Monthly Archives: December 2016

Do What You Do

shutterstock_250176199                It’s been a little over three weeks now since we finally moved into our new place, and I have to say that it still feels surreal. Moved in is, of course, a bit of a misnomer. As I’m finding out, this is very much a process. There’s always more to do, more to set up, more to unpack… At this point I think it’s safe to say we’ve gone through maybe 2/3 of our stuff. Maybe. At times it’s been overwhelming. The first couple of nights coming home from work, finding nothing but boxes in pretty much every room… How were we ever going to go through so much stuff? Where would we put all of it? When would this ever end? If you’ve ever moved before, I’m betting you’ve been there, too.

Last week the rain held off long enough for us to plant some new trees and doing so drove home to me that this isn’t home, at least not quite yet. Don’t get me wrong, I mean it has been wonderful having our own place. The freedom and the peacefulness out here have been worth all the headache and then some. Still, it isn’t quite home. We cleared most of the trees off the property before we moved the trailer out here, and as we don’t yet have grass, the trailer sits in what was a big ol’ piece of dirt. With all the rain, it’s now a muddy, swampy piece of land that feels like the edge of the known universe sometimes (at least the edge of our known universe).

Oh, and did I mention that we now have a mortgage? Which at about $50 000 is more money than either of us have ever had? Keep in mind that my day job in the child care field isn’t exactly one that you get into for the money. And speaking of money, why is it that there are all these tiny details that no one tells you about when you move in and you don’t realize you even need until you clue in that there’s not one of whatever it is in the house? Like I said, it’s been a little overwhelming.

The other day as I waited to pick up kids on my bus, I was flipping through my Bible and I came across a story in the Old Testament, in 1 Chronicles 19, to be exact. By this point in the biblical narrative, King David has been on the throne of Israel for a while and things have kinda, sorta settled down for the nation politically speaking. As the story opens, David has heard that Nahash, king of the Ammonites, one of the neighboring kingdoms, has died. Nahash is one who actually dealt kindly with David earlier in his life. (Different translations have “kindly” or “loyally,” which will give you the idea of how this particular king acted.) David returns the favor by sending a delegation to Hanun, Nahash’s son, to express his condolences. The Ammonite advisors take the gesture totally the wrong way, assuming that the delegation has come to spy out the land in preparation for an attack, and so they send the delegation home in disgrace. Realizing that doing so has royally pissed off Israel, the Ammonites then hire reinforcements from the smaller Syrian kingdoms and move to attack Israel (instead of apologizing, which as things turn out probably would have been the smart thing to do).

Through no fault of their own, the Israelites have just stepped in it. David sends Joab with all of the “mighty men” to deal with the threat, and as the battle unfolds, the Israelite army finds itself under attack on two fronts. What really caught my attention here, especially given my own circumstances, was Joab’s speech to Abishai, his brother. Joab has split his force in two to deal with both threats and given Abishai command of one element. After laying out his battle plan, Joab says in 1 Chronicles 19:13, “Be of good courage, and let us behave valiantly for our people, and for the cities of our God, and let the Lord do that which is good in his sight.” We get the same story again in 2 Samuel 10, where it’s worded, “Let us play the men for our people….”

Here’s what I love about Joab in this. His force is under attack from two directions, which for a military commander is not a good place to be, but he’s not panicking. Instead, he’s extremely level-headed. What he’s telling Abishai is, in essence, “We do what we do best. We use our strength, and we use it on behalf of those who are depending on us. We do that, and we leave the end result up to God.” So much in this battle depends on Joab and his army, yet the end result is not in his control. At the risk of repeating it too much, Joab focuses on what he can do and leaves the rest up to God.

This particular story does have actually a happy ending. By the time the battle’s done, Joab’s army is victorious over the Ammonites and their Syrian allies. The Syrian kings who’ve been defeated send word to Hadadezer, king of the Syrians “beyond the river,” who calls out basically the entire Syrian nation to attack Israel. When David hears of this, he gathers “all Israel” (which is biblical speak for “play time is over and I’m done messing around), and moves to meet the threat. When this battle is over, the Syrians have lost some 47 000 men and they are no longer much of a danger to Israel during David’s reign.

I take comfort in the fact that it’s OK to feel overwhelmed sometimes. There are days (or weeks, or months), where like Joab we end dealing with a lot more than we bargained for. I am painfully aware that paying off our mortgage requires having a steady income. That means getting up and going to work every day, which I do, and taking better opportunities if and when they come along. That being said, there is no way, short of winning the lottery, that I can guarantee a steady income for the next 20 years without any bumps in the road. I have no idea what will happen tomorrow, or next month, or next year. We could get pregnant, or I could end up in a car wreck, or I could lose my job. I have no control over that, which is something I’m learning to accept. I am oh so slowly learning to do what I do best at work, and then come home, relax, and go to sleep. Kind of like Joab’s attitude, you know?

Whether or not you call yourself a Christian, I’d encourage you to approach whatever it is you’re dealing with from a similar angle. God is there, even if you’ve never approached Him before, and He will handle what you can’t. So do your best, do what you do, and call it a day. Leave the rest up to Him.

What’s our job description?

6936777-christmas-photos-free-download What is our job description as Christians? What are we supposed to about in this world? It’s a question that’s most appropriate at this time of year, especially with Christmas only a few days away. If you’re a Christian yourself, would you say that we’re here to reach people for Jesus? To teach them to obey all He has commanded? If you’re not a Christian, I’m willing to bet you’ve got a different perspective. You’d probably say we’re here to make people “moral,” to impose our beliefs whether people like it or not, to restrict the rights of others in order to make sure our own are protected, to tell people how they can or cannot live or even where they should and should not shop this time of year based on which companies support which lifestyle. There’s an element of truth to a lot of that, sadly more so than most of us are probably willing to admit. What’s even worse is that quite often we as Christians don’t even see this. What we think we’re up to in this world, and what we end up doing instead, can be two very different things.

In the last month alone I’ve seen various Christian groups do everything from publish a list of which companies support Christian beliefs and would therefore be OK for us to shop at (I really wasn’t kidding when I mentioned this one) to openly rejoice that Trump is “God’s man in the Whitehouse” and that they now have the means to politically remake this country back into something resembling what it used to be. These efforts have produced a sadly predictable impact on those who disagree with. One article I found earlier this week online asserted that there really is no difference between Christianity in the U.S. and ISIS in the Middle East. Both groups discriminate against those who disagree with them. We just haven’t escalated to killing our opponents (yet).  As harsh as that comparison may be, I actually find it hard to disagree with.

We’ve forgotten, I think, that Jesus Himself said His kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36). Instead, we fight to protect and preserve the political kingdom that we live in, so to speak. We fight to protect our rights, and we fight to ensure that ours is the dominant voice in society, because that’s what God would want, right? (Just look at the whole “War on Christmas.”) And so we pat ourselves on the back for defending the faith, all the while winning “victories” that do little than drive people farther and farther away from Jesus.

So what, then, are we to be about as Christians? Lately I’ve gotten really into the TV show The Last Ship, and there’s a scene in the first season that really sheds light on that question. If you’ve never seen the show, the premise is that this plague has killed off 80 % of humanity. This Navy destroyer has this scientist on board, along with the means to (maybe) create a cure, and the crew has to stay alive long enough for that to become a reality and then to share it with the world. Midway through the first season, there comes a point where the crew has lost focus. For many, their own survival has become their top priority. To get them back on track, the Captain plays radio broadcasts the ship has picked up from people who have so far managed to survive the plague. These people are lonely, hopeless, and desperate, and you can hear it in their voices over the radio. These people, the Captain reminds his crew, are their problem, and the hope of a cure that the ship has onboard is their solution. Their job is to protect it.

As Christians, we carry within us a very similar hope. We have life, real life, in Jesus (John 7:38). The tragedy is that so few of those we interact with ever see it. We are surrounded by broken, hurting, desperate people, and within us lives the One who can bind up the brokenhearted and heal the hurting, and yet they’d never know it. Maybe we’ve become so focused on the Great Commission and the Great Commandment that we’ve forgotten what it means to be the light of the world. Maybe it’s just easier to stand back and preach. I don’t know. What I do know is that either way the end result sucks. Another article I read recently asserted that Christmas would hold more hope if we took Christianity out of it. I wonder if we’ll be able to get past our beliefs to hear just where that comes from.

The people out there don’t need our beliefs, or our standards, or our morality. They need to know that we care. That God cares. They need to see us engaging with the brokenness around us, not preaching at it. They need to see us reaching out in love and in respect, no matter who the other person may be or how strongly they may disagree with us. The church, I’ve also read recently, is known for going to war culturally, against the wrong enemies and for all the wrong reasons. You want a battle to fight? Fight to engage. In fact, that’s not a bad summary of our job description, either. Show up. Engage. Spread hope.

So this Christmas, and every day of the coming year, bring life to those around you. Share hope. Reach out in love, and engage with the broken and the hurting. Maybe then we’ll get back to being the light of the world.