A Christmas Story …

Categories:Ken Jones Coaching

Once, not so long ago for God I suppose, he did a very strange thing.

On an ordinary day, the Lord, the Son of God, prepared to take his leave of heaven. I cannot say what the weather was like the day he left, but it must have been still; still as an infant’s yawn.

“What are you doing?” they must have asked him. Those heavenly hosts who tended him day and night had never seen such a strange and witless thing from their all-knowing God. For as they watched, he disrobed. In front of them — shameless as a naked baby — he,

the living God of all creation, stood poised and prepared for immortal manhood. Such a foreign thought: The Supreme Confident, now approachable, and naked, and alone.

“Where are you going?” They must have asked him. Leave? Now? This royal Prince? Dressed like that? The shame of it all. Could he not see the shame of exposing himself to gaping eyes?

“Let us dress you, Sovereign,” they implored. “Won’t you take a cloak or robe?”

“No,” said the Lord of All. “I’ll have no need of a robe. Swaddling clothes will do nicely, thank you.”

Swaddling clothes? An old blanket torn into rags? But they did not question. Their only desire: to obey.

I do no know what their curious minds supposed. But I can imagine. And I imagine they asked an honest and innocent question.

“Where, holy Lord? Where are you going?”

And now, he answered in tones of compassion and understanding, language steeped in love.

“I am going for a climb,” said the Prince.

The angels puzzled among themselves about this unusual declaration. A climb? Where? How? How could he who is the First and Last — the Creator of every high and lofty venue —climb any higher?

The Son noticed their silent wonderings and answered them by raising his arm and pointing. The Prince of Peace stretched and reached and pointed down toward a dark and lonely place.

“There,” said the royal Prince.

“There? But Lord,” they must have said, “That is a manger. Such a small place for Infinite Light to rest. Such a rude and sorry site.” A dark place, indeed, soaked with the smell of dung and urine, an acrid stench not fit to pass his royal senses.

And then it happened. He could wait no longer.

At that moment — at that very moment in time — a barefoot Prince, the sovereign Lord of all eternity, stepped into the funk and futility of feeble men. He walked unashamedly across that cold threshold of time and space and willingly climbed into his bed of straw and servanthood.

One of the angels began a chorus. “Joy to the world, the Lord is come. Let heaven and nature sing…”

And all the angels joined in unison.

And heaven and nature sang.

And the Light of the world was born.

Hell squinted at that Unexpected Brightness. The light of that Son drove devils from their ghoulish slumber. They sheepishly peeked at this resting, naked Lamb. “Shame on you,” said the demons. “Shame! Shame on you!”

And the Lamb of God said, “Yes. Yes, I know.”

(Excerpted from “The Climb, in Spite of the Fall” by Ken Jones)

A Thought for a Sunday …

Last night, Randee and I attended a ‘reunion’ of sorts. My wife and I returned to Valley Christian Center in Dublin, California for the 5oth anniversary of the church. We served on staff there for more than eleven years of our ministry, and it was so good to be there for the celebration. There were several hundred people there, many of whom had left the area years ago, moving to other places for work or retirement. Now, we were returning to ‘remember.’ We shared a lovely meal, and warm and friendly conversation with old friends. I use the term ‘old’ in a literal sense, really. You see, it’s been more than twenty years since we were a part of that congregation and its ministry. In other words, we’ve been gone twice as long as we were there. Wow! Where did those years go? I don’t mean the eleven years we were there. Where did the ensuing years — the years since we left in 1993 — go? As I renewed my friendship with folks I hadn’t seen in more than twenty years, there was no question that time had marched on for all of us. We all looked ‘older.’

It was obvious that the toll life takes on all of us was at work in the lives of those who came to that gathering last night. Some of us wore hearing aids we didn’t have to wear twenty years ago. Some folks used canes, walkers, and even a couple of wheel chairs were evident. Many of my friends had lost a considerable amount of hair since I saw them last. I didn’t mention that to any of them, though, and they were kind enough not to bring up my balding head, either.

Close friends weren’t the only folks I saw last night. I also saw lots of people I recognized, but didn’t ‘realize,’ (as my dad used to say.) I recognized their face, but no way under heaven could I have ever come up with their names. Their names — if I had ever known them — had long-since been expunged from my long-term memory banks. (I only have so much room in that ‘bank,’ and I have chosen not to clutter it up with names of people I may never see again.)

So many of the conversations I had last night with my old friends began with the same words: “Where are you, now?” The obvious intent of that question was to give the conversation a ‘starting point.’ We were all intent on catching-up with life since last we met, and a good place to start that process is always to declare ‘where we are’ at the present time. And so, over and over again last evening, I told people ‘where I was.’ I told them I lived near Redding, that I was a life coach for doctors, that I loved what I do. And, each time I told my story, I waited to hear the ‘where are you’ of their lives.

One conversation last evening — one of the last conversations I had before my wife and I left the gathering — still sort of ‘haunts’ me. It was a conversation with a guy I’ve known since 1976. A great guy. A really smart guy. He has a Ph.D. I’ll call him Bob, not his real name. Bob, like everyone there last evening, looked older than the last time I saw him. He’d been a regular part of the congregation when I was on the staff. He was still slim and trim and in great physical shape. His smile was the same smile as I remembered. And when he saw me across the room, he approached with such a warm and friendly greeting. I was so glad to see him. We exchanged the ‘where are you now?’ questions and answers, and enjoyed just conversing. He still lived in the area.

And so, I asked him a different question. It was not a question I had asked anyone else, the entire evening. I’m not even sure why I asked it. I hadn’t intended to ask him. It just sort of ‘came out.’ Since he still lived in the area, I asked him, “Where do you go to church, now?”

He looked down at the floor, rather nervously, as he answered. I listened, as my old friend hummed and stammered and flummoxed his way through a sad answer. What he essentially said was that he really wasn’t going to church anywhere. He told me about other churches in the area he had ‘tried,’ that he went to so-and-so-church for a few years, until the pastor left. And then they tried another, and another. I stood listening. I said nothing. I just looked at him, in silence, for a long while. He stopped talking, eventually, while I remained silent. The silence must have been awkward for him, as a nervous smile crossed his lips. And then he said, “Jesus still loves me.”

And I said, “Yes, He does.”

Church is later this morning at Valley Christian, for the culmination of the 50th anniversary celebration weekend.  My wife and I will be going. I hope to see my old friend who doesn’t attend anywhere on a regular basis. And I hope to talk more with him about ‘where he is, now?’ I guess, mainly, I want to remind him, and encourage him with this truth: Attending church every week isn’t just about what I “get” out of being there, but also what I “bring to the party.” The story of where I’ve been all week long is important, and when I go to church, I get to hear what’s going on in the lives of others who are fellow-strugglers. The fact that they made it through another week because “Jesus loves them” gives me the courage to buckle-up and give life another swing, too.

If you don’t go to church, find some place to worship, for heaven’s sake, for your sake, or perhaps, for the sake of one like me, who may need to hear the answer to that question: Where are you, now? If you have the courage to ask that question of someone in church on a Sunday morning … you just might be amazed at the answer.

A Word About Traditions

Categories:Ken Jones Coaching

Today is July 5, and it is now okay to eat corn on the cob and watermelon. I will explain.

When I was a kid growing up in the Midwest, we never at corn on the cob at our house until after the 4th of July, because my dad said corn before that date “wasn’t fit to eat.” There was just something about the 4th of July that ‘started things off” for us, when it came to eating corn on the cob. The same regulation applied to eating watermelon and tomatoes. No watermelon before the 4th of July. And no tomatoes, either.

Well, yesterday WAS the 4th of July, and now … I’m gonna go get myself a big slice of red, juicy watermelon. I’m gonna get a watermelon with big, black seeds in it, too, (if I can find one with seeds!) I intend to stand outside in the wind and spit those seeds as far as I can spit them. (I’d have a seed-spitting contest with my wife, but she don’t spit.) So, I’ll just spit seeds by myself. And later in the week, I’m gonna get some sweet corn and cook it up, too. I’ve been missing corn on the cob, and watermelon, since last Labor Day.

Labor Day is the day civil people stop eating watermelon and corn on the cob, until it’s summer again. Just letting you know, ahead of time. If you’re going to eat watermelon or corn on the cob … get it done before Labor Day. The clock is ticking.

Humility … More Than Just a Word

Categories:Ken Jones Coaching

I’ve been thinking some about ‘humility’ lately. (I don’t have it; I’m not even sure I want to “get it.” I’ll explain.)

I have a good friend whose son is going through a very difficult and challenging time. And part of that ‘challenging’ included a certain humiliation his son had to endure. Very painful experience. I tried to encourage my good friend. But I’m not sure I pulled it off. What I said, in essence was this:

We all know God gives grace to the humble. God loves the character quality of humility in the life of an individual. (The bible says of mighty Moses, who faced Pharoah and parted the Red Sea: “Now, Moses was a humble man; the humblest man on the face of the earth.” But the pathway to humility often includes ‘humiliations.’

I’m personally allergic to being humiliated. I don’t like it. I don’t want it. I avoid it. I hide from it … but it still finds me.

The  journey toward humility passes through numerous opportunities for humiliation. I hate that … but I don’t get a vote. Humiliation happens.

Thank God for grace.

Hearing Aids

Categories:Ken Jones Coaching

Well, I did it again. I ordered myself some hearing aids. I’ve worn hearing aids before. (The cat ate the last ones. We used to have a cat, but he died right after he ate my hearing aids. But I digress.)

Last week, I went through the routine of having a hearing test, and the ordeal reminded me of a post I did from a few years ago. Forgive the redundancy, if you will. A freshened look at “How I Came to Wear Hearing Aids”:

People who are close to me — I don’t mean close to me relationally, I mean, literally ‘close to me’ — know that I wear hearing aids.  I wear them because, several months ago, my wife told me, in so many words, that I needed to have my hearing checked.  It seemed to her that I wasn’t ‘hearing’ her very well.  I told her I could hear her fine; I just couldn’t understand what she was saying. And then, she said, “Yes, I know. Believe me, I know. Please get your hearing checked.” A few weeks after that, I did get my hearing tested, and — go figure — the doc said I needed hearing aids. People who get close to me, and look closely at the side of my head will see the tiny wire thingies coming out of both ears.

     On the day of the test, the doctor took his place in a control room, while he had me sit in an adjacent sound proof room about the size of a phone booth,. Tiny, it was. The doctor’s assistant squeezed in behind me as I sat in the chair and she placed a pair of earphones over my ears.  They felt like ear muffs. Tight, and totally covering my ears. (People who are close to me know that if a headset totally covers my ears, the muffs will need to be the size of a pair of pie plates. I got big ears.)

     After the assistant left the room, I heard the doctor say, (in the headset, of course,) “Okay.  Are you comfortable?”

     I thought it was very nice of him to ask, and I said, “Yes, I’m quite comfortable, thank you.”

     “Good,” he said. “I’m going to play some tones in your ears.  Sometimes, you’ll hear tones in one ear or the other, sometimes, in both ears. But when you hear a tone, push the red button on the table in front of you.” For the next several minutes, I sat listening intently, and pushing that little red button every time I heard a tone. Sometimes, the tones were clear as a bell.  Loud. Easy to identify.  But some of those tones were softer than the tick of a watch. I had to strain to hear them. After two or three dozen pushes on the button, the doctor spoke again.

     “That’s great.  Now, I’m going to give you a series of pairs of words. I’ll say words like, ‘Snooze’ and ‘Lose’ and I want you to repeat them for me.” I said, “Okay,” and then the contest started.  At first, it was so easy.  He’d say, “Beat, heat,” and like the obedient patient I was, I’d say, “Beat, heat.”  It was so easy, I hardly saw it as a test (or maybe heard it as a test.) But, (as tests often do,) things got more interesting as the pairs of words kept coming.

     I mean, when he said, “Rib:fib,” I know I said it back to him perfectly.  But sometimes, he just wouldn’t ‘speak up,’ if you know what I mean. He’d say, “Check,” and then another word. It was either ‘speck’ or ‘heck.’ Heck, man, I couldn’t distinguish which word he was saying. I asked him to repeat himself, and he said, ‘No, I can’t do that.’ And I said, “Well, could you just speak up a little bit,” and he said, “No, I can’t do that, either.”

     And so, I’d guess.

     I mean, when he said, “Bill, shrill” — or, “Bill, thrill” or “Bill, mill,” I couldn’t exactly tell — I’d just take a stab at it. But somehow, I knew.  Deep in my heart.  Deep in the recesses of my inner ear, I knew I was flunking that hearing test.

     After I finished my lonely ordeal, I sat with the doctor in his office, (which was a lot roomier than the hearing test booth) and listened to him tell me about the results. I could understand him perfectly.  He talked in a raised voice, as if he were talking to someone half deaf.  “The results of your test are pretty conclusive. You’ve lost a considerable amount of hearing; you have a fifty-percent loss of hearing in both ears.” Alas, the reason he raised his voice as if I were about half deaf was that, well, I am about half deaf.

     And that’s how I came to wear hearing aids.

     Now, when my wife speaks, I can ‘hear’ every word she says. That still doesn’t mean, of course, that I ‘get’ every word.  Sometimes, my batteries need to be changed in my hearing aids.  And sometimes, sometimes I positively know she’s saying something. It’s just that I still can’t tell for certain whether she’s asking me how I like her new ‘dress,’ or asking me, ‘Who made this ‘mess?’  The other day, I could have sworn I heard her say, ‘Look at that hawk.’ Turns out, upon further clarification, that what she really said was, “We need to talk.”

     I guess I’m glad I have wear hearing aids.  God knows I need them.  (My wife knows I need them, too; she’s known I needed them for years, but she was too sweet to say anything. At least, I don’t think she was saying anything.) I have come to appreciate the fact that in my married life (and in my spiritual life, too) the fact that I am aware I am being spoken to doesn’t necessarily mean I have a clue what’s actually being said.

     Sometimes, I could swear I hear my wife asking me, “Are you comfortable?” And then, I say, “Yes, thank you. I’m very comfortable.

     And she says, “What did you think I said?” and when I tell her, she says, “That’s nothing like what I said. It doesn’t even rhyme! What I said was that I could use your help with the dishes.”

     But that’s not the worst of it.  Sometimes, it seems like I can hear the voice of God — quiet, still, small — almost in a whisper, saying, “Are you comfortable?” And I say, “Yes. I’m very comfortable, thank you.”

     And then, God says something after that. But all too often, … I’m not exactly sure what he’s saying. I wish they had a hearing aid for that.

Life on the Front Porch

Much has been written about Southern writers, and their predisposition for storytelling based on their experiences on a front porch. Although I grew up in the St. Louis area, which is hardly a capital of the Southern way of life, just two-hundred miles or so south and west of St. Louis, in the heart of the Ozark Mountains, Southern thinking and world views are common. And … those Ozark mountains are where most of my family of origin has its roots. Some of my fondest childhood memories consist of sitting on some front porch — either one of my aunts/uncles front porches, or one of my grandparents, or even our own front porch — and listening to adults, relatives of mine who all seemed to be experts at telling stories. They’d talk of funny things people had said, or tragedies some acquaintance of ours had encountered. Sometimes, they talked about huntin’ dogs. (The word ‘hunting‘ is an English word and involves riding horses; no Southerner ever talks of ‘hunting.’ If you ain’t ‘huntin’, well, then, you must be ‘fishin.’) Sometimes, the talk was of politics, or religion. But usually, it was about life, and how ‘funny’ it can be. Telling stories was at the very core of almost every conversation. And the front porch was the platform from which those conversations were launched.

Only a thought, today, as life marches right on past Easter Sunday and into whatever is left of your life and mine: Don’t forget to find a porch or platform from which to tell your stories. For heaven’s sake, sit a spell. Reflect. Remember your stories. And then, tell them to your family, your friends. Pay attention to what’s going on around you, because as your story unfolds, … it needs to be told.

Just sayin’ …

As We Approach Good Friday …

Categories:Ken Jones Coaching
A poem I wrote, for your meditation and consideration:
 
A WORD ABOUT GOOD FRIDAY
 
In the beginning, He said, ‘Light,” and the light came on.
Just like that.
Simple, for God.
His face must have lit up as it dawned on Him.
Light.
And all of heaven must of noticed.
And God surely must have smiled, as he said “Good.”
Day after day, God created.
Stuff like the sky, the birds, the fish. Even a man.
Carefully, he sculpted and fashioned and touched the days.
And at the end of every day he created, he looked back at his work,
And he surely must have smiled, as he said, (right out loud so anyone could hear,)
“Good. This is good.”

 

No, there’s not a thing wrong with calling a day “good.” God’s done it, lots of times.
But Good Friday? I wonder?
There’s not a lot of good things to be said about Good Friday.
Not a good walk up Calvary.
Not a good joke, as soldiers laughed.
Not a good crowd, as mockers passed.
Just the naked shame.
And a mocking name: This is Jesus, king of the Jews.
A dim and dark light.
A sad, redemptive sight.
And God?
God seemed to be at a total loss for words.
No pronouncement.
No announcement.
No, ‘Let there be light,” on that day;
For, the Light, was about to die out.
Who knew?
All heaven wept.
All hell broke loose, cheering.
Even the light, which had been around since “In the beginning …” couldn’t bear to watch.
Noon, and a darkness black as any ink or sin.
The light must have seen that this scene was not ‘good.’
For three hours, light hid itself, while heaven waited.
And then, He  asked that final, haunting question.
The battered, bleeding one yelled,
“My God, my God, Why …?”
And He gave up his life,
And The Light died out.
And God said nothing at all, as thunder spoke up.
Good God.
Good Friday.
Good?
No, not good.
Perfect.

Inspecting Life’s Warehouse

Categories:Ken Jones Coaching

I’ve been meditating on the following words of late.  Read them, and see what you think.  A quote from theologian Karl Rahner:

“Many years ago, when I was a schoolboy distinguished by the name of ‘philosopher,’ I learned that the soul is somehow everything.  O God, how the meaning of that lofty-sounding phrase has changed!  How different it sounds to me now, when my soul has become a huge warehouse where day after day the trucks unload their crates without any plan or discrimination, to be piled helter-skelter in every available corner and cranny, until it is crammed full from top to bottom with the trite, the commonplace, the insignificant, the routine.

What will come of me, dear God, if my life goes on like this?  What will happen to me when all the crates are suddenly swept out of the warehouse?  How will I feel at the hour of my death?  Then there will be no more ‘daily routine.’  Then I shall suddenly be abandoned by all the things that now fill up my days here on earth.”

Did you get that? “What will come of me, dear God, if my life goes on like this?”  That’s a great question for all of us to ask, I think.  What changes do I need to affect in my life?  What great things do I need to keep the same?  What people do I need to spend more time with?  What relationships do I have that aren’t doing me any good at all?  If my soul is like that “huge warehouse” Rahner mentions, I wonder who’s driving the trucks that unload their crates, and what’s in all those boxes?  Trite?  Commonplace?  Insignificant?  Routine?

During these days in preparation for Palm Sunday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday, I want to think about my answer to the question Rahner asks God. I want to ask God the same question about my life. Leading a distilled life — one that is intentional and focused — is something I greatly desire. But for that to happen, I must be, well, ‘distilled and focused.’ Time for thinking. Time to examine. Time to take stock. Time.

How about you? What’s in the ‘crates, piled helter-skelter’ in your life?

 

The New Pope

As I write these words, Cardinals from all around the world have gathered in Rome to choose the next Pope. The newscasts are full of reports; everyone seems to be focused on the famous ‘chimney’ and the color of the smoke. I’m not Catholic, but I have many wonderful Catholic friends. I know that many of them are intensely interested in the news coming out of Rome, and who the next Pope will be.

My reason in writing today isn’t centered around my interest in who the next Pontiff will be, but rather, what I heard a news moderator say yesterday about the ‘kind’ of person they are looking for to be the next Pope. While looking into the camera, one ‘expert Vatican-watcher’ responded, when asked about what the Catholic Church needs in a leader:

“Well, first they need someone who is holy. I mean, if the Pope is going to teach and encourage people to be holy, he needs to be holy, himself. And, he needs to be a theologian who can address the many theological challenges the church will face. He also needs to be a great communicator of the Gospel, too. He’ll be speaking to masses of people in so many different cultures and settings. And he needs to make the Gospel so simple a six-year-old child can understand it. And of course, he will need to have a tremendous understanding of the ‘business’ side of the church, the incredible wealth and finance that has to be managed. In a word, what I think the Cardinals are trying to find in a Pope is Jesus Christ … with an MBA.”

Those words have been resonating around in my head since I heard them: Jesus Christ with an MBA?

At the very core of my spiritual self, there’s something discordant about that phrase. Jesus didn’t have an MBA. I’d hate to think ANY church, Catholic or otherwise, has come to the place that even Jesus would be disqualified as leader, because he just didn’t understand the ‘business’ of the church he died for.

Easter is coming. Don’t forget that.

Reading Habits

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I get the morning paper on my iPad. I used to think it would bother me to read the paper on some kind of electronic device, but it turns out that it doesn’t bother me a bit. I rather like touching a button and having the local news downloaded to my reader. It’s free. And in color. And, I spend about fifteen or twenty minutes most mornings just checking what’s up in my local community. The ‘daily’ paper is a daily thing.

My normal routine is to read the front page, take a look at the sports scores, a few of my favorite comics (Peanuts, and especially Snoopy the author, are my fav’s) and then, oddly enough, I usually read the obituaries. One of the things I’ve noticed in my casual reading of the daily paper is that the athletes in the sports stories are a lot younger than me, even younger than my kids. And the people I read about in the obituaries— more and more —are my age. I have come to the somewhat disturbing conclusion, in reading the paper, that I’m old enough to die, now. More and more people my age are dying all the time.

I haven’t always felt that way. In fact, for the longest time, I’m afraid I acted as if I had ‘my whole life’ in front of me. Now? Now, if I’m really honest, I know that most of my ‘life’ is behind me. Some of the great things I was going to do in my life, I should have already done, because almost surely, I don’t have enough time to finish what I would like to have accomplished.

I know. Some people would say, “Oh, you’re only as old as you feel.” Is that suppose to be encouragement? Some days, I feel older than the Grand Canyon. Not always. But some days.

The reality is that I don’t have my whole life ahead of me. I only have what’s left of my life ahead of me. One of these days, people I don’t even know will open their morning papers, or touch a button on their iPads, and read of my life … and my death. They won’t read about it today, though, not in today’s paper. I’ve already read the paper this morning, and I wasn’t mentioned in the obituaries. Several people my age were mentioned, but for now, I’m still here. I don’t have my whole life ahead of me. I only have what’s left of my life in front of me.

Looking back is a waste of time. And wondering if I’ll be in tomorrow’s paper before it gets here is a waste of energy. I will choose to live my life for ‘now.’ Today. This moment. I’ll let tomorrow’s paper record the news of the day, news that may or may not include some mention of me. My plan for now is to invest in ‘now,’ the present, this moment God has given me for living. I happen to believe that that kind of investment … will pay eternal dividends.

How about you?