What I Write About

I write about the infinite number of intersections between every day life and the good news of the God who has come to get us.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Forgiveness Grab-Bag

A few grab-bag thoughts about forgiveness as we wrap up this little series, thanks to many of you who have responded to these posts:

1. Forgiving is not the same thing as excusing. Some of us prefer to excuse ("she's really just having a bad day") rather than forgive ("that hurt like hell. but Jesus in me can absorb and forgive that sin, and I can join him in doing the same") because excusing allows us to take a hurt less personally and doesn't require as much from us.

Again, because all of us have a limited capacity to forgive, we're trying to manage that resource as best we can. But excusing doesn't deal with the heart of the issue. Forgiveness does.

2. Some of us prefer to neither forgive nor excuse. We feel rather empowered and self-righteous in our anger. We have a right to be un-forgiving, no one can tell me that I don't have that right, so take that.

But to covet and nurse our own wounds in such a defensive way only leads to the spoiling of our lives. We become bitter, small, and defined by our hurts rather than defined by life. That's no way to live.

3. Forgiveness does not equal being stupid and enabling someone else's sin patterns. In an abusive relationship? Get out. Have an emotionally manipulative parent or sibling or friend? Draw firm boundaries, which might include severing the relationship all together or at least for a season.

4. For those of us who follow Christ, as my friend Tim pointed out on yesterday's post over on Facebook, forgiveness is not an option. It's a command. Jesus' only commentary on his own model prayer (what we commonly refer to as 'the Lord's prayer') is this from Matthew 6:

For if you forgive others when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.
15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

5. Finally, forgiveness in many cases is a process.

In my own experiences with some of my hardest hurts, I find that initially I have to forgive about every few minutes. Then every few hours. And all I can do is pray and ask for God's help. Sometimes I just hope that today I only have to forgive 250 times as opposed to yesterday's 300 times.

It's a process. God's at work. Trust that he's for you.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Forgiveness & the Dental Hygenist

The real-life, real-time importance of forgiveness was driven home to me this morning as I sat in the dentists chair.

My hygenist began sharing with me about the messy divorce she had been through and (knowing what I do) how the Lord had been showing her how crucial it was that she forgive her ex and his now wife.

As I listened to the pain mixed with hope (she was particularly aggressive with the dental floss as she talked about his wife) I was greatly encouraged: the process of forgiveness was in full-swing. The Lord was mopping up the anger and bitterness that threatened her soul.

And as she finished telling me her story, I was reminded of the crux of what is so difficult for all of us in this matter of co-absorbing with Christ someone else's sin: it feels like we're letting them off the hook.

For some reason it feels much better to stew, to be angry, to imagine them being re-paid for all their wrongs and to imagine that we might be privileged to participate in that re-payment..or at least get to see it.

But the reality is this: the anger and bitterness forged by un-forgiveness does not trap or ensnare or keep the other person under our power. Quite the opposite. To hold onto un-forgiveness is to give the other person power over us.

Simply stated: we must forgive others for the sake of our own souls. To do otherwise is only to do damage to ourselves.

Much to our chagrin, if we're honest about many situations where we feel forgiving someone else is necessary, they either don't even realize they hurt us or they don't care. Forgiveness is not something that the offenders in our lives often think that they need.

And so we must do this co-absorbing, forgiving work with Christ, and often with Him only. Forgiveness is often something that has no tangible reconciling benefits. It's greatest and most important benefit is often simply the peace and freedom of our own souls.

Great stuff this morning from my courageous and faithful dental hygenist.

And no cavities.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Forgiveness, Part 2

The invitation we talked about yesterday to participate in absorption rather than perpetuation is at the heart of all Christian understanding of forgiveness, not just as it relates to issues of family.

The world is full of brokenness. We were designed to live in a universe or 'operating system' that was brokenness-free. In other words, sin is alien to the design of our souls.

Jesus comes and he takes on that sin so that we might once again live as we were meant to. This is why the Scriptures are emphatic that he is the hope of the whole world, not just Jews or those who find him helpful in a therapeutic sort of way. His medicine is the medicine we all need: the absorption of sin, our own and the sin that has done damage to us.

This does not mean, of course, that people who are not Christians cannot forgive. Based on temperament and other factors we all have varying abilities and capacities for forgiveness.

But what Christ offers us is two-fold.

One, he has already shown that he has infinite capacity for the absorption of sin, both ours and that which has been done to us.

In other words, apart from Christ we are stuck with our own limited capacity to forgive. Eventually, no matter our temperament, we all become saturated. We have a limited capacity to forgive others, some of us have an even more limited capacity to forgive ourselves. That's when bitterness sets in.

Jesus has an infinite capacity for forgiveness. And he invites us to allow him to work in us to exercise that capacity. Even as it relates to the things that have hurt us the most. Even in the midst of our own self-hatred that results in voices of guilt and shame.

Infinite capacity to absorb sin. It has actually already happened.

Secondly, what Jesus has done once and for all is broken the power of sin. Absorption language is helpful but not complete; it's passive. Jesus absorbs our sin. But he also breaks the power of that sin and frees us to move in a positive, opposite direction.

This power means, as one example, that we are not bound to repeat cycles of family brokenness. Jesus has absorbed that sin and overcome it, it has not overcome him. He lives in us and we live in him.

This means that our baggage or anger or sin or victim-status no longer has to define who we are, how we parent, how we drive, how we relate to our parents or siblings or co-workers or friends. Jesus' victory gets to do that. Forgiveness gets to do that.

Here's the good news: brokenness and sin does not have the last word on us. Jesus can and does. We have been told the story of all sin and death and guilt and broken patterns overcome and the good news is this: hope wins.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Dealing with Patterns of Family Brokenness

After many years of working with students prior to having kids of my own, I decided something: when we had kids, we'd start the college savings account and the future-counseling fund all at the same time.

It seemed no matter how well-intentioned the parents, students always had plenty of baggage.

The baggage can become particularly onerous and alarming for those students who are thinking about marriage. If you're seeing a whole bunch of mess in your own family's dynamics, one of the biggest fears is that you'll repeat those same messy dynamics in your own marriage.

In working with students, doing some study, and praying alongside folks for many years, I think the hope that we have in this lies in the cross of Christ.

What Jesus does on the cross is absorb all sin. John the Baptist declares: "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!"

Paul declares on the other side of Jesus' death and resurrection that Christians not only follow Jesus, we are grafted into him, we are united with him, we share in his life, death, resurrection, and inheritance.

As a part of this participation in Christ, I believe that we are invited to join Jesus in absorbing the sins of our families rather than pass them on to our spouses and children. We are invited to share with Christ in taking on rather than passing on broken patterns, some of which have been in place for generations.

Scripts of what it means to be a husband, wife, parent, child, and grandparent all get passed along to us. Left un-examined, we will filter those scripts through the lens of our personality and experience and pass along the same basic scripts to the next generation.

But in Christ, we are invited to bring the scripts handed to us into the light for inspection. In Christ, we are invited to see what is true and what is false.

In Christ, we are given power and authority to cling to what is good. And in Christ, we are given power and authority to absorb what is bad, false, broken.

That's good news for all of us today, no matter how "functional" your family was. We are not bound to pass along broken patterns. We have authority and power in Christ to allow Christ in us to take on the sin and brokenness.

You still might want to keep that counseling fund going, just in case.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Huge Tracts of Land v. Chunky Soup

So Joshua settles down once you get past chapter 11 and it starts talking about land distribution. Except that one tribe of Israel doesn't get any land. The tribe of Levi. These are the people who are supposed to work the temple.

Here's what Joshua 13 says:
33 But to the tribe of Levi, Moses had given no inheritance; the LORD, the God of Israel, is their inheritance, as he promised them.
So here's the deal: if I'm a Levite and you're not and you're getting huge tracts of land and I'm stuck with nothing, I'm gonna' have a hard time feeling excited about that. It rather feels like I got the consolation prize on a cheap game show--I got a year's supply of Chunky Soup while someone else walked away with a trip to the Grand Caymans.

But when I'm in my right mind, I realize that this is backward.

In my right mind I know that compared to having God, everything else is trivial, barely worth thinking about. No "stuff" could compare to the gift of having the Lord himself. At least, when I'm thinking rightly, I know that's true.

In Hebrews 11, the author recounts all these Old Testament people who are heroes of the faith. In the end it basically says that none of them got what they thought they were going to get. They didn't get the stuff. They got God. That was enough for them, and so they are celebrated.

And so I have to ask myself: is that enough for me?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Davis' Formula for Being Happy

My wife Kelly posted this on her mommy blog. We are grateful for the sweet and thoughtful spirit of our son, Davis, and this little story captures his earnest enthusiasm. I'm a proud daddy. I love this little boy:

As we pass the empty lot, my five year old asks me what the big, complicated sign says. "That lot is for sale," I answer. "Someone can buy it and build a store or a house in that space."

"Maybe the homeless people could buy it!" he suggests.

"Well, perhaps..." I begin to answer, not sure where to go with this conversation.

"Yes," he adds, growing more excited about his unfolding plans. "And then they could build a house and get married and have children and be happy."

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Greasy Grace

This from our IV staff meeting yesterday...

In the Bible, oil is almost always a sign of blessing. In fact, the more of it, the better.

Therefore, oil is a good thing, a sign of God's abundant provision and blessing.

Therefore, oily and greasy foods are also a good thing. In fact, the more oily and greasy, the more abundantly it celebrates God's gracious provision.

Therefore, we are invited to delight ourselves in the greasiest of fare.

Therefore, Bojangle's is the holy of holies.

And if you don't know what Bojangle's is...well, it's a southern thing, ya'll wouldn't understand.

Now that's a good staff meeting.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Flip this Loft, Moldy Bread, and Keeping Promises

I think most all of us at some point have our experience getting scammed. Mine came at the end of my freshmen year, I refer to it as "Flip this Loft."

A guy calling himself "Student Stow-Away" offered to take lofts, store them for the summer, and return them in the fall. So I entrusted my really sweet loft (designed and built by my roommate's dad who was the kind of guy who could build or fix anything) only to never see it again. That was something like a $50 deposit and $150 worth of materials.

Probably some kid at UCLA ended up with it. I hope you got splinters.

I was ticked. And I certainly didn't feel like I owed Student Stow-Away the rest of the money for the storage of my loft that I never got back again.

But apparently, God feels differently.

In Joshua 9, the Gibeonites hear about the decisive and miraculous victory of the Israelites at Jericho. They heard the walls came a-tumblin' down, and they wanted no part of war with Israel.

So they sent a delegation, looking all beat-up and worn and ragged, with moldy bread and cracked wineskins. They claim to come from a distant country and ask to make a peace treaty. The passage says that they "sampled the provisions but did not inquire of the Lord." They signed the treaty.

Three days later, they discover that Gibeon isn't really all that far away and that they'd been scammed. Flip this peace treaty.

But just a few verses later, the Gibeonites are under attack. And they call on Israel to honor the peace treaty that was signed under false pretenses. And God commands them to honor the treaty, and they go and wipe out the armies set against Gibeon.

There's a Psalm somewhere that reads "blessed is the one who swears to their own hurt." I heard someone explain that to mean that we are blessed when we are willing to stick with our promises and our covenants, even and especially when we stand by them when it's inconvenient, painful, or costly.

This is a difficult and prophetic word to us in our culture where the customer is always right and personal preference reigns supreme.

I'm still not sure that I needed to pay Student Stow-Away the remainder of the contracted cost for a loft that never re-appeared. But I think that the call to follow through on promises, even at great personal cost, is one that I need to take much more seriously.

And hey, UCLA kid that ended up with my loft--sorry about the splinter comment. Just still a little bitter.

Purity, Integrity, and Post-Dating, Part 2: Adding Angels

It seems that in the Scriptures we're called to look at and take sin seriously--both the ways that we've been sinned against and the ways that we've sinned ourselves. But we never do that as an end, in and of itself.

Looking at the ways that we've sinned and been sinned against is always supposed to be a stepping stone to the need for grace, rescue, forgiveness, and healing--all things that are offered to us at the cross.

In the Luke's account of the resurrection story, the women go to the tomb and they meet a couple of angels who pronounce these glorious words: "Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he is risen!"

Given how emphatically the New Testament, particularly Paul, emphasizes how we once were dead in our sin but now we have been raised in and with Christ (see Ephesians 2, and Colossians 3, among others) I think that we have a right to take on the angels' words as describing our own situation.

Next time you find yourself either over-infatuated with how you've been sinned against (therefore reveling in your victim status) or overly-fixed on how you've sinned (and stuck in the cycle of self-condemnation and guilt) hear these words of the angels directed to you:

"Why do you look for yourself among the dead? You are not here! You have risen!"

This is the good news of the gospel. We need to hear it. We need to preach it to ourselves and remind ourselves what is true.

And we need to speak it to one another. We need to remind one another over and over again what is true because we have so many other messages coming at us all the time.

This is one of the main purposes of Christian community: to speak the gospel of our "risen-ness" to one another in real-time, in the midst of our everyday lives. We need people that we can call on who will remind us what is true: we are no longer among the dead, we have risen with Christ.

Apart from that, we are barely alive.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Bringing it Together: Purity, Integrity, and 1999

I've gotten a lot of love on my posts this week about purity and integrity. But there's a danger here that I want to address.

On the one hand, we've gotta' be talking about living with purity and integrity in our culture.

But on the other hand by stating that purity and integrity pave the way for intimacy and healthy authority in leadership, a good number of folks out there hear voices that condemn: purity has already given way to other things, integrity has been spent on goods that turned out to be fraudulent. Hopeless descends like a dark cloud.

And so we finish out the week bringing weaving together a third thread from the posts this week: post-dating. In Christ, we are offered an opportunity to have post-dated purity and integrity, even after we have already given them away.

Redemption means that it is possible to live with a post-dated purity and integrity. The Scriptures declare that God's grace is new to us every morning. God's grace is new to you this morning. Really.

We live our lives inside a fast-moving, one-way train of time. But God, who stands outside of time, has the power and the grace to work backwards into time. He can take a hold of the mistakes that we have made and work them backwards for our good and his glory. What was once vile and disgusting and arrogant can be turned to grace and beauty and holiness. Really.

If a call to purity and integrity leave you crestfallen and despairing, here is the good news: to those who call on Jesus, your past does not have the last word on you. Under the gracious and powerful umbrella of the lordship of Christ, your mistakes do not have the last word on you. God does.

And this God is not limited by the mistakes of your past. And the quality of your future need not be dictated by those same mistakes either. Redemption is reality.

The glorious freedom of submission to Christ is that we no longer have to live under the tyranny of our own sins. We are freed to live in the power and hope of an empty tomb.

Sin does not have the last word. Hope does. We have been given a glimpse into what is to come and death does not win. Life does. Hope wins.

This redemption means that we have work to do. Chances are, someone who reads this post has an addiction that desperately needs to be addressed. Talk to someone. Get help.

Chances are, some of you are living a lie, maybe multiple lies, maybe multiple levels of lies. Are you sick of it yet? Come clean. Live into the light. This does not have to be who you are.

Purity and integrity matter. But if those seem like a long way off, a long time ago, there's good news. Purity and integrity can be post-dated, re-started, begun again.

That's the redemptive power of God, bending down from heaven in love and passion and grace to work backward into the abyss of time to fish out our darkest secrets, bring them into the light, beautify them, and force them to become a part of our crown and our character.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Blogging like It's 2029

So Prince is a genius. He releases an album on October 27, 1982 he post-dates the title track: 1999. He makes money the first time around and he makes money 17 years later, when 1999 rolls around.

Ditto George Orwell. He writes a book, post-dates it: 1984. Only one mistake there: he was dead by 1984.

Memo to all aspiring song-writers and authors: if you're going to write something, be sure to post-date it. But make sure it's a reasonable bet that you're still alive by then so that you can cash in on the goods.

I think I'm going to start post-dating all my blog posts from here on out.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Purity is to Intimacy as Integrity is to...

If purity paves the path for intimacy, then when it comes to leadership, integrity paves the path for true spiritual authority.

Integrity is consistency, it's being fully integrated. It's lining up our words and our lives. It's practicing what we preach. It is embodying and exemplifying the gospel.

Integrity is taking principles and truths and putting flesh on them by how we drive on the highway, talk about the people around us, take exams, treat the check-out lady at the grocery store.

Leadership and authority can be faked apart from integrity. But seldom is it faked for long.

When it comes to leadership, integrity paves the path for spiritual authority.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Spiritual Lessons from David Letterman

When we were in high school, my brother and I hated David Letterman. In our humble estimation, he was annoying, self-aggrandizing, and just not that funny.

And then I talked with some friends that really dug David Letterman. And so we decided to give him one more chance.

At one point Dave was doing something totally weird during his Top 10 list that had absolutely nothing to do with his Top 10 list. Probably making faces at the camera or something.

My brother was getting annoyed: "Dude, get on with the show!" he shouted at the t.v.

"But Daniel," I said, suddenly enlightened to the ways of Dave, "he is the show."

Enter Jesus.

We generally want the show of our lives to move along towards something--a family, a job, a degree, a dating relationship, the issues of our lives or our own nettled souls all worked out and tidy and over and done with.

But Jesus is seldom in as big a rush as we are to get on with the show. Mostly, he wants our lives to be built around his Life. Mostly, he wants us to become fully healthy human beings, fully alive, utterly Real.

Most of this movement from barely alive to Wide-Awake Real does not happen at the end points of our mini-journeys towards a job or a degree or a relationship or forgiving someone who has hurt us.

Most of the real soul work happens in the process of getting to those end points. Those are the places where we learn the heart and character of our Lord.

Once we embraced the reality that David Letterman was what the show was all about, we were able to kick back and enjoy the show.

Once we embrace the reality that our lives are really about Jesus we can kick back and enjoy the process of getting to our eventual destinations. And who knows, maybe we'll actually reach those end-points and be sad that the journey is over.

So to sum up: Jesus is to our lives as David Letterman is to Late Night with David Letterman. Of course, most of you probably already knew that...

Monday, April 13, 2009

Purity's Yes

I recently heard a mentor of mine share how he pleads with teens in his church about sexual purity: "Purity paves the way for intimacy."

I like that. It takes something that is almost wholly thought of in terms of the negative ("purity" usually equals "I don't get to do what I want to do") and focuses it on the positive fruit that is the outcome of a life of purity.

Sexual purity is a means to a greater ends. It is a "no" that serves a much bigger, much more significant "YES." The final word in our life with Christ is always "YES!" We get some "no's" along the way, but they always, always, always are there to serve and bless us...to lead us into the joy of the yes.

Intimacy is what we were designed for. Purity makes a way for genuine intimacy to happen. It's not that purity automatically means intimacy. It's that without purity, genuine intimacy is much more difficult to cultivate.

Impurity builds walls, builds more obstacles to the life of intimacy that we are hard-wired for. Given our fallen and hiding nature, intimacy is already challenging. When we fall into a pattern of sexual sin, it only makes matters worse, more complicated, sometimes impossible.

This is challenging stuff given that in my work with college men my operating assumption is that there's some degree of ongoing porn consumption unless I know for a fact that it is otherwise. I don't know as much about post-college-age men, but my guess is that this struggle doesn't magically dissipate once someone has a diploma.

But porn and the hook-up culture and all our other ways of acting out sexually are like trying to find a short-cut to intimacy that dead-ends before the promise is delivered. All sin is like that. Sin makes promises that it can't deliver on and leaves us with the consequences.

All the various abuses and distortions of the gift of sex are like drinking salt water. It never actually meets the thirst for intimacy that we were designed for.

Purity paves the way for intimacy. That's worth pursuing. That's something worth fighting and living for.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Easter Bodies Meet Wireless Internet

So if you look at the various post-resurrection stories in the gospels, they're kind of all over the place. They tell different interactions with Jesus, scattered across different circumstances and contexts over the span of a couple of weeks.

But they all insist on a couple of things: first, that the disciples actually saw Jesus and secondly, that it actually was Jesus. Not a ghost. Really him.

Only he passes through walls and appears in rooms. What's up with that? How can the gospel stories insist upon a physical resurrection while at the same time granting these funky, ghost-like qualities?

The issue here is one of reality and solid-ness. I sit here on my couch. My couch and I are similarly real and similarly solid.

But I walk through the newly installed wireless internet signal that's being beamed around my house courtesy of my brother-in-law because the wireless signal, while real, is less real than me or my couch. It is permeable, easily disrupted.

So it is with the risen Christ. He is able to pass through walls not because he is less real and more ghost-like, but because he is so very real that everything that we experience as "solid," even the most solid things that we can imagine, are barely real.

Jesus moving through walls is like an airplane flying through a cloud. It is no big deal. His resurrection body is so incredibly real that everything here on this earth is vapor-thin in comparison.

In C.S. Lewis' "The Great Divorce," the grass is so real that it hurts the feet of the visitors to heaven.

As it was with Jesus, so it will be with us. What we know and experience as reality here is only a shadow of what reality is, reality as we'll finally experience it when all things are made new. What seems real now will be shown for what it really is--passing, fragile, momentary. We will be as He is. Solid. Real. Eternal. I can't wait.

But for now, I'm pretty pumped about my wireless internet. Extreme Makeover: Home Edition with my wife while blogging? Not sure it gets any better than that: "Hey Ty! Move that bus!"

Friday, April 10, 2009

McWorld Expediency v. Good Friday

Just got home from a spectacularly thoughtful Good Friday service at church. Reflecting on the brutality and pain of the cross often makes me think about Jesus' other, much more expedient option to do what he came to do.

If Jesus' mission in one sense could be described as taking back what was his by virtue of creation but had been handed over to evil by virtue of our rebellion, then the cross wasn't the only way he could have accomplished his mission.

In Luke 4, Jesus is wrestling with Satan. He has been fasting for forty days. He is hungry and tired and weak. And Satan comes at him with a very interesting proposition:
The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, "I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours."
Now in one sense, of course, it was a lie, like all of Satan's words are lies. If Jesus had indeed worshiped there, the resulting anarchy and chaos would have been so incredibly destructive that the earth as we know it just might have ceased to exist.

But in another sense, the offer was true. The kingdoms were his to give. And here we have the expedient way, the quick way to take back what was rightfully Jesus'. No cross. No pain. No torture. No abandonment. Just a pain-free worship experience.

But Jesus would have none of it: Jesus answered, "It is written: 'Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.'"

And there the road forks. He had the opportunity for a short-cut, a quicker, neater, painless way to accomplish his appointed ends. He chose instead the way of submission to his Father's will. That submission led him to the pain and agony of "Good" Friday.

Obedience sometimes takes us past what seems to us to be the obvious way to accomplish what needs to be done. Sometimes what seems to be the obvious and quick answer isn't the way that of our Father. Submission to God might lead us to dying a really hard death of a dream or a goal or a hope or a plan...or maybe hundreds of small deaths.

American culture has produced the vast empire that is the fast-food industry. It is built on the cultural values of expediency and convenience and painless-ness. Jesus, instead, invites us into a long obedience in the same direction that leads us to places we would rather not go. He goes there before us and he invites us to follow him into it.

We do not enter into and embrace this pain and these deaths for the sheer "value" of pain. Pain in and of itself springs from the fall and it has no value, one day (praise God) it will be no more.

Instead, we enter into the pain and the deaths as God directs us in step with Jesus, who has not only walked this way before us but has also already redeemed this way. There is joy set before him as he endures the cross. It is the true again-making of all things, the power and authority to take back all that is rightfully his so that one day it will all be made new, right, whole again.

And so there is also joy set before us. But there is no short-cut to true joy. True joy requires that we go the way of the cross. There is no other path--not for Jesus, not for us.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Pesky Fathers, Duplicitous Crowds, & A Plea for Naming Saturday

So I've never done anything for Lent. Part of this is I didn't grow up in a church tradition that talked much about it. After just a couple of years in a crazy Anglican church where they actually follow the church calendar, I'm still trying to figure out what to do with it, how to enter into it.

Lent always sneaks up on me and I find myself frantically trying to figure out what I should give up. It feels like I'm just grasping at straws. So eventually what I give up is Lent itself. Giving up Lent for Lent--not exactly what those pesky church fathers had in mind, I don't think.

It's not that I don't find value in fasting and introspection and all that. It's not Lent's fault that I can't figure out how to find my groove with it. I'm just still growing up into it.

Palm Sunday, the Sunday before Easter when Jesus enters into Jerusalem to shouts of "Hosanna!" from the thronging crowd, also befuddles me. I cannot suspend my knowledge of the duplicity of this same crowd that will yell "Crucify!" in just a few days in order to celebrate this entry as all that triumphal.

Maundy Thursday and Good Friday and Easter Sunday all have rich and powerful histories of celebration, mourning, remembrance, meditation, contemplation...and ultimately the joy and relief and wonder of Easter morning itself.

Of course, like Christmas and many other annual celebrations, there are some years when I deeply resonate with the season and fully enter in: heart, mind, body, soul, and spirit. And there are years when I wake up the Monday after Easter and feel like I missed the whole thing. Maybe if I figured out this Lent thing I'd have fewer of those Mondays-after.

But there's one day that's sort of a hole in this entire celebration that year in and year out I almost never fail to resonate with: Easter Saturday. It is the day in between loss and redemption. It is a day of waiting. It is a day of dreams deferred and confusion and hiding and wandering aimlessly. It is a day for seeking solace in friends. It is a day to be alone with your thoughts.

But mostly it's waiting--what's next? What now? Is everything over?

Easter Saturday, this waiting, wondering, longing, hurting day...this day almost never fails to resonate with me. Easter Saturday never fails to capture me.

I think Easter Saturday is the day that is most universal. Easter Saturday is where we live most of our lives. It's the day in between the pain inflicted and the promised healing, fully realized. It's the space in between the already and the not yet that so marks our experience as Christians.

I think most of us spend most of our lives in Easter Saturday's waiting, hoping, wondering if God will show up, trying to figure out what God's doing in the messes and mixed bags that we call our lives.

And so I'm pleading for a real name for Easter Saturday: Silent Saturday, Waiting Saturday...something, I'm happy to take nominations from the floor. It's too significant a day to miss out on. There's opportunity to enter into Easter from a fresh angle here. Or at least, it feels that way to me.

In the mean time, I'd also take nominations from the floor on what to give for Lent '10. Maybe if I start thinking about it now, I'll finally be in a place to get my Lenten groove on next time around.

You may or may not want to cover your eyes.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Achan Over Justice

Joshua 7 is one of those passages that I wish wasn't in the Bible. In brief: the Israelites conquer Jericho and are instructed to give to God all of the spoils. They were to keep none of the articles of gold or silver or anything of value for themselves.

Achan doesn't listen. He keeps some gold and silver for himself. So the next battle that the Israelites take on they get routed and about 35 of their men are killed. God tells Joshua that there's sin in the camp. Eventually they find out that it's Achan, and they stone him and all his family--women and children.


Monday I told God that this was a hard passage for me. I told him I didn't really like it, and asked him to help me with the image of my wife and kids getting stoned (a nasty way to die) by God's orders on account of my sin.

Tuesday, I went back to the same story and realized that my problem with the passage was due at least in some part because of my own problem: I don't take sin very seriously.

See, my assumption with sin is that it is there to be excused, forgiven, winked at, shrugged off, disposed of quickly and easily and painlessly. My assumption is that sin is not a big a deal.

My presumption upon God, therefore, is that he is there to dismiss sin, ignore it, clean up the mess and not allow us to deal with the consequences or reality of it.

But the reality is that sin is death. It is corrosive, destructive, vile. Sin is not something to take lightly, dismiss, laugh off or pretend that it never happened.

Sin is a cancer on the beauty of humanity, a plague, a parasite, a tyrant, a despot that destroys people and relationships and families and governments and churches and communities and cultures and ultimately, if left un-checked, would collapse in on itself and consume all the world.

I want Achan to be let off the hook easily because I want to be let off the hook easily. But Easter will not let me do that. Good Friday will not let me skim over the depths and the horror and the seriousness of my sin.

And so I need Achan today. I need Achan to teach me new and holy appetites. My sin is not to be ignored or excused or shrugged off--I must learn to hate the thing that would hijack my life and destroy me, body and soul.

And I'm tentatively praying a new prayer this week: to see sin for what it truly is. I'm afraid of what that might mean, what I might see in my own heart as well as what I might have to see in the world around me. But I think my response to Achan is showing me that I need a bit of a reality check as to the true nature of sin.

I must learn to embrace the hard-earned forgiveness offered to me in Christ without arrogant presumption that "of course" God would die a bloody tortured death for me. My sin puts my Maker on a wooden beam with nails in his hands. Good Friday is when Jesus becomes Achan for me.

This doesn't quiet all my internal objections to Achan and his family and the judgment passed on them. I love mercy. I fear justice. I don't always understand how God is both just and merciful.

But for today, I can embrace the lesson of my tendency to downplay my sin and my need to repent of it. And I pray that God might use this repentance to lead me more fully and deeply into the wonder and mystery and power and awe of Easter.

Howard Stern v. Delilah: Being Well Done

So my kids, like most of us, are slow to get "please" and "thank you." Nearly every request that they make, we parrot back to them with a "please" and occasionally with an encouragement to change the tone ever-so-slightly, ie.:

Zoe, in her best "Howard-Stern, shock-d.j." voice: "I want juice right now!"
Me, in my best "Delilah, light music to make your day happy-d.j." voice: "May I please have juice, Daddy?"

This type of interaction is a regular refrain in our house. So when they do it right the first time, asking with pleases in their own Delilah-like voices, we celebrate it. As their parents, we always love them, but there is a particular delight in their obedience.

A year ago, I was sitting with a student who was at the end of a really hard year. Part of the difficulty of the year was that after much weeping and gnashing of teeth (and much prayer and discussion with close friends), he decided to not pursue a dating relationship with someone who was not a Christian.

As he talked about the heaviness of the year and particularly as he talked about the heaviness of his loneliness, I had a profound sense of two things: 1. the real pain and sorrow in his life that was not to be brushed over or taken lightly and 2. the delight that his Father had in him as His son, but especially in light of his costly obedience.

God delights in the obedience of his people. This is crucial for us to understand. We are always his children, our disobedience does not make us less his children any more than my own kids forgetfulness about please and thank you.

But there is a special joy, a particular delight in God in the obedience of the saints. We are called to be his and to walk with him. When we do that, when we actually follow Jesus even and especially when it costs us, the Father is overjoyed in and with us.

Obedience matters. Our good Father delights in the obedience of his people. He delights to pronounce his "Well Done!" over us.

This is not to negate God's attributes of forgiveness and grace. It is to recognize that forgiveness is not the only dynamic at work in our relationship with the Father and that part of the function of grace by the Holy Spirit is to empower us into obedience.

And the promise for us and for my lonely student is that as we obey and follow Jesus all of this must bless us. Even and especially when our obedience leads us into the desert-land of pain, sorrow, and/or loneliness, it must in the end be for our good, become part of our joy.

Jesus does this: his obedience leads him into the desert and then on to the cross. He experiences temptations, loneliness, pain, and death. And he gathers it all upon himself, plunges to the depths of hell with it all, and emerges victorious. And he obediently offers his own hard-fought victory to us as we are in him.

Christ's obedience matters. It delights the heart of the Father and makes all things new. So, too, does ours.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Obselesence of Manna, Big Macs, and Longings for Home

So I'm slowly making my way through the Old Testament book of Joshua. Last week I was in Joshua 5, as the Israelites make their way towards Jericho.

One little piece of their journey really struck me as I was reading about the camp-out at Gilgal after the incident with the flint knives:
10 On the evening of the fourteenth day of the month, while camped at Gilgal on the plains of Jericho, the Israelites celebrated the Passover. 11 The day after the Passover, that very day, they ate some of the produce of the land: unleavened bread and roasted grain. 12 The manna stopped the day after they ate this food from the land; there was no longer any manna for the Israelites, but that year they ate of the produce of Canaan.
Manna was what I thought about here. Manna literally means "what is it." It was bread that the Lord provided each morning for the Israelites as they journeyed for forty years in the desert.

This made for an interesting relationship between the Israelites and manna. On the one hand, forty years of manna, and you'd probably be longing for a Big Mac. On the other hand, manna was the gracious provision of God, a tangible, daily reminder that God was watching over them and taking care of them.

But in this passage, manna is put in a different context--that is, in contrast with the food of the soil. Manna, as good a gift as it was, was a symbol of the Israelites root-lessness. They were a wandering, nomadic nation. Hundreds of thousands of people without a home, without a place to rest or call their own. Every morning, they gathered manna and were reminded of their homelessness.

To eat the produce of the soil means that you have been in one place long enough to walk through the planting/harvesting cycle. It means that the Israelites were finally in a place to call their own. They were in the promised land. They were home.

As I meditated on this, I wondered about the manna in my own life. What in my life now is a gracious provision from God that I am grateful for but also reminds me of my temporariness? And of course there's only one answer: all of it.

My life is filled with tremendous blessings from the Lord: family, friends, work that I enjoy. But all of this, to varying degrees, is manna. It is all temporary.

And the regular intervals of struggle, frustration, and disappointment alongside the fleetingness of the moments of joy and wonder and awe are all deliberate. Like manna that spoiled after a day, everything in my life has a built-in obselesence. This is on purpose.

Like the Israelites, we are not yet home. One day in Christ, all the struggles and sorrows will be gathered up, healed, and poured back on us to become a part of our glory and beauty; all the joys and wonder that we experience in part now will be permanent, ever-growing parts of our moment-by-moment experience.

Then, we too, will be done with the manna of life here and now, the temporary generous blessings of God that sustain us for this part of our journey. Then the journey will be over. It will be time to dig into the real, the good stuff. We will do this forever. We will be home.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Celebrating Women's Night

Without any disrespect to either the church-types who read this or the ambivalent/anti-church types who read this, I have very little hope that the students that I work with will learn much from either the church or the culture regarding healthy relationships between men and women.

And so our annual "Women's Night" event last night was a great and significant thing. And not just for our little community, but among the most significant and uniquely positive things that happens on the entirety of the campus all year.

Each spring the women and men put together an evening that is specifically designed to honor the other gender. It is full of food, laughter, skits, and video productions and people basically making fools of themselves in an attempt to communicate love, gratitude, respect, thanksgiving and all-around appreciation.

What happens during these evenings is priceless. In the process of organizing it, the gender that is hosting the event often comes together and builds community across normal friend groups. During the night-of, men and women learn how to articulate and receive words of affirmation and love.

Given the amount of familial brokenness that many of my students come from, those words of affirmation are often foreign and learning to accept them is the first key to authentically entering into community. Given how many dads are out of the picture, to have the men affirm the women without any spurious motives is gold, like first-ever drops of water to a parched soul.

On a side note, it's interesting to me to note the differences between how men and women take to the purpose of the night. Tell a bunch of guys to get together and think of ways to honor the women, and it goes one way; tell a bunch of women to get together and think of ways to honor the men, and it goes another way entirely. But that's probably another post for another day.

Our culture and the Christian church have a long way to go in terms of cultivating authentic and genuinely healthy cross-gender relationships. Our little chapter of InterVarsity does, too.

But after last night I am again encouraged by how much power we are given to bless and encourage one another. And the wonder at how much good exercising that power can do.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Super-Sized Me v. Easter: Shame Part 3

Enter Easter. What happens when super-sized me meets Jesus on the cross and the empty tomb?

First, and perhaps counter-intuitively, Easter confirms all our own worst fears about ourselves. Much of the anxiety we feel about ourselves is actually true. We are creatures that do not live as we were designed to live.

God is not interested in comforting sick people by trying to tell them that they are not sick. He is interested in healing sick people, which means that we have to get to the first step: admit the problem.

Easter is God dying a nasty execution-style death for you and for me. Easter rails against the soft-pitch humanism that is so rampant in our culture that would have us to only celebrate the potential of our humanity (which is true) while working overtime to ignore all that is disordered, broken and evil that is at work in us.

Easter declares that we are guilty. Easter does not excuse the brokenness and rebellion and selfishness and arrogance in us. Easter forgives it. There is a tremendous difference between excusing and forgiving.

Easter also confirms our desires for a new name. The super-sized self that we create is a feeble attempt at making ourselves live up to our potential. It fails, because simply imagining a super-sized self does not give us the power to live up to it.

Instead, the Scriptures say that God himself has come to give us our new names and also to re-wire us to actually be able to live into that new name: specifically a new heart and the gift of the Holy Spirit. Easter is God's buying back the right to name and re-name us and then gifting us the power to live into our true new name given to us in love by a good Father.

We long to be more than we actually are. Shame reminds us of that. Of course, some of our shame is false shame, just like there's false guilt. And false guilt and shame are made all the worse when they're put in the context of religion--Christianity worst of all.

Because the point of Christianity is that God meets us in the midst of that mixed bag of true and false shame and he replaces our super-sized self that would rule as a tyrant over us and instead gives us a true new name, a new identity to live into that doesn't kill us but instead affirms us to the core of who we truly are.

When we're living into that new name that God gives us in Christ rather than the self-invented super-sized self, shame is eliminated. Forgiveness and grace are the operating system instead of fear or anxiety or guilt. We don't owe anyone anything any more, all our debts are paid. Freedom and joy and life are ours.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Super-Size Me: Shame Part 2

So one question that has always rolled around in my head has been this: how is that people can in be overflowing with confidence bordering on arrogance in one moment and then within just a few seconds swing in the complete opposite direction towards self-hatred and self-despair?

It would seem that the two are related, but I didn't really get the depths of the connection. And then this summer, I read a tremendous book that pulled the two extremes of arrogance and self-hatred together.

The book is called Sin, Pride and Self-Acceptance. I posted on it multiple times over the summer as the book pulled the curtain back on these issues for me. If you're interested, click here and scroll down to the June 20th post and then scroll back up from there.

The author draws on the work of Karen Horney, an early 20th century psychologist. Horney suggests that early on in our lives we experience anxiety on two primary levels: inter-personally and intra-personally, that is, within our own selves about ourselves.

To deal with the intrapersonal anxiety, Horney contends that the way that we cope is by creating in our imaginations our "idealized selves."

The idealized self is an image of ourselves where we take all of our own understandings of our own best qualities and blow those up exponentially. It's us, super-sized and super-human, performing perfectly. Here's how Horney explains this:
"A person builds up an idealized image of himself because he cannot tolerate himself as he actually is.

The image counteracts this calamity; but having placed himself on a pedestal, he can tolerate his real self still less and starts to rage against it, to despise himself and chafe under the yoke of his own unattainable demands upon himself.

He wavers then between self-adoration and self-contempt, between his idealized imgae and his despised image, with no solid middle ground to fall on."
So returning to my battle with shame over the bounced check. If shame is fundamentally working out the equation "I owe me," where is that "me" coming from? Who's telling me that I am "the type of person who doesn't bounce checks?" Where does that idealized image of myself come from?

We've created our own monsters, a super-sized image of ourselves that is impossible to actually live up to and that continuously looms large over us. When we actually "hit the mark" of that supersized person from time to time, it results in pride. When we miss that mark (which is most of the time) the result is shame: I owe me.