

Deathbed Priorities

LastHolidayI never understood those movies about a person who suddenly discovers they only have a year to live.  And they make a list of all the things they want to do, like take an African safari, or a dream vacation at a luxury European resort, drive a race car faster than they’ve ever gone, date a supermodel — trying to cram a lifetime of fun in the short time remaining.  Like that Tim McGraw song, “Live like you were dying”, where he went sky-diving, Rocky Mountain climbing, and went 2.7 seconds on bull named Fumanchu (although the rest of the lyrics have some redeeming qualities). To my mind, they all missed the target.  When you’re facing the next life, what do you care if you climbed Mt Everest?

Yesterday, my boss tells me he’s leading the company in the number of hours worked this month.  Of course he’s got a lot more responsibilities than I do, got a lot more invested and at stake in the company’s success.  In our conversation I throw out that old cliché about people on their deathbeds never look back wishing they’d worked more hours.  You have to balance work out with the rest of your life, find your priorities.  And that comment got me thinking about how I should be living my own life.  What are my “deathbed priorities”?

When I face God at the Judgment Seat, I want him to say that I’d completed the tasks he laid out for me.  I want to hear that “Well done, good and faithful servant.”  And that means I’d want to have cultivated a lot closer relationship with him now, here on earth, than I have.  I’d want to have listened more to those subtle promptings of the Holy Spirit to avoid those little traps I fall so easily into, to not say that one poisonous word of less-than-charitable gossip, to have said no to that second huge helping at the buffet, or to not have been so quick to say no to someone who could really have used my help at that inconvenient moment.

On the more human level, I’d want to have listened more to the ones I love.  I’d want to have been more interested, and expressed more love, spent more time with them, and less watching TV.  I’d want to have been more helpful to others instead of being too busy.  A little less focused on my needs, my goals, and been a little more self-sacrificing. I’d give up that grudge and forgive more quickly, more easily.  “Whoever wants to find his life must first lose it.”

I admit: I suck at this.  I’m self-absorbed much of the time, insensitive (and over-sensitive), and, okay I’ll say it, most times just plain lazy.

But for the sake of leading a worthwhile life, I want to focus more on some of those things I’d do if I had one month to live.  I’m going to give God a few more minutes a day of dedicated one-on-one time.  I’m going to pay more attention to my friends, listen more and be interested in their lives, their goals, and let them know they’re important to me.  Love God, love others.  One little bit at a time.

Just thought I’d put that out for consideration …

———-
For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Eph 2:10)

Evolution and the Pulpit

Some friends were recently discussing evolution and creationism on an online community I participate in. Being a group of generally well-educated people, I was actually surprised at the number of them who dismissed evolution entirely and were devout believers in a young-earth.  This was apparently a pet peeve with a number of them because many had really done their homework on the topic.  I have to admit that after all my years in school, I still have no definite opinion one way or the other.  I certainly believe God created it all.  But I’m not willing to put limits on how he chose to do it. 

One of the posters expressed his shock that his conservative Baptist church actually embraced and taught evolution.  His words sent chills down my spine — but probably not for the reason you might guess.  I don’t like secularists teaching theology, and I don’t like preachers or laymen “teaching” science. It’s not a matter of separation of church and state or anything high-minded like that.  It’s simply a matter of expertise.  Growing up in a conservative church, I heard a tremendous load of garbage coming from Sunday School teachers and from the pulpit itself whenever the teachers stepped outside the domain of their authority (Scripture and doctrine) and ventured untrained into the sciences.  It was the blind leading the blind.  Or worse, the blind locking the doors on searchers of truth. Images of bishops debating Galileo flash across my mind.

There is a huge number of believers well schooled in the sciences out there, real Christian scientists, but the rest of us are just interested dilettants, hobbyists. It’s a fun topic to explore, to discuss the implications. In fact, it’s healthy to openly discuss and debate these ideas.  But can we agree that such discussions should never occur from the pulpit?  When people — when we — stand in that position, we assume the mantel of divine authority. And in such a position, I would hope we would stay within the realm of that authority: Scripture, sound doctrine and theology. Our role is to lead others to God, to instruct them in the things of God and help them grow.  Not try to debunk the latest scientific trends.  Teach Genesis, teach creation, teach the principles the God of the universe would have us learn from Genesis.  But if it’s not described there, then as teachers of others, let’s not jump into it.

Okay, that’s my rant for the day. Why should preachers or teachers lose their source of power and step into an area of impotency?  

But for the rest of us hobbyists outside the pulpit, let the discussions continue …

Steve