It’s All Right to be Little Bitty

Fame.

In 2019’s social-media driven world, it’s all about being famous.

Today’s American culture considers entertainers, sports stars and “influencers” as the only people who are really important. That’s why the simple, plaintive words of the old country song “It’s All Right to be Little Bitty” speak so loudly to me, because they stand in such stark contrast. How appropriate that these words were written by Tom T. Hall, a man known in country music circles as “The Storyteller,” for they tell a story that everyone should hear, and take to heart.

It’s all right to be little bitty,

From a little hometown or a big ol’ city.

Might as well share, Might as well smile,

Life goes on for a little bitty while.

Tom T. Hall, 1996

This is not a condemnation of all social media. After all, I’m using social media to get this message out, and make others aware of it. But my heart, and I believe God’s heart, grieves the negative influence social media has when it leads readers to compare their lives with the non-reality often presented there. I’m not immune to this, either.

More than ever, it’s important for believers to “take their thoughts captive” in order to not fall prey to the “comparison flu.” And while they’re not scriptural, the lyrics of this song, at least for me, redirect my thinking away from what I don’t have, and who I’m not, to what is real, and what is true.

What is “little bitty?”

No one’s life is “small.” There’s at least one person out there, and more likely many people, to whom each person alive is a “big deal.” Are kids are a big deal to their parents? Uh, yeah. And even though many teenagers will deny it, parents aren’t “little bitty” to their kids, either. Wait until you lose one, like I did this last October.

To use an example from the work world, think about the people who live on a garbage collector’s route. To them, that garbage collector is a very big deal.

For each of us, there is only the territory – the family, work, and other relationships – given to you or to me by God. Whether God chooses to expand your or my territory, as prayed by Jabez in 1 Chronicles 4:9-10, is strictly God’s decision. And yes, God definitely cares how well each of us cares for the territory he’s given to us, both relationally and in our work.

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive an inherticance as your reward.  – Colossians 3:23-24 (ESV)

I bet Martin Luther King Jr. had this verse in mind when he said these words:

If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michaelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.’

What is success?

To a world that doesn’t understand God, “success” equates to income, power and position. But does God see success that way? When answering this question, I’m reminded of the scene in Steven Spielberg’s great animated movie, “Prince of Egypt,” when after rescuing Jethro’s daughters from bandits at a desert well, Moses objects to Jethro throwing a feast for him because “I’ve done nothing worthy of honor.” In response, Jethro wisely says, “It seems you do not know what is worthy of honor.”

Perhaps 21st century America doesn’t know what really defines success.

Honoring your promises to the spouse of your youth. Knowing your kids, being known by them, and being the kind of parent they should follow. Not taking the easy way out, like drugs, alcohol, and divorce, when things get tough. Taking care of your parents when they’re older and unable to take care of themselves.

Those aren’t my definitions of success.  They’re in the Bible. Check ‘em out. In fact, Colossians 3 in the New Testament (the entire chapter) is a great place to start.

Called to be “little bitty”

But most importantly, John the Baptist, as he talked about Jesus Christ, set the ultimate standard for success on earth.

            He must increase, but I must decrease. – John 3:30

So to “decrease,” do I need to disappear? To withdraw from life, to cease to exist? Not unless God calls me home, because otherwise the people God gave me to reach won’t hear about Him.

For me to decrease in my own life, Jesus Christ must increase.

He must increase in my thoughts, in my speech, in my deeds. He must increase in my dependence on Him. And my love for Him must increase.

When those things happen, the focus on myself naturally decreases, and the power of my witness for Him will increase.

No, I won’t go away. But I will become “little bitty.”

Because what I want others to see when they see me…is Him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Peace

So this is how the big city folks do it.

I’m on a train from Kansas City to Chicago. Right now, I’m in a quiet coach car. Everyone is either reading, sleeping, or in the observation or dining cars, and I now have time, in the morning when I’m fresh, to do some writing.  I think it was Scott Turow, or maybe J.K. Rowling, who said they wrote entire novels while commuting to and from work on the train. Now I get it, how someone could do that.

Can’t do much writing driving home on the interstate.  And once in the office or at home, the work begins.

Writing on a train was, and maybe still is, a daily experience for Scott and J.K. It’s a brand-new, first-time thing for me.

But the northern Missouri scenery is beautiful, the ride smooth, and the peacefulness of the traincar welcome.

As I get older, I find that peace is the one thing I yearn for the most.  No, not “world peace.” Athletes change their names for it (remember “Metta World Peace” in the NBA?), and it’s a cliché answer for beauty pageant contestants (“If you’re chosen Miss Universe, what’s your platform?”), but it means something different for everyone.  As long as that’s the case, “world peace” won’t happen.

The peace I crave is an inner calm.

Life will disrupt your peace. Money gets tight, friends and family become ill and die, divorce happens, jobs are lost. Those are facts, and can’t be avoided. So what then? Those of us who have lived long enough can attest to times in our lives when the old saying that “God will never give you more than you can handle” just doesn’t ring true.

So before I criticize that old saying for not being Biblical, let me step back. It may not be a quote from the Bible, but it’s really only incomplete.

God didn’t intend for us to face all of our struggles alone. What is impossible for man is possible with God.  Paul put it differently: “I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.” (Romans 8:28)

So maybe the old saying should be changed to read like this:  God never gives you something you can’t handle, because with God, you can handle anything. It changes that peace-taker in your life into a peace-maker, as you realize who has control over everything, and that any circumstance is no match for his mighty power.

So rest on God’s ability to handle whatever is robbing you of peace.  If you can’t find any peace of your own, take his, through his son Jesus Christ.  It’s a gift, free for the asking.

I’ve always been intrigued by Jesus’ greeting to his disciples: “Peace I bring to you; my peace I leave with you.”

Now I get it.

The Day After Christmas

Twas the day after Christmas

And all through my brain

I can’t help but wonder

What happened yesterday?


Perhaps it’s the excess

Of food in my belly

That’s turned all my thoughts

Into bowls full of jelly.


Or maybe the fact

That just a moment ago

The floor was covered with presents –

Where did they all go?


 But my biggest concern –

Did Christ receive glory?

Was His father pleased?

Did we remember His story?


 And now, a day later

Are we different than before?

Do we praise ourselves less?

Do we love others more?


 So, my prayer for all of us

This late Christmas season –

We’ll use His birth as a springboard

His life as the reason


To take Him to the world

Like the drummer boy drumming

Be the light we’re called to be —

 ‘Cause it’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming.


Perspective, Promise and Presence

There are just two things I want to know when I start hiking a trail.

Where does it go?

And how hard will it be?

For me, the trail is a metaphor for life. For the passage of time. For choices made and not made.

I’m also fascinated by the fact that inverting just two letters in the word “trail” creates a word that is completely different and yet so closely related.

You see, it’s always during the times of trial in my life that the trail of my life is the most obscure. You know, those times when life throws a curve. In my case, it was the birth of a son with Down syndrome. Then, the loss of a career job. And later, a traumatic brain injury to my youngest daughter. For others, it’s a catastrophic illness, or the disintegration of a family.

Perspective

The Bible teaches that God’s perspective on trials is 180 degrees from the world’s view.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. — James 1:2-4

How can James possibly expect us to rejoice in our trials? During times of trial, even the next single step is uncertain.

Promise

I’ve always loved the quote from Michelango when he said, as he was staring at a plain rectangular block of marble:

The sculpture is already complete within the marble block, before I start my work. It is already there, I just have to chisel away the superfluous material.

The same is true for each life’s trail, when faced with the apparently impassable jungle of a trial. The trail is already there; it’s been there since the beginning of time. No, it isn’t marked, at least not that you can see; but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been set out for you by God.

Presence

It’s during the times of trial that God allows us to participate in finding the trail where none appears to exist.  So even though you don’t have a paper map, and the GPS on your phone doesn’t have what it takes, lean on and lean into God. He, through his Word, is your map.

I gain understanding from your precepts; therefore I hate every wrong path. Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path. – Psalm 119:104-105

No Secret Passages

The world of secret passages conjures up for me visions of medieval castles, old Frankenstein movies, and trying to win Clue games against my wife (and losing…everytime…). By the way, I’m grateful to Mel Brooks for removing the scariness from Frankenstein movies, and providing an endless supply on one-liners in his classic 1970s movie Young Frankenstein. Am I the only person who couldn’t watch Everybody Loves Raymond on TV and not see Dr. Fronk-n-steen’s monster? (Rest in peace, Peter Boyle.) Any coincidence that the name of Peter Boyle’s character was Frank? I think not.

What brought secret passages to mind for me in sunny and warm May 2016 is….weddings. And graduations. Yes, it’s that season again, with days filled with grad parties, wedding showers, and the actual ceremonies themselves, often on the same day. Both stressful and expensive. What a combination.

Like birthdays and anniversaries, these celebrations can lead some to experience pain and heartbreak. So much so that they might even choose to skip them to avoid the pain.

It’s important to remember that celebrating any significant milestone in life — a passage from one chapter of life into the next — serves an important spiritual function. One of my personal heroes, King David, reminded us to number our days, so that we might gain a heart of wisdom. Memorializing life’s passages serves as a reminder that our time on earth has an end, that the number of weddings and graduations we’ll attend is limited. And it highlights the importance of each choice we make in our lives. Choices to love, to show support, and to be there for those we care for, even if we don’t quite feel like it. And choices to live the next chapter of our own lives in line with His will, and to His glory.

Besides likely not being as glamorous as portrayed in the movies (think rats and black mold), secret passages were more often than not used for nefarious purposes. So my prayer is this: That we won’t let Satan succeed in his nefarious purpose of avoiding or even eliminating the observance of passages in our lives. Jesus blessed weddings by attending one in Cana and performing his first miracle there. Bless your loved ones by being there for every birthday party, anniversary, Thanksgiving dinner, Christmas celebration, New Years’ Eve party, and yes, every grad party, wedding shower, and graduation or wedding you can possibly attend. Even if they’re on the same day (and they probably will be).

Let’s lead lives that have no secret passages.

 

 

People-Watching

Don’t lie, you love to do this too.

Sitting in a coffee shop on a Saturday morning writing this blog post, I’m taking in everything that’s going on around me.  Couples are enjoying each other’s company.  Young families are grabbing some breakfast before their youth sports game of choice (baseball and soccer seem to be the favorites today). There’s a business meeting happening at the table beside me. Tables of 8-10 friends are meeting for whatever reason.  And then there are the guys like me plunking away on computers typing who knows what.

At 53, I’m not the oldest person here.  Still, I’ve lived long enough to be in the position of each and every person here, at least once. I’ve held several business meetings, met friends, joined in group Bible studies. I could swear I saw a younger version of myself when a young dad in a baseball cap walked by carrying his 2-year-old daughter in his arms.

This post is not just a walk down memory lane, as fun as that is.  It’s about contentment. My contentment issues have rarely been associated with material things. No, I’ve always struggled with, as Paul so aptly puts it, the “pride of life.” In other words, I’ve most often been discontent about who I am. Position, prestige, how others viewed me.

I won’t bore you with a roller-coaster account of my contentment issues.  But what people-watching in this coffee shop has shown me today is that I’ve lived a really full life, even at the young age of 53. I certainly hope to live a much longer life, but in the end, I’ve experienced just about everything that a 53-year-old man should experience.  And, thank God, I’ve not yet experienced many of the bad things that others my age have already gone through.

As with almost everything in life, contentment is a choice. So many times, I chose not to see the good that God had given me. Instead, I longed to be somebody God didn’t make me to be, or to be someone I wasn’t ready to be. Those have been the unhappiest times of my life. And, I’m sure I’ll always struggle with that.

But today, after people-watching in a coffee shop, it’s a little easier to choose contentment.

 

Overcoming What Overcomes Us

Just a few thoughts while I’m waiting to go help take care of the toddlers at church this morning.  It’s our week, but my wife was called in to work at the last minute, so it’s just me.  Great training to be a grandparent…but I hope they have some reinforcements should the natives become too restless!

We live in a society that’s prone to addiction.  Not necessarily to illegal things, just to allowing things to take roles in our lives that are larger than what is good for us.  The Apostle Peter, that brash, strong-willed leader of the disciples who followed Jesus, had a stern warning regarding this: “For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved.” (2 Peter 2:19b ESV)

Most people who are addicted deny that they have been “overcome” by an addiction. Anybody who looks at my waistline and my checkbook can see what I am addicted to.  And yet I lived for years — decades, in fact — where I believed it wasn’t that bad.  I certainly didn’t feel like I was enslaved to food (and to Diet Coke).  And yet, I was.

But as I read Peter’s warning this week in preparation for our Life Group study, I was moved by Peter’s use of the word “enslaved” (consistent across translations). That is such an emotionally loaded word, as I’m sure it was back then.  Peter’s use of that word, to me, indicates just how dire an addiction situation really is.  No one wants to be a slave to anything.  We’re willing to be a servant for something we believe in, but a slave?  So many bad connotations.

So what’s the takeaway from Peter’s thoughts?  To take a realistic look at the problem areas in our lives.  We all know what they are, and everyone has them.  And we don’t even have to ask if we are a “slave” to anything. It’s as simple as this:  Am I overcome by anything?  What would cause major disruptions in my life if I had to give it up? Do I believe enough in that thing to be a servant to it? If the answer to that last question is “no,” am I willing to make the next choice to start moving away from it?

The best news?  We don’t have to make that choice alone, or in our own power.  I’ve seen lots of articles lately asking whether following Jesus Christ is too restrictive.  They are all asking the wrong question.  The real question is this:  Where is true freedom found?  The kind of freedom that leads to health, happiness, a spirit at peace, and strong families, things that everybody wants?  It’s found in the One who came so that we could have life, and have it abundantly. Not just later. Right now.

Make that next good choice. And feel the chains begin to lift.