Learning From the Past Year

It has been said that “Those who fail to learn history are doomed to repeat it.” If we apply this personally, we could say, “Those who fail to learn from their history will find themselves making the same mistakes all over again.”

I don’t know about you, but I’d like to not make those particular mistakes again. It’s not that I’m afraid of mistakes, but I’d sure like to learn from new ones, instead of repeating the old ones.

And so I try to reflect on the year behind me, and I try to learn from the year I’ve just finished, with the hope that I’ll actually be more mature, not just older, next year. If you’d like to join me, here are some questions you might reflect on. Hint: this is a great time to get out your journal and write:

What was your biggest triumph in the past year? What does God say about it?

What was your most costly mistake in the past year? What do you learn from it?

What was the smartest decision you made during the year?
What was the greatest lesson you learned during the year?

If you could repeat one day of the last year, what day would that be, and why?

If you could forever forget one day from last year, what day, and why?

What one bit of Scripture best describes last year?

What are you most happy about completing during the last year?

Who are the three people that had the biggest impact on your life? Have you thanked them?

Who are three people whose lives you impacted for good? Have you thanked God for them?

What area of your life have you best taken responsibility for?

What area of your life did you leave to someone else to be responsible for, and why?

What was the most loving service you performed? What effect did you see from it?

What was the biggest risk you took? How did that turn out? How could it have gone even better?
What important relationship improved the most? What made the improvement?

What important relationship took a hit last year? What can you learn from that?

What compliment would you have liked to have received?

What compliment would you like to have given last year? Can you give it now?

What else do you need to say or do to be completely finished with the year?

What would you like to say to your Father about last year? 

It’s Christmas Eve

It’s Christmas Eve. My home is filled with laughing children. My son is making something wonderful in the kitchen. My wife has forbidden any entry into the bedroom until the last few presents are wrapped. A video game is blaring in the living room, and power tools are finishing up a last-minute gift in the shop.

My home is a very busy place. And honestly, I love it.

But as much as this night is about family, it’s even more about a Birth. I stepped outside to visit with Father about it, to remember that Birth with Him.

Immediately, I had an image of Him, as eager as a grandchild would be, clapping happily, dancing from foot to foot: this is His Happy Dance!

For me, the laboring woman and her not-quite-husband are separated from me by twenty centuries. But as God is Lord of Time (among many other things), He is right this minute, dancing with joyful anticipation over this impending Birth.

God, being omniscient, knew of the failure of man in the Garden before He even spoke the words, “Let Us create man, in Our image…” Before he ever even scooped up mud and shaped it and prepared it to hold His Own breath, he knew that man would fail the test, would eat of the wrong tree, would submit to the wrong voice, and would be doomed to death.

But God, being the best in the universe at planning ahead, already knew that He, Himself, in the flesh and blood of humanity, would die a gruesome death in a backwater, occupied nation in the geographical armpit of that planet in order to establish a New Covenant with them. How he looked forward to that!

And He knew that before God could die for man, God would have to become a man. And this! He looked forward to this with such joy!
And tonight is the night!

The most patient Father that has ever existed has been eagerly, joyfully anticipating this night! This is the beginning of the Covenant that He’s longed for since the Garden: when he would have a nation of Kings and Priests who would know his Father’s heart and love Him as freely as He loves them!

The cross? That torture, that pain, that indescribable humiliation? That was nothing! Nothing! Less than nothing! He would pay ANY price for the privilege of whispering of his love to his wayward children. If there could have been a greater price that could ever have been paid, He would have paid it without hesitation for the children that He treasured above even His own eternal, omnipotent life!

And tonight is the night that it all began.

Tonight! As Mary is breathing hard and sweating heavily, as Joseph is wringing his hands and feeling nearly (but not quite) useless in the face of The Birth, God Himself is dancing with joy! Angels are ministering to the new mother and anxious dad, but God is laughing and jumping and shouting his joy to the heavens!

Tonight it begins. Tomorrow He gets to walk – well, to crawl first – among his wayward children! The beginning of the Via Dolorosa begins in this little, sweaty barn, on the unknown edge of a tiny, powerless nation. This is the beginning of walking among them, and even more, this is the beginning of setting them free from everything that holds them back!

This is the night! This is THAT night.

Do you feel his joy? Can you feel his anticipation? 

The Waiter

Imagine with me, please.

Imagine that you’re a minimum-wage waiter at a small, private restaurant. The owners are nice people, and it’s pleasant work, even though you don’t make much money. Most of the employees have worked there for a while, and know each other pretty well. The rooms are worn, but homey and comfortable. The food is not fancy, but it’s prepared well and served with pride.

Their banquet room stays pretty busy, with anniversaries and birthdays. Today, there’s a wedding reception, and it’s turned into kind of a rowdy bunch. In fact, a number of the guests are getting tipsy. They’re still nice, but their words are slurred and they walk funny. There’s been a line at the bar all night, and now there’s a line for the toilets.

The best man pulls you aside. “Yeah, we didn’t expect this many people! The beer is running out. Do you have a spare keg in your cooler? I’ll pay retail for it!” You check with your shift manager, and there’s no spare keg. The best man nearly panics. His eyes dart around the room.

At that point, one of the grandmothers interrupts. “Relax, John. I’ve got this.” She gestures for you to follow her, and walks off. John does NOT relax, but he’s got no options.

The grandma walks up to the young man who stands out among the crowd of rough men in the corner. You overhear a brief argument before she turns to you: “Do whatever he says to do,” and walks off. This is a woman you don’t argue with.

The guy – he might be thirty, and he looks rough, like it’s been a hard thirty years – turns to you and asks politely, “Where’s your dishwasher?” You lead him to the back.

“Excellent! Just what I was looking for!” He grins as he points at a stack of empty five gallon buckets draining on the drainage rack. “Fill all of these with water please. And this, too,” as he dumps the last pickle out of another bucket. He turns to continue his conversation with his friends.

You check to make sure all the pickles are out of the buckets and then you fill them from the dishwashing station. The guy is still talking. You tap his shoulder. “They’re full of water, sir.” You smell sardines on some of the guys.

“Perfect! Thank you! Now take this, please,” and he grabs a coffee cup from the dishwasher, and dips it into the pickle bucket, “to the best man, and ask him if it will do.” And he turns back to his buddies again.

You stare at the back of his head for a moment, mumbling to yourself, “Take dish water to the best man? Seriously? This guy’s not all there, is he?” But what else is there to do? The lady said to do what he told you.

The best man is behind the bar, nervously explaining to yet another bleary-eyed guest that *this* beer keg is empty, but they’ve sent someone out getting them another one. You tap on his shoulder and hand him the mug. “Will this do, sir?” He doesn’t even acknowledge your presence, but he takes the coffee mug from your hands while he repeats the same thing to a woman with smeared makeup.

He doesn’t look at the mug, but takes a sip, still talking to the bar patrons. You cringe: you know where that mug came from.

It takes a second to register, and you get ready to run. He pauses mid-sentence, and then he stops moving altogether, his eyes open wide. He looks down at the coffee cup, and you see that the water is unmistakably brown now. Oh no! It’s not even clean dishwater! You cringe again, as he slowly turns to look at you for the first time, his eyes bright.

“Yes. Yes, this will do very nicely! This is very good! Why did you save the best keg for last?” 

Meditation on John, chapter two.

Dealing With Bible Thumpers

Someone asked me how I respond to Bible Thumpers. Boy did that make me think.

Yeah, that’s a big issue. It’s big enough that Wikipedia has a definition of a Bible thumper (aka “bible basher”):

“Someone perceived as aggressively imposing their Christian beliefs upon others. The term derives from preachers thumping their hands down on the Bible, or thumping the Bible itself, to emphasize a point during a sermon.”

In my experience, this very often manifests as people blindly quoting scripture in conversation, mistakenly believing that this proves their point. Most people can tell when they’ve entered a conversation. And unfortunately, it seems to happen at holiday gatherings more and more.

I used to be a bible thumper. I’m in recovery now. Here’s how I try to respond to bible thumpers. I hope it helps bring freedom to you. It’s a tough one.

I can’t say “Here’s how to do it.” I can only say, “Here are some things I’m trying.” Some are working better than others.

* Make peace with myself about not needing to have all the answers. This one was huge for me.

* When I give answers, I try to speak from experience, including my experience with the Book and my experience with what went wrong, rather than just quote a platitude from the Book.

* If I have to quote a verse as if it were a platitude, I explain quickly how this applies in my world.

* I do not look to thumpers for help; I do not expect them to minister to the real issues of my heart, and I do not let down my defenses to let their religious spirit have access to my soul.

* If someone quotes verses at me, I sidestep the verse. “I’m not interested in your skills with copy and paste [or with quoting verses]. I want to know what you actually think.” Thumpers find this confusing, but a few get it, some sooner than others.

* Occasionally, if I sense it might do some good, I’ll try to bring some sense into the conversation, asking them to support the doctrine they’re proclaiming. Very often, just looking at the context of (verses immediately before and after) the verse they’re wielding is enough to take some of the wind out of their sails.

* If the thumper gives me permission, or if the topic is a big deal, and there are lots of people by the thumpage, I’ll attempt to correct their abuse, either by addressing the topic with more than verses and stale doctrine, or by talking about what actual conversation is like. I hate doing this because I don’t love confrontation, but some situations call for it.

* Then afterwards, I try to go out of my way to make conversation with the thumpers whose thumpage I have just upset. My goal is to hear what they actually think on the topic, and to engage them on why they hold that so strongly, but I’ll take small talk if that’s all I can get.

Note that I am absolutely NOT trying to minimize the effect of the Scriptures in my life, as some thumpers have accused me. Not at all. But I want the Scriptures to work in me, guided by Father’s hand as the living and active scalpel that they are (see Hebrews 4:12).

I’m not willing to submit to someone – anyone, really – wielding scriptures as a bludgeon on me, any more. And as far as I can make a difference, I’m not willing to let others bludgeon those around me either.

So. How do YOU respond to bible thumpers?