Monday, November 28, 2011

UNPREACHED #4 - THE END

This is the final part of the sermon I wrote but never preached.  If you want to read the sermon in order click Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

2.  Faith Practices are about a person not a performance. The Pharisees knew how to perform. No one knew the Law better.  No one practiced the Law better.  They were A+ students in Theology.  In fact, acts of righteousness became so much about their flawless performance, they missed their true function: to drive them to the heart of God.

I understand their mindset.  It was engrained in me as a kid and it suited this task-oriented competitive child well.  First, there were attendance charts.  Every week I attended bible class I got either a gold sticker or a smiley face to put on my chart.  After several months, I could look up at the chart and see that I had more smiley faces than most of the kids, and for this I was applauded.  Sometimes we even received special treatment for perfect attendance.  Then there was the class where we were given verses to commit to memory and Bible passages to read and answer questions.  For each assignment and memory verse I earned points toward an end of the year trip.  If you earned enough points the teachers would take you to Six Flags.  If I performed I was rewarded.  I know these things aren't bad.  They are means of motivation, to encourage children to learn their Bible, but it engrained in me and many of my peers a paradigm, "Faith Practices and acts of righteousness are about performance."  The better you perform the more you please God.

It carries over into adulthood.  Our faith tends to focus on perfect church attendance, reading my Bible more than you, praying more than you, and giving more than you.  We begin to rate our Christian status by our performance, as if God and the angels are in heaven placing bets, "Oh... Otis Adams just moved ahead of Tish Deffenbaugh.... wait, Duane Bells is gaining ground on the turn, but, hold on... here comes Susie Dawson from the back of the pack.  It's Susie Dawson in a last minute push pulling ahead.  Susie Dawson wins by two links!" 

The church becomes about "What I do."  It becomes about how well I perform.  The focus is on me.  I place confidence in me.  My faith is in me.  That's when it all goes terribly wrong.  If you put your faith and confidence in yourself, you will always feel like a failure because you can never outperform Christ.  Try as you might you will fail and when you fail you will tell yourself, "I just have to try harder."  And so you will put more confidence in yourself, and you will fail again.  So you will try harder... and the cycle continues.  All the while Jesus is saying, "PUT YOUR CONFIDENCE IN ME!"

Acts of righteousness are not about performance.  They are about a person.  They are about the person of God, about pushing us into a deeper relationship with him.  It's not about checking a chart, making sure you're winning the race against other Christians. Prayer, fasting and church attendance are practices that drive you into deeper intimacy with God.  When we realize faith practices are about a person and not a performance we no longer place confidence in ourselves but in God.  We realize that our worth is not based on how many "T's" we cross or "i's" we dot.  Our worth is based on a God who loves us unconditionally.  We realize our standing before God is not based on a merit system but on the precious blood of his son who pulled us out of the sloppy sewer pit in which we played, washed us off and put us in front of God as holy and blameless.  When Faith Practices are about performance there is no need for the gospel.  The gospel declares to us every week, "Your performance cannot save you but Jesus can!"  If you need Jesus this morning come talk to me when we are done here.  Faith practices are about a person and not a performance.

Conclusion: If you take anything with you this morning, take this truth: Motives determine movement.  Ask yourself "Why?"  Why do I go to church? Guilt? Recognition? To earn points with my wife? Why do I give? Responsibility? Fear of what others think?  Why do I pray?  You've been told to your whole life? Why do I fast? "Oh, I don't fast.  I guess I should if I want to be a good Christian."  Ask, "Why?"  What is your motive?  Because, your motive will determine your inner movement - your movement toward God or your movement away from God.  Love you!  Let's sing!

Friday, November 25, 2011

UNPREACHED #3

Last sermon continued.  See previous sections of sermon here and here:


1.  Faith Practices are about Relationship and not Recognition.  Look back at Matthew 6:2, 5a, 16a:

2“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full... 5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others... 16 “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting.

Part of what Jesus is doing in the Sermon on the Mount is reacting against the pharisees.  The pharisees were a group whose name means "Separate Ones." The pharisees were a group concerned about Israel maintaining her separateness as God's people.  They were also concerned about demonstrating their separateness from their fellow Jews had been contaminated and influenced by foreign culture and religion.  They proved their "separateness" by following religious law better than anyone else.  So, when it came to Faith Practices (giving, praying, fasting) they were to the letter, because they wanted to be recognized as better than the others.  They wanted to be recognized for their religious zeal.  They wanted to be recognized for their greatness, not for how great God was.  It was about drawing attention to themselves rather than giving glory to God.

In college I had four roommates - all of us great friends.  We were all about 5'10", 30-32 inch waist and 32 inseam.   We walked in unity of stride.  It wasn't like walking with Kent Rogers (6'4") where I have to jog or take massive steps to keep up.  But every time we left the cafeteria there was an upper class man, Shawn Lewis... great guy.  Upon each cafeteria exit, one of us would bend down to tie his shoe and the other three guys behind him would turn to Shawn and say, "Bye Shawn!"  And then one guy would trip over the guy tying his shoes, and then like dominoes we'd all go down.  We'd act embarrassed and run out of the cafeteria.  Yes, we were mature.  Here's the thing... even though we used Shawn's name in our little stunt, it wasn't about Shawn.  It wasn't about drawing attention to Shawn; it was about drawing attention to us.  That's what the Pharisees were doing... they used Faith Practices as little stunts, not to draw attention to God but rather to themselves.

That hits pretty close to home!  Often we act like the pharisees.  That's something I figured out in High School.  The best way for me to get known was to be the Christian kid.  Not all my motives were bad but a lot were selfish.  I realized I could leverage my faith to draw attention to myself.  It was as much about me as it was about God.

And so many of us still do that today when it comes to faith practices such as going to church, reading our Bibles, praying, or serving in ministries.  Sometimes we do that because we want recognition for being a good Christian.  Honestly?... for being a better Christian than you.  In our Bible Belt culture we learn that if you can master the Christian look: listen to the right radio stations, attend church, have your quiet time, teach your kids memory verses, join the PTA and FCA then you are respected and people look up to you.

And you may say, "Wait!  Wait! I thought we were supposed to let our good deeds be seen!  That's what Jesus said at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount.  Remember? Be salt!  Be light!"  Yes! True! But Jesus said let your light shine so that they may see your good deeds and praise your father in heaven, but when we make faith practices about self-recognition... God gets cut his fair share.

When our works of righteousness are about recognition then Christianity becomes about the appearance of perfection.  It is only an appearance of perfection because NO ONE is perfect. What ends up happening is church becomes a place where we go to show everyone that we have it together, that we read our bibles, we pray, that we have devos with our kids, and that we watch Veggie Tales on Saturday mornings and Ed Young from Fellowship Church on Saturday nights!  And so church and church friends become the place where we wear our masks the most.  As Rick Atchley says, "We are all 'fine' and if you are not then go back home and come back when you are 'fine.'"  Church becomes the place where we feel like we have it together, where we can't let the secrets out, where we can't let people see the chink in our armor, where we can't let people know that our marriage is falling apart, that our family is crumbling, that we're struggling with sin.  No!  Because, we have made Christianity about recognition, about getting all the practices right!

It's like when you've got a mess in your room and you find out someone is coming over in ten minutes.  "Oh, I can't let them see my house like this.  I have to get this mess cleaned up."  But it's too much...not enough time.  So, you take it and shove it all in the closet!  The room looks clean but there is a pile of junk in the closet.  Your guest shows up and remarks, "Wow!  Your house is so clean!"  You say, "Thank you!"  You get the recognition but the junk is still in there.  Eventually the closet gets too full and it burst through onto the ground in the middle of a dinner party and everyone goes, "Oh, my!"  That's when the affair happens, the papers are signed, the suicide note is left, the child goes to prison, the habit becomes an addiction...

When faith practices and acts of righteousness become about recognition instead of relationship then authenticity has no place!  People can't come and show their real cards.  They can't say life is more gray than black and white.  They can't come and admit their failures.  They can't just say, "Look!  Yes, this is the mess!  I know legos, pants, and magazines scattered all over the floor.  I wanted to put it in the closet but...this is me and this is my junk."  But, when it is about relationship, when coming to church, reading your bible, praying - when all of that is not about people giving you the approving nod, "Yep, you are a good Christian!" - but when it is about knowing God, seeking his heart, then church becomes the place where we can be our truest selves and still find love, acceptance, forgiveness, and family!

Faith Practices are about Relationship and not Recognition. 

 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

UNPREACHED #2

This continues the last sermon: written but "unpreached."  You can read the first part here.


...And Jesus says motives determine movement!  In other words, simply engaging in faith practices does not move you in a Godward direction, because if it was simply about your actions both groups that Jesus addressed would be headed in the same direction.  It is the motivation behind the faith practices that determines the movement.  The Pharisees, or hypocrites as Jesus calls them, are motivated by the applause of men, by recognition.  Even though they engaged fully in faith practices, a spiritual exercise, they were not moving toward God; they were moving toward selfishness, toward self-righteousness and away from dependence upon God and intimacy with God.  Their motivation determines their movement.
On the other hand, Jesus uses language about not letting your left hand know what your right hand is doing, about praying in your closet, about cleaning yourself up when you fast to say, "Unlike the Pharisees, this group is motivated by their love for God."  The motivation of "love" will move them toward God, into greater intimacy, into a richer understanding of the Creator! Because motives determine movement. 

I think about it this way.  When I was in high school 80% of my friends were girls but 0% of them were girlfriends.  I was the "nice guy."  Nice guys were the ones you wanted to be your friend.  Jerks were the guys you wanted to date.  I had several girls tell me, as they talked about their boyfriend troubles, "You are the kind of guy to marry." ????? I still don't get that one.  I was like any other boy in school - crazy about girls, but I didn't act like I was.  I knew if I were to impress and attract women I would have to be a "different kind of guy" - the "antiguy."  So, I built a reputation of treating girls the right way, of taking the stereotypical guy and turning it on its head.  I wanted to appeal to something deeper than physical attraction.  I had to! Now, I wish I could say my motivation was all good, but it wasn't.  My motivation was to get girls to like me and so although everything I did was good: being sensitive, sweet, and kind- my motivation was really moving me toward selfishness.  It was about ME and not about the girls!  It was about me trying to be attractive and desirable and so it moved me toward self-centeredness.


Years later I'm married to the beautiful Mary Beth and I still want to be sensitive, kind, and sweet. [NOTE: this part is difficult to post considering all that has happened, but it was in the original manuscript and it is what I still desire].   I still want to be the "antiguy."  But this time it's not because I want to make her attracted to me - too late for her; she already committed... But this time it is because I love her, because I want to know her more intimately, and although I do many of the same things I did in High School, my motives move me away from the self and move me into a more intimate and deeper relationship with Mary Beth.  Because your motives, as much as your action, determines your inward movement.  Motivation shapes your character.


In this passage, Jesus speaks specifically about faith practices.  He differentiates between two motives - a self-seeking motive and a God-seeking motive.  When you assess your motives you ask the question "Why?"  And so when it comes to our faith practices, we need to ask ourselves, "Why?" Why DO you go to church?  Why DO you give?  Why DO you read your Bible?  Why DO you pray?  WHY?  Using the two motives Jesus highlights in this passage, let's look at two truth's regarding faith practices.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

UNPREACHED #1

I had one sermon left.  I had written it and submitted it but due to my choices was never able to preach it.  Instead of letting it digitally petrify on my hard drive, I am posting it as my next few blog entries.  As I read back through my sermon I was convicted and embarrassed knowing that, not long after crafting it, I would make choices contrary to its message .  But perhaps, despite my failure, these words can encourage and challenge you.

We were in a Sermon on the Mount series called RED.  You can watch the series intro below:


 
 TEXT: Matthew 6:1-6, 14-18
TITLE: "Why not What"
ONE THING: Motivation determines movement.


Introduction:
We've just finished Matthew 5 in our RED series.  We are looking at Jesus' teaching in the Sermon on the Mount.  In chapter 5, Jesus spends the bulk of his time demonstrating how he had come to perfect the OT Law rather than abolish it.  He did so by taking his audience back to the original intent of the Law, which was to form a certain kind of people rather than create a group of rule-followers.  He was forming a people of reconciliation, of commitment and contentment, of covenant keeping, of honesty, truthfulness and integrity, of generosity, and of indiscriminate love!

In chapter 6 Jesus takes a turn in his teaching from character to what I'm going to call "Faith Practices.Faith Practices are spiritual rituals or disciplines intended to move us into a deeper relationship with God.  Think of a marriage class or marriage seminar.  Attending a marriage seminar doesn't make you a better couple than one who doesn't attend, but it is a practice intended to help your relationship grow.  Or, why do you practice baseball everyday when you only play a couple of games a week?  Baseball rules don't change from week to week.  It's still about scoring the most runs.  You practice daily because it helps you grow as a player!  The same is true of Faith Practices. Engaging in such practices don't make you a better Christian; they help you grow in your relationship with God.  The three faith practices Jesus addresses in chapter 6 are: giving, prayer, and fasting.

[Prayer]

Move 1: 
Turn to Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18:
1 “Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ in front of others, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.
   2 “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
    5 “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you...
    16 “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

In the NT times God commanded Israel to give alms, to pray and to fast, and so it would seem that you either did them or you didn't!  If you do these practices you get the smiley face and gold star.  If you don't?...bad!  If I tell my son to make his bed, he either makes it or he doesn't.  So you either gave, prayed and fasted or you didn't...right? According to Jesus it wasn't quite that simple.

In his teaching, Jesus describes two types of people.  Both of these groups of people do what was required.  If you made them a chart saying Giving, Praying, Fasting and put it up in their room, both groups of people could put check marks or smiley face stickers by each of the Acts of Righteousness.  So what's the difference between the two groups?  What distinction is Jesus making between the two groups?  One group he calls hypocrites even though they do what is required; they give, pray and fast (perhaps more than the other group). But they engage in these Faith Practices in order to impress those around them.  They do it for their own glory.  On the other hand, the second group gives, prays and fasts but do so secretly, in the closet, or when no eyes are watching because they give, pray and fast as a gift to God.  SO... what's the difference between the two groups that do exactly the same thing?  MOTIVATION! The 'Why."


Jesus is saying that motivation determines movement!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Gigantor and Teeny: Brief Spew on Friendship

The elders were hiring me as a the Preaching Minister alongside their hiring of a Worship Minister.  The two most visible ministers on a Sunday morning, and outside a brief phone conversation about cable TV (priorities), we met for the first time one minute prior to the start of Sunday morning worship.  The only thing I knew about him, "He's tall and he has lots of energy." So,I'm thinking, "I hope I like this singing giant."  And he is thinking, "I hope I like this preaching Hobit!" It could have been a disaster!

But it wasn't! Kent Rogers became, not only a great colleague, but one of my dearest friends.  I'm short; he's tall. I can't sing; he can. I like to run and eat hummus; he likes to sunbathe and eat Butterfingers (and loses weight).  I'm a sprint eater; he's a pace eater.  I organize visually on a whiteboard; he organizes with lists on a yellow pad.  I like hip-hop; he likes classic rock.  I'm young; he's old-er.  You get the idea, so how did such a friendship grow?

First, we love God, incompletely, but we do.  Second, we love the Church.  Third, we love Michael Jackson and both of us think we can dance.  Fourth, we love creativity and new ideas.  Fifth, we appreciate the arts.  Sixth, our wives love each other. Seventh, we decided to share our crap with each other early in our friendship.  Eighth, we love to eat.  Ninth, we love to laugh.

Some of our best times came working on video intros for Sunday AM worship.  Most people missed them because of the great fellowship occurring around the auditorium, but we had a blast creating ideas and then filming them.  Here's one we did together.

video

I believe God placed Kent in my life for such a time as this... the last sixth months.  He is a man of God, a man of integrity, an extremely gifted worship leader and minister, and he oozes creativity. I owe him so much.  (By the way, Kent is currently in transition as a Worship Minister.  Hire him! You'll get much more than a great worship leader.  His wife Rocks Cleveland too!)

We all want to have a burning bush moment where God calls us by name out of the fire.  But so many times God reveals himself through those he places in our circle of friendship.  I have seen God in Kent.  Look around... do you see God in the faces of those around you?

For when we came into Macedonia, this body of ours had no rest, but we were harassed at every turn—conflicts on the outside, fears within. But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus... (II Cor. 7:5-6)

Monday, November 14, 2011

Acts The Sequel: KWO

In Acts 2, when the Spirit introduces himself to the Church, the Kingdom of God "makes an entrance."  It doesn't knock or call ahead; it just shows up, kicks in the door, hangs up the disco ball, and gets its swerve on.  Spontaneous foreign language fluency and an Easter sermon lead to 3000 baptisms!  What a logistical nightmare: there were not enough white jumpers for 3000 people, not to mention towels.  How many times did the song leader have to sing "O Happy Day?" Mary had only prepared communion for 120. "We don't even have a New Member minister."

There are times I wish I could have been in the crowd that day, felt the rush of the Spirit, heard Peter speak of a risen Lord, seen the people's hearts melt, and watch the water ripple with thousands of immersions.  For that matter, I wish I could be a fly on all the pages of Acts - to feel and experience the unmistakable work of the Spirit.  I have thought before, "If only the Spirit did such amazing feats today!"  But he does... oh he does!

While preaching at GCR, I stepped into the pages of 21st Century Acts.  During my first year, John Defore- a GCR member told me the story of the Spirit uniting a West Texas megachurch and the scattered rural churches of Kenya in an unlikely and powerful marriage that would change the shape of a country and the faith of thousands. The story follows OT genealogical phrasing: World Bible School beget Kenyan Christians, Kenyan Christians beget churches, churches beget orphanages, and orphanages beget KWO (Kenya Widows and Orphans).  Check out the story HERE.  It will blow your mind!!

Although things didn't end at GCR as I would have desired (due to my fault), there were many joys and great experiences in my 2.5 years there... I met some dear people.  It was a great place to worship and preach.  I found a second family in the staff.  I learned hard and humbling lessons that are making me a better man and follower of Christ.  But at the top of the list is the miracle happening in the sugar cane fields and green hills of Kenya and in the hearts of GCR members. 

"Thank you, Lord, for letting me see your Spirit in action!"

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Embezzling Anti-Semitic Head Shavers

Fallon, "Apparently Herman Cain gave his first press conference since the sexual harassment charges. First, he took a bunch of questions and then he took a bunch of phone numbers." "Ha-ha-ha," goes the studio audience and those of us lounging in our lazy-boy with a bowl of Captain Crunch.  We take our fingers and point at Herman shaking our heads. Is he guilty or not guilty?  I guess that's for the masses, equipped with 'unbiased' information from rating-crazed news programs, comedians, and online tidbits, to decide.  I won't defend Cain and I won't condemn him because I have no idea what happened. Guilty or not he isn't alone... Schwarzenegger, Edwards, Clinton, Lohan, Gibson, fill in the ______________ (there are lots to choose from).  But, this post isn't about Cain or an other tabloid star or rating magnet.  It is about me and perhaps it is about you.

As a human-beings living in an "Under Reconstruction" era we have a capacity to, a tendency toward, a pull toward contributing to brokenness - sin, screw ups, and choosing ourselves over others.  When all these celebs and pseudo-celebs (politicians) prove themselves sinners in the public eye, not only does the media highlight their poor choices with florescent lights and a high school marching band, but I have assumed the role of armchair judge and sometimes as armchair God.  I not only proclaimed the verdict, "Guilty!" but also somehow knew the heart, mind and character of this individual who I had never met.

It is easy vilify.  Sometimes we need someone to vilify. So we take past mistakes of celebs and we destroy their character.  Sometimes we take recent mistakes of celebs and strip them of their humanness.  We laugh at them; we use them as sermon examples; we boycott their products; we define them by their mistakes. Don't get me wrong.  Celebrities make mistakes... sometimes BIG ones with devastating consequences.  I think they should  take responsibility, seek restoration, tackle the consequences head on with class.  Perhaps some even have faulty character...?  But whether guilty or not, remorseful or not, character-flawed or not I have taken off the robe and put down the gavel.

I busted the sin pinata this summer; in other words I committed one of the 'big' ones.  I wake up every day with regret, not guilt or shame anymore, but regret.  I wish people could see my heart and my longings but too often it is overshadowed by the affair.  I'm not upset about this reality; it's part of the consequences.  That's why I breath-pray, "It is God who justifies; it is God who justifies." But, I have walked in shoes I hadn't worn before and it's changed they way I see celebrity screw ups.  My guess is some of them wake up with daily regret too.  Some of them try to cover up their mistakes with lies because they are afraid the weight of public scrutiny would crush them (many lay buried below its rubble).  Some live in great sorrow and pain knowing history will remember them by their mistakes.

They are not victims but they are also not the sum total of their mistakes.  Now. Today. I focus on their humanness: people with legit feelings, people made in the image of God, people in need of redemption, people with the capacity to change, people just like me.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Join Frog

I'm Charlton Taylor and I'm a People-Pleaser.  This week marks two months of being sober, and sobriety is a a necessary step in joining Frog's mission!  I know what you're saying, "There's nothing wrong with doing something to please someone!"  Correct!  There is also nothing wrong with having a beer or two... but 15 beers? Or 15 beers everyday with your oatmeal and fried eggs?  Enough said!

People-Pleasing can quickly turn from serving another for their pleasure to a hunger for affirmation and acceptance. Both affirmation and acceptance, like food, are vital for human life and health, but when you live for the next hit they become destructive.  You find yourself serving, ministering, and giving for yourself - to hear, "Wow, great job!  Thank you SOOOO much! You are so amazing!  I can't believe you did that for me; you really are an incredible person!" A & A addiction moves the focus away from "The Other" and the act itself and places it on yourself!  That's why I want to join Frog.

In Haruki Murakami's short story collection, After the Quake, he shares the tale "Super-Frog Saves Tokyo."  The narrative centers on a middle-aged loan officer, Katagiri, who receives a visit from a 6 foot frog.  Frog invites Katagiri to fight against Worm, who happens to reside deep below Tokyo.  In a few days Worm will become angry, an anger that will cause a fatal earthquake in Tokyo killing over 150,000 people. Worm must be destroyed and Frog says he can only defeat him with Katagiri's help.  Katagir tries to wiggle his way out of the invite but Frog refuses to accept:

No, it is a matter of responsibility and honor. You may not be too crazy about the idea, but we have no choice: you and I must go underground and face Worm.  If we should happen to lose our lives in the process, we will gain no one's sympathy. And even if we manage to defeat Worm, no one will praise us. No one will ever know that such a battle even raged far beneath their feet. Only you and I will know, Mr. Katagiri.  However it turns out, ours will be a lonely battle.

I want to do what is right out of honor and responsibility... and love and genuine compassion and not primarily for affirmation and acceptance. The key is to bring joy to others without them knowing I was the one who brought joy.  They key is to help others without them ever knowing it was me.  Jesus says it this way: But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

So, I'm a recovering People-Pleaser, not because I don't want to serve others, but because I want to serve others for them and not for me, because I want to brave the battle against Worm, to stand victorious over Worm's lifeless corpse while the masses miles above go about their daily lives oblivious to the war that raged below .  So today... give, serve, and minister incognito.

I'm Charlton Taylor and I'm a People-Pleaser. 

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Gospel According to AT&T


MB and I headed to Big "D" for a Get-Away-Weekend, a weekend bullied by eating - In-N-Out Burgers, Panera Bread, Pinkberry, and Fogo de Chao (I'm still digesting the cow I packed into my gut).  But, we did manage to squeeze in some Swing lessons: triple-step, triple-step, back-step, step and a 60 minute massage!  It was that massage that spurred this post!

As I lay covered with a thin white sheet, staring at the floor through the hole in the table that framed my face, with a stranger pushing, pulling, rubbing, and chopping my body I asked myself, "Why does this work?  Why does it feel so good?  Why do we pay so much for something that seems a bit strange?" Sure, there is something relaxing and healing in a massage. But, I can get a similar effect from a massage chair, a jacuzzi tub, or rolling my feet over a wooden stick and yet it's not quite the same.  The difference is the human touch, literally.  God created us to long for human-human contact.  We need The Other's touch.  

Babies understand it because we haven't yet deprogrammed them.  I often hear people say, as the child cries, "Don't pick her up.  That will just train her to cry for what she wants." That is one way to see it, or perhaps the baby stops crying when you pick her up because because human touch soothes - being cradled and cuddled calms.

This summer, as I isolated myself from most of my friends and family in order to cope with my sin, I started having "touch" withdraws.  There were some weeks I was starved for a hug.  One night, in the midst of a "touch" fast, I drove 35 miles to my parents, knowing they did not approve of my current choices, just to beg for a hug.  Another time, while living at my cousins, I was on my way out the door for work when his mom (who just happened to be in town) said, "Are you okay?  Do you need hug?" Earlier that morning, while I primped for work, I couldn't stop thinking, "I really need a hug.  I really need a hug."  She read it all over my face and so as my aunt embraced this 34-year-old man I wept.  I needed her touch.

I've noticed the intentional touch of MB's and my therapist.  She conducts herself in a perfect professional and approprieate manner.  I notice how carefully she maintains strong therapist/patient boundaries, and yet EVERY week as we leave her office she stands by the doorway and gives us both a gentle tap on our right shoulder.  It's simple; it's light, and yet in that touch she says, "I care about you as a person and not just a patient."  Touch matters!

It is in God's design.  Genesis 2 paints a picture of God The Sculptor forming man with his hands - close and intimate. Then the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being (Gen. 2:7).  

Scripture continues to reveal God's design for touch through the person of  Jesus.  Although able to heal with a word, time and time again he heals with touch:
  1. The leper in Mark 1:41 - Jesus was indignant. He reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!”
  2. The deaf and mute in Mark 7:33 After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue.  
  3. The blind man in Mark 8:32 - He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When he had spit on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, “Do you see anything?”
  4. Jarius' daughter in Mark 5:41 - He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”).    
We see it also in Christ's interaction with children.
  1.   Mark 9:36 He took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them... 
  2. and Mark 10:16 And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.
Someone will cross your path today in need of a hug, a pat on the back, a hand-squeeze, or perhaps to be held tightly as they sob and ache.  So... echoing the 1981 AT&T slogan, "Reach out and touch someone!"

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

They Rebuild

BOOM! That explosion?  Just my life.  I built the bomb.  I lit the fuse and the blast radius was huge, the shrapnel penetrating everywhere.  I looked around at the carnage, the wounded, the demolition and wondered, "How do I put this back together? How do I rebuild? How do I reclaim?  How do I redeem?"  The answer?  I don't... WE do!  I cannot list everyone who has traveled to Charltonville for disaster relief but here are some of the key players:

 
 A wife who says, "I have never stopped loving you!" A wife who knows how to love, to REALLY love.  A wife, who although unable to trust you at first, says, "I will trust in God and the resurrection of Jesus Christ."  A wife who will risk her heart, her soul and her future again.  A wife who not only understands grace and mercy but who oozes it out her pores everyday.

 Friends who not only like to hang out and laugh together but who are in it for the long haul, who lay their life down in front of you and say, "Walk on me if you have to.  We can take it."  Friends who decide that they'd rather love you like family than acquaintances.  Friends to whom I owe my life.
  
Looong time soul brothers (and sisters) who clear the schedule and reorder their world to clean up your crap...not only because they love you, but because they believe in you, because they act like they need you, and because they celebrate you.

 
Adopted parents who say, "We will carry you right now with hope and joy. We will make sure on a daily basis that you know we are thinking about you and cheering for you."  People who when you think they cannot give anymore surprise you again... and again.

 Parents who love you more than you know, more than they can express, who cry over you, who welcome you home and hold you as you scream out the pain, who fight for you, pray for you, never give up on you.

 
Sisters who believe in you, who know who you really are, who believe in who you are and not what you have done, who hope for you.

 In-laws who set aside the great pain you have caused them, the pain they have seen their daughter suffer and welcome you into their house as a son.  In-laws who will fight for your marriage.

 A brother-in-law who sets anger aside, puts the past behind him, and offers forgiveness with this simple phrase, "Glad you are back!"

 
Friends who, in spite of the massive scar on your face, choose to focus their eyes on the features behind it and say, "We know who you are!"

Second chances don't come from repentance. Second chances come because a community offers it and then serves as the foundation upon which it is built.  There are so many more, so many more... thank you!