Friday, October 31, 2008


The end of the year is starting to stare me in the face. I know it's only the end of October, and I know that we've still two months, but let's be honest: between Thanksgiving and Christmas, there's really only about a month of usable time between now and then.

The thing that this reminds me of is commitment. This was one of the things that was a big point of discussion at the seminar we went to in June: commitment. First of all, keeping commitments to yourself, and second of all, keeping commitments to others.

The part that has always given me great trouble is actually keeping commitments to myself. Others are not so difficult: I tend to do it out of a sense of shame, if not from a concern about keeping my word. But the ones to myself are far more likely to slide off, as I have been making excuses to myself about myself all my life.

But the commitments to myself are often the ones that are the most critical. Spiritual commitments, to pray or study or push on to be more Christlike, are always between God - and myself. Items like health, accomplishing small tasks which need to be done or even the big ones that need to be done, are always in the end a commitment to myself to do them.

How am I doing with them?

For most, unfortunately, not well - and largely because I don't really believe that they are that important. Why? Because I have so trained myself (largely through the process of schooling) that actions equal results, or should. But for so many of the personal commitments, the results are not necessarily visible, if perhaps at all - and trying to tie them to something outside of one's self, like saying is either ineffective or downright dangerous, as it mentally may put me in a position I shouldn't be in.

How do you motivate? How do you stop lying to yourself?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


Winter is almost upon us again. Yes, I know, the calender says not until December, but in reality we're supposed to be in line for rain this weekend, and as my rule of thumb goes here, if it's not done by 10/31, it won't be done until Spring.

Something which we seem to have lost in modern society is this idea of the rhythm of the seasons. Beyond climate control and changing one's garments for the temperature, there is little sense of the fact that things change, that the seasons really are different with different things going on. Think on times before every kind of food was available every day of the year: there was a reason that oranges were associated with Christmas gifts (that's when they were available) and tomatoes with summer.

We are, I think, the poorer for it. Why? Because it has severed a link that we had with the world around us, a sense of being attuned to the creation of God -and the Creator, and the wonders (and perils) of the world He set into being. Instead, we essentially become our own little creators, making insulated pockets of what we feel our world should be - and not only physically, but spiritually and intellectually as well.

The thing we forget - to our peril - is that our pockets of physical control are really at the mercy of the real creation and the real Creator, and can be eliminated very easily. Anyone who has seen the outcome of any natural disaster understands this - and yet, for the most part, folks go blithely on, perhaps with the assumption that "it will never happen to me".

For perspective - this weekend, take five minutes outside of things, and go outside and just listen - listen to the creation tell you about its Maker.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Prepared for Every Good Work

"But in a great house there not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay, some for honor and some for dishonor. Therefore if anyone cleanses himself from the latter, he will be a vessels for honor, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work." - 2 Timothy 2:20-21

Ancient households, such as the ones Paul knew of, used vessels of various types not only as carriers, but as storage, waste disposal, plumbing, and preservation. In a great house such as the household of Caesar, some would have been beautiful vessels of gold and silver, used for show and eating; others would have been used for the much more mundane purposes of waste and garbage disposal. These would be made of wood and clay, both because they were of little value but also because of what they were used for.

Note that Paul does not allude to how the vessels came to be what they are: some are of one nature, some are of another, but all can be used for honor (serving food) or dishonor (disposing of garbage or waste). However, the use of a vessel could be changed if it was cleansed (the Greek word here means "Thoroughly cleaned out" or "To completely purge"), if it was scoured and washed and rinsed until no sign of its previous use was visible. At that point, it could be put to another use.

The vessels to whom Paul was writing was directly Timothy, and indirectly his congregation and use today. We all have the same potential to be used mightily by God for His purposes (though not in the same way). However, there is a prerequisite: we must be cleansed from all filth. Paul does not seem to be talking about salvation here, as 1) He is speaking to Timothy, a believer who already have cleansing of his sins through Christ; and 2) Paul uses the phrase "cleanses himself". Paul vigorously defended the concept of salvation by faith alone and the complete inability of man to cleanse himself of sin. Instead, he seems to be alluding to the filth of the world around us, whether the sin that we revel in or the knowing error we engage in. Only after we have cleansed ourselves from those things which we can, says Paul, can we truly be a vessel of honor, sanctified (set apart) for the Master (the Lord), ready for good works.

How actively am I seeking to cleanse myself of the sin that so closely clings to me? Does it mean I'll fully do it? No, at least not in this life. But there are plenty of sins that I indulge in because I am lazy, or seeking to justify leading a less than fully spiritual life ("If I'm not going to be used by God, I'm just going to do ____.") because I don't feel I am of use. Could it be that God is waiting for me to actively remove these from my life so that I can be of greater use to Him, ready for every good work?

If you've every had light from a dirty lamp, it's not the light you notice but how dirty the lamp is. Only when a lamp is clean so that the light shines through it does the lamp truly fulfill its purpose of providing light by not interfering with the transmission of that light; we see and think of the light as bright, not of the lamp as being clean.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Movie List

You'll notice I've posted a new list over to the right: Some of my favorite movies. The thought occurred to me this past weekend that I do tend to watch the same movies again and again, as I hate to invest 90-120 minutes for something that I end up not liking.

What I found as I made the list (and there are some I'll probably add after I think about it) is that they tend to have a few themes: Cartoons, combat (old school), science fiction/fantasy, adventure, Christian (i.e. taken from the Bible), adventure (the old style, discovery type), and generally rated G or PG. The fact that those themes are there was somewhat surprising to me.


"Do you see a man skillful in his work? He will stand before kings; he will not stand before obscure men." - Proverbs 22:29

A subtlety of the verse arises in my mind this morning - probably all the cogitating that is going on over the last two weeks.

Note that the verse discusses nothing about one's love for one's work, one's passion for the work, or one being fulfilled by the work. It mentions only "being skillful", the combination of knowledge and expertise which comes with practice and experience - and which, I might add, is accessible to all. Not everyone can love their work, but everyone can be skillful at the work they do.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


I am a man richly blessed with friends.

Over the past two days, I have had deep and thought provoking conversations with Bogha Frois, An Polleaneach, and An Quebecois about success, succeeding, and how that applies to my life and what I am doing.

I don't know that I have fully apprehended all that has been said to me - other than I know that I am close, closer than I have been in a very long time.

The two, somewhat intertwined paths are:

1) What does success really mean?
2) What does it take to reach that success?
3) (I lied) What does that mean to my life?

I freely admit that part of my definition, probably true of most men, is tied to financial means. It's an easy way to measure it (I have X, I used to have W, I am moving towards Y) and is often the most immediately noticeable - as Moliere said, "There's no praise to beat the sort you can put in your pocket". Also, given the experience of The Firm, I am not happy when our finances are so close to edge, as they feel to me to be and as the Market has been daily reminding me.

But it is certainly not the best measure, and not the only one. As An Quebecois pointed out to me, you can succeed at business and handily fail at the important things in life - God, Family, doing what your supposed to be doing (which money may only be facilitating by paying your way).

As to the price of success, generally it seems to always rated as worth it by those that succeed, but I wonder. An article, which was the genesis of this discussion, was both carefully questioned by An Polleaneach and An Quebecois, is what the author paid to reach it. It is seemingly apparent to me that the cost of success only truly becomes apparent later in life (perhaps in eternity?) when the outcome of the actions we put in motion have played themselves out.

Which kind of makes a question of value, doesn't it? And we how we assess the value of everything in our life, or perhaps more accurately stated, how well we assess the value of everything in our life.

Maybe that's the key and core and therefore a starting point to consider: success is spending the most time on the things that are truly valuable in your life.

If that's the case, then Bogha Frois's comment of last night is worth considering: You have to make a choice. It can't be anyone making the choice for you, and it doesn't have to be permanent. But you must make a choice on the things that are valuable, and then construct your life in such a way that you support, nurture, and move towards spending more effort and time on these things.

I don't know. But I feel I'm close - closer than I've been in a long time.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Bees and Soccer Balls

My father called tonight. The last bee colony is gone.

He checked, as it looked like there were not a great deal of bees coming out. Sure enough, moths were in the top, and their larvae had chewed up the top deep. He has managed to salvage honey out the bottom deep, and we'll scrape the wax after leaving it well exposed to the sun.

I need to take a class. Something is just not working right - or as my father said, "This is some of the most expensive honey ever."

While poking around online tonight for classes and information on the wax moth (which, by the way, is a native of Asia and can be deterred by a strong hive), the thought occurred to me "Oh well, here we go again." Another thing, started, perhaps done half well, and failed. To some extent, the story of my life.

It makes me think that there is something beneath the something here. It's more than just bees failing, or not following through with my writing, or my gardens that never get quite as grand as I dream them.

It's follow through.

I was reminded of this this weekend as I watched my niece's soccer game (8 years old). The girls would kick the ball, but then would just stand there or watch it go or not kick it again when the opposing team blocked it. "Follow Through" I screamed at the top of my lungs, probably confusing most of the other parents (Who's the guy yelling at my kid) and getting ignored by 8 year old soccer players.

But it occurred to me then, and occurs to me now, that I was yelling at myself.

I have always feared to make choices, to choose one activity over another, because I thought I would limit my choices. Is it limiting my choices, or is it my fear that I could not complete something competently?

There's a hint in my life - I would do something until something went wrong or I failed, and then I don't want to do the thing anymore - it's like I never did it in the first place. Rather than pick up at the point of a failure and move on, I pretend it never happened and move on.

No follow through. Soccer balls flying back at me as I stare stupidly at them.

So now's as good a time as any to start making choices. I can't do everything I will ever want to do. I need to commit - if I want to do something, I will do it until I succeed.

That means being humble enough to admit I don't know everything and being willing to learn. It means being committed enough to keep pushing through, even when I do fail or get discouraged.

It means kicking the ball when it comes back at you. Twice, if you have to.

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Weight of the Dead

I have come to realize that much of the baggage that we carry around, the things we subject ourselves to, the things we think we should be feeling, are given to us by those who are either years gone from our lives or dead.

If I look in my own life, at behaviors I have, of things that I do in reaction to stimuli that occur, I realize that in many cases I am doing them to please (or avoid) a reaction that occurred long ago - or worse, I am doing it on behalf of someone else, either not physically present (and hasn't been for years) or dead.

An example: I am not a person that enjoys confrontation - to the point that I will not confront even in matters that need to be confronted about. Why? Because in confrontations, I feel that they are attacking me, not the concept or idea I am confronting. Where did this come from? I don't really know. However, like much of the the other things we bear, it can become crippling.

I read somewhere (honestly, I think it was in a scifi/fantasy book from a Dwarf) that "You cannot bear the weight of the dead" meaning that one cannot carry the past of others with us. If anyone suggested that we carry around the bodies of those that had died, what a strange proposition that would be: backs bent beneath rotting corpses, as we drag them around on our daily rounds. Yet non-corporally, this is exactly what we do.

As Christians I think this can be especially difficult, as we have our new life in Christ to live, yet at the same time we are carrying about in this body of sin, with its desire and passions - which, though crucified and dead, can still rise up to tempt us. Have you ever committed a sin, even though it was not really pleasurable, simply on the strength of memories of how good it used to feel to engage in wrath, immorality, drunkenness, or gossip? Are you pleasing a master which no longer has power? In another way, you are bearing the weight of the dead.

The problem is, the dead don't - and can't- forgive. Only the living Christ offers that. And the dead, being non-communicative, can be harsh and driving taskmasters, much like sin, because you can never please them - or it.

What attitudes, opinions, and reactions are you engaging in today that are a result of someone or something that is no longer relevant? How long will you bear the weight of the dead?

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Great Uncertainty

So today, we had our call with our government agency. I was not in the call, so I had the privilege and opportunity of reading people's faces without knowing the outcome.

The result: Not good.

We essentially (apparently) capitulated to the agency, moving the timeline for our development project out considerably - to the point that the "Big Orange Line" starts to precipitously dip towards zero. In fact, by the time the data is in, we may be considerably beyond that line.

Am I upset? No, I'm actually feeling quite clear in my mind. For once, I know precisely where we sit and what the risks are. A wake up call? Absolutely. At worst, without in further income for the company, I could potentially be out of work about Christmas next year.

A goal to work towards. I was heartened this week by Am Polleanach and An Quebecois, who have made significant adjustments in their retirement plans based on the the world around them. Heartened because it always seems rare to find people who get information and then act on it.

I have the information. Now I need to act.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Moon over Madison

Peeking out then back,
Fall moon beneath winter's clouds
turns the trees aflame.

Shepherds and Incandescence

I have my found my thing.

Well, okay, I did not really find it. Someone else found it for me – Gene Logsdon in You Can Go Home Again. There is was, sitting there –I’d even read it before, but never consciously made the connection:

“But I came home to be a shepherd in another way, also unanticipated. I became a shepherd of homesick humans. I had always seen in the ‘Little Bo Peep’ rhyme more than the literal meaning of the lines: ‘Leave them alone, and they’ll come home, bringing their tails behind them.’ I thought that admonition applied to people in more cases than to sheep, and it certainly had applied to me. From the mail and phone calls I was receiving in mounting numbers, it was obvious that most people were trying to come home, if not literally then to someplace they could make into a true home, a place where they actually lived their lives. Some went home not exactly willingly at first, forced to do so by downsizing, and found that losing their high-paying jobs turned out to be a blessing. Some waited until they retired, when they could escape the mad manacles of wage-slaveocracy. Some waited until the very end and came home in coffins.

Becoming a shepherd of lost souls was unnerving for me. I was a lost soul myself. But I tried to answer all the questions of homesick; replied to all their mail; allowed them to come here even when I doubted that visiting me was going to help their troubled spirits; wrote books that I hoped would inspire those with a true vocation for this kind of living and would discourage those who were only fantasizing. I became a shepherd, calling home those people who should have never left in the first place. How much profit per acre is this worth in accounting terms?”

That’s what it is: Going home to the place you belong. Being and living where you are. Being an integrated whole: as Benjamin Franklin said “What you seem to be, be really.” Not being different parts of yourself in different places: authenticity.

This tied in with a second thought, one I couldn't remember until I got home tonight at midnight, nagging at my mind. It was in today's reading of My Utmost for His Highest:

"We may have the vision of God and a very clear understanding of what God wants, and we start to do the thing, then comes something equivalent to the forty years in the wilderness, as if God had ignored the whole thing, and when we are thoroughly discouraged God comes back and revives the call, and we get the quaver in and say - "Oh, who am I?" We have to learn the first great stride of God - "I AM THAT I AM hath sent thee." We have to learn that our individual effort for God is an impertinence; our individuality is to be rendered incandescent by a personal relationship to God (see Matthew 3:17). We fix on the individual aspect of things; we have the vision - "This is what God wants me to do;" but we have not got into God's stride. If you are going through a time of discouragement, there is a big personal enlargement ahead. " (Emphasis mine).

That's what I want too: the individuality that God has granted me (whatever permutation that may be) to be made incandescent, that light on a hill - not by anything I do or have done, but by God showing Himself through me. That is to be truly authentic, truly whole, and in the end, to be shepherd Logsdon speaks off, guiding people back home.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Going Home versus Serving Here

I am rereading You Can Go Home Again by Gene Logsdon. I like Logsdon, as he is a very good writer/storyteller and he writes about things close to my heart: farms and agriculture, a sense of centeredness, agricultural sanity in a time of global chaos.

This book is especially good, as it is really two books in one: in the first half, Logsdon essentially gives us an abbreviated biography of his life, moving from a path of Catholic priest to farmer and writer. The second part is a series of short stories about life "on the ramparts", as he says from The Contrary Farmer, including softball, Christmas, and living without power during a winter storm of 1978.

The thing that has moved me most on this rereading (I am saving what is left of the book for my flight home, savoring the joy of discovering Christmas and cornhusking and a Ted Nugent concert again) is actually early in the book, when he talks about realizing that he wants to be a farmer, not a priest. It takes him a period of years to realize that in fact it is okay to feel this - that in the end (my words, not his) he has made an excellent farmer and writer but would have made a lousy priest, as you can never truly be good at what you don't love.

The thought boomeranged back to my own life right now, and where I am in my career. I can assure you, although I tolerate the work I do and in some ways enjoy it more than I used to, I do not "love" my job. In many ways, not all intellectually or careerwise, this move was good - if for no other reason than it is simply that, a job, not a personal crisis welling up from day to day to take over my life and take home with me. Still, there is something within me that looks around at all of this and shrugs my shoulders. Truly, if I could do what I wanted, I would walk away from this career field with nary a second thought.

But in that event, what would that do to the mission I field I am in, as Otis notes in his excellent post here? I'm fighting, as the author of The Cloud of Unknowing might say, the struggle between the active and the contemplative life. We serve at the request of God, not Him at ours. What we imagine for ourselves and what He created us for are two different things - but as always, we life in hopes that all those gifts and yearnings that God has given us are there for a purpose and will be realized - if not here, then in Heaven.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Bringing Value

A layover in my flight.

Interestingly, traveling brings back memories of The Firm. That I know of, we never came to here, flying more through the Southwest to the South and Southeast. Still, walking through the airport, seeing Fox Sports Box restaurant, going on Southwest Airlines as I did last week, all brings back The Firm.

We passed Failure Day III this year. I assume I have gotten over this, as it passed without my realizing it this year. The harshest of memories is gone – I can remember what it was like to go weeks without a paycheck, which makes the current economic situation much more doable, if only I can keep it in my mind. Too, finding a job that absorbs my attention more is also assisting.
Still, it is one of the great might have beens. What would have happened if I had stayed? I know my partner has continued on in the business, and from what I can tell, doing so reasonably successfully. But would that have worked with two? Was I truly bringing value to the table?

Perhaps that is lesson tonight, sitting idly in the Central Time Zone. Am I bringing value – first of all, in my relationship to God (more properly asked in that case, am I using what He has gifted me with to bring glory to Him) – but secondly in all my relationships: the Ravishing Mrs. TB, na clann, my circle of friends (Uisdean Ruadh, Otis and Buttercup, An Polleaneach, An Quebecois, Bogha Frois and L’Acadian), my family of believers and the greater family of believers throughout the world, my career? Are they all better for having known me? When I am with them, do I give them 100% of my time and attention – or, like the end of The Firm, do I devolve into doing what makes me feel good?

Exercising Your Gift

So I had the opportunity to exercise my gift on Sunday. It was nothing like I imagined.

Interestingly, I think we get the idea from somewhere (not sure where) that when we exercise our gifts, we will be in some kind of happy, blissful state, above that which are doing.

Not for me. I could visibly feel myself shaking about halfway through the first stanza, and definitely twitching by the second. By God's grace (or so The Ravishing Mrs. TB said) my voice did not break at all.

It strikes me as odd how caught up we get in using our gifts for God's glory, and then when the circumstance arises to use them, we freak out about how they are being used and whether we'll look good. One always wants to do one's best, of course, but there is a thin line between doing the best for the glory of God and doing one's best so that I will look good glorifying God.

Dreams and Decisions

What constitutes when to follow a dream in the absence of any proof?

I have an opportunity to fulfill one of my lifelong goals (and no, I won't tell you which one. That's not the point). The difficulty is, it is not fulfilling it quite in the way I had planned. Essentially, it requires an upfront investment of money, a thing that is a bit short in supply at the moment.

I struggle - in the vast scheme of things, it may not be much, but right now, it is humanly insurmountable. And to some degree, it feels selfish - I operate not in the context of myself, but in the context of a family unit that depends on me.

The other item is that I do not want to force something that is not the will of God. I've done that, more often that I care to think. If it ever went well, it was only due to the grace of God, not to anything that I did. My model, if I have one, is Phil Vischer, formerly of Veggie Tales. He thought that God had called him to create an entertainment group rivaling Disney, which in the end crumbled (his blog,, has an excellent summary. His book, Me, Myself, and Bob, is also very good in this regard [as I've told - haven't got to reading it yet).

The issue I haven't work out is timing. In my experience, opportunities are only exceeded by fish in their ability to go stale in a short period of time. Nothing lasts forever, of course. I need to decide something this week. Of course, I am also a believer (taught by the school of hard knocks) that if any business deal needs to be done in a rush without appropriate analysis, it's probably not worth it.

Look at that - it's pretty much a God thing. Which it should be.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Winter Garden

This weekend has been the culmination of a two weekend process to replace my summer garden with my winter garden. I got a helpful push from the weather last weekend (cold and rainy), which prompted me to get my tail in action - around here, much beyond the last week of October, you're not able to plant much of anything, as we have entered our rainy season.

It was easier than in years past, partially because I planted less, partially because things were spaced out better. It's also allowed me to reconfigure my garden into a summer side and winter side (based on access to the sun). Currently on the summer side, there's nothing but a couple of leftover pepper plants and some onions and potatoes I missed earlier. I'm planning to dump my compost in today, and then start layering it with what I am able to get from mowing my lawn between now and the end of the season.

On the winter side, I planed wheat, barley, potatoes, onions, spinach, lettuce, cabbage, broccoli (two kinds) and leeks. I have to mulch these as well, but want a fair amount of them to get started, so I'll delay that a bit.

Left to do: reconfigure my compost area (I'm pulling out the system of boards I'm using now, as the dog can dig in it and replacing it with a series of plastic garbage cans with open bottoms) and figure out a low fencing system to keep the dog out of the garden (something cheap and easy to replace - maybe pvc?)

Thursday, October 09, 2008


So I am starting to attempt to remove the clutter and disorganization from my physical and spiritual life.

It's odd - at work I have gotten to the point that I am fairly organized. I am a firm believer in the idea that a clean desk promotes an organized mind and work environment, almost to the point that I become physical uncomfortable if I have too many piles.

However, our home life has never really been that way - not messy per se, just disorganized with a lot of stuff involved. It was like that before na clann arrived, so of course that didn't assist anything.

Why do we hold onto things? If I look around me, at my own stuff, why do I keep the things I do? Some of it is from nostalgia or sentimental value, of course, and some of it is because the things are useful to me. But what about those that are neither sentimental nor useful?

Part of it, I suppose, is a comfort thing. We keep things that make our environment comfortable and soothing to us, a place we want to be. I think, however, I'd probably include this stuff in the useful category, as it is serving a purpose (but can change status as we change our decor, our lives, etc.)

The rest, I think, is simply the fact that we don't really like to give things up. Why? Two reasons: 1) Fear we're going to need it again and not have it; 2) A sort of base materialism that prevents us from getting rid of things, even if we don't need them.

Our greatest challenge is our garage, which is packed full of stuff which we are going to sell in a garage sale. In some cases, the stuff has been there for 6-7 months since our last garage sale. Is there any thought that we will really any money on this? No. But what keep us from just clearing it out and donating it, or simply giving it away? The nagging thought that money is walking out the door.

A third reason pops into my head as I write - keeping things that meant something to us, especially things we used to participate in or do, out of a sense that getting rid of them is getting rid of ourselves. To get rid of those golf clubs or that hobby item that meant so much to us 10 years ago, that we poured so much time into, can be like getting rid of part of ourselves.

It occurs to me that our spiritual lives are just like this: we collect clutter over the years through sin, bad habits, bad ways of living, baggage we carry around, to the point that it prevents us from being effective or useful to God. As hard as it is to get something in a full closet or garage, how much harder to wade through the corridors of the heart looking for love and humility as we're pushing aside boxes labeled "Sins of my youth I never gave over to God" or "Last week's argument with my wife" or "Spiritual laziness"?

Perhaps that's why God will use fire in His judgement of rewards of the believer (1 Corinthians 3:12-15): fire, more than any other physical item, is the one thing that truly reduces all items, both important and unimportant, into something that will blow away in the wind. Only those things within will remain.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Love in the Time of Financial Chaos

I have been watching the financial roller coaster of the last two weeks with a not unconcerned eye - I obviously have been affected (if you've a retirement account or a house, guess what: you're in!), as have those I know who are retired (my parents, An Quebecois) or those who have lost their jobs (Uisdean Ruadh).

The revealing thing to me is how much this is revealing about the focus of the society that we have created. Simply put, and this will come as a surprise to no-one, we are a society consumed with wealth.

It crosses every conceivable social fracture line in the world. People are concerned about money, where money is coming from, where is the money going, when will the money be back.

The thing it has reminded me of - blatantly - is the matter of priorities.

In Proverbs 23: 4-5 Solomon writes (almost 3000 years ago):

"Do not overwork to be rich;
Because of your own understanding, cease!
Will you set your eyes on that
which is not?
For riches certainly make themselves wings;
They fly away like an eagle toward heaven."

- and yet we have built a society on the very concept of wealth, and that wealth and the earning of it should be a priority in our live, requiring potential sacrifices of ourselves, our families, our relationships, and our service to God.

Could it be that God is smacking our hands now, using a circumstance which many in this country hold as a right (especially the Baby Boomer generation - think of what almost reaching the retirement finish line and then watching it drain away) to call us back to Him?

And for those of us younger or farther away, could this be God reminding us of the futility of substituting any idol for Him?

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Fooling Ourselves

Tonight in our faith group, we talked about Malachi 3:13-18. The first half of this section deals with the hearts of those in Israel who were only obeying God on the surface, essentially for outward gain:

13“ Your words have been harsh against Me,” Says the LORD, “ Yet you say, ‘ What have we spoken against You?’
14 You have said, ‘ It is useless to serve God; What profit is it that we have kept His ordinance, And that we have walked as mourners Before the LORD of hosts?
15 So now we call the proud blessed, For those who do wickedness are raised up; They even tempt God and go free.’”

In other words, "We kept the law, we served you, we even fasted and repented, and nothing! From now on God, we go with the pragmatic and successful, even if they are against you."

It is evident, is it not, that the hearts of those to whom the Lord ascribes His words were never really obedient in the first place? They were serving and keeping the commands of God and repenting, but only outwardly, and really only to seek the physical and financial rewards of God. In other words, their hearts weren't in their relationships with God.

Too often I have made this mistake in my own life, thinking that if only I did the right thing, I would be rewarded. Consider it a legacy (still ongoing) of my intense need to please people and be like by them. If you've ever suffered from this, you know exactly the pain and uncertainty of always trying to gauge the reactions of others for a sign: do they like me? Are they indicating they don't like me? If this drives you crazy, think about trying to gauge the reaction of a God you can't see!

But here is the odd thing: God has actually told us what pleases Him. The problem is we don't take Him at His word. The other problem is that we confuse temporal rewards with eternal rewards. As the Psalmist says, "The fool says in his heart 'There is no God'"(Psalm 14:1), and so they (and too often we) march merrily off seeking the direct cause and effect of the physical world, because if there were a God, He'd sure be rewarding those who obeyed Him (which should have been me) and punishing those who didn't (which, in reality, probably was me, although I fail to see it).

In a real sense, we need to develop our spiritual sense through intensely seeking God through prayer, worship, His word, and other believers. Why? Not so that we can seek some mystical union with God, but so that we become so familiar with and enamoured of Him, that He becomes as real a personality to us through His son Jesus that the reason we obey is not to get a temporal reward, but to please Him and receive an eternal reward. In this, perhaps, the mystics have it right: only as God becomes truly real to me (because for me, I deal poorly in the abstract) will I believe that I am pleasing Him, and will seek to please Him, not in outward behaviour, fooling myself into thinking I am seeking Him, but inwardly in my heart, which will flow outwardly to my actions.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Top Dog II

I had some interesting and thought provoking feedback from Am Polleanach and her husband, An Quebecois based on the Top Dog reflection. The section that got the thought process going was:

"It hit me this morning: Isn't this how we act towards each other? Each of us, in our own way, trying to be "Top Dog" to God? Look at any church body or any church meeting (ever watch the dynamics of before and after church, or a men's breakfast?) and you'll see what I mean: sometimes in subtle, even unconscious ways, we try to "prove" to God that we are more into serving Him than others.

I wonder if God looks on the church with the same frustration that I look upon the dogs. He loves all His children in the church, but we are trying to clamber over each other to get His attention. He has created each of us with spiritual gifts to be used to build up the body - but not all of this are visible and seemingly rewarded in this life. Instead of being what He wants us to be (working hard on conforming to His word and using our spiritual gifts as they have been given), do we try to get His attention by doing visible things to show our devotion and service?"

Am Polleanach e-mailed him saying

"It got me thinking about motivation and why we really do things in church. Of course, because we sing, I look at it from a musician’s point of view."

An Quebecois responded:

"He’s right. We should do our quiet works for God without taking the limelight. We must be humble in His eyes. Service without reward of any kind would be ideal I would think. Now, if we could find a church where it’s people only think of giving without reward. Let’s not give up on that idealism."

The part that created additional thoughts in me are the comments "Of course, because we sing, I look at it from a musician's point of view", and "We should do our quiet works for God without taking the limelight. We must be humble in His eyes. Service without reward of any kind would be ideal I would think. "

As I mentioned before, my primary role of service in my church, and has been for many years, is being involved in music ministry: choir or worship team, instrumentals or vocal solos. When we pray, whether before rehearsal or performance, our Worship Team Leader prays "Let us use the talents you've given us to glorify you, not because we enjoy it but because you're worthy." For a long time I struggled with this, because I sing because I like to sing, I'm moderately good at it, and wherever I've been it's always an area of service churches are looking for.

But I wonder, based on the thoughts from An Quebecois, if we try too hard sometimes. What if in fact God, in His infinite love and grace, would give us to serve in those things we enjoy? There is something for myself in singing, where I simply lose myself in the act of singing. It is not work - it is a pleasure. Before we we begin to agonize over the ways we can't serve God with the gifts and talents we don't have, do we look to the talents and gifts we do have?

I know, I know - setup, or sweeping, or teaching, or a host of things are not necessarily pleasurable to do, but necessary. But even in these, do we lose out on the reward by concentrating more on what we get from the experience than on the joy of serving God, a God who has promised to reward us? And even in the quiet act of physical service, like gardening outside or physical labor, there is a kind of joy. Do we also recognize this as a service for and a reward from God?

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

The Systems of Others

It's amazing to me how truly unsatisfying I can find any job to be. It's almost like I have a gift for not be happy at my jobs.

Not that I have any illusions: one thing I've learned to this point is that the problems of any job never really are different in scope, only in issue and personality.

Part of what I am grappling with is (again) being in the position of realizing that what I have really been hired for is not necessarily my expertise or experience per se, but only so far as that assists my manager in executing the vision that he has for the department.

How is this done, you may ask? Simple. I am asked to create a document or a system. I create a document or a system and send it on for review. What comes back from the review is "Well, this is good, but this is what I was thinking", which really means "This is what I wanted to start out with."

Fine. That's my job. The frustrating part is feeling like one was going to be creating systems and policies, and what one is doing is simply creating the systems and policies of others, which then I am responsible for executing. It makes me feel like a document associate, just moving stuff through the system and occasionally getting the overflow of things that others do not have the time to do or what to do.

So here's the question: How do I change my perspective?

P.S. I suppose on the bright side, the new job and resulting schedule is making it much more easy for me to blog...