Archive for the ‘relationships’ Category

Our country is divided and not simply by the Mississippi.

Racism, political perspectives, gender, immigration, our President, religion, foreign policy, climate control  — we are even divided on how to fight about all this.

It’s a fight. So how do we fight?

Do we call each other out? Publicly, online, in social media? Or do we call each other “in,” privately, “Let’s have a talk,” then hug.

Loretta Ross wrote an article in August published in the New York Times,”I’m a Black Feminist. I Think Call-Out Culture Is Toxic.”

She wrote the following, “Call-outs make people fearful of being targeted. People avoid meaningful conversations when hypervigilant perfectionists point out apparent mistakes, feeding the cannibalistic maw of the cancel culture. Shaming people for when they “woke up” presupposes rigid political standards for acceptable discourse and enlists others to pile on. Sometimes it’s just ruthless hazing.”

“We can change this culture. Calling-in is simply a call-out done with love. Some corrections can be made privately.”

Karla Thomas writing  for Medium in an article called, ‘Mad About Call-out Culture?: Stop Centering White Cultural Norms & Feelings” disagreed. She says there is a clear need to publicly call out wrong, loud and clear, in order to reform our culture and move toward fairness.

Interrupting racially offensive behavior, (or any other –ism,) in the same forum or elevated forum and at the same volume as the aggression was made, is paramount to ensuring that anyone from the oppressed group in ear or eye shot knows that those transgressions were seen and will not go unaddressed.”

“It is critical here to realize, that when an aggressor makes a transgression then is called out, and the rebuttal is, “well you could have told me in a nicer manner” or “it’s rude to call someone racist,” there is a clear and purposeful choice to avoid the message that points out their racism and to focus on the messenger.” 

Both make good points. The articles would be worth your time. They were published in August and are easy to find.

How do we heal our divide, particularly over what divides us the most.

Call people “in” and work together, that is for sure needed. Call out abuse, lies, hate, racism, gender inequality — that’s needed too. We must never silence oppressed, harmed voices.

Let’s talk about racism. The articles focused on that. For you who are white and think racism is not a big deal for you, I’d encourage you to read White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo. Her books are worth your time. School yourself! Open your minds.

What do you think?

I think racism is a huge problem in the United States and we need get to talking more and better about this soon. This is important. We better take some action to bring about change. This matters now!

What would Jesus have to say to us about all this. He sure did some publicly calling out of wrong. He was ruthless on the people who thought they were the best class, better than others, but then he defended the women called out for adultery. Jesus always defended the oppressed. He always confronted the powerful, privileged elite. What does that tell you?

Wisdom knows when to say what! And wisdom chooses the most powerful and effective way to say it.

Feel free to post a comment. Just click the talk bubble at the top of this post and comment there.

Thanks!

Words for each other, where do we find them? How do we craft them? 

As a leader, and as a writer, and husband and father and friend, I’ve had no end of agony attempting to answer those questions in specific cases, especially involving conflict. It’s been hard to find the right words for the other person.

But it really matters, what we say and how we say it. 

Recently a fellow leader sent me an email expressing strong emotions and reactions concerning another leader. He asked if the content was okay and if the message should be sent. I  wrote back that the content was salient — it was actually right on the money —  but the emotion-laden conversation that needed to happen could not be handled by an email. It could only be well-handled face-to-face, with dialogue, with a back-and-forth. By the time the fellow leader got my response, however, he himself had decided not to send it.

Wise.

What we think, what is going on inside of us, what we want to communicate to others, it always needs time — like a finely prepared dessert —  to bake, cool, set, mingle flavors and receive the final drippings and toppings essential for good presentation and excellent consumption. Writing out our thoughts and feelings, not sending them, ruminating a while on content, living a little, editing, this produces the best product.  By taking our time we find words and feelings mingling wisely within; by waiting we find verbal toppings and relational dollops of tastiness to add to the our eventual expressions.

What are we saying?

When you feel strongly, pause wisely. What may not be heard with one set of words, may be heard with another. What polarizes in print may soften in dialogue. And what might be not heard at one time, by one person, may be heard at another time by another person. 

I just finished a novel. It’s a dysbiopian fantasy, but it unveils modern, relevant reality. We struggle to accept those different from ourselves.  I started wiring this novel for my children 35 years ago. Yesterday, as I added some final lines to the wrenching conflict at the end of the story, I was aware that the word I wrote would have been impossible for me to write years ago. I had not yet lived the  life experiences that extruded them out of me. My novel needed words, that needed time, to come into being. 

At the end of the novel one of the main characters — following a devastating conflict that uproots and destroys a whole community says, “Fear designed and built the first wall; love crafted the first door — and opened it.”

The antagonist to this point of view refutes this strongly saying, “No, different from each other crafted the first wall. It had to in order to survive! Love just made that fine wall higher — for protection. It’s the same as it has always been. Mind your own business, keep to your own kind, except when attacked, that’s the deal — period, exclamation point, done.”

The response? “No, that’s not right. There are no end stops here — not with this devastation in front of us — no simplistic formulae, no pithy morals for our paltry fable, no superheroes to protect us now, no perfect symbionts present, no borders that end all our disputes, no furious, final family fixes. Advocating that we open the door to each other is a simple gesture, a clumsy nod toward sane knowing, a small hopeful sun to shine over this disaster, something —  just perhaps something —  to help us blunder painfully forward to better times.”

If I had tried to write the closing dialogue between the main conflicting characters 35 years ago, I would not have come up with that. I think I would have come up with something much more more categorical, more judgmental, more arrogant, more moralistic than advocating opening a door to each other as a “clumsy nod toward knowing.” I was able to write that now because I know so much less now than I used to. 

Some words need to get knocked out of us, by life. Other words can only be knocked into us by experience. Time and patience, resulting in a bit of humility, craft our best speaches.

I just hope I can remember that the next time I get upset. 

I pushed back the overgrown hedge, chopped at the tangle of old growth, peered in and, “What’s that?”

It’s interesting isn’t it, how the past lurks and shuffles, and twines into the present?

Underneath the overgrown lantana and rampant morning glory hedge was a forgotten thing, planted years earlier, suppressed and neglected but still alive — a gorgeous purple-and-dark-green-leafed Japanese honeysuckle. Lovely! 

It was still there, underneath all those covering plants, its white and purple blooms hanging out of the back of the hedge like a girl’s slip. I’m glad I found it. Next week, I’ll dig it up and replant it below one of the new redwood trellis in the backyard. It will thrive in beauty there.

It’s so interesting. The past just keeps showing up, sometimes pretty and charming — like a lost vine — sometimes ugly, like a past, ruined relationship. 

I woke this morning slightly tormented by something someone hadn’t done for me recently, something I had expected would be done, something that would have been loving, appropriate, pro forma and also classy. 

I couldn’t shake it. 

It’s interesting how the past hangs on, like an old vine, planted in previous seasons. 

This morning i pulled up an old irrigation system in my yard, cut the soft black tubing into pieces and put it in the garbage bin. Previously, I had tired to patched it. That didn’t work — too many breaks and holes and old repairs. So I replaced the entire line. Much better. 

Sometimes it’s best to chop up the past, and toss it out, and start all over. 

I find this kind of sorting of the past to be a constant issue for me, to shed it, to toss it,  and build a new present, or to bring it with me, to bring my past with me and replant it  in a new place in the present. 

But the relationships of the past are not like the things of the past. They won’t be tossed,  like an old irrigation system. Our people remain with us. They won’t be tossed; they persistently remain.  

I have one particular past relationship that was ruined by jealousy and competition. I find that it won’t be fixed, and it won’t be tossed and I can’t forget it, the harm of it, the devastation.

I find that we are who we have known, and we are to some extent, what we have done with other people, and this can’t be undone, and so we bring them along with us wherever we go. Old water tubing can be dug out, and forgotten. Old relationships can’t.

But here is the thing. Every person we have ever known has mostly likely both added to and subtract from our our relational acumen, our relational knowledge. Some have harmed, some done good. But if we so choose, we can learn from each past relationship, learn what to do, or learn what not to do, ever again. 

We are our people, the people we have known, our enemies, our friends, our family, our acquaintances, our ghosts. We can  gain from the gains they brought to us, and we can gain from the losses they brought to us too. We can take even from what they took from us. 

And here is what I know. All things work together for good for those who take the past in their hands, who hold it gently to themselves and who love. For those who cover everything in love and in the forgiveness love brings us, for those who replant every thing in love, for those who in some way tend to and care for all their  Japanese honeysuckles, then there is redemption and love and God.

I approached him in the mix of the crowd without caution, despite being aware that others were avoiding him.

I offered him my sincere compliments, then asked the obvious questions, got the somewhat negative perspectives I was expecting, filed his judgments under “that-has-merit and “I get that,” and thus and so and nevertheless — plus therefore —  the conversation went well.

With her, she approached me — as she almost always does — with a fresh complaint. I fielded it, commented on what I could do, suggested that she take some responsibility to solve the problem, noted that she didn’t pick up on that, again repeated what I would do, and thus and therefore and nonetheless, plus a bit of however, we parted. She was smiling.

People — what to do with them?

Well, you love them, but one other thing too. You approach them, talk to them, engage them with no need to get anything from them. I don’t mean the people on our everyday teams, the people we supervise, the family who supports us. Of course we have increased expectation of our close ones; of course we need them; of course there can be conflicts when they don’t come through.

But people at large, acquaintances, new folks, the people in our outer circles, those we serve, those we help, those who look to us for something — they are perhaps best engaged in a preplanned way, with us deciding ahead of time that we are full, that we are okay, and that because our tanks are full, we can and we are going to listen to and affirm them. If we have no need of their compliments nor any defensiveness about their criticisms, we can be smooth with them.

It’s this: get full. Get okay with yourself. Do this by assiduously loving yourself. Figure out how to fill your own tank, and fuel up.

This matters, because when we don’t need someone to fill our tanks, to affirm our existences, to justify our beings, then we are free to let them be and say and feel what ever it is that is in them. With no personal agendas of our own, we can field other people’s agendas somewhat objectively, remain fairly untriggered by their comments and perhaps do them the most amount of good.

Want to be smooth with people, and better with your precious ones too?

Be smooth — that is okay — with yourself.

Personally smoothed?

It’s relationally smooth.

When I was growing up, I loved going out into the woods in the spring, looking down.

I was hunting morels, those delicious wild mushrooms that grow around old logs, in moist, rotten places that smell like damp soil, like mother earth, like tasty life.

They are the mycorrhiza, and they have a narrative.

The morel, the mycorrhizae, is a fungus that grows in association with the roots of a plant in a symbiotic or mildly pathogenic relationship.

Sounds like family.

Sounds like my family.

I well remember the warm, damp soil in which my parent and I and my brothers and I wove our roots together. It was good, symbiotic, mutually beneficial. I remember happily playing baseball with my brothers, quietly reading with my mom, going water skiing with my dad and brothers.

It was good!

It was also not always good.

Sometime it was competitive, combative, mildly pathogenic. I remember competing for the baseball win with my brothers, fighting down on the ground with them, arguing in the evening with my mom, being — in my mind — wrongfully and shamefully disciplined by my dad.

So looking back, which was it, my family?

Was it symbiotic and mutualistic or was it pathogenic and mildly harmful?

It was both.

It always is.

At an earlier and more naive stage of life, I thought relationships were one thing only, and stayed the same. I thought love was love.

It isn’t and they don’t —  the relationships —  remain the same. Relationships morph. Competition and jealousy and hurt sometime carry the day. We change. Over time we realize we are different. We bring some harm and some distance to each other. We unwittingly compete for the big thing — for love.

I love my family — they are some good people — but some of the relationships have slightly rotten edges.  They still exist as good, and as tasty, but also as mildly pathogenic.

Life — it’s not one thing. It’s a bit of a fungal narrative.

I was on the phone with my dad recently. We chatted about books. I had previously recommended Endurance to him, Alfred Lansing’s riveting telling of the Ernest Shackleton story  He told me my brother Steve had picked up a copy for him.  It’s a great read, good for dad I think at this point in his life.

My dad is 90; he just lost my mom, he needs endurance, and really, he has it. He’s healthy, smart, active and provided for in a retirement community where he works as a furniture mover.

A furniture mover, at 90? Yup! I asked him if he had help. He told me he had a moving  team. I asked him if there were any young guys. He said he had an 85 year old. Then he told me with no hint of humor. “My strongest guy is 91!

Okay then, all set.

Toward the end of the conversation he came out with something I didn’t expect. He said to me, “You have an innate wisdom.”

I was a bit knocked over. I can’t remember my dad ever saying anything so affirming to me although he has often complimented and encouraged me. Actually, it rather gently stunned me — with pleasure. It warmed the space between us and flowed back into the past like a spring rain in my psyche.  It didn’t blow up my ego: it just gently affirmed the original grace in my life, something that has blessed my work, my marriage and my relationship with my daughters.

Affirmation — genuine and unmotivated any desire to manipulate or control — it adds to our ability to endurer.

Affirmation — it is sweet soul rain.

Sex– everybody makes a big deal about sex, or they don’t.

What’s up with that?

Sex is a normal, natural and enjoyable part of life, like eating ice cream, or sleeping in late, or playing a game.

My view is that sex is God-made and USDA approved.

Sting once said, “If God’s got anything better than sex to offer, he’s certainly keeping it to himself.”

On the other hand, many people get along fine without being sexually active.

Tracey Ullman once said, “As I get older, I just prefer to knit.” Hey, whatever works. Singleness, not being sexually active, getting older has no shame in it, it is just the right place for some of us.

Whatever stage of life we are at, it is healthy to talk about sexual culture because competing views on sexuality have caused a lot of confusion, and harm.

Some of us might see sex as dirty, shameful, something to keep secret, to avoid talking about. Others may have come to see sex as something so casual and free that it is not restrained by anything — marriage or morals or sensitivity.

We Americans are bipolar on sex. On one hand, we are Puritanical, we claim high morals, we shame people over sexual misconduct, on the other hand, many of us just can’t seem to keep our pants on.

So what to think?

First sex is something God came up with, it’s his idea, and it’s a really cool one. The Bible looks at sexuality as part of our God-made identity. I like this. When I experience my own sexuality, I’m like, “God made me this way. It’s his fault.”

Genesis 1:27 tells us that God made male and female out of himself. So our sexuality is an-in-his-image thing. Then the Bible tells us that God set us up to pair up, and make babies. This is why Christians are prolific,  pro-life, baby-making and baby adopting. We grow our own, or we pick up others along the way. We Christians are pro-sex.

That’s good. It’s spiritual.

Your sexuality is a God-made pleasure, a sacred way to oneness in marriage and a spiritual way to join God in his creative work. How cool is that! Sex is divine!

1 Corinthians 6:12 explains this, esp in the Message version of the Bible.

“There’s more to sex than mere skin on skin. Sex is as much spiritual mystery as physical fact. As written in Scripture, “The two become one.”

This scripture is clearly marking out sex as spiritual thing, not simply a skin thing. This follows Jesus when he says, “A man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh?”

If sex is about spiritual oneness in a marriage, then, what about sex outside of marriage, sex by people who aren’t married or by people who are gay? The answer is so important for Christians.

1. God’s love for us any of us is not stopped by our sexual behavior or even our sexual sin.

2. Salvation is not achieved by sexual purity.

That’s really good news for most of us.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. Ep. 2:8

God saves us by what he does, not by what we did. God is very compassionate toward our sexuality.

So many of us fall into sexually immoral or harmful behavior because we just want to be loved. I was talking to someone recently, who slept around a bit when she was younger. She said something like, “I wanted love, I just got sex, I still wanted and needed love.”

God, he get’s that, and so he comes to help us into moral, lasting, loving relationships.

But we still need to understand that not everything is good for us.

1 Cor. 6 says, “Since we want to become spiritually one with the Master, we must not pursue the kind of sex that avoids commitment and intimacy, leaving us more lonely than ever—the kind of sex that can never “become one.

There is a sense in which sexual sins are different from all others. In sexual sin we violate the sacredness of our own bodies, these bodies that were made for God-given and God-modeled love, for “becoming one” with another.

Don’t you realize that your body is a sacred place, the place of the Holy Spirit? Don’t you see that you can’t live however you please, squandering what God paid such a high price for? The physical part of you is not some piece of property belonging to the spiritual part of you. God owns the whole works. So let people see God in and through your body.”

God loves and values us so much he doesn’t want us harmed by misusing your sexuality. God wants us to build trust and safety with him, and each other, in our marriages and churches. Therefore we must carefully and mindfully avoid sinful sexual behavior such as lusting, cheating, sex outside of marriage and adultery.

God doesn’t want us to do these things, because they deeply damage trust, erode relationships and just crush love.

Consider water. Sex is like water. It can be tasty, life-giving, healthy and satisfying and it can also flood your house, and wash it away.

This is why the Proverbs speak of drinking water from your own well. Drink your sexuality from your own marriage, and do not go outside of that where you may encounter a flood of damage and harm.

What to do?

1. Mind your own moral business.

Steward your own sexuality, work on your own purity, not on others. This enough work, to work on yourself.

Of course some people are called to bring justice to this area of life, to prosecute sexual predators, to protect with laws, to stand up for those who can’t stand for themselves.

But too many Christians have gotten so busy judging non-Christians for how they have messed up, or how they have compromised marriage that we end up presenting Christianity to them as a judgmental, rule-based, hateful religion.

I get it. Not many people take their sexual morals from the Bible. But the truth is, I can’t control others, and I am personally responsible before God for only my own sexuality, and for the sacredness of my own marriage.

And here is the cool thing.

My wife and I — by our faithfulness to each other and God — make our lives and our marriage sacred and this is not compromised by anything anyone else decides to do.

I encourage you and me, to mind our own sexual business.

That will keep us busy enough.

2. Don’t condemn others. especially for their sexual choices or failures.

Jesus didn’t.

John 3:17

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

God did not call us to be the moral sheriffs of the world. We won’t redeem the world by condemning it. We know our work is to help them see Jesus, and that his death on the cross, and his forgiveness, will clean them up. When we point people to God, he points them to righteousness.

3. Let God work his purity in you.

Lastly, I advise you to get off the shaming treadmill of trying to make yourself pure, and to let Christ live out his purity in you. This is such a deeply mature and spiritual way to view yourself. Righteousness is something God gives me, and works in me, not something I do by just trying harder.

I have little hope in the world managing sexuality well. There is no good track record! But Christ at work in us, that is the hope of righteousness.

Once when my wife and I were house shopping, I wanted to buy this one house, she didn’t. So we didn’t buy the house. God — well my wife — said not to! A few months later, we found another house, perfect for us. There we raised our girls.

Sexuality works well when it is like houses shopping with God along as the Realtor. When God says, “No, this is not a good deal,” then “No” is best.

God always has the best in mind for us — regarding sexuality and love — therefore, it is best to wait on him, to hear his voice, and to follow his ways.

There is a some angst in the United States these days and it surfaces in the fear of strangers, and it takes on the language of “us” and “them,” and the language of our national “greatness.”

People say things like “We Americans need take care of ourselves first, we need to do what is best for us, we need protect our interests so we can be great again.” This makes sense to many people who aren’t doing well economically and to people who feel that they have lost power or place or status.

As a result our national sentiment has grown in being against those who aren’t like us. It is in vogue to suspect the stranger. The thinking is that they keep us from being great.

People of another color, people from another religion, people from another socio-economic background, people from another country — too often, these days, they are suspect. If they are not of us then perhaps they are not for us.

Hmmm.

But the facts are this; we are one humanity, one human family, all cut from the same cloth, all bearing the same needs, wanting many of the same things, and in truth — to be quite spiritual about this —  we are made, according to holy writ, in the same image.

I’m am not suggesting that there are not people to fear, dangerous ones  — there are — but I am suggesting that difference in culture, color, cult or cannon, doesn’t not mean that we can’t — even if we are strange to each other — respect one another, live close to each other, and even benefit from each other, and even help each other avoid harm from dangerous ones.

And, in fact, we do, benefit from each other.

I ran across a really interesting book a while back, The Necessity of Strangers. In it, the author, Alan Gregerman, asks the question, “What if strangers are more important than friends?”

He then explains that the advantage to strangers is that they can fill in the gaps in our knowledge. They can teach us stuff, and thus help us be more innovative and help us create more value and help us make our world great.

Is this true?

It has been for me.

At two points in my life, I have been overwhelmed by difficulty.  At both those times, I have gone to counseling for therapy. The two best counselors of my life were both Chinese women, both with PhD’s, one a Christian, one not. They helped move toward greatness, if my greatness is defined as surviving and triumphing in the face of difficulty, if greatness is defined as being more loving, if greatness is defined as being more understanding of emotions and becoming more skilled in handling conflict.

These strangers, these wise, educated women, from other countries, helped healed my heart. They did me much good. Professional counseling — think about it  —  it is the knowing and unburdening our hearts, to strangers, who can perhaps be more objective than family and fiends, who have been trained to have more skill in responding to relational hurt and difficulty.

This is not all. This is not the sole example of strangers who help, who have helped me, who help all of us.

Many, many strangers, people very different from us, have benefited each of us in the United States.

Strangers, in the form of farmers, grow our food. Strangers, in the form of doctors — virtual strangers, many from other countries — have treated and healed our diseases. Strangers from other countries — and strangers here in America  —   they have made and perfected the the technology we drive and the advanced tech we work with and communicate with. Strangers, from the past and present, have written the books that have influenced our thinking, they have made the great discoveries that has given us better lives, advanced the best political systems, furthered civilization, done us all much good.

It is endless. Our lives are enriched and sustained by strangers. Our scientific, philosophical, cultural, psychological, sociological, historical and spiritual knowledge has been built up and perfected by the work of strangers, both in other countries and in ours

And economic peace and prosperity —  if that is one of our standards of greatness in our now globally dependent system — will very much hinge on the cooperation of strangers.

I have nothing against striving for greatness, but as we do, we would do well to remember this: strangers, they have made us great, again and again.

Life is a series of choices about what we value.

What do you value? What about me? I like the advice in Matthew 6:19

 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

This is a challenging, powerful teaching. It is a good word about our hearts

In Matthew 6, Jesus is challenging you and me with a provocative question, “Where is your heart?”

Jesus says our heart is where our treasures is.

This week Tasia, my office manger and I worked on the REFINERY Church youth center. We bought wood, and paint, and furniture.

We assembled a big black farm table and bench we bought for the youth. We carried out trash. We nailed some decorative wood on the walls. On Friday, we swept the floor, so the youth could have an nice environment for their Sunday group.

You could say, what we bought and worked on is the stuff that rots. The room and it’s furniture will age over time. The youth will sit on that new table, stand on that table, jump on that table. They will break the windows with game balls.  They will trash that room!

But remodeling the youth center isn’t about the stuff, it is about valuing young people, loving our youth, creating a safe attractive space for them, about attracting more of them to church so they can know God.

That matters. They matter. That they have a good place to meet matters.

They are the treasure that we use our treasure for. This is what Jesus is teaching in Matthew 6. Keep straight on what the treasure is. Treasure the true treasure, not the lesser treasure.

If we treasure only temporary stuff that rots, stuff that people steal, stuff that goes up and down in value — cars, clothes, food, houses, money, although those aren’t bad — if we put them in the center of our hearts, then our hearts will be filled with insecurity.

The recent great recession, 2007 to 2009, showed us how insecure our earthly treasure is.

But If we treasures stuff that which lasts on into heaven — eternal stuff like young people, all people, Christian community, virtue, beauty, love, God himself — then our hearts will be secure, for these things were made to last.

Ecclesiastes 3:11 says, He [God] has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart.

God has put eternity in us. God has set a desire for what lasts in us. Our souls are eternal, our hearts are eternal, the kingdom of God is eternal. The Bible is clear on this, go for the gold Christians. Pursue what lasts!

Question. Hard question. One Christians have always struggled with.

Does God hate stuff? Is God anti-material? Does God hate earth? Does only heaven have value?

No, no, no. That is not what Jesus is saying here.

The church fathers, our best theologians, the famous historic church councils, the best Christian thinkers have always answered:God loves his creation, God loves nature, God loves earth — in fact heaven will be a new earth. God loves humans, and God loves buildings that his people can be safe in, live in and worship in.

God himself oversaw the building of the beautiful Jewish temple.

In fact I think our need and longing for a place to worship, and a safe place to live is our longing for heaven. It is the old Gnostic heresy that God hates evil flesh and evil material things and that only heaven and spirit are good. That is heresy. It is false.

The whole book of Matthew is about Jesus healing bodies, feeding crowds, loving humans, honoring the temple, teaching with examples from creation.

NT Wright puts it well, “God’s plan is not to abandon this world, the world which he said was ‘very good.’ Rather, he intends to remake it.”

The beautiful thing of this world, nature, flowers, bodies, the beautiful accomplishments of human beings, art, music, literature, dance, our God loves and revels in these things and they are part of the kingdom of God and they will be a part of heaven.

In Matthew 6, Jesus isn’t directing us to be weirdly anti-material and super-spiritual, he is directing us to wrap our hearts around kingdom values, around what is most important:

People, not money
God, not stuff
The body of Christ, not our separated individual lives.

Jesus us saying, “I really care about your hearts. I want them to choose the best things. Matthew 6:19 is Proverbs 4:23, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the well  spring of life.”

In my family, when it comes to technology we use Apple products.

Once, my daughter’s Apple device was stolen by a participant in her day program. But we had turned on the app Find My IPhone on the device. So we saw where the IPod went.

It was in Santee. At a shopping mall. Then a house. We contacted the director of her program. He knew the student who lived in Santee. The director called the mom. Surprise! Your son has a stolen iPod. Busted!

The iPod was guarded and protected by it’s finding app and it’s GPS system.

In a similar way, guard your heart. Turn on the GPS in your heart. Watch where your heart goes. Protect it,  don’t let it get stolen away by temporary things, by keeping it focused on that which lasts.

Jesus was so serious about this, he came at it again in Matthew 6:22

Matthew 6:22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!”

24 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

Jesus is very confrontational here, very strong. The over-valuing of the kingdom of the world can darken our eyes, and darken our hearts, master and rule us.

Money can rule us. And keep us insecure.

How do we avoid this?

How to keep I keep my eye healthy? How do I serve the right master? How do I guard my heart?

Three simple ways.

1. Put the most important things first.

Put God first, not money.

Put people first, not things.

I like things. I have things. But to keep myself balanced, every month I give money to support a missionary, every month I pay for children’s education in TJ, every month I pay for my parents food at their rest home, every month I give generously to my church.

I tend toward being materialistic, but I purposefully counter this by choosing to use a significant portion of my money for eternal things.

2. To guard your heart, invest in the kingdom.

Invest in people. Invest in friends, invest in youth, and children and old people too.Place the value of relationships higher than the value of material things.

Use your time to stop and talk to people. Build up your relationships at church.Use your house or apartment for hospitality.Use your personal skills to volunteer.

Invest in your kids. Invest in family. Spend more time with them that with stuff. If you are a leader in the church, mentor someone, apprentice someone, disciple someone. Build into the life of a younger person

3. Finally, thirdly, go beyond using money for God. Use your skills for God.

N. T. Wright again gets at this perfectly, “What you do in the present—by painting, preaching, singing, sewing, praying, teaching, building hospitals, digging wells, campaigning for justice, writing poems, caring for the needy, loving your neighbor as yourself— that will last into God’s future.

These activities are not simply ways of making the present life a little less beastly, a little more bearable, until the day when we leave it behind altogether.They are part of what we may call building for God’s kingdom.”

Here is how we have good hearts. Here is how we have secure hearts.

We remain clear on what the treasure is.

We put up-and-down things second, and we put lasting, eternal things first.

Last week, one night for dinner, my wife made homemade stew.

The stew was very savory, full of sweet onions, fresh carrots, tangy celery and hearty beef chunks.We topped the stew with a sprinkling of sea salt and the flavors just popped out of it. The salt crystals were little flavor bombs that exploded with pungent delectability in your mouth.

Well they explode in my mouth, not yours, because you weren’t there.

Also, my wife made some fluffy home-made biscuits to go with the stew. We cut them in half and put butter and honey on the hot, steaming bread. The honey melted into the butter, and made the top of the biscuit a sweet gooey mess while the bottom of the biscuit was still floury and crispy.

The savory stew combined with the honey-sweet biscuits like shooting stars in my mouth — to even remember it makes me salivate.

Salt is king of the taste buds! Sugar is its gorgeous queen!

Matthew 5:13

“You are the salt of the earth.”

I want to remind you of something important that Jesus said about you. You Christians are the salt in the savory stew. We, as Christians, are the honey on top of the fluffy biscuit.

You season your community, you season the world.

How? Where? When salty?

Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. Colossians 4:6

According to scripture, you can be salt, when you speak. How you talk.

By letting your words be encouraging, gracious and helpful to others — that’s salt.

So lets be clear. It is expected of you and me by Christ is to speak with grace our mouths.

We are to open our mouths, and pour out grace on others.
….
I was in Home Depot once. The checker was super slow. It took several decades for him … to process the person in front of me.

I waited, and waited and waited.

So when I got to the checker, I said, my heart was exposed when I said, “Could you possibly just go a little slower.”

That was of course before I was a Christian. Actually it was last week. Not really.

Negativity is so distasteful, in me, nasty sarcasm, it is yuck, it is embarrassing, it is life-sucking. When I said that, I felt shame.

With a positive mouth, we season the world; with a negative, unattractive mouth, our value is lost. Jesus said we might as well throw out the salt that has lost it’s saltiness.

This is straight up Jesus.

If you want influence, if you want to be heard, if you want a voice, for God, you must commit to being gracious. Otherwise, God will only see you as,  needing to go.

I have an uncle.

We went to his house for Thanksgiving a few years ago. We all brought food. My young nephew brought bread.

My uncle claimed it was the wrong kind, and got he so upset he went to the store for his choice of bread.

It crushed my young nephew. My uncle made a scene, over the bread.

To be truthful, I don’t like to go to my uncle’s house much.

Negativity — it demolishes hospitality, and it can ruin family relationships.

This was so important, this thing of being gracious, to Jesus, that he communicated a second image to talk to us about it.

Jesus went on to say, in Matthew 5::14

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.”

“In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

What did Jesus say? He said be quiet more, let your actions talk for you.

Yesterday, two of the plumbers in our church came down and spent five hours putting eight new toilets in the church.

If you go in the women’s bathroom, you might have the honor of being the first one …

I like plumbers. They typically don’t say much. They just shut up, and create a good flush.

For being quiet and doing their jobs, these guys make like $60-$80 per hour, but yesterday we were the recipients of their work — for free.

That’s light; that’s kingdom light.

The light goes on, said Jesus, when we shut up more and just serve others.

What can we do to be salt and light.  To be so, a few things seem obvious:

Stop complaining.

Stop complaining about your job and be grateful you have one.

Stop complaining about those who think differently than you and be grateful that they and you have freedom of speech.

Stop complaining about your family and just love them. Be glad you have a family. Some people don’t.

Research shows that simply smiling at others produces chemicals in them that make them feel better.

Be grateful.

I have been realizing what a privilege it is to have people do things for me, make my food in a restaurant, make my coffee, wait on me at the bank.

So, I have a new line. it isn’t hurry up and serve me. It is “Thank you so much for making my coffee drink today, or thank you very much or serving me today.”

Listen more, and try to understand.

You can do that  with the people you disagree with by asking lots of questions, before spouting your answers.

As of course you know, there is lots of political conflict these days.

It is okay to disagree, even to protest, (lets uphold the right of free speech in America), but Christians, let’s not hate and make villains out of the other side, whatever the other side is for you.

What we need is more dialogue, more understanding … not more putting each other down

I called a friend this week who I think voted the opposite of me in the last election.

He told me he appreciated me, because of my willingness to be open, to always be trying to understand.

Graciousness, openness to try to understand others, that is salt and light. To keep friends, who you disagree with, that is maturity, that is the honey on the fluffy biscuit, the tangy salt on the savory stew.

And another thing …

Apologize when you are wrong.

I know people who never admit they are wrong. They don’t say I’m sorry.

But you can’t be salt and light if you won’t own up to your mistakes and apologize.

I was working with someone recently and we got tangled up over who was in charge. So immediately, after, I called them.

Why? I wanted to understand their side.

Then I apologized for over-stepping my role.

It helped.

Lastly, compliment people more.

I have been realizing what a privilege it is to have people do things for me, make my food in a restaurant, make my coffee, wait on me at the bank.

So, I have a new line, “Thank you so much for making my coffee drink today, or thank you very much or serving me today.”

Yesterday, I  bought pizza for the volunteers at the church. When asked what kind they wanted, the plumbers, who don’t say much, said anything, with meat. So I got the works: savory sausage, pepperoni, onions, peppers, salty sauce, flaky crust. It tasted so good, someone asked me where I got it.

That’s it! That is what we want, to be so delicious people ask us,  where did you get that from?

Then we can show them.