Pattern of Teaching

A recent Bible study I led was from 2 Timothy, a favorite Epistle, yes, even a favorite book of the Bible.  It contains what some would consider as Paul’s last words.  It was a letter to Paul’s paduwan learner, Timothy.  It is filled with raw emotion, hopes and fears, and warnings to help a young pastor be the best he can be to make a profound impact on the people in the world around him.

In the first chapter, verse 13, Paul writes “What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus.”  Paul’s pattern was something Timothy could use, much in the same way Jesus taught His disciples to pray LIKE this.  Use this pattern, you don’t need to memorize it.

So here is my pattern.  It isn’t something I’ve memorized, it’s just the way I do it.  I find it fits me, and I’ve had success in this pattern.

  1. Use humor.  Laughter reduces resistance (as long as it is not offensive), and a good witticism can take the edge off a sharp point.  Unless a sharp point is needed.
  2. Word pictures.  They help the hearer see the big picture, allowing both God and the hearer’s own experience color in the details.
  3. Leading to conclusions.  I try to lead people to a point of understanding, and then let go.  Their own voice telling them what they need to think, do, or believe is much more convincing than my voice can ever be.  I trust God for the results.

There it is.  For those who have enjoyed my teaching, this is my secret.  If you want to understand better, I’ll gladly fill in details.  Grace to you.

Good Things…

it comes to those who wait.  I know the quote (despite the weighty truth of it) isn’t Biblical, but this post kinda is.

I was a Freshman at college, (roughly late winter of 1985) attending the University of Wisconsin – Platteville.  I had been attending a good Bible-teaching church, and even attending an early morning weekly discipleship study with other college believers, led by Jack Redmond.  He taught us deep truths of how to live like a follower of Christ should.  All this was in addition to my own personal study of the Bible.

One of my days’ personal reading was the story of Micaiah from 2 Chronicles 18.  To be honest, the story troubled me.  I read of a God who sent a lying spirit to prophets.  How could a God who is truth (Deuteronomy 32:4) actually send a spirit who lies?

I remember asking a brother in Christ from the discipleship group, but he was distracted by a nearby conversation.  I went to Bible College.  I attended several good churches.  I became a youth pastor.  I graduated from another Bible College.  Life went on, but my question from this story went unanswered.  For 35 years.

Until today.

 

 

My New Me

At a recent Bible study I attended, my pastor asked us about lamenting our sin.  I immediately thought of the “My Old Me” post from 7 years ago.  Sending it to him, I realized that I no longer was what my old me had become:

He was jovial and grinning and laughed a lot. Charmer. I am painfully quiet, listless, and somber. I can count recent bursts of my laughter on the right hand of a lousy shop teacher. He was animated, exciting, adventurous. I am bored, sleepy, and more than a little sad. He – on the edge of laughter, me – on the verge of tears. 

I hadn’t been that guy in over 3 years, and it concerned me that so much of “my old me” was similar to my new me.  With 1 caveat:  I’m no longer hiding secrets and pretending that everything is okay.  I love having jokes at hand to make people laugh.  It does good like a medicine.  I don’t believe the lie, one used to control me, that my humor is just mean and hurts people.  Knowing your audience is a big plus, and an audience knowing me is an even bigger one.  So, stopping a friend when telling me of another friend with my standard, “Is she hot?” is indeed hilarious to both of us who know that the answer wouldn’t make any difference.  I would treat that person with the love and respect and basic human dignity that I do with my closest friends.

In these last 3 years or so, I’ve worked on 2 specific areas of my countenance that I can only characterize through stories I’ve heard.  First is my eyes.

Coach Epstein was a professor of mine in Bible College.  He, a Marine vet, with an athletic lean cut, told of how his girlfriend (back in his Bible College days) wanted to break up with him, partly because he “had mean eyes” that worked well for a Marine screaming “kill, kill, kill!” in the face of an enemy, but not for an aspiring Bible student with an attractive girlfriend.  He said the key was not in trying to change his eyes, but in changing himself so his eyes reflected that change.  Looking at people with love and compassion shows up differently than looking at people to spot their weaknesses or vulnerability.  

That was a lesson I’ve taken to heart.  I want eyes that reflect as trustworthy and harmless.  One “without guile” is a big goal of mine.  And worth the effort.  The second is similar, my face.

The story is told of a man on the edge of the (I think it was the) Potomac, approaching 3 men on horseback, and asking a particular one that if they were planning on fording that river, could he also mount behind that rider and cross with them?  The man, slightly taken aback at the bold request, nodded, and the man swung atop the horse to cross the river with them.  Upon reaching the other side, he thanked the rider, and slid off, heading down a path alone.  One of the other riders left the other two, and caught up with him quickly to ask him why he approached President Jefferson specifically in order to cross with them.  The man was shaken at the realization of how impetuous that would appear, but he had no idea that it was indeed the President that he had asked.  He could only reply that the one he asked had a face that looked like it was accustomed to saying “Yes.”

That is the other thing I’ve been working toward.  In order to have a face like that, I have to be that kind of person.  Again, something that is worth the effort.

All this to say, change can happen, but it must be intentional and come from a positive or altruistic motive.  To those who I have remained friends with over these last few years, my intentions are to be the best friend that I can be.  One that will be gently honest when you need it, and a supportive encouragement all the rest of the time.  Especially when I have a great joke to share.

 

 

 

 

A Christmas Hope

Who else has trouble sleeping on Christmas eve?

Can I tell you a Christmas story, even though it’s isn’t Christmastime?

When I was around 10, I had my strangest Christmas ever.  In the weeks leading up to Christmas, my brothers and sister were very clear about what they wanted for Christmas.  I smiled and was quiet (which, in itself, made for a strange Christmas!).  As the days passed from Thanksgiving into December, my parents hinted at a letter to Santa.  I shrugged & wrote to him about his elves & reindeer, and thinking him for the pocket knife I’d gotten last year.  But I closed the letter with no requests for this year.

My older brother later asked me outright.  I just smiled and said, “I don’t know.  Whatever.”  Dad tucked me into bed that night, something he never did.  He also asked me what I wanted for Christmas.  I told him I hadn’t thought about it, and none of the commercials on TV made me wish for anything. . . . so I decided I’ll just be happy with whatever I got.

After school the next day, Mom offered me some fresh, warm cookies, then she too, asked if I’d decided on what I wanted.  I told her I didn’t really care.  Anything would be fine with me.

On Christmas eve, I had a horrible thought.  What if I got just socks?  Or worse yet, what if I got nothing at all?  But I told myself not to worry.  Have I EVER been disappointed at Christmas?

I wasn’t.  Even now, all the gifts I got over the years are hard to remember, even that year I don’t remember them all, but I do know this:  my surprise was so much fuller, so much greater when I had no idea what was coming.

I write all this to make a point.  I still had hope.  Hope in a happy Christmas, hope in a loving family.  Even today I live with hope.

But my hope isn’t just about this life.  It isn’t even really hope in eternal life.  It’s much stronger than that.

1 Corinthians 15:19-20 says “If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.  But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”

The word HOPE used there is the Greek word elpizo (el PID zo) which isn’t like our hoping or wishing something is true.  It means to expect or trust.  If all we have is this life, we are a pitiful bunch, aren’t we?

But, in fact, Christ HAS been raised from the dead!  We don’t have just hope or wishes, we have an expectation, something (or someONE) worth trusting in.

But what are firstfruits?

Literally, it means the beginning of sacrifice.  It means the first of the crop is ready, and that is what is to be given to God first.  That Jesus is Himself the firstfruits of those who died.  He died & rose again and was the first to be raised to eternal life.  The fact that He went first means that we can (and WILL), too.

 

Friends Unfriended

I like Facebook.  It’s a fun way of keeping up and connecting with family and friends – especially friends from over the years that I no longer see:  schoolmates and college chums, people from former churches that I’ve attended and served at, former co-workers from 3 different careers, kids that I used to teach in Sunday School who now have families of their own, even homeschooler friends of my kids that I may have the pleasure of working with someday.

I see their posts and pray for them as troubles are revealed, as well as just praying for them as they post of successes and ordinary things (like a good meal or a family get-together). No longer do I marvel at the realization that I haven’t thought about, let alone prayed for someone I haven’t seen in decades, for I DO see them, and pray for them, through Facebook.

Yet it always catches me by surprise when I realize a familiar face on FB is longer there, and when I go to look, I see the “Add Friend” option on a page that used to come to me all by itself.  Of course, the worst is when I go to that friend’s page and find that it no longer exists for my viewing, and I realize that I have been blocked as well.

There have only been a few times when I have unfriended someone:  each time was after the realization that I had dual or multiple links.  So I check each one, and drop the one(s) that didn’t post last. And I’ll admit to blocking a couple who have unfriended me.  I’m hurt and sore about it, but I just didn’t want prying eyes to continue to look for my faults in what I post.

So after becoming separated, I realized my new reality would include those who would feel the need to choose sides.  I remember trying an app that worked with FB to track the unfriending, but I’m sure Facebook put the kibosh on it, as the app never worked.  But it got me thinking.  If I had a current list of friends that I could compare to future lists of friends, it would show who and when the unfriending occurred.

Step 1)  Go to your friends tab on your personal Facebook and see all friends listed.  You’ll have to keep scrolling down while it loads until all friends are listed.  Click on a blank space on your last friend and hold while scrolling back to top.  Release when all are highlighted in blue.  Hit Ctrl-C to copy entire list.

Step 2)  In Microsoft Word, hit Ctrl-V to paste your list. Then hit the “Sort” button (it’s an icon with an A over a Z with an arrow pointing down beside it).  You can delete all the Carriage Returns and friend counts at the beginning of the new document.  Then delete the Italicized types of friends (Acquaintance Friends, Close Friends, Friends). Just delete everything that isn’t names of your friends.

Step 3)  Next hit Ctrl-A to highlight entire list, then hit Ctrl-C to copy it.

Step 4) Open Microsoft Excel.  In a new file, click on A2 and hit Ctrl-V to paste your list.  Column A will fill with the names you’ve copied from Facebook.  On A1, type today’s date and the number of friends you have on Facebook.  You can play around with column width and font, but this file is your baseline friend’s list.

At some point in the future, after you have added or lost friends, you can repeat the process, up to Step 4, where you open your previous file and paste it on B2.  You can right click to add or delete lines so your friend names line up in the rows.

FB friends Jul15 vs Jun16

This is my file of friends.  The first couple columns are where I deleted by hand (in Step 2) all the carriage returns and links, but left their friend tally.  It took quite awhile to do it this way, so I sped it up for the last column by following my Step 2.  The gaps in the left columns are where I added friends later, and gaps in the columns to the right are where I have been unfriended.  The dates show where I have made updates to the list.

So there you have it.  That’s how I know who comes & goes and when.

 

 

Filters

The political season is well underway, and while Pennsylvania was a primary battleground, I survived it by taking a backseat approach and not voicing my preferences to avoid the target painters who take aim at anyone who disagrees with them.

My solution is to use filters.

Here in America, we all have free speech.  I allow it in others, I expect the same courtesy.  But I grow very  weary of the speeches that lambaste opponents without positive points about their own campaigns, and supporters of a candidate who think that if they can point out all the bad points of a political foe (or foes), that their candidate is a shoo-in.  Not true for me.  I want to hear what a potential leader stands for and wants to happen.  I want to vote for someone I believe in or at least could support, not just content to vote against somebody else.  Been there, done that.

Hence the filters.  I have seen many FB posts that really go all out to portray particular candidates as horrible, or just downright evil.  I’ve tolerated them by mostly ignoring them to this point.  They feature all the bad things about an opponent without going into any detail about the good points of their own candidate.  I’d really like to keep this positive, but if I can only achieve the positive by eliminating the negative, I’ll eliminate the negative.  I can achieve this by unfollowing the friends that repeatedly post the negative.  At least until mid-November.

I’ve already filtered out some news channels because of all the name-calling negativity.  It’s a natural step in trying to become a more positive person.  It means letting go of things that divide.

Wonder who I’m voting for?  Keep wondering.

 

 

 

Old Church

Scenario:

Man attends a church with his wife and son.  Wife and son aren’t really all that committed, so man attends Sunday School by himself.  Wife and son arrive later for church.

Man is immediately aware of mechanical/electrical needs in church, he approaches people to address them.  He volunteers his time and talent.  He is asked to go on the mowing schedule, he agrees, not because it is something he feels called to do, but it is a need that he is able and willing to meet.  For the benefit of the church.  He becomes a main point of contact for the head trustee, to answer technical questions, to install and repair things as needed, again, volunteering his time and expertise.

He attends Sunday School with the adults every week, despite their inclination to watch videos, listen to audio teaching tapes, and teach on mildly entertaining topics.  He agrees to teach a challenging Bible study, and does it well.

One of his friends from Sunday School has a daughter who is an aspiring musician.  He attends a performance at a local diner.  No one else from the church attends except the gal’s parents.  Frustrated by the church’s lack of support, he chooses to protest by his actions and attend, for his friend’s sake, whatever concerts he can attend (which aren’t very many, perhaps once every month or two).

He supports the youth leader in prayer and attending fundraisers.  He agrees to be interviewed one night as a challenge to teens.  It went well.

He increases his donations, due to the realization that the church is obviously hurting for money.

He convinces his wife to at least check into membership there and attend the info meetings.  She is reluctant, and uses the excuse of poor pastoral communication to delay membership.  The man decides to wait, thinking it would be awkward if he joins and she does not.

She, in the meantime, had stopped attending, except sporadically.  Asked to help in a care ministry to simply post a signup sheet whenever a hurting family needed meals, she grudgingly accepted.

She gets frustrated with the pastor’s wife and grows distant.  Pastor’s wife notices, but no communication to resolve it ever occurs.  The pastor’s wife asks the husband, but he is unable to betray a confidence, so he defers.

So the day comes when the man and wife separate, with her leaving in a huff, days after their last argument.

And so naturally, everyone believes without question, anything the woman says as to the breakup of the marriage without even consulting the man.

I don’t get it.

 

 

 

 

When Christianity Breaks Down

I have a skeptic child who was taught Christian principles from birth.  In homeschooling, it was just as much true in math, English, or history, for these principles were easily woven into every lesson, in every subject, in every day.  We would discuss, in open and honest discourse, difficult Bible passages and challenging moral dilemmas.

Perhaps going to college was partly to blame for the skepticism, but it was probably more likely due to being raised by sinners.  The seeds of skepticism cannot take root if the soil is not fertilized for it.

But after some family upheavals in the last year or years, I have come to some conclusions that indicate that there’s a lot of fertilizer in my child’s soil.  Not just mine, as I’m sure she’s been told often.

When I think of Christianity, I immediately think of forgiveness.  It’s kinda the starting point or even the corner stone.  Christianity alone actually deals with a person’s sinfulness by actually providing a way to achieve forgiveness from a sin-hating Father in Heaven.  The trouble that the church faces is the belief that too much forgiveness gives people the freedom to sin.  We can’t have that.  So is forgiveness here among ourselves to be measured or metered so that no one is allowed to get too much?

Apparently it is dealt with in many ways within my own family.  I myself am trying to be as forgiving as possible, knowing that my forgiveness actually depends on it (Matthew 6:15, Mark 11:25).  But I haven’t always been that way, and there are things in my spouse’s actions that I would struggle to forgive in order to reconcile.  So I’m not perfect.  But neither are other role models in my skeptic child’s life:

The Mother. Mom can claim forgiveness is given because it’s the Christian thing to do.  But it is also apparently okay to treat those people as if they are not forgiven.  Especially when frequent conversations allow her to mention just how many things she has “forgiven.”  It gives her a bit of control when others have to strive to be treated as if they are forgiven, even though it will never come. . .  for that would eliminate the ability to control.

The Aunt (a pastor’s wife, btw). Even if confession and apology is made and forgiveness is begged for, auntie feels it is perfectly okay to respond with silence.  Not a “yes, no, or maybe” even.  Just silence.  And after time has passed and an apology is restated, the silence should turn to severing ties and louder silence.

The Grandmother (also a pastor’s wife).  Granny is quick to forgive in order to smooth things out.  But when things aren’t smooth between one you love and one you’ve forgiven, then the forgiveness can just be temporary.  Cut ties and communication with the one formerly forgiven.

The Grandfather (a missionary pastor).  Gramps is tricky.  He can project forgiveness without ever really offering it.  His is the opposite of Mom in that he will treat you like one forgiven until the day comes when he thinks he has reason to no longer treat you, and then will send you a letter with a tally of all your offenses to indicate you are not worthy of forgiveness.

Even the church we went to has a curious attitude toward someone such as me.  Luke 17:3 tells us to watch ourselves:  “If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them.”  Unless it is delicate and they don’t want to take sides. Interesting scenario:  If what has been reported about me is true, then their response SHOULD be something like Luke 17:3.  But what if what is reported ISN’T true, yet she firmly believes it is, how should the church respond to me?  What if it isn’t true and she KNOWS it isn’t true?  How should they have treated me?  I think there’s a failure on all possible scenarios here, for their response to date has been silence and separation.

 

 

 

 

Bathroom Safety

I have been mulling over the prospect of opening public bathrooms to any gender.  There is a genuine conflict over men who truly believe they are women despite all those pesky Y-chromosomes in every cell of their bodies.  Open up the bathroom door to guys who want to front as transgenders just to get their kicks out of being next to women who lower their unmentionables in the next stall, and understandable panic will ensue.

Since the general populace cannot easily distinguish between those two, perhaps a government agency can be established to solve this problem.  Men who want this privilege would need to go and fill out the necessary paperwork (like registering for a gun) and get proper psychiatric documentation that would guarantee that they would never use their registered equipment to hurt the innocent public.  They would then need to have some sort of distinguishing identification so those who see it would immediately be relieved if it is spotted in the “wrong” bathroom.  Perhaps a star or a rainbow worn as an armband or on their chest.  It is something to wear with pride, for they would be granted permission to do something that many men secretly want for themselves (even if it is just to experience a bathroom that is probably cleaner).

For accountability purposes, this government agency would be held legally responsible if anyone wearing this marker commits any wrongdoing that so many are fearing.  The problem of financial responsibility from a government agency simply being passed on to the taxpaying public would be eliminated by making funds available from the pension pool of politicians who vote to enact this legislation.

Then again, private bathrooms for “other” can be utilized where available, unless they are always in use by breastfeeding moms who aren’t allowed to do something so natural out in public.

 

 

Forgiving a Debt

I got a letter from AT&T regarding an outstanding balance on an old debt from over 6 years ago.  They are forgiving my debt, in a way.

The balance was incomprehensibly large and was a result of poor choices over time, while they looked the other way as the balance continued to accrue.  Suddenly it was too much for them when I couldn’t settle up immediately, and they wanted to sever our contract.

Basically the arrangement was that due to the balance, they wanted a couple hundred dollars every week.  But also because I was the one at fault, they were going to add fines and fees until the debt was paid.  The trouble was, I could not be entrusted with the total amount that I owed, nor would I be given an acknowledgement of payments that I did make.

I saw a debt counselor, who basically told me that if I wanted to try to fix things, I’d just have to pay what was asked of me.  I was also taught how to never accumulate such a debt again.

Over time, it seemed like I was getting nowhere closer to my goal of paying this debt off, but I had no way of knowing how much more I actually owed, nor was there any record of what payments had been accepted.  And so I stopped making payments last fall.

The letter was to inform me that my payments did not meet their expectations and that the full balance remained.  Since they would not expect that balance to ever be repaid, they were severing all ties with me.  The total amount (again, a sum not entrusted to me) would be due if I wanted to re-establish our former contract.

And that is how my marriage ended my debt got forgiven, even if I did not.