Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Just Dialed 9-1-1!

In 2010 I decided to run an ultra-marathon, which is any distance over 26.2 miles.  I tackled the race hosted by the canyon trails of the Texas Panhandle, a 50-mile venture.  Part of the running appeal is its individual nature - just me,  a pair of shoes (yes, clothes too), and dirt trails.  If completed I knew I would stand - okay sit, or at least lean on a post - and say, "Look what I did!  Just me!"  But I deceived myself!  Although my feet covered the 50 long miles, preparing and running an ultra was far more than an individual effort.  I needed help...
  1. I relied on a 16-week training plan to get my non-athlete physique in shape.
  2. If it were not for the company of Perry Noble, Steven Furtick, Rick Atchley, Matt Chandler, and Bob Babbit I would not have survived the 4-5 hour training runs.  Thank you iPod and long-winded preachers!
  3. I fueled my engine with Gatorade and Cliff bars.
  4. My wife gave up Friday-Saturday mornings so I could get up at 4 AM to trot around the dusty roads of the West Texas oilfields for 4-5 hours.
  5. A headlamp kept me from dining on dirt.
  6. On race day, the race organizers plotted a 12.5 mile loop.  After the 4th go around I knew to stop.
  7. Carefully placed aid stations, stocked with PBJ's, chips, Snickers, pretzels, fruit, were beacons in the night.
  8. Volunteers filled my water bottle with ice at every station (it was 86 degrees).
  9. Encouraging words from fellow runners and spectators propelled me forward when my legs were screaming, "Stop, you idiot!"
So I finished 50 miles in 8 hrs and 55 minutes but I had help!  I needed help!  So do you.  Coiled somewhere in America's DNA is the independence lie - that somehow I can achieve and succeed based on sheer determination, ability, and perseverance.  We admire and "pedistalize" individuals who overcome great odds "on their own."  I stress to my boys, "You need to learn how to do this because one day I won't be here and you'll have to do this by yourself!" As a result, we hesitate to ask for help.  In fact, we tend to look down our noses at those requesting help!  But we all need help!

Take Moses for example.  I want his epitaph: "Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face, who did all those signs and wonders the LORD sent him to do in Egypt—to Pharaoh and to all his officials and to his whole land. For no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel" (Deut. 34:10-12).  He was a powerful leader for Israel, the greatest of the prophets.  He stood toe to toe with Pharaoh; he led a whiny-baby group of people through the desert; he fought before God on behalf of the people, but even Moses needed help.

In Exodus 18, Israel has fled Egypt and taken up a nomadic desert life.  Moses' plate was full, so full he needed a salad plate for the extras.  Not only did he serve as God's mouthpiece but also as Israel's judge.  Some days Moses skipped lunch and his cigarette break to meet his dispute-settling quota.  He was on a one way train to "Burnout" when his father-in-law not only pays him a visit but offers some wise advice.  His father-in-law's advice? "Ask for help!"

“What you are doing is not good.  You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone.  Listen now to me and I will give you some advice, and may God be with you. You must be the people’s representative before God and bring their disputes to him.  Teach them his decrees and instructions, and show them the way they are to live and how they are to behave.  But select capable men from all the people—men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain—and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens.  Have them serve as judges for the people at all times, but have them bring every difficult case to you; the simple cases they can decide themselves. That will make your load lighter, because they will share it with you.  If you do this and God so commands, you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied.” (Deut. 18:18-23)

Moses took his father-in-law's advice and went on to become the Moses we all know.  Perhaps if he had refused to ask for help he would have wound up popping anti-anxiety medicine and running far away from his calling.

As Americans, we glorify rugged individualism - Lone Ranger, Rambo, John McClane, Malboro Man... We hesitate to ask for help.  Actually, we avoid having to ask for help at all costs.  We see it as weak.  It is.  That's the point, we ARE weak!  We live under the illusion that we are self-sustaining and independent, but we are only one clotted artery away, or one ruptured blood vessel, or one driving text message, or one sinful decision, or one sinful decision by someone close to us, or one in-home spark, or one blown ACL, or one... from getting slapped in the face with reality - YOU ARE DEPENDENT and not just upon God and his Spirit but upon people.  God made us dependent!  God made us to need others.  When we ask for help we embrace the truth that life is greater than my existence, that the universe is large, that I exist by grace alone.

So, do you need emotional help?  Do you need spiritual help?  Do you need financial help?  Do you need mental help? Do you need marital help?  Do you need physical help?  Ask for it!  It is humbling.  It is hard.  It is weak.  But, it is REAL!

    Wednesday, December 14, 2011

    God Wears Asics

    I think about the prodigal a lot, Luke 15:11-31.  The more I live in and live this story the more I believe it is at the center of the gospel.  I think it should be the preacher's first sermon and the preacher's last.  To rehash... the boy gives his father a death wish by asking for his inheritance early. He journeys far away and burns it all on idiocy.  He ends up finding himself jealous of mud-wallowing pigs and so plots to return home broken and repentant, to beg for a position, not at his father's table but in the bunkhouse.  He makes that fearful journey home and...

     “...while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

    You, the reader, knows why the prodigal returns.  You have access to his inner thoughts, "I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.  I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants."  But the father has no idea! For all the father knows, the boy may be on his way home to demand more money or curse him.  All the father knows is that in the distance a silhouette of his son approaches and so he...

    Yells,  "Is that you, you ungrateful brat?  Who said you were welcome here!"
     Says, "Hey Mother! Look who is coming.  Don't you go crying now.  Let's wait and see what he wants."
    "Security!  Please escort him off the property.  He is not my son!"
    He stood with arms crossed and when his son reached him he looked down and said sternly, "So, are you here because you've repented? Because, if you haven't then you are not welcome here.  If you have, then you are welcome but you have some proving to do."

    No! Read it one more time:  “...while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him."   The father's love for his child was not based on the son's repentance.  He loved his son even if he were still in sin, for all he knew he was.

    God hates sin because it destroys but he loves you!  ALWAYS! ...when you are good, when you repent and come groveling home, when you are blatantly sinning.  That should blow your mind.  It should make you cry! So if you are reading this and are choosing sin, trust me, it will break you and those you love but GOD DOES NOT LOVE YOU ANY LESS NOW THAN HE EVER HAS!  When he sees you, no matter where you are, he runs, throws his arms around you, and kisses you! (Yes! I'm crying!)

    Tuesday, December 13, 2011

    To Tale or Not: Mulaff Bakes

    Mulaff was too thin to bale hay, and everyone in Dliev baled hay.  His peers called him Twiggers, because his arms were kindling in a city of logs.  His nose was too large for his face; his teeth more resembled projection screens than instruments of mastication.  So what does a large-nosed, big-toothed twig do in a city of burly hay balers?  It took Mulaff 20 years to figure it out, but when he did it changed his life and then changed his life again.

    To find the answer, take Center Street to Bulong Road.  Turn left.  Drive past The Ancient Barber and on the left, across form the cozy park and crystal clear pond, is a small eatery with "Guten Brotes" hand-painted on the giant windows, windows that let you peer into a wonderland of flour, sugar, yeast, milk, and eggs.  Only a few tables hold "Guten Brotes" to the ground, two lining the inside of the bakery and three keeping the outdoor sidewalk company.  Although this tiny pastry palace seats no more than 20, the line of customers adorns the neighborhood like tinsel on a Christmas tree.  And there behind the counter, his face still powdered in flour from the early morning, stands Mulaff greeting every customer, taking every order, and wrapping each pastry as a newborn in swaddling clothes.

    Mulaff contributed his baking success to his handcrafted rolling pin.  It took him three years to make it.  He poured himself into its creation.  Some nights he couldn't sleep, not because exhaustion hadn't set in, but because he couldn't turn it off: the planning, the sculpting and the completion of the rolling pin. When adored Mulaff never referenced the ingredients or his knack for the culinary arts but the rolling pin.  Everything he baked he rolled and if it could be baked without being rolled, that item would not be found in his bakery.  Mulaff became so enamored with his rolling pin that he forgot that The Guardian had taught him how to make it. As a young boy The Guardian would stand him on a little stool in his kitchen and teach him, not only how to roll the dough, but how to craft the roller!  Mulaff forgot, but he never forgot his rolling pin.  He would often stare at it and smile.  At night he had a reserved spot on the shelf where he tucked his rolling pin away for the night.  If it weren't too bizarre, he might have whispered, "Good night, friend!" But his attachment to this rolling pin was already off-center.

    Outside of "Guten Brotes," there was one other dream camped in the back of Mulaff's mind: racing - not on foot, not in cars, nor on horseback, but boats.  He longed to race remote control boats in the big city of Kudrov only 25 km away.  Remote control boat racing drew crazed fans and big dollars.  In the moments when Mulaff wasn't in the kitchen he was at the crystal pond practicing for the broad ponds of Kudrov.  He would never get a chance.  Even if he possessed the talent it was too hard to get in and too hard to catch a break until that morning when the man in the long coat ordered a cheese danish.  As the man with the long coat fell in love with the danish he began to inquire of Mulaff's ability, "How do you do it?  This danish...this danish..." The rest of the conversation is a waste of your time.  Here's what you need to know.  The man in the long coat had power within the boating world and Mulaff told him, as with all his baked goods, "The secret is the rolling pin." By the end of a 30 minute conversation Mulaff sold his rolling pin to the man in the long coat for a chance to race in the big waters of Kudrov.

    Race he did, but he could never shake that in his soul he was a baker.  And so an ache grew in his heart, at first dull, but then crippling that he returned to "Guten Brotes!"  Nothing had been put on the shelf for months and nothing would still.  Because no matter his longing to bake, he had no rolling pin.  Worst still, he had forgotten how to craft one.  He was at a loss, heartbroken, afraid.  He was too weak to bale hay, disenchanted with remote boat racing, and he could no longer do what his heart was made to do.

    The moment came when Mulaff prepared to ask hope to exit the doors of his life, and then Griegor the lumberjack walked in:

    "I'm famished!"
    Mulaff, "I'm sorry.  I have no baked goods.  I am without my rolling pin."
    "Well, buy another!"
    "I can't; it is handcrafted!"
    "Craft another!"
    "I have forgotten how!"
    "I don't know either, but I'm gonna guess you need wood!"
    Mulaff nodded.
    "I can at least do that," the lumberjack offered. "In fact, I know where the greatest of trees stands in all of this land.  I will bring her wood to you."

    Mulaff felt indebted, and he was.

    Griegor's offer became the refrain in "Guten Brotes" over the next several weeks.  After Griegor, Camelia, the finest carpenter in Dliev, showed up.  She offered to help him shape the rolling pin.  Then Elena, the artist, helped craft the design, Victor the finish, Tulag the assembly.  Another dozen or so hands merged to make Mulaff a new rolling pin.

    Finally, the morning came when Mulaff rose in the darkness and rolled and baked, rolled and baked.  Six AM hit and Mulaff flipped the sign, "Open."  Day one, no one came.  No one.  "I hear Mulaff reopened but is using a new rolling pin. It can't be the same"  Dlievians were skpetical and rumor was the pin was scarred, ugly to the eye."  And they were right.  The pastries and breads weren't the same and the rolling pin was scarred.  Mulaff had designed it that way, depicting his scars on the pin so that it might never take center stage again.  But day two came and Mulaff rolled and baked, rolled and baked.

    Day two.  No one, but Mulaff rolled and baked, rolled and baked.
    Day three. No one, but Mulaff... and so it went.
    Day 17. A family of 5 stopped for breakfast on their way to Kudrov for the Saturday boat races.  They ordered.  They ate.  They noticed the rolling pin, winced at it's scars but left saying, "That was better than the last time we ate here!" They spread the experience and the lines returned to "Gutten Brotes" and it was always the same response: shock at the rolling pin's scars but a surprise, "This bread is better."

    And the bread was better and it was better because of the rolling pin, but now when Mulaff looked at the scarred pin, he didn't admire it for its sake.  His heart was filled with gratitude for all the hands that built it, all the hands that were not his hands, all that hands that made baking possible again.  Every time he rolled the dough he thought of Griegor, Camilia, Elena, Victor, Tulag and the rest.  And unlike before, when people asked, "Wow, what is your secret?"  he no longer pointed them to the rolling pin, but rather said, "The hands that make these breads are far more than two, and my two are the least important."

    Tuesday, December 6, 2011

    There's Blood in the Will

    "Now if we are children, then we are heirs..." so begins today's memory work.  I've been spending time in Romans 8, putting it in my head so it will make a home in my heart..."heirs of God, and co-heirs with Christ..."  Ooh, I like that. That would be a nice back tattoo, "Co-heir with Christ."  Not that I have a back tattoo.  Mine is on my neck! This is why we follow Jesus, right? For example, if I'm a co-heir with Paris Hilton then I predict cash, lots of cash, designer clothes, caviar for my punt-size dog, parties, and crazy-expensive cars.  And God allotted so much more to his son.  He was glorified, lifted up, and exalted to the right hand of God.  Sign me up for that.  "Heeellooo brother Jesus!"

    But the verse knows our tendency, "Oh, you want Jesus's inheritance.  Sure you do. Then you must have it all."  And so Romans 8:17 continues: "...if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory."   Not only are we co-heirs with Christ in his glorification but co-heirs in his suffering!  We want the glorification, but the suffering... "Glorification" is inheriting your grandmother's yacht and diamond jewelry.  "Suffering" is inheriting your grandmother's dying, balding cat with a drainage tube.  But in the Jesus story, suffering had to precede glorification.  The cross had to come before the resurrection and ascension. 

    No one is a "resurrection" fan more than me!  I wake up everyday and taste, smell, see, hear, and touch the resurrection of Jesus Christ, but Romans 8 says there is something to the suffering.  We hate to hear that because in our world we try to hide suffering, to mask it, medicate it, flee from it, feed it, give it a makeover with cars, houses, clothes, and trips.  But if you are a Child of God, you inherit it. 

    8:17 just happened to be the verse on the day I was feeling the pain, when I was frustrated with myself, when I was struggling with the future (Where will my family end up?).  I wanted it to stop, but as 8:17 made its way into my head it said, "Don't silence the pain!  Listen to it.  It is trying to make you more like Jesus!"  How is my suffering (self-induced, I haven't forgot) pushing and pulling me into the image of Christ?  I'm learning dependence upon God.  I'm learning I'm expendable, relationships are all that really matter, compassion, the seriousness of sin, to find the Kingdom in the moment (every moment), to see the imago dei in all people, to trust in silence... All of this in the suffering.

    Perhaps you are suffering today.  Perhaps your prayer today is like mine was this morning, "When God?  When will you end this?  Take it away!"  That is a prayer of faith, a fair prayer, a prayer echoed throughout the Christian story.  But maybe today you can pray, in honor of 8:17, "Father, I don't like this suffering.  I want it to end, but please!  Today, teach me Jesus in my suffering.  Amen!"

     Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.  Rom. 8:17

    Thursday, December 1, 2011

    Busted Sprinklers: Why Brett Favre Will Retire Again

    I build fences.  Okay...that's not the total truth.  I HELP  build fences.  I'm the least experienced and the least skilled fencer in the crew.  So, the menial, yet necessary (Do you like how I tried to make that sound better than it is), tasks fall to me.  I spend most days doing things any average kindergartner could handle: sorting, digging, lifting, carrying, cleaning, etc (too bad no coloring).  Although I enjoy what I do, I wake up every morning and give my ego a heads up, "Ego, today you're going to get a butt whipping! See you at dinner."  That sets the background for yesterday's events.

    We are working on a narrow curbless street. So me, being the the thoughtful person that I am, park my passenger-side tires on the neighbor's grass to allow room for traffic to flow easily.  Apparently, I also decide to park on a sprinkler head!  "Crack," goes the PVC pipe 18 inches below the ground.  "Gush," goes the water underground.  The neighbor yells.  My boss is annoyed and frustrated. And I'm "Yippee-Ki-Yay... Idiot-of-the-day!"  This happens right before lunch and so as I drive away from the disaster sight I feel worthless and useless. 

    "If I were only preaching again.  At least with preaching I have experience.  I have education.  I have more confidence.  At least I feel like I'm contributing to the Kingdom on a daily basis," my mind reminisces as I make the short commute home for lunch. As I reach home I start gathering lunch essentials: ham, Gouda, Triscuits, crunchy peanut butter, honey, ESPN, and the newspaper.  As I snack, read and listen, ESPN does an Urban Meyer segment, "Urban Meyer returns to college football as Ohio State's new head coach!" About the same time I read the line, "The Texans are looking to sign another quarterback due to injury, possibly Brett Favre." What? Hasn't Brett retired enough for 4 or 5 lifetimes? That's when it hit me.  Urban Meyer is Brett Favre and I'm Urban Meyer.

    Even though he is 42, of course Brett Favre wants to toss the pigskin on the Sunday gridiron.  He spent nearly 20 years of his life as a professional quarterback.  A massive part of his identity is wrapped up in being a quarterback.  When he isn't throwing a football; he isn't completely Brett Favre.

    Sure, Urban Meyer stepped out of coaching for health and family reasons, but of course he is coming back.  To be Urban Meyer is to coach college football.  It's who he is, so much so that he is willing to risk his health.  Urban Meyer can't be Urban Meyer if he isn't coaching football.  Lucky for you, Ohio State.  Not so luck for you, Michigan!

    So when I drive away from the disaster sight it is only natural that my mind wanders back to preaching.  I've been in ministry since the summer after I graduated high school.  Preaching is part of who I am. I spent too many years placing my value and my identity in preaching, in my profession, in what I DO!  And that is a lie!

    My value is not based on what I do.  It is not based on a career.  It is not based on preaching. I am valuable because God created me - period!  Your value is not based on what you do, on your profession (or your role as a stay-at-home parent, etc).  You are valuable because God created you - period!  My identity is not my career!  My identity does not come from what I do or how I perform.  My identity is found in God and he says, "You are a Child of God." Your identity is not what you do.  It is not your profession or how you perform.  You are a child of God.

    It is easy to find our value in what we do.  It is so easy to misplace our identity in our profession, but in the end it will leave us incomplete.  Only when we are able to rest fully in the truth that we are a cherished child of God can we be free to serve him in any circumstance - to live to our potential on a daily basis.  The striving will cease; anxiety will dissipate; contentment will find a home; peace will inhabit our hearts.

    Yes, I want to preach again.  Yes, I believe, by the grace of God alone, I will.  But first, I have to be content even if I never preach again.  This means I must place my full identity in God.  How about you?  Are you aware of how much your profession (or roles) dictates your identity?  Could you be content never doing what you do now again?  Is you identity really in God through Christ?