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.

Friday, May 29, 2009

After We've Screwed it Up: True Redemption

If you've been tracking with me for a while here or if you're a friend or student, you know that last August and September on campus were particularly disastrous for me.

What I thought was going to be a great start to a great year turned out to be a six-week stretch of things falling apart and people abandoning the sinking InterVarsity ship as quickly as they could.

So by mid-September last fall, I was already looking forward to this coming August. I wanted another shot. We had done some things wrong, some stuff was out of our control, some of it was a mystery, some of it was my own sin (I didn't deal with until later). But just four weeks into the year I knew that what I wanted was another crack, a re-start, a chance at redemption.

I was talking about this with my nun about a month ago. He spoke some wise, cautious words. And it's made me think.

My desire to have another chance is how our culture views "redemption." Last year, UNC was a Obama's (and lots of others) pick for the NCAA tournament. Then we got shellacked by Kansas. The word "redemption" was on lots of non-religious lips all over Chapel Hill this past March as we steamrolled through the bracket and won the championship.

But if redemption is just about another chance at something, then it's still just about us and our performance. This isn't the primary way that the New Testament talks about redemption.

In the New Testament, our redemption is not about our own stories done better, with the wrinkles ironed out or the knots un-tied or the regretted decisions or situations re-enacted with a different ending. That would be too small a thing.

Because the truth of the matter is that the regrets or the wrinkles can't be un-done. Our experience of time only moves one direction. UNC still got shellacked by Kansas last year, even if they did win the championship this year. Last August and September of 2008 were tough, no matter what happens in August and September 2009.

So Jesus' redemption runs deeper than just a second-chance at better performance. His redemption of those regrets or pains or "after-you've-blown it" times is the promise that one day all of it must bless you, serve you, will be a part of your glory and joy. He reaches back into time as only he can and domesticates and transforms your wounds and follies into beauty.

And in the mean time, he is good to give us second chances. The "second chance" is not antithetical to Christianity. It's just not redemption. It's a second chance, granted by God's grace, because he's a good Father.

But the second chance shouldn't be confused with God's activity of redeeming things after we've screwed them up. That's already been accomplished for us, apart from anything that we've done.

Peter, for example, gets second chances in the New Testament. He denies Jesus at his death but later in Acts gets the opportunity again and again to stand firm. Traditionally it has been said that he stands firm to the death, even death on a cross, even death upside down on a cross.

There's beauty in the grace of God giving us second chances. It's an awesome thing that God in his mercy and love invites us to do right where we have previously failed. It's part of his perfect Fathering of us that he invites us to again do good work where we have previously made bad decisions or experienced brokenness or pain.

But God's work of redemption is a much greater, fuller, more glorious thing that is in operation quite apart from what we do or don't do. That's real redemption. That's real grace. That's good news.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

New York in August v. Sticking with the Diet

About a month ago I got an invite to do a pretty sweet speaking/consulting gig. It was a quick trip, overnight, to New York. The only catch was that it was in mid-August. August for a campus minister is like December in retail. You buckle down, work your butt off, and try to enjoy the ride.

But as I looked at the exact dates, the invitation fell right in a pleasant window of what looks right now to be wide open space. Nothing on the calendar. As I talked it over with a couple of friends and my boss, it seemed like it might be do-able. I was pretty geeked out about it.

Then I was listening to a sermon podcast where the pastor was prodding us to ask the question: "in light of my present responsibilities, my past experiences, and my future hopes and dreams, is this a wise use of my time?"

He argued that many things we choose to do aren't sinful, they're just not wise. He was calling us to look past the simple "there's nothing wrong with this decision" to think more deeply about the ramifications of our decisions.

In the course of the sermon he talked about the areas of our lives where small deposits over a long period of time are crucial and non-recoverable.

Exercise is one example. If we exercise just 30 minutes a couple days a week, we're healthier people. But you can't make up for the lost time by trying to make up for eight months of non-exercise in one sitting. I've tried. It hurts.

Going to church, same thing. Dieting, same thing. Personal time in prayer and Scripture study, same thing. Miss one day at church, cheat on the diet one time, skip out on one day in personal prayer, no big consequence. But make it a habit, and you fall away from community, from health, and from God.

The speaker wrapped up by talking about small deposits we have to make with our family. He's a tremendous communicator, head of a large church, and has published several books. He gets invites to speak all over the place. And he's got three kids at 12, 8, & 6.

"Maybe some day," he said, "when my kids are grown and out the door, I'll just travel around and take every speaking gig I can. But for right now, my assistant and I just look at each other and we say, 'just say no!'"

"Because my future hopes and dreams include having healthy adult relationships with my kids. And that means saying no to other things so that I might be available to make these small, incremental, regular deposits of time."

I turned down the gig. I desire to make my default posture towards all the cool stuff that might come my way towards a firm "no" unless I get a clear sense that I should make an exception.

I've got a five, three, and 20-month-old (not to mention a wonderful wife) who need to know that they are more important. I desire to faithfully make small, regular deposits of time, to turn towards them and not towards other stuff, even good stuff, even stuff that feels like it could make an impact for the gospel.

I've got a prior engagement.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Tears, The Buzz, The Greenhouse: Viva Rockbridge!

Last Friday I got back from my annual two-week binge on students, Jesus, and IV staff, a.k.a. Rockbridge, our year-end, summer conference. Every year these two weeks remind me why I have the greatest job on the planet. Allow me to illustrate:

For the seventh year, I co-directed/directed the small group leader training track: 150 students over two weeks. On Sunday, the future small group leaders arrive (most of them rising sophomores) as decently gifted students who have varying amounts of clarity as to what they've gotten themselves into.

By mid-week, they're reading their Bibles exponentially more thoughtfully. One afternoon I facilitated a student Bible study prep session and I literally got teary as they unpacked and dug into the Scriptures. In four days, they were loving digging into the good news of Jesus.

By the end of the week, they've got a clear vision for a small group that's a God-centered community.

Over the course of six days, many of them report life-changing experiences in the Scripture and/or in their understanding of leadership. Old people (like me) don't have this kind of time or absorption/growth rate.

People who do this ministry thing (in any context) do it because a) we love God and b) we love people and seeing them grow. Campus ministry is a greenhouse. College students are mature enough emotionally and spiritually to begin to grasp deeper complexities of grace, forgiveness, mission, disciplines.

Students are also at a place when they have the time/space for engaging life (I got 150 small group leaders for a whole week! Church-world friends, any of you planning a week-long small group leader training course for your church small group leaders?) and their souls are churning over they key questions that God is passionate about engaging: who am I? who (or what) is God? what am I doing here?

The week at camp brings all those benefits front and center, and as a result, we see God do amazing stuff.

This year at Rockbridge was also full of quality incidental conversations with students, some sweet frisbee golf, helping our student Coordinating Team map out vision and large group talks for the first six weeks of the fall, and partnering with some of the most gifted people on the planet as I work with other IV staff from across the Region.

Now I'm home, mostly recovered. I generally have to go through post-Rockbridge-buzz de-tox, and this year is no different. I've already ideas for Rockbridge, 2010, which dulls some of the pain. In the mean time, there's plenty of other work to do.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Charlie Brown, Eeyore, Routing a Thousand and the Purpose of Success

So it seems like success in our lives is a double-edged sword.

On the one hand, experiencing some measure of success is vital to becoming fully human. Apart from a deep sense of satisfaction about something that we do well, we are doomed to live the perpetual Charlie-Brown-meets-Eeyore life: a lovable loser, "thanks for noticing me" emptiness.

On the other hand, very few things pose as great a threat to our spiritual vitality as success. When we experience success in any arena, our most instinctive response is generally "Go, me."

This instinct most often pushes God to the margin and ourselves to the center. We fall prey to the very first lie spoken to our grandmother: "you will be like God."

As I finish up in the OT book of Joshua, the man is old and wise and very aware of this propensity to take pride in our own accomplishments...and in the process, to forget God:

One of you routs a thousand, because the LORD your God fights for you, just as he promised. So be very careful to love the LORD your God. --Joshua 23:10-11

This call to "be very careful to love the LORD" in the midst of victory is precisely what the people do not heed over the course of their history as a nation.

Israel's repeated rhythm of success, forgetting God, warnings from God, punishment, crying out to God in the midst of that punishment, and God's deliverance would almost be comical if it didn't hit so close to home.

Here's the deal: if success drives us back onto ourselves and trials are the only things that will bring us back to God, then we can expect a lot of trials in our lives. God is more interested in our character than in what we call success.

But if we can learn the spiritual discipline of celebration with God; if we can learn to experience success and have it bring us back to the LORD; if victories can bring us back to the One who has the final victory over all things, then the full extent of the blessings of both trials and successes can fully bless us as they were intended to: showing us God's character and his delight in us as his children.

Success is always a gift from God. If we learn to receive it as such, delighting in the gift, yes, but even more so in the giver, then we have experienced God's ordained purposes for that gift.

If we only take delight in the success itself, then the gift becomes a curse. And God, in his severe mercy, is often good to revoke it in order to draw us back to the fountain apart from whom we can have no true life.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Classic Tar Heel dilemma: on a lazy memorial day, which years' basketball championship t-shirt do i wear?

Overwhelmed by the choices, I opt for a polo.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Helicopter Parent

So the helicopter parent is a relatively recent cultural phenonemon describing the parents of out-of-the-house children (in college particularly) who continously play an active role in the day-to-day activities of their grown children.

A helicopter parent hovers continuously around their adult child (via the cell pphone) to offer guidance and advice on any number of routine decisions: should I get my haircut, what classes should I take, what should I do this weekend, etc.

I had someone once point to the helicopter parent as proof that the family wasn't in as bad a shape as some would have us to believe. But the truth is that helicopter parenting is simply another expression of the extreme brokenness in our culture when it comes to the familly.

If one of the primary goals of parenting is to prepare your children for healthy adulthood and independence (and I think I read that somewhere but I'm still new at this) then the way that I see some parent-child relationships play out is nothing like healthy.

Helicopter parenting can spring out of all types of soils. I've seen some home-schooling students whose parents were so focused on the family that they taught them nothing about preparing to leave the family.

And I've seen some that have sprung out of the "both parents working, kid has been in daycare since week 6" family culture. Some of these parents feel guilty and try to hang on to make up for lost time.

And of course I've seen healthy parent-college child relationships spring up out of both home-schooled and two-working parents type families.

My wife noted last night that our culture is more kid-centric than ever before. Everything from summer camps to Kinder-Music to more and more organized sports and activities at earlier and earlier ages.

But the results of all this sound and fury seem to signify the wrong things. Post-adolescence as a new label to describe twenty-eight year olds who still act fourteen. Helicopter parents who cannot allow their children to grow up and make normal, growing-up type mistakes.

I wonder if I or my kids will fare any better. Perhaps I'll look back on this post in fifteen years and think how little I knew.

But my hope and prayer for my kids and I is that we'll have healthy, adult relationships as they graduate high school and head off to the great beyond. That means lots of small, hard decisions along the way and allowing our relationship and my role to shift along the way.

I hope that I might not be a helicopter parent some day. If for no other reason than I'm not sure I can afford the cell phone bill.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

God, Deals, and Promises

Last week I heard a story about a man who has spent his whole life in full-time Christian ministry. At some point in the recent past his adult daughter had sat down with him over coffee and explained that she was no longer a Christ-follower. She was leaving the faith.

"As I processed this conversation," he said, "I realized that I thought me and God had a deal. I would work for him, and he would take care of my family."

"And it took this conversation for me to realize one startling and important truth: God doesn't make deals. He makes promises."

Monday, May 18, 2009

God's Timing

Last week as I was looking at that same passage (Jesus' temptation in the wilderness in the book of Matthew) with a group of really sharp student small group leaders, someone pointed out this great little detail that I had overlooked for many years.

Satan's second temptation involves taking Jesus to the highest point of the temple and challenging him to test God by jumping. Satan quotes a Psalm:
'He will command his angels concerning you,
and they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'
Jesus rebuffs the temptation with another Scripture.

But after the third and final temptation, Matthew records this great little detail: the devil left him and the angels attended to him.

Angels taking care of Jesus is the glorious thread here: Satan wanted Jesus to force God into service. Jesus decides to wait on his good Father's provision and timing.

Satan wants Jesus to demand something from God. Jesus decides to wait on God, to trust on him to send the angels in his timing, when the Father knows the time is right.

How many times have I tried to press or rush God into service, into doing something in my timing, when I wanted it, because I thought I had a right or that he owed it to me to deliver me, come through for me, exactly when I wanted him to do so?

Jesus gets his angels, but he gets them in his Father's timing, when it was right and good. God's timing is never, ever, ever, ever bad. God's timing is never, ever, ever, ever wrong.

I would be way better off if I lived into that reality a little more often.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Fighting Identity Theft

Matthew starts the story of Jesus' ministry by talking about his baptism.

Jesus goes out to John the Baptist and has John baptize him in the Jordan. Matthew describes the Holy Spirit falling on Jesus and a voice from heaven: "This is my son, whom I love, with him I am well pleased."

The Holy Spirit then leads Jesus into the wilderness where he fasts and prays for forty days and then is tempted three times by Satan.

What's critical to note in those temptations that the first two temptations start by attempting to shake Jesus' confidence in the voice he had heard forty days earlier at his baptism. Twice Satan leads into the temptation with "if you are the Son of God..."

It seems to me that the questioning of our identity is at the core of our battles against sin and temptation, though we don't perceive it as such.

The most important battles are not primarily about activities as such, i.e. "should I hit that web site again?" The loudest lies we battle are about who we are: am I loved? am I beautiful? am I significant? am I cared for or is it up to me get my needs met? am I valued by anyone?

Jesus fights these same battles. And he wins not only for himself but for us, too. He does not capitulate to the lies. He holds true to the voice that he has heard from his Father. And he invites us to do the same in his strength, to appropriate his victory for our lives, to claim his victory for ourselves.

Jesus is in us. We are in him. That's not just theory, it matters in real-time, right now, as we navigate conflict with friends or family, make decisions about our futures, pay bills, surf the internet, work, take care of kids, plan summer vacations. His victory gives us victory over the lies that make us forget or question our own beloved-ness.

The most significant battles in our souls are not about our activity but about our identity. Satan attempts to shake it with Jesus as with us. He fails with Jesus. By Jesus power and victory, we, too, can begin to have victory over these same lies.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Cow Digestion v. Repentance

Looking at the snippets of sermons that we have from both John the Baptist and Jesus, they have one thing in common: the pronouncement of God's kingdom demands a response. They called that response "repentance," which literally means to turn around, move the other way.

Talking with a fellow IV staffer the other day about what we expect people to do with our teaching. We more or less expect people to consider, ponder, muse, ruminate.

But repentance is not ruminating. Cows ruminate. They chew grass, it goes down to one stomach to churn around for a bit, then they spit it back up, and chew it up some more.

This is roughly what most of us do when we hear the gospel/when hear something spoken to us as the truth...if we give it any thought at all.

But repentance is life change. Not thinking about life change, not regurgitating half-digested truths occasionally for further consideration. Repentance is doing life change.

Jesus' radical message was not intended as another item on the buffet-line of ideas or possible ways to live your life. It was something that demanded a response.

Repentance or rejection are demanded of us when confronted with the ultimate truth-claims of Jesus. Certainly we must consider carefully. Much is at stake.

But Jesus invitation was not a soft-pitched one. He comes strong: "Repent!" Not "Think about repenting when it's convenient for you!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Dating, Parenting, and Giving Permission

The thing about working with students for thirteen years is that I've seen a lot of dating relationships. I've seen some tremendously healthy dating relationships and some tremendously un-healthy dating relationships.

In thirteen years one pattern I've noticed is this: no one who's in an unhealthy dating relationship actually thinks that they're in an unhealthy dating relationship.

We have a tremendous capacity to self-deceive. This is why community is so critical to being healthy human beings. Everyone needs at least one person who has the permission to call you out on anything.

In my humble opinion, I'm a pretty good dad. I love my kids fiercely. But I know that my parenting isn't perfect. Ergo, my wife has permission to speak into/call me out in my parenting. If she doesn't, who will?

I want to love and parent my kids as best I can. This means being open to correction. Preservation of my fragile little ego is not what matters. Parenting my kids well is what matters. Them growing up with a father who reflects the perfect love of the true Father as best he can is what matters.

I've got other people, guys, in my life who have the same permission: Daniel, Sam, Marshall, Tripp, Brian. This can't be all on my wife. She's got to put up with me plenty. I need guys who will also love me enough to speak into my life when they see unhealthy patterns.

The truth is that we are great at rationalizing and self-justifying. The truth is that other people often see us and know us better than we see and know ourselves.

The truth is that to live a fully-real life, we need people who have permission to speak into our lives, even at the most intimate and vulnerable levels. If we refuse to have this, we are condemned to living a life that is susceptible to being a lie.

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Method Behind the Steve Miller Band Clapping Madness

In the classic Steve Miller Band song "Take the Money and Run," there's a rhythmic clapping that occurs seemingly at random.

But if you listen to the song, the clap actually happens after every geographic reference: Old El Paso and Texas.

Drop that little nugget of knowledge and wisdom at your next party...everyone will be way impressed.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Why White People Should Care About Race

Last week I was talking with a black friend of mine who's moderating a mixed-race discussion on race next weekend. He was asking me why I think white people (at least, white Christians) should care about this stuff.

Here's my why's:

1. There is not a book of the Bible that does not at some point deal with racial issues. Don't believe me? Take a look for yourself.

Did you know in Mark Jesus tells Jewish folks that he heals to not tell anyone about it, but he tells Gentiles that he heals to go and tell everyone? That's a racial issue. That's Jesus intentionally making something a racial issue.

But as white folks no one's equipping us to see those issues. As a result, we read our Bibles poorly. As a result, we have no Biblical understanding of issues of race and ethnicity. Therefore...

2. ...most of us adopt the most convenient-for-us posture towards race and push-back against other voices that would call us to engage issues of race.

Most evangelical Christians live in a theologically, morally, culturally and politically conservative milieu. This means that most of us react against secular conversations about race since it most often comes from more culturally and politically liberal voices.

For most of us, that means we adopt the "color-blind" position. We say that we don't see color and that God doesn't see color.

This just simply isn't true, as the example from Mark shows. God is very interested in race. He's very interested in race just as he's very interested in gender: it's part of what it means that he created us in his image.

Since we don't have any real Biblical view of race, we are ill-equipped to engage the issue well. This leaves us on very shaky ground in an area that every single book of the Bible talks about. Think about that for a second. How many other issues do we talk about in church all the time that are built on much scanter ground?

3. The Scriptures call us to bear one another's burdens. If we as white Christians are not aware of how our brothers and sisters are experiencing various kinds of discrimination, if we adopt postures that refuse to hear about it, how can we fulfill this command?

4. I am one of the least "Satan is behind every rock" kind of Christian that I know. But I think that this is a deeply spiritual issue. The amount of "push-back" that I get from white Christians is vastly disproportionate to the amount of "pushing" that I/we as a chapter do in regards to this issue. Some of you reading (if you've even gotten this far) are feeling that right now.

Issues of race are spiritual strongholds for evil. As white folks, we have a responsibility to seek after the Lord and pray hard about this. There is evil at work in our world that as white Christians we have a unique role to play in driving out.

Not that it's all "on us," but we do have a unique role to play in praying out and pushing out evil along racial lines. If we don't engage the issue on every level (from prayer to individual relationships to laws to economics) then true healing will never happen.

5. Finally, I think that all of us are racists--doesn't matter what your race. Just like most everyone has some level of greed or lust or pride at work in their hearts, I think most all of us have some level of racism at work in us. It's so pervasive in our culture you'd have to be Jesus to be racism-free.

As Christians, many of us are somewhat willing to admit that we battle with issues like greed or lust or jealousy. Why should issues of race be any different? Why are so incensed to be called a racist?

I'm a repenting racist. I pray that the Lord might be healing me here just like everywhere else. But it's not going to happen by accident, just like being freed up from jealousy or pride isn't going to happen by accident. I've got to engage with the issue, admit the problem, seek the Lord, even confess it to brothers or sisters.

But we're so locked up here, we can't make any headway. My dear friends, please, let's stop running from this. Let us instead run into it. Boldly. With great hope and faith, trusting that God is good to forgive us and heal us of ALL our sin--jealousy, lying, pride, racism, all of it.

But the first step is to admit the problem. That's why white people should care about race.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Year-End Reflections: Toxins, Inebriation, & Calling Cali

Today is my students' last day of exams. This day generally calls for overly-inebriated celebration by the students and a more reflective celebration by me.

Clearly, my four month sabbatical and the events leading up to that time were the most significant parts of the school year.

But the six weeks back have been really good for me to continue to work out the good soul-work that I did while I sat in Panera for three hours a day for four months with my Bible, journal, Ipod and the occasional book.

The most significant difference in me on campus coming off my sabbatical is my eagerness to keep short accounts on things toxic in my soul.

One afternoon I found myself driving home with tons of doubt, discouragement, and frustration rolling around in my head. Rather than simply trying to talk myself down off the ledge as I would normally do, I realized I needed help.

I called my brother out in Cali, told him what had happened that day, asked him to pray for me. He did, right there on the phone. And as he prayed truth over me I felt the angst wash away. It was a prayer of cleansing that I needed before I got home.

Rather than bury the toxins only for them to come back and bite me another day, I was washed clean of them. I have found myself doing this lots over the past six weeks: calling friends, asking them to pray over me as I've found my thoughts or my heart in places that were not healthy or holy.

Summer time will be a nice return to the sabbatical rhythms of being home with the family more at nights and extra time and space for study and reflection.

But I hope that I might maintain this commitment to releasing the crud through the generous love of the people in my life rather than playing through it. It's way healthier...and I don't get another sabbatical for seven more years.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Joshua, Slackers, and the Great Theologian Tom Petty

I'm still motoring through the Old Testament book of Joshua. By Joshua chapter 18, a bunch of the tribes (families) of Israel have been given their portion of the promised land and have started to settle it. But seven tribes haven't asserted themselves as of yet.

So in Joshua 18, Joshua gathers these people together and upbraids them: "How long will you put off going in to take possession of the land, which the LORD, the God of your fathers, has given you?"

As I was reading that a couple days ago, I started to ask the same question--why would anyone put off (the NRSV says "be slack in") taking possession of something that has been clearly promised and given to them?

As I thought about this for a while, it became clear that this wasn't a uniquely Old Testament, Israelites settling in the land-type problem. This is my problem, too. There are tons of promises from God in the Scriptures that I simply do not live into, lean into, put my whole life into.

I think there are two main reasons for this.

First, I'm lazy. The reality is that the promises of God are all grace, and at the same time almost all of them are conditional on me stepping into them. The Israelites here aren't just being given land. They've got work to do. Some parts of the land still have indiginous people to be driven out. The land has to be cleared and worked and developed. That's a lot of work.

God promises me presence, some measure of protection, power, forgiveness, a sure hope, life abundantly. But all of these promises require me putting off a way of life that is relatively easy and instead deliberately stepping into a different stream.

The New Testament Scriptures call me to live right-side-up in an upside-down world. That takes deliberate action. Sometimes, it's just easier to live upside-down with the rest of the world than to go against the flow.

The second reason why I don't live into the radical promises of God is that I simply don't believe them. I don't believe that God's going to take care of me if I take a different path than the one the world offers me, the one that I most naturally seem to want to follow. I don't believe the gifts of grace are more valuable than the tangible stuff that I can hold that I'm tempted to put my confidence in.

Many of us have felt disappointed with God. He didn't show up to stop your parents divorce, or to stop your divorce, or to help you overcome that addiction or to get you into the school you wanted or to give you the help you needed. This, of course, undermines our confidence in God to deliver on his promises.

I don't have answers for all of this. Sometimes God seems to act promptly on promises or prayers. Sometimes he seems to ignore stuff that we feel we wouldn't ignore if we were God. Sometimes he seems to tell us to wait, and to quote the great theologian Tom Petty, the waiting is the hardest part.

But I think in the end the bottom line is that my life is much the poorer for not grabbing hold of the promises of God in the Scripture and clinging onto them as if my whole life depended on it. And at the same time, cutting ties with all the other promises that I'm tempted to build my life around: success, or financial security, or people's approval, or...

Maybe it's high time to put all my eggs in the basket of God's promises, to take him up on all his extravagant offers, and let the chips fall where they may. I think this is what he invites me to, has been calling me to all along.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Nomination for the Worst Job Ever

Anything having to do with The Dollar Tree, Everything's A Dollar, or any associated, everything is around one dollar-type store.

Not only does the pay absolutely have to stink, every time I'm one of those types of stores (approximately once a year, I checked off my '09 visit earlier this morning), they play '60's disco music. Everytime.

Now I'm as enthralled at the propect of everything in there costing just a dollar as much as the next consumer. But seriously, am I going to "shake, shake, shake. shake, shake, shake. shake my bootie" because of it? I think not.

But maybe I just lack imagination.

Any other nominations for the worst job ever?

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Mercy-Moment Flare-Ups

So I don't really have any mercy gifts. None. Some people love stuff like spring break Habitat projects. Nothing exhausts me more. I'd rather do door-to-door contact evangelism in downtown Baghdad than do a service project over spring break.

I'm so negatively mercy-gifted that people who have mercy gifts who are close to me end up losing their mercy gifts. I'm like a mercy-gifts black hole. I suck them away from people.

But I was in a leadership class several years ago when a professor pointed out that Jesus was a mercy-gifted leader. So I've been in mercy-gifted rehab for the past couple of years, trying to cultivate mercy a little more intentionally.

This might explain what happened to me yesterday at church.

During the course of a sermon from Ephesians 5 on the importance of obedience in the area of sexual immorality, our pastor cited the issue of child sex trafficking as evidence of how broken our world is sexually.

He told the story of the people who started the charity Love146, a charity that works to free girls from the sex trade industry.

Something about the thought of children being sold as sex slaves disturbed me more than anything has disturbed me in a long time. This isn't the first time I've heard someone talk about children being used and abused in this way, but for some reason it really hit home, made me angry.

And as I was sitting there, Sunday morning, in church, surrounded by fairly comfortable people, singing songs and mixing with friends, this really loud internal voice screamed, "what am I doing here?? How can I just sit here comfortably when this kind of thing is happening? When little girls not much older than mine are waking up this morning to a life of misery and exploitation?!?"

I went home, still deeply troubled. As I processed and prayed, I think I came to some clarity:

1. The Lord is sovereign over heaven and earth, and he is not silent and has not abandoned any of his creatures, even those girls. And he is the one who makes all things new, all things right. This is my hope.

Even if I sold everything I had, took me and my family to Thailand and we set up shop rescuing girls from prostitution, the Lord is their hope and my hope.

2. Therefore, worshipping on Sunday morning, taking communion, commemorating that hope and speaking it to the people around me and offering my life to my God is not something I do recreationally. It is vital.

Worship is the end of it all. If I were to move my family over to Thailand and we were to rescue girls, what would be my hope for them? Clearly, that they would know the love of Christ and find healing and freedom to forgive and power to move forward with their lives.

If that's the end I hope for those girls, it is the end that I myself must embody, not neglect. I must not forget that worship is what matters. Freedom and activism is a means to the end of the worship of Jesus, not the end in and of itself.

Worship is not a waste of time. It is part and parcel of healthy and holy activism.

3. Sometimes in the passion of being angry about something far off, you can forget to love those whom God has given you to love in your immediate circle. This is the classic trap for those who are actually activists: they burn themselves out for orphans far off while neglecting their own children who are near.

So I must love my three kids with a reckless, fiery, patient, wise love. This is the place, these are the little people, whom God has given me stewardship of. I must not neglect the love of them for the sake of those who are far off and therefore, in a sense, actually easier to love hypothetically than the cost of loving these little people in real-time, with real cost associated with it.

4. Finally my prayer became a prayer that I read somewhere: I lament that I have only one life to lose for the sake of the gospel. For right now, he has called me to lose that life for his sake on the college campus.

I love it. But there are so many other things that I would love to also lose my life for as well.

I think I need to find a way to express this desire to see girls freed and cared for. Maybe Kelly and I need to find a way to give more money away and work Love146 into our budget. Maybe there's other ways we can work this out.

For now, I have more work to do on the college campus. And I've got to find a way for these pesky mercy-moments to not flare up quite so violently

Friday, May 01, 2009

Maps in the Hands of an Angry God

Earlier this week I was looking over my bookshelf and came across some old Bibles. As I surveyed the tattered-ness of said Bibles, it reminded me of the wise words of one Scott Love, a friend of mine from college.

It seems that for the two decades of the '80's and '90's it was a requirement in Bible-publishing to include at the end of the Bible full-color maps of various Biblical events: the Israelites journey from Egypt through the wilderness, Jesus' travels and significant events, the missionary journeys of Paul, and so on.

But the thing about these lovely full-color maps was that they were always the first to fall out of your Bible. Which brings us to the wisdom of my friend Scott (now "doctor") Love and the point of today's post.

The reason why the maps fall out first is because it's not a part of canonized Scripture! If God had wanted us to have Paul's second missionary journey, he would have included that to begin with!

Thanks, Scott. This post is dedicated to you, wherever you are, whatever your doing. Your legacy lives on.