There is an art in the ordinary in life.
I was reflecting on Oswald Chamber’s ‘My Utmost for His Highest’ this morning and remembered something important.
Our actions and attitudes during the quiet moments of the ordinary tell quite a bit about our character and spiritual life.
We live in a culture and time when ‘you only live once’ has become the motto of daily living. As a culture, we have chosen to define quality of life on the basis of ‘epic moments’.
We’ve decided that a row of exclamation points (!!!) is more important than the preceding sentence. It is evident, some have gone so far as to stop writing sentences and strive to create meaning with only “!!!” (exclamation points).
A microwave cannot create great art. An ‘epic moment’ cannot create a beautiful life.
A beautiful life is created and sustained by learning to live in the ordinary. Learning the art of walking in the ordinary leads to a beautiful life well lived. Small brushstrokes on the canvas of our lives express depth, balance and richness. The broad strokes of flashing color from epic moments have no meaning without the lines, shadows and delicate detail of the ordinary backdrop.
An approaching thunderstorm’s beauty is found in the deep blues and grays of the sky. Lightening is simply an explanation point at the end of the sentence.
Read “Getting into God’s Stride” – by Oswald Chambers
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Look into the world around you. Can you feel it’s pain?
A “Harvey Hangover” is the best way to describe my experience since late August. I’ve been back to the coast 3 times. In my hometown of Fort Worth, everything looks normal. Big trees, houses and children playing in the neighborhood are daily realities. As the 24 hour news cycle pushes the conversation on, its ‘normal’ to forget a tragedy.
‘Normal’ on the Texas Coast is much different. Mighty oaks are snapped in two and uprooted, houses are torn apart, not a child is to be found playing. The image is stark and lifeless.
Last Saturday, we were preparing to feast on a fine breakfast with a group of men at a small church in Aransas Pass to fuel ourselves for the day. Our team leader saw a lone man rummaging through a forgotten pile of cloths outside the church. He called out to the stranger to join us for breakfast.
The man came into the building, shaken, weary and with tears in his eyes.
His name is David. My friend Shawn asked him what he was looking for in the clothing piles, he said, “I needed socks.” Behind the tough, worn exterior of tattoos and scars was a broken man. You could see it in his eyes. He was coming down from being high – as he was fidgety, sighing and his eyes were never fixed on one place. I could sense his anxiety, having been there myself, under the bondage of drugs, suppressing my pain. That place ain’t pretty. It is dark, hopeless and controlling.
We prayed for the food and began to eat with David. He was thankful to be here. As he relaxed, he shared his story. His wife was a heroin addict and would leave him and their children for days. She would return and the cycle would begin again with an argument. After the hurricane, he sent the children to live with grand-parents out of town. He was hopeless, hurting and the tears poured. It was apparent this man lived a hard life. At one point he had been in nursing school and working. Somewhere hope had turned to heartache.
I admit, part of my heart began to become callous toward what I saw in the disaster zone.
The ‘normal’ is destruction and need. It’s ‘normal’ to see people wondering the streets with a blank robotic stare on their faces. It is ’normal’ to see people camped outside their homes under make-shift tents. It’s ‘normal’ to see destruction everywhere you look. It’s not like a tornado disaster where you can drive a few blocks and everything is in tact. In contrast, Hurricane Harvey’s path of destruction is so extensive that you can drive 30 miles in any direction and all you can see is devastation. It can cause a heart to become callous.
A couple days ago, I was safely at home preparing to go to work and I began to weep for a few moments. I had to let it all out. Certainly God was softening my heart against the callouses that had formed on the coast. All around is so much pain, brokenness and loss. God touched me and healed a part of my heart that had been dying in indifference. My only response was thankfulness.
It’s right to bend under the burden of the pain of others. I admit to trying to fix before feeling, I understand this is the wrong response.
In God’s amazing grace, He reminds us to look into the world and feel it’s pain.
“And Jesus went forth and saw a great multitude, and was moved with compassion towards them…” Matthew 14:14
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There are two kinds of people in this world.
People of Peace and People of Strife.
The question we must ask ourselves is: ‘which one am I?’
Everyday, you have a choice as to which you will be.
Gut check questions:
- Are you fascinated by strife and discord?
- Do you become consumed and inflamed by conflict and violence?
- Do the pattern of your thoughts reflect a thirst for forms of entertainment that portray strife, distrust, envy, violence and conflict?
- Or, do strive and violence make you sick and sad to your core?
FW Boreham says “strife has entered into and permeated every department of life. It affects society in general. On every hand, in a million different forms- we meet rivalry, suspicion and distrust. We see class contending with class: the rich oppressing the poor; the poor breathing maledictions on the rich. Petty jealousy mars the sweetness of every friendship; it stultifies the efficiency of every organization; and, entering our very churches, it disturbs and destroys that abiding unity that should be their most conspicuous charm.” The seventh Beatitude extends an olive branch…. “Blessed are the peace makers, for they shall be called the children of God” One does not need to be a ‘Christian’ to understand Jesus’s teaching here. The peacemaker is a lover of peace and works to preserve peace. “The sounds of strife and discord are an agony to his spirit.” says Boreham. Like a rose exhaling it’s fragrance is an involuntary expression of its nature, the peacemaker exudes a spirit of peace without even realizing.
I challenge you to work to become a peacemaker.
- Work not to offend others.
- Work on not taking offense.
- Work to extend an olive branch of peace to another (this is risky).
In order to change the climate of discourse, we must become people of peace (even when discord is the predominate noise).
Do you ever make a commitment to do something and don’t follow through?
Last week a good friend left town for a week with his family. I volunteered to check on their house and feed their fish. I didn’t have to volunteer but I did anyway to make my friend feel good about me. Essentially, I was trying to make myself look good in his eyes by appearing ‘helpful’. The days passed and I didn’t check on their house or feed the fish. Fortunately, the fish didn’t starve to death and his little children didn’t come home from Thanksgiving vacation to Mr. Fish floating belly up. That would have devastated the toddlers.
I had to admit to my good friend what I hadn’t done for him and his family. He forgave me (Thankfully). This may not seem like a big deal but it is because it reveals a larger problem.
It’s interesting how God can gently bring conviction into a heart. Over the last few days, I have had this growing sense of God’s gentle prompting of something I’m NOT doing.
As each day has passed, my attention has been moved toward an area of struggle in my life. It is something I have suffered my whole life. It is self-induced and I must take responsibility for what I am not doing.
Two days ago, an uncomfortable reality about my own nature was crystalized in my mind and my heart grew heavy.
I AM UNRELIABLE
I make promises and commitments I will not keep to people I care about and depend on me to follow through on my word.
This is a very unsettling situation for someone who ‘prides’ themselves on personal integrity. The key word is ‘pride’. I have made huge moral and relational blunders in my past. However, by God’s grace, I have made strides toward personal integrity and living a life that honors God.
My pride has blinded me to the fact that I am completely unreliable. When I don’t fulfill a commitment or keep a promise, that makes me a liar. I must own that fact. This is an integrity issue of monumental proportions! However, it is not ‘who’ I am. I can change. I feel I must change. But I can’t be relied upon to change myself or pull myself up by my proverbial ‘bootstraps.’ Because, remember I am unreliable.
What the heck do I do when I don’t do what I commit to do?
First, I have to admit my problem. I must admit it not only to myself but to others as well. Second, I must admit my need from help. Since, I’m unreliable, I can’t help myself. I must rely on someone else for help. That brings me to the next thing. I must ask the Lord to empower me to become reliable. After all, He is reliable. Next, I must make good on my current commitments and ask for forgiveness from those I’ve let down. Finally, I must ask my spouse and friends to help me and hold me accountable to my commitments.
Do you have any unfulfilled commitments?
Do you have any unkept promises?
Make a list right now. Pray and ask God for help. Enlist a couple close friends or family to hold you accountable.
Read the headlines from around our nation. What do you see? You see anger, hostility, confusion, selfishness and violence. We are seeing riots and division. What are we not seeing? We are not seeing compassion, caring or charity.
2800 years ago in ‘the great city’ of Nineveh, we see an evil and cruel people. The entire city was heartless and cold. The lack of love and compassion and a bent toward violence and selfishness is described as sin. Nineveh was within a hair’s breadth of experiencing God’s judgement and destruction. And who could blame Him? If you saw a city full of people filled with rage, hatred, violence and cruelty toward each other, wouldn’t you just want to end it? Why didn’t God go with the ‘nuclear option’ in Nineveh? I would have!
How would you describe the ‘tone’ in our nation today?
Would you describe it as charitable and peaceful or toxic and divisive?
We are a nation divided. The media is helping to drive the division. As a Christ-follower, I must counter this division with a comprehensive worldview anchored the word of God. I am called to think redemptively and pursue reconciliation through God’s love. Why is it so hard?
Here’s the problem. I struggle with my part. When I am constantly called names or told that I am racist, intolerant, etc or characterized with the latest straw-man fallacy, I grow angry because I am none of those things. If I am honest, I must admit I harbor ill-will toward the people who believe I am those things. That is my sin. I must own up to it.
God is compassionate and we are not!
God called Jonah to go to Nineveh. Jonah hated Nineveh (a sin) and ran from God (a sin). He eventually ended up in Nineveh (a miracle). His mission was to call for the people to repent and turn to God. In doing so, God would relent from destroying the city, a demonstration of His compassion and love for all people. Nineveh was headed for destruction but God showed compassion.
The people of Nineveh turned to God, He relented and the city was saved! Furthermore, the city prospered. When God showed compassion, Jonah was angry because he didn’t see the people how God saw them. Jonah wanted the city judged and destroyed. Essentially, he was no different than the cruel hateful people of Nineveh. I have to claim that sin for myself.
My part as a Christ-follower
2 Chronicles 7:14 says, “if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”
People’s part: People who claim Christ must humble themselves, pray, seek and turn
God’s part: He will hear, forgive and heal
I believe Christ-followers across the nation have humbled themselves and prayed over the last year. I don’t know if we are actively seeking God’s face or turning from our wicked ways. Have you personally confessed the anger and pride in your heart? Frankly, I am writing this to myself. It is a struggle.
Perhaps, this is my call to the people of God. “Hey church, we bent our knee in humility and prayed. Maybe God is relenting and showing us his compassion. Now, we must be obedient and see this through. We need to seek God’s face and turn from our hatred and divisiveness. We must not boast but reach out in humility and love to a people God loves. And we must act right now! Forget what people say about you, act redemptively and in the spirit of love immediately!”
If we demonstrate God’s love through how we love others, who’s to say how God’s spirit may move upon the people of our nation?
The king of Nineveh said, “Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.”
“When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.”
What is my response? Is it an unrelenting anger, like Jonah?
God is compassionate and we are not
You see Jonah really struggled with getting on the same page as God. We all do.
The last sentence in the book of Jonah ends with a question, “And should not I (God) pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?”
Please allow me a bit of liberty to apply the final verse if I may.
And should not I (God) pity America, that great nation, in which there are more than 320 million people who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much wealth?”
I am convinced that we are being tested and challenged. We have the greatest opportunity in generations to reach our nation with the love of Christ.
Please note, this post is a message to Christ-followers (aka, the Church). I do not expect non-believers believer or understand this. But, a believer should consider it and mediate on what God has to say to our culture.
Reference: 2 Chronicles 7 and the Book of Jonah