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.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Why I'm Giving up Sermons (and Taking Up Air-Drumming) For Lent

So I didn't grow up with the whole Lent thing. And the way that I've often heard people talk about it has made me rather un-inclined to participate: "oh, crap, tomorrow's Lent and I've got to figure out something to give up" has not been particularly appealing.

But I think I've stumbled across something this week (a couple days late, I know, forgive me o Lenten professionals) that fits the proverbial Lenten bill.

Last year when I was on sabbatical, I came face-to-face with one of my addictions: efficiency merged with competency merged with productivity. I have a strong inner drive to maximize my time, to always be doing something that is useful, productive, and/or helping me get better at something.

One way that this plays out is in how I use car time. I listen to sermon podcasts. I don't do this for personal growth, although that certainly happens.

I listen to speakers that I think I can learn something from in terms of how they do it. I'm listening to increase my competence at doing something that I think I do pretty well and want to push myself to get better and better at.

This is all well and good...except for when it tips over into a striving, grasping, driven-ness. When I begin to imagine that the impact that my speaking has is all about my competency and my ability rather than the power of the Holy Spirit or the gospel itself being the power.

So I'm giving up sermons for Lent. Rather than trying to find significance in striving to become omni-competent in speaking, I'm going to trust in the Lord to be my shelter and my identity. I'm going to rest in his goodness to take care of me and my gifts rather than imagining it's all about me and my gifts in operation somehow apart from him.

In this I was greatly affirmed three days after deciding upon it as I continue the slowest ever pilgrimage through 1 Corinthians 1. Paul says: "we did not come to you with eloquent wisdom so that the cross might not be emptied of its power." I could not have picked a more perfect verse to help me engage with this fast.

I have a lot of thinking to do about that verse and how it applies (or doesn't apply) to the development of a speaking gift. But for now the call is clear: to repent of my trusting in my own ability in order that the cross not be robbed of its' power, either in my life or in my speaking.

I'm taking the time in the car to either worship (I listened to music in the car on Thursday for the first time in over a year and it was fantastic--good to see that my old air-drumming skills are still intact) or pray.

Obviously this isn't the route for everyone--maybe you need to give up music in the car to listen to podcasts! But for this Lenten neophyte, I think that I've stumbled upon the core principle and invitation of Lent: to give up the things that we turn to for strength and affirmation apart from Christ.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Birthday Reflections: Diapers, Donors, and Aging Biblically

Today I turned 36. That's old.

I've had a deep sense of how rich my life is today. That's not always true on my birthday. But today I've been keenly aware of the beauty of my three kids, the joy of being married to a wonderful woman, the richness of wisdom that have been handed to me in the friends and mentors that God has put in my life.

I'm grateful for good work. I'm overwhelmed at the nearly one million dollars donated by hundreds of people over the past fourteen years to allow me to be on campus. Nearly every diaper, every grocery bag, every gallon of gas has been paid for by money that once existed in someone else's bank account before they passed it along to me.

And of course on top of all that, I have a relationship with the Lord that is fresh and particularly tangible recently. I'd give up all else to follow him if he asked it. But he has instead granted me grace upon grace and gift upon gift--tangible expressions of his love are all around me.

So I am getting old. But I remember once my brother talking about his 30th birthday. He commented something to the effect that our culture celebrates youth, but the Scriptures celebrate the wisdom that comes with age. To go against the flow of culture in how we think about age and what's most important is part of the invitation of Christ to follow him.

A good word for me on my 36th birthday. I've had a great one. I hope you've had a great my-birthday today, too.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Learning to Pray the Scriptures Part Deaux: Saints, Ya'll Being Rich, and Finishing Well

A couple weeks ago I posted about how re-discovering the discipline of praying the Scriptures has re-invigorated my spiritual discipline life. Just this week I started reading 1 Corinthians, and chapter one has been rich. Thought I'd share a couple of things that have been forming me these past couple of days just from the first few verses of chapter one.

Paul asserts in v. 2 that the Corinthians are "called to be saints." If you know anything about Paul's relationship with the folks at Corinth, this must have been a labor for him to write. These people were really, really messed up.

But Paul insists that they're called to be saints--as Christians that is their new, true identity. And so two days ago, I prayed that I would lean into my calling to be a saint. That in my husbanding, parenting, in my relationships with students and friends and family that I would live out saint-li-ness.

This is something that our culture dismisses or mocks. But God delights to call messy people his saints. To become a saint is nothing more than to become fully human, fully alive. All un-saintly behavior is dehumanizing, devastating, destructive to our souls and our relationships. "Saint" is simply biblical short-hand for becoming a real human being. That's what I want to become.

That was my prayer on Monday.

On Tuesday, I got as far as v. 5: that in Christ "you [really: 'ya'll'] have been enriched in every way." Paul here is celebrating the richness of Christ's blessing on the community as each has different spiritual gifts. I prayed that I would recognize the gift of how enriched I've been by the community surrounding me. I prayed for my kids to be surrounded at every stage with a community enriched by Christ in every way, for their marriages to be marked by that same richness in Christ.

The next morning, I looked back on that and realized that the days before had been marked by several significant interactions with people older and wiser than me. I had been enriched, indeed, by the "Christ in ya'll"-ness of the body.

This morning, I got to verse 8: "he [Jesus] will keep you strong to the end so that you will be blameless on the day of the Lord. God is faithful..." Given that I have just under 75 days left of my time at UNC, I couldn't have hand-picked a more perfect verse to lean into. I also prayed God's faithfulness for my family, for myself.

This morning I wrote on the inside of my wrist in pen: "HSTE"--He will keep you Strong to the End. I tried to look at it and recite it throughout my day today on campus.

At this rate, I'll finish 1 Corinthians sometime in 2012...but man, it's been good stuff so far.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Learning to Work the Gift of Transition

So transition used to be a season of our lives, now for most of us it's a lifestyle. But just because we live in a culture of transition doesn't mean that any of us do it particularly well.

So last week I asked my nun what might be helpful for me to get the most out of this whole transition away from campus into my new job. He suggested that the value of transition is that it takes away all the props that we have over time begun to identify ourselves with.

I've worked on campus for fourteen years. Throw in four years as a student immediately prior to that, and that's eighteen years on campus. I turn thirty-six in two days. For those of you who struggle with math like I do, that's exactly one-half of my life.

I "get" this context. I have figured out how to do some things well after eighteen years on the college campus. In a broader culture that celebrates competency and results, it's easy for me to begin to define myself by those strengths.

Transition is giving me the gift of stripping me of what I've come to identify myself by--if we allow it, it can do this for all of us. Sometimes those are good things, like friendships or a particular religious community or even a good work like parenting or being a campus minister, but they are lesser things nonetheless.

Transition kicks away all our crutches, all those things that prop us up, that tempt us to think that we have something to make us more loveable or worthy before God or before those around us.

We stand just as we are before God. Our illusions about being accepted or loved or delighted in because of how good/smart/competent/toget
her we are (or appear to be) are all done away with.

And in the process we are given a delightful gift: the realization that God loves and delights in us apart from anything that we do.

I'm hoping that I might come out of this period of transition more settled in the love of God over me than ever before. I'm trying to lean into that in prayer, looking for promises and words of that in the Scriptures, trusting that God might give me this gift as I start to freak out about what the future holds.

Transition gives us the gift of stripping us down to the core of who we actually are, not what we would prefer to appear to be. A scary thought for most of us, especially someone prone to performance like I am.

But I believe and trust that there's life on the other side of these little deaths along the way. This is the way of Christ--and as his follower, I go there with him.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Going Public with My Changes in Latitudes

So the big news in my life is that after fourteen years serving on campus with InterVarsity (9 at Virginia Commonwealth and this my fifth at UNC-Chapel Hill) I'm leaving campus after this school year to take a supervisory position with IV.

This won't entail an actual change in latitude. I'll stay in the south Durham/Chapel Hill area and supervise the campus work at UNC-Chapel Hill, Elon, Davidson, UNC-Charlotte and the University of South Carolina. My primary interaction will be with IV staff who lead the student work on those campuses.

I will begin the job on July first.

As I've told students the news over the past week or two, the reality is starting to sink in. Some students know me and are sad. Some don't know me and don't care. Others just don't like change so any transition is unsettling.

I have a different emotion about every time I think and talk about the change, but the primary one is that I'll miss the campus and working directly with students so very, very much.

The campus has been the context for much of my character and spiritual formation over the past fourteen years...and much fodder for my blog posts! What will I write about without all these spectacular conversations over bad cafeteria food that I've been subject to for the past fourteen years??

After fourteen years and more downs and ups than I care to imagine, I can say without question that this whole season of my life and ministry has been more life-changing for me than for anyone else. And that is something worth reflecting on and celebrating, for sure.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Book Review: "Knowing Christ Today" by a Favorite Drinking Buddy

When I was in college, my staff worker, Dean Miller, encouraged us all to have drinking buddies. A drinking buddy is someone whose writing and thinking you're so familiar with that you could represent them in a conversation or debate.

This has proven to be excellent advice, and over the years I've acquired many such drinking buddies. C.S. Lewis, Eugene Peterson, Lesslie Newbiggin, John Piper, NT Wright, Marva Dawn, Larry Crabb, and Dallas Willard have all proved to be faithful and instructive mentors in the faith.

So I read just about everything these people write. And Dallas Willard is someone who's stuff I thought I'd about figured out. His previous books have been spectacular calls to Christians to take life as a disciple ("student") of Christ seriously. "The Divine Conspiracy" and "Renovation of the Heart" along with "The Spirit of the Disciplines" all drill this message home with astounding clarity.

So when I picked up his latest book, Knowing Christ Today, I figured I knew what his deal was and that I'd get more of the same. Good, but not new.

And then I read it. And I was blown away.

Willard is a professor of philosophy at the University of Southern California. And for the first time in his popular Christian writing, he writes as a philosophy professor taking on the university culture. In particular, he engages in the area of how we can know anything, and whether or not religion in general and Christianity in particular can be a part of the conversation about knowledge of what is ultimately real.

Is faith just ultimately about 'feelings' and 'preferences' or is there something factual that can be stated? Do the sciences debunk Christian faith? Are there two different worlds: the world of "facts" (things we can know) and the world of "faith" (things no one can ever really know)?

If knowledge is involved, what role should it play in a pluralistic context? And how can we bring that to bear without being jerks?

That sounds more confusing than it is. If you're at all involved in the university setting or just serious about engaging questions of how or if religion should play a role in the public conversation about how to live, then you will instantly recognize the issues that Willard engages.

He gets a little squirrely towards the end when it comes to the conversation about religious pluralism--some things I agree with, other things I'm not so sure.

But this book is a 'must read' for anyone who's engaging with the campus world or asking questions about or if "Christian knowledge" actually exists...and what role (if any) that can play in the broader, pluralistic context which we find ourselves in today.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

In Defense of Getting a Cat

So right now my wife is out. When she returns, she'll have our very first real pet: a cat.

Before I get pilloried with the opinions of dog-lovers everywhere, let me first state my case.

First, dogs are way, way, way better than cats. When it comes to personality and engagement and what kind of relationship a pet can have with real people, I choose a dog any day of the week and twice on Sundays.

However, cats are way, way, way more lower maintenance than dogs. They don't require walks. They can be left for a day if need be. They tend to run lower on cost (food, vet).

And my kids much prefer cats. The energy and enthusiasm of dogs overwhelms them. They like the smaller package. They like how steady and relaxed and yes even aloof cats are.

We don't really need the extra complexity in our lives. But our kids tend to be pretty emotionally intense. I for one am hoping for some sort of therapeutic benefit for our lives. Should this benefit not materialize, I'll be pretty bummed to be stuck with a cat.

Some day I'm still hoping for a dog. But tonight, a cat is on the way. I've never had one of these--I've hither-to considered them a waste of good pet-space. So if you're one of those cat-lover types (and you know who you are) feel free to offer any helpful tips.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Dealing with Disproportionate Disappoinment...Like Carolina Basketball

Sometimes things just go wrong. And of course, there's disappointment. But sometimes things go wrong and many, many months (or even years) later, we're still as ticked off as ever. What's up?

It seems to me that when we experience obviously disproportionate pain in the aftermath of some sort of disappointment (break-up, job-related, our "performance" in relating to a friend, co-worker, child or spouse) it's indicative of a deeper issue. It's indicative of our worship.

Everyone worships something. Whether you'd call yourself a Christian or not, to be alive is to worship. We can't help it. We were made for it. If you're alive, you're breathing. If you're alive, you're worshiping.

And when we worship anything apart or alongside or over and above God, that's sin. That's called idolatry.

And when those things that we worship let us down (as they are often wont to do) we feel the effects disproportionately. Whenever we wrap our worship up in our work, relationships, achievements, sports (lots of Carolina fans are feeling the disproportionate effects of basketball worship this winter) we set ourselves up for disproportionate pain.

So if you're carrying something around right now that makes you wonder "what's my problem? why can't I get over this?" Maybe the real issue isn't the thing itself, but the heart's disposition towards that thing.

And the biblical solution for idolatry is always the same: repent, turn around, change your mind about the nature of your worship. And ask for grace to redirect the current of your worship to the place it was intended to flow towards.

And on behalf of a basketball-crazed Carolina nation, I'd like to thank the guys in blue for giving us all plenty of opportunity to repent of our worship of sports success.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Forgiveness, Unloading Pain, and Living the Full-Blown Twinkie Life

So the core of the Christian story is grace and forgiveness flowing toward us from God. And then Jesus and the rest of the New Testament is adamant that we pay that same grace and forgiveness forward to people who hurt us or sin against us.

Of course, if you're really ticked at someone for good reason, that really stinks.

In Christian circles, we often talk about forgiving others out of gratitude for what Christ has done for us. This is true to a point, but feelings of gratitude don't really cut it for the hardest cases. I need a completely new power at work in me, not just feelings of gratitude.

And so enters the central importance of Jesus actually taking up residence in our hearts and minds. To be a Christian is to be "in Christ." And to be in Christ is to have him dwell inside of you. You are the Twinkie, incomplete without the filling. To be filled up with Christ is to be fully what you were created to be.

We have a limited capacity to forgive. But Christ in us has an infinite capacity to forgive. In fact, no matter what's happened to you, Jesus has already paid for that sin and forgiven it: "Behold, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world," his cousin John declared.

And so our job in the work of forgiveness is not to generate forgiveness but to demonstrate forgiveness. Read that again, nice and slow.

It is not on us to dig deep and gut it out and drum up forgiveness. Christ in us has already forgiven, already absorbed that sin against you on the cross. We are therefore instruments of his grace and forgiveness, never initiators of grace and forgiveness on our own.

To be sure we have an important choice to make. We must decide to participate in Christ's forgiveness, we have to allow him in us to do the work in us of actual forgiveness and then allowing him through us to extend forgiveness.

But the hard parts have already been done: the sin has been paid for, the absorption of the sin has already taken place, and Christ already dwells in us.

This, by the way, is not only true in the case of forgiving someone else.

It's true for you when you catch yourself with that really disturbing/broken/angry/si
nful thought or motivation. Jesus already paid for that. No need to go around feeling guilty. Rush to him, he dwells inside of you, invite him to absorb that thought, that motive, and to replace it with his life and love.

And it's true for any pain you experience--be that caused by a specific person or just general pain in life. Jesus in you has the infinite capacity to absorb all your pain--what else would you want to do with it? Allow it to hijack your life/marriage/family/career/soul? Why not allow Jesus to absorb it all and give you life in exchange?

Jesus in us has already taken on all the pain and all the sin of the whole world--the stuff we do and the stuff done to us. The core question in the formation of all our souls is "what will you do with all your pain?"

Jesus has already taken it on himself. To be a Christian is to be the full-blown Twinkie. If you're not a Christian, the offer of living the full-blown Twinkie life is on the table.

Why continue to carry all of this anger, unforgiveness (both of others and yourself) and pain around?

Friday, February 12, 2010

What To Do If You're in (Temporary) Funk-Land

So February has occasionally been a hard time of year for me. I feel restless, have a hard time sleeping sometimes, get lethargic, slip into a mild funk. Some years it's been really hard. Other years, it's been barely a blip. This year, it's somewhere in-between. It's seldom lasted longer than a couple weeks.

A couple of things that I try to do that might be helpful for others.

First, I try to be more disciplined about sleep, decent eating, popping extra vitamin C to keep sickness from adding further complication to an already off-kilter body and soul.

But of course the bigger issue (and this is way more pronounced who have ongoing battles with depression and/or other emotional issues) is what do I do with God in all of this? Where is he? How can I connect when I feel so sluggish and un-motivated?

For those of us with shorter-term challenges like this, I would suggest that there's an invitation to meet Christ in the midst of our brokenness that we should not miss.

I just don't have my "A-Game" right now. Yesterday I got in a really stupid argument with a student. I got irrationally angry at a person blocking the steps for people who were going down the stairs while I passed them going up the stairs. Dumb stuff.

This reminds me that grace and mercy are the most real things in the universe. When I can't perform at my best, I am reminded that regardless of my performance, feelings or competencies, God's grace and mercy are sufficient. My abilities and moods will ebb and flow, the grace of God is the thing that remains constant.

I am reminded that it's in my weakness that Christ is most glorified. I am a "cracked pot" so that God's grace and mercy might shine through those cracks in ways that are uniquely powerful. I need Jesus right now in a way that is more palpable, humbling, and holy than at other times of the year.

Of course I want to qualify all of this by saying that this is my situation and emphatically add that it's temporary. For those of you with longer-term battles, getting professional help and sometimes medications will be the most important step towards help.

And even others with short-term battles have them more severely than I do. Again, I'd encourage you to get help.

But for me, these couple weeks in February is a time when I am tempted to lose "True North" for a little while. And so it's a unique couple of weeks where I am reminded of my need for a savior who is much stronger and greater than I. And in that knowledge, there is grace.

Just don't let me see you blocking anyone's passage up or down those stairs,that just might send me over the edge...

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

What To Do With Irrelevant Passages of Scripture

Recently I've been having a lot of conversations about the Bible--particularly about what to do on the days when you read something that doesn't seem particularly relevant to anything in your life.

For sure, there are lots of parts of Scripture that seem to have little bearing on the burning or presenting issues of our every day lives. How does the succession of kings in Old Testament Israel relate to a stressful day in cube-world, a week crammed with exams, or raising kids?

It can seem at times like these that reading the Scriptures is really just a giant exercise in time-wasting. But I want to propose that there's a gift here if we can position ourselves to receive it.

Part of our problem as humans is that we are all-engrossed in ourselves and our stories. This is only natural, this side of the fall, but it has disastrous consequences. Our worlds revolve around us, our dreams revolve around us, our lives revolve around us. And so our perspective is small and skewed.

And so when we're in particularly stressful or boring or laborious seasons of our lives, we get consumed with the tyranny of the urgent. I need something right now, right away, because me and my world is all that I have. And if my world stinks, then I'm up the creek.

Enter irrelevant passages of Scripture. The gift of these passages is this: they remind us that there's a bigger story than our own. They invite us to enter into a larger story of redemption and healing and transformation that has absolutely nothing to do with us and everything to do with God.

Being put back in our place is a large part of becoming healthy human beings. If we can learn to submit ourselves and our stories even and especially to seemingly irrelevant passages of Scripture, it can give us the gift of perspective.

If we can learn the discipline of simple receiving, of a simple, gracious, humble embracing of these odd or awkward passages of Scripture, they can in turn give us a tremendous gift. They can put the stress of cube world, the frenetic-ness of exam week, or the relentlessness of raising kids into perspective.

So read these passages for what they are. Don't try to force application if there isn't one there, but try to understand whatever significance there might be in the people, conflicts, truths or sides of God that are available. Offer that up to God. Thank him that the Scripture isn't about you but about him.

Ask him to use this passage that has seemingly no application to your every day life to help you remember that it really is all about him and not about you. And ask for help to believe that this is good news. Our stories are not the last word on us. God's story is the last word on us. This really is the best possible gift God can give us.

And it can be a particularly good gift when you read a passage of Scripture that has nothing to do with you and everything to do with the much larger truth that all your days, even the most obscure days of your days, are invited to be a part of God's redemptive story of love, grace, truth and transformation.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

On the Costs of Moving "Mission" to the Center

So this year both on campus and in my own life I've had a growing desire to focus on what it means that God's a missional God who invites us to be a part of his mission of mending broken relationships, first and foremost with himself.

On campus with InterVarsity, that means that we've been un-apologetically focused on calling our community to be a part of God's work in reconciling people to Himself.

Of course, any time you choose to focus on one thing in a Christian community, that means a) other values can get overlooked that shouldn't be and b) people leave who don't like that value.

And so, of course, I periodically want to re-examine and test the call. I'm fine to run people off if we're doing what we're supposed to be doing. We're not running a ministry popularity contest. We are called to serve people but we do not answer to people. But we don't want to run people off recreationally.

And there are other parts to the mission of God. We're 'leading' with this value, but we don't want to miss out on the breadth of God's kingdom. We need to continue to mature in the vision and in how it gets worked out.

So last week I was asking the Lord for confirmation, for clarity. Are we doing what we're supposed to be doing? We're seeing some incredible things on campus, seeing lives change literally right in front of our eyes. But there's still cost, still questions.

Then I read what was simply that mornings Scripture in Proverbs (chapter 24), as I've been working through Proverbs for the past several months:

If you falter in a time of trouble,
how small is your strength!

Rescue those being led away to death;
hold back those staggering toward slaughter

If you say, "But we knew nothing about this,"
does not he who weighs the heart perceive it?
Does not he who guards your life know it?

Will he not repay everyone according to what they have done?

Yep, that about settles it.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Post-SuperBowl Grab-Bag: Exploiting Women, Selling Out, and Lots of Links

Yet another year of our annual, uniquely American event that is the SuperBowl. A couple of grab-bag thoughts for tonight:

-This from Andy Crouch on FB/Twitter this morning: "Was there any Super Bowl ad _other_ than Focus's that featured a realistic, admirable woman in a central role?"

Which led to someone linking to this article and then someone else to this article. Plenty to think about.

-My brother (who's back in the blogosphere after a several month absence...huzzah!) also started to tackle this issue today in his post...linking to the Christianity Today cover-article that I just started reading this morning.

The question: have Christians sold out to a sports-worshiping, crazed, broken nation? I'm not sure that I really want to answer it, to be flat out honest with you.

-The game itself--a good one. Growing up in the 80's and 90's, the rap on the SuperBowl was that it was never actually a game, it was always a super-blowout. But this is certainly no longer true. Blow-outs over the past decade have been the rarity, for the most part they have been very close games, if not always the best-played games due to the super-pressures players feel.

I have to confess that I was somewhat cheering for the Colts. I just like Peyton Manning and how the Colts play the game. But I was glad for the Saints to bring home their first title...but does Bourbon Street really need any reason get the party started early?

Back to regular programming tomorrow.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Tiger, Madonna, Capri-Suns & The Disproportionate Impact of Pain

The other day I was talking with a good friend of mine who had just had a really cool "win" professionally. I was pumped for him. As we were talking, he commented that it seemed like the good things that happen in life don't have nearly the same degree of impact as the bad things.

He mentioned how celebs like Tiger or Madonna will sometimes talk about how they're never satisfied, there's always more they feel like they need to achieve to feel good about themselves.

"Some people say they don't get it," he said, "but I totally do. Something good happens and it feels good for about an hour, but then there's always the question--what's the next thing?"

This conversation has been ringing in my head for the past couple of days. Why is it that the bad seems to impact us disproportionately? And why is it that the good seems to pass so quickly?

So here are a couple of arm-chair musings, take them for what they're worth.

1. We were made to run on joy. So when the good happens, in some ways it's what "normal" should be, so the impact doesn't last.

So my car is made to run on gas. Occasionally I'll put 93 octane in there, but it's all just gas. Even the occasional 93 octane doesn't make that much difference for the long haul.

But say I took a bunch of my kids Capri-Suns, managed to figure out how to get those straws in there without poking the hole all the way through the back, and then filled the tank with Capri-Sun.

The damage done to the car running on Capri-Sun is vastly disproportionate to the good done to the car running on gas.

So it is with us. When good happens, it's what's we were made for. Worth celebrating, but really just how we were made to roll. When bad happens, it cogs the machine of our souls in a way that does disproportionate damage.

2. Given that we live in the Land of the Ruins, it is part of God's gift to us that nothing here ever satisfies for long. If it did, we would settle permanently for this life.

C.S. Lewis once famously wrote:

"...If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak.

We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

It's good news for us in the end that life here doesn't satisfy. If it did, we would settle for making mud pies in the slums.

We are supposed to be somewhat dissatisfied with most everything here in the Land of the Ruins. It's designed to make us long for what we were made for.

Feel free to pass this along to Tiger, I think he might need to hear it.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Just Saying No to Hallmark Moments...And Yes to True Relating

So I just finished putting the kids to bed. And for the second night in a row, what you pictured to be a Hallmark moment before you have kids was anything but. Each night a different kid chose to be cranky, cantankerous, ornery and down-right difficult.

Before I had kids, I never knew that a human being could swing from near-rage-level frustration to warm, affectionate, tender love in the span of approximately 9.5 seconds. Kids do that to you.

One of the things that I've had to contend with in both marriage and with my kids is allowing the overly-romanticized hopes and pictures of what it will be like to burn off without that producing bitterness. Bed time "should be" this sweet, cuddly, fun time with the kids. Sometimes it is. Sometimes it's the worst time of the day.

Faced with this, I have a couple of options.

I could let reality shatter my romantic illusions and be bitter about it. This has all kinds of unpleasant circumstances--one of them being that I end up despising my kids in my heart for not living up to my expectations of them, for not delivering what I need/want/thought they were supposed to deliver. This is equally or even more toxic when we take this route in marriage.

Or I could live in denial about reality and continue to try to massage/force these kids and my life to fit the over-idealized mold I want them to fit into. The consequence here is that I never actually love my kids for who they are. I love the illusion more than I love the actual human beings given to me by God to love. Again, some folks opt for this in marriage. Not so good.

Lastly, I can allow my illusions to pass but do so with humility and even expectation. Only as I die to my pictures of what my marriage or family life could or should be can I then learn to actually love my wife and children for who they are.

In other words, the economy of the gospel is always that life comes from death. Jesus lives this out and invites us to follow in his steps.

Putting to death my own dreams or expectations in order to allow something new to take root is what it means to follow Jesus in just about every area of life. So it is with our most precious and important relationships.

This does not mean that I do not have goals or hopes for how we might grow or what the Lord might do in my marriage or with my kids. But these hopes and prayers for our future together are rooted in the realities of who each one of us actually is, not what my culture or Christian sub-culture would prefer me to look like.

I'm still learning how to lean into that third option. And sometimes when my kids push me to the limits of my patience I can't say that I'm exactly forward thinking in concert with God and the angelic beings he's given me to parent.

But I'm learning, even tonight, to discipline and pray and dream and hope while allowing some expectations to die--with great hope that just as Jesus was raised in a perfected body, so, too, will my own images and expectations and hopes for my family.

But I don't think Hallmark has a card that says all of that.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Overcoming Prayer Shame and Scripture Befuddlement: Praying the Scriptures

So my job means that I talk about religious stuff with people. A lot. And when it comes to prayer, what I find is nearly universal shame: no one thinks that they pray enough or that they pray well.

And when it comes to reading the Scriptures, there's nearly universal befuddlement. Few are reading the Scriptures as regularly as they feel that they should, no one feels like they get as much out of it as they could. Many languish trying to figure out what to read and more importantly how to apply it to their lives.

Over the past several weeks I've re-discovered a discipline that has re-energized my time in Scripture and my prayer life: praying the Scriptures.

The basic premise is simple: as you read, you are open to something that seems significant in the passage or at least significant to you about the passage. This could be a word, a phrase, or an idea.

Then, as a part of sinking roots deep into this word, phrase or idea, you take that portion of Scripture and use it as the lens through which you pray for people you love, situations you're involved in, and whatever else you'd normally pray/think/worry about.

For example, I'm reading through Proverbs right now. One morning last week I came across this phrase: whoever pursues righteousness and kindness will find life and honor.

First, I need to make sure I understand the passage. Proverbs isn't a book about hard and fast promises. It's about general principles. I'm not cashing in an "if-then" promise. Proverbs is giving me an education in the goal of life and basic ideas about how to get there, what kind of person God desires for me to be.

So, I'm intrigued by finding life and honor--these are recurring words throughout the book that describe having found "it." And so I back up: pursuing righteousness and kindness often bears this kind of fruit.

So I pray through the lens of pursuing righteousness and kindness. First, I pray for myself, that the pursuit of righteousness and kindness would mark my character, my husbanding and fathering, and ministry and friendships.

Then I pray for my kids--that their lives might be marked by pursuing righteousness and kindness. That I'd be faithful to live out and articulate the values of both righteousness and kindness.

I pray that my kids will be surrounded by friends who also do this at every stage of their lives--peers and community are so critical for healthy spirituality. And I pray that they'd one day marry someone who also is marked by the pursuit of righteousness and kindness.

Then I go on--praying for the pursuit of righteousness and kindness and the fruit that comes with it to make and mark my co-workers, students leaders, our InterVarsity community.

And finally I pray for those on campus who don't know Jesus, that all the pursuits that shape the lives of students now might be replaced by this pursuit of righteousness and kindness--that in the end they would know the life and honor found in Jesus Christ.

And ultimately, all praying the Scriptures points back to this: that Jesus is the fulfillment of all the Scriptures. Righteousness and kindness aren't disembodied ideas--they have put on flesh in the person of Jesus Christ. All righteousness and kindness is found in him.

Ultimately in praying the Scriptures, I'm running all the threads of my various prayers through the needle's-eye of Jesus Christ. In him is all the fullness of all the blessings offered to us in the Scriptures.

If you're someone who struggles with praying and/or Scripture-reading, I'd encourage you to give this a shot. It's helped me to drill down deeper both into the Scriptures and into prayer...relieving shame and befuddlement in one fell swoop!

Monday, February 01, 2010

HV/AC Units, Selling a Kidney on Ebay, and Redemption of the Will

Happy February, everyone! My guess is that there's some study out there that would tell us that by February 1st the vast majority of people have already fallen through on their New Year's Resolutions.

The problem is, our will power is like my butt-ugly, brown, split-level house meeting my HV/AC unit.

When our butt-ugly, brown, split level house was built in the mid-80's, the heat pump that was purchased for it was right at or just below what was needed for the amount of square footage for the house.

But the people who owned the house before we did knocked down the back wall and built a rather sweet addition. It's a nice sun-room/den area, with a great high ceiling, currently decorated in primary colors for our 6, 4 & 2 year old.

All of this is well and good, except the heat pump is still the same heat pump--purchased with several hundred less square feet in mind. And so, as the greater Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area rests our Southern thin-blooded selves in night-time lows in the teens, the little heat pump that really can't is running constantly to keep up with the demand.

Plus, the thing is original with the house. It's old and inefficient. It just can't really do the job...but to buy a new one would require someone in our household to sell a kidney on Ebay to pay for it. I'm voting for the 2-year-old, she won't know what hit her.

Our will was designed to function in a friction-free environment. We weren't made for conflict, laziness, or resistance of the magnitude that we face post the exchange of life in the Garden for life in the Land of the Ruins.

And so our will-power needs retro-fitting. It cannot handle the demands we place on it. And (here the analogy breaks down) our wills have also been tainted by this sin nature. We've added on all these temptations and challenges that weren't original to our design AND we've also done damage to the "machine" that is our will in the process.

So we need a new will. And the problem is, we can't do it ourselves. Thus, the gift of redemption, and the promise: "You will receive power from on high."

Christianity is not "suck it up, try harder, pull yourselves up by your bootstraps." This, alas, is the conflation of some kernels of Christian teaching with one of our favorite American myths: the self-made person.

We like to think that we have the capacity to rescue ourselves. But if we could do this, we wouldn't need God to come and rescue us, and the whole Jesus on the cross thing is just a charade, an act.

But Jesus on the cross is God's fierce answer to our myth of self-reliance. You can't do this on your own. That's why God has come in Jesus Christ--to do for you what you cannot do for yourself.

It is a mixture of foolishness and arrogance that we demand to attempt (and fail) to do for ourselves what he has offered to give us for free because he knows that we cannot accomplish it any other way.

And so God meets our need for the redemption of our wills. We simply constantly hand over our will to the Lord, asking for him to redeem it, replace it, heal it, soften it, and empower it for the works he's given us to do.

Including getting you back to the New Year's resolution gym.