A New Tack for Lent

Today is the start of Lent for many observers, and I plan at least to pay attention to the tradition. I plan also to be considering it a time to add rather than subtract—to gain rather than “give up” things.

This was last year’s perspective.
This year’s is more in this vein.

Of course, as the productivity video we watched said, “Saying yes to one thing means saying no to another”—or to many others. I  want to use this principle in this reverse, positive, way:

I want to say, “Yes!” to two important things to pursue—the pursuit of which will almost surely crowd out some non-essentials that waste my time.

One is healing. Last month I finally got around to deciding on my “One Word” focus for 2019. I chose “Heal.”

I need healing. Do you? I don’t just mean from the flu, or back trouble, or a broken leg. You can’t live very long in this world without accumulating a lot of wounds, disablements, and maladies that need healing in a number of areas: physical, mental, emotional, social, spiritual. I’ve become painfully aware of some that may have been hanging around undetected for some time. I want to deal with them in the company of God.

My other objective is a new and different enjoyment of the gospel of John. I expect this to interweave with my “healing” goals. How so?

In my last study of the book, I saw a theme that repeats throughout: Jesus and_____. The blank stands for people He interacted with. This gospel is full of them: Particular groups of them, like the Pharisees or the Samaritans, and individuals, often from those groups. Once I got past the first (amazingly beautiful) chapter (which I think I could hang out in for a hundred years), I began to see a repeating pattern of Jesus interacting with groups in one way, and one-to-one with members of those groups in another. As I recall, the one-to-one interactions held the greater riches, the deeper realms of truth, and reached to the particular person’s greatest needs. I am curious as to how much his words, in either case, related to some kind of healing. I suspect a lot!

If you want to follow along on this particular path, and would like a simple chart you can fill in with your own observations and keep for your own reference throughout, let me know in the comments and I’ll email you the document. However, you may want to take an entirely different tack. Take a look at Dawn Paoletta’s great suggestions in her own start-of-Lent and Journal-through-John blog post.

And whether you formally observe Lent or not, may this season reveal beautiful truths from and about Christ, and bring you whatever healing you need most.

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Jesus’ Advice about Success and Goals (Part Two)

I’ve been quiet, and I’ve been reading, and I’ve been thinking, and now I find I must correct my last statement on Monday’s blog post.

I claimed that Jesus [speaking to His disciples, or disciples-to-be]“set forth clear goals to work toward.”

This was incorrect!

He didn’t really set up a bunch of goals to aim at. What He presented instead was one new  aim, a whole different mindset, to replace all distracting goals and  aims.

This is what we need—to gain, or renew. Some of us may have had that aim, that mindset, somewhere in the past, but got it hijacked! Something, or someone, robbed our attention from it!

Just like the people of Christ’s earth time, we need to aim our focus in a better direction—and keep it there!

The world and life in it can get terribly distracting. This was true even long before telegraph, telephone, and television, let alone everything wifi and cyber.

When Jesus came along and began to preach, he started with a word John the baptizer had called out before Him, and that word essentially means, “reset your focus, understanding, and direction.”

That word, hated much by many because they don’t see the golden principle and reward in doing it, is “repent.”

As I now read through various passages the last post referred to, I see in every case, Jesus’ aim was to correct his hearers’ aim. Something distracting had commandeered their attention and pulled it off course onto convoluting paths, and He was telling them how to point themselves  in the one right direction:

  • The rich young ruler really wanted to do right in God’s eyes, but his possessions had gotten a tight, hindering hold on his attention. (Jesus gave him the instruction he needed to get released from their grip.)
  • The fishermen He approached were struggling to provide for their families, and getting frustrated. (Jesus showed them in living color how God could supply all their need and more, so they could let go of the nets that in turn had a hold on them, and follow him in new freedom and faith.)
  • Matthew’s attention was focused on the coins he had to count at the tax table which essentially held him captive. (Jesus gave him the same kind of freedom call as the fishermen.)
  • Later, Jesus expounded to many on the same principle as above, and gave his disciples a practical experience of radically trusting God and being supplied.
  • Next we see Him loosening the grip of people’s perceived “need” for human approval and belief in other humans as the source of their essential needs, not only physically, but emotionally and socially.

Yes, we need people, and food and shelter, but we need even more to aim our attention and our lives toward the One Who created and maintains all those things and has power to supply all those needs and more.

In this vein Jesus spoke of the Kingdom of God. This, he said, is the singular goal we need to seek, first and foremost.

What He meant by that is a huge enough subject to fill a heavy tome and still not reveal all He implied. But He did present lots of  parables about that Kingdom, and how to live in it. What a good pursuit for the upcoming season of Lent! Or for any season. But especially right now at the end of this challenge series, what a good way to focus on the sure path Christ guides us on. Meandering? Maybe, but not straying or erring. Following the One Who will guide us right.

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The Parables are not going to be my Lenten pursuit this year, however. I will be doing this instead, during Lent and beyond through the month of June, and sharing here some of the insights, joys, and beauties I hopefully gain. In a future post (maybe tomorrow), I’ll be telling more about it, and inviting you to come along on the journey.

*****

For a set of links to all the other posts in this “Meandering Forward” series, go to this page, which will be updated daily as new posts appear in the blog content.

 

Jesus’ Advice about Success and Goals (Part One)

The word “success” doesn’t actually appear in the New Testament, in any of the many translations I searched. And the Old Testament word that occasionally gets translated “succeed” or “success” seems better rendered “prosper” or “prospering”—and over and over again, it’s God who’s doing the prospering, of people and their endeavors. (“Unless the Lord builds the house…” “Unless the LORD watches over the city…”)

However, Jesus did address financial success:

  • He told a rich young ruler to give away all of his.
  • Right after He prospered that bunch of fishermen with a haul too huge to handle, He told them to relinquish the pile and leave it behind.
  • He likewise summoned Matthew the tax collector away from his tableful of funds.
  • And He told all His disciples not to worry about even what they’d eat or wear the next day, but to trust God to supply all they needed. (Thinking about all the above together as I was preparing for this post, I wondered if He did the fish miracle purposely to bring to life his teaching of “Don’t worry about money,” proving “God will supply.”)
  • He gave them a practical assignment to see this truth in action by sending them out without any provisions, and let them witness God’s supplying all they needed as they went.
  • He even pointed out that serving money and serving God were diametrically opposed, the one in utter conflict with the other, so that it was impossible actually to serve both. He even personified money as a figurative sort of false god, named Mammon.

Hm. So much for the ambition to become a multi-billionaire—or even to make “enough money” your focus.

What about recognition and fame, and people’s good opinion?

  • He taught His followers to pray their prayers and give their charitable gifts secretly, out of public view.
  • He criticized the showy givers and good-deed doers, and asked such people this biting question: “How can you believe if you accept praise from one another and do not seek the praise that comes from the only God?” (John 5:44 NET).

What about success in other areas we think are critically important?

Like success in family life? (This one gets really ouchy…)

  • He declared He didn’t come to bring familial peace, but “a sword,” dividing family members from one another, two against three and three against two, with a person’s enemies being members of his own household (Lk 12:51-53).
  • He told someone shouting from the crowd about a family dispute (over Mammon, oh, my!) that He didn’t come to be a family arbiter either.
  • He even said that to be His follower would require choosing Him over beloved family members and household possessions like land holdings.

Wow. None of this looks like what we would call success, does it?

But I’m guessing most everybody reading this knew these teachings, or most of them. We just don’t put them together and take them life-seriously, do we?

But Jesus did. As He walked the earth, He lived out these peculiar principles Himself:

  • He left all the riches of Heaven and hauled around no mass of provisions with Him, even for the hungry crowds who would follow Him.
  • He sought neither the good opinion of human rulers, nor the applause of the crowds, but rather did what would please the Father.
  • He refused to abuse His abilities or position by turning stones into bread for Himself or taking showy risks like diving off the pinnacle of the temple or bowing down to anyone other than God to gain power over peoples in the world

We might expect this of our Savior, but the idea of us really living this way? Of even being able to do it? It’s so “upside down” in relation to our natural human desires, goals, and ambitions that someone even wrote a book about it called The Upside Down Kingdom.

Yet, here’s the thing. This upside-down-ness is what Jesus declared would bring His followers wondrous, joyous, and long-lasting success.

He also set forth clear goals to work toward. We’ll look toward some in Part Two

*****

For a set of links to all the other posts in this “Meandering Forward” series, go to this page, which will be updated daily as new posts appear in the blog content.

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“Just a…”

Today, just a few words on this week’s Five Minute Friday prompt word:

   just             

I often start a short blog post with wording something like this:

“Just for today…

“Just this…”

That word “just” takes on a different meaning for me then. Instead of relegating something to the mediocrity pile by saying it’s “just a…” or “I’m just a…” for me it makes the word “just” imply distinctiveness, unique qualities especially appropriate and useful for the moment or the task at hand.

It may be “just” a few words, but the words are enough to merit being called a blog post.

It may be “just” a photo or collage, but in and of itself it is enough to convey important meaning so that nothing else is needed.

I’m right now considering how many things we give the quantifying label “just a…” that are really critically important, and have such large meaning and value.

A “just” minimalism.

Something to think about if you think of yourself as “just a…” whatever (fill in the blank),

or if you label that latest work of love you justdid as “It was just…”

Fact is, you might be just right for the task, more than many a person, and the simple deed you did might be just what was most needed.

Indeed, “just” is also a synonym for “right,” isn’t it?

Just a few thoughts about the word “just.”

*****

For a set of links to all the other posts in this “Meandering Forward” series, go to this page, which will be updated daily as new posts appear in the blog content.

Quotes and Commentary: On Achievement

What I really would like to blog about today is Jesus Christ’s take on “success” and “goals,” as revealed in the things he both said and did. But to do justice to a topic like that requires a lot more time and energy, study and thought incubation, than I have handy right now. Perhaps the weekend will offer enough time and rest. I hope so. It’s most often from such wellsprings that the best products arise. So hopefully I say that in the coming final week of February (and a bit into March) such pieces may appear here.

For now, instead, I share two entries I journaled prompted by quotes in this journaling book—because they address “achievement,” which is the topic this meandering month has focused on a lot.

The first is commentary on this Theodore Roosevelt quote:

“Believe you can and you’re halfway there.”

I immediately found myself responding thus:

“Desire it enough to aim toward it even if you don’t know whether you can.”

But then I went on addressing the second half that is needed for any accomplishment:

“Many have never achieved what they firmly believed they could, simply because they never put in the grueling effort necessary.  Many live in a fantasy world of what they believe they could achieve rather than working toward the goal. I’ve done that myself.

You must feel that the effort is worth it, whether you ever reach the desired objective or not. A thing worth doing is worth trying to do. And the belief that God can do all things, and do them well, holds the key to perseverance and success for me. I stand back afterwards, many times, astounded by what He enabled me to achieve. Truly in many cases, I still do not think I had it in myself. But God…”

The second is my response to this quote from Leonardo da Vinci:

“I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough: we must apply. Being willing is not enough. We must do.”

I wrote,

“Well, this man certainly was a doer—although doing, even accomplishing, is not so much a measure of one’s goodness, of whether the his doings were ethical, kind, and right in the eyes of God, etc—and old Leonardo evidently used questionable methods sometimes. He also started a lot of things he never finished. [But how dare I ever criticize anyone for that?]

“There’s another point here to analyze: the idea of the urgency of doing being more important than anything else. Driven type A people sometimes, wittingly or unwittingly, leave a trail of collateral damage behind them. A balance of love and concern for others and for how your doing, doing, doing might affect them is imperative.”

There you have some grist for your weekend thought mill, while I take my weekend break. Please feel free to leave comments with your own thoughts on these subjects.

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For a set of links to all the other posts in this “Meandering Forward” series, go to this page, which will be updated daily as new posts appear in the blog content.