Saturday, July 30, 2011

Blog Series - Fighting the Good Fight - Gym Session 1: Love is Patient

Living the Christian lifestyle sometimes resembles shadow boxing. In the theoretical arena of the air with no adversary but their own imaginations, boxers display moves and style that appear skillful, impressive and even intimidating, only to have their lack of skill painfully exposed in the presence of a formidable real life opponent! As a Christian, I find myself relating to that scenario when it comes to living out the faith I profess to believe. In the safe environs of church, elder meetings, a personal Bible study or other obvious “Christian settings” it can be relatively easy to display Christ-like conduct – after all, the others in those settings hold the same values and the risks to display righteousness are minimal. But what happens when one ventures out of the “gymnasium” of Christian practice and jumps into the “ring” of “Real Life”? A recent encounter the arena of real life exposed some “ring rust” in my own life and motivated me to begin a Blog series on skillfully fighting the “Good Fight” in faith. I’ll be exploring various Bible passages dealing with good character and Christian conduct and presenting some thoughts on moving the responses to Biblical truth from the head to the heart. My first few offerings will come from 1 Corinthians 13, the great passage on love. I’ll start with the first attribute that the Apostle Paul lists as a critical piece of one’s love arsenal. “Love is patient!”

I needed to rent a car and immediately upon arriving at the rental counter, it seemed I might be in for a unique experience. Though I had called well in advanced, the agents were ready to call it a day, and were not handling the increased traffic in their office particularly well. People were jumping ahead of their turn, and the situation was becoming semi-chaotic. When my turn finally arrived, the encounter began normally enough. “Mr. Jackson, thank you for your patience! We have a car ready for you, but it needs to be prepped. While we’re waiting, I’d like to get a little more info from you. For mileage purposes, where are you headed?” [Miles are unlimited for trips to neighboring states, while states that are not adjacent to one another accrue an extra charge by the mile. I was headed to Iowa, adjacent to Wisconsin to the west, so there wouldn’t be a problem. I didn’t take into account the poor showing of US college graduates on US geography knowledge.] “I’m headed to Iowa.” I responded. “Oh that’s too bad. Looks like we’ll have to charge to by the mile for that one.” My jaw dropped. It had been a long day, and this display of geographic ignorance was the wrong response at the wrong time in my life on that day. “IOWA.” I repeated slowly but emphatically. She responded without missing a beat. “Yes, I know. It’s not really a neighboring state, so we’ll have to charge mileage.” She smiled condescendingly as she answered. At that moment, in my mind, there was verbal ammo being loaded, mental safeties being released and scathing modes being set to full automatic. I wasn’t going to put up with this kind of nonsense. Just as I was about to unleash a verbal tirade reminiscent of a 1970’s Bill Murray comedy, I heard a still small voice speak to my heart. “She thanked you for being patient. Love is patient. You just preached about loving your neighbor. She is your neighbor. You must love her by being patient. You can challenge her conclusions, but you must do it lovingly.” Aw Maaan. “Stand down!” I thought to myself. “Ma’am” I responded gently. “Perhaps you thought I said Idaho. I said Iowa. I'm headed directly west, to the Wisconsin border to IOWA.” At that moment I noticed her coworker looking on, eyes wide, HOPING that her colleague would realize the mistake and also hoping that I wouldn’t enter into the tirade I was considering just a few moments before. As if a light switch was flipped, the agent suddenly snapped into realization and responded “OF COURSE! YES! IOWA! Of course there’ll be no mileage charged!” With that, we continued on with the transaction without incident and I jumped into the vehicle and began my journey to Iowa.

The point? If I had acted on my impulse, according to my own impatience and selfishness, what turned out to be a relatively mundane event could have escalated into something unpleasant if not downright ugly. I needed to be reminded that it isn’t enough to preach that love is patient. I have to live it out if I’m serious about being like Jesus. I need more time in the “Gym” with God’s word, and more devotion to applying my Gym work in the ring of real life. How about you? Are you just shadow boxing and posing as a “good fighter” or are you training hard and preparing to put your skills to work when the challenges are hardest? Love is patient. Prepare yourself for those little everyday challenges so that you can walk like a champ who brings glory to God and not slump like a chump who’s an embarrassment to the faith. Until next time….

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Simple Trust in Changing Seasons

I will never forget June 2011! I’m not sure that I’ve ever experienced as many significant life events at the same time as I did during the first two weeks of that now very special month. The rising tide of events began with a major, but expected rite of passage for our third daughter Joana – her graduation from Case High School. As we celebrated her accomplishment and began to digest some major changes that would come our way as she embarks on her journey towards independence and adulthood, our other daughters had some major developments in their lives to share with us as well. Our oldest, Coco, was beaming as her husband Mike looked on with an impossible-to-hide-joy. I was pretty sure of what was coming, especially as I glanced at Luz and saw a knowing look. Coco didn’t waste any time, and shared with great excitement that she was expecting and we were going to be grandparents! Even though I was certain of the news she was bringing to us, I found my mind racing to digest it. Grandparents, with a 6 year-old! Oh man! Then, like a late night infomercial, our daughter Maris grabbed our attention and encouraged us to wait because “There’s more!” I also had some idea of where her announcement was heading. She had been dating Steve for over a year and it seemed obvious that their friendship had much more to it. My suspicions were again confirmed as Steve and Maris shared the news of their engagement. At this point, our youngest, Victoria, felt it was important for us to take note of the fact that she had completed Kindergarten and was now heading to the first grade! SO many changes occurring so suddenly! How does one digest so much life in one sitting?

At times like these, I go back to the basic, foundational truths that strengthen, support and define the faith to which I have devoted my life – faith in the trustworthiness and faithfulness of the Lord, Jesus Christ and faith in His great love for not only me, but His love for this big and sometimes uncertain world. Because of the faithfulness I have seen in the past in every kind of situation and circumstance, I can face the coming patriarchal decathlon of grandparenthood, parent-of-adulthood, father-in-law-hood and father-of-the-strongest-willed-child-we’ve-had-yet-hood too!

The Apostle Paul was able to display amazing confidence while imprisoned and to pass on his confidence to his understudy Timothy. When recounting the tests and trials he had faced and when considering the situation that had placed him in prison due to his faith in Jesus, Paul was able to encourage a free Timothy by sharing that he was not uncertain of his ultimate well-being or ashamed of his unusual circumstances.

Paul knew where his strength came from and held Timothy to the same standard of trust by saying this: “I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day. Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. That good thing which was committed to you, keep by the Holy Spirit who dwells in us.”

“Keep that good thing!” The Lord cares for us and delights in building our confidence so that we can truly hang on to our faith when the challenges press in hard. Sometimes he lifts us up in the most unexpected ways! On July 4th, 2011 at the urging of our daughters Joana and Victoria and at Luz’s request I conceded that perhaps we needed to experience the Racine North Beach Fireworks. We hadn’t really planned anything special and I was committed to a rather low-key 4th experience until Luz and the girls convinced me that getting out would be a good thing, even though I was rather tired. When we got to the beach, we had our requisite blankets, lotions and sand-castle construction gear, but not much else. I began to think, we have a couple of hours to spend down here, and I didn’t bring any money, food or anything! Not an ideal situation. Just as I was thinking this, a woman approached Luz and me. “Are you staying here for the fireworks?” she asked. “Well, yes.” We answered. She continued, “That’s great! My family and I have another fourth event to attend and we really over planned our stay. We have to leave right now, but want you to have our cooler and everything in it. There’s food, fruit, pop, water chips, everything you need for a meal. We hope you’ll like it!” She opened it up and sure enough, there was a feast fit for royalty. We gave her our deepest thanks and marveled at how much this simple act of kindness had blessed us when we needed a little boost in our spirits! He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him even until the day He comes or comes for me!

This “little miracle” gave us encouragement in the bigger situations we face. We were reassured that just as the Lord saw and met our need in this simplest of ways without our even thinking that He would, He will certainly meet us in the areas of our deepest need about which we ask Him everyday! Are you feeling stretched by your circumstances? Are you feeling tossed about by the storms of life? Don’t forget what God has done, and don’t lose sight of what he is now doing in your life. You will gain perspective, shore up your faith, and you just might gain a testimony that could be useful in encouraging others as well. Until next time…