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Fascinating


IMG_5793bIt is really difficult for me to express empathy toward someone who is attacking me. By “attack” I mean anything from a punch in the face to the slightest criticism. As soon as I perceive a threat to my body or my ego, I go into defense mode. A barrier flies between us as I’m blinded to the other person’s feelings.

Empathy is “entering into another’s feelings.” But I don’t care about my enemy’s feelings. I care about how he or she makes me feel and that is about the extent of it. I want to care. It just isn’t natural.

But Jesus says, Love your enemies, bless those who persecute you. Even when he was being murdered by his enemies he said, Father forgive them because they don’t know what they are doing. Jesus was able to care about the other person’s perspective, enter into the other’s feelings, under the most dramatic and unlikely circumstances.

And I think I know how he did it. He was so safe, secure, and mature that His ego could not be injured. Being physically abused was an act of sacrifice of his own life, ego, and health, for the sake of the others. He didn’t react to others as if life was a form of competition. There was no “game” to be lost if he was insulted, spit upon, smacked, stripped naked, nailed to the cross. He was always able to be companion rather than competitor, even if companion meant allowing misguided zealots to kill him without a struggle.

His security rested in His Father. There was no trust deficiency. Since he wasn’t afraid for his own well-being there was always enough emotional space for him to step into the other’s feelings; to love–to care about the other’s highest good.

Jesus is serious when He tells us to love our enemies. Yet all around us it seems we understand each other less and less. What has happened to empathy, the willingness to put aside our own feelings, pride, agenda in order to pause and think for a moment about where the other person is coming from? If I am so weak that fear of being despised and rejected controls my response mechanisms, then I’ll be a reactionary participant in a world gone mad. If I can trust God the way Jesus did, then even if I die a thousand “deaths,” I’ll be raised by him a thousand and one times.

So, what will I do tomorrow if I perceive that someone stabs me in the back at work? Go into competitive mode, get him before he gets me? O, this isn’t easy is it? We might look wimpy, weak, passive. Surely Jesus didn’t mean for his teaching to penetrate the workplace, did he? When will I trust God enough to drop the shield and become vulnerable, stepping out of this rhythmic evil, in order to live the seemingly upside down life Jesus calls us to? Where I am and where I want to be are worlds apart. Jesus fascinates me.
Ben Overby

Fact and Fiction


While driving yesterday I noticed a motorcycle policeman in my rear view mirror. No big deal. I made a turn and it appeared he was headed straight. Then he was in my mirror again. Still, nothing to worry about. He pulled along side me in the turning lane. I went straight. You guessed it; he was behind me again. I approached a traffic light, had to stop, he pulled next to me. I tried to ignore him. Didn’t want to look suspicious even though I had obeyed all the laws, turn signals, tags in order, etc. My seat belt was buckled. Maybe I had a tail light out. I did have an ear bud in each ear. Perhaps that was against the law. Now I was nervous. He was motioning at me to let down my window.

  What was your unit in the division? he yelled over the sound of our engines. He must have noticed the puzzled look on my face. The division, he yelled again. Then I remembered the plate on the front of my car–82nd Airborne.

I told him I had been assigned to the 325th. The light turned green, he turned left, I turned right while he yelled, “I did three years in the 325th too.” We gave each other thumbs up and went our different directions.
Our environment is filled with energy–images, movement, the color of a traffic light; and information in the form of symbols such as a police uniform or an upturned thumb.
That energy enters our bodies via our senses and then we make “sense” out of it. Often our interpretation of the environment is wrong. And in terms of mental illness, the greater the constant gap between reality and a misguided interpretation, the more complicated the illness. People grow anxious about an imagined future or worry about a policeman in the mirror even when his intention is to make small talk.
A healthy practice to help maintain balance and mental health is to constantly question whether your thoughts are fact or fiction. Do I know that policeman is going to give me a ticket for something or is that fiction? Is the traffic light really red or is it my imagination? Sometimes our answers are reality based, but it amazes me how often my interpretations, thoughts, and emotions are tied to a fiction–a perception I can’t possibly know is true but I accept as probable or true.
“You are going to fail if you try that. You are fat. You’re a loser, not smart as the others, not good enough.”
Don’t we all send ourselves those messages at times. Is the self-talk real or fictional. If I question my external and internal environment and find that the negative message is not factual but fictional then I can navigate the world with a lot less low self-esteem, worry, anxiety, failure, fear, and confusion.
Simple question: Is it fact or fiction? Ask it often. It’s better to live in the real world.
Ben Overby

David…Incredible


I’ve reread 1st and 2nd Samuel lately. Until recently I haven’t thought deeply about David. Yes, I’ve considered the big stuff–killed Goliath, anointed king, hunted by Saul, cover up of his sexual immorality by having lover’s spouse killed, son tried to kill him.

He told his share of lies, could be deceitful (pretended to be a madman, allowing slobber to drip down his beard), murder seems to be all around him in the form of revenge killings.  And he even became furious with God for killing  Uzzah.

A troubled life to say the least, and a flawed human trudging from day to day. With that in view I just can’t fathom how he felt when he was banished and left to fight as part of the enemy (Philistines) yet rejected even by them when they prepared to fight Israel. Despondent, he and his band of warriors traveled back to their village only to find it destroyed and all wives kidnapped. The men wept. Their sorrow quickly turned to rage and they aimed it at David. “And David was greatly distressed, for the people spoke of stoning him, because all the people were bitter in soul, each for his sons and daughters.”

I don’t know if I could have gone any further with God at that point. David’s life, up to that point, had been a relative nightmare, leaving him in periods of despair and depression as evident throughout his Psalms.

This is the end, right? This is the breaking point. No one, no imperfect, rejected, dejected person could be blamed if unwilling to take another step forward. I hear Job’s wife–Curse God and die. Why not?

This is a darkness I can’t fathom. How does a person lift out of the pit, climb from such epic depths? Is it humanly possible? Is it?

Ben Overby

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Joy and Agony


In a little while we will gather at our churches and sing in “Christmas” Day in celebration of Jesus’ birthday. This is a wonderful time of the year. And a terrible time of the year. It is wonderful to have health and wealth in a free society. We are blessed. But right in the middle of all the neighborhoods with Christmas trees glaring, sparkling lights hanging from roof tops, there are lonely people, crushed by the death of a loved one, sickness, memories that seem to run just in front of us–almost real but out of focus, untouchable. Our heart aches because pieces of us die when people we love die. It’s Christmas and I get that, and I don’t want to be a downer. I do want to acknowledge the reality however. This world is split between joy and agony. And those in agony don’t get a break just because we share a holiday.

I visited a mental hospital today to wish a merry Christmas to some of the patients I work with. As I entered one unit, an older man, rushed up to me. “When do I get to go home. They told me I could go home for Christmas.” Understanding him was difficult but he left no doubt that where he intended to be, with the excitement of a child, was home somewhere. Most people in that hospital have no family who remember them, visit them, contact them in any way, so I was a little suspicious of what he was asking.”When is the 24th?,” he said. I said Today is the 24th. He stood in front of me for what felt like hours, motionless, quiet. Then there was a barely audible groan, his eyes filled with tears, he walked away, sat on a chair, looked straight ahead, and didn’t move for as long as I was in the unit.

I’ve come to know these patients, know their illnesses, their hearts, something about their daily lives. I have come to understand their loneliness which comes not from the sterility of a mental hospital. It’s is loneliness that comes from isolation, the coldness of having no one–NO ONE–to love them. I thank God Jesus grew to be the prototypical human, touching the untouchable, loving the unlovable. As we grow from babies to kings and queens in the Kingdom of God, can we reach out a hand, a word, a heart?

May your Christmas be warm and filled with love. To my friends who are alone, and those all over the world less fortunate, may God shine His warm light into your life so that you can know the most elaborate love that can be imagined. Your tears will not last forever. The world is full of joy and agony. Jesus stood in the gap between the two. He’s passed the baton to us. Merry Christmas!

Ben Overby

Unexpected Forgiveness


Incredible. Jesus had recently been deserted by his disciples. They all ran away in the dark of night when it was apparent Jesus wasn’t going to defend himself with the sword.

He was brought before the high priest to be accused. There was a problem with the kangaroo court in that they couldn’t find witnesses who could lie well enough to actually convict Jesus.

Finally someone accused him of proclaiming that if the temple was destroyed he could rebuild it in three days. The priest grew impatient and asked, Are you the Messiah? Jesus said yes, was proclaimed guilty of blasphemy, and suffered the indignity of having people punch and spit in his face.

The case went to a higher court–Pilot, who finally washed his hands of the matter while the crowd screamed Crucify him!

Jesus was being murdered even though he was innocent of the charge. Murdered.

Two statements throughout history that are too above me, too power-filled, too completely unexpected… . The first one is the statement, Let there be light. Bam, the universe which did not exist suddenly existed. The second, Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing.

The thugs overseeing the execution of the Son of God were guilty because they should have known what they were doing. They had no excuse. Miracles had been performed. The law was being fulfilled. The fact is they needed forgiveness not because they were ignorant but because they were purposefully ignorant.

Jesus is saying, Forgive them, they should have known better. It is really hard for me to understand the love that goes into a forgiving spirit when wronged by people who have chosen not to “know better,” blinded by their quest for revenge, or power, or simple greed. But it is part of life. Forgiveness is tied to relationship with God in two ways. Our life depends on God’s forgiveness. Our life depends on our willingness to forgive others.

Most times I think it would be easier for me to create the universe out of nothing than to forgive those who hurt me or my family and who should know better. What if you had a spouse killed by a drunk driver, a son racially profiled and slaughtered by cops, your reputation ruined by someone malicious, your bank account wiped out by a scheming “investor?”

Nothing is more true than the need to look at Jesus closely, as if peering into a mirror so that his image can transform. I try to imagine the spit, the punches, the beating, the thorns, the nails, the false accusations, the creepy sound of lying witnesses, the betrayal by a Judas, the desertion by his closest friends when he needed them most, the target of malice and murder.

People should know better. All of us–I’m no exception. We should know better. We should know Jesus better so that, in his image, when we are victims we to can break the cycle not returning and eye for an eye, absorbing the evil by swallowing up the darkness in a mouth that forgives.

Ben Overby

 

 

Getting Focused


Here’s a challenge. Find a quiet place and try to sit still, thinking only of God and his actuality, his “I am-ness.” Notice your relationship to him. Who you are, where you are, why you are in relationship to and with him. Be aware of nothing else but you and God and forget about words. Simply be.

Try that for 30 minutes. If you are like the rest of us, that will be a struggle. Attempting to focus on one subject, one simple reality, is interrupted over and over again by an invasion of thoughts. You say to yourself, “I don’t want to think about anything. I just want some alone time in the presence of God.” But your mind will not cooperate. It is frustrating.

To combat that try an old, old practice of “divine word,” or lectio divina. This discipline has helped me settle in and away from distractions, and grow more focused. When in ministry I taught the practice often and I’ve never experienced anyone who didn’t find it helpful in developing intimacy with God. It’s simple…

–Select a narrative passage in scripture. The description of an event rather than imperatives. Maybe the creation, or crossing the Red Sea; Jesus healing someone or countless other such passages.
–Pray that God will give you a word that will be grace for you throughout the day.
–Read the passage. It might be one verse or several.
–Pause for a moment, then read it again. Meditate on the description. See what is described as if you were there. Listen to the noises you hear as you enter the story as an observer on the sidelines. What smells might be there? What do you feel? A light breeze? The warmth of the sun? Frigid rain?
*Involving all your senses allows you to settle into that event, losing yourself for a moment in the experience.
–Read the passage a third time, this time listening for any phrase or word that seems to be calling for your attention. Be still for a few moments and just read the passage slowly. Something will call for you attention. Zone in on it. Chew on it. Consider it for a moment or two.
–Thank God for his grace and living word and resolve to take the word or phrase with you as you move through the day. You will be absolutely amazed at how that word or phrase will effect certain experiences over the next few days. It will give you grace and insight, strength and appreciation for God’s involvement in your particular life.

There’s the challenge. Give it a try.

Ben Overby

Fresh Manna Every Day


Andrew Murray wrote,

The Divine life within us comes from God, and is entirely dependent
upon Him. As I need every moment afresh the air to breathe, as the sun
every moment afresh sends down its light, so it is only in direct
living communication with God that my soul can be strong.

The manna of one day was corrupt when the next day came. I must every
day have fresh grace from heaven, and I obtain it only in direct
waiting upon God Himself. Begin each day by tarrying before God, and
letting Him touch you. Take time to meet God.

I think that is a striking and clear illustration of what it means to depend on God.  Awareness of Him is necessary for grace, strength and power. It has not been my experience that mere prayer or reading scripture cultivates that awareness.  If I ask God to help me through some trial or petition Him on behalf of someone else, I don’t receive an immediate answer. It’s sort of like talking to someone in the room who is not talking back. There have been times when I believed I was praying to God in some distant dimension, a far away heaven. I didn’t even think He was in the universe much less my lowly room. That is a little like sending an instant message. You know it is being received immediately but the response comes when the response comes.

The same has been true with scripture. I’ve read it like a history book, not a living word able to pierce my soul. I’ve studied it like a novel, seeking themes, the story line, the identification of the protagonist and antagonist. Worst of all I’ve read it as a proof text for belief’s I didn’t bother to question.

In either case it was like having manna all around, at my finger tips, but I wasn’t s getting it. I’ve been guilty of letting manna sit around for days after which it was no good to me. Manna has to be harvested today. If I ignore my family for a month and try to catch up, I can’t. Relationship is today and when today is lost so is the opportunity for communion on that day.

God has to be sought today, an awareness of His presence, not as if He’s light years away reading my instant messages. I can’t catch up tomorrow, next week, or next year.

Waiting. That’s the difficult work of gathering manna. I wake up starved. I’m not hungry just to praise or petition God. I’m not yearning for a letter from Paul or a bit of history. I’m yearning for a tiny bit of manna, the awareness of God Himself, not as a far away other, but as my Father, my King, and the Holy Spirit. I have to shut up, quit murmuring prayers, stop allowing my mind to race over a passage of scripture. I have to be still. And in time, not immediately, but in time I am given the grace of His presence, His nearness that is “nearer to me than I am to myself.”

Then prayer becomes robust. It becomes communion with the creator. Scripture becomes what it is intended to be.  A word from God to strengthen, encourage, empower, and guide me.

As Murray wrote, “Begin each day by tarrying before God, and
letting Him touch you.

I am learning to let Him make the first move while I wait. And on the best days I am aware that He is touching me.

Ben Overby

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