Majoring in minor issues

My outlook on life is changing a little bit these days.

I’m much more detached when reading or watching the news. Politics, especially at the national level, doesn’t interest me much anymore.

I’d rather deal in real life.

Politics

For those of you who live and die by what the Democrats and/or Republicans do, I’m sure you won’t understand.

As a newspaper journalist for about three decades, I followed politics closely, because it sold papers.

Does it still?

Perhaps that’s one reason why what newspapers print isn’t the talk of the town anymore. Their editorial pages, as they have always done, focus on politics and not much else.

Not even government. Politics.

There’s a difference.

I rarely read any editorial page columns. They are so predictable. They say the same thing every day, using the issue of the day to promote their agenda.

Most of them these days slam President Trump. I get that.

But how many times do you have to say it?

Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un seemed to have an actual discourse leading to a summit, where they would talk about nuclear weapons, among other things.

The summit apparently fell through.

That was interesting, though.

But decades of mistrust can’t end in a few short weeks.

Maybe someday.

For the most part, the national discourse majors in minor issues.

Is kneeling during the National Anthem before NFL games really an issue worth dividing the country over?

Are school shootings really about gun control, or is something deeper at work there?

Do thoughts and prayers actually work? Do they change our outlook on life?

Sex

What’s the point of the #metoo movement, actually? Is it women’s rights, or is there something bigger at work there as well?

We are a sex-crazed society. We are massively messed up, and we all know it.

Exhibit A: #metoo.

Exhibit B: The divorce rate.

Exhibit C: Sex outside of marriage, including among teens, is not only normal, it is expected.

Exhibit D: Pornography is out of control in this country.

Exhibit E: Rape, sexual bondage, date rape …

Exhibit F: Clothing choices. How much cleavage is too much? Only for women, of course.

Exhibit G: Gender identity. Just the fact that we’re talking about this means we don’t know who we are anymore.

I don’t even have to quote statistics. You understand all of this because you experience it, or you know people who do.

But we won’t talk about it.

Not in a way that actually solves anything.

How do we expect to resolve the #metoo movement without talking about the role of sex in society? If sex outside of marriage is normal, why are we surprised when many men (and women) push the limits?

Nearly every song on the radio is about sex, some more blatantly than others. That’s been true for decades. I frequently listen to an oldies’ station that plays songs from my teen years. Talk about politically incorrect …

And yet we still play them. And listen.

Escape

Why are video games so popular? And illegal drugs? And porn?

Those are escapes from real life.

Real life is full of anxiety and stress. We don’t know how to solve real issues. Relationships. School. Jobs.

I’ve done the whole job search thing, and it’s not designed to bring out the best in anyone. It’s not even designed to connect passions with talent with careers. It’s all about being in the right place at the right time.

Some people say there’s no jobs out there. I see “now hiring” and “drivers wanted” and “positions available, all shifts” signs all over the place.

On the other end of the spectrum, highly technical jobs go unfilled because not enough of us are trained for them.

Most of us would prefer a job/career somewhere in the middle, something more than minimum wage and something that doesn’t require an advanced degree that we don’t have time for or can’t afford to get.

Are most of us left behind?

Dreams

I mentored a fourth-grade student in inner-city Cleveland this spring. He has no concept of a long-term future. All he thinks about is getting dissed by a classmate, for which he gets in trouble. He lives with his grandfather. His mother and two older sisters also are in Cleveland, but he doesn’t see them often. His dad is in Arizona, and my student hopes to move out there with him this summer. Cleveland is too violent, he says.

People are people wherever you go, I told him.

If he leaves Cleveland, will his life magically get better?

I doubt it.

How does arguing about President Trump’s tweets solve my fourth-grader’s lack of focus and maturity? How can he learn not to respond in anger when things don’t go his way?
His family is broken. His school is trying, but isn’t reaching him. His teacher can do only so much.

He got suspended recently for cussing out the school principal. Seriously.

Seriously?

A good friend of mine is a Big Brother to a teenager in another nearby city. That teen also lives in a broken home. Some days, he doesn’t feel like going to school, so he doesn’t.

Is there no big picture in this life?

No goals to aspire to?

No dreams?

Respect

In the mentoring program I’m involved in, we’re not allowed to talk about politics or religion. Too divisive. Yes, they are.

But is that how we solve problems, by saying that certain subjects are off-limits?

I thought democracy meant all issues are on the table. By discussing, even debating, issues, we understand what’s too radical and what actually works.

We don’t know how to talk issues without talking personality. How can we talk about sex without condemning those who practice sex differently than we do? Can we disagree and still respect each other?

That’s what we’ve lost in this country. Respect.

For teachers. For parents. For the boss. For the mayor. For the police.

For ourselves.

I’m right. You’re wrong. The world revolves around me. I can set whatever rules for my life that I want.

And we wonder why we’re so messed up.

A motorcyclist passed me the other day in a right-turn lane. Another vehicle and I were stopped, waiting for traffic to clear before proceeding on to state Route 57, a 45 mph highway at that point. The motorcyclist passed us in the turn lane and roared onto Route 57 before the other driver and I could move.

So much for “look out for motorcycles.” It goes both ways, you know.

Or, I wish you knew.

Faith

So, what is the big picture? How is my outlook changing?

While I can’t talk about my faith in school (unless my student brings it up first, of course), that’s where the answer lies. Not in your perception of faith, or mine, but in real faith.

In a God who wrote the big picture. Who wants the best for us.

Discipline is good, sometimes. My student doesn’t understand that. Most adults don’t either.

Good parents do understand that. Children need boundaries. If you’ve had children, you know this.

So, why do we think that we don’t need boundaries as adults?

Political boundaries change all the time. You and I think differently, so the boundaries I set may not work for you, and vice versa.

If we don’t like them, we can change them.

Why will we not look up? Put the video games down, look away from the porn, turn off the music. LeBron James and Steven Spielberg make far more money than you and I will ever see, but are they the best role models? Do they have all the answers?

When I talk about faith, I don’t even mean in a pastor or the Pope. Their interpretations of faith aren’t always right, either.

The best role model? Jesus Himself. And we killed Him.

If Jesus walked the Earth in the flesh today, we’d kill Him again. I’m sure of it.

We still don’t get it.

We’re searching for love in all the wrong places.

Haven’t heard that song in awhile.

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Am I good enough?

I am not good enough.

“The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.”

I am the least in my family.

“I will be with you.”

This is the story of Gideon, starting in Judges 6.

It also is my story.

If I choose to believe it.

An angel of the Lord called Gideon into battle. Instead, he found excuses. He hid. He wanted the angel to choose someone else, I’m sure.

Satan has told me this same lie for years, and I believed it. I’m not good enough. No one cares what I think. No one is listening, so why barge in?

Send someone else, God.

My thoughts don’t matter.

No one has ever actually told me that.

Why do I believe it’s true, then?

Because very few people try to draw me out, to seek my thoughts on an issue. It’s easy to remain unnoticed.

Sometimes, I don’t have anything to say. (I pick my battles, far fewer than many people do.)

Other times, I’ve thought about speaking up. Occasionally, I actually do.

But that’s why I write. It’s easier for me to share my thoughts with a keyboard than verbally.

My thoughts frequently are off the wall anyway. They would make you uncomfortable. I’m sure of it.

Iron sharpens iron, they say. But iron is hard. It hurts if someone gets hit with it.

So, like Gideon, I make excuses.

But sometimes, God speaks to me too, as He did to Gideon.

No more excuses, Gideon. I’ve got a plan for you.

Go do it.

“I will be with you.” (Judges 6:16)

Does God have a plan for me?

He does.

God talked with me over the weekend, several times. I attended a men’s retreat with about 40 men from our church.

Actually, it wasn’t a retreat. Our leader called it an “advance.” Men don’t retreat. We move forward.

We advance.

Like Gideon did, despite his low self-esteem.

At one point during the weekend, I watched a Canada goose for 40 minutes. The goose swam peacefully on a small lake for awhile, then came ashore to find some breakfast.

Until one of our men walked past. As he approached, the goose sensed danger and retreated to the safety of the water. When the man continued on and the perceived danger was removed, the goose returned to the shore in search of breakfast.

This happened three times, as three men passed by, one by one.

Men are not supposed to retreat like this goose did. If we perceive danger, we are to face it.

Perhaps the danger is real. Perhaps not.

None of these men had any intention of harming the goose. In fact, all of them ignored it. Didn’t even notice what the goose was doing.

The goose didn’t understand that. It perceived danger, and removed itself.

We are men. God gave us minds and hearts to make sense of the world around us.

We are to live in the moment, not retreat from it.

We are to engage. We just might learn something. Or solve a problem.

Perhaps I might get hurt.

Or, possibly, a man and the goose might help each other. Companionship. Assistance finding breakfast, for example.

How do we know unless we engage?

At another point during the “advance,” God told me I need to change my heart towards two people in particular. A specific challenge.

With one person, I’m not good enough. I misunderstand and I’m misunderstood, because I don’t share my thoughts and feelings nearly enough.

I need to engage much more than I have done.

With the other person – who has developmental disabilities than make him unable to understand life the way I do – I need patience and love. He is an adult physically but not mentally. I should not expect him to respond as an adult should.

It’s hard to treat an adult with respect when he acts like a child. He is a child in an adult’s body.

Patience.

Getting angry hasn’t solved anything yet. Frustration doesn’t work either.

Patience.

One of our “advance” speakers challenged us to say yes to God, even when He asks us to do impossible things. And God will ask us to do impossible things because we are men, and we are given opportunities to glorify God – because we are worth that much to Him.

We are good enough, our speaker said. We are capable of so much more than we give ourselves credit for.

Despite our failures in the past.

This is the God we worship.

“I will be with you.”

On Saturday afternoon, seven of us men descended a couple of hundred steps (I didn’t count them, I’m guessing here) to the top of a beautiful waterfall that emptied into a gorge. We saw some flat rocks in the gorge that we could stand on, so we bushwhacked down the hill to reach them.

No steps or path there. It had rained the day before, so the leaf-covered hill was damp and a little muddy.

And steep.

And slippery.

We descended anyway.

Once the first couple of guys started down the hill, the rest of us followed.

The waterfall was beautiful from down there. We hung out for a little while, enjoying nature’s beauty.

Eventually, we had to climb up. We joked about calling for a helicopter to rescue us, but that was a joke.

Grab a tree branch here and hope it holds my weight. Pull myself up. There’s a big root over there; I grabbed that next. My shoes got muddy and I got a scratch or two, but I made it up to the stairs.

All seven of us did.

It took us a minute to catch our breaths.

On my own, there’s no way I would have trekked that hill. Such a thought never would have crossed my mind. When the steps and the path ended, well, that’s where I stop.

See what men can do when we work together? Encourage each other? Push each other, even?

I’m not good enough.

Oh, yes I am.

Now that the “advance” is over, I need to live the rest of my life that way.

Those men won’t be with me day by day, but the living God is.

“I will be with you.”

I need to say yes to God.

Today. Moment by moment.

Let the adventure begin.

 

Only one source for peace

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

John 14:27

 

We all long for peace, but it’s elusive.

Why? Because most of the time, we don’t know what peace is. It’s so much more than the absence of war. People can hate each other and not fight, if they think their enemy is too strong.

We can’t legislate peace with a treaty. Treaties, like most rules, are made to be broken. So it seems.

Peace comes from relationship with the living God, and from nowhere else. Look around you if you don’t believe me. Where else do you see peace?

Jesus said, “My peace I give you.” Peace is a gift from God. We can’t earn it; we can’t find it with willpower or by trying harder to attain it. Peace doesn’t come that way.

It’s a gift.

We must receive it.

That’s the only way we will find peace in this world.

My pastor, the Rev. Jim Mindling, senior pastor of Church of the Open Door in Elyria, Ohio, put it this way:

“Before there can be peace, there must be grace.”

Grace is a relationship with the living God. Because Jesus Christ is God, He not only teaches us but shows us by example what relationship is. Grace means God gives us gifts we don’t deserve, starting with salvation.

After that, other gifts, including peace, follow.

So, what is peace?

Shalom

The most common Hebrew word for peace in the Old Testament is “shalom,” which refers to relationships between people (Genesis 34:21), nations (1 Kings 5:12) and God with men (Psalm 85:8). It’s a traditional Jewish greeting for hello and goodbye.

The most common Greek word for peace in the New Testament is “eirene,” which means rest and tranquility. These also are attributes of peace.

https://www.gotquestions.org/Bible-peace.html

Peacemakers

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

Matthew 5:9

 

In this verse, Jesus is not referring to mediators or political negotiators, but to those who carry an inward sense of the fullness and safety that is available only through son-ship with God. In the biblical Hebrew understanding of shalom, there is a point at which you have so much shalom that it spills out from you, and is repaid or rendered to others.

And so, as you make others peaceful and inwardly complete, that makes you a peacemaker.

Jesus said these peacemakers will be called sons of God. Jesus was called the Son of God. By sharing God’s uncontainable peace with others, we become just like Jesus.

http://firm.org.il/learn/the-meaning-of-shalom/

Losing peace

“There is no peace,” says the Lord, “for the wicked.”

Isaiah 48:22

 

With evil in our hearts, we cannot know peace – inner peace (in our hearts) or outer peace (in the community). This is true moment by moment, as well as our overall view of life.

Some of us argue constantly. We don’t have to physically fight to be “wicked.” Our general nature is confrontational. We don’t get along well with others, because we don’t get along well with our inner self. That happens because we don’t get along with the living God.

Even those of us who do know Jesus as our Lord and Savior, who have relationship with Him, can get frustrated or angry at other people, losing our peaceful hearts in that moment. When that happens, we need to ask forgiveness and re-center our hearts on God.

I face this struggle constantly, many times a day in fact. On the road. At the office. With family, sometimes. Even at church. It’s easy to lose peace just about anywhere, if I take my eyes off of Jesus.

So yes, I can be “wicked” too, in the moment.

Like my pastor said earlier, grace comes before peace. This is what he was talking about.

Heart and mind

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests by made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:4-9

 

Rejoice.

Gentleness.

The Lord is near.

Prayer.

Thanksgiving.

Peace of God.

Hearts.

Minds.

Christ Jesus.

All of these ideas are connected. The peace of God is not just a heart thing; it’s not just a state of mind. It involves both, completely.

It involves rejoicing. How can we be angry at someone if we are rejoicing?

It involves gentleness. Righteous anger is a thing, but that should not be our lifestyle. We should be known as a gentle people. In today’s America, we Christians should stand out because of this. You know what I mean.

If peace involves relationship, it involves prayer, which is nothing more than communicating with God – both ways, talking and listening. I confess that I do not pray nearly as much as I should. My relationship with Him can be so much better. So can my peaceful lifestyle.

Instead of complaining about what we do not have, we should be thankful for what we do have. Many years ago I saw Third World poverty in southern Mexico. Each of us should take a trip like that at least once in our lifetime. I met people who don’t have running water in their homes. I saw people living in shacks on the side of inner-city buildings, or on top of inner-city buildings. Many didn’t have electricity. (I was surprised how many such people had televisions, even if they did not have a refrigerator. Everyone needs some form of entertainment, I guess.)

Our tap water is good. I can take a shower or wash the dishes whenever I want. We have a solid roof over our heads. We have money in the bank. I have good health.

I never want to take any of these things for granted. Like Job learned, all of those things are temporary and all can be taken away from me at any moment. When I die, I won’t be able to take any of that stuff with me to the next life anyway.

So, what is my priority?

Relationship with the living God. That will continue in the next life.

That also will give me peace in this life, right now. As long as I keep my eyes on Jesus.