Live Into the Freedom of the Battle Won

Sometimes the battle is won by one person giving his life so the others can live. John R. Fox made such a sacrifice.

Fox was a forward operator for the U.S. military in WWII.  In December of 1944 he found himself stationed in the Italian village of Sommocolonia. By Christmas day enemy soldiers had gradually infiltrated the town in civilian clothes.

A German attack from the outside had begun by 4:00 a.m. on December 26. The enemy soldiers who had infiltrated the town bolstered the attack from within and the two groups quickly overwhelmed the American soldiers. Greatly outnumbered, most of the United States Infantry forces were forced to withdraw from the town.

But Fox volunteered to stay behind with a few Italian soldiers as part of a small observer party. They would be “eyes and ears” in the town. He and the others would direct artillery fire from outside the town against the German troops with the hope that the American unit could make a safe retreat and regroup. Fox and his Italian party positioned themselves on the second floor of a building in a spot that allowed him to see the advancing enemy.

By 8:00 a.m. Fox reported that the Germans were in the streets and attacking in strength. He began calling for defensive artillery fire in an effort to slow the enemy’s advance. It quickly became clear that the Germans were going to overrun the streets and outnumber his small group. And if they overran his group they would eventually get to the rest of the U.S. forces. So Fox held his position and radioed his requests.

When evil advances something has to be done to defeat it. And when a mission is designed to defeat it, that mission must be finished.

John writes of such a mission when he tells the story of Jesus on the cross. “When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, ‘It is finished.’” What was finished? A mission that began not in a small Italian town but a gun-free garden. It too had been infiltrated.

From the Garden the battle was on. God had said, “He will strike your head and you will strike his heel.” We see the war raging and evil spreading until we come to a covenant: “Through your offspring all the nations of the world will be blessed.”

We see the battle in Egypt as God frees his people. We see it in Babylon when God brings his people home. And we see it as evil has spread through cosmos and creation when Jesus enters the scene.

He brings God’s kingdom against the “ruler of this world.” He heals the diseased and the demonized. He does battle against anger, lust, swearing oaths, temptation, lying, legalism, false teachings, spiritual blindness and persecution. The battle was against religious legalism and oppression. Against racial and social marginalization. Against sexism. Against cruelty and judgmentalism. All these things were seen as being inspired by the Enemy. Jesus came to “destroy the works of the devil.” And the final blow was found on the cross.

John Fox saw the enemy from his second story perch. They were starting to swarm the city. Evil was advancing. He knew his friends would not stand a chance unless he did something. So he radioed an order to adjust the artillery fire closer and closer to his position. He was warned that the final adjustment would bring the deadly artillery right on top of his position. Fox acknowledged the danger and insisted it be fired as it would be the only way to defeat the enemy.

Jesus ascended not into a second story house but onto a cross. He took the full force of the enemy’s assault on himself—the full force of the consequences of sin we have allowed to reign in this world—and experienced what we would have otherwise experienced.

Satan’s lies were exposed. His “certificate of debt” against us was nullified. Even his greatest weapon—the threat of death—was diffused when Jesus rose from the dead. When you see the ugliness of the cross you see the full force of evil in the world…and the beauty of love.

Next time you hear that voice telling you that you are not worthy or that you did something God could not forgive, remember these words: “It is finished.” Then say, “It is finished. My God forgives. You lied about him all along. You have no power over me.”

Soldiers lived that day because John Fox took the full force of the artillery so others could live. We live today because Jesus took on the full force of evil on the cross. The Enemy bombarded him with his best and most lethal weapon: death itself. And death did not win.

It is finished.

Question: Where do you feel attacked most often? How do you combat those attacks?

 

 

Open Your Family to Those Who Need One

Moms and sons have a special relationship.  A national survey of nearly 1,200 adult children over age 40 were posed this question: If asked to make the choice, which parent would they choose to move in with them?

You already know the answer, don’t you?  2/3 of the respondents chose mom because she would be more help with cleaning and cooking, could help with the kids, would be neater and a better listener.  Dad?  Well, Dad would be messier and more of a couch potato than mom.  He’d have worse hygiene and say inappropriate things and want control of the TV.

Dads, don’t get too upset.  70% of the respondents said that they’d rather not have either parent move in with them.  But mom…it’s you if one of you does.

Mothers and their children, especially their sons, have a unique relationship. And whose is more unique than that of Mary and Jesus? It began with an angel. Gabriel shows up, tells her she is “favored by God,” only to find that means she’s going to have a baby before she gets married to Joseph. She’s a bit confused by this: “How can this be, since I have not had sexual relations with a man?” But she gets an answer: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore, the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.”

She lost him once when he was twelve years old on a trip to Jerusalem. She pushed him as an adult to make wine at a wedding. She even went to get him one time when she thought he was out of his mind.

But the greatest scene for Mary with her son came at the cross. “When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple he loved standing there, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, here is your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.”

A flood of memories from Gabriel through childhood—to now having to watch her son suffer through this gruesome ordeal—cascade over her heart. If there ever were a time she would desire to hear the word “mother” it would be now.

Instead she hears, “woman.” What is clear in the Greek and even in the English translation is the contrast between what Mary may have expected to hear and what she instead received: “Jesus said to his mother, “Woman…”

The word is not impolite. It was a simple, courteous address. But the word was important. With it Jesus redefined family. Jesus is helping his mother see that family ties are not as important as ties between the teacher and his disciples. She needs to be on mission with Jesus’ mission.

As do we. A word from the cross to Mary and John— “the disciple he loved”—is a word to us about finding our identity in Jesus and a new family. We don’t neglect our biological family. But we do gain another one that helps, supports, encourages, and lives on mission together.

So we do what families do. We eat together. We spend time together. We help each other. We give counsel and support. When we do, we follow in the footsteps of the first Christians: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer” (Acts 2:42). We bring others in who have no family.

When we do, we do as John did. Eusebius lived in the late 3rd and early 4th century. He was the bishop of Caesarea and was an historian of the early church. He wrote about the traditional belief that Mary lived with John. He took her with him to Ephesus and was present with her when she died. Each year pilgrims travel to a house a few short miles from the center of Ephesus that some believe to be the house where Mary lived until her death. Jesus’ family became John’s family.

The third word from the cross is a word of devotion. Jesus is devoted to us to the point of death on a cross. Even there he is thinking about his family. Mary. John. You and me. It’s a word of devotion we are to have for each other.

The only choice he made was to include all of us.

Question: When have you experienced “family” outside of your biological family?

Open the Gift that is You

When you’re a young Jr. High kid and you realize there is something you want but you are unemployed and have no way to buy it you can only hope that someone will love you enough to gift you the desired object.

I was a budding tennis player wannabe who wanted to follow in Bjorn Borg’s footsteps. I grew my hair long. I watched every match I could find. I even tried to walk like him. The only problem was I did not have the tennis racket he had. And I just knew that it was the missing piece that would link me to future tennis stardom.

I don’t remember if it was a birthday or just a surprise, but one day I arrived home to find that my parents had found me the holy grail of my tennis world: a Bancroft Bjorn Borg signature racket. Complete with a cover and press.

It was high excitement. They handed it to me in its wrapping and the first thing I did was open it. I examined it. I ran my fingers in amazement at it. I gripped it with my hands—one on the forehand side and two on the backhand.

Maybe you remember a gift from when you were younger that made its mark on your memory. Or maybe it was as recent as the Christmas holidays. Regardless, if you enjoy receiving gifts, then read on. Because gift giving has been around longer than my childhood.

“…grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore, it says, ‘When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.’”

Each person in the body of Christ has received a gift.  The first thing we do with gifts is open them.

How do you know what gift rests inside you? Read the gift lists in scripture. Look at individuals in your life you want to be like in ministry. Pay attention to where you enjoy and have the most fun serving. Make a list of your natural talents and skills. God can use all of them in ministry. Add your g-ifts, i-ndividuals, f-un, t-alents and s-kills together and you will find your “gifts.”

We open gifts. But then we use them. Peter writes: “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace…” Your gifts that God has packaged inside you are not to be held onto tightly. They are to be developed and then used within the body of Christ. You have gifts that will help others grow into his likeness. And they have gifts you need too.

No one has all the gifts that Jesus has given to the church.  But each one has a gift to be used. We need to see ourselves and others in the church as Jesus does. That’s why Paul wrote in Romans 12: “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment…for as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them . . .”

“Sober judgment” means you understand your place in the body and you understand that others have their place. When functioning together, great things can happen. We can fulfill a purpose bigger than ourselves.

One thing my parents did not count on the day I opened their gift was that I also understood the intention of a gift. I wanted to use it. Right then. So they had to pack me and my brother up into the car and take us immediately to the tennis courts. I couldn’t wait for my first serve.

And you don’t need to wait for your first serve either. Open the gift that is you today. Then use it in service to the church and people. In the end, everybody wins.

Question: What is the thing you do best that when you do it you enjoy it and others seem to benefit from it?

 

The Sign Will Lead You to Your Christmas Gift

Finding Christmas presents makes the giving fun. And giving clues as to where to find presents is even more fun. We’ve done that with our kids. Maybe you have with yours. You give them clues that lead to more clues which finally leads to the gift. It might go something like this:

  1. Rudolph is Santa’s #1 flyer. Your first clue is by the washer and (dryer).
  2. Santa’s suit is a very bright red. Now go look where at night you lay your (head).
  3. Santa’s lived long, he’s very old. Your next clue is where the food is kept (cold).
  4. To be on Santa’s nice list you can’t be a grouch. Now look under the living room (couch).
  5. The air in the house can get kind of stale. Get outside for the next clue and check the (mail).

On and on it could go until the last clue says: “You’re tired of looking. It’s almost done. Look under the tree and unwrap for some fun!

I admit. There would be something a little Grinchy about sending kids all around the house inside and out and then bringing them right back to the tree. But no matter how you go about it, the clues do what they are supposed to do. They lead them right to the gift they most want.

The best Giver gave his best gift the same way. There were shepherds out in the fields, watching their flock at night. The angel came to them and told them, “…this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”

There is some evidence that there were shepherds around Bethlehem who were priestly shepherds. Some think they were tasked with spotting unspotted lambs for the Temple sacrifices. And some believe they would wrap them in bands to keep them from hurting themselves right after birth and then lay them in a crevice in the rocks called a manger until they were calmed.

We don’t know if all of this is true. The evidence is unclear. But we do know that according to the Torah two lambs were required every day for the daily sacrifice in the Temple. That’s 730 lambs each year and thousands more for other feasts and festivals. Bethlehem was known for sacrificial lambs.

Every day. Every month. Every year. Shepherds watched as these innocent, blameless lambs were offered for sin. They had time to reflect. They knew it was for their sin too. You see, they weren’t even allowed to the Temple to worship because their livelihood made them unclean.

And your livelihood makes you unclean too. No, not your 9-5 job. But the living you do every day. The way you speak to others. Your behavior. The way you go about your relationships.

Preachers aren’t immune. One holiday season I was heading home after a long day. I was almost home a little early one Friday afternoon. I was driving by a school and, out of habit, driving 20 mph due to the school zone even though school was already out for the holiday.

Suddenly the truck behind me sped up, moved over to the other lane, and passed me. I threw my hand up in the air and waved it around pointing my index finger at him thinking “Are you crazy! What kind of idiot are you?!” Then I saw him looking in his rear view mirror. Then I noticed my hand. I thought, “From his vantage point it probably doesn’t look like I’m giving him a neighborly wave. It probably looks like I’m waving one finger at him. Not the index finger.”

I didn’t feel too good about this. I felt worse when he turned into my subdivision. I slowed down a bit so he could get to his street before I got to mine. But then he turned onto my street. And then he turned into the driveway across the street from our house. I had gestured angrily at my neighbor! I waited down the street until he went inside his house. If he ever knew it was me he never said anything. But I didn’t like what was in me.

You and I need what the shepherds needed: a sign that leads to the Savior. “… wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” I’d like the story of the priestly shepherds to be accurate. It would make this sign have added significance if they in fact wrapped lambs in bands of cloth and laid them in a place called a manger.

I’d like that to be true, but we don’t need it to be true. The shepherds found exactly what they were supposed to find. Earlier Luke told us “…[Mary] gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them…”

Later, Luke will strike the same cadence when he writes of the crucified Savior: “Then [Simon] took [the body] down and wrapped it in a linen shroud and laid him in a tomb cut in stone, where no one had ever yet been laid.”

This baby we celebrate at Christmas is our Savior. The shepherds needed one. I need one. And so do you. And that is the gift God gave you. A Savior. God gave you a sign: a baby wrapped in rags and lying in a manger.

May you find him this Christmas.

 

Learn to Travel Light Through Life

There is an art to traveling overseas for an extended time. Unfortunately, in 2008 we had not mastered that art. You see, we were going on sabbatical to Europe for five weeks. But we did not go lightly.

The biggest mistake of our trip happened in our room when we were packing. We each had a smaller suitcase and were plotting out what to take and how to pack it tightly. That’s when one of us—I will not mention who it was—but that’s when Karen said, “Why don’t we pack our things together in one suitcase?” We went from two small suitcases to one large suitcase. Same amount of stuff crammed into one container. Made sense.

Until we got to Europe and started climbing onto trains. You see, you don’t check your baggage through trains like you do on an airplane. You take your luggage onto the train with you and you put it in an overhead bin. Because Europeans travel by train and usually go for short day or weekend trips, the bins are small. Made for small suitcases. Like the two we left back home.

We had one large, heavy suitcase. Each of our sons had their suitcases. We had a guitar. We had two backpacks. And when we tried to load all of this on our first train we almost had a meltdown. We couldn’t get into our cabin. The people behind us couldn’t get on the train. They were stacked up like cars on a Houston freeway at rush hour. We felt the pressure of too much to carry and too little space for it.

Maybe life feels like that for you today. You’re carrying around more than you were designed to carry. So did the Prodigal Son. When he came home his father embraced him and kissed him. Then he said to his father, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.”

His father has given him grace and he still says, “I am not worthy…” He’s carrying baggage called shame. Brene Brown has done great work in the area of understanding shame. She says shame is lethal in our lives. It keeps us from living the life God intended. It makes us live instead the life we think others want us to live.

You can detect shame in your life by your self-talk. “I am stupid. I’m a loser. I’m such a mess up.” That’s shame speaking. The focus is on self.

Counteract shame in your life by changing your self-talk from focus on self to focus on behavior. “I made a stupid decision last night.” “I wasn’t thinking.” “What I did was wrong.” We need to get clear about our self-talk and the effect of shame on our lives.

Brown says that the difference between guilt and shame is this: guilt says “I did something wrong” whereas shame says “I am wrong.”

The father in the story helps his son think differently by giving him the best robe, a ring and sandals.

  • In the ancient world the best robe in a family was the father’s robe. He covered his son with his own robe. The act said, “You are enough.”
  • A ring represented authority and power. The son came home thinking he had no future. Now his was secure.
  • And sandals were worn only by family members. Servants of the household were barefoot. The sandals placed on the son who hoped to only get the place of a hired servant told him he was accepted.

My guess is his self-talk changed. And yours can too. If you have been baptized into Christ, you have been “clothed with Christ” (Galatians 3:27). You’ve been given the covering you need. You can say, “I am a child of God” (Galatians 3:26).

By Venice we got tired of the excess baggage. We tossed the large suitcase, bought a smaller one, and traveled lighter the rest of the trip. You can too. Put your shame away. Change your self-talk. There’s a Father running to you that wants to clothe you with all you need to carry through life. And it will be enough.

Question: What shame are you carrying around that is making your journey heavy?

 

When Your Longings Surface Turn Towards Home

Henry the VIII had six. Elizabeth Taylor had eight. Zsa Zsa Gabor had nine.

But Glynn Wolfe had more. He holds the record for marriages: 29 in all. He married some for days, some for months, and a few for years. He married teenage women and he married women with teenagers. He married country girls and he married city girls.

He exchanged wives like someone trying on a variety of clothes. You’d think somewhere along the way, maybe at #5 or even #14 he would have stopped. But he didn’t. Wolfe said he loved women but would get bored with them and felt a strong drive to find another one.

Henry. Elizabeth. Zsa Zsa. Glynn. It doesn’t take much to realize they were all looking for something. More correctly, they were longing for something. We have longings too.

We have a longing for love. That’s why when you got dumped in a relationship you found yourself getting into another one later.

We have a longing for purpose. That’s why even when you were a kid and did not have to pay bills or worry about working, you still had a dream of who you wanted to be when you grew up. And the reason you were thinking about this is that you already had a desire inside of you for purpose.

We long for meaning too. We want to know the answers to the big “Why?” questions of life. You may have asked them yourself: “Why, if God is good, did he let this happen?” “Why am I here?” “Why is there so much suffering in the world?”

Those questions and these longings are in us because they are placed there by God. The longings aren’t the problem. The problem is we often journey away from God to find answers to our longings.

The Prodigal Son did. Charles Dickens called this the greatest short story ever. The younger son in the story had everything his father had to give him. But even with that he had a longing for something more.

So he asked his dad for his inheritance. In that Middle Eastern first century culture that request was the same as telling your father you wished he were dead. You were supposed to take care of your father in his old age and then, when he did die, you would receive your inheritance.

But the father gave him his inheritance and he went away and spent it all “in reckless living.” We don’t know what that was. Drinking? Gambling? His brother offered that he “devoured the property with prostitutes.” Regardless, he lost it all trying to fulfill his longings.

When the money and the women and the friends were all gone he discovered he had another longing: home. He wanted to go back home to his father, even if it meant he would work as a hired hand.

Jesus told this story because he knew we all have longings for something more. And he knew that “something more” was life with the Father. That is where your “home” and mine is. It is a story about finding your way home to the Father.

As far as we know Glynn Wolfe never found his way back home. Believe it or not, he was a minister and he died alone, suffering panic attacks in the middle of the night in his later life because he was virtually alone all the time. To his dying day he kept a wedding dress in his closet. Just in case.

Your story can end on a different note. Pay attention to your longings. Believe that they will not be satisfied running from God but running towards God. Then turn towards home today.

Question: Identify a time when your “longings” took you far from home…the place you are made to be.

Stop Climbing Stairs and Sit

They are called the Scala Sancta. The Holy Stairs. You can find them in Rome near the St. John Lateran Basilica. They are believed to be the same steps Jesus climbed on his way to trial before Pilate. The 28 steps were moved from Jerusalem to Rome around 326 A.D. by Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine. They are marble in construction but encased in wood to protect the marble.

They are protected because for centuries pilgrims have climbed these stairs for various reasons. Some out of devotion. Some to offer prayers. And some because they believe that if they do so they will be forgiven their sins—one year for each step. 28 years of sin removed. When the average lifespan was only 50, two trips to the steps could give a person assurance of entry into heaven.

But climbing the steps is not easy. The only way a person is allowed to climb the stairs is on one’s knees, stopping on each step to offer a prayer. Karen and I have done this once. We thought the experience would be a good one, like crossing off an item on your bucket list. It was an experience. A painful one. And we did not feel a need to have that experience ever again.

Martin Luther climbed them. The great Reformer struggled with his doubts as a young man. He said “my conscience would never give me assurance, but I was always doubting and said, ‘You did not perform that correctly. You were not contrite enough. You left that out of your confession.’”

On a trip to Rome he learned that if he climbed the Scala Sancta he could free his grandfather from purgatory and maybe help his own cause along the way. And so he began on his knees to climb one step at a time.

Maybe you haven’t climbed the Scala Sancta but you’ve had doubts too. Some of you don’t, I know. Some of you have a gift of faith and like a rock cannot be moved. But others of us doubt.

  • “With all I’ve done, how could God ever love me?”
  • “I just don’t think I’ll ever be good enough.”
  • “If the message of Jesus is so clear, why do I have so many questions?”
  • “If God is love then why do unloving things happen to people?”

A lack of assurance is nothing new. John’s audience faced the same. “… for whenever our heart condemns us …” he writes (1 John 3:20). If you ever think the first century Christians had an easier road to faith than you, think again.

But John had a remedy for “hearts that condemn.” He said there is a place to find reassurance: “before him.” “By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him…” Instead of listening to condemnation listen to the One who works for your transformation.

That is the other place John points us to: our transformation. Do you have a firm belief in Jesus as the son of God who came in the flesh (1 John 2:23; 4:2)? Are you growing in your desire to be more like the Father (1 John 3:19-20)? Do you love those who also love the Father (1 John 4:12)? If your answer is “yes” then you can find reassurance that the fellowship with the Father and the Son is having its effect in your life.

Reassurance is not found in some secret code. It is not found in something detached from the world we live in. It is not found in rule keeping.

And it is not found by climbing 28 steps on your knees. Martin Luther knew the promise. “If your heart condemned you” you could gain assurance of eternal life one step at a time. So dressed as a monk, with a shaved head and bare knees, he began creeping up the marble steps with the hope of his troubled conscience finding peace.

At some point he suddenly heard a voice like thunder say, “The just shall live by faith.” He got up to his feet, left the place, and was reassured of his place with God. Not because he loved God first through any action. But because God loved him through his action. (1 John 4:10).

You will be assured too. When your heart condemns you do what Luther did. Hear the voice of God and believe in Jesus. Just sit before him. It’s so much better than climbing steps.

Question: In what way(s) has your heart condemned you?

When You Love Others Less It’s Time to Confess

It’s the first sin I can remember. A sin of commission. And I knew I was doing it.

My first grade year was not easy. As a child I had asthma and the harsh West Texas winters in Memphis, Texas knocked me out of a lot of school. Mrs. Newton, my teacher, wanted me to take a make-up test one day when I returned from a bout of sickness.

Mrs. Newton had me open my book. She showed me the questions I needed to answer. And then she left the room. They were simple math problems. Simple until I got to number eight: “Which number is the third number from the left?”

Sounds simple, right? I knew which was my right hand and which was my left. But I didn’t know if the question was asking for me to count from my perspective or its perspective. (Stop laughing.) I looked ahead and the next several questions were similar to this one. If I didn’t get my directionally challenged mind in gear I would miss them all and make a bad grade.

That’s when the temptation came. Mrs. Newton was gone. Her teacher’s book was on her desk. The one with the answers. All I needed was a peek at just one so that I could get my perspective corrected. I moved as quietly as a cat burglar to the book, stole a quick look, and headed back to my desk. Just as I was getting seated I saw Mrs. Newton through the windows coming back to the room to check on me. If she saw me she never said a word.

For several nights I couldn’t sleep. I just knew the test would come back with a note on it telling me where my eternity was going to be spent. Instead, she gave me an “A” and as far as I know she never knew what I did.

Maybe you can’t remember your first sin, but you can probably remember your last. You have some tapes that play in your head you wish you could erase. You have some words you’d like to take back. You have some actions you aren’t proud of.

And you call them all sorts of things: mistakes, bad judgment, poor decisions. And they are. But John calls them sin. And he thinks we should too.

In 1 John there is a specific sin he is concerned about. “Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness.”  “But I don’t hate my spiritual brothers or sisters” you might say. Don’t be so quick to say you aren’t sinning.

The Greek word for hate, miseo, means “to love less.” Jesus used the word when he said, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” Jesus, who wants us to be known by our love, surely did not mean “hate” in the sense we typically use the word. He meant that if we want to follow him we have to love them, yes. But love them less. That’s what “hate” means here.

You may not feel the usual emotions associated with hate—things like anger, disgust, hostility—towards anyone in the fellowship. But you may love them less. Less than your own interests. Less than your own desires. Less than your schedule. Less than your personal agenda. The sin John is concerned with is not immorality or crime. Those sins need to be confessed too. But the sin he is concerned with has to do with missing the mark of a relationship with God that includes a relationship with others in the fellowship. You can’t have one without the other.

Loving those inside the church becomes a witness to those outside the church. “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Let’s love each other more. And when we love each other less, confess it. And then leave that sin for love.

It’s as simple as counting three spaces from your left.

Question: What specific step can you take this week to love those inside the church more?

Learn to Live “In this Moment”

In our first trip to Italy we stayed at Villa Rosalba. Rosalba was the woman who took care of the place and her guests. Álvaro, her husband, grew the lemons in their yard for limoncello and liked to talk. We bonded over his limoncello and our mutual love of tennis.

I noticed he had a favorite expression: “in this moment.” He’d say, “In this moment, Rick, my life is very good.” Later I read this about the Italians: “Italians see time as a flowing river. Once it flows past, you can never catch up to it. You can only sit on the banks of the river and appreciate what flows past right now–in this moment.”

Quite a contrast from the way we do things as Americans. We seem to always be trying to catch up to time. I remember a few years ago when our boys were still teenagers I bumped into an old college roommate by accident. He was catching me up on his life and his family. He ran a business and then ran his kids all over their major city for their sporting commitments. He said they change clothes in the car and eat in the car and go to sleep in the car.

I told him he needed to just buy a mobile home since he already had one. I haven’t heard from him since.

Does that sound anything like the way your life works? We assume everyone lives this way. We think it is part of a privileged life. And somehow we think it will eventually balance itself out. Someday. Maybe.

It was not so in the beginning. There is a flow in the creation account we ignore to our detriment. It’s not that we have not heard it. We have just ignored it. Here is the flow: there is work and there is rest.

God worked, or created, for six days. Then, on the seventh day, he rested. Later this is called the Sabbath. The Sabbath was one of the Ten Commandments. “Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.”

Why this flow? Why this command? Because the Creator knows what is good for his creation. Rest is part of that “good.” He was able, at the end of his work, to look over everything he had made and say it was “very good.” Then he rested. He did not work.

How does that compare with your evenings? And how does that compare with your weekends? If you are anything like the people in a study the American Psychological Association’s Center for Organizational Excellence conducted, then you still work in your time off.

More than 50% of adults indicate they check work messages at least once a day over the weekend. They check before and after work during the work week. They even check on work when they are home sick. And 44% check on work when they are on vacation.

Apparently we do not know how to “vacate” even on vacation.

What if we started making small adjustments? Go home one night this week and put the phone, email, and Facebook away. Find one day over the next month to rest. Spend time with your family and friends. Linger longer at the table.

See if it makes a difference in your life. It should. You were wired to work and rest. You were created so that, at the end of the day you could say with my Italian friend: “In this moment, my life is very good.”

Question: How can you live more “in this moment” today?

 

 

 

How to Forge Through a Funk

A few years ago I experienced a rough season. Literally every day for several months was filled with some new “issue” I had to deal with. Stress levels were high and relaxation times were low. It was a season that could only be described as a “funk.”

Maybe you’ve been there too. Sleep seems hard to come by. You’re already tired when the alarm goes off. You move like a zombie through the day. Your mind is somewhere else while people are talking to you. And getting things accomplished is just not happening.

How do you forge through a funk? You need to answer that question. Most employers may understand a day or two every so often. But you simply cannot go through a long period of time without some productivity before there are consequences.

Here are some steps that have helped me when I entered the funk:

  • Get up. Yes, that sounds pretty simple, but it’s the first step. (Literally and figuratively.) I remember a life skills seminar once where the speaker was asked by a college student: “How do you get out of bed every morning.”

The college student thought his life was difficult. And maybe it was. So the speaker looked at him and said, “Well, here’s what I do. When the alarm goes off I put one foot on the floor. And then I follow it with the other foot. Then I stand up. That’s how I get out of bed every morning.”

Simple? Yes. But it’s the only way to defeat the funk. Staying in bed will not help.

  • Finish something. Another speaker has suggested that the way to make a difference is to begin your day and immediately finish something. I’ve written about this here.  The example given is to make your bed. It may be that you sit down and complete a journal entry. Or maybe you make breakfast and clean your dishes when done. Whatever it is, start it and finish it.

And when you get to your workplace do the same. Find one thing that needs to be done and do it. Make it something simple and short. Once you’ve already knocked something off the list at home and something at work you will be encouraged to do more.

  • Make a list. “Funk” is defined as “a state of great fright or terror.” You can find yourself in a funk because of a dejected mood. But it may also be a sense of anxiety over the tasks ahead. One affects the other.

I’ve learned to talk to myself in those moments. When faced with a difficult task or one that I’d rather someone else have to deal with, I merely face it head on and remind myself, “It’s not going to go away. It will be here tomorrow. So I might as well get it over with. An unpleasant task today will not magically disappear overnight. Take care of it today and it will be gone tomorrow.”

One way to stay focused in a funk is to make a list. Break a bigger project into pieces and tackle it one bit at a time. When your mind wanders train yourself to come back to the list. As you complete each part write “done” to the side. Your progress will help you progress.

  • Take a break. Breaks are needed to help you keep going. The first time I hiked in the Rockies I learned that going uphill in direction and elevation is a huge contrast to hiking on flat land. Even if you are in good shape. When you are in a “don’t feel like doing anything” state it is even more difficult. When the climb is steep you have to set goal markers in the distance and tell yourself, “When I get to that spot I’ll sit down and catch my breath.” If you don’t you’ll have a tough time finishing the hike.

The same is true in your daily routine. So set yourself some “rewards” along the way. For example, do 50 minutes of work then take a 10-minute break. Get up and take a walk. Read an article for fun. Check in with a co-worker. But keep it under control and then after you are refreshed go back to your list. (see #3 bullet point)

  • Add accountability. Tell someone else what you need to get done and that you want them to ask you how you are doing on that task. Give them permission to hound you a bit. The added accountability will give you the extra nudge you might need to keep pressing forward.
  • Do More When You Feel More. When you feel the funk lifting a bit try to do a little extra. I recently had a day when the stars seemed to align. I needed to do some writing and when I began the words just came without effort. I finished one assignment in record time so I decided to move on to the next one. And, like the first, the sentences just flew across the page as quickly as I could type them on my laptop.

That spurt of productivity put me a week ahead on writing. You can do the same. Because there will be days you and I are in a funk. It’s unavoidable. And there are moments we need to be free to not be as productive. No one can push at near 100% 100% of the time. Build some free space into your schedule by doing more when the energy is there.

Don’t let the funk keep you down. Try these things to overcome it.

And if it helps, listen to funk music while you do.