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Archive for March, 2010

This article was first published in the West Douglas County Record on March 11, 2010:

Years ago, when I was a college freshman, I discovered a piece of wisdom I call “Mom’s Method.” One day in late Autumn I felt at wit’s end, because the next day a paper was due for a course in Ancient Greek Philosophy. Naturally I hadn’t started it yet, and I felt a huge mental block. I just couldn’t think of a single thing to write. Had I even learned anything in the course? It didn’t help that I was coming down with something, perhaps a bad cold. I called Mom, mostly seeking sympathy and the opportunity to vent my frustrations. What I received was actual help with my paper.

Mom asked me, “What is the paper supposed to be about?” I read her the instructions for the assignment. She then asked me, “Well, then, what’s something you’ve learned about that subject?” I bristled a little bit, and then coughed up a little tidbit of knowledge I’d learned in the course, something that didn’t seem important enough to include in my paper, but Mom didn’t see it that way. She said, “OK, write that down.” I wrote it down, and she asked me, “Now, what else have you learned?” I dug deep into the recesses of my mind for another tidbit, and wrote that one down, too. This process was repeated a few more times, and an amazing thing happened. An actual essay was taking shape. I remembered more than I thought I did. The essay I wrote that day wasn’t a work of genius, but it got the job done. The next day I had a paper to hand in, and it didn’t turn out badly at all. In fact, I think it earned a B+. The only thing that had stood between me and completing the assignment, was my own perfectionism. I wanted everything I wrote to be a work of genius, a candidate for the Pulitzer Prize, and I’m still like that today.

I still use Mom’s Method today. In fact, I just employed it in the last few days. I’m still a perpetual student, and I had an assignment due yesterday for a distance learning course in Jewish Mysticism. I’m in a program in Jewish Studies so I can learn more about the Jewish background of Early Christianity. Anyway, I would have never gotten my papers done if it weren’t for Mom’s Method. Once again I’ve failed to earn the Pulitzer Prize, but once again I’ve succeeded in getting the day’s task done. Sometimes I wouldn’t get my articles done for the Record, either, if it weren’t for Mom’s Method. It’s very easy. Here are the steps:

1. Think of something to say that fits the assignment. If necessary, have Mom (or Dad, or someone else) grill you with questions.
2. Write it down.
3. Forget about the Pulitzer Prize.
4. Move on to another point and repeat the process until you’re done.

Moms and Dads have wisdom. That’s part of why we’re told to “honor your father and your mother” (Exodus 20:12). Jesus honored His mother and listened to her (Luke 2:51). Jesus is the perfect example of how to honor one’s mother, though I’m not sure I’ll make a habit of calling my Mom “Woman”, like Jesus did in John 2:4.

Don’t let perfectionism get in the way of completing an important task, and don’t let it fool you into thinking you know nothing. Jesus’ mother treasured important things in her heart (Luke 2:51), and your memory is a treasury of many important things as well. Just because you don’t know everything, and don’t know things perfectly, doesn’t mean that you don’t have something of value to share from your own learning and experience. “Therefore every scribe who has become a disciple of the kingdom of heaven is like a head of a household, who brings forth out of his treasure things new and old” (Matthew 13:52 NASB).

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This article was first published in the West Douglas County Record on February 25, 2010:

Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” Not long after Jesus rose from the dead, He told His disciple Peter that he would someday die as a martyr, and John 21:17 says that Jesus said this “to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.” God calls all His children to glorify Him by some kind of death. A few are called to die physically as martyrs, but all of us are called to die to ourselves. Let me tell you about a man named Maurice, who experienced a type of living death by which he glorified God.

Maurice was a Christian, a farmer, a family man, and a church and community leader. He was a state legislator in South Dakota. He believed very strongly in youth ministry and gave thousands of dollars to a local Bible camp. He was beloved by his family, and loved to entertain his grandchildren with little parlor tricks. His signature “magic words” were “abra cadabra cazowie.”

His life changed in one terrible moment in his early 70s. He was at a tire shop when someone failed to install the proper safety cage while working on tires with split ring rims. A rim was blown with explosive force and struck Maurice in the head. People usually die when that happens, but Maurice survived. During the last five years of his life he was unable to respond when spoken to, and usually sat in stony silence. It was hard to tell whether he recognized people or understood what they said. In was in those days that I first met him, because as a pastor in South Dakota I sometimes took a turn leading a worship service at the nursing home where he lived. His wife faithfully brought him to worship. Later I became pastor of their church, and I got better acquainted with Maurice, his wife and family, and his story. I think I may have seen a glimmer of comprehension once when I told him that his granddaughter was one of my Confirmation students. He suddenly turned his eyes to me in a way that looked like recognition and interest, though he remained silent.

But Maurice wasn’t always silent. Occasionally something would trigger an outburst, and he would shout loudly and uncontrollably. I heard it twice on occasions when I came to lead the nursing home service. It was painful to hear, but I’ll never forget some of the words he shouted. At the top of his lungs he shouted things like “Praise Jesus! Praise His name! He is holy!”

What if something happened to you or me, that made it impossible for us to control our speech? What would come out of our mouths? In Luke 6:45 Jesus says, “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks (ESV).” I confess that even though I’m a Christian, there are thoughts and attitudes in my heart, in my old sinful nature, that I would not want people to hear coming out of my mouth. Our souls need to be filled with God’s Living Word in order for the treasure of our heart to produce good, because “where your treasure lies, there your heart will be also (Matthew 6:21).”

There’s always a reason when God allows His children to suffer, and I think the reason why this was allowed to happen to Maurice was so that the true contents of his heart treasury would be revealed, for all to see and hear. His public testimony proclaimed faith in God and love to family and neighbor, but did the inner reality of his heart match his public words and deeds? The answer is yes. Just as as Jesus said of His disciple Nathanael, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit (John 1:47 ESV)”, Maurice also was revealed to be without guile. After a life spent serving the LORD, the earthly jar of his body was struck, and the true contents of his heart came gushing out, words of praise to his Savior Jesus, and a heart of love for his loved ones, an offering pure and holy in the sight of God. This is the death by which Maurice glorified God.

Jesus gave Himself for us. I pray that during this Lenten season we would truly answer His to die to ourselves and live for Him.

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