Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Serving Without Knowing God

1 Samuel 3:1-7

Samuel grew up serving God in the Temple, working daily side by side with Eli's corrupt sons. And  while it seems as if he was doing a good job, something was missing. The Bible tells us that Samuel carried out his duties without knowing God. I suspect he knew about God but he did not have a relationship with God. I wonder how many Christians are in the same boat today. How many Christians suffer the emptiness that comes with doing what is "right" without knowing the One who gives life?

This was my walk for a number of years. I served dutifully in the church, being the first one there and the last one to leave. In between I did everything I could to make sure the day's services ran smoothly. During the week I made small repairs, took care of the lawn and when needed I shoveled snow. While spending so much time working for the church, I had very little time to spend with God. Eventually I burned out, after which I became content with just showing up. But whether I worked myself to death or just spent the service holding down a pew, I found service an empty endeavor: a complete waste of time.

Like with Samuel, God found a way to get my attention. In my case all that I worked to build collapsed around me, forcing me to stop and ask God why. He responded by changing my focus from works to relationship, showing me the value of what He was truly offering: Adoption. Now I seek to know God instead of just serving. Now I am His son, not just a servant. I am experiencing abundant life instead of empty works. Like Samuel, I stopped when God reached out to get my attention. This was the best move I have ever made.

What is the focus of your "Christian walk"? Are you substituting work in place of relationship? If you are caught up in what you can do, you are missing out on who He is. Your relationship with God should come first or else you will find yourself on the road to burnout. God is speaking, calling you by name. Please stop and listen. Please make a deliberate effort to build a relationship with God. If you do, He will pour himself into you. His fullness will touch your life and you will wonder why you ever settled for the emptiness of everything else.

Monday, November 6, 2017

War of the Worlds and How I Learned to Love Reading

On 30 October 1938, a peaceful Sunday evening was upended when Martian invaders began vaporizing everyone they could. As listeners turned to their radios for information, Orson Welles and his Mercury Theatre repertory company put together a powerful and convincing performance of "War of the Words" by H. G. Wells. Forty years later I opened to that story in my fifth grade reading book: a discovery that forever changed my opinion of reading.

Like just about every other boy in fifth grade I read when and what I was told to read. Even our "free" reading time was limited to what we could find in our reading textbook. It was there during one of our reading sessions that I discovered an adaptation of the text of Welles' radio program. Thinking the story might involve tanks and airplanes I started reading and was instantly sucked into a different time. Intrigued by Welles' script, I did not notice the rest of the class lining up to go to art.

I was not aware of my teacher calling my name nor did I notice the laughter as my classmates assumed I had lost my mind. The sudden tap of a hand on my shoulder was quite jarring, catapulting me from the 1930's back to the reality of the 70's. While making an effort to avoid eye contact with the other students I reluctantly put down my book and joined the line. It was the first time a story had so captured my imagination that I became unaware of all that was happening around me. At that point I understood the allure of reading: of getting lost in another time or in another place. I had finally found the joy that comes with opening a great book.

While I understand the need to expose students to different styles of writing and to certain standards of literature,  I wish schools would schedule more time for free reading. Schools should offer more time of discovery where students find and read stories they find interesting without having to answer questions or putting together reports. This free time might open the door to a love of reading, giving more children an opportunity to lose themselves in the pages of a good book. Free reading time could become a step forward towards the U.S. becoming a more literate nation.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Taking A Knee, Losing The Message: Why the NFL Should Stop Kneeling

It started with Colin Kaepernick who lost his job while kneeling against social injustice. From there it
became an Oval Office issue with the President of the United States calling for more players to lose their jobs. Football players kneeling during our National Anthem has become one of the top sports and political news stories of the year. But now it is time for this form of protest to come to an end as, thanks to a the White House, the message has been lost.

The goal of these protests is to give voice to the perception that blacks are not always treated equally under the law. Kaepernick's original protest came after a number of shootings where police and neighborhood watch members fired upon unarmed black men. In each case the debate over "justified" and "self defense" exposed the racial divide which long has been a defining characteristic of our nation. But with Kaepernick out of the league these somewhat sporadic displays had become less and less newsworthy. If not for President Trump, kneeling during the anthem would likely have remained a minor nuisance, spoken of occasionally when some sideline reporter had no other interesting angle to a game. Instead the president has put this issue back on the front page, dividing fans and a nation.

When President Trump shared his belief that kneeling football players should be fired, the protests took on new life and a new direction. The debate is no longer about the treatment of blacks at the hands of a small number of police officers. Now the debate is about disrespect for our country and disregard for our flag. The conversation now involves protesting against sponsors, using economic leverage to stifle freedom of expression. The president gave voice to a faction that had nothing to lose in the original debate: one that will gain little in winning our new nation wide shout down.

For the record, I will always stand for our National Anthem. I will also stand for my neighbor's right to not stand. That being said, I hope players and owners decide to move on, ending this floundering protest. The message has been lost, hijacked and discarded in order to score political points. I hope we can find a way back to the original focus and away from the negative connotation imposed upon those who wish to stand up (or kneel) for what's right. It is time for kneeling to go away so we can focus on what's really important. It's time to find a way to take back the message from the one who took it hostage.