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Saturday, July 17, 2010

What I’m Reading Today: Matthew 5:21-48

For all the weeks to have encountered Jesus’ wonderful (but immensely challenging) words from Matthew, wouldn’t you know I would encounter those words THIS week?! I say that because it was a week that I wasn’t at my best and perhaps most needed to hear these words.

Let me give you an example that shows the kind of week I had.

Several weeks ago I became involved helping an individual whose cause I believed in very strongly. In fact, I believed in the cause so strongly that I was willing to do anything to help the leader of the group. The leader picked up on this and began making requests of my time and energy that were clearly out of line.

Instead of nipping the problem in the bud and saying, “I really want to see your group succeed but I can’t meet every demand you make” I simply kept my yap shut and went along with each and every demand. I figured that if we established trust and a working relationship, then perhaps I could get the person to see that her demands were unreasonable.

As time passed, however, exactly the opposite happened. The more I accommodated the unreasonable requests, the more the individual demanded from me. Things finally culminated this week when the person exploded at me for not meeting yet another unspoken expectation. By that time, I was so invested in my role of long-suffering martyr that I snapped back. Needless to say, I wasn’t proud of myself for the way I handled the situation.

So much of this could have been prevented if only I had followed Jesus’ words of advice from the outset and set healthy boundaries. For instance, if I had expressed my frustration and unwillingness to meet the first unhealthy request at the moment it was made, my frustration wouldn’t have festered within me and grown into anger. I also wouldn’t have found myself feeling helpless – forced to wait until the individual stopped making unreasonable requests. Instead, I would have done what Jesus said and made the first move – helping to make things right. If only…

Today I would encourage you to take Jesus’ words to heart if you find yourself in challenging interpersonal situations. Those words might seem uncomfortable to implement at first, but believe me – they’ll head off larger troubles in the long run and help you maintain a sense of peace and balance in your world.

Til next time…

Friday, July 16, 2010

What I’m Reading Today: Matthew 5:1-20

For years I had dreamed about serving a faith community that had lots of community partners sharing the use of the church building. Nothing made me sadder than knowing a church building/property that was created to celebrate the presence of God sat empty most days during the week. In fact, one of the draws to serving the faith community at which I currently serve was the church’s commitment to inviting many, many, many community partners to share the use of the facility.

Over the past ten months, however, I’ve learned a great deal about the old saying, “Be careful what you ask for – you just might get it.” That’s because over the past ten months, I’ve lived into the day-to-day challenges of trying to balance the competing demands of over 30 community groups. That challenge has caused me to question my sanity at times.

You see I was initially very naïve about how community groups would interact with one other. I was hoping that once we began to lay out a vision of healthy community that individuals in each group would balance their needs with the needs of the community as a whole. I was wrong.

As a result, we in the church office have had to spend lots of time talking about the details and contract terms and less time talking about relationships than I would have liked.

So what’s all of this have to do with today’s reading?

Well, in today’s reading Jesus does a wonderful job of trying to summarize the way he sees his life and ministry against the backdrop of his tradition. Instead of trying to establish himself over and above the tradition (i.e. “I’m not here to demolish, but to complete”), Jesus shared his balanced vision (i.e. “I am going to put it all together, pull it all together in a vast panorama”). What a beautiful sense of perspective!

Perhaps there is an area of your life where you have been bucking some of the demands laid out before you. Maybe you feel as if someone/something has come into your life simply to limit or constrain your freedom.

If that’s the case, I would encourage you to step back and get a glimpse of the vast panorama (the big picture) that lies before you. That sense of perspective might give you a healthier, more spiritual sense of the whole than you could have gained by simply considering your small piece of the puzzle.

Til next time…

Thursday, July 15, 2010

What I'm Reading Today: Matthew 4

Wouldn't you know that today's reading would contain not one, but two issues I wrestled with during the past week. Let me take a moment and explore each issue with you.

The first issue I faced had to do with the notion of temptations. As the first temptation contained in today's reading reminds us, temptations aren't things that occur simply in the abstract: they often take place in very specific circumstances. For Jesus - a person who had just fasted for 40 days - temptation came in the form of an opportunity to satisfy his hunger. For me, temptation came in another very real form. As I spent the past week in Denver (the community in which I lived and ministered for the previous 10 years), more than one person came up to me and asked, "Do you regret your decision to leave Colorado? Would you like to come back?"

While that question wasn't intended to be traumatic, it did tug on my heart strings a bit as I thought about all the loving and transformative relationships I formed there. Needless to say I can totally relate to how Jesus must have felt when "the Devil" hit him in one of his most tender spots.

That tempting issue led me to the second theme from today's reading: the issue of call. In today's reading, we read of not one but two different call stories. The first call story involved Simon & Andrew while the second involved James & John. In both instances the sets of brothers responded to Jesus' call by setting aside personal circumstances in order to answer that call.

Lot's of folks wonder how Simon, Andrew, James & John were able to do that.

I can't answer for those brothers, but I can answer for myself. As hard as it is to walk away from situations that are stable and loving, there's one thing that makes a person able to do that. Certainty that there is a reason why God is calling you to a new place. As much as I LOVED my time in Denver reconnecting with many of my beloved friends, I walked away from my vacation with a clearer sense of why God called me to Los Angeles. That was a wonderful and surprising benefit of my vacation!

I don't know if my words of reflection today offered in the context of my vacation spoke to you and your circumstance or not. I would ask you to consider in what area/areas of your life are you most susceptible to temptation? Once you find that area, I would encourage you to reflect on the ways in which your sense of call/purpose in life has helped you rise to the occasion and do what you needed to - no matter how difficult it was to answer your call.

Til next time...