Vicarious is as Vicarious Does

 

Sand Lot Players

Mark 16:15: And Jesus said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.”

I don’t know if you’ve heard of a baseball league for kids that is run by the kids themselves. It’s called “unorganized baseball,” and adults are not allowed to have anything to do with the game. They’re not supposed to cheer the players, although some do occasionally. And they certainly are not supposed to advise, cajole or berate the players. A player from each team acts as an umpire, and that helps insure that the calls will be fair. There are no uniforms, no pressure, no tantrums, and no crying because the game is relaxed, much as the sand lot games were that we used to play as kids. The idea is to have fun, enjoy the game and get some exercise.

Of course, we know about the pressure and stress that can be a part of league play. Unfortunately, some parents who perhaps didn’t do well playing baseball when they were young want their children to do what they could not, and so they use their youngster to play vicariously through them. The harm caused by their yelling, scolding and berating their child is immense, and even though some leagues try to prohibit what the parents do, the adults persist. I hope “unorganized baseball” will grow and make an impact of how kids play other games, as well as on their lives.

I was thinking about these parents who live vicariously through their children and what a mistake it is, and believe that our faith is decidedly not vicarious. In the Great Commission, Jesus told his disciples and tells us to go ourselves into the world and made disciples. We are not allowed to send someone for us or send our money. That doesn’t count. We have to be involved in sharing this great treasure that is salvation and in continuing to walk with God. Praise God that we can be a part of God’s great plan for everyone, and that we can continue to be with God, supported by the Spirit to share the news of the sacrifice in love of the Savior. Amen.

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Lather, Rinse, Repeat

Lather Rinse Repeat

Deuteronomy 6: 6-7: These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.

I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed how much people repeat themselves in everyday life. I’m not talking about someone making a speech or giving a sermon repeating themselves (although that does happen), but rather about people who say the same thing in daily life.

If you give someone directions, it’s interesting how many people don’t write them down, but rather repeat them to try to fix them in their memory. I write a lot of things down because I frequently can’t remember what I had for breakfast. Servers in restaurants also repeat a customer’s order. Someone might say, “I’ll have the pate de fois gras and the lobster thermidor. The server immediately says, “The foie gras and the lobster, right?” I used to think servers didn’t hear the order the first time, but then I realized they were repeating what the customer said to make sure they heard the customer’s order correctly and also to probably fix the order in their memory.

I’ve written that, when we greet someone, the person being greeted often repeats what the first person said. I might say to a friend when I first see him, “Hey, Bob, how are you?” and Bob will say, “Hey, Dan, I’m good. How are you?” I think this happens because we don’t have time to think of a different greeting. It also serves as a way of establishing a bond or a commonality between two people. It’s a way of indicating that we liked the way we were greeted so much that we use it again. The other person is pleased that we used the same words and resolves to become our life-long friend and give us lots of money. Maybe.

We can find repetition in the universe as well. The sun, moon, earth, galaxies and stars move in regular paths. We have birthdays and celebrate holidays at predictable times. Repetition is also important in the Bible. The Jews staged festivals and holy days at regular intervals. Scholars tell us that Jesus did his teaching orally, and that the disciples heard the same messages over and over again, enabling them to remember what Jesus said so they could write it down later as the Gospels.

The Shema is an ancient Jewish prayer consisting of three paragraphs that are repeated in the morning and evening. The first paragraph is, “Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One. Blessed is His name, whose glorious kingdom is forever and ever.” I believe we would be well-served to repeat this prayer ourselves as a reminder of the nature and power of God. Listen to these important words, all you believers: “The Lord our God is One God.” Amen.

 

Changing the Oil

Wise and Foolish

Matthew 25: 1-4: “At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten young women who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise.  The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps.

I don’t know if you remember the days when, if a family took a lengthy trip by car and had to stop for gas, they not only filled the tank: they also checked the oil. I asked my dad once why he was checking the oil when he had checked it three hours earlier and, as far as I knew, we hadn’t anointed the road with the contents of the engine. He replied, “You never know what might have happened. I just like to be sure.”

I might be wrong about this, but I don’t see many people checking their oil when they gas up now. I think engines have become more reliable and less likely to dump their oil on the interstate or maybe more people have instruments to keep them informed about their oil level.

Just when this began to change, I don’t remember. It might also have to do with the fast pace of life nowadays. Yeah, we might run the risk of cooking our engines, but it would be worth it if we got where we are going a little bit sooner.

My father was wise check the dip stick at every gas stop. Doing so told him that his engine was able to continue the trip. Similarly, the wise young women in the parable made sure they had plenty of olive oil so they could do what they were supposed to. And I think that we need to take measure of our lives by prayer, reflection, reading the Bible, acts of service, and fellowship with others. All these tell us how we measure up to God’s standards. And measuring up to those standards will insure that, with the sacrifice of the Son, the power of the Holy Spirit and the love of the Creator we will continue to grow in Christlikeness. Praise God for the Trinity, Three in One and all that it has done for us, all that it is doing for us, and all that it will do for us throughout eternity. Amen.

The Works of Our Hands

Get Excited and Make Things

Matthew 8:3: Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him, saying, “I am willing; be cleansed.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed.

I don’t know if you were encouraged to make things by hand when you were younger. I know I certainly was, largely to keep my hands (and in some cases my feet) busy at some useful task so they would not break something valuable.

Bernard Tate narrated a classic example of using his hands and ingenuity with his story about improvising an instrument for watching the eclipse last week. Here’s what he wrote in one of his “Postcards from D.C.” emails, a series in which he writes about interesting or amusing or striking events or sights in the city.

“About noon on the day of the eclipse, a sudden “eclipse fever” hit the Government Accountability Office building, and everyone was asking each other if they had their eclipse glasses, or rushed to build pinhole viewers in which the pinhole acts as a lens and projects an image of the sun onto some surface. I went across the street to the CVS and bought a roll of aluminum foil.  I cut the front and back off my office steno pad, taped a piece of white paper on one piece, cut a hole in the other piece, taped aluminum foil over the hole, and punched a pinhole in the foil.

“Several folks had cereal box & shoe box pinhole viewers, but my little 10-minute special had a longer focal length and projected a bigger image…with the screen on the sidewalk and holding the pinhole five or six feet away, I got a half-inch image.”

It occurred to me that in his story, Bernard used his hands to create something timely and useful, and that got me to thinking that, while God created the universe and everything in it with words, God chose to fashion Adam directly from the earth. While we don’t know the exact process God used, I imagine it would have been something like hands or some other agency that could shape matter. As humans, we can be involved with God in co-creation using, along with other methods, our hands. Allowing us to be a part of what God does seems to me to be further evidence of the great love and grace that God bestows on us and on creation at every turn. Praise God for the works of hands, for love, grace and for creation. Amen.

 

Sabbath Rest

Rest Here

 

 

Matthew 12: 8: “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”
I don’t know if you remember a time when Chik Fil A wasn’t the only business that closed on Sundays. This was the case when I was a boy, and up through about 1988, when Virginia’s blue laws were repealed. It’s interesting that the town of Colonial Heights didn’t get around to repealing its Sunday closings until March of this year. Having Sunday closings was inconvenient and required some planning, but I wonder if there isn’t something to setting aside a Sabbath.

Orthodox Jews take the observance of the Sabbath very seriously. They cannot shear sheep, work with wool, thread needles, weave, tie or untie knots, sew, tear, write, erase, cut, build, light a flame, carry anything, drive, turn on a light switch, or finish anything that had been started before the Sabbath. While we might not want to go that far, I wonder if there are some things we tend to do on Sundays that we really don’t need to do.

When I was young, many people had jobs involving manual labor, and they worked hard five or more days a week. Saturdays were reserved for errands and catching up on household work and maintenance. As a result, they were ready to rest on Sundays. I remember that I was expected to lay my suit, dress shirt, tie and shoes out Saturday night for the next day—and I had to polish my shoes. I still remember the smell of the polish as I tried hard not to get it on my hands or clothes. I didn’t always succeed.

On Sunday morning, we got dressed in our best clothing and sat down to breakfast. It was a challenge for me to keep bits of egg and bacon off my pants. Generally I did, and then we were off to church. When we came home, my father, brother and I relaxed in the living room with the Sunday papers and their color comics while my mother slaved in the kitchen to fix a special Sunday meal of fried chicken, green beans cooked to within an inch of their lives, biscuits, mashed potatoes with gravy and, of course, sweetened ice tea. I’m sorry now that we didn’t do anything to help her, but that’s how it was back then. We didn’t eat like that the rest of the week, and that special meal made the Sabbath more special.

After we ate and everyone had a nap, it was time to entertain ourselves by taking a ride in our car. It’s hard to believe now, but driving then was a pleasure, and we always seemed to find something interesting to look at. When we came back, we had sandwiches for our evening meal, and then settled in to watch our black-and-while television or play rummy (to this day the only card game I know). My paternal grandmother visited us from Tennessee every once in a while, and as a strict “old school” Baptist, she did not believe in drinking alcohol, dancing, going to movies, or gambling, including playing cards without money being exchanged. She did like watching wrestling on television, however.

Obviously, we can’t go back to those days, but I wonder if we can set aside some time on Sundays to relax and focus on our relationship with each other and with God. Doing so would help us navigate this all too busy world, and I believe it would make us better people and better witnesses to the power and love of God, who created the world in six days and took a Sabbath. And God saw that that special time was very good. Amen.

Creeping Up

 

Heavy Traffic at a Traffic Light

Psalm 103:8 The Lord is kind and merciful. He is patient and full of love.

I don’t know if you do this when you’re at a long light, say on Sudley Road (you can have your pick there of long lights) or if you’ve noticed other drivers doing the same thing. Say you’re stopped for a light. Say it’s a long light, long enough that you think the season may change before the light does. You’ve filed your nails, read all the bumper stickers you can see and said prayers for almost everyone you know, and then it happens.

The light hasn’t changed. And then you creep up, not far enough that you run into the car ahead of you. The question is why? The timer that controls the light doesn’t care what you do. You’re not intimidating it to change sooner with your car. It will take its own sweet time until it changes and, short of your car growing wings and flying above traffic or going off-road (which I don’t recommend), you have to wait. And wait. And wait.

I’ve been trying to understand why some drivers do this, and one possibility has to do with the anxiety we feel on the roads in this stressful, time-driven area. Creeping up at lights might be a way to relieve some of the anxiety we feel at traffic lights. We’re moving—it’s not far and it’s not for long, but darn it, we’re going somewhere. And a few seconds later, when the light changes, we are really going somewhere, even if it’s only to the next red light, and we feel better. It’s only for a short while, certainly, but we need all the feeling better we can get.

I think that the spiritual connection is this: not to demean God, but God is like that timer on the traffic light. God is going to accomplish God’s purposes on God’s timetable. There’s no way we can hurry God or make those purposes happen any sooner. We must wait until they do happen, and when they do, the joy and contentment we feel is well worth waiting for. Think of the Children of Israel waiting for the Messiah. They moaned and cried out for a Savior for millennia, but that didn’t change the time of that Messiah’s coming. Jesus came when the time was right, and for those of us who have accepted him as Lord and Savior, our joy is free and unbounded. Praise God for being patient, for doing what is necessary when the time is right, and for sending the gift of Jesus Christ, who is indeed our Lord and Savior. Amen.

Small Steps

 

 

Small Steps

1 Kings 19:11-12: (Elijah goes out to meet the Lord) Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.

I don’t know if you’ve ever accidentally stepped on a cat. It’s not a pleasant experience either for you or for the cat, and there’s always the risk of both cat and human breaking something, whether from being stepped on or falling.

Our elder cat Nacho doesn’t move quickly any more, if she ever did, except when it’s time to eat and she hustles toward her food. And she is remarkably stubborn about claiming whatever space she happens to sprawl on. If she’s lying in the hall, for instance, and I come along, she will not move. I am then forced to step over her since the hall is not wide enough to go around her. In that circumstance, she looks at me as if to say, “Yeah, buddy, this hall is mine and so is any place I happen to occupy. You can go over and go around.”

Knowing Nacho is like this, I have gotten into the habit of taking small steps, almost shuffling my feet, so that if I do encounter her unexpectedly, I’d only nudge her with a toe, as opposed to stepping on her with what my mother used to call, “my big flat feet.” (They are flat, by the way, but I think more “average” than “big.” They’re still big enough to hurt a cat.)

I think I first adapted small steps as a preventative measure when Amy and Alyssa started crawl. They were much like Nacho—they claimed their space, and if I came along, I had to watch out for them since I was the responsible party, as the insurance companies like to say. So I shuffled along the floor when they were at that age. When we adopted Nacho, I easily fell into taking small steps, a legacy from our daughters’ activities at that age.

I think the spiritual application is this: in our faith, we need to take small steps after our initial leap of faith as we grow into Christlikeness. There will occasionally still be giant steps with our spirituality, but most of the progress is done in small everyday bits, such as being kind to someone or sensitive to a person’s emotional state. Jesus spoke of the tiny mustard seed growing into a large bush. God is not necessarily in the whirlwind, but perhaps more so in the silence of small acts and thoughts, which can have huge effects on the world and on its people. Praise God for the small deeds and words that grow, like the mustard tree, into the Kingdom. Amen.