Living in the tension

In the surrounding atmosphere

Photo by  Jason Briscoe  on  Unsplash

I meet and pray at our church with three guys on Saturday mornings.  Officially we meet from 8 to 9 a.m. but our time together often meanders for an additional 10 or 20 minutes.

We discuss, confess and pray with each other about our lives and faith and the life and ministry of our church.  To meet there where we as church convene to worship, do life together, plan and serve is important in a manner similar to how God himself confers sanctity to certain places in his grand story as cast in the Bible.

On any given week, one or more of us brings something from our personal life and faith to weigh into together. I especially appreciate their insights and prayers when I am wrestling with something personal or regarding my relationship with the Lord..

The particular matters are less important than the sense of tough love and wisdom the guys extended even if difficult for me to initially receive well.  Their emphatic guidance that I turn away from myself and dial instead into the Lord is how iron sharpening iron works.  (See Proverbs 27:17)

Sometimes I am frustrated with striving as much as I do.    Why am I so often anxious, so distracted, so often seeking comfort or joy where it cannot be found?  Why would I ever want to engage in escapism from life that is so vibrantly radiant with God’s very essence?  Why indeed?

Perhaps because I don't truly grasp that Jesus’ straightforward claims and teachings about the “at-handness" of the "kingdom of God” is as accessible and near as he so emphatically asserts?  The present reality of life on earth vehemently refutes all such claims.

I'm reading for the third time a book that really spoke to that idea of God's nearness on a day-to-day basis better than anything I ever read before or since - “The Divine Conspiracy - discovering our hidden life in God” by Dallas Willard.  Published in 1998, I first read it in 2003 then again in 2013, and now I am listening to an audio version.

Bringing the kingdom or realm of God near was in Jesus’ teachings and mission and not because this was something new.  Rather, Jesus ministry demonstrated and his message conveyed that the kingdom of God or the heavens was nearer due to him.

A concern of Willard's was that translators of Jesus’ messages sometimes chose words that convey the kingdom as not so near.  For example, phrasing that Jesus used to express the idea of the “kingdom of heaven” (Greek, tou ouranous) could have been literally translated as “air” or “surrounding atmosphere,” instead of the words that were used, like “sky” or “heaven.”

“Now our English sky means something quite different from air, and heaven means something quite different from either,” Willard explained.  “The translation becomes entangled in these meanings. The sky is more a limit than a space, and as a place it is farther away than the air.  Hence, we say, 'The sky’s the limit,' not 'The air’s the limit.' Heaven, of course, is strictly out of sight for us, beyond the moon for sure and quite likely “beyond” the physical cosmos.”  (The Divine Conspiracy, page 71)

I don’t know about you but the thought of heaven as near as the surrounding air or atmosphere feels a lot nearer than it residing in the distant sky or unreachable cosmos.

I bring this up not because its essential to know, only because it shows yet another way how much we regular people living out our mundane lives matter to God and Jesus. Frankly, I never thought of the kingdom of God as far away or lacking access but I'm inspired by the idea that the kingdom is as close as the thin air around us. How about you?

As inspiring as this is for me, my most applied experience of the "kingdom of the heavens" comes from regularly doing life with fellow Christians, such as Saturday mornings with the guys. Us sharing life and faith and mulling over the God’s word in Scripture together personifies another message Jesus offered that posed no issues for translators to clearly impart.

For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.
— (Matthew 18:20

God draws near to us when we draw near to each other in relevant faith discussions, supporting each other, musings and prayer... 

Right here in the surrounding atmosphere.


Notes:

1. If you've not read Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard, here's a little excerpt from my book’s cover jacket:

In an era when many Christians consider Jesus a beloved but remote savior, Willard argues compellingly for the relevance of God to every aspect of our existence. Masterfully capturing the central insights of Christ's teachings in a fresh way for today's seekers, he helps us to explore a revolutionary way to experience God - by knowing Him as an essential part of the here and now, rather than only as a part of the hereafter.

2. My practice of Saturday morning fellowship with godly guys actually began in March 1983.  The “Christian Men's Fellowship” ("CMF") met many years at St. Owens Catholic Church in Franklin, MI.  I withdrew from that group in 2001 in order to devote Saturday mornings to personal devotions and later to join the prayer group meeting at our church that I reference in this post.  Meanwhile, CMF still meets including a few of the original members from a study facilitated by the late Fr. Dwayne Stenzel in late 1982 at (then) Duns Scotus Monastery attended by some 200 or so Catholic men from all across southeastern Michigan.  After the study concluded in the Spring of 1983, local fellowships were formed to continue meeting, including ours. At one of those meetings in September, 1983 I recommitted my life to Christ.

Blessing our Workplaces

My friend, Mike insists my presence made a noticeable, "spiritual" difference in my former workplace, a hardware store.

“When I go there during your shift, I can tell the difference just by walking in,” Mike recently shared. “That store is blessed due to you.”

Image source: see notes

Image source: see notes

I've enjoyed this job the most of all the jobs I’ve had in the last nine years.  In seven months there as a sales associate, I slowly learned the store layout, how to cut keys and mix paint and grew more confident and comfortable greeting, helping and relating to our customers. I credit the people-focused culture to the owner, Tim and his hiring practices. He employs people like me - with some to considerable hardware know-how and good with people.

To affirm Mike’s claim would seem immodest but I mention it to explore a perspective in Scripture that seems ignored or overlooked in Christian circles - that God can and does work through certain "chosen" people to bless the places they occupy. Let me be clear though that the source of blessing is God, not me or you.

I desire to be engaged with God and I faithfully observe certain routines to develop and maintain a relationship with him.  On good days, I am tuned into God's channel while at work, alert to bringing him into encounters with other people when an opening to do so occurs. 

How it sometimes seems for us "rookie" employees :)

How it sometimes seems for us "rookie" employees :)

Likewise with the jobs I've sought and secured. I can make a case for God having something to do with me landing each one of them.  Would that be the same as God "choosing" me for these positions?

As to God blessing my workplaces through me, well I can only say that Mike’s view merits consideration due to plenty of Biblical evidence of blessing attributed to God working through one person. The Bible also offers warnings of peril and vulnerability for people and places due to the apparent ABSENCE of “righteous” people, according to God.

Notable examples of God blessing others or nations due a person chosen by God are Abraham, Daniel, Joseph, and David.

  • Abraham - Through him, God established the Messianic line to bless all the families of earth (see Genesis 12:1-20)
  • Daniel - Able, due to God, to interpret the king’s dreams, exile Daniel was elevated to leadership in the government of his captor, Babylon (see Daniel 2: 46-49)
  • Joseph - Like Daniel, God granted Joseph interpretations to Pharaoh’s dreams that resulted in Joseph becoming one of Egypt’s highest officials.  (See Genesis 39: 2-5)
  • David - Through David, God established an everlasting kingdom (See 2 Samuel 7: 12-17)

Conversely, Biblical places imperiled due to the lack of righteous people according to God include Sodom and, possibly, Canaan.

  • Sodom - But for the presence of just ten righteous people, the Lord would have spared Sodom from destruction. (See Genesis 18: 16-33)
  • Canaan - Israel was ordered to completely destroy the nations occupying their “promised lands” due to longstanding societal patterns that were detestable in God’s eyes (see Deuteronomy 18: 9, 12)

Mike isn’t the only person who claims I’ve made a noticeable difference in a place I worked. Furthermore, even though I’ve not been part of any workplace longer than 18 months during the last nine years, many of the companies have thrived during my time there. Also, I’m aware that some faltered a bit after I left.

Did God "choose" me for any of these workplaces?  Is any of this supposed blessing or prosperity due to God dwelling in me as I dwelt in the work I did there? Was my leaving in any way associated with God withdrawing blessing?

Given God’s nature and manner and the evidence of Scripture, all of the above are certainly possible even if logically far-fetched. So imagine with me for a moment that little old you and me are conduits for Godly goodness in the workplaces we occupy, whether big or small. Author Samuel Williamson says God is always speaking and acting through his creation and people and wants to speak to and through us in every moment.

“God invites us to walk with him even in--maybe especially in--our ordinary moments.”  (from “Hearing God in Conversation,” page 33)

Even at work or, if you are retired, whatever you are doing wherever you are doing it.

I pray that what Mike claims is true, that God blessed that store because I brought my relationship with the Lord to work with me. Ditto with my new job, a manufacturing company.

How about you?

--------------------------------

Notes:

  1. Canaanites: Genocide or Judgment?
  2. Trailer for movie, War Room (2015)
  3. Image source: Jill Heyer via Unsplash

 

Competing Ways: Gurus vs. God

The Guru track to career success.  Whose missing?

The Guru track to career success.  Whose missing?

In the rather convoluted job/career track I’ve been on since 2008, 16 positions in nine years, my current job has by far been the most enjoyable.  It seems I found something new I flourish at - customer service!  

Might have something to do with the workplace -  a hardware store - essentially a toy store for a Do-It-Yourself guy like me.

It’s a great work environment - a knowledgeable, patient boss, supportive and friendly co-workers and a growing and appreciative customer base. I also love the part-time schedule that has allowed me to work a little more on some long latent creative longings like this blog, writing in general, maybe doing something more with my ornaments...

Unfortunately, the variable schedule pushes against the rhythms my creativity thrives best in and then there’s the compensation issue.  Retail pay is notoriously poor and I’m at the lowest rung possible.  Although we gave this a go, we’ve been tapping into our modest savings to cover our bills.

We already live frugally but we managed to find a couple small costs to cut back on while keeping a closer eye on spending.  Meanwhile we lean heavily into what has become our primary life strategy - to trust in, abide with and wait on the Lord.

Me as a True Value, "Customer Service Associate"

Me as a True Value, "Customer Service Associate"

This "Trust-Abide-Wait" focus finally locked in with me in 2016, a few months after I was “downsized” from position #15.  During eight or so years of career-searching, I basically vacillated between following the “Guru” career-search track and seeking/depending on the Lord.

“Guru” is my term for the generally advised career-search strategy that involves crafting a plan with tailored materials and pitches that feed a relentless campaign to aggressively promote yourself to hiring managers who make the call about who gets the job and who does not.

Some of the Guru mantras are: “Go big or go home… Just do it… If you want it, you gotta go get it;” and,  “Don’t turn back until you hit your mark.”

In stark contrast is God’s way along the line of Jesus’ striking teaching in Matthew’s gospel:

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
— Matthew 7: 7-12, ESV

Notice how individualized God’s advice is.  “EveryONE who asks receives, and the ONE who seeks finds, and to the ONE who knocks it will be opened.”  

So how does God work out what happens when each of us ask, seek and knock along different lines?  EXACTLY!

The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps...Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.
— Proverbs 16:9 and 19:21, ESV

When I finally peeled myself away from Guru to give myself over to trust-abide-wait, I was able to hear God’s voice a lot better.  This hardware job surfaced during that time and I accepted it with full knowledge of its variable hours and meager pay.  While our bank account dwindled a bit, my wounded spirit was restored.  

In the last three weeks, two job opportunities were made known to me, both bearing God’s fingerprints. While neither were perfect fits, I applied for both.  The second one resulted in my next job that offers stable hours, better pay and a growth track I can pursue if I want to.

Now I have to break the news to my current boss and colleagues.  Store staffing is delicately balanced and my departure is going to upset that balance during our busiest season. After I accepted the offer for the new job, I decided to also trust-abide and wait for a couple days to seek God’s guidance about the conversation with my boss.  

I’m glad I did because God reminded me that my duty is to listen for and follow only him and let him take care of everything else.  

“He is before all things, and in him ALL THINGS hold together,” wrote Paul in his letter to the Colossians  (1:17, NIV).

“Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh. Is anything too hard for me?” (Jeremiah 32:27, ESV)

God holding ALL THINGS together includes my boss and colleagues, all our customers as well as everyone at my new workplace.  Such “holding” as only God can do is behind Paul’s bold, “no stress” statement in his letter to the Philippians:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
— Philippians 4: 6-7, NIV

Ideally, obedient believers have no stress whatsoever when we follow the path the Lord opens no matter how unusual or irrational it may initially seem.  Even so, God recognizes that this life is far from ideal and we all are stuck in it to varying degrees. For our "stuck" moments," Jesus offered these words of comfort:

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
— John 16:33, NIV

No matter how stressed we feel about what we know we have to do, "Trust-Abide-Wait" is generally a great course to take.


Take the adventure that comes

Aslan and Lucy from "The Last Battle," Chronicles of Narnia. (see notes for image source)

Aslan and Lucy from "The Last Battle," Chronicles of Narnia. (see notes for image source)

I write this for myself but feel free to read along.  This is a reminder for now and to have here to come back to again and again.  Because these feelings repeat.

I’m discouraged and I don’t feel like writing.  What do I have to say that anyone would want to read?  But here I am, writing anyway.

I find myself lacking a sense of call or purpose to wake up to today; or a future or dream to give the day some perspective.  But another day awaits that needs to be lived out.  

This awful, foreboding sense of failure washes over me, a strong sense of having fallen short but not knowing what hand I had in it or how to get back to generally succeeding again except to just live into this new day, do my best and lean into the Lord; And not take myself too seriously.

Today’s to-dos seem more than can be done in a day.  Some are in my sweet spots but some will stretch me.  Lately, more stretchy ones are in the mix than I prefer but I’m kinder on myself as I get older, more O.K. with good enough being good enough than when I was younger.  I’ve learned a thing or two about imagined perfection and excellence and their associated costs.  May I invoke that learning when today’s hour is late and some unchecked items remain.

“We must go and take the adventure that comes to us,” said a character in C.S. Lewis’ “The Last Battle,” the seventh of seven books of his Chronicles of Narnia.  The remark was offered as our heroes faced a daunting situation.  What to do or how to proceed was not at all clear while peril was certain and the odds were heavily stacked against the good guys.

In the case of these stories, the adventure-takers were all believers in and followers of Aslan,  the lion Lord of Narnia that Lewis modeled after Jesus Christ.  The adventure was viewed as one that Aslan had a hand (or in this case, paw) in allowing or causing to come to them. They knew he expected them to go forward despite their uncertainty.

So must I.  You too.  To go forward, live today.  

As we take on our to-do lists, keep the story God wrote, just for us, at hand.  Its guidance and wisdom is strong.  Filling its pages are the stories of other’s journeys very much like mine and yours.  

Whether you see yourself taking on the grand or the mundane, God levels every task and adventure, somehow rendering the grand mundane and the mundane grand.

Speaking to the sense of call or purpose, Os Guiness wrote,

“We are not primarily called to do something or go somewhere; we are called to Someone. We are not called first to special work but to God. The key to answering the call is to be devoted to no one and to nothing above God Himself.”
— Os Guiness, “The Call - Finding and fulfilling the central purpose of your life”

 

So here is the new day, brought directly from God, the author and source of all life and every moment of every day. We believers in him enjoy relationship with him through his son Jesus.  

Therefore, thanks to his mercy and grace, the burden of my past can be shed so I start this day with a clean slate, wholly forgiven and new.

O.K….(deep breath).  Ready now to “go and take the adventure that comes.”


Dual Citizenship Dilemma?

Image source:  Preacher Study Blog

Image source: Preacher Study Blog

Despite that I devote little attention to news and political matters, I’ve ventured into a few social media exchanges during the just-concluded presidential campaign and since President Trump took office. I’ve also deleted or edited some comments here and there that didn’t feel right later on.

Immigration is one of those issues on everyone’s radar.  For all the problems in America, plenty of people desire to live in the freedom that United States citizenship affords.

Freedom of speech may be one of the most valued freedom American citizens enjoy.  While America allows expression with minimal risk of repercussion, freedom of speech can easily get us into serious trouble with anyone in the range of our voice especially when our speaking platform is social media.

As someone who writes into this media, I know firsthand that some of the views expressed here have riled up a few people.  My intention with Road Report is draw from personal experiences to share what I hear God is saying in and through me.

I am grateful to be able to share my perspective this way thanks to the freedom afforded me as a citizen of the United States of America. However, by drawing God into the center of these messages, my citizenship in his kingdom is also very much in play.  Lately I notice more contention between these kingdoms of my dual citizenship.

Perhaps the dilemma is due to that the manner and conduct of the kingdom of God is often not in concert with the manner and conduct of the kingdom of America that is part of the greater kingdom of the world. Read Jesus’ beatitudes to see how people of God’s kingdom are.

Besides the beatitudes, the Bible has much to say about this dual citizenship believers in God and Christ.  Here’s how St. Peter frames this dilemma believers face:

Dear friends, I warn you as “temporary residents and foreigners” to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against your very souls.
— 1 Peter 2: 11, NLT

Jesus claimed to be king of a kingdom not of this world. (see John 18:36, NIV).  People gain citizenship in the kingdom of God when they are “born again” – adopted into a new family and citizenship that is ruled by God.

It sounds simple enough but unlike towns and neighborhoods where we live out our mortal lives, God’s kingdom is invisible and we Christians have no visual features or language that readily identifies us as “temporary residents and foreigners.” So how should Christians approach this dual citizenship?

Peter continues with some practical guidance: Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when he judges the world. (1 Peter 2: 11b-12, NLT)

  1. keep away from worldly desires that wage war against your very soul (v11b)
  2. live properly among unbelieving neighbors (v12a)
  3. behavior honorably (v12b)
  4. don’t judge (v12c)

The big question regards whether our citizenship in God’s kingdom is as noticeable as (say) an immigrant’s native accent reflects his/her Spanish-ness or Middle Eastern-ness or Asian-ness? What should an accent resonating the kingdom of God sound like?


Notes

  1. Referring to believers as “temporary residents” is noted elsewhere in Scripture (such as Genesis 23:4, Leviticus 25:23, Philippians 3:20 and Hebrews 11:13).  (Biblegateway link in NIV)
  2. What does ‘Born Again Christian’ mean?

UP SIDE DOWN — 2013 Ornament

2013 "UP SIDE DOWN" Ornament

2013 "UP SIDE DOWN" Ornament

Life has not unfolded as I envisioned it as a young dreamer many years ago. Similarly Christmas 2013 bears little resemblance to its “year zero” original. However, in the words of author Dallas Willard, we live in a “God-breathed world*.” There is nothing humanity can make or unmake, do or undo with Christmas or anything else that God did not create, permit or control.

God breathed new life into me 30 years ago and as I’ve walked on in faith since then, I seek God’s context in every moment and to “lean not on my own understanding.” Through God’s eyes, UPs emerge in the mundane and amazingly from the deepest of DOWNs.

So, this UP SIDE DOWN ornament is available this year by request AND your pledge to think about and comment how its message strikes you.

Enjoy!


Christmas celebrates the birth of a child said to fulfill ancient Jewish prophecies about a Messiah King like their great King David (1050 BC) who would vanquish their enemies and establish an everlasting reign of peace. (Isaiah 9:6).

While Jewish scholars today discount prophecies Christians claim are messianic, the fanfare of Christmas 2013 would have suited their UP expectations for Messiah more than Christmas “year zero” did. In looking for an UP king like David they were caught looking in the wrong direction. Here are a few points of confusion.

DOWN #1 – How Jesus arrived – born to a mom who insisted she conceived while still an unmarried virgin. Really?

DOWN #2 – Birthplace. Although Bethlehem was the birthplace of King David, in “year zero” it was little more than a backwoods town located literally in the shadow of the local king’s fortress at Herodium that towered 2,487 feet in elevation over Bethlehem (elevation 775) just 3.1 miles down the road. God could pick anywhere. Why Bethlehem?

DOWN # 3 – Convoluted birth story. He wasn’t born at home surrounded by a royal family but in an animal stall in a distant city. His only visitors were shepherds who say they were summoned by an angelic host and the mysterious magi from who knows where who followed a star.

A stall? Shepherds and Magi?  Angels and a star? Could the Messiah King’s entrance be any less credible or more confusing?

After the shepherds departed, it was noted that “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19)

What things did she ponder? . . . (Was anything about Jesus’ birth NOT ponderable?)

DOWN # 4 – Jesus’ compelling manner but counterintuitive message first wowed the crowds but ultimately confounded them.

Scripture offers clues for understanding:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
— Isaiah 55: 8-9

AND

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and shun evil.
— Proverbs 3: 5-7

Hint! Hint! Relationship with God requires both heart and brain. Jesus would affirm and reinforce that idea. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21; Luke 12:34)

The verses quoted on the ornament’s pages are just a small sampling of Jesus’ UP SIDE DOWN-ness . Others include: bless your enemies (Rom 12:14), value godliness over wealth (1 Tim 6: 6-9), take joy in hardship (James 1:2), God sets himself against worldly wisdom and strength (1 Cor 1:27), and “Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. “ (Matt 16: 25).

Christianity today presents the birth of Christ as a holy and magical event – God touching down on planet earth. But as a stand-alone event in history, it wasn’t that at all.  It is only so in context to the greater story of God’s efforts to connect with humanity and that story didn’t begin in Bethlehem but in Eden.  Christmas is really part of that greater story and Jesus has a significant role in it.

Which is why Christians believe that Christ is the answer to why we are. Arriving as he did, odd as it seems, went EXACTLY as planned. But to truly hear and see and know him “breathing life” into us and the chaos around us, we need to completely INVERT our perspective – UP SIDE DOWN!


  1. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS:
    • To SeaLemonDIY on You Tube (http://www.youtube.com/user/SeaLemonDIY) for the lesson on how to make my little book with real pages.  She has many other DIY “How Tos” there as well. Check it out.
    • To my friend and Pastor, Doug Walker for yet another lesson to build a Christmas ornament around. If you read back through prior ornament messages, you’ll note that I attribute many of my ornament lessons to Doug’s teaching. Doug is pastor of the church we attend, Grace Chapel in Farmington Hills, MI (www.graceepc.org). The “counterintuitive, upside down gospel” is a predominant theme in his messages.
    • To my new colleague, Sister Joyce Van de Vyver who encouraged me not to abandon my ornament project this year when I was thinking of doing so.  Thanks!
       
  2. TEXT of UP SIDE DOWN  Ornament

    FRONT COVER: UP SIDE DOWN (upside down)
    INSIDE FRONT COVER: THE GOOD NEWS?
    1st page: lean not on your own understanding… (Proverbs 3: 5-7)
    2nd page: The virgin will conceive and give birth (Isaiah 7:14)
    3rd page: I came (not) to bring peace… but division (even within families) (Luke 12: 51-53, paraphrase)
    4th page: He was despised and rejected…Like one from whom people hide their faces (Isaiah 53:3)
    INSIDE BACK COVER: By Glenn Trevisan, Christmas 2013
     
  3. IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO RECEIVE a 2013 “UP SIDE DOWN,” simply request one by emailing me at FarmingtonGlenn@gmail.com.  If you receive one,  I respectfully ask that you offer a comment about the message by email, Facebook (if we’re already “friends”) or here on at RoadReportJournal.com. I’m not fishing for “likes” but how the message struck you.
     
  4. Dallas Willard quote from his book, “The Divine Conspiracy”
     
  5. BIBLE READING: If you are serious about answering why you are, grab a bible, start with prayer to ask God to reveal himself to you and give you understanding. For a great Bible reading program, check out the Bible Reading System on my blog. I’d be happy to walk you through it.
  6. About Glenn’s Ornaments: See the pictures and stories of all the ornaments under category Creations.