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Posts Tagged ‘Paul’

Can I be honest about what I see when I meet someone? I’d love to say my eyes go inside and seek out the “sacred other” but no, not usually. I’m still assessing the outer shell. It happens in a flash, whether it’s chewed down fingernails or Jimmy Choo shoes, my first impression rules the day.

Philemon 16
. . . no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a man and as a brother in the Lord.

Haven’t we all played that first impression game with people who have developed into friends?

“Oh, when I first met you, I thought you were a snob . . . or a slob . . . or whatever.” And then we laugh and say how wrong we were, how we had misjudged, how we had missed the clues of the truth inside. It’s all so funny, but is it?

Or what about those times I’ve yelled at a driver or gestured inappropriately or intentionally cut one off as a payback. Yeah, and then we both drive into the same church parking lot. That’s humbling. What did we see? What will we see next?

I work in a community library and we deal with the public all day long and sometimes, it’s not always pleasant. Patrons “swear” they returned a book only to find it later under their son’s bed; or they adamantly deny the water-damage happened during the three weeks they borrowed it. Bottom line? They lie and lie and lie. And often, they don’t just lie, they yell and threaten too. Just such an incident happened last Friday to my colleague and sure enough, they met up again in the same pew on Easter morning. Nice first impression on both sides. Not.

In this letter to Philemon, Paul is asking him to “see” Onesimus, not as a slave, but a “brother” and even moreso, as a man.

When Jesus came to the Jews, he turned their belief system upside down, announcing himself as the Messiah, breaking the dietary laws and traditions, and advocating for grace over legalism. Then, Paul comes along and moves into the Greek and other Asian cities nearby. If we think following Christ in those places was any less disruptive, that’s just wrong. Hierarchy and class ruled those cultures and now, they were being asked to set those traditions aside as well. A slave is a person, a human being, and if that man has entered the life of Christ, then how is he different from you or me?

Some weeks ago, a friend shared this video with me about Narayanan Krishnan, a successful restaurateur who decided to return to his native city in India to feed and care for the poor, some of them untouchables. Who did he see?

CNN Video Story about Narayanan Krishnan [2.5 minutes]
Is it not the Christ?

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It’s hard to change and then return to one’s old environment. So often, acquaintances and even family can’t see the metamorphosis, or they resist the transformation, or worse, they treat the person as though nothing has happened. It’s obvious, if Onesimus changes, then so must they.

Philemon 10-12
I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me. I am sending him—who is my very heart—back to you.

When I first accepted Christ, back in the day, I woke up the next morning (Christmas morning, actually), and felt compelled to tell my family that I had made a huge decision in my life, a new commitment to Christ. My mother stared at me momentarily and then said, “Don’t worry, this too shall pass,” and went back to drinking her morning coffee. In essence, don’t be ridiculous.

Men and women who are released from prison often find themselves thrown back into the same crowd and ultimately the same behaviors that got them into trouble in the first place. Generally, a former prisoner is better off starting over in a new setting, a new town, a fresh beginning. But the loneliness and lack of support is overwhelming. Everyone wants to be loved and acknowledged for the “new” self. The decision to change is hard work.

Alcoholics and addicts are constantly undermined by friends and family, with phrases like, “oh, just once won’t hurt you,” or “it’s a special occasion, come on!” Even dieters are sabotaged with offers of cookies and treats over and over again. What is the message? Don’t change. Don’t make me adapt this new self. Don’t make me look at myself in a new way by your decision to take a different path.

Onesimus escaped the household of Philemon as one person and under the loving care of Paul, became a believer and follower of Christ. He was not longer the same man. In order to successfully return to Philemon, he would need the support and acceptance of that family. They would have to look with new eyes, hear with new ears, and willingly, break old habits and build new ones.

Twitter was ablaze yesterday about men and women who made decisions to follow the Christ. But what happens next? They must still walk back through the same front door, sit at the same kitchen table, and wake to the same alarm this morning. They must go to work and wonder, can anyone tell? Should I say something? What do I say? And if I do say something, will I be under the microscope?

What is my role in such a scenario? I remember an old friend who hated being called “Tammy.” I asked what she really wanted and she said she wanted to be called “Tamera,” her given name. And so we agreed, she would commit to telling people of the change and I would commit to the new name. It took about six months but it worked; she grew into her beautiful name and so did others. Change is a team effort.

Lord, today, give me sensitivity to the personal revolutions of others around me. Show me how to be a safe haven for new things, new birth, new hope, new directions.

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Batik by Hanna Cheriyan Varghese, Malaysia

Sometimes it’s not worth engaging in discussions that will go nowhere, particularly if people are getting upset and defensive. No one gains. If anything, more is said than should have been said and the controversy escalates. I have seen this happen a hundred times. I’m done.

Titus 3:9
But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless.

We had a controversy in our local community that was extremely divisive. Conversations were misrepresented; newspapers reported incomplete information and often, with only one side of the story or pure hearsay; while social networks were used to accuse and inflame an already unstable situation. And to what end? The people in the center of it all felt no better, just wrenched apart emotionally. The only thing that lessened the impact was the wisdom of a few who said: don’t engage, don’t add, don’t comment. And eventually, this proved the best choice; the furor abated and people moved on with their lives.

When Jesus stood before the different “authorities” on those fateful days before his crucifixion, he, too was silent. What would have been the point? No one would have believed him more that day than any other day. There was nothing more to be said. His great controversy had to be endured and he knew the meaning from the beginning. He may not have known how the whole thing would play out, the passing from one dignitary to another (think about it: he saw three “leaders” in the course of 24 hours who could have changed the world), but he knew the outcome would be the same: torture and death to the body.

But Jesus also knew about the third day. He knew about the results. He trusted God, despite the pain, the desolation, the anger, and the very air of evil that encircled him. Words were nothing.

And so, Jesus, as foretold throughout the histories and prophecies, rose from the dead. That event put all controversies into perspective.

When all is said and done, most stories have an opportunity for resurrection and transformation. With God, there is always hope. There is no irredeemable act. Even in the face of evil, we must hold fast to our belief that “love wins” — God wins!

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Starting over. That’s what rebirth and renewal are all about. Starting over. The trick is getting the right stuff, the right soap, for washing away the crap. Despite all good intentions, there’s only One soap that works: the suds and bubbles of the Holy Spirit.

Titus 3:4-5
But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, . . .

I can’t make myself new or clean. I can even take a bath in all the good things of life, but the inner life is cleansed by Spirit and nothing else.

I have always recoiled at the standard Christian phrase, “Have you been born again?” I know it’s in scripture, the phrase was used by Jesus himself to Nicodemus [John 3:6-7]. But, at that time, the phrase wasn’t used to separate the good ones from the really good ones, the saved ones from the really saved ones, and so on.

And yet, I wonder, how different would it be to ask, “Have you Started Over?” Isn’t this what most people really want and need? People who are enmeshed in habits and addictions, abusive relationships, cyclical poverty, dead-end jobs, bottomless grief, or numbing isolation, wouldn’t the offer of starting over and beginning anew, or turning a corner where the past no longer drove actions or decisions, where the weight of mistakes no longer caused slow shuffling steps, wouldn’t that be a cause for hope?

In actuality, with the presence of the Holy Spirit, every day is a new day and a new start. Every day is a beginning. Every day is filled with possibilities.

Wash me today, Lord. Wash me today.

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Photo by Mike Dykstra

How often do we need to remind someone? In my house, we must remind teenagers every day (and more than once a day) to clean the cat box, empty the trash, and put the dishes in the dishwasher. And how many more times if we added, “choose what is good today.”

Titus 3:1-2
Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone.
[NIV 2011]

I haven’t been able to verify this piece of information, but I did read somewhere that parents, in order to teach a small child or toddler to say “please” and “thank you,” must be remind the child at least 10,000 times before he or she will remember. That’s daunting. In a year, that’s 27 times a day. And if one has more than child . . . you do the math.

Apparently, it’s not much better with adults who must learn the basics of walking out the faith, the very faith they have chosen to follow and even profess. They must be reminded to choose “good,” to obey authorities, to be considerate and to be gentle towards everyone.

If we must be reminded, the implication is clear: we’re not doing it. I’m not doing it either. Why?

As Samuel Johnson is quoted as saying: “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

Is it really just forgetting to do it? That’s what my kids say, “I forgot.” My husband is particularly irked by his ignored requests, taking that behavior as a choice and therefore lack of respect.

Maybe it’s just our human tendency to take the easier way, the wide road. After all, choosing to “do good” might take me out of my way or inconvenience me. Being obedient might entail putting that person’s request above my own plans. Or, it could be a type of laziness.

But what about the other elements of this teaching from Paul to Titus? What excuse would there be for not keeping the peace or conducting oneself gently? Is it easier to be argumentative and domineering? Perhaps it’s a safety issue again, a control issue. Somewhere along the line, the idea of being gentle feels too much like being a door mat and keeping the peace may mean giving way to my ideas or my decisions.

Or, maybe I just need to be reminded.

Where do the reminders come from? Sermons? Reading? Small group meetings? Blogs? Music? Yes to all of these and more. We immerse ourselves in these mediums to help us remember.

Other faith traditions do the same thing, keeping feasts and festivals and rituals to help the people remember the why’s of faith.

Today is Good Friday, 2011. It is a day for us to remember the Christ who died, crucified, and the mystery that would be revealed. And as we do, we might also remember the rest of the story, the part that leads us to choose a better way each day.

Thanks be to God.

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Self-control runs as a theme throughout the first two chapters of Titus. Was it the crowd he was teaching or did he have his own impetuous streak? Self-control requires working knowledge and understanding of oneself in order to initiate change. . . . along with a lot of grace.

Titus 2:11-12
For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, . . .

The problem comes when I confuse self-control with controlling others. I know I can be a control freak and unfortunately, I tend to put too much effort into governing my outer environment and not enough energy toward my inner landscape.

I write a great deal about choice and working from the inside out to effect real transformation, and yet, it’s never been clearer to me that self-control is a state of mind and body that must be present as well.

I can’t do it my own. Maybe others can “count to ten” before speaking or take three deep breaths or snap a rubber band on the wrist as a reminder. None of these work for me.

I must depend on wild grace, the kind that covers a multitude of sins, the kind that flourishes in the chaos of my missteps and mistakes, the kind that works like a steady breeze off the ocean.

Sometimes self-control is not about “holding back” the angry shouts or demonic manifestations when my kids continue to put clean laundry on the floor or leave dirty dishes all over the house or go to bed with every light still on downstairs. Sometimes, self-control is about focus. It’s about narrowing the vision, intentionally putting on blinders, and working the moment.

There have been occasions when I have entered true Flow (developed by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi), it’s a single-minded immersion that harnesses complete attention and energy. It is in these times that self-control is moot, it is not some additional requirement or add-on. I don’t have to “reach” for that self-monitoring state because it comes naturally within the Flow.

Is it possible to have Flow in the things of God? Is it possible to combine Flow with Grace? Something to think about.

By the way, I’ve started thinking about “grace” as “wild grace” because I see it capable of taming the worst of situations, of embracing the most unlovely, of breaking down the highest walls. There is an abandon to Grace that gives me hope in every circumstance.

There is nothing I can do that can’t be met by Grace. And so, perhaps that’s all I can do today is wrap myself in it so that control is flow.

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Book by Sheena Iyengar

Here is the duality of living and walking the faith: first there is the inner journey, bringing the life within into the presence and guidance of the Holy Spirit; then, secondly, the outer journey, walking out the behaviors of the Way and choosing to “do good.”

Titus 2:6-7a
Similarly, encourage the young men to be self-controlled. In everything set them an example by doing what is good. . . .

I wish this dual walk was more linear. You know, get the inner life in order and only then, venture out into the world. But it’s not like that. We must live in both worlds at the same time and apply what is learned within along the way. I suppose the ideal is reaching a point when the inner and outer lives are meshed into one and they operate seamlessly. Good is no longer a choice but a state of being. God is good.

Instead, I must remain conscious and aware; I must choose to be good.

The other day, I went to the optician to order new glasses after several years of wearing the same frames. To be honest, the idea of changing my appearance so drastically was a little daunting. I even thought about bringing a friend or one of my teenagers to help me pick out the frames. But then, I knew, if I did that, I would muddy the waters of my decision-making. Fortunately, I had the best optician. He helped me pick a small group of frames, six or so. Then, I sat down and he presented me with two. Between those two, I had to choose one. And so forth, from one pair of choices to the next. It was hard but doable.

And then it occurred to me this morning that “doing good” is very similar. I can’t make a global choice to do good, but as my day unveils, I can handle choosing between two possibilities.

Our culture overwhelms us with the cereal aisle of choices and it’s difficult to know which way and which one. Many in the current generation of teens and twenty-somethings are frozen by the panorama of options. They live in a country where anything is possible, or at least, this is what they have been taught. But they haven’t been taught how to choose along the way.

I am no better. Historically, I have been a “Jill of all trades” and the master of none.

Today, I will bring the array down to a manageable level. And as I look at those choices today, I will ask myself, which one is good.

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