The Devourer

On Friday I was nearing my exit on the 15 North when a car 2 lanes to my left and about 4 car lengths ahead ran over a shovel.  This flung the metal shovel (sans wooden handle) up in the air and headed straight for my car.  I swerved as far to the right as I could into the shoulder and it bounced just next to my left rear fender and behind my car, passing between me and the car behind me.  I thought to myself, “I had three years of driver training in Nairobi for this one moment, and it paid off!”

This reminded me of something I told someone a while back, “God sometimes gives us blessings, sometimes He gives us an anti-curse.”  If grace is unmerited favor and mercy is not getting what you deserve, we often focus on grace and forget about mercy.  We are usually focused on getting things from God and we miss when we get nothing, and that nothing is more than we deserve.

“And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes,
So that he will not destroy the fruit of your ground,
Nor shall the vine fail to bear fruit for you in the field,”
Says the Lord of hosts; Malachi 3:11 NKJV

That shovel could have destroyed the left half of my Fiesta, it weighs almost as much. That would not have made for a festive day, or week.

God has a plan and you are at the center of it.  He is able, and He loves you.  Sometimes His blessings are clearly evident, other times they pass under the radar.  It would be better for us if we noticed.

Maturity

imageThis is a picture of Petr and Andrej playing with Uncle Charlie in the waves at Cammy’s cousin’s beach house in Carlsbad.

I do not know if my memory is bad, or the data is lost, but I searched and search and looked for a post about this from 4 years ago.  I could not find it.

Just before we left for Africa, we took the boys up to Carlsbad to see some family for the last time.  We even got to see Cammy’s cousin  Kevin and his wife Jann.  They are now in Cameroon with Wycliffe.

I learned an important lesson that day.  The boys were, of course, a lot younger then, and I think the waves were bigger.  Knowing that we were going to be living in Nairobi, over a day’s journey to the ocean, I wanted to boys to experience playing in the waves.  I took Petr out on a body board to catch a wave.  He was completely afraid.  He has always been a good boy, so he was very polite about it, but he kept saying, “Daddy I do not want to go,” through his tears.  It was a difficult moment for a father.  What to do?  I decided that the benefits of having done it would outweigh the pain of going through the experience.  It was a lot like his Disneyland experience later on.  He cried and repeated, “I do not want to,” as we waited for the right wave to come.  I pushed him on the board and he rode the wave all the way in.  As soon as he stood up, he turned around and exclaimed, “Let’s do it again!”

It was such a great object lesson, I used it over and over from the pulpit in Africa.  So often we are faced with something our Father tells us we must do.  We cry, kick, scream, and do anything we can to get out of it, all to often succeeding.  But on those rare occasions we do see it through, the first words out of our mouth are often, “Let’s do it again.”

It was a great joy to see the boys doing what was once too scary and enjoying it all on their own.  Maturity, it is within my reach as well.

Significant Moments

Wednesday night was “curriculum night” at Petr and Andrej’s school.  They boys went to my parent’s house and Cammy, Zach and I went to their school to meet and hear from their teachers what they would be learning this year.  As part of the evening, both teachers had papers ready for us to write a note to our child to leave in their desk.  I was holding Zach in Andrej’s class and he got a little noisy so I ended up doing painful laps around the school building and Cammy wrote the note to Andrej.  In Petr’s class, Zach had to be fed so Cammy went out and I wrote the note to Petr.  It was not a super deep message, but I did attempt to reveal my heart to him.  It felt to me like a significant moment in father-son relations.

The next day after work I got to see the boys at home.  I saw Andrej first, so I put my arms around him and asked how his day was.  I got a very unemotional “good,” to which I have become accustomed.  I asked if he had a note at his desk and he replied he did, but he had not read it yet. “Had not read it?!” I said to myself.  Cammy and I have been married for 12 years, but even today, if she were to write me a note, I would read it right away and ignore anything else I had to do.  But Andrej is not a big reader so I should not have been shocked.

A little later I saw Petr.  I sat close and put my arm around him.  I asked him the same two questions. The first one produced the same response as his brother. To the second, he said, “I was confused about who wrote the note. At first I thought it was mom, but then it said, ‘Love Dad.'”  I asked a few more probing questions and realized that my message had completely missed the mark.  What I thought was a significant moment was nothing more than a small bump in an otherwise mundane day for him.

Before I got too low, I realized this was another teachable moment… for me.  My boys were once again a mirror for me to see my own shortcomings in my relationship with my Father.  How many times has He set up significant Father-son moments with me, and I just miss it?  More than a note, he has given me the bible, the greatest “love letter” ever written.  How often do I take it for granted, forgetting the significance of Who wrote it, or why?

I love my boys, and I will continue pouring my heart into them.  But thanks be to God that He does not weary or lose patients with us, no matter how many times we blow Him off.

Say Uncle

This is my nephew Paul James Zastoupil.  Often we call him PJ, which helps me from being confused when I am around.  In the long family tradition of his older cousins, he got into it with me the other night when the family was over to celebrate Petr’s 9th birthday.

PJ is ticklish.  He thought he could get the best of me so he was taunting me.   Well, I may be getting close to over the hill, but I can still take an 11 year old. It did not turn out well for him.  But that did not stop him from taunting.  He showed great toughness, both mentally and physically.  What it showed is a lack of understanding of the situation.  Size and strength matter in the physical world much more than just mentally being prepared for a fight.  Both are important, but when the scales are tipped so far to one side physically, you cannot make up for it with mental toughness.  He is a little young for the what his dad calls the, “I’m invincible,” stage that seems to hit teenage boys around 17 and sometimes lasts well into the 20s, but that is kind of the sense I got that night.  The attitude of, “I can do anything, that bad stuff can not happen to me.”

This reminded me a lot of how I often deal with God.  In spite of the fact that He created the universe, I think I can go toe to toe with Him in a variety of ways in my life.  I feel justified in telling Him what is right.  I think I can get away with not following His plan for me. I think I can live with a little sin in my life.

God has answers to all of these.  In Job 38-39, God sets the record straight on who tells whom in one the oldest and greatest recorded smack down of all times. Jonah learns that God’s plan is, well, GOD‘s plan. And in Jesus’ letter to the church of Pergamos we see that you cannot live with compromise in your life.

I especially like how in this picture Andrej is calmly watching the mayhem just eating his ice cream. If you are going to mess with God, prepare to lose. Sometimes it is that obviously futile to those around you that they will not even bother helping.

Thanks be to God that we do not get all that we deserve in return, and instead the free gift of His grace.

It is review time

In my job as a manager I have the responsibility to review my employees.  It is a hard thing to try to put ratings and words down to represent someone’s effort over the previous year.

The end goal should be to get the best out of people.  How does one best go about that?

(Before I go on, I want to address what giving 100% means.  If 100% is the sustainable output, then often someone really could give 110% for a short while.  But that is an expression some math folks hate.)

No one gives 100%. From a corporate standpoint, one can always give more.  I have a responsibility to the organization for which I work to get the most out of the people working for me.  I also have a responsibility to them to help them be a good person.  Not often, but sometimes those two responsibilities are at odds.

As I have put some time into the review process, I realized there is no way to get it exactly right.  So you have to attack it from one direction or the other.  You can aim higher than the area where you think someone falls.  Give them the “good job” review, and hope they will pull themselves up to at least where you aimed.  You can also aim low and hope that sting motivates them to do better.

However, what it really got me thinking about is my review for my Real Employer. What kind of review would He give me for the last year?  Would it be above or below where I think it is?  There are things I can point to where by I can tell how I have been doing throughout the year.  But even if I could consolidate all those little things into some kind of report, it would be hard to know exactly how I have been doing.

He does give us a standard by which we are measured, and of course I have once again failed to measure up (even for just today).  I guess I am getting the “did not meet expectations” review… again.  I should be motivated to do better. At least I have great hope.

How wide are your scales?

We like to measure things in our life.  We like fairness, we like justice. (Of course often that just means “good for me.”)  The method by which we measure can be the topic of a different post, but now I just want to ask, over what time period do we balance?

Part of the process of growing up is the widening of our scales.  When we are young, and I can see it in the boys, if something is not immediate, it is not right.  I want instant satisfaction.  As we grow older we (should) mature and be able to see farther down the road.

I work for two weeks, then I get paid.  For two weeks, I am working without any reward.  I do not mind that.  I know that at the end of the two weeks, I will be well rewarded for my work.  That is a two week width in my scales.

How much wider can we make them?  Here is a simple image that came to my mind to help communicate this idea.  Of course, it does not come close to really showing it, but it should give you and idea.

Your life is a blip on the radar of time,  nothing in relationship to eternity.  I am not a physicist, but I think a lever with an infinite length could provide quite a bit of force.  However, that is not how we usually see it.  We only look at one side of the scales.  We are only concerned with now.  Maturity is the ability to widen our perspective.

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.  For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.  Romans 8:28-29 (NKJV)

How valuable is being conformed to the image of Christ?  What amount of sacrifice is that worth?