The other day I was outside and noticed a large weed had grown up in half of an old wine barrel we use for plants. I grabbed it as close to the soil as I could and pulled on it. Nothing. I reached down again and pulled with two hands and the weed came out slowly. When all of it had finally emerged the root of the weed was almost as long as the weed itself. I noticed another one and removed it. In another pot, there was also a tall weed. I yanked on it and it didn’t budge. I tried again and zero gain. Even with two hands, it wasn’t going anywhere. The roots of the weed had entangled themselves with the roots of the bush in this pot and were only coming out if the bush came out with it.
Reflecting back on the tall weeds I thought about how there are often weeds in our lives. Hurts, habits, and hang-ups that don’t produce anything positive and affirming in us. Often before any of these “weeds” are noticed they have rooted themselves in our attitudes, personalities, words, and actions. When we become aware of them or someone else makes us aware we want to rid ourselves of them. We face our hurts, develop better, more mindful habits and try to untangle ourselves from hangups. Hopefully, they come out and goodness, kindness, and love take their place. However, if we aren’t careful and allow these “weeds” to continue to take root, dig deeper into our souls they become a part of us and we can’t tell where they end and we begin.
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This morning, following the children’s time in the church service, the pastor gave out Tootsie Roll Pops to all the kids. While he was passing them out he said; “The only rule about these is you cannot run while they are in your mouth!” Made sense. Anyone with a chunk of candy attached to a paper stick could choke themselves if they tripped and fell lodging the sucker in their throat. The kids did what I would have done; pulled off the wrapping and put the candy in their mouths. They walked back to their seats careful to heed the pastor’s words of warning.
I reflected on the warning of the pastor, running with a tasty treat but also a choking hazard. There are times when we have a good word or tasty gossip on the tip of our tongue. We want to run and tell someone the good news or the tantalizing tidbit. Instead of first being mindful and still, being thoughtful and thankful for the blessing, or hearing a salacious piece of fact or fiction from someone we rush to the next waiting ear to spill all the details. We forget or don’t care that careless words hurt people.
Words are life-giving and soul-crushing. We must be careful how we use them.
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Stubbornness or Stillness?
This morning I had a meeting in Fayetteville, Tennessee. On my way, driving on country back roads I passed a Burro, standing by a fence. The other cows and critters in the pasture were nowhere near it but there it stood facing the morning sun. A few hours later I was returning home and passed the same Burro in almost the same spot as it was in earlier. It paid no attention to the automobiles coming and going or the other animals in the field.
As I watched the Burro I thought about its unwanted and unwarranted reputation of being resistant, refusing to obey, obstinately going its own way and doing its own thing. However, I did wonder; “Is he being stubborn or still?” I finally decided he was simply being still. He was facing the sun, he was on level ground, he wasn’t distracted.
I reflected on my day and my mental state and thought; “I long to be like the Burro; enlightened, sure-footed and mindful.”
What’s on Your Plate? –
This afternoon, at a county health council meeting, a speaker from Vanderbilt Hospital gave us a lecture on the importance of heart health. February is Heart Health Month so it was certainly appropriate. He talked about healthy eating even stating; “If it tastes good it’s not good for you!” That certainly got everyone’s attention. He softened the blow a little by following up with limiting the amount of unhealthy, high fat, processed, high-calorie food and increasing healthy choices. The speaker had arrived late and lunch had been served before his lecture. The food wasn’t what he’d call the best in choices but not the worst either. After he sat down and the meeting dismissed someone mentioned to the attendees that there was plenty of food left over from the lunch and to please take some home. I can only imagine what the speaker was thinking as he watched people make “to go” plates. It certainly is a difficult job to get people to think differently, choose differently.
One of the disciplines of mindfulness is mindful eating. It is the recognition that everything we put in our mouths comes from the world around us. It’s not just consuming but being aware that each piece of meat, every spoonful of veggies, a bite of fruit, is a result of the creation we all apart of, participate in and exist in intimate connection. Too often, however, we just consume. Not only food but almost everything in our lives is used and abused, grabbed and possessed, with no thought of creation or consequence to our consumption.
What’s on our plate is, and is more than, the food we eat but also what we allow to fill up our lives.
Full of Junk –
Today is President’s Day. I wish I would’ve remembered that before this afternoon. The last few weeks have been rough weather wise. Cold, rainy, windy and our trash has piled up in the bin outside. Finally, today, it was dry enough to put the all the trash in the back of the truck and take it to the Refuse and Recycle Center. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to do it before meeting with some fathers today so it sat in the back of the truck until afternoon. My truck looked like Sanford and Son. After finishing up my appointments I headed to the dump. I was almost there and thankful to get rid of the trash. Then, to my disbelieving eyes, the gates were closed and it dawned on me; “President’s Day.” It was a holiday and county employees weren’t working today. My truck would stay loaded down until tomorrow. “Grrrr!” and “Sigh.”
“Don’t let what’s happening around you get inside you and weigh you down.” Easy sentence to write a hard sentence to live. We are surrounded by many negative things which can be like anchors to our spirits. Violence, injustice, racism, sexism, bigotry, and all sorts of evil that threaten to permeate our souls. We must be careful, watchful, mindful to not allow this corruption of creation to become a part of us, absorb us, soak up our existence and make us apart of what we should be fighting against.
Slowing Down –
The last few days have been slooooooooooooooooooooooooooow. We’ve had overcast skies, plenty of rain and this makes for a dreary season and spirit. April showers may bring May flowers but February showers bring time to a standstill. The last few months have been long. I always have a difficult time between Thanksgiving and Easter. It’s dark when you arise and when you arrive home in the evening. The darkness that surrounds me seems to permeate my emotions. As someone with Chronic Severe Depression and a Severe Anxiety Disorder the days slowing to a crawl, mess with my balance and threaten to send me over the edge into negative thought patterns and fixations on disappointments and failures.
The balance, of course, is not letting the anxiety get in there and make my brain whirl like a drugged up hamster on a greased up wheel. Again, it is balance. I make sure the things which help me; meds, exercise, talking to others about how I’m feeling, are done and not discarded even when tempted to do so.
The balance to keep life’s rhythm manageable is an everyday if not every moment discipline. If we let it we would be either swept away in a chaotic whirlwind of activity or mired in a despondent state of surrender. Slowing down isn’t the goal but balance and mindful living are what keeps us sane and steady on the path.
This morning, driving to a Father/Child reading event I was rounding a curve when out of nowhere came a big white dog, barking and headed straight for the truck. I didn’t have much time to react when at the last second it decided to turn back. My heart went into my stomach and as I looked in the rearview mirror the dog made its way back to the bush it was hiding behind to wait for its next victim. It was frightening to have this huge canine all of a sudden appear on what should have been an easy drive to a county library.
After my heart and stomach settled I thought about the dog and the fright it gave me. The fear had subsided and I wondered where its owner was, why the dog was allowed to play this dangerous game when, in a collision, the vehicle almost always wins?
I don’t like being afraid. Fear is unsettling and I’d prefer to live life without it. However, I admit that life can be a lot like the, almost, run in with the dog today. We navigate the road of life the best we know how hoping to reach our destination. When, out of nowhere, something happens which makes us afraid. It may be a brush with death, a lingering sickness, a mental health issue, a financial crisis, a danger or challenge to friends and family. In these moments we become afraid. Our goal is no longer reaching our destination but getting through each next moment. Everything slows down and our attention becomes solely on the fear.
In one sense it’s helpful our vision is singularly focused. It helps us concentrate on what’s in our way and how to avoid it or fight it. However, if we are not careful the thing which makes us afraid becomes the only thing we see and our vision to all the beauty and wonder of life is obscured. Balancing being fearful and mindful is tricky but is the only way we make sure we don’t spend our lives afraid to live.
Season Pass –
“Autumn shows us how beautiful it is to let things go.” ~ Author Unknown
On my way back from a lecture today in Hohenwald, TN the sun was shining brightly through the limbs of the trees which are rapidly becoming barren. It still feels like summer with temps in the low to mid 90’s but fall is approaching. The leaves are already giving up their grips and descending to the ground. We probably won’t have too much color as they turn this year due to the lack of rain this hot and barren summer.
Fall is another reminder of the transience of life. Summer’s rapid end reflects our own aging and how life is fleeting. The youth of spring and summer is like the cool morning mist of fall; easy to see but impossible to grasp and hold on to.
Accepting that life’s seasons pass quickly is the first step to living fully in every moment, not taking for granted any breath, experience, ray of sunshine, or drop of rain. Wisdom teaches us to be mindful of every moment for these are what life is made up of.
I stuck my foot in my mouth yesterday, not just the toes but the arch, all the way up to the heel!
It all started so innocently. I spotted someone I hadn’t seen in a while and stopped to speak with them for a few moments. Truth be known I was running late for an appointment and my mind was on where I needed to be not where I was and who I was talking with presently. I was only giving cursory attention to this one who is going through an incredibly difficult time.
After a few pleasantries I made a comment about a change this individual was making to a room. When the reason was given as to why, I missed the “key phrase” which, if I had been mindful of the person and the present, I would have understood what was and was NOT being said. I then could have steered the conversation in another, more pleasant direction.
However, it sailed right over my head and I then made another comment which, in most situations would’ve been benign, but was painful in the current setting. Immediately, after it had left my big mouth, I realized what this person was saying and not saying, why they were doing what they were doing, and wished I could do the whole thing over.
There is a spiritual discipline called contemplative listening. At the core of this practice is the instruction to be fully engaged with ear, mind, heart and spirit, open to fully receive the other person. It is the belief that every moment is holy and to only be partially available is to cheapen and risk missing a divine encounter.
Sometimes lessons are indeed learned the hard way.
I’ve been thinking about my friend who I wrote an article on last week. The cute little varmint who’s been tearing up my lawn with his sharp claws and pointy snout. I haven’t seen him in a few days but if my dog’s constant sniffing is any indication he’s been in the area excavating for more grubs.
As I reflect upon the armadillo and his keen awareness of what he’s searching for I wonder if we can be so invested in what we want that we miss other things? Can we be so completely focused on what we’re doing, fully invested in the need of the moment, that we are left vulnerable?
The day I spied the prehistoric bug and worm eater I made several noises to try to get him to stop digging but he never heard me. I honked my truck horn and slammed the door several times before he became antsy and eventually sauntered away. Could I have snuck up on him? Could I have hurt or captured him if so desired? Was he so engrossed in the task he was oblivious to all else?
What is the difference in being mindful, fully in the present and being so focused on what we’re doing that we become unmindful?
Perhaps the difference is all the difference. When our attention is our appetite, needs and wants, what we believe is required to be happy, content, satisfied, we are only capable of scratching the surface.
It is when we dig deeper, past the exterior and into the seldom explored interior that we feed body, mind and spirit. When these three are nurtured all we do, each moment, will be infused with greater significance and we become mindfully aware of all that surrounds us.
Below is the final message I shared with my campus family today. It was a good and difficult time filled with memories, laughter and tears.
Last week we spoke of Joseph, his father Jacob and how Joseph’s entire family came to live in Egypt. Joseph’s generation passed away followed by many other generations. In time a Pharaoh, who didn’t know the story of Joseph, rose to power. This Pharaoh came to fear and despise Jacob and Joseph’s offspring whom had multiplied greatly, became very numerous. The Egyptians began to worry these “outsiders” would someday take over the land. To keep this from happening Pharaoh took away their freedom made them slaves.
In the beginning of the book of Exodus God hears the cry of these descendants, now slaves, known as Hebrews and raises up a servant named Moses. God calls Moses to lead God’s people out of bondage into a new land, a new place where they could worship God and live in freedom.
However, even after God showed his mighty power through great miracles and made a promise the Hebrews would be God’s chosen people they would not listen to God. They would not trust God to do as he promised; lead them to a new place. These people complained about everything! They accused Moses, God’s servant, of not knowing what he was doing. They missed Egypt and wanted to go back. They grumbled in their hearts, became angry, doubted God in times of difficulty, and didn’t believe God could do what he promised. They could not move into God’s future promise because they clung to past familiarity.
Ultimately, their lack of faith, holding on to the past and fears of the future cost them dearly. God led them into no man’s land to meander aimlessly until the first generation died out. Instead it would be their children who would receive the benefits of the new land, the new place God had promised.
After most of this generation passed away a new one stood on the border of God’s Promised Land ready to go, to believe what the former generation could not. To journey on to this new place they had to leave the past behind, which included parents they had buried, places they were familiar with, lands they once called home and step into the next place God had prepared.
As they ready themselves Moses addresses them…
Moses says;…if you’ll follow your God, heart and soul, and listen to His voice and obey His commands and remember His regulations, which are written in this book.
11 What I’m commanding you today isn’t too difficult for you; it’s not out of reach.12 It’s not up in the sky, so you don’t have to say, “Who will go up into heaven and get it for us and tell us what it is, so we can obey it?” 13 It’s not across the sea, so you don’t have to say, “Who will go beyond the watery abyss and get it for us and tell us what it is, so we can obey it?” 14 No, the words you need to be faithful to the Lord are very close to you. They are in your mouth if you will speak of them and in your heart if you will treasure them.
15 Look, I give you two choices today: you can have life with all the good things it brings, or death and all the bad things it brings. 16 If you do what God commands you today and love the Lord your God; if you live as He wants you to, if you obey His commands, regulations and judgments, then you’ll live. He will bless you with a new place, give you a new land.
17 But if your heart turns away and you don’t listen, if you go astray and you bow down to other gods and worship them,18 then today I assure you you’ll be destroyed. You’ll not inhabit this place; this new land will not be yours.
19 The Lord is giving you the choice today between life and death, between being blessed or being cursed. Choose life, so that you and your family may live! 20 If you love the Lord your God and listen to His voice and always remain loyal to Him, for He is your life, then you’ll be able to thrive in this new place the Lord has promised you.
This must’ve been a bitter sweet time for Moses. He is 120 years old but is still very capable of leading. However, Moses is also human and flawed. He has made mistakes and God has revealed to him he will not be journeying with this generation to this new place. Moses accepts this and after addressing the people he anoints others to lead them where he cannot.
God does give Moses the assurances of his faithfulness by taking him up a mountain and showing him the new land, the new place God’s people will make their home.
Moses climbed up from the plains of Moab to the top of Mount Nebo, to the peak at Mount Pisgah on the east side of the Jordan River across from Jericho. The Lord showed him the whole land that would be Israel’s territory: Gilead as far as Dan, 2 all of Naphtali, the territory of Ephraim and Manasseh, all of Judah’s territory to the Mediterranean Sea in the west, 3 the southern desert, and the basin in the valley of Jericho, the “city of palms,” as far as Zoar.
The Lord (to Moses): 4 This is the land I promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob when I told them, “I’ll give this place to this generation. I’ve let you see it, even though you will not be going with them.”
5 So Moses, the Lord’s servant, died and was buried in a valley in the land of Moab. 8 The children of Israel stayed in the plains of Moab and mourned for Moses, until the grieving period was over.
Today, in many ways, we are experiencing this story in the book Deuteronomy. It is a day of decisions. It is a time when we must choose this new way or choose to hold on to the past and what is familiar.
I have served this campus church for 5 ½ years and my history pales in comparison to some of you who have been at Lebanon Valley Nazarene much longer. I can only speak from my experience and from what many of you have shared with me. There have been some wonderful times and some rough times. Moments we’ll treasure forever and memories we’d like to forget! But God has always been faithful.
In many ways we have wandered in the wilderness for these past 8 months wondering where the path would lead us. Though unsure of the way we now stand on the border of something new and unknown.
The choice becomes; do we leave the past behind, the good and the bad, highlights and low times, beautiful and less desirable events and journey into this new place, or hold on to what was, complain, grumble, fear and miss the new thing God wants to do and is doing.
Crossing the border, going to this new place requires leaving some we love behind, familiar surroundings and a place we’ve called our home. It won’t be easy but life rarely is and God is always faithful.
In some ways I see myself as Moses in this story…give me time to explain before you start rolling your eyes and thinking; “The Pastor really does need this sabbatical if he’s comparing himself to Moses!” It’s in very small ways but I maybe sense what Moses was experiencing in this selection of text.
Like Moses, I have set the choices before you today and beg you to choose life.
Like Moses, I ask you to trust God and walk his way. He will not abandon the work of his hands.
Like Moses, I have had a group of leaders and supporters who have walked with me as I have led and who will go with you as we separate.
Like Moses, I stand on the border of this new and unknown territory but cannot go with you.
Like Moses my heart hurts today as I see my dear friends and loved ones prepare to continue on without me.
I wonder if Moses regretted his actions and hasty words which kept him from continuing the journey. I want you to know I regret not being able to do more to keep this campus church open and this from being our last Sunday. I am sorry I could not lead in such a way this could have been avoided and to keep this wonderful community whole and moving forward.
This deep sadness is tempered by God’s assurance that he keeps his promises even through the weaknesses and shortcomings of leaders. I stand here today seeing, though unable to experience, God’s faithful hand which will guide you and lead you to a new place filled with his blessings!
Hopefully, unlike Moses, I will not be buried here today but like Moses I can rest knowing God is faithful.
Today, in the midst of our parting and pain, let us choose to celebrate the future unknown and not cling to the old which is passing away.
The Greatness and the Goodness of God
1 I will extol you, my God and King,
and bless your name forever and ever.
2 Every day I will bless you,
and praise your name forever and ever.
3 Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised;
his greatness is unsearchable.
4 One generation shall tell of your works to another,
and shall declare your mighty acts.
8 The Lord is gracious and merciful;
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
9 The Lord is good to all,
and his compassion is over all that he has made.
The Lord is faithful in all his words,
and gracious in all his deeds.
14 The Lord upholds all who are falling,
and raises up all who are bowed down.
15 The eyes of all look to you,
and you give them their food in due season.
16 You open your hand,
satisfying the desire of every living thing.
17 The Lord is just in all his ways,
and kind in all his doings.
18 The Lord is near to all who call on him,
He also hears their cry, and saves them.
20 The Lord watches over all who love him.
Great quote by one of the Inklings. As a person who gets into hot water frequently I often wonder if this is a result of wisdom or rebellion.
As a wannabe saint/contemplative/wise person you’d think trouble would be one of those things I avoided easily and yet I tend to find myself in tough conversations and situations. Mostly these result from asking too many questions and refusing to believing something to be true just because someone says it is…for some reason this makes people irritated and sometimes gives the impression I’m hard to get along with or have malcontent tendencies.
Maybe this is true. Maybe I enjoy rubbing people the wrong way. Maybe people need to think more and presume less? After all, hot water is the best way to cleanse ourselves of illusions and assumptions.blessings, bdl
The Master said; “One day a man found a treasure in a field. He was so happy that he went and sold everything he owned to buy that field. Another man went looking for fine pearls. When he found a very valuable pearl, he went and sold everything he had and bought it.”
To sell everything one has takes certainty in what is being purchased. To know treasure when one sees it, an object of great value amidst the dirt and grime which surrounds it, takes a trained eye. If we aren’t sure of what we’re buying we could end up with junk and costume jewelry.
On the path of life we will pass many fields and have numerous shiny objects seek our attention. Knowing what’s worth buying and what’s worthless, what is eternal and temporal, wise and foolish, goes a long way in determining whether our life is filled with treasure or trash.blessings, bdl
An excellent and thought-provoking quote.
My first reaction when reading this was to think of folks I have known to whom this quote succinctly applies. However, wisdom teaches to move past the shallow critiques of others and deeply consider if it is applicable to me.
Scary. To think we may acquire knowledge and not become wise. To spend our lives accumulating that which can enlighten our path and still live in darkness is disconcerting. How do we ensure we are not someone to whom the quote; “Men can acquire knowledge, but not wisdom. Some of the greatest fools ever known were learned men.” can be hung on our lives?
A good step is to move past our initial reactions, our first thoughts. When knowledge is given to us, do we assume it is meant for someone else? Do we allow it to penetrate or just see it as data, a piece of information to file away somewhere in our minds? Do we chew on it, as a cow continuously chomps on a clump of grass, turning it over and over, drawing out all the flavor, each bit of nutrients, letting it become a part of us?
Wisdom is not the amount of knowledge we possess but if this knowledge possesses us.blessings, bdl