Looking for my enemy

I was in Atlanta last weekend with my older son to watch him play a couple of soccer games. Not being a sporty person myself, I have had to learn a lot about the world of competitive sports over the past decade or so. But I’m not just referring to the rules of the game (although I definitely came in without knowing anything about “offsides” and “corner kicks” and “slide tackles”). A big part of my education was trying to understand the psyche of the players and fans.

 

For instance, it’s common for parents from Team A to suspect that preferential treatment is being shown by the referees to the players of Team B (“Come on, Ref! How’s that a foul?!”), but to feel entitled to the exact same treatment for their own players (“Finally! You have a yellow card! Use it!”). It’s cuckoo.

 

I usually tell myself that the only reason my son is on this team and not that one is basic geography. Same age, same sport, different cities. That’s it. Those boys on the other team aren’t our enemy. And although I might like to throttle those screaming parents from the other team, they aren’t my enemy either. Neither are the opposing coaches and the referees. But when we get angry, we humans seem to want to find someone to be angry with. We want a villain. That kid who just fouled my son will do, or maybe the referee who didn’t call it the “right” way. Something like hate boils up in us and comes spewing out. It’s not pretty, folks.

 

Jesus had a lot to say about how to regard those you’ve labeled as your enemies. “You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (NLT)

 

When Jesus stood on a mountainside and taught those words to the large crowd who were following him from town to town, he was giving them one example after another about how to be an alternative to what the World offered. He told them that God blesses the poor and the humble and the persecuted. He told them to be salt and light—to be different.

 

Jesus wasn’t necessarily referring to my conduct during a soccer game or our behavior towards others during this election season, but it’s applicable all the same. It’s a waste of time to villainize those around us. Friend or foe, we are called to love them all anyway.

Alarming

I can’t think of anything more confusing than suddenly being awakened from a deep sleep in the middle of the night, unless it’s suddenly being awakened from a deep sleep in the middle of the night while you’re away from home, sleeping on a pull-out sofa in a strange hotel and the fire alarm is blaring up and down the halls.

 

This was my recent experience, and I’m still recovering from it. Our 9-year old’s first response was “I didn’t do anything! It wasn’t my fault!” which it wasn’t, but I sure would like to know what he was dreaming about at 1:45 am. This information might be very revealing.

 

My husband, our two sons and I hopped up and threw on shoes before shuffling down the stairwell with the rest of the hotel’s sleepy occupants. We all stood in the parking lot, huddled in groups and waiting for the fire trucks to arrive. To entertain myself, I played a favorite game of mine which I call “Look How Everybody Thinks Differently.” Though it was a chilly 40-something degrees, several people were wearing only shorts and t-shirts, and some were even bare-footed. Others had jackets or blankets draped over their shoulders. One couple emerged outside fully dressed and pulling wheeled suitcases toward their car. They are my first suspects in The Case of Someone Pulled the Fire Alarm. Some joked, others fumed, but most seemed to assume the alarm signified no real threat to any of us.

 

The fire truck arrived with only lights flashing and no siren, a sign that this was going to be speedily resolved and we’d be happily snoozing away in no time. But moments after the alarm was turned off and we were back in our room, the alarm started back up again. Beeeeep, beeeep, beep it repeated every 25 seconds, followed by a 4 second break, a more clipped beeep, beep, and then it started all over again. (I know this because I counted.) More than an hour after it began, the alarm finally stopped and, if we could also stop the residual ringing in our heads, we could fall asleep.

 

It seems we’ve become overly comfortable with alarms. More often than not, we ignore the warnings because they come way too frequently, or we find that it’s easier to assume that it’s just a drill. Murder hornets and melting icecaps. Wildfires raging in California and derechos blowing through the Tennessee Valley. Widespread racism, harassment in the workplace, child abuse, identity theft…I could go on and on, but it’s too depressing and I might have to curl up in a ball, making it really difficult to type.

 

Reading the Bible gives me insight about being watchful but in a way which won’t drive me to the fetal position. 1 Peter 5 says, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.” (NIV)

 

I see four steps to follow as I attempt to up my Watchfulness Game: 1) From a place of extreme humility, acknowledge that God is in control. 2) With the knowledge that this All-Powerful God cares for me, transfer my worry to His mighty and capable shoulders. 3) Realizing that the devil is watching and ready to pounce, be equally as alert. 4) Sustained by my faith and backed by an army of fellow believers, refuse to follow the devil.

 

With God’s help, I can be prepared and watchful without giving up the peace He promises.

Famous

When I was 7 or 8 years old, my sisters and I were in Davis-Kidd Bookstore in Nashville, shopping with a couple who were friends of my parents. A woman approached us and asked the couple our ages and commented on our general cuteness. Although the woman might have seemed like any ordinary Nashville-area resident out running errands, I recognized her voice instantly. Even without her trademark straw hat topped with fake flowers and $1.98 price tag dangling to the side, I had watched enough episodes of Hee Haw to know it was Minnie Pearl.

 

I have a hard time imagining what it would be like to be famous. To be recognized by people everywhere I went. To be mobbed by fans and photographers. To have the ability to give people a lasting memory and a treasured anecdote to impress friends and strangers just by being in the same room with them and acknowledging their existence in the universe. No wonder so many are drawn to the pursuit of fame, especially considering that at our very core, one of the most basic human desires is to be known.

 

Even though Jesus’ friends had the ultimate example of humility standing in front of them, they weren’t exempt from this clamor for fame. They even argued about it, speculating who would be the greatest in the kingdom and right on the heels of Jesus’ exclamation about his imminent death.

 

Jesus’ reply to their earthly ideas about fame was to bring a child to set in front of them. Then He said something that stopped their quarreling while also no doubt giving them a riddle to puzzle out during future fireside moments of quiet contemplation. “Anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me also welcomes my Father who sent me. Whoever is the least among you is the greatest.” -Luke 9:48 (NLT)

 

What did they think about this seemingly backwards path to greatness? How could accepting a lowly child give you access to the Prince of Peace and the Mighty King of the Universe? But Jesus was the master of these mind-blowing assertions about righteous living. He wanted them to understand the vanity of their kind of greatness. He wanted them to take a giant bite of the Humble Pie he had sliced up for them. It was as if He was saying, “Stop looking for ways to step on each other as you climb to the top. Instead, look down and notice these little children. Giving them your attention won’t make you world famous, but these actions will gain you fame in heaven.”

 

So strive to be famous—famously kind, famously generous, famously brave. Win awards for being the best listener, the most thoughtful, the truest friend. Hold the Box Office record for the highest-grossing number of encouraging words. Make the Fortune 500 list for the richest, most genuine friendships.

 

Paparazzi may not camp out in your front yard, waiting to take photos of you as you pick up your newspaper dressed in your bathrobe, but you will be on the real path to greatness.