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Average Joe

“There is no room here [the Christian life] for such contemporary ideas as the looking-glass self, and no consideration here for trivial contemporary obsessions such as one’s legacy” Os Guiness – Fools Talk      

Today I recount the story of the Christian called average Joe. He works as a routing and process engineer at a waste management company, is married to a wonderful girl Cindy and has three kids, Julie, Aaron, and Victor.

              In the future his grandkids call him ‘Pops’. His great grand kids know nothing about him, except the story of how he met his wife. He ran into her car on her way to a date. Her car was inoperable, so he gave her a ride. The man stood her up and Joe bought her dinner. They got married six months later. Aaron and Victors kids tell the story in jest and scold their deceased grandma as foolish for getting into cars with strangers. Julie tells the story in reference to God’s mysterious work and taking chances leads to a worthwhile life.

              Nothing else will be remembered of Joe. He did well at work and shared the gospel with several coworkers, four of whom eventually followed Christ. He stops to buy food for the homeless and plays with the children at church. When told he has done well for himself, he simply responds, “Well, my wife still loves me and all my kids are making wise choices. So, I guess I have.”

              He was saving money to take his wife on a surprise trip to Cancun. He loaned the money to someone in need at the church. They took the two-thousand dollars and left. He never told anyone. He lamented later that he hadn’t told his wife out of embarrassment rather than because he was turning the other cheek. In a later incident he was wronged much worse. No one knows but the offender, Joe’s best friend Greg, and the pastor who helped him through the situation. The incident died with them and I will not repeat it here.

              Joe struggled with pornography up until he was married. He had 4 relapses during his marriage. Each time he came forward to his close friends confessed and turned from his sin. He also struggled with a short tempter up until he was in his forties. The early death of his son changed his heart to always be compassionate.

              When his best friend, Greg, got terminal cancer he spent three nights a week for five months helping Greg’s family with needs. Joe cared for his parents in law as well when they were aging. He never got the big promotion due to these choices that took up his time.

He joined the water board on recommendation by his colleagues and helped secure more fair water policies for their town. NPR would eventually do a short documentary on the change, but his name was never mentioned.

              This is average Joe. He tried to be kind to whoever he met. He never failed to share the gospel when given the chance. He spoke almost every night with his wife regarding the good deeds laid before them. You will never read of him in a book. You will never see him on television.

When we get to heaven and we see everyone as they are, but just before we are healed of comparing others, we may notice that his crown is just a little larger, and his robes a little brighter than the pastors we see on television or book covers. Joe followed Christ in humility, he put others first, he did the good things that he came across, and he daily sought Christ for answers and forgiveness.

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Friendship and The Lord of the Rings

              I have been in 7 weddings as a groomsman or best man (I regret it not being 8 as I declined once to be a best man due to travel difficulties). The last three weddings I have been in I always give the same speech. Below is a piece of it.

              In the movie The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring we follow the characters Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin as they are caught up in a journey to destroy the Ring of Power.

              Frodo is elected to take the Ring because of his relationship with Bilbo, the one who found the Ring and left it to him. Sam is found outside Frodo’s window when Gandalf is discussing with Frodo the journey and is tasked to go with him (though also with a full commitment of loyalty). The two of them run into Merry and Pippin stealing from farmer Maggots crop and are then caught up in the adventure as they are chased by the Nazgul.

              They sort of get caught up in this adventure by circumstance. JRR Tolkien tells a different story in the book. Frodo leaves the Shire with the ring under the guise of looking for Bilbo. Merry, Sam, and Pippin all choose to go. They all encounter the Nazgul together and find themselves at Brandyhall. Here Frodo had made up his mind to leave them and was figuring out how to tell them.

              Frodo is shocked to find they have ponies ready, everything packed and all are determined to go with. They knew he was leaving on some long journey. He is shocked again when they can tell him details of his journey about the ring he had kept hidden. His friends commend him that he had been careful. But they, being his close friends were with him and new him so well they saw all the little changes and hints that let them put it all together.

              Finally Merry speaks for all of them,

“It all depends on what you want,’ put in Merry. “You can trust us to stick to you through thick and thin – to the bitter end. And you can trust us to keep any secret of yours – closer than you can keep it yourself. But you cannot trust us to let you face trouble alone, and go off without a word. We are your friends, Frodo”

              The theme of friendship continues through the rest of the series. When I give a speech at weddings I add in bits bout a fellowship and “I can’t carry your burden but we can carry you” and so on and so forth with emotional things and strong analogies.

              But here we see a picture of friendship that we do not see very often anymore. Friends choose to give up their lives, their rest and good comfort, to help someone else in their specific journey. They knowingly face danger to help one carry a burden or finish a task. When I read the LOTR I don’t desire to be a Frodo, or Gandalf, or Aragorn – I wish to be a Merry, a Pippin, or a Sam.

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Key Issues and Direction of Future Posts

              Social media and the news pulls us in all directions. There seems to be an endless number of issues and it is a full time job just keeping up with issues without time spent changing them. I have several friends overwhelmed in complete distress over what to focus on. I always remind them the news is not to be our guideline for the issues we choose to respond to. Though it can give a pulse on what is going in the world they can easily take a statistical anomaly and make it appear to be a daily issue.

This distracts the Christian from responding to what they should. The Christian is called to take care of, those directly around them. The people they can directly impact. “give a cup of cold water to a little one” I attempt as often as possible to make my postings relevant to conversations I am having with those I am interacting with daily.

              I see five major issues affecting the church at large and my friends that I directly impact. Though I only wish to speak to four of these. They are “Calling and the will of God”, friendship, sexuality, dating, and social justice. Admittedly dating can be categorized under friendship, however, due to how much damage that it causes behind the curtain I believe it deserves its own section. The issue of social justice and political involvement is one I have an interest in but am behind on current trends and have not place to speak on it.

              Every young person, and by that I mean under 40, that I have talked to has struggled with understanding what they should do with their lives as well as how their lives are to impact the kingdom of God. When we understand the calling of God as it relates to every part of our life from how we dress, to food choices etc. it creates freedom, not stress, in serving Him.

              Social media primarily has affected friendships. Both in how it can undermine true community and how it encourages poor character such as petty-ness. I believe, outside of Christ himself, building solid friendship is the root solution to all other issues. Friendship supports all aspects of our life, calling, sexuality, dating, and our involvement in social justice.

              Sexuality has run rampant in culture and the church seems to still be undecided on how to respond. They oscillate between ‘sexuality as a single person’ and a near monastic lifestyle that encourages no thoughts of sex to complete freedom in marriage. Neither of these extremes are beneficial.

              Finally, I only know a handful of people undamaged by terrible dating choices. The amount of time lost to nights sobbing, stressing, playing games, or just wandering through romantic feelings lost is astounding. I wonder how much more we could do for the kingdom if we just fixed how we find a spouse.

              This is a brief summary of the issues I will be writing on over the next several months. What specific sub topics would you like to hear more about?

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Compassion for Strangers

I was on my way to work from a coffee shop for the sole reason that I enjoy talking to strangers. On the way I observed a young man in a very disheveled appearance having a fit; flailing his arms, talking and yelling to himself. He continues this for about fifteen feet, spins in three circles, and falls down flat on grass. His arm or leg occasionally twitches and flails.

               I felt like I was looking into a mirror of my soul. I sympathize with the struggle he must have with his own mind. I don’t know if he is aware of a fight in his soul, whether he is friends or enemies with voices in his head or even voices from strangers around him.

I wonder if the strangers in my head would get along with the strangers in his. I may never know because unfortunately I drove past him without stopping. Perhaps by God’s grace I will see him on my return and we can have a conversation. Maybe it will be the two of us, maybe it will be four or five of us.

Most of my adult life I have struggled with depression. I am convinced that all forms of suffering trivial or severe serve to make us more like Christ. I have been trying to figure out for years how depression is making me more like Christ. Despite many conversations with friends I never could figure out a satisfying answer.

               I recently woke up in the middle of the night in a great deal of angst over something that in a few years will seem trivial. I couldn’t fall back asleep, gave up, and went about my day on two hours of sleep. This morning I felt a sudden onset of guilt and regret over past choices with enough emotional force to make my chest hurt.

              It is a struggle. I am aware that my emotions are out of line. I am routinely fighting with myself. I wonder if this man intensely feels this struggle. Does he feel as though he has demons and wants freedom? I wish I knew how to help. I realized that even if I had stopped I would not have had the slightest clue as how to be helpful.

(As a side note, according to Jesus we are not to worry about what we will say when taken in front of courts and kings and queens for the Holy Spirit will guide us. I assert that he will do the same for us when speaking to his lost children. I should have stopped).

              I enjoy talking to strangers. But I find that those who are most strange are not strangers. When asked who is our neighbor, Christ responds with a story about a person who chose to be a neighbor to a stranger. Now here This young man taught me something important about my struggle; compassion. How can he be anything but a neighbor to care for?