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Location: Liverpool, NY

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Sunday, August 31, 2014

Perspective: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly and God's Grace

Back in February of this year we had one erratic week in our house with my 13 year old son. On Monday of that week he was just ornery and difficult, giving his mother fits about getting his schoolwork done.  Not just the routine resistance of the average 13 year old, but more of a defiance to the point of exasperation. On Tuesday, without provocation he joyfully made a full dinner for the family.

On Wednesday evening the roommate of my neighbor across the street, came over and knocked on the door. Now he is a little odd to begin with, but when I answered the door he kind of stuttered and was stressed.  "S-s-s-someone here is shining a laser on the TV and on ME and that, that, that is j-j-just not right! You can't do that to someone."  I apologized profusely and agreed it was not right. After closing the door and an angry inquiry, my son admitted it was him. I didn't know whether to laugh or kill him.

On Friday evening we went to my 10 year old son's Upward basketball game. After the game was over as my wife and I were socializing with some of the other parents, my 13 y/o comes running up to me. "Dad, c'mon. This lady has a flat tire and we're going to fix it for her."  I really wasn't interested in going out in single digit degree, snowy, weather but how do you turn down a kid that wants to do good?  So we go out there. He finds the jack, jacks up the car, gets the tire off and then we had some complications as to where was the spare and how to get it off.  It took us a good 45 minutes to get it done with the help of a few others -- who my son got involved to help us. We froze, literally almost to the point of frost bite, but got it done. After we got in the car he said, "Wow Dad, it feels really great to help people like that. I'm really glad we did that." What a good Samaritan! I was so proud. I wondered what happened to the kid with the laser. All in all, it was a schizophrenic week.

Fast forward five months.  Ben, an avid baseball player, had been struggling at the plate. He's had an injury that hampered him but mostly he was just in a frustrating slump.  We traveled with another family to a game about 45 minutes away.  After walking and scoring in the first inning, he was up again in the third. He struck out looking horrible. He was furious after each bad swing. On the third strike he slammed his bat down but the catcher dropped the ball so he ran for first. The catcher fired it down to first base but the ball got past the fielder. Ben rounded first but was still clearly irate. What he didn't notice is the second baseman backed up the play, fielded the ball and threw it back to first. Ben turned to go back and was tagged out. Now even more irate he launched his helmet off his head across the field. The ump pointed and said, "You're gone." He was ejected from the game.

My wife called during the next inning, wanting to know how the game was going.  I awkwardly told her, "Not that great."  As I was, she was heartbroken and furious. But during the next few innings of watching my son not play, I kept hearing, what I think was from the Lord, to keep this in perspective. And then I remembered February.

On the next afternoon after this notorious game, I came home from a bike ride. My wife said she just spoke to a neighbor whose autistic son was missing. Both my older sons, immediately stopped what they were doing and left the house and started combing the neighborhood for the boy. They spent nearly 2 hours jogging, walking and biking through our neighborhood and the nearby streets.  Thankfully he was found, not by us, but I was so pleased that my sons assessed the seriousness of the situation and without being asked, just started looking.  That was character a parent wants to see in a kid.

In the weeks beyond these incidents I have been reflecting on how complicated kids are.  There's good, there's bad and there's ugly.  And they aren't all that unlike their parents. Who some days are preaching great sermons, loving the outcasts and helping the poor. And the next day lusting, complaining, lashing out at others in anger, failing miserably at their prayer life and other unmentionable sins.

And sometimes I am so wrapped up in the guilt and shame of my own helmet throwing incidents that I let them mark time in my world and keep a perpetual memory of them. And I then I fail to give the same import to those incidents where I stopped, dropped and inconvenienced myself to help those in need -- where I was a good Samaritan.  In other words, my perspective, and I think most of our perspectives, are seen through broken incomplete lenses.

Whereas, our savior, Jesus Christ, has a complete, grace filled perspective.  He doesn't mark time by noting all our ejections, nor even our good Samaritan moments. He marks time by his grace in our lives that empowers us for good and heals our shame from the bad.  And I want to suggest that we need to begin letting that grace fill our minds as we evaluate our lives and the incidents with which we mark time.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Are You Growing Spiritually? How Do You Know?

1 Peter 2:For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

I see my doctor every couple months as there are issues that we are trying to manage related to certain bloodwork results. We have a basic chart that shows us a history of where we started, when we tried certain medications and got off them, where we changed diet and exercise, etc. I can map my progress or lack of it. I have markers -- points and times where I checked and noted my progress.  But it wasn't just me that checked. Somebody else, namely a laboratory, had to check for me. I needed help to identify the problem, manage the problem and track the problem.

At our church Bible study recently we studied the above passage and I was struck by the words "are yours and are increasing".  How do you know if they are increasing? Have you checked? Has anyone else? Do you have any evidence other than a subjective feeling that says, my faith is growing, I am becoming more virtuous, my affection for the saints is growing, etc.?

I remember in seminary, John Weborg used to say, "Memory is half imagination."  We don't have perfect memories. An so consequently, we do not have perfect views of ourselves. We need help to know ourselves.  

I often say to people, "Tell me what your back looks like. In detail. Where are the freckles, birthmarks, blemishes or hair? What's your skin look like back there?"  They don't know. And none of us find out without the help of another person or object (mirror) to show us.  There are parts of us that are very public that we don't know what they look like, we can't see and need help for us to know know.

We need something similar to a physician or soul friend for our spiritual lives as well. We need a long term friend to walk with us and help us see ourselves, even the parts that we can't see alone.

At our Bible study I suggested journaling as a possible helpful tool. Long term work with a journal where we pour out our souls to God in prayer, record significant and sometimes insignificant events in our lives, and elaborate on our heart's condition could help us know if "these qualities are [y]ours and increasing" as the text above says.

But we're not meant to live the Christian life alone. We need someone to have our back and to journey with us to help us to see ourselves.