Don’t Quarrel With the Bus Driver

(From a FB note in 2009)

A few weeks ago while talking with a friend about some things going on in both our lives I made this comment:

“I’m not driving the bus. Just along for the ride.”

What did I mean by that? I’m in a season where I am completely thrilled to sit back and let God be in charge of what’s next. My analogy is that I’m just on the bus, he’s driving, and when it’s time for me to get off the bus at the next assignment stop I’m sure he’ll make it real clear.

Isaiah says a few phrases in chapters 43 and 45 that reminded the Jews about their relationship with their God:

  • Before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me
  • No one can deliver out of my hand
  • Woe to those who quarrel with their Maker

About one of these phrases, the NLT Study Bible has this note:

If we could design our own god it would not be like the God spoken of in the Scriptures. Most would prefer a god that answers every prayer positively, or a god that goes along with our cultural values, or a god that will welcome us to heaven no matter what. God’s message to the ancient Israelites who struggled with this was in essence, ‘Go ahead! Find a new god! See where it gets you!’

So does this mean I can’t talk with God if I’m confused, frustrated, or having trouble staying content in my “passenger” life? Absolutely not. It just means that I should approach him in faith with a peaceful spirit; my words don’t need to come from a discontented place in my heart leading me to being quarrelsome or argumentative.

My best response to the ride is to sorta take on the Allstate motto: I know I’m in good hands. God knows the destination. When he parks and gives me further instruction, I hope to say, “Thanks for listening and being such a patient driver and getting me safely to my destination. I wouldn’t want to be traveling with anyone else.”

Photo by Christian Wiediger on Unsplash

That time Jesus said, “None of your business.”

They could not have looked like promising revolutionary material. That they should see themselves as deliverers of Israel was ludicrous. Their grasp of the meaning of Christ’s death and resurrection was still tenuous and their perception of their future confused.

What was going to happen on the political scene? What role would they play? Seated among the young olive trees they asked him: “Do you plan to restore Israel’s sovereignty?” Many eyes were turned on him.

“None of your business” was the effect of his retort. “That’s God the Father’s affair. He currently organizes the political scene. Your job will be to bear witness to me not only here, but in broadening circles throughout the earth” (see Acts 1:4-8).

Chapter 4, On Being a Signpost, of The Fight by John White

These three paragraphs start White’s chapter teaching on what it means to bear witness. This “none of your business” interpretation is of verse 7 where Jesus is quoted, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.”

As I read this, I was reminded of Jeremiah’s letter to the exiles in Jeremiah 29. The receivers of his message were not unlike those hearing Jesus’ message in Acts 1. They had a lot of questions. In their confusion and reaction they were tempted to believe and pursue just about anything, including doing what made sense for self-preservation without yielding to the all-knowing and all-powerful work of God.

American Christians would do well to listen to Jeremiah and Jesus. Our actions and words too often sound like we’ve got it all figured out, like we haven’t really heard what was said. Too often, the voice of God is hushed by our demands and declarations, in essence telling him how to do his job. Too often, we ignore the truth that it’s none of our business.

Shame Nation (book review)

After reading Curt Thompson’s The Soul of Shame, I determined to find other books on the topic of shame. I found several and chose to read Shame Nation by Sue Scheff next. What I thought I was going to learn and what I ended up learning were not the same, to my advantage.

The title implied one thing in my mind. By the time I got into chapter two, I realized Scheff’s focus was on the epidemic of online hate. Through the first five chapters of section one “The Rise of Shame Nation,” Scheff gives great detail to exemplify exactly what’s at stake when it comes to digital shame. Some of it I knew, but I quickly learned I didn’t know enough. That section alone is worth the read. In the following three chapters of section two “Preventing and Surviving an Onslaught,” Scheff gives all of us much needed wisdom that could curb disasters and literally saves lives.

Your online behavior should be the best reflection of who you are off-line, but so many of us don’t live up to that ideal.

Chapter 3, I Can’t Believe They Posted That!

But what I found most helpful was the final section, “Beyond the Shaming.” Scheff gives several illustrations of people who’ve taken their online shaming experience and turned in into purpose, action, and healing for themselves, their community, and beyond. An amazing resource listing at the end of the book contains 40 examples, the majority I had never heard of. The ones that stood out to me include…

The results of online shame and hate hit home in April in our area when a 12-year-old died by suicide due to cyberbullying. After leading a response to a request to equip parents against bullying of their students, I’m convinced we cannot talk about this epidemic enough. Scheff has given parents, educators, counselors, and community leaders more than enough knowledge to respond to and change their community from one of shame and hate to one of kindness and compassion. I encourage you to add this book to your library.

Google Result 40,900,001

I just googled the word journaling and got 40,900,000 results. Guess another result can’t hurt.

These six journals contain my entries from Dec. ’99 to March ’12

In an effort to keep shrinking my library, I discarded six journals today. Hard to do? Not really, particularly since they are more than a decade old. And as tempting as it is for me to flip through the pages, instead I dwelt on the value of what was on the pages versus the exact words.

If you journal, you know the value. If you don’t journal, well there are 40 million web results to consider its value. As for my experience, here’s why I value journaling.

  1. Spiritual. This one is first for a reason. In those six journals, my guess is 95% of the content was from the discipline of journaling while engaging scripture reading. During that time frame, I mostly used the acronym SOAP, written about in The Divine Mentor by Wayne Cordeiro, to complete my journaling discipline. My engagement with God and the Bible took on new depth through the words penned on those pages. Pretty sure there’s not a price tag I could put on that.
  2. Emotional. A lot happened in those twelve years including working at three different churches in various roles, moving to a new city, completing a four-year masters degree, handing off a successful piano competition, becoming an intentional runner, and many other personal and family experiences. Allowing pen and paper to process the emotions of such events is beneficial to the one journaling and to those in their world. The value that is most surprising is how those emotions surface more quickly and more healthily due to the writing discipline.
  3. Mental. As one who believes our minds should be in constant growth, the discipline of journaling is a tool that aids that growth. When united with spiritual and emotional focuses, my mind is transformed. After twelve years of journaling, I know things I didn’t know before, I know things I didn’t know I needed to know, and I deepened my value of knowing both of those things.

How I journal, how often I journal, and how it impacts me continues to evolve. That’s reason enough to keep journaling.

The Soul Of Shame (book review)

I first mentioned Dr. Curt Thompson’s blog Being Known over a year ago in this post: https://johngregoryjr.com/2021/04/25/storytelling-finding-joy/. After listening to the majority of the episodes and hearing references to his books, I finally got around to reading one. Thanks to hoopla, I just finished The Soul of Shame.

Like the podcast, this book is one to be revisited. Like the podcast, it’s not over your head. Like the podcast, it breathes life into its consumer.

We become what we pay attention to.

Chapter 2, How Shame Targets the Mind

If my highlights are an indicator, apparently my attention got stronger as I moved from chapter to chapter. The first four chapters build the case for the universality of shame’s reach. Then starting with chapter five, Thompson explains shame’s role in the biblical narrative, how it impacts our own narrative, and the remedies that produce redemption.

Honest vulnerability is the key to both healing shame-and its inevitably anticipated hellish outcome of abandonment-and preventing it from taking further root in our relationships and culture…To be human is to be vulnerable…God is vulnerable in the sense that he is open to wounding. Open to pain. Open to rejection. Open to death.

Chapters 5 & 6

Thompson declares that shame pushes us into isolation to keep us from pursuing being human, being vulnerable. To counter shame’s work, Thompson encourages us to understand our cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 11-12), pursue nurturing communities, and renew our vocational creativity.

We will not be rid of shame this side of the new heaven and earth; rather, we grow in our awareness of shame in order to scorn it…There is no more significant place for us to counteract shame than in those venues where we spend most of our waking hours. In these places we are called to be agents for creating goodness and beauty, but these are the very places where shame is more than willing to do its most effective work.

Chapters 7 & 8

A word to the church: Thompson believes “the family of God is the crucible in which we learn what real family is about and in which the what and how of education is ideally imprinted into our souls, transforming both our life in our biological families as well as all that we learn about our world and our place in it.” The church gets the opportunity to help people choose between shame and love.

I encourage you, especially if you are in a place of influence and leadership, to read The Soul Of Shame. Shame won’t like you for it. Your soul will.

Self-Directed Neuroplasticity

This week I participated in a Q&A following a 40-minute story and message on the subject of overcoming addiction. The story shared was of a woman walking away from her Haitian family’s expectations of her continuing the business of voodoo. The message shared by a pastor focused on how God speaks into our life’s storms; his focus was the Gospel story of Jesus walking on the water and Peter’s attempt to do the same.

In prepping for the Q&A by listening to the pre-recording of the pastor’s message and considering the prepared questions, I revisited a book I read several years ago by Dr. Charles Stone. In his book Brain-Savvy Leaders, Dr. Stone wrote this about change:

When we learn, repeated thoughts about the same subject become mental maps that eventually become habits or deeply engrained beliefs. That’s why reading, studying, and meditating upon scripture is so vital for a Christian. The more we focus on God’s word, the more brain connections we make about this truth, thus reinforcing our values and beliefs. It’s as if the Holy Spirit “rezones” our brains with God’s truth. This change is called self-directed neuroplasticity. The Apostle Paul speaks to this change in Romans 12:2: “Don’t be conformed to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you can figure out what God’s will is-what is good and pleasing and mature.”

Chapter 4, Meet Your Brain’s Parts

What in the world is neuroplasticity? Dr. Stone describes it as the reconfiguring and rewiring of neurons that happens when we learn or when the brain “assumes functions it normally doesn’t do by taking over the functions from a damaged part of the brain.”

These thoughts were helpful to bring to the conversation when this question was asked: “What posture helps us stand against our feelings, to keep us from sinking in the storm?” Whatever our feelings are telling us about the storm we are facing, some rewiring can bring hope. However far we have sank, some reconfiguring how to think and live can lift us up.

Our brain’s zoning can be impacted greatly by traumatic events and addictive behaviors. The reality that our brain can be rezoned brings light and peace into one’s stormy life. As for postures-you might say self-directed neuroplasticity-to keep us from sinking, consider these:

  • How can you maintain a posture for learning?
  • How can you establish a posture of meditating on scripture?
  • How can you resist the posture of having your back turned away rather than your face turned toward God?

Photo by Timothy Dykes on Unsplash

Understanding Yes

Yesterday gave me the answer to a question. The question had to do with having said yes and wondering how that particular yes was going to work out. Turns out, pretty good…way better than expected.

The older I get the more weight each yes carries. What I’ve noticed this year focusing on flow, saying yes doesn’t always mean everything’s in order. In fact, the best yes results so far have started with very little in order.

Improving on flow and yes seems to only come by experience. It’s a product of better listening, deeper trust, and reduced paralysis from fear. These improvements, our growth, comes from both our wins and our losses.

For example, David started out with some significant yes wins. He didn’t always have everything in order the moment he said yes, like when he said, “I can take down Goliath.” Five stones later, the flow and the yes made sense. Years later, that win was countered by another yes (Bathsheba) that resulted in lifelong losses. The level at which he flowed with God determined the win or loss of his yes.

Abraham is another example. When God first asked him for a yes, Abraham had no idea how it would work out. But he followed and reaped the benefits of not expecting to understand everything ahead of time. The bumps in the road between then and saying yes to sacrificing Isaac certainly had some losses, but Abraham learned from them and improved his flow and yes to an ultimate level of sacrifice (Genesis 22).

Determining the unity of a yes with Holy Spirit flow can be tricky. One key is discerning where the wish to answer yes is coming from-my own desires or his. And often that discernment can look like asking these three questions:

  1. What is God telling me?
  2. What is God not telling me?
  3. What do I want God to tell me?

None of these questions are bad questions. But I’ve found that the only one that really matters is what is God telling me. Without the answer to that question, a yes or no shouldn’t even be given. I’m also finding that my best understanding of yes is pretty simple. If God is asking for a yes, it’s the best answer. His higher ways and thoughts support my yes. My understanding, secondary to his glory, will come when he’s done with my yes.

Photo by Jen Theodore on Unsplash

Balancing Precision and Fluidity

You never know what you’re going to learn by reading a book. Such was the case while reading chapter three in The Shallows by Nicholas Carr.

Chapter Three, “Tools of the Mind,” shares the history and impact of maps, clocks, and language on intellectual development. Carr includes these three in the same technology category, the intellectual technologies. He wrote that maps expanded man’s spatial technology. What maps did for space, clocks did for time.

To describe life before the creation of clocks, Carr quotes French medievalist Jacques Le Goff who said life was “dominated by agrarian rhythms, free of haste, careless of exactitude, unconcerned by productivity.” Hard to imagine such a life. Thinking about it presents a mixture of envy and gratitude.

Carr then shared this bit of history relaying how and why clocks came to be:

Life began to change in the latter half of the Middle Ages. The first people to demand a more precise measurement of time were Christian monks, whose lives revolved around a rigorous schedule of prayer. In the sixth century, Saint Benedict had ordered his followers to hold seven prayer services at specified times during the day. Six hundred years later, the Cistercians gave new emphasis to punctuality, dividing the day into a regimented sequence of activities and viewing any tardiness or other waste of time to be an affront to God. Spurred by the need for temporal exactitude, monks took the lead in pushing forward the technologies of timekeeping. It was in the monastery that the first mechanical clocks were assembled, their movements governed by the swinging of weights, and it was the bells in the church tower that first sounded the hours by which people would come to parcel out their lives.

Like Carr, I don’t share this to make a slam, but to make an observation. Balance is a tricky thing. Some would even say it’s an impossible thing. But like holiness, it’s worth pursuing.

When it comes to time, we can get imbalanced by rigidity and carelessness. We can get lost in the black and white as well as the disregard for parceling and regimentation.

As those seeking to walk in the Spirit, may we follow his lead in the moments when precision is best and when fluidity is lifegiving.

Photo by Aron Visuals on Unsplash

Reading to Understand the War in Ukraine

Last month The Atlantic published an article Nine Books to Read to Understand the War in Ukraine. It moved me to expand my knowledge, to educate myself, and to better respond to other’s opinions on the current crisis.

Any of the recommended books sounded interesting to me. I decided to take a trip to the library and see what I could find. I had my favorites selected, but the reality was I was at the library’s mercy. Unfortunately, they didn’t have copies of most of the books. The book that most interested me that they did have I decided was too long of a read. So I browsed other books with related topics and checked out this one by a professor and former foreign policy analyst, Constantine Pleshakov. Turned out to scratch the itch.

One could certainly read this book faster than I did, but I wanted to sit in it more than just do a quick read. Truthfully, I would probably need to read it several times to fully grasp all the history and political nuances addressed. Yet, I’ve gained so much from this read that otherwise I wouldn’t possess.

My one trip to that area of Europe was ten years ago. I went to Belarus as one of several ESL teachers for a week-long schooling. That glimpse was a blink, but an excellent thumbnail into the mindset of those who face the dilemma between holding on to their past or ferociously determining their future. An individual making that life choice can be stuck for much of their life. Imagine the nth degree reached when it’s an entire nation or region.

For anyone facing that dilemma but more importantly for the leaders and citizens of Ukraine, I share this blessing from Numbers 6:

The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.

The vast majority of us base our thoughts about this war on what we read online or hear on the news. I encourage you to do yourself and the Ukrainians a favor-take the time to do your own digging. You’ll benefit more from conducting your own dig that looking in someone else’s hole.

Photo by Marjan Blan | @marjanblan on Unsplash

Branch Living

Tonight I was reminded of sharing a message based on John 15:1-17. I told my friends I’d look up my notes. Unfortunately, I only have a hard copy of them, so I’m going to take care of that now.

Introductory Truth Statements:

  • God the Father is the gardener (His chief job is pruning).
  • Jesus, the Father’s Son, is the vine (The vine relies on the Gardener. He’s our example for reliance. Chief job=provide life, strength, and connection to the Father).
  • All who place their faith in the Son are the branches/shoots (Chief job=produce fruit).
  • Non-fruit-bearing branches are cut off (They have no worth or glory).
  • Fruit-bearing branches are pruned (Vines require pruning. The Gardener watches over every branch, yet he gives you the choice to remain).
  • To bear fruit, a branch must remain.
  • Apart from the vine, a branch cannot bear fruit.
  • The Gardener works to increase the fruit of the branch.

Job #1 = Remain in the Vine

  • Remain = don’t wander, stay, invest, pay attention, give up control, continue, cling, linger, abide, dwell, live, stand, stay connected
  • Test your remaining by your fruit
  • Test your remaining by your love

Job #2 = Value Pruning

Pruning is not the removal of weeds or thorns or anything from outside that may hinder the growth. No, it’s cutting off the long shoots of the previous year, removing something that comes from within that has been produced by the life of the vine itself, a proof of the vigor of its life. The more vigorous the growth has been, the greater the need for the pruning. It is the honest, healthy wood of the vine that has to be cut away.

Abide in Me by Andrew Murray and Bo Stephens
  • Test your valuing by your attitude toward the Gardener
  • Test your valuing by your reaction to circumstances
  • Test your valuing by your response to the Gardener’s Word

The great things God will do through you are going to grow in the soil of persistence, prayer, obedience, and sacrifice. That means there will be plenty of plowing and pruning. That’s the way living things grow…God has to work in us before he can work through us…when we want what God wants for the reasons he wants it, you’re unstoppable….When you ask God to do the impossible, he usually instructs you to do something uncomfortable. And inconvenient. (For church attenders, re-read this quote and replace the bold words with “a church.”

Sun Stand Still by Stephen Furtick

Closing Prayer: “By your grace, Gardener, no matter what it costs me, I’m going to remain. I’m going to take you at your word. Even if it seems like you don’t know what you’re doing, I will trust that your pruning knife will cut away what’s not good in my life. I will trust that you work all things in my life together for my good and your glory. Cleanse me through your word. Cut away any roots that will hinder the Vine from finding me wholly free to receive life. I desire to love and to bear fruit in my life for you alone.”

Photo by Zbynek Burival on Unsplash