People are hurting: V2 B3 C1

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JVG is fulfilling his promise to Fantine.

Larry Crabb in Encouragement:

All around us people are hurting more than we know. The people we come into contact with on a daily basis—whether spouse, friend, cashier, custodian, pastor, or prima donna—each have a story, a window through which they view and respond to life. Often we simply react to the ways they hurt, offend, or inconvenience us without considering what might be at the heart of their behavior.

Here with Cossette under the table, the pain is easy to see. And the neglected child screaming in the other room. Again, the Thernardier’s epitomize selfishness, lust, and greed. Yet, people that act that way are hurting as well, driven on in their behaviors, never satisfied.

I know a woman who lost her husband to a sudden terrible disease. She tries to stay active, serving others, but the loneliness and sadness persist. I don’t know her well enough to know her deepest thoughts, but by comparison, I struggle over so much less.

I know a man who has been through two unhappy marriages each ending in divorce. I have been with him through it all, and watched as he and each of his wives suffered through feelings of rejection and mistrust. Harsh words were exchanged and it seemed that there was no way to get reasonable conversation. For my part, Over the years, I have tried to give answers, and I have simply sat and listened. The proper response continues to elude me. Only to be there and to love. But that does not seem to be enough.

I work with a man who complains often of his difficulty in aging and that he is not being respected. This man does not feel like giving the job more energy. How do I help him? Listen well and encourage? It seems he needs to be confronted about his performance. How do I increase my own compassion for him? How do I care more?

Please answer my prayer, Lord, to grant me greater capacity to listen, understand, and care for other souls.

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Free Again: V2 B2 C3

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Such a long Chapter leading up to JVJ spectacular escape. I suppose he thought this was OK to escape, since no-one was in danger of suffering on his behalf any longer, and he still had a girl to save – poor Cosette.  What a noble purpose in life to love someone so sacrificially. But to do so, one must give up other pursuits, even other good works.

It is the lengthy pre-amble to the time of the escape that captures my attention. It was toward the end of October in the year 1823, and Hugo describes the European politics in such a way that makes me question any political view. I am surrounded by people who presume that they are right politically. And I have been there. My emotions are still there with certain parties and causes. But I now question those emotions much more because in my mid-years I am much more aware of how deceitful they are to hijack my thought process to righteous indignation for what really lay below: the party spirit.

Recent politics has forced a choice between no-good options for a Christian. The ridiculous antics of our current president divide our worshipping body. What I fear is that many cling to nationalism as if it were God Himself. People long for the good ole days which certainly had their advantages, but the post-modern atheistic tendencies of our culture has many of the hearts and unknowing minds of an ignorant people. And worse is the hateful spirit by which professed Christians hold their views with a slipping grasp on any substantive issues like paying our debts, self-sacrifice, and caring for the poor. What these believers find in their clutches, are only empty social artifices and talking points that define opinions which cannot be understood by the other side, and may sometimes not be worth defending. And we find that the actual emphasis of our leader may very well be toward political power secured by fomenting hot-button issues tied to nationalism rather than those issues we profess to care about most as conservatives..

The scene that Hugo describes in France and Spain of 1823 with a reigning conservatism that does not have the support of the hearts of the people seems so appropriate today. For the parties are re-aligning, and people are changing a lot every day.

Always striving for more: V2 B2 C2

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Thernardier is there in this chapter also (I had forgotten): The cunning opportunist and perpetual enemy of JVJ. But he is also the one who is never satisfied. Like the Tim Keller teaching on Nebuchadnezzar and pride, he is like an animal that must succumb to his instincts. With no free will he is driven to obey his impulse.

Look for opportunities to choose against natural selfish impulse! These times are when we act freely like men who are made in the image of God. These times are opportunities to demonstrate our freedom and power beyond the grave. Thernardier was driven to suffer the natural path leading to decay, death, and powerlessness. He could never be satisfied and was always entitled. Even a win for Thernardier was hollow because it could have been more. Will I choose differently?

Jonah was angry at God’s mercy. God did not fit into the plans that he had. He too was driven, even in his belief, to suffer misery and want. Not satisfied with the will of God, but instinctively angry in the boastful pride of life. Even the smaller details could set him of with his sense of deservedness. Will I be different?

God help me. Start with the smallest choice right now. Walk in freedom in the small things and trust the provision of God.

The Chaff of What Others Think: V2 B2 C1

There is such a predominant habit in this life of men being trampled on by others that it makes a stark difference for someone to really care about what is going on in someone else’s life. JVJ’s reputation was used to political ends by the publications and rumor mills, and even the stark benefit of his contribution was uncredited, since it was not completely unnoticed, after his absence. Expectation of credit, satisfaction of being understood, or listened to is like the chaff which the wind drives away. Energy and time spent on foisting my thoughts and experiences on others is like trying to hold back the tide. It is completely lost with brief moments of apparent success. As the Lord said, “they have their reward in full.” Such community and satisfaction only comes by gifted grace in the moment.

So much better use of time is to listen well and involve myself in the life of someone else without giving thought as to how I will safely return back to my own world. Better use because of the significance of the act in community. It has real lasting relational profit. And this profit does not rest on right opinions or noted coincidences or any other intellectual curiosity, but on the truth of love in relationship. But it must be given from the basis that I am already cared for, and my needs are met by the One from whom there  is no hiding.

The Road Less Travelled

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The gospel that Jesus came teaching was about the nearness of the kingdom of heaven. There is actually a reality pressed up so close to us that we can pretend is not even here. We can live in this material world as if maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain is all there is. We bend inward on ourselves as to always strive for our own pleasure, measuring it in the eyes of the world. The measure is by a standard that is thrust upon us from a turbulent cultural river. The goal is to satisfy ourselves that we and our own have it as good or better than those in our eddy and that others believe this is so. All conversation and social interaction stands as opportunity to make ourselves feel better about ourselves, whether it is by enhancing perceived virtue or an outright grab for relief and pleasure.

But there is a road less travelled. There is a living for the audience of One. I know because I have tasted of that joy. There is a freedom of not living for my selfish gain but to work as unto the Lord, enjoying that only He is my reward. Only He knows my work and the injustice done to me by others. For it does not matter what man thinks. What can man do to me? Why does it not matter? Because there is this whole other reality of deep colors and sweet sounds and smells. There is joy beyond measure that is mine for the tasting if I just let go of material stuff and engage by faith.

How rare it is to speak with a person who demonstrates care for me. It has happened and it is so unusual. Maybe one or twice? How ready is the opportunity to stand out by loving well. But, I am surrounded by judgment, envy, narcissism and numbness. I am called to love those very people – not by going through the motions and actions of love, but by really caring for that one who sits in front of me judging me. To walk on that less travelled road means to really care for that offensive self-seeking man who is deaf to my words. And to love this lost one as God has loved me. To engage in the shallow world that he lives in with the hope and assurance and comfort of fellowship. Why try to speak to someone who never really wanted to hear? Listening and loving is the only hope for my lost friend who is spun up in this material world. I don’t need any worldly success or recognition, for that stuff is vanity, vapor and waste that is passing away.

Let me love boldly, listen well and work hard at service. Ascribe to the Lord the glory that is due his name. Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised. In the City of our God – not in this dusty place.

30 seconds of not being silent

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You have turned my mourning into dancing; You have loosed my sackcloth and girded me with gladness, That my soul may sing praise to You and not be silent.

It is so easy to neglect to be thankful as I have grown accustomed to sunshine and blessing. There are joy pools all around me waiting to be explored with words of acknowledgment and praise. This Psalm 30 will be about 30 s for me. Don’t wait to praise Him with my words or actions. Respond now and do not let that moment pass. For I will extol You O Lord for You have lifted me up. And I will do it now without settling into complacent passivity.

  1. Explicitly affirm my love to my friend or family.
  2. Initiate a lunch with a friend or acquaintance.
  3. Memorize and meditate on that Psalm all the day.
  4. Excel in good work with perseverance as unto the Lord.
  5. Engage in the difficult conversation in love.
  6. Serve my neighbor or co-worker freely without strings.

Do these things as soon as they come to mind. Look to jump into the joy pools, forgetting the chill of the entry instant to relish in the freshness and splendor beneath the surface. Do not hold your tongue for even 30 s.

Surely He has done great things for me to be living and breathing today, and so much more. Praise him now!

 

To live a care-full life: V2 B1 C19a

I want to live a care-full life. I want to take risks to care for others where they might be in want or sadness. Such a careful life requires vigilance first, and exposure to people, and flexibility in my time. Missed opportunities cry out to me each day, and yet I often don’t react, allowing the momentum of the events of the day to remain unchanged. These opportunities are risky.

Here in the battlefield robber’s story, Thernardier, capitalizing on the tragic death of others, we find the opposite of this care-full life. The opposite of care-full is careful. In a careful life, I look out for myself in a scarcity mentality, minimizing risk and collecting and saving my resources, oblivious to subtle signs of suffering all around. There are always things out of place – a tone of voice in a word spoken, a person sitting or walking alone, an angry tone or a sarcastic comment. A careful life guards against these signs and avoids the problem with the easy diversion, even while appearing to be a caring person on the outside.

So why would I care? Why would I want to spend my days being care-full? And won’t that slow my progress down? Where is my progress taking me? Is this destination important enough to keep driving? Or should I pull off the road and care?

The Infinite and Irresistible: V2 B1 C18

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Hugo envisions that the movement of French politics was irresistible to the rulers despite a Waterloo victory. I see the same in American politics with various elections: the real lasting ideas are being formed in the practices and values of the people on the street.  But politics is much broader than elections and office. In 2017, consumerism and entertainment media addiction have a hold on our people. There is dissatisfaction and numbness and never ceasing advance into the darkness of distracted living. Higher thinking and engaged discourse are very rare because of the politicization of the issues. The politicization is driven by images, mental and virtual, that individuals hold as ideals for themselves, and it is usually about appearances. Even the rebellious are more interested in appearing as rebellious than actually helping people in some way through change. How can a nation walk the plank into the sea of self-destruction? When people are no longer seeing, hearing, or relating in the kingdom of God. Further, there is no desire to do or see anything different.

So this condition presents opportunity to be a difference. To strike up community among neighbors and ask the deeper questions and draw out those deeper answers. The purpose is in the asking and the drawing. It is about connection and community and caring.

The acedia of the culture seems infinite and irresistible, but though it is big and pervasive, it is actually rarified and incendiary. So let’s get busy talking and listening and loving.

New Every Mourning: V2 B1 C17

Hugo describes the nations persistence through the Napoleonic wars: the inertia of the cultures of England and Germany and France independent of Waterloo. Such wars where mothers abruptly lose healthy sons persist with us.  Its an easier thing for nations to resurge, buoyed by refreshed economic energy and distance from the personal pain for most individuals. Whether or not the cause seemed just, our children get caught in the bigger impersonal and unstoppable grind of events. And we will mourn again.

It is not only those relatively infrequent major crimes brought upon us by governments and power hungry despots from which we must recover. The terrible destruction that surrounds us cascades down from a holocaust to one lonely middle schooler sitting alone without a friend. Sadness scales, and the next day asks for our decision. Having experienced the sadness, will we start again? Can we successfully mourn and release the pain of past sufferings or disappointments to lay hold of the joy set before us? Is the hurt an anchor or a platform?

We get the chance to start over every day. We get to try again in relationships and life. We get to choose to pass others by or to greet them enthusiastically. We get to decide to pray or not. We can choose zeal and thoroughness in love, or we can veg out on business or TV. We can feed our selfish pleasures and erect our temporary temples to enjoy the better view, or we can exercise faith by loving even when it is risky and we end up looking foolish ourselves.

Each day is a new chance to mourn and release and try again, or a chance to distract ourselves and make sure we stay safe the next time.

Victory’s mixed blessing: V2 B1 C16

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Hugo downplays the significance of the victory on June 18, 1815 by the English/Prussians over the French, and even stipulates that the loser has more to gain. He writes of the greater aspects of a nation that are but little affected by the skirmishes of the armies. It seems to ring true that the temporary victories of an army do not last in the nations politics, and reasons for war are soon forgotten.

When one political party takes control of government, the power is secured for a time, but there comes with this privilege the burden that something positive must be accomplished or else comes the political backlash. And there seems to be always an appetite for political division and strife which will be satisfied no matter how much apparent uniformity is perceived by the power sharers. The key seems to be leadership and forward progress.

It is true in personal life that the apparent defeats often lead to precipitous victory in some parallel world of events. As a co-worker remarked yesterday, “the one thing that you can count on about the future is that it will change faster than you expect.” And often, change (even if it is perceived as defeat) indeed has represented an opportunity.

The paradox: So once again I am led to the conclusion that the point is not about the results, but about the process. Yet, we must focus on delivering the results in order to fully engage in the process. Simply talking about the process of handling the ship leaves one without wind for the sail. The beauty is then in being self-aware as we engage in the battles for what we realize is a only temporary victory at best. It is this self-awareness that makes the difference among men. And the true self-awareness is a gift, not an intelligence. It is revelation.