Saturday, March 31, 2012

Secret of Meeting Trouble

Rise, let us be going. Matthew 26:46

For this quarter we’ve looked at the last hours before the crucifixion of Christ using the book of John as our source. But John’s wasn’t the only gospel to record the event. Today we look at Matthew and find what may have been Jesus’ last statement before the soldiers came to the garden.
When the Passover supper was finished, those present retired to Gethsemane, a garden, where weary disciples stretched out and fell asleep while Jesus agonized in prayer. Twice He woke them and asked them to join Him in prayer. Three times He found them sleeping. The last time He approached slumbering men He woke them, but didn’t request prayer. Jesus no longer appears to be in agony but resolved as He nudges them awake with the words, “Rise, let us be going.”
Jesus didn’t wait for the soldiers to find Him. He didn’t hide in the shadows. Instead, He woke the sleeping men and stepped out to face the coming tragedy. As a young child He had told Mary and Joseph that He needed to be about the business of His heavenly Father. [1] As a man on a mission He told both friend and enemy that every day He was actively involved in following His Father’s direction. [2] And, on this last night as soon as it settled in His heart that God’s plan was leading through the cross not around it, He didn’t hesitate . The will of the Father was forward, so He walked out the meet the situation head on.
It can be a good pattern to follow. Years ago as a counselor on staff with a large church our pastor advised the leadership, “Go out and meet trouble. When you know it is coming, don’t wait. Proactively face what can’t be avoided.” Many times I’ve been grateful for the wise counsel. I’ve followed it personally in a dozen different situations, and often taught the principle to clients who came to my office.
If a financial crisis is coming, make calls and talk about budget changes before insolvency pushes things to a crisis. If your kid is drifting into dangerous relationships, bring up the subject sooner rather than later. If a situation at work looks suspicious, discuss it with proper authorities or begin documentation now. If family tensions are building but no one wants to expose the elephant in the living room, volunteer and speak up. While no advice can be universally applied, going out to meet trouble is a life management tool that seldom fails.
The Christian life is dependent. We wait on God; we draw our strength from Him. We are branches, nothing more. But the Christian life is NOT passive. There are enemies to be faced. Battles to be won. Years of a long obedience in a single direction to be faithfully executed. Spiritual sloth and sleeping are not on the agenda. Just as with the disciples that last fateful night, Jesus often stirs us from slumber calling, “Rise, let us be going.”

Friday, March 16, 2012

Come Walk With Me

Coping mechanisms come in all forms. Some people eat. Others watch old movies. I’ve known those who yell and others who say they bury their frustrations in the ground with a gardening spade. I’ve tried all of those. But, for me, the coping technique that beats them all is to take a walk. A big walk. A get-me-outside, run-away-from-people, let-me-breathe fresh-air walk.
Of course, Christians should find their primary emotional shelter and tension release in God. But sometimes I need a small boost from the natural world to get me fully concentrating on the heavenly and there is no better way to do that than take a long walk in one of the local state parks. Preferably, one with water.

The three mile nature trail around Dangerfield Lake is one of my favorite journeys. One or two circuits are enough to make me feel as though I’ve done something significant but the trail is not strenuous so there’s energy left over to pray and think. This year, when the first week of March arrived, my brain was fried and I couldn’t write one word more. So I stuffed a Bible, prayer journal, hymnal and a couple of apples in a backpack then took off to find how early spring was treating God’s world in East Texas. And, hopefully, to fill my spiritual sails with fresh wind.
Finding wind wasn’t a problem. March was coming in like a lion and the weather required a jacket even when hiking. Much of the landscape was still winter-brown and the sky overcast. Then a bird drew my attention straight over head where the battered, swaying branches of a small tree showed just how stubbornly insistent new life can be.
By Easter, this dogwood tree will be in full bloom. Three inch white blossoms will fight for space among small green leaves. Even at this stage both leaves and blooms are pushing their way out of dead-looking, grey twigs. Although hidden for months and battered by winter storms, life is determined to reach for the light and make itself known. With careful observation the slightly rounded shape of blossoms could be separated from pointed leaves even from ten feet below.
It must be an occupational hazard for writers to see stories, sermons, and symbols in most everything. But as I stood there looking up I couldn’t help wonder about my lack of spiritual stubbornness. I remembered God’s challenge to Jeremiah, “If you have run with footmen, and they have wearied you, / Then how can you contend with horses? / And if in the land of peace, / In which you trusted, they wearied you, / Then how will you do in the flooding of the Jordan?”
I thought, “Girl, what is your complaint?” When I look around at the challenges faced by other Christians, I have it easy. What is writer’s block compared to facing terminal illness? What is having a story rejected compared to being rejected by a spouse? Then, with a little bit more humility, I walked on.
This was my first time to walk the lake since it opened after being closed a year for major repair. Among some of the improvements were new trails and clear, four color maps posted to show the way.

One of the new trails led straight up a steep incline. Although the picture doesn’t show it well, this path rises at about a 60 degree slant. Yet, they had done such a good job of clearing it and I was curious to know where it would lead, so I scrambled up to the top and took a look around. But just over the rise, the trail seemed to abruptly end. There was a less well defined path leading east and according to the map that was supposed to be the way, so I followed it picking my way through occasional spots of underbrush.
Suddenly I was in a small clearing with a broad, easy path stretching away into the distance. It still headed east and although it was obviously cut to clear the way for electric lines, I thought it logical that new construction may have taken advantage of the situation using the clear path for a dual purpose.
Half a mile later, I had the gnawing feeling I might have been wrong. Two miles later, I turned round. I know all electric lines lead somewhere, but I suspected this one might terminate in Mississippi.
On the long trail back, I was tempted to fuss at myself. But as I examined my choices, the logic didn’t seem flawed. The path had been clearly marked going uphill then east. Carefully watching as I retraced my steps, I could find no other trail leading off from the one I followed. Because the map stated the trail would be .03 mile, something was obviously wrong. Perhaps renovations were not complete and the trail unfinished. But, whatever the reason, if there were any fault on my part the only error would have been clinging to a false hope longer than I should have.
As always on these excursions, my natural tendency was to draw a spiritual lesson from this most mundane circumstance. Early in the morning I had been impressed by the stubborn tenacity of the dogwood to bloom in spite of adverse conditions and wondered if I didn’t need more of that quality. Now, I realized the converse was also true. There are times when stubbornly following what I assume to be the right path can take me farther from the goal. It was no great tragedy that I didn’t turn around sooner, but being stubborn was the wrong thing to do.
I studied my feet and kicked leaves out of the way. How does a writer—or any other Christian—know when to press on and when to change course? When are hard situations challenges given by the Lord to strengthen us and when are they blocks put there to turn us? It was a train of thought I had followed many times before without resolution.
I was on my way back to the car when I snapped one last picture. I still don’t have the stubbornness vs. godly perseverance issue worked out. For now, I press on with my writing although circumstances are not smooth and I could perhaps be on the wrong course. But this one thing I believe. If God cared enough about spring wild flowers to cover each detail in beauty, He won’t let me lose my way completely. If my heart is to follow Him, He’ll take care of any honest errors I make.

Monday, March 12, 2012

How To Love Like Jesus

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. John 15:12

Although some instinct for loving seems to be biologically programmed, our primary source for learning love is by example. Instinct may draw us to love our children, but watching other mothers interacting with their offspring enables us to work out those instincts in practical ways.
Instinct is important; instruction is important. But it’s the repeated exposure to example that gives our love roots of stability and wings of action. Jesus knew this and more than once pointed followers to His own example of love. In fact, when it came to love, He not only led by example, He commanded that we follow His steps.
Hundreds of examples of Jesus’ love could be cited, but four particular samples have touched me during this study of John. He loved by humble service. He loved by holding a position of authority. He loved by sharing His heart. And, He loved by the example of proactive courage.
Attention is often given to the humble service Jesus showed when He took a basin and towel and washed the disciple’s feet. The moment of Him kneeling before Peter has been extolled through sculpture and pictures, songs and poetry. Every time Jesus spoke of doing the will of the Father, He was giving us an example of love’s humble service. He said the very reason He came was to do the will of His Father. [1] Forty-five times in the book of John, Jesus spoke of the Father’s will and most of those references were to His obedience and delight in doing it.
Yet, the humble service of love was not His only example. Jesus also demonstrated how to accept and use high position and authority. As soon as He completed the task of foot-washing, Jesus put back on His robe and sat at the most honored place of the table. He said, “You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well for so I am.” [2] This, too, is an example of love. Love accepts the responsibility of rank without shirking its weight.
There was also a personal, tender side of His love. There was much within the heart of the Master that was beyond the capability of the disciples to understand. [3] But that didn’t stop Him from reaching out to share His heart. He spoke of His love, His sorrow, His frustration, His desires [4] and much, much more.
But perhaps the strongest, clearest, most consistent example He left of how love behaves was in the timing of it all. Love moves first, rather than waiting for the object of affection to move. He loved us from the foundation of the earth. He came to sacrifice for us before we cared about Him. We love, because He first loved us. [5]
One of the last commands Jesus gave was that we love one another and following His example, we are blessed with a very clear path.
[1] John 6:38 [2] John 13:13; John 17 [3] John 16:12 [4] John 15:12; Matthew 26:38; Luke 12:50 [5] I John 4:19