The tract-rack

I am a follower of Christ. I have been a follower for most of my life and serious about it. I detest hypocrisy… especially when I see it in myself. In my younger years I was in people’s face about following Christ. I was the bible thumper you wanted to avoid. How many people did I turn off completely? When I was growing up, I can remember getting to the point where I wanted to grow in my faith. Just doing the Sunday morning and Wednesday night thing wasn’t enough for me. I was serious about following God.

Tract RackHere’s how I found my answer… The church I went to had a rack of tracts… a tract-rack, I guess. It had row after row of little compartments and they were filled with little spiritual tracts. Being as shy and reticent about asking questions as I was, I wanted to avoid drawing attention to myself, so I took my desire to the tract-rack. The tract-rack taught me that people who are serous about their faith know how to defend their faith against the Jehovah’s witnesses and the Mormons. They know the Four Spiritual Laws and why true baptism is by immersion. The tract-rack taught me that negros were the cursed sons of Ham in the Old Testament. I learned that Christians know that the Bible is God’s perfectly complete, holy and inerrant Word. The tract-rack taught me that speaking in tongues is of the devil and that when the Bible was completed, God stopped communicating in any other way. In other words, God shut up. Oh yeah and when Christians die, they can know they are going to heaven.

Tract RackThe tract-rack didn’t tell me Jack about how to develop a walk with Jesus. It didn’t teach me anything about the two greatest commandments; love God and love your neighbor. It told me that if I read my Bible and prayed every day, I would be doing all God requires. The tract-rack presented itself as complete and full of answers. What it gave me was not life, but death. It offered a life of following a set of rules and regulations that sucked the life out of me.

I am pretty sharp mentally and I have a fairly high emotional intelligence. I know how to get by and most people like me. That sounds arrogant and I don’t mean it to. (I invite my friends and family to challenge anything I write here that isn’t true). The reason I write those words is not to brag, but because my ability to rely on myself sometimes keeps me from the truth. The truth is, my value comes from God. It does not come from my abilities. Sometimes I think that would have been easier for me to learn if I had been a bit more obtuse about life.

I followed the rules and when I broke them, I hid it. I pretended that I had it all together. Again, the origins of that way of thinking goes way back to the tract-rack church I grew up in. In this church, I was taught that my good behavior was of paramount importance. I was the only Jesus many people would ever see. So, I needed to watch my behavior so I would not give Jesus a bad name. I took this message to heart. I pretended to have it all together and I defended the faith. The leaders of the church would have been proud. I was so spiritual. The people around me thought I was something else (they were right). The problem was I was living a lie. My intentions were good, but I was not the perfect person I pretended to be. In the absence of a guide to model how to truly follow God, I followed the tract-rack, and the tract-rack was a hard task master.

I learned that Good Christians were supposed to witness to people. In my mind, witnessing meant accosting people and saying in a real-fast-bible-thumping voice, “If you were to die tonight, do you know whether you would go to heaven? Unless you accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior, you will go to hell.” No way I could do that. I was way too shy. My way of meeting the qualifications without having to use my voice was to leave tracts. So I raided the tract-rack and left tracts wherever I went. Who knew how many people might be saved by reading one of the tracts I left in a restaurant or gas station. I thought of myself as the next Billy Graham leading hundreds and thousands of souls to Jesus through my tract ministry. Jimmy-tract-rack! Truly, I cannot limit God. He may well have used one that someone picked up at just the right time, but I don’t believe they are all that effective. In any case, you can search me right now… I don’t have any tracts on me.

One time, my family was on vacation and we stopped for gas. I made a trip to the bathroom to take care of some business. While in there, I thought I’d leave a tract or two or three or ten. So when I was done with my business, I pulled out a few feet of toilet paper from the roll. I then carefully rolled it back up and stuffed tracts in the roll as I did. (I am laughing out loud as I remember this). I was proud of that little idea thinking, “Let’s see them ignore that!” I went back to the car and got settled in. A few minutes later, my dad came back to the car and let me know what he thought of my little stunt with the tracts. I honestly cannot remember what he said, but I don’t think I reached my target audience.

As I grew in my knowledge of the world and of God, my faith morphed from Jimmy-tract-rack to Jimmy-know-it-all. I had all the answers and was ready to give them to anyone who wanted to listen. I thought my job was to know God’s Word and to be able to answer all questions. I believed in the Bible and everything depended on my interpretation being the correct one. I must have been pretty obnoxious. I don’t think I would like Jimmy-know-it-all now.

So where am I today? My heart is still all about following God, but I realize that I cannot do it. I am going to mess up… but that is the point. If I could do it, I wouldn’t need God. I am learning that following God is not a solo act. I need mentors in my life and I need to be a mentor to others. The game is not learning all about God by sitting in a room reading the Bible. Reading the Bible and learning about the God we serve is important, but it isn’t everything. The part I missed was the “we”. I cannot do it alone. I need friends to help me. I need friends who can show me where I need to improve, friends to encourage me when I am down, friends to laugh with me, friends to put their arm around me and cry with me, friends who will be Jesus. And I need to be that sort of friend too.

Thanks be to God that He has led me out of the wilderness of the tract-rack and the know-it-all life. He has put friends in my life that help me see more of God and what it means to follow Him and serve Him.

Experiment

Sometimes my heart is full and my mind is full and yet I cannot think of a thing to write. This is an experiment to see what happens when I write whatever comes to mind.I just put on earphones and am listening to Pat Metheny. Normally, I want quiet when I am writing, but tonight the television is on and is playing mindless sitcom reruns. The noise is distracting. I just turned up the music because I could hear the TV over the music. I despise the TV. Especially commercials and the stupid laugh tracks on sitcoms. Actually, I think this show was recorded live, but it still annoys the heck out of me.

i have gotten spoiled by Microsoft Word’s autocorrect feature. i never type upper case I’s anymore. i expect the program to make them uppercase when i hit the spacebar. As you can see, this editor doesn’t do any correction at all. i guess i will have to keep backspacing and retyping my i’s.

At work I am programming again right now. It is fascinating for me to watch myself. It has been several years since I have written any “real” programs. My work has been more about creating and managing processes, reporting, teaching and training. The team I am on now has a need for some java programming and that was some of the last programming I did. So I am the java programmer.

I am in an endless pursuit of who I am. What are my strengths and weaknesses. What is it that I love to do. What do I hate doing? What is God trying to build into me? What is it that he wants to show me about myself?

As I am writing code, I find myself “head down” at the computer much more than I am normally. Normally, I am out and about talking with customers and coworkers or reading documentation. I spend a lot of time reading and responding to emails and dealing with “crises”. There is a part of me that likes the heads down nature of programming. It is a finite job. I can see the results of it and see how much I have accomplished.

One of my strengths is my ability to take something apart and see what makes it go. I used to take my toys apart when I was little. I remember the steel cars we had. They were almost always manufactured by putting the separate pieces together like so: One side had a slot and the part that matched it had a little tab that fit in the slot. Then the tab was bent over at a 90 degree angle. I would get a little screwdriver or a knife and pry up the tab and separate the parts. I wasn’t satisfied until I had all the parts separated. I don’t remember putting them back together again so much as I remember taking them apart.

The part of me that drove my taking things apart to see what makes them go is the same strength that drives me to understand whatever it is I am working with. It sometimes goes like this. I will be typing in Word and accidentally hit a key, like hitting Control+d when I meant to hit Control+s to save. Up pops the Font dialog window. Most people would say (or think) a dirty word, close the box and continue. I would close the box and try a few key combinations to make sure I remembered that combination just in case I might need it again sometime. Another time, I need a program to do something that I could get around, but I spend 5 or 10 minutes researching it. I want to know how to let the computer do the work. In the long-run it pays off for me. Lots of people come to me for help with Word or Outlook especially. There are so many obscure tasks that most people never learn how to do. I thrive on it. Those are some of my jimazing strengths. What are yours? Do you ever look at yourself and ask those kinds of questions? Maybe my asking those kinds of questions is just an extension of this strength in me.

Another observation about myself when I am writing programming code is that I can so easily get myopic and forget about the world around me. That one scares me. When I get like that, I am less aware of my surroundings and I risk neglecting the people and things that I hold dear. It is part of who I am. In fact it is happening right now. I want to call one of my daughters who is going through a rough time, and I’m spending too much time here writing… I guess my experiment was successful.

Homosexuality

Great post on a biblical view of homosexuality http://www.preachermike.com/2006/04/12/homosexuality. I don’t know “Preacher Mike”, but I have read a few of his blogs and I like the way he thinks and the way he expresses himself. It seems to me that we, the church, have earned a reputation for dogma over love. It is important that we understand that they heart of God is not about condemnation. It is about love. It is about saving us… many times from ourselves.
My friend, Chris, was telling me about a revelation he had about the passage of scripture that talks about our being “lifted out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire” (Psalm 40:2). Hold that thought for a moment and look at Genesis 19:19, where the Bible says that we came from the dirt. So, in a sense, the passage from Psalm 40, by lifting us out of the slimy dirty pit, it is talking about rescuing us from ourselves. That’s what I’m talking about.

May the Grace of God meet us all where we are at and help us move closer to himself.

God’s Gracious Gifts

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

1 Peter 4:8-11 (New International Version)

I keep coming back to the idea that the Church is not about an event on Sunday. It is about brothers and sisters coming together in love. It is about our using our gifts to serve one another as if we were the very body of Christ Himself. That’s radical! Stop and re-read that passage again. Take your beliefs and put them on the shelf for a moment. Ignore your life experiences and read it for what it says. Forget about church being something-you-go-to. Some of you are thinking that you don’ t have any gifts or talents. Just imagine the possibility that you are wrong and read it again. Did you get it? Read it again.

If you are a follower of Christ, you are a part of His Body. Just like my fingers are parts of my body. I have trained them to touch the keys on my computer keyboard so you can read these words. But the words come from my mind. My fingers could complain that they do not know how computers work and therefore, they have no talent. Only my mind knows about computers and blogs. But my mind needs my fingers to type it out, or it will never be published for you to read. The fingers do have talent. They will never find it by looking at what the mind does for direction though. They have to do finger stuff.

In this way, we brothers and sisters in Christ need all of us to be the body. None of us has what it takes. We cannot do it alone and that is by design. God doesn’t want us to be alone. We can appreciate and even admire the gifts, strengths and talents that God has put in others by observing them. But we cannot learn what our gifts, strengths and talents are by looking at others.

What will it look like when we figure it out? I don’t know, but my belief is that the possibilities are boundless. As I re-read what I just wrote, I am frustrated. I have been thinking about this for weeks and months and it runs deep. I feel like this is just a stone skittering across the surface of the water. I hope to come back to it. But it is late and I need my rest.

Is it legal to pray in a blog? Would that be a prog (prayer+log)? I’ll risk it…

Father, I ask you to bless those who read this blog. I ask you to speak to their hearts. You have given me some measure of talent for putting words together. You have given me enough talent to understand how to publish a blog. You have the ability to lead people to this blog and to even use me. On the one hand, I couldn’t ask for more than to be used by You. On the other hand, I am wasting my time if these are not Your words. I ask you to guide my thoughts and words and to speak through this blog.

Running the Race Set Before Us

I invited my buddy, John to run with me in the Cooper River Bridge Run (10K), which was today. I ran it last year for the first time… not just the first time for the Bridge Run, but the first time for any race at all! It is hard to teach 48 year old muscles that they can actually do this. John accepted my invitation to run and we did it together—today.John is an experienced athlete and I am not. He has played and continues to play all kinds of rough and physical sports from soccer to Gaelic Football. All that to say, John is in great physical shape. I am not. Why then are our finish times exactly the same? How did I get done in only 1 hour 6 minutes? How is it that John didn’t do so well, (his time was only 1 hour 6 minutes)? How could our times be exactly the same? What are the odds? The odds are exactly 100% when your buddy gives up his chance at beating the Kenyans to the finish in order to be with his friend.

Here’s the way I saw the race:

We arrived and parked downtown just in the nick of time to catch the bus and get over the bridge to the starting line before the bridge closed for the race. The ones who didn’t get over in time had to go the long way around and risk starting the race late. Grabbed some water and found our place in the lineup. Never did find the bananas. Where were the starting side bananas?

At 8:00, the gun went off… wait, no gun this year, just an announcer counting down the time. And we were off… walking… slowly… creeping towards the Starting line. The race starts at 8, but each runner’s time is measured by a little chip on their shoe. Our time started when we crossed the starting line. Ok, we were through the starting line and on the obstacle course. For the first two miles we dodged walkers and slower runners. It was pretty dangerous, but par for the course. Look for an opening and dash through.

Then we hit the bridge. I thought the new bridge was harder than the old bridge. The angle of ascent was steeper and it was longer. Once we got to the top of the bridge, the rest was downhill or flat. But that was one long hill! I thought we’d never make it. I was thinking near the top that I ought to walk a bit and I did for about 30-40 yards, then started running again.

Not long after hitting the top, we passed the 5 K mark and I looked at my stopwatch. It read 33 minutes and some seconds. That wasn’t going to be a good enough pace to make my goal of 1 hour for the 10 K, but I didn’t think I could do a faster pace. John encouraged me that runners frequently go through a place where they can run faster after they have been running for a while. I heard him and hoped that I would experience that.

After we were off of the bridge I was so glad to have that behind me. John was encouraging me so much. He would find openings between other runners and I followed him through them. Sometimes he’d jump ahead and look back to see if I was still behind him. I’d catch up and say, “I’m with you, man.” About mile 4, I was really feeling the fatigue and I wanted so badly to walk a while. John wouldn’t “let me” though. He’d keep encouraging me to remember my goal. I remember hearing these phrases over and over; “Come on.” “You can do it.” “You are doing great!” “Run to win the prize.” “Run the good race.” “We are running the race of life together.” At times, I was dazed. I could only see this mass of people in front of me and I kept going thinking to myself, “One foot in front of the other one.” “Baby steps” “Just keep going” As John continued to remind me of my goal, I said to myself, “Have a huge goal, then take baby steps and you’ll get there.”

Earlier in the race, at the first water station, we both got cups. At the second station, I was having trouble and John got me a cup. I swallowed most of it, poured some of it on my face and shirt. The second cup didn’t agree with me, so I decided I wouldn’t get any more water until the end. At the third station, John got me another cup. By this time, I was barely running. Not sure what to do with this water, I poured it on top of my head. When I did that, I kicked it into gear like there was no tomorrow and ran hard. I was determined that I’d finish the race like that. But I couldn’t do it. I slowed back to my slower pace and started thinking about walking again. John wouldn’t let me. “keep going… remember the goal… we’re almost there”

At some point he said, “This is not the end, it’s just the beginning.” By that, he meant that the best was yet to come, but I thought to myself, “NO! This is the end!” I told him that one didn’t work for me and I kept on plodding along. Along the end of the race route, people stood and cheered us on. That was so awesome. Sometimes people would stick their hands out for a runner to slap as they passed by. I did that and it was neat… especially with the little kids.

Finally, we rounded the last corner and I saw the finish line. What a welcome sight! John said, let’s give it a big finish. I kicked it into gear one last time and ran as hard as I could to the finish line. They wanted us to keep running for a few blocks so that other runners could get through. I moved to the side and walked. I had earned that walk! I was completely spent. By the time we got to the fruit and water, I was hobbling like an old man! I have never ever been that sore and tired before.

It is now Saturday evening and my legs still hurt, but there’s a feeling of accomplishment that feels really good. I have another feeling too. I feel fortunate to have a great friend like John. To sum it all up, I must say, “This is not the end, it’s just the beginning.” Thank God it was the end of that race, but there will be more races, God willing, and more time to build our friendships.