Finding Calcutta

I thought Finding Calcutta by Mary Poplin would be a casual read – some good stories but nothing to write down, meditate about, and share.  I was wrong.  Mary Poplin spent a period of months working beside Mother Teresa.  She is a professor at U of Texas, but writes so even I can understand.  She writes about her inner and outer journey during those months, and I find her insights pierce me.

“Discouragement is a sign of pride.  It shows that I was focused on results, perhaps in my own power, rather than faith and obedience to God’s direction and his responsibility for results.”

As I read, I was faced with my own self.  Her insights on generosity humbled and frightened me, and I realized that I’ve never really sacrificed.  Her experiences of obedience stressed that my faithfulness to God’s present call prepares me for his call later.  If God calls me to wash windows, I must wash them so the angels stop and say, “There is a great window washer, a man faithful to his call.  What a servant of God!”  Obedience is the path to “my Calcutta”.

This book is an easy, but slow, read.  It was easy to understand, but the application of what I understood made me pause in every chapter.  Truth is like that.

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Doubting Mercy and Grace

Sometimes I have my doubts.  Specifically, I wonder if I have overestimated God’s grace.  Do I count on his mercy and forgiveness too much?

I try to live true to my faith, but I seldom live a day that exemplifies what I understand the life of a disciple should be.  I tell God I’m sorry, and I sincerely am, then I resolve to do better tomorrow.  I count on Jesus to keep me in right standing with God despite my sins of yesterday and in the face of sins to come tomorrow.

What if Jesus is screaming, “Stop it!  Just stop this sin!  Where is your faith?  Where is your commitment?  Where is your love for God?  Why do you keep calling me LORD but treating me like a “get out of jail free” card?”  What if he’s saying that to me?

I read something this week that helped me.  I’m sure the Holy Spirit stuck this in my face so I could stop doubting the degree, longevity, and sincerity of God’s forgiveness.  It came from an obvious place – the Bible.  I was reading Matthew 26 when verses 31 and 32 fell into alignment for me.

Jesus told the disciples that all of them would desert him.  He explained that Scripture foretold their flight.  Yes, Jesus knew all along that the disciples’ vows of allegiance would fall short of their conduct.  Then Jesus immediately makes a simple statement that changed my doubt into faith.  He tells them that he will meet them in Galilee after he has risen from the dead.  In my paraphrase, it goes something like, “You all are going to desert me, BUT (despite this desertion) I want to meet up with you after it’s over.”

Jesus knows I’ll fall short just like the disciples, BUT he wants to meet with me anyhow.  In my heart, I heard Jesus say, “Phipps, I know you sin, but I still want you with me.”

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Season of Life

This book, by Jeffrey Marx, was recommended to me by a man who is highly involved in coaching youth football.  I know next to nothing about football, so I wasn’t sure I would like it.  I was hooked in the first three chapters.  Here is an excerpt from chapter three.

“What is our job as coaches?” he asked.  “To love us,” the boys yelled back in unison.  “What is your job?” Joe shot back.  “To love each other,” the boys responded.  The words were spoken with the familiarity of a mantra, the commitment of an oath, the enthusiasm of a pep rally.  This was football?

The coach, Joe Ehrmann, was a former professional football player.  His devotion to these high school players is not focused on football skills or winning but in helping them become exemplary young men.  His code revolves around four “strategic masculinity traits” that form what he calls “the moral and ethical foundation” of a man. Joe believes these traits must be intentionally taught to boys.  “It will not just happen on its own.”  The traits are:

  1. accepting responsibility
  2. leading courageously
  3. enacting justice on behalf of others
  4. expecting God’s greater rewards

The author follows the football team through a season, and is able to see the challenges as well as the celebrations.  His meetings with “Coach Joe” changed his life, and I’m sure will continue to reach and change the lives of many others.  “Coach Joe” expands on topics such false masculintiy, relationships of a real man, working for a greater cause, and empathy.  This book is a wealth of good advice and example.  God knows we need good examples.

This book reaches beyond football – to anyone who cares for the future of manhood.  The definition of manhood is changing, and not always toward the good.  Internal character is being replaced with brash talk, attitudes that treat women as objects, and an coveting an image of being powerful, wealthy, or both.

“Good” doesn’t just happen.  Being bad is easy with all the bad role models and idle time.  Being good takes work on the part of many people.  This book moves me to join those who work for the change toward good.

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The Class Meeting

The Class Meeting by Kevin M. Watson describes the kind of Christian group that appeals to me.  The format of the Class Meeting is actually from the eighteenth century, and John Wesley is given much of the credit for it’s design and impact.  The principle behind a modern-day Class Meeting is to become doers of the Word, not just learners.  This aligns perfectly with a phrase from Jesus’ Great Commission, “…teaching them to obey everything  I have commanded you.”

It seems to me that most “small groups” in the USA church are either affinity groups based on having fun, or studies based on collecting knowledge.  Class Meetings are designed to enable group member to live more holy lives.  Let me share a few ideas from the book.

  • The class meeting is essential because it is a logical, practical, and proven way to make disciples.  It forms righteous thinking (orthodoxy) and righteous action (orthopraxy).
  • Judgment does not prevail in Class Meetings.  Unless I have asked to be accountable, rarely will the Class Meeting members hold me accountable.  The person who judges me is myself.  The Class Meeting is a weekly self-inventory of my own life.
  • People who protest against the Class Meeting because it may be uncomfortable must admit that comfort isn’t a good indicator of whether something is good for me or whether I need to do it.  Comfort is focused on my desires, not God’s desires.

Honestly, what would happen if the church would actually live what they already know they should do?  The book is designed to enable the reader to start a Class Meeting.  If you are desperate to become more holy, check it out.  If you’re comfortable and want to stay that way,  the book will only make you uncomfortable.

My notes on this book can be downloaded in MS Word format from the blue “FILES box” in the left side-bar of this blog.

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All Things New

weekly theme #5 All Things New*  

week containing the first Sunday after Christmas

Jesus changed everything, but through my eyes, some things look unchanged.  I still see the fruit of false beliefs.  I still see sin.  Looking to the future is the only place I see all things new, and I long for that time.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”  (2 Corinthians 5:17 New International Version)  The old doesn’t always seem gone, and the new doesn’t always seem to have come.  This conflict between scripture and my life has troubled me for yours, but the New Living Translation helped me in just five words.  Instead of “…the new has come!” it says “…a new life has begun.”  The new me is in process; it is not completed.  I will not always make steady, straight-line progress, but I will progress.  My new life is well underway, and I can propel it by intentionally making small, righteous choices.

Many small choices make a life direction, and this new direction as an ambassador of Jesus is heading toward great honor and responsibility.  Too often, I forget my duty as an ambassador and start to operate as a rogue agent.  By my negligence, I deny my duty, allegiance, and even my King.  Despite my wanderings, the King, this perfect King, continues to mold me and trust me.  He lets me remain his ambassador.  How can I help but love him?

“And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making all things new!…It is finished!  I am the Alpha and the Omega – the Beginning and the End.”  (Revelations 21:5a & 6a)  It seems to me that humanity is not destined for continually generating new spiritual ideas but to come full circle and realize the end is actually the beginning.  We come up with a new buzzword or idea, but we soon replace it with another one.  (seeker-sensitive, emergent, missional, etc.)  All these words have sincere followers, and all of them carry elements of truth.  So it is easy for us, the Church, to allow our methods and terms to become distractions from our message, the Good News of Jesus the Christ.  I must guard myself from begin so zealous for an aspect of my faith that I forget that the end is also the beginning.  I’m going back to the Garden.  The Omega is the Alpha.

*A Guide To Prayer For Ministers And Other Servants by Job and Shawchuck provided the scripture references and readings that inspired these reflections.  I found this devotional to be the most heart changing of any I’ve used.  It truly lives up to its title.

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