Monday, April 9, 2012

A Man... Like Jesus

Uncle Jim and Aunt Barb were in town hosting a gaggle of family at dinner to celebrate the sale of Jim’s business.  He and a couple friends started a business from scratch and, in time, their hard work paid off.  At a Mexican restaurant, Jim’s simple drink order almost turned into an international incident.  Between Jim’s southern Missouri English and the waiter’s green card Spanish, it was hard to understand exactly what Jim wanted.  “Make a regular margarita on the rocks, but before you bring it to me, strain the drink off the rocks into a second glass, no ice, with salt, and bring me that glass.”  The rest of the family was cracking up at Jim’s meticulously engineered drink order.

This scene reminded of an old Meineke television ad.  A limo drives up to the Meineke store for service.  An attentive young mechanic steps out and says, “Gee Mr. Big, a man like you could afford to get your car serviced anywhere.  Why come to Meineke?”  Mr. Big looks up with the smug confidence you’d expect and responds, “How do you think a man like me got to be a man like me?”

It dawned on me, the same meticulous thought that Jim put into his drink order could also be found in his work efforts.  Jim wasn’t sloppy in one area of his life and all put-together in another.  That’s a lesson we all should contemplate.

Last week I talked about the high cost of sin and what it cost to erase that sin from our spiritual slate.  I suggested that we “count the cost” before we sin.  Today, I’m going to think a little bit more about that.

Some followers of Jesus think they never sin.  That’s ok.  I know them better than they know themselves – they sin!  So do I.  I’m not bragging, I’m ashamed of it.  I can also tell you I earnestly desire to follow Jesus away from a life marked by sin.  My sins tend to happen when I’m not focused on following Jesus.  When I get caught up in the busyness and distraction of this world, I find it easy to act worldly.  When I’m meticulous about my spiritual life, I find temptations easier to avoid.  Let me be specific.

On Mt. Sinai, Moses was given 10 Commandments.  One was “do not commit adultery”.  Pretty straightforward.  But Jesus came along and tweaked that one:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY’; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”  (Matthew 5:27-28)
Ah snap, you know that “girl at the gas station” I mentioned last week.  I just might have busted a commandment on that one …not sure.  If so, it was just for a split second.  I promise.

Moses also delivered the law “do not murder”.  No prob, right?  I’ve never killed anybody.  Another Word from our Sponsor begs to differ:
“You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.” (Matthew 5:21-22)
Look, I’m going to be honest with you, my brother is a pin-head when it comes to his concern for our mother.  He’s not mean or disrespectful, just care-less.  It upsets me severely.  But I’m cautious – very cautious – not to “damn” him.  I’m supposed to live my life as a faithful follower of Jesus and I’ve got to let God deal with all the other pin-heads out there… (and God, I have a list for You if You don’t know who to check on).

I’m leery of how most Sunday sermons are indiscernible from a Dr. Phil pep talk.  Seems like a lot of Christian talk has dipped into a whole lot of pop psychology.  But I’m going to give this some slack on the matter, Jesus told us the our main problem is between our ears.  You can go all your life without killing or adultering someone and still have just as much that needs forgiveness as the worst person you want to point to.  (So maybe you should stop pointing.)

Let’s go right back to the verse I mentioned last week:
But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:33)
Jesus knows that there are things on earth that appeal to us – most of them were put here to meet our needs in some way.  But followers of Jesus, “a man like Jesus”, seeks His Righteousness first and trusts that our earthly needs will be met – without sinning.

I’ll close with another, very personal story.  My first grade teacher, Ethyl Peasgood, was also a dear personal friend of mine throughout my life.  She was THE most decent, kind, and righteous person I’ve ever known.  I stood beside her hospital bedside in Alaska weeks before she passed away at 102 years old.  In her weak voice, she told us the story of committing her life to Jesus.  “I was in the barn on the family farm.  I prayed, ‘God, make me a better girl.’  I’ve said that prayer every day since.”

How does “a man like me get to be a man like me”?  By daily committing to follow Jesus.  By daily committing to not follow the folly of the world into immediate gratification, short cuts, and shoddy work.  By daily counting the cost of every decision you make and every action you take. 

Uncle Jim’s peculiar drink order wasn’t a silly one-off moment at a restaurant.  It was one of thousands of moments where he thought carefully about the results he expected – and did the things that got those results.  That’s how a man becomes the man he wants to be.

Clark H Smith

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Salad Threshold

You can’t lose weight by talking about it.
You have to keep your mouth shut.
my dad, Carl A. Smith

This post is NOT about one slob’s valiant efforts to shed weight.  It’s about something entirely different. I promise.

I’ve reached The Salad Threshold three times – each of the last three Springs as I began riding my bike to wear off winter weight gain.  The riding season always starts off the same… check over the bike, locate my sweat bands, rinse out the CamelBak “hydration system”, check the weather, get on the trail, and ride.  And NO!  I don’t dress in sissy poser Tour de France togs and NO! I don’t ride on the streets and clog up traffic at rush hour.  You’re welcome on both accounts.

It doesn't take many days of riding before I hit The Salad Threshold (TST).  TST is an amazing mindset that happens after riding for two hours daily, sweating gallons of water, nursing aching muscles, and getting up the next day to do it all over again.  TST happens when I come face to face with why I’m riding in the first place.  I do a loop… in other words, I’m not riding to “get somewhere”.  I’m riding to work off all the food I ate without enough exercise in the winter.  TST happens when I realize that every extra calorie I ingest costs me effort on the bike trail.

Look at that innocent box of goodies to the right.  “Sweet Fredom” they call it.  “No sugar added” they brag.  Each 100 calorie bar in that box is one third the size of a banana and yet eating each one will cost me a mile and a half on the bike!  (And do you think I want just one?)  What I ate between Christmas and New Year’s Day alone will cost me a month of biking.  The tamales I ate just during the BCS Championship game alone will cost me three long days of bike riding.  (We call them Loose Belt Tamales.)  THAT’S WHEN THE SALAD THRESHOLD KICKS IN - I suddenly realize the high cost of what I’m eating and then I really only want to eat salad.

Let me shift gears here, after all this is supposed to be a blog spiritual stuff.  Hear this word from our Sponsor:
For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? (Luke 14:28)
Jesus teaches us that we should count the cost of what we do before we do it.  Here, He is talking about people who want to be His followers but who may not be ready for the commitment.  It’s a common human condition – we like the idea of something, but we don’t think through the consequences to us or others.  On Christmas Day, I was wolfing down jambalaya and gumbo like I was a dying man.  I was not looking at my bike, I was looking at the andouille!  Our Sponsor had something to say about food as well:
Do not worry then, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear for clothing?” … But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.  (Matthew 6:31-33)
Let me put the fine point on this.  We live on earth and we are earthly minded.  We tend to “seek first” the pleasure of the moment.  When we seek what feels good now we tend to make “miscalculations”.  A miscalculation of food means an extra week on the bike.  A miscalculation of behavior… well, what’s the cost of that?

Followers of Jesus will celebrate Easter in three days.  There will be Good Friday services where we remember Jesus’ death.  We’ll eat a little cracker and drink a little grape juice.  On Sunday, there’ll be singing, and preaching, and general celebratin’ as we remember Jesus’ resurrection.  But where in all this will you count the cost? 

You do know why Jesus died, don’t you?  You do know why this man, the Son of God, who never miscalculated anything, went to the criminal’s cross, don’t you?  Because spiritually, you and I missed The Salad Threshold.  Neither you nor I considered the cost of our behavior.  We didn’t consider the consequences.  Hey, maybe it was just little 100 calorie bit of gossip.  Or maybe, it was a whopping tamale of a sin that, now, you can’t actually believe you committed.  But just the same, the price has to be paid – the weight of the debt has to be worked off.

Jesus never gossiped.  Jesus never lusted for the inappropriately dressed girl at the gas station.  Jesus never cheated on His taxes, He never disobeyed His mother, He never said to His brother, “I hate you.”  He knew no sin.  And He’s out there riding the spiritual bike while you’re stuffing your face with spiritual Twinkies and tamales.  It’s not fair, is it?  THANK GOD!

This Easter season, in the midst of all the pastel colors, new clothes, and exuberance of Spring, I pray that you’d hit The Salad Threshold.  I pray that all of us learn to count the cost of our behaviors.  When we hit that Threshold we truly begin to live as Followers of Jesus and honor the death that bought our release from the weight of sin.  Thank you, Jesus!

Clark H Smith