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 29, 2010

Good News for All You Compliment-Haters, Too

So yesterday's post we talked to people-pleasers who sought out affirmation--there's something redeemable there, but the bad stuff has to die first and then it has to be re-directed towards its' intended target.

But fishing isn't the only way people relate to compliments. Some people avoid affirmation and compliments like my kids avoid bed-time. I think most people at this end of the spectrum would say that they attempt to brush off compliments because it feels awkward. They're just never quite sure what to do with them.

But I think that the reality is deeper. I think fundamentally people have a hard time accepting compliments because the compliments feel like lies.

Whatever the compliment, whatever the affirmation, the inner voice can find a dozen pieces of evidence to point to the contrary. The good things can't be true--look at all the ways that I've failed, all the insidious things inside of me or ways that I've completely screwed up.

We hate compliments because we hate ourselves. At the core of it, we can't imagine that there's anything genuinely worth celebrating or affirming. We're a mess. We know it. The person who speaks a kind word to us is either lying or just doesn't know us very well.

And here, the same Scripture from 1 Peter 1 speaks words of corrective freedom to you, oh affirmation-avoidant ones! Trials come so that your faith might be tested. What proves to be genuine "will result in praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed."

Here is the one, true celebration of you that cannot be brushed off. The faith that will be revealed will be pure, refined, and tested. And more importantly, the One who speaks words of celebration over you is neither a liar nor is He in the dark about "the real you." The one who knows you better than you know yourself will speak words of affirmation and celebration about who the real you always was, is, and ever shall be.

And so, at last, here is the word of affirmation that will not allow you to squirm, blow it off, or duck. It will settle deep in your soul--indeed, it will have a settling effect over the entirety of your soul. No more secret doubts or self-hatred. You can be at rest. This rejoicing over you will be the most true thing ever spoken about you. And it will be with you into eternity.

The failures and struggles of the night will be over. Dawn has broken. And we will laugh and sing and dance and celebrate one another and the goodness of Jesus for centuries and centuries together in the glad presence of our good and generous Father.

Given the Father's extravagant nature in rewarding even the most meager acts of faith with words of exquisite kindness and joy forever more, perhaps it would be a legitimate and holy spiritual discipline for those of you who hate compliments to learn how to accept them.

It'll be good practice for what's coming up ahead.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Good News for People-Pleasing Approval-Seekers

Hi, I'm Alex, and I'm a people-pleaser.

Hi, Alex!

One of the ways that my people-pleasing has worked out in the past is the need for regular approval and applause. If people are affirming me, I'm doing alright. If I'm not getting any love, I gotta' find a way to angle for some applause. I'm way healthier in this than I used to be, but those patterns still occasionally eek out of my soul.

Then I come to a passage like the one I hit the other day--it talks about the purpose of trials are to prove our faith to be genuine so that (get this) it might result in "praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed" (1 Peter 1:7).

So here's the bad news and the good news for applause-seekers like me. The bad news is that seeking applause is toxic. People-pleasing is death, and if we allow it to go un-checked, it will destroy us.

But there is a kernel of God-stuff in there: you were made to please Someone. There's a good Father who actually delights to be pleased with his children. Some of you have dads who were never pleased with you. Good news: God is not like that.

God delights to celebrate you. In the end your Father will take great joy in looking back over your life with you, looking intently for every smallest inkling of a step of faith and obedience that you ever took. And you and He will delight in it together. It will result in praise and glory and honor for you.

God cannot wait to delight in and over you; he does so already. When Christ is finally revealed he will do so once and for all. That’s good news for us people-pleasers who can become addicted to applause and approval—a call to repent from our addiction to people’s approval and look for and trust in the Father’s approval.

If only there was a 12-step program to help me to get there.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Conversation No One Cares About Any More: Predestination & Free Will

In my fourteen year reign of terror as a campus minister, few things have shifted as radically as the interest in the historical theological quandry of predestination v. free will.

As a student, we would agonize for hours over if God had chosen people for salvation (and had not chosen others) because our wills were too broken to choose him...or if we all had enough will power in us to make a decision on our own for God.

For many years I was solidly in the "predestination" camp. If there was a scale from 1-10, one being God is a distant clock-maker who winds up the universe and steps back to watch and ten being that God dictated that I'd be wearing my blue fleece right now, I was somewhere around a nine.

Over the past seven or so years, I've shifted to probably around a seven. It's still mostly about God's initiative, pursuit, and occasionally dragging us back home by our hair, but we have some inexplicable ability to embrace or reject that pursuit...sometimes.

But like I said, no one's asking that question on campus any more--the conversation has shifted to much more practical issues like justice and the problem of pain. On the whole, I think this is a good and helpful shift to a much more productive conversation.

But I've been reading 1 Peter 1, and Peter opens up with calling the recipients of his letter "the elect" and says that they were "chosen according to the foreknowledge of God." So, in spite of my historical avoidance of this topic here in blog-land, I'm ready to give a quick sketch of what I think the point of this whole election/choosing thing is all about.

God chooses. There's no way around that. Starts with Abraham--chooses him to be the father of the nation Israel. No particular reason or anything in Abraham that commends him especially (he was an idolator), God just picks him to be the father of the nation Israel. But what is Israel's job? To be a light to the nations. The choosing was for the blessing of those not-yet chosen.

The New Testament talks about choosing a lot. And the one who is most "chosen" throughout the New Testament is NOT the church but Jesus himself. Jesus is the chosen one. There's lots of ways to talk about what he was chosen to do, but Jesus himself described his mission this way in Luke 19: "I have come to seek and save the lost."

Jesus' chosen-ness is certainly about him...but it is also about a work that he is to do that's beyond him to reach those who are far from God.

One of the first thing Jesus does is choose twelve guys. He gives them the name "apostles." Apostles literally means "sent ones." The chosen ones are not chosen for the sake of themselves. They are chosen for the sake of being sent to those who are not yet a part of God's family.

The purpose behind God's choosing throughout all of history (from Abraham through the prophets to Jesus to his disciples to his church today) is missional not institutional.

The point is not to create massive bureaucracies like nation-states and now churches that simply exist to feed the machine of themselves. The purpose was to create a nation-state and now a church that exists to partner with him in seeking and saving the lost.

Lesslie Newbiggin sums it up gloriously (as he does most things):

The Church is the bearer of the work of Christ through history, but not the exclusive beneficiary. God purposes the salvation of all. For this purpose he has chosen a people.

Because that people have over and over again fallen into the sin of supposing that they have a claim upon God which other men do not have, they have over and over again been punished and humiliated and have had to hear the word of God spoken to them from others…

The Church is servant and not master. It is appointed to a stewardship on behalf of all, not a privilege from which others are excluded.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Why McDonald's Is Ethnic Food

I've been thinking again recently about the issues of race and racial reconciliation...and the struggles that us wonderful but confused white people have when it comes to the issues. One of the hurdles to a fruitful (and genuinely Christian) approach to the issue is that we don't understand that McDonald's is ethnic food.

One of the major barriers to white people being involved in the racial reconciliation process is the fact that we're blind to the fact that we have a particular culture in the first place.

In the ground-breaking book "Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria," there's a great story of a white woman complaining at the end of a class discussion on race that "I'm not white, I'm just normal!"

Because white folks are in the majority, we don't even recognize that we have a particular culture. We don't see that we have a particular way of doing things, organizing our society, and a values taxonomy that is good and bad, has strengths and weaknesses, has blessed many people and has done tremendous harm. Every culture has that. Including white culture.

We don't think about our race and ethnicity because we don't have to. We're not "white," we're just normal. And so we call all food that isn't white "ethnic food."

And that belies the fact that we have no idea that the tray you get with your value meal comes freighted with white cultural values: consistency (you get the same Big Mac from Maine to Spokane), speed, and disposability...with, of course, the option to be summarily (and speedily) super-sized.

We can argue the benefits or detriments of these values, but what we cannot miss is that this combination of values is unique to white America. Until we take the blinders off to the fact that white is a unique and particular ethnicity, it will be impossible for us to enter into fruitful long-term dialogue with our brothers and sisters of other ethnicities about moving forward in reconciliation.

A quick plug: the book "Being White" is a great help for folks who are interested in taking a step into this journey...and just saying "no" to being super-sized is a great help for folks who are interested in any sort of clogged-artery-free life.

[True confession bloggers note: for the two of you who have been with me that long, this is a slightly re-worked post from a couple years ago...hope you enjoyed!]

Friday, April 23, 2010

What I Gotta' Do Before I Can Do What I Gotta' Do

So maybe I'm just getting more uptight in my old age, but today was one of those days when I had a bunch to do and couldn't do it until other, less important things got done.

Printer cartridge dry. Seriously annoying. I've got important things to print. What am I supposed to do? I got fifty emails and dozens of phone calls to make, but after a week of not having a printer that prints except in purple, I went to Staples. Printer cartridge. Check.

Oil change 850 miles overdue. I feel like I'm driving my poor beat-up 112,000 mile Mitsubishi Galant with gritty sandpaper running through the engine instead of oil. Gotta' get the oil changed. Jiffy Lube. Check.

Not much gas. Could get home, but then what? Go in the morning? Stop to get gas. Check.

Realize that I need flip-chart paper, tape, and markers for a presentation this afternoon--this realization hits after I have already left Staples far behind. Hit up Walgreens, they come through for me. Presentation props, check.

Ahhhh, now I can really get to work. None of this had any bearing on my tasks for the day, but there's something about nagging tasks floating out there, left un-done and hanging over me, that can make it hard for me to really focus on the work at hand.

But maybe that's just me.

Meanwhile, last night's large group was a great good-bye. Woke up this morning feeling centered and grateful and peaceful about leaving here and looking ahead to what God has next. I'll miss the people, but it's time.

A good gift to me. I'll be praying for my seniors to have the same deep sense of peace for their own lives.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Pilgrims, Seinfeld & the Office, and Reflecting on my Last Large Group

Tonight, for the last time, I'll join a couple hundred college students for InterVarsity's weekly large group.

I've been going to large groups on Thursday nights for the past 18 years--four as a student, fourteen as a campus staff. In the process I missed out on Seinfeld, Friends, The Office and much else that has defined Thursday evenings for most other 36 year olds that I know--I think I've caught about two episodes each.

But in lieu of sharing tv experiences with America, I have been a part of God-moments. Certainly not every week. But plenty more than I can count. And tonight's my last chance to do that with a group of students that I can in some sense call "mine."

This morning as I felt the weight of tonight's last large group, God was good to have me in 1 Peter 1. In his opening, Peter refers to the churches he's writing as "strangers in the world." What he means is pilgrims, aliens, people who are in a sense disconnected from their exact context.

There's a call for people who follow Jesus to fiercely love this world while at the same time recognizing transience--our own and the transience of the way the world is currently. This world is not our home--at least, not yet. One day it will be.

But we are not to become overly-attached to the Land of the Ruins. We are pilgrims--moving, looking, waiting, longing for something more.

Tonight's large group reminds me that part of my work in following Christ is to love recklessly but not fix myself anywhere that is not home. Home is coming. In the mean time, I am to serve and love and work and play and rest and laugh. But I must keep moving towards home.

Some day, there will be no more good-byes. Some day, we will be in a permanent place. A place we can honestly and finally call home. I think that the military-kid in me longs for that with a particular ache.

In the mean time, we must live here as pilgrims. And we look ahead to the day when He makes all things new. Come, Lord Jesus.

After tonight I'll have my Thursday nights back. Maybe I'll join the world of Thursday night t.v. Maybe I'll just read a book.

All I know is that I wouldn't trade-out my last fourteen years of Thursday nights with students for anything else...and that as a pilgrim following Jesus, he has called me to leave what those Thursday nights have represented (campus and student work) for a new work that will have different costs, different blessings.

And my work, at the bottom of all of it, is to trust him.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Obedience Remorse and The Opposite Trajectories of Sin and Holiness

Last week I was talking with a friend about the whole idea that Jesus makes demands of us. He asked me a great question: had I ever regretted submitting to the demands/commands of God?

I've continued to think on that question. Have I ever regretted saying yes to God, even when it was really hard?

I think that there have been times in the immediate aftermath of a hard decision where I've have "obedience remorse." What did I do?!? This stinks! It's hard or painful or I feel deeply the loss of something.

But I can't think of any time when I've made a decision to obey where, eventually, I didn't come to a place of, at best, tremendous joy, or at worse a sense of peace. Even when all the ends don't tie up completely, and there are questions that still linger, I've been able to come to a place where I am settled in having obeyed--that's good enough.

This brings me back to what I think is a core principle of the universe. Sin operates under the law of diminishing returns. It starts easy. But, like any addiction, you need more and more of it to continue to have the desired effect. Eventually, it ends in utter hollowness.

Holiness, on the other hand, starts hard. It's a narrow gate, a challenge to take those first faltering steps. But as holiness unfolds, it grows in depth and impact and power. As we walk this way, it opens up to places of greater wonder and joy.

This isn't a linear process--more like fits and starts. But the trajectories of sin and the trajectories of hoilness are pretty much predictable. It's just hard to remember that when you're faced with the situation in real-time.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

A Prayer

My good friend (and former VCU IV student) Tim is one of my most frequent commenters/occasional sparring partners here on my blog. He's my vocal Catholic--and I'm grateful for the perspective he brings to these posts.

Last week as I was flailing around about communion, he sent me a great prayer that I've come back to several times over the past several days. It's rich with complexity and simplicity and truth. I thought I'd share it with you...enjoy:

Stay with me Lord, it is necessary to have you present so that I do not forget you. You know how easily I abandon you.

Stay with me Lord, because I am weak and I need your strength that I may not fall so often.

Stay with me Lord, because you are my life, and without I am without fervor.

Stay with me Lord, because you are my light, and without you I am in darkness.

Stay with me Lord to show me your will.

Stay with me Lord so that I hear your voice and follow you.

Stay with me Lord, because I desire to love you very much and be always in your company.

Stay with me Lord, if you wish me to be faithful to you.

Stay with me Lord, as poor as my soul is I wish it to be a place of consolation for you, a nest of love.

Stay with me Jesus, because it is getting late, and the day is coming to a close and life passes. Death, judgment and eternity approaches. It is necessary to renew my strength so that I do not stop along the way, and for that I need you. It is getting late and death approaches. I fear the darkness, the temptations, the dryness, the cross, the sorrows. Oh, how I need you, my Jesus, in this night of exile.

Stay with me tonight, Jesus, in life with all its dangers I need you.

Let me recognize you as your disciples did in the breaking of the bread, that the Eucharistic communion be the light which disperses the darkness, the force which sustains me, the unique joy of my heart.

Stay with me Lord, because at the hour of my death I wish to remain united to you, if not by communion, at least by grace and love.

Stay with me Lord, because it is you alone I look for: your love, your grace, your will, your heart, your spirit, because I love you and ask no other reward but to love you more and more.

With a firm love I will love you with all my heart while on earth, and continue to love you perfectly during all eternity.

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Means and Ends: The Pitfalls of Communion, Authenticity, and Lots of Other Good Stuff

So I think that over this week with my posts on communion and authenticity, I've hit on a common thread that's my main beef with both of them in different circles: mistaking means for ends.

We do this all the time in all kinds of different arenas of life, but it happens pretty consistently when it comes to religious stuff. We get so caught up in something that is good that we forget that it's supposed to point to something bigger and better. We fall in love with the means and forget that it's pointing to the more important ends.

My systematic theology professor was huge on this: "I don't believe in prayer!" he declared one morning, "I believe in the One who is Lord over prayer!" Prayer is the means. Jesus is the end. We don't put our trust in prayer. We put our trust in Jesus. Or at least, that's how it's supposed to be.

But we sometimes get mixed up in thinking that somehow our praying is what matters. It's not. It's Jesus that matters.

And so it continues: I don't believe in authenticity except as a means to the end of holiness. That's the proper ends for which authenticity is the means.

I don't "believe in" the Bible. I believe in the One who is Lord over the Bible. The Bible did not die for me. The Bible wasn't raised for me. The Bible is a means to the proper ends of finding Jesus Christ. There are many professors on campuses all across the country who know more about the Bible than I do...and yet it has no affect on them. They have not yet discovered the Bible's true purpose. And so they continue to walk in darkness.

And wrapping back to my post from earlier this week, I don't "believe" in communion. I believe in the one who is Lord over communion--it is his table. I don't pray to the elements. They are a signifier. The more important thing is the thing signified.

I helped write a book on small groups (been a while since my last shameless plug). But I don't believe in small groups. I believe in the one who delights to shape lives through community, Scripture and prayer.

"Jesus is the end (telos) of the law," the New Testament declares. Telos--end, goal, purpose. Like a telescope, the law was aimed at the person and work of Jesus Christ. So, too, are all these other things.

"I am the way," Jesus declares. And yet we so often like to try to create other 'ways.' Or ways to the way. But Jesus is the way. All else falters except that it points to him.

This is tricky, because of course there are more or less faithful ways to discover the true nature of God. We are commanded to pray, to study Scripture, to be a part of the body, to eat and drink in remembrance of him.

And given our temperament, upbringings, and personal preferences, each of us will find different disciplines more or less helpful in experiencing the realities that are available to us in Christ. And of course, once we find what works for us, we are generally relentless in insisting that it's the best for others as well--mea culpa.

But the bottom line is that all of these things are meant to lead us to Christ. When we worship the sign rather than thing signified, be that the Bible, prayer, the bread and cup, whatever then we have missed the point, and turned a very good thing into a very poor idol.

Should it Stay or Should it Go: Stuff, Worship, and Cleaning Out the Clutter

This past week I was hanging out with a friend who is hanging out with Jesus in the Scriptures for the first time. We talked about how Jesus seemed to always invoke strong reactions. To meet Jesus was a violent fork in the road for many people. He was not just a passive, benevolent grandfather figure. Jesus demanded a response.

So what does that mean for us? How are we to respond to Christ?

Specifically, we started talking about the comfortable life of white, middle-class folks. Should we need to be spending our time mowing lawns, surfing several hundred t.v. stations, and the like? Do we have to give all that stuff up in order to really be a part of this whole Jesus business?

As we talked, it seemed that there are a couple of equal and opposite truths that we're called to live in.

First, there can be a false dichotomy between sacred and secular. We are invited to do everything to the glory of God: eat, drink, mow the lawn, raise kids, and yes, even watch t.v. All of this is offering-material for those of us who are following Christ. It is possible for him to be delighted in all of it.

On the other hand, sometimes our lives are cluttered with crap. And some of that crap needs to go.

Some of us need to cut out things because it's killing us, choking us out with worry and anxiety and fear and upkeep. Jesus talks about such people with the parable of the soils: the cares of this life are multiplied the more stuff we have. It literally could destroy our souls. For many of you in this boat, it is already killing your joy.

Still others of us need to get rid of stuff, good stuff, even, simply because Jesus has specifically called us to do so. "One thing you lack," Jesus once said to a rich young man, "Go sell all you have and follow me." This is a specific command he offers to this one man (i.e. he doesn't tell everyone to do this) so we must be careful to not recklessly universalize this. But some of us are called to do this very thing.

And so we must all be willing to do so. And in that is the worship. If there's anything that we wouldn't give up in order to follow Christ, it's become our God. And it must go.

This tension between gathering up the things of our lives as our worship and clearing out the things in our lives in order to worship is a tough one. I generally would prefer attempting door number one first.

But the work of the Spirit is to lead us into the worship of Jesus. He is the end of all our "stuff." All our resting, playing, living, working, breathing, parenting, soccer-coaching, errand-running, hope-setting must be done ultimately with him in view. That is the true work of following Christ, even and especially in suburbia-ville.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Soundtrack for Emotionally Dysfunctional Griever Wanted

I've always thought that life would be much easier to navigate if it came accompanied by a soundtrack that helped you to know when the big moments were occurring. The music gets louder or more intense or more dramatic and you know to perk up, pay attention, dial in.

Without the soundtrack, it seems so easy to miss the really important stuff. You look back and realize that the moments that most mattered are delighted in more in retrospect than in real-time.

So I'm in my last week of normal campus work. And one of my (many, I'm sure) emotional dysfunctions is that I'm a post-dated griever. In other words, the enormity of my change in work for next fall will hit me sometime in July.

Recognizing this, I'm wanting to be fully present to things this week.

This is my last week of doing what I've done for the past fourteen years: meeting just about every day with students to sort through personal issues, ask big questions about faith and life, point out patterns of sin and brokenness in their lives, celebrate the great things God is doing in and around them, and generally wade into the every-day-ness of their lives looking for how God's at work in them.

It's a great gig. Some days I'll literally have six or seven back-to-back-to-back conversations that run at levels of honesty and transparency and depth of spiritual longings and struggles that some people will never have their entire lives.

But I'm done at the end of this year. And it' s a good thing that I'm moving to--focusing on developing and leading staff across several campuses rather than students at one campus.

But I'm trying to grow up a little bit, trying to figure out how to soak in these last moments on campus rather than realize months from now how much I'll miss the place.

But I don't know how to do that without it feeling forced. Everything seems to collapse into cliche: count my blessings, smell the roses, stop drop and roll. Okay, not that last one, but everything else is what comes to mind. I don't want to try to drum up emotion or invent it, but I do want to feel what there is to feel when it's happening in real-time, not two months delayed.

So I'm not sure what all that means. I'm just praying that this last week on campus will be full of God's grace to help me to enjoy the right moments and to grieve what I'll miss about the place, the people and this specific work.

It would just all be much easier to do if I had that soundtrack.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Authenticity: It's Over-Rated

So for UNC InterVarsity's vision statement for the year, one of our buzzwords is "authentic." We want to be an authentic community.

Much of this in my context is a deliberate response to Southern, Bible-Belt Christianity which is perceived as showy and fake. Being in church is sort of the culturally southern thing to do, and not always linked to much of anything genuine. It's about putting up pompous fronts and towing a certain line on certain issues.

Thus, our emphasis on "authentic."

But the problem is this: authenticity is not really our goal. Our culture is all about "being yourself." We've elevated the values of non-conformity and celebrated and excused just about any behavior if it can be categorized under the banner, "I'm just being me."

In biblical terms, there is nothing valuable about this whatsoever. Authenticity is not the goal. Holiness is. Obedience is. Following Christ is.

Authenticity is a means to a much better end. Authenticity frees us to confess our sins to people around us and receive words of gracious and loving correction and help. Authenticity means that we bring who we have been to the table--warts and all--in order that we might no longer be bound to who we have been.

In Christ, we are "becoming beings." When "being authentic" serves as an excuse for self-aggrandizing rudeness and sin, it's just stupid. When authenticity points us on the path towards transformation, towards becoming who we truly are and will some day be in Christ Jesus, then it has served its purpose.

Otherwise, authenticity is just another thinly-veiled excuse for the self-absorption that so marks our age...and destroys so many lives.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Confusion and Rays of Clarity About the Meal Jesus Gave Us

Thursday leading up to Easter is called "Maunday Thursday" in the Christian calendar. "Maundy" is from the Latin meaning "mandate," as in Jesus mandated that we eat the bread and drink the cup--communion or the Eucharist.

Which is all well and good except that ever since last Thursday I've been realizing that, with all apologies to my sacramental-type friends in the Anglican, Catholic, Episcopalian, and Lutheran traditions, I just don't get it.

Growing up in Baptist churches with a communion service maybe once a quarter, I realize that communion in my contexts had a low value and Scripture a very high value. And I think that if I had to choose one or the other, I'm glad for the tradition that I grew up in.

Bottom line, how do people grow spiritually? Communion wouldn't make my top five, maybe not even my top ten. I don't believe that taking communion will break someone's porn addiction, for example. But Scripture, prayer, community, accountability... I have seen these things make a difference.

Take away communion, people can still grow. Take away Scripture or prayer, not so much. So what's this thing all about?

I was pondering these things as I visited a church on Sunday. They happened to be having communion this past week. And for a variety of reasons I was deeply impressed with my need. My need for mercy, for strength, for new life, for refreshing.

And then I got the elements. And something about the bread and the cup impressed the reality on me: I had already received those things I felt I needed. Mercy? Strength? New Life? Check, check and check again. I had been given those things and more in the work on the cross.

A little piece of bread and a shot of grape juice spoke those realities to me, re-oriented me around the most-true things that I had lost sight of in the clutter of my everyday life and the various and sundry tyrannies of the urgent.

I still have a long way to go to really "get" all that's wrapped up in the communion thing. I don't ever think that I'll be a full-fledged sacramental kind of guy. But the Lord shed some light last Sunday on a part of my corporate disciplines experience that I needed to be awakened to

Friday, April 09, 2010

Paula Abdul, Amish Barn-Raising, and the Integration of Our Personality

The seven or so weeks after spring break in IV-staff-land is always deceptively busy. And this year I'm feeling it. I have been working late nights, weekends, and burning the proverbial candle at just about any end I could find. I'm feeling it. I'm tired.

And perhaps my readers are feeling it--I've felt really blog un-inspired the past several weeks.

When I get like this, odd things eek out. It's like exhaustion releases the stuff that's buried in my sub-conscious. Last week I caught myself singing the Paula Abdul classic, "Straight Up" which I of course knew every single word to, like every good teenager in the late-eighties/early-nineties.

And Paula Abdul is unfortunately preferable to some other things that have at points floated through my mind in my physically/emotionally/spiritually tired state over the past several weeks.

When I get a moment to step back and think, all this reminds me how much I am and will always be a mystery even to myself. There's just parts of me, things rolling around in my brain and heart and soul that I will never fully comprehend. And there's pieces of me that I just don't get.

We severely over-estimate our ability to understand ourselves. Only God truly knows us. The stuff that we're ashamed of. The stuff that seems to be in conflict within ourselves, our varying impulses and conflicting desires and the things that contribute to our dis-integrated-ness.

And the good news is that as we follow Jesus, he invites us onto a path of integration. He offers to take the gifts and desires and quirks and even the things that are destructive and work with those things to build a fully-alive human being.

"The Glory of God is man, fully alive" a guy named Irenaeus once said. God, like a gifted gardener, is glorified by the fruits of his labor--his people, as they become more and more alive in Christ.

The pieces of our personality are like scattered wooden beams. One of God's works over the course of our lives is to work with those pieces of our personality like a gigantic Amish barn raising. And at various points in our journey it might look awkward or off or like the pieces just can't possibly fit together. But God's at work, and we must be patient with his process.

To be a Christian, I once heard, is to give as much as we know of ourselves over to as much as we know of Christ. This is our part as God moves to make us whole. Some parts are un-usable and have to be burned up. Some parts need massive re-working, re-tooling. All the pieces of us need redemption.

To be sure, it's a process that will never be completed this side of our resurrection. But the good news is that God has tied himself to us, unbreakably and forever. And he will take all our various parts and bring them together for our good and his glory.

Even those Paula Abdul lyrics.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Hailing Dook, Beat Up By My Little Step-Sister, and Other Post-NCAA Basketball Thoughts

Great game last night, a couple quick thoughts this morning:

-Dook was the best team of the past ten days. They played great, they peaked at the right time which is what college basketball is all about. It pains me to write it, but there it is. The better team won.

-Butler was able to dictate the game--they got exactly the game they wanted. But here's the deal: you can't go 9-plus minutes without making a field goal and expect to beat one of the top teams in the country. Give Dook lots of credit for that, they played great defense all night.

-Since only three of us watched, just wanted to let you all know that UNC lost in the NIT championship game against the Dayton Flyers on ESPN 62 last week. If a championship game end-game buzzer goes off and no one's there to hear it, does it make any noise?

A football coach once famously said that ending a game in a tie is like kissing your sister. Losing the NIT championship game is like getting beat up by your little step-sister. Hooray for a great recruiting class for next year.

-Memo to the NCAA tourney as they consider expanding to 96 teams next year. Please read "How the Mighty Fall" by Jim Collins. In his vast study of great companies that stumble into oblivion, the number one reason why they fall is...OVER-REACHING! Please, spare us.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Tom & Jerry, Superman, Indiana Jones, and Easter on the Road to Emmaus

This morning as grandparents were downstairs regaling our children with a Tom and Jerry video (which makes my son in particular laugh with such an innocent abandon that it makes me well up with joy every time I hear him) I was reading over the gospel accounts of Jesus' resurrection. Seemed like the right thing to do on Easter Sunday.

The Emmaus Road account from Luke is what struck me the most this morning. It's Easter Sunday, the women discover the empty tomb. The angels greet them ("why do you look for the living among the dead?" one of the greatest quotes in all of history) and tell them to go and tell the disciples.

The first time Jesus himself appears in Luke's account is to two followers on the seven-mile hike from Jerusalem to Emmaus. He appears as they're discussing the events of Good Friday and the strange report from the women about the empty tomb.

They don't recognize Jesus, but he spends the journey explaining to them (indeed, upbraiding them for their slowness to understand) the point of the Scriptures in connection with his death and now resurrection. They implore him to stay with them as they reach Emmaus, he breaks bread, they recognize him, he disappears.

As I read this account, tears came to my eyes. I've been wondering all day why. I think it's the amount of time Jesus spends with them.

Every other story post- resurrection is told rapid-fire. The appearances are brief and the conversations sparse--at least the parts that are recorded.

But here we have Jesus lingering for miles with two people (perhaps a married couple) who weren't even among the twelve. And he comes in the midst of sorrow and confusion and glimmers of hope and he speaks level-headed joyful news that cannot be taken away.

Jesus lingers here with two confused, earnest, sad, slow-to-understand people. He is like the loving parent bringing no-nonsense sense and infinite joy and love out of a world of bewildering pain.

When I was a kid it always made me sad when the hero of a movie couldn't stay. Superman had to leave the person he rescued, or Indiana Jones had to move onto his next adventure. I wanted him to stay, to get to know the people he rescued, to love on them a little bit. Especially if they were kids like me.

Jesus is the hero who lingers with the two on the road to Emmaus. He stays, he comforts, he corrects, he teaches, he loves and loves and loves on them.

In several of the gospel accounts, the fact that Jesus will not abandon or leave them is a major theme. "I will not leave you as orphans," Jesus says in John, "I will come to you." Jesus stays with the two at Emmaus.

We live our lives as if we were orphans, scratching out a living among the Ruins. But Jesus stays with you and I, in our slowness, in our bewildering pain, in our apathy. He stays and he pursues us to the end.

We were once orphans. Now we have the Father. We will never be alone, abandoned, forgotten, neglected or overlooked. Jesus has made sure of it. And He shall reign forever and ever. King of Kings. And Lord of Lords. He with us and us with him. Hallelujah!

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Parenting, Handling Poop, and the Disproportionate Mysteries of Easter

So when you're a baby, you're just a ton of trouble. No way around it, nothing you can do about it, you're just high-maintenance.

As you get a little older, you begin to see this, maybe take some responsibility for yourself. And then as you grow into adulthood you realize "wow, this whole having babies thing seems like it'd be a ton of work!"

But you never really know either the cost or the joy of it until you experience it yourself. Being a dad has been way harder and more intense than I thought it would be. I have exceeded my emotional capacities and experienced sleep-deprivation and handled more poop than I ever really wanted to.

And it's also brought me moments of pure joy that I don't know I'd ever experienced before--or at least, not that particular flavor of joy.

There are some things that you cannot know the depths or heights of until or unless you experience them yourself.

And so I don't think that even when heaven descends and God himself is here with us again and all mysteries are revealed--even then I don't know that we'll ever know the depths and pains of these last two days for Jesus.

What Jesus does in this Saturday of waiting has been a matter of speculation and debate for centuries. But what we do know is that Friday wasn't pretty and it's a good bet that Saturday didn't get any easier.

Paul, reflecting on Easter, writes, "You are not your own. You have been bought with a price." We'll never fully know that price, not even when all things are revealed. Perhaps some events in Jesus' life and death will remain mystery. Perhaps we'll know cognitively what Jesus went through but like life before kids it will remain emotionally un-knowable.

The good news is that our own experience of the pain and joy of Easter is and will one day be vastly disproportionate: the pain will remain shrouded in mystery into eternity and there will be a place where our knowledge and experience of it will stop.

Neither will we know the fullness of the joy of the Lord. But our experience of that joy will unfold into an infinite future, the depths and wonders and power of that joy will be ours in ever-increasing measure: boundless, glorious, free, wondrous bliss.

The pain will end. The joy will unfurl into a glorious, endless horizon--beauty upon beauty, grace upon grace, laughter and peace and contentment and rest and sheer delight forever and ever.

Happy Easter.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Shamelessly Plugging My Bro

As we approach Easter weekend, I hereby un-abashedly and shamelessly promote my brother's new article just posted on Christianity Today's website (and forthcoming in April's print edition) "A Resurrection that Matters."

If you're looking to read an academic who's got a pastoral heart for theological issues, you can do no better than to regularly read Daniel's blog: A Storied Theology.

I'll post the first couple of paragraphs below--both as a 'hook' and because I made some minor recommendations that helped make it sing, if I do say so myself (which I just did):

In the spring of my senior year in college, I was deeply immersed in the rhythms of Christian life. I was a leader in InterVarsity, participated regularly in a Bible study with other seminary-bound friends, set my Sundays aside for worship and rest, and read more than my fair share of extracurricular Christian books. As Easter approached, I began rehearsing the importance of Jesus' resurrection. I knew that for Paul and the other New Testament writers, there could be no Christianity without it. Yet one day as I was walking back to my dorm, it dawned on me that the gospel as I understood it had no need for Jesus to be raised from the dead.

The story of salvation as I had learned it was, in its entirety, about the Cross. I would teach other students about the Romans Road to salvation and the Romans 6:23 bridge diagram. What each of these captured beautifully was that we had a sin problem that God overcame with the cross of Christ. But each presentation also omitted the Resurrection entirely. And why not? Once our debt has been paid, what else could we possibly need? What is so important about Easter?