Follow The Leader

“A blind man cannot guide a blind man, can he? Will they not both fall into a pit? A pupil is not above his teacher; but everyone, after he has been fully trained, will be like his teacher.” (Luke 6:39-40)

These words of Christ have been rattling around in my head the last day or so.  Jesus spoke these words to His followers as part of a larger teaching known as the Sermon on the Plain. (from the statement of Luke 6:17)  This sermon teaches disciples how to live for the kingdom of God, and part of that teaching is a stern warning about mentorship.  We MUST be careful who we choose to be our “teacher,” because we will become like them.

When we see the word “teacher” in English it normally translates in our American minds into our favorite teacher in high school or Mrs. Kerfluffle from the third grade.  However, in the context Jesus spoke this the term meant way more than that.  The “teacher” that a student sat under was very important because the student followed the teacher around, emulated their way of life and their priorities, and became like them in many ways.  What was important to the teacher had to become important to the student. 

Roman culture was all about these kinds of relationships, and so was Jewish culture in this day. (Jews called these people Rabbi more often than teacher though) Probably the English equivalent that conveys the idea best is “mentor.”  This was a respected authority that taught more than knowledge, but wisdom for living well.  Students had to be very careful who they chose as a mentor, because they became like their mentor.  We have it no differently today than the people Jesus addressed in Luke 6.

I am excited about this.  I seek out mentorship and at the current time have two fantastic mentors.  One was a professor that I had at Phoenix Seminary when I was a student there; I love him so much I just wouldn’t let him go when I graduated.  His name is Dr. Fred Chay and I thank God for him on a regular basis.  (the other is a great friend and pastor, Keith Krell, who deserves his own post!)  He is a friend and a mentor in the true sense of the word and if I become like he is, then I am headed in the right direction.

Allow me to share a case in point of why I value my mentors so much and why I am excited to become more like them.

I had lunch with Fred on Monday, just to catch up and check in on how I am doing.  We met at a local restaurant and had a good time talking church, school, home, theology, current events, and all that.  He made time in his life just to see how I am doing as a person, as a disciple, as a husband, as a father, as a pastor, and as a professor.  He asked deep questions, brought me a gift (new book!), and we had a great time.  I asked him for some advice on a couple of pastoral issues I am facing and, as always, he gave me just what I needed to point me in the right direction.

That wasn’t even the best part, though!  The best part was the way he led me without even trying to.  Our waitress was a great young lady; she was attentive but let us have some privacy to talk.  She got everything we needed and was fun.  I joked with her a couple of times to be wary of Fred because he was mean, not because he really is but because he can come across as gruff sometimes.  She was great, and then right when she brought the bill Fred gave her the patented Fred Chay treatment.

He started innocently enough by asking her about Christmas.  Then he asked her whether she was religious.  She said no, but she appreciated others who were.  Thus began the grilling!  He asked her what she believed, and when she said she liked some of what she saw in Hinduism Fred asked her a lot about that.  He questioned her on reincarnation, on whether she liked the caste system, how we knew whether something is true or not, and everything in between. 

She eventually said that she didn’t think about religion too much, but asked Fred what he believed.  Here is where it got great.  He said that at the end of the day we needed to accept that which has the best evidence of truth, and that from everything he could see nothing had the truth that Christianity has.  At that point Fred very politely but very pointedly told her what the truth of eternal life in Christ is.  His message was simple but profound:

  1. We are sinners who mess things up again and again.  Whatever you want to call it, our world and our lives are messed up because we are not perfect.
  2. Jesus came to earth to pay for our sin.  That’s what Christmas is all about; He came to earth not to be a good moral teacher but to be the payment for our imperfection.  He died on the cross as our payment and rose again from the dead.
  3. Unlike Hinduism, Christianity doesn’t depend on our works or our ability to make God happy with our actions.  Instead it depends on Christ and His ability.
  4. We receive the benefit of Jesus’ ability by trusting Him and His sacrifice for us.  We do nothing but trust Him to make us right with a perfect God.

At the end of that, she was really intrigued.  Fred didn’t have anything to give her to look into what he said more and unfortunately neither did I; so I gave her my card with my blog address on it. (if you’re reading, Jenn, then welcome! and watch the video above :))  She probably talked with us for a good five or six minutes during a busy lunch shift.

We finished our lunch and headed back to our lives, but I was at first troubled.  Fred took the time to really invest in that young lady, but I can’t say that I would have been nearly so bold with her.  I would have been polite and left her a decent tip, then never thought about it again.  He really loved her by sharing Christ with her, while I would have let it go and never said a thing.  How convicting!  What a slap upside the head that I was living in la-la land, not thinking about the needs of this gal serving me lunch but just thinking about picking Fred’s brain.  How self-centered and unloving of me.

Later, though, I began to get excited instead of upset.  He picked up my slack, so that waitress could hear the truth this Christmas.  He is also my mentor, which means that if I listen and heed his advice I will become more like him.  I notice in Luke 6:40 it says that when I am “fully trained” I will be like my mentor, and all I see now is that my training is not complete; I am still his padawan.  I have a lot of work to do to be like my mentor, but I thank God for him and for his influence in my life.  He leads by example.

How about you?  Who is your mentor?  If it’s the media, do you really want to become like the media is: shallow, egotistical, and vain?  Is it someone you know for sure has good roots and is going the way you want to go?  Go looking for someone who has walked with the Lord for longer than you have and is “the real deal.”  Sit at his or her feet and make sure that they are a person of integrity.  Then learn from them and allow them access to your life to help you change for the better.  Mentorship only happens up close, so you must allow them access and listen to them even when they try to help you smooth off some rough edges.  If you do, maybe God will bless you with a mentor like he has blessed me with Fred.

When Life is Like a Country Song

“These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

You ever have one of those days when life feels like an old-school, stereotypical country song?  You know how the song goes:

  • Your dog dies
  • You lose your house
  • Your wife walks out on you
  • You lose your job
  • Your truck gets repossessed
  • Mama ends up in jail

(Watch the video…it really is “the perfect country-western song”)
Of course the reason those songs get written is because it makes us feel a little better about our own lives after listening to how bad others have it.  But still, every once in awhile it sounds like Bocephus is playing the slide guitar in the background.  I feel like I had that kind of week in a lot of ways.

  • In the big rainstorm our home school room had a waterfall (again) and the wind blew our trampoline into the house, tweaking it a bunch.
  • We have to find Trixie a new home.  She is a sweetie but she’s a puppy, and Laura just doesn’t have the time or patience right now to train a puppy.  So in the interest of marital harmony she has to go. (Anyone want a really sweet terrier mix?  Jesus will love you forever!)
  • Someone vandalized our church Tuesday night.  I think that a kid I scolded for a foul mouth returned after I left; whoever it was threw rocks through two glass doors and discharged a fire extinguisher all over.
  • My truck died Wednesday morning.  It started oddly and then a block from home just quit.
  • I am in the middle of a fairly major family fight. I’m going to leave it at that, but it’s not minor and is hard to have happen at Christmas.

You know what, though?  I’ve had a couple of friends ask me how I stay positive in the midst of trials and circumstances like we have been going through.  I’m not sweating the “stuff” too much.  Even though some is big (pastorally I have had some significant stuff, though of course I can’t share specifics), I am so grateful that God has shown Himself bigger time and again.
I know that this is a tough time for a lot of people; the holidays consistently see an increase in suicides as well as episodes of significant depression in people’s lives.  It’s supposed to be a season of joy, but instead for many of us becomes a season of sorrow.  Life’s many problems can seem to gang up on us and rob us of our joy, especially at Christmas.  Family struggles intensify, financial troubles come to the forefront, and with the media pushing happiness and family when many have little of either it can be very depressing.
How do we combat that and keep Christ at the forefront of Christmas?  The first and foremost answer, as cliché as it sounds, is that the stuff matters very little in comparison to the season.  We need to be like Simeon and reflect his attitude from Luke 2:29-32:

29 “Now Lord, You are releasing Your bond-servant to depart in peace, According to Your word;
30 For my eyes have seen Your salvation,
31 Which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
And the glory of Your people Israel.”

I’m sure Simeon’s life was filled with struggle, but in the grand scheme of things his eyes were fixed on the Messiah that he knew the Lord would not let him die without seeing.  Luke 2:25 shows where Simeon’s focus is: “this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel.”  He wasn’t focused on the problems or the struggles or the challenges that he faced.  Instead he was focused on what God was doing and his privilege to be counted important to Him.
That’s my determination this week.  I will focus on what God is doing rather than on anything that isn’t exactly what I want it to be.  Rather than worry about Christmas shopping (perhaps my least favorite activity of all time) I will focus on my Savior.  Rather than spend a bunch of energy worrying about the challenges I have at work I am going to rededicate myself to peace this season, looking back on the birth of Christ to look forward to His return.
That’s where joy and peace and hope is at Christmas.  It’s not in family; we all know how much family can disappoint us.  It’s not in stuff; honestly how many of us can remember what we got for Christmas 5 years ago?  It’s ONLY in Christ, and ONLY as we use this season to set aside our struggles and problems and really consider the wondrous gift of God’s Son.

It’s Okay…Dad’s Here

First off allow me to apologize for being scarce the last couple of weeks here on ABF.  There has been an awful lot going on in real life, so the blog has had to take a back seat.  I’ve had emergency marital interventions, funerals, family members passing away, my kids in a play, church budget, sermon prep and 80 +/- research papers to grade.  It’s been a tad bit over the top!
Trust me, there is a post to come before too long about how a shepherd needs a heart that hurts when his sheep hurt and skin that is so thick he doesn’t bleed when they bite.  It might even end up as a series.
For now, though, a quick episode from tonight.  Sometimes life gets ugly in a hurry, but if dad is around we can make it.
My son James is a knife aficionado.  He loves knives, and at 10 years old I think he owns 18 of them.  He has them in all different varieties, and a couple of the guys at church like to feed his addiction when they find them.  Well James got a new knife this morning from one of them.  It’s a fixed blade, made of good steel, and super sharp.
So as I was grading papers this evening, he was about to walk down the hall and put this new knife away and took it out of his pocket in its sheath.  The only problem was that the sheath slipped off as he did.  Here is what I heard.
CLANG…(the knife hitting the floor)
”Uh oh, I cut myself…I’m BLEEDING!  AHHHHHHH IT HURTS!!!”  Followed by unintelligible wailing.
So I jettisoned the laptop and ran toward the bathroom where he went screaming.  (yes I picked the knife up on my way…there are little girls in my house!)  He was crying pretty hard and running it under some water when I got there.
I came in behind him and did some quick triage.  It was bleeding pretty heavy but wasn’t spurting or anything; probably a fairly painful but hopefully not serious flesh wound.  It was on the pad of his right index finger, so it wasn’t in a spot to cut a ligament or tendon.  It was bleeding a good bit though, and water wouldn’t help.  So I squeezed it between my thumb and forefinger and turned the water off.
At the same time I started talking to him, asking him to breath long breaths (a kenpo trick) and look at me.  Me adding pressure certainly didn’t make it feel better, but I needed to do it to start the wound coagulating.  Laura distracted him too, and before long the hysteria went away.  He finally controlled his breathing and calmed down even though it probably still hurt like heck with me squeezing it.
He didn’t know it but we were not far from heading out for stitches!  Somehow I knew that if I got stressed it would be worse, so I just stayed cool as a cucumber.  I kept my voice down and just helped him stop the bleeding and calm his heart.
We held it a few minutes to get it to stop bleeding (mostly), then put a band aid on it with some Neosporin pain relief on it.  We talked about lessons learned and how grateful we were that he would be okay.  All in all the whole thing took maybe 7 or 8 minutes.  After James left Laura the bathroom Laura told me how glad she was that I was there because she would have freaked out at the blood.
Sometimes we just need our dad. 
That is what I see in the Psalms as well.  In one of the most famous Psalms (it was quoted by Jesus on the cross!) the Psalmist asks the Father for protection from all of the problems and dangers around him as well:

15 My strength is dried up like a potsherd,
     And my tongue cleaves to my jaws;
     And You lay me in the dust of death.
16 For dogs have surrounded me;
     A band of evildoers has encompassed me;
     They pierced my hands and my feet.
17 I can count all my bones.
     They look, they stare at me;
18 They divide my garments among them,
     And for my clothing they cast lots.
19 But You, O Lord, be not far off;
     O You my help, hasten to my assistance.
20 Deliver my soul from the sword,
     My only life from the power of the dog.
21 Save me from the lion’s mouth;
     From the horns of the wild oxen You answer me. (Psalm 22:15-21)

The Psalmist knows where his protection and provision are.  When his life got impossible he called out to his Daddy, who answered him and protected him.  That’s what my son did tonight.  He had never been cut like that and was in a lot of pain; he just cried out.  Though he never mentioned my name I was there as soon as I heard the distress in his voice.  Pretty soon dad had everything under control.
May we never forget that the Lord is our deliverer.  He is our strength, and when we hurt or are lost or sorrowful we can cry out to Him.  He will be there in a moment, calming our fears and bringing peace and healing if we will only let Him.  Sometimes we may not know what He is doing; it may even hurt more for a time when He shows up.  Still, with His arms around us and Him handling our pain and our wounds we too can calm our fears and rest in His arms.

November Links

Here are interesting, thought-provoking, funny, or just weird links for the month of November.  This is the stuff I read and see on the ‘net that I think may be of interest to you.
A missing dog comes back after a year missing in Afghanistan.
Education isn’t always in the classroom.  This is a great intro to a book about a guy with little formal education becoming a big shot at Apple. 
From the “made me weep because it spoke to me” department.  It’s a cliché that’s been repeated but is worth the time it takes to watch.
Successful entrepreneurs largely credit God with their success.  Shocking I know.
This story on Wired fascinated me.  This guy tried to leave his identity behind and start over for the story, and the fascinating thing to me was what it did to him psychologically.
Biblical Stuff:
A great post from iMonk about how to treat broken people.  It breaks my heart that people have this view of the church, but are we working to make it better?
Michael Patton introduces us to biblical textual criticism.  This is a great introduction.
Two essentials to a God-honoring pulpit ministry.
This could be a funny one too, but only if you’re a theology geek.
Just plain funny:
Lego Love.  The geek shall inherit the earth!
Does it get any better than Muppet Bohemian Rhapsody?  How about the original om nom nom?