A Home Run of Kindness: V2 B3 C5

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Victimized Cosette alone in the dark woods is swiftly rescued by the all-powerful hand of kindness.

Story book examples of the hero stepping in to save the damsel from the villian make up the basis of the hopes and dreams written on our hearts. The stories we love just take the paradigm and perhaps reassign the roles. The “miracle” of Christmas is the simple and fundamental truth that resonates so perfectly and leads us to create more stories with our minds and hearts and words and hands. We make His praise glorious when we work in concert with this truth, even when we say we don’t know Him.

Sometimes the ideal examples such as that found here in Chapter 5, or those I hear of in sermons, can discourage me. Such perfect, effective kindness is uncommon to my perception, and my attempts to love rescue someone can seem more like strikeouts than homers. So I want to hear that I am OK in the strikeouts because I am standing at the plate swinging. And, that my perception of the success of my efforts is usually highly distorted.

Yesterday I received a letter from a man thanking me for being a good leader and making it possible for him to finish his career by enjoying his work. It was a surprise, even a shock for me since I perceived the perception of my efforts might be that they were shallow and full of pretense. But it turns out that the perception was not that at all. People may not react like I hope for when I show kindness. They may even carry away the candlesticks and continue in their criminal attitude like JVJ. But as imperfect as my attempts may be (even shaded by pride and pretense) they are more effective than I perceive, and seeing the few instances that are actually revealed to me, I imagine that my my batting average is higher than I perceive.

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Eyes of a child: V2 B3 C4

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Grandma Simon said that back in the days of the dust bowl on the Kansas farm they did not know they had it so hard. They woke up in the morning and shook the settled dust off off of their blanket and went about the new day, ready to play together and explore. She lost an eye in an accident playing and exploring as a young girl, but they just did what they had to do. Not much self-reflection, self-pity, or self-aggrandizement. They fought and feuded and suffered, but it’s all relative. And her father, great-grandpa always did what he could to help the stranger. Her memories were pleasant as they were shaped through her child eyes.

Thinking back to childhood, what was it that excited you most? Pretty lights? A toy train or doll or fresh new baseball glove? A wrestling match with grandpa? Delicious food treat prepared by Mom? A hug? Through eyes of a child, the sensations come disproportionately with the worldly value because the perceptions are wrapped in delightful dreams. Looking on those same eyes from the outside, those adults around are similarly delighted by seeing the awe and joy of a small child. How much we thrill to see a new human being experience life for the first time.

Cosette’s fascination with the doll is beautiful in itself – “she forgot everything.” Where do I find this sense of awe again? Her first sense of satisfaction in just a gaze is so pure. How can I worship like that?

Of course, soon JVJ will soon have the adult pleasure of watching the child be overjoyed with his gift, but how beautiful is the adoration? And what a sensation to be cultivated in my own heart, holy apart from demandingness! How sad, the life lived without this childish wonder.

She is my child: V2 B3 C3

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Hugo and Dickens were contemporaries. At this Christmas, the reading of this sad account of Cosette’s neglect resonates with Dicken’s classic haunting scene with the Ghost of Christmas Present:

“Forgive me if I am not justified in what I ask,” said Scrooge, looking intently at the Spirit’s robe, “but I see something strange, and not belonging to yourself, protruding from your skirts. Is it a foot or a claw?”

“It might be a claw, for the flesh there is upon it,” was the Spirit’s sorrowful reply. “Look here.”

From the foldings of its robe, it brought two children; wretched, abject, frightful, hideous, miserable. They knelt down at its feet, and clung upon the outside of its garment.

“Oh, Man! look here. Look, look, down here!” exclaimed the Ghost.

They were a boy and girl. Yellow, meagre, ragged, scowling, wolfish; but prostrate, too, in their humility. Where graceful youth should have filled their features out, and touched them with its freshest tints, a stale and shrivelled hand, like that of age, had pinched, and twisted them, and pulled them into shreds. Where angels might have sat enthroned, devils lurked, and glared out menacing. No change, no degradation, no perversion of humanity, in any grade, through all the mysteries of wonderful creation, has monsters half so horrible and dread.

Scrooge started back, appalled. Having them shown to him in this way, he tried to say they were fine children, but the words choked themselves, rather than be parties to a lie of such enormous magnitude.

“Spirit! are they yours?” Scrooge could say no more.

“They are Man’s,” said the Spirit, looking down upon them. “And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it!”

  • Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

I cannot deny it. JVJ could not deny it. In fact he gave his life for just one such child. He felt responsible. His responsibility came from someone else taking responsibility for him. So this chapter is the opening of the robe with the call that I hear this morning: “Yes, its a sad sight, and hard to believe how such a scene might be non-fiction. But you know it’s worse than this, and many times over, and such people are not even so far away from where I sit in comfort.”

The best we can do is to distract ourselves. And I do that pretty well I fear. At this Christmas, I recognize that the same collective union of mankind that was impacted by the star and birth announcing that God is with us (the same child who would grow to tell all how very near indeed He is), that same collective union binds us to reciprocate and own the ignorance and want for ourselves. It’s not someone else’s problem.

Cosette is not just Fantine’s child.

Cosette is not just Jean Valjean’s child.

Cosette is my child.

Root of Evil: V2 B3 C2

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Consider the two villains of the book:

While the husband calculated and schemed, the Thernardiess thought not of absent creditors, took no care either for yesterday or the morrow, and lived passionately in the present moment.

The husband’s love of money was the root of evil because it allowed his selfishness to take root into tangible action abusing and neglecting other people. The wife’s selfishness was childlike. Some of the words describing her are similar to those Jesus uses in Matthew 6 as a positive paradigm to trust God for our provision. So what is the difference for her? She trusted in the wrong provider. And her for the rest of the sermon, she cared not for anyone else. Kingdom living is not calculated for tomorrow, but consumed with loving others today.

So how does this matter to me? Growing older has led to smallness in one respect. My garage is big and clean and safe. Small household improvements play too big of a part in my mind and my day. I seem to be “calculating” not just retirement benefits, but more generally the small details of living. Or is that judgment about “too big” too hard?

Growing older has led to expansive thinking. I can give more grace for the selfishness of others, and more and more I find that being kind is almost always the right action. And as for my opinions, I can be sure of one thing: I have a tendency to defend them. Only trust Him.

Interesting how I have grown more liberal in my thinking as I age – it seems contradictory to the maxim I have heard. I take more chances with people because I am less intimidated by them. I am able to sit still more and reflect. And I care less for my reputation than I do for my (perhaps anonymous) legacy. Thankful this morning to have a chance to love.

 

 

 

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.

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!