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The Boomerang

I never saw it coming from Bruce. He was a retired businessman who agreed to drive Pam and I from the conference center to the hotel room we would staying at for the night so we could preach at his church on Sunday morning. He walked with a limp and didn’t have much to say during the conference. He and his wife quickly volunteered to drive us so I expected they would be nice people but I didn’t think his words would become the focus of my week.
Over lunch, Bruce told me, “The most important lesson I have learned in life is ‘in the same way you judge others, you will be judged.’ (Matthew 7:2) I grew up in a home of rejection. It was the one thing I could count on from my parents. I spent too much of my adult life judging that others would do the same thing. I judged my wife as someone who would reject me so I kept my distance emotionally. I judged people I did business with as people who would reject me so I was either overly cautious with them or overeager to please them. Amazingly, they all seemed to reject me when I needed them the most. I insured they would do the very thing I wanted them not to do.”
My first thought when he finished was, “the judgments we put on people are like boomerangs that are guaranteed to come back to us.” A flood of examples flew through my mind:
• The spouse who is consistently complaining about the immaturity of the other seems to constantly get immature reactions.
• The child who is consistently accused of being irresponsible, frustrates her parents with ongoing irresponsibility.
• The friends who talk about how mean other people are seem to be surrounded by mean people.
• The leader who complains about the lack of initiative among the employees is confused by the fact that no one takes initiative.
• The individual who refuses to forgive can always find someone close by who is emotionally unhealthy.
• The person who is afraid of failure, rejection or, abandonment is usually in close contact with people who trigger the fear.
I am not advocating that we ignore reality because there are harmful people in the world and we need to learn to set healthy boundaries that allow for personal growth and protect the most important people in our lives. But, I am also determined to see the potential in the people I care about and to train myself to focus on what they can be rather than on the imperfections we all possess and must wrestle with.
I want to be surrounded by responsible, compassionate, forward-thinking, innovative people. I, therefore, need to judge the people in my life as responsible, compassionate, forward-thinking and innovative. As I help them see these traits in themselves, they will, likewise, see those same traits in me.
Let the boomerang fly!

Treasure the Unexpected

Some of the best memories of life happen when you least expect them. Last weekend I was in Edmonton. Pam and I spoke at a large conference where we saw more than our share of transformation in a short period of time. Three couples said to us, “We were separated when we came here. If this didn’t work, we weren’t too sure what we were going to do. We have had some kind of a breakthrough and we have found our motivation again.”
Another couple told me, “We realize we haven’t been doing what will really help us. We are a blended family and we have resorted to blaming each other. We are going to start by reading one of your books together and practicing new skills.”
Those were the things I kind of expected to hear. We had prayed for this kind of movement in peoples’ lives and, amazingly, that kind of thing happens regularly at marriage conferences. What I didn’t expect was the inspiration that came from the ride to the airport.
The man who drove the SUV appeared to be an ordinary volunteer. There was nothing striking about his appearance and he was humbly serving as a driver for the conference. As we headed out, we discovered Paul is a member of a quartet called The Crew Guys. He has a natural ear for music and is somewhat of an expert at speaking in dialects. In a short ride, he sang an a capella version of Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus in perfect pitch and then spoke to us in dialects from Ireland, Newfoundland, England and a Southern California beach community. We laughed, applauded and marveled at a gifted man who was content to be a humble servant for the weekend. You can check them out singing the Star Spangled Banner. (Paul is the one with facial hair.)
Matthew 21 started with one of the greatest unexpected treasures in history. It was the beginning of the Passover week and people were flocking to Jerusalem to celebrate the holiday. They had done this year after year and they knew how the routine worked. They made their plans and set their expectations for the week. Then Jesus “sent two disciples, ‘Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me.’ (v. 1-2) ‘They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,
“Hosanna to the Son of David!”
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, ‘Who is this?’ The crowds answered, ‘This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.’” (v. 7-11)
The highlight of their day was the unexpected entrance of the Messiah. As I go through my week, I am going to keep my eyes open for the unexpected treasures!

Remember

Thankfully, it is a stressful season in my career. Work is currently plentiful and deadlines are looming. I am grateful because it has been a tough economic climate so it is good to be busy. I hate to admit it but the majority of the stress is of my own doing. The tasks before me are in line with my skills. The opportunities are ones we have worked toward for years. The deadlines, though challenging, are attainable. The difficulty comes from my propensity to be self-sufficient. I act like it is up to me rather than remember it is actually a partnership with God. I operate as if human wisdom and ingenuity are the only resources to rely upon.
Men have been falling into this trap for a long time. I know because I saw it in Matthew 16. As was their practice, Jesus and his disciples got in a boat to cross the Sea of Galilee. The Savior took advantage of the opportunity to teach the disciples an extremely important lesson in life, “Be careful,” Jesus said to them. “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” (v. 6) The yeast of these leaders was a subtle and futile attempt to be self-righteous. They developed an intricate system that appeared to be spiritual and disciplined when, in fact, it was self-effort disguised as religious devotion. It was unrealistic, unattainable and unattached to the real issue of human nature.
Jesus made it painfully clear, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:6) When it comes to eternal salvation, standing justified before God and accomplishing His will on earth, human effort is worthless. When it comes to defeating the sinful nature and finding the resources to live free from condemnation, human effort is worthless. Only grace and the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit can address these needs.
Human effort can imitate these pursuits, however. We can look religious, disciplined, sincere, and committed to righteous living without any help from God. It looks good for a while but it is not sustainable. It is like driving a car with no engine. It will go downhill just fine but then it must be pushed up the next hill before it can pick up momentum again. It is exhausting most of the time with moments of exhilaration.
The disciples thought at first that Jesus was pointing out their mistake of not bringing bread for the trip. They fell right into the self-effort trap. Even though Jesus had fed thousands with a couple of lunches more than once, the disciples were locked into the mindset that it was up to them. I hate to admit that I am no better. When my schedule loads up, I tend to think, “If I don’t push myself harder than ever, this will never get done.” I wish my first thought was, “God is trusting me with a new level of partnership with Him. He has big plans and He just invited me into one of His ideas. It should be interesting to see how He pulls the resources together to make this happen.” Since it wasn’t my first thought, I have decided to let it be my second thought and to let it stick!
Jesus, thank you for the new opportunities ahead for this year and for the reminder that life is a partnership of grace.