Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Time Crash

I see time like Tetris (play HERE) where if arranged just right I can fill every slot of the hour and day. I find it thrilling. This mini-bit of personal information tells you a lot about me: I'm primarily task oriented; I'm impatient; I move fast; and I tend to get a lot done. And while my hard-wiring has a few benefits and many annoying side effects it ultimately fails because I spend life "doing" rather than "being." While in "doing" mode I often miss key relational opportunities, fail at the discipline of stillness, and overvalue productivity.

But ever since my personal resurrection, I have developed a glitch in my hard-wiring. I have moments when time crashes. Time crashed last night. As I drove home from work I passed a church marquee sign. I hate church marquee signs. Too often their messages lend credence to the argument that Christianity is irrelevant. I saw one recently, "God, make me the person my dog thinks I am." But, the sign I passed last night was different. It simply read, "Thanks be to God!" 

Crash! Tetris froze. All the cars continued to move at their regular 4 mile over-the-speed-limit pace, but I moved at the speed of slow motion.

"Thanks be to God" took me to Romans 7: "What a wretched man I am. Who will deliver me from this body of death. Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord." I cried. I typically cry when time crashes because it brings me back to reality, to what matters. Don't get me wrong, the stark reality is a beautiful reality: I am a wretched man but God delivers me (yes ongoing) through Jesus Christ. And in that moment I get it...the big IT. I recognize again all the life many of my choices have killed while simultaneously praising God for his deliverance and heavy grace.

As a result, my relational sensors go into overdrive. I feel others. It is as if can empathize with the struggling single mother, understand the shame of an addict, hurt with the lonely, mourn with the one who just lost a loved one, scream the pain of someone experiencing a divorce, cry with the parent losing their child to poor choices...Although in reality I have no idea how they feel, in my "time still moments" I'm bonded to them because I'm centered on what is common to every human heart.

Every rational human being understands the statement, "What a wretched man I am!" We know pain, our pain, results from a combination of being a wretched person and from the wretched people around us. Despite all our efforts to appear otherwise we know, "I'm not okay," and I'm convinced every human being wants to be loved in spite of being "not okay!" We all want to declare to the world, "I'm not okay," and for the world to respond, "We love you!"

Unfortunately, experience tells us the world often does not respond to our vulnerable transparency with love and so we spend our lives trying to prove to the world, "I am okay!" But...you are not okay. I'm not okay either, and therein lies the power of the good news of Jesus.  Jesus knows you are not okay. Jesus knows you are not okay better than anyone, and knowing you are not okay he always responds , "I love you!" Freedom!

When time crashes those two truths take over. One: I'm not okay. Two: Jesus loves me. When time crashes I feel bonded to you (yes any of you) because I know the same is true about you. One: you are not okay. Two: Jesus loves you. And finally, when time crashes I know I love you!


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Let's Eat Turkey Everyday

This year my family is mixing it up. We will load the Traverse and take a 3.5 hour trip away from the city to a cabin with no electricity, no modern toilets, and a single outside water spicket: no football, no video games, no double ovens, and no couch for the ensuing tryptophan coma. In spite of the "rustic" environment, we will prepare a Thanksgiving banquet: Cornish Game Hens roasted on an open fire, Stove Top Stuffing, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole and a few pies! The feast offers some challenges but feast we will. Hopefully we come away thankful for each other, for God's amazing creation, for simplicity, and for long hot showers.

Thanksgiving is a moment when you pause and get intentional about gratitude. Your Facebook friends provide a month's worth of "Thankful for..." status updates, your family circles up before the meal to name their object of gratitude, you serve at a homeless shelter to make sure your kids understand, "You better be thankful!" I love Thanksgiving. I love the family, the food, the football. I love when we focus on what we have rather than pouting about what we lack, but I'm convinced that as Christians gratitude is in our DNA. We live grateful LIVES. Gratitude expresses appreciation for what you have received in word and action. When you really come to grips with the love of God, the New Creation in Christ, and the resurrection of Christ in your life you might as well eat turkey everyday.  Grateful people have joy, are free to fully enjoy others, and live more satisfied lives.  Here are a few things gratitude provides:
  • Contentment. Our over-advertised, consumer focused culture is in the business of creating dissatisfaction. Television, the Internet, radio, newspapers...on and on whisper, actually shout at you, "You are not content!" But, a grateful life makes a content life. It focuses on what you have rather than what you lack, and acknowledges, "It is enough!" Contentment keeps you centered. It leads to peace. It slows down the relentless desire to prove yourself. It helps you appreciate the greenness of your own yard.
  • Optimism.  Debbie Downer is an old Saturday Night Live character. She rained on any parade. In one sketch, taking place at a Disney World Breakfast, her companion says, "I love steak and eggs!" To which Debbie replies, "Ever since they found Mad Cow disease in the U.S. I'm not taking any chances. It can live in your body for years before it ravages your brain." (Waaah-Waaah!). By the end of every bit she has dampened the mood of everyone present. Negativity is a virus. It is contagious. It seriously threatens any organization, especially churches. Everyone has seasons of negativity, but a spirit of gratitude makes it hard to remain negative. Gratitude does not minimize the toil of life but it chooses to focus and dwell on the full side of life. It is fertile ground for optimism.
  • Celebrating Others. Once gratitude fosters contentment, it frees you to celebrate the joys of others. Does this scenario hit home: One of your co-workers, your friend, gets the promotion you wanted. You kindly pat her on the back and say congratulations but inside you tell yourself, "That should have been me! I work a lot harder than she does!" And despite your words you really are not happy for her. OR You find yourself resenting some of your best couple friends and their "little brats" because their children are making the grades you want your kid to make, playing first chair while your kid struggles to hit a note, getting player of the week when the coach cut your kid from the team. Without gratitude you won't find contentment, and without contentment you tend to resent rather than celebrate others.
  • Generosity. If dissatisfaction and competition define your life then you will find generosity an obstacle. You may give, but such a "generosity" is simply "goodness competition" - doing your acts of righteousness before others to be seen by them. But gratitude that leads to contentment breeds a generous spirit.  Take God as the ultimate example.  He competes against no one. He does not seek "More," and he is radically generous! For God so loved the world that he GAVE!
So circle up this Thursday and offer thanks, but remember every day should be a Turkey Day.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

So You Voted...Now What?

(To my non-christian friends, this is a word of encouragement to my Christian friends. I pray you find it a hopeful word.)

So you voted...GOOD! You vote because it is your civic duty. You vote out of respect for the thousands who died to give you the right to vote. You vote because you care about America and her future. You vote because you don't like a certain candidate. You vote because you like a certain candidate. You vote because you want to make a difference. All of these are commendable reasons to vote, but now what?

I don't know if your candidate won or lost...but now what?

Answer: be the Church.

The influential tentacles of the U.S. government reach far and wide. Its decisions affect the lives of millions of people, but in the end the government regulates behavior. It cannot transform hearts. Jesus Christ transforms hearts, and God has entrusted the Church as the community to embody his presence. Thankfully, he has empowered the Church for the task with his Spirit. Yes, governments legislate, dictate, protect, and shape but Jesus is the only one who redeems and resurrects. Real and lasting change comes not with a change in government but in the number of "Jesus clones" released in the world. Some of you are saying, "Charlton, you are so naive to think that all the world could be a disciple of Christ?" But this is not my idea; it is God's idea (Matthew 28:18-20).

So now what? Be the Church.
  • We believe God has a tender spot for the poor and oppressed. Don't rely on legislation. Let's support non-profits who have the structure to make a lasting impact in the lives of the poor. Let's make a presence in the poverty stricken regions of their community: a presence of food, health, shelter, hope.
  • We believe God values the sanctity of life. Don't wait on the law. Let's find unwed, pregnant teenagers and women in our communities, bring them in, throw them baby showers, teach them about motherhood, help them raise their children, adopt their children, and journey through the pregnancy alongside them.
  • We believe God desires peace. Don't wait on gun control and stronger drug policies. Let's plant Jesus followers as residents in the "darker" barrios of our cities as a redeeming presence.
  • We believe God designed marriage for heterosexual relationships. Don't wait on the Senate. Let's build bridges with the homosexual community in our area, build relationships, establish trust, show genuine love and concern for the individual, and be willing to understand the struggle and journey of those who battle same-sex attraction.
  • We believe (fill in the ______), so let's be the Church.
 I'm not trying to minimize the role of government and civic duty in your life; I AM trying to emphasize the POWER of God in the Church. Jesus did not change the world by becoming the Roman emperor. He did not make Peter Caesar. Jesus changed the world by grabbing a handful of average Joe's and saying, "Come, follow me!" So...let's be the Church and follow Jesus!

 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the HOPE to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably GREAT POWER for us who believe. That POWER is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he RAISED CHRIST from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.  And God placed ALL things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church,  which is his body, the FULLNESS of him who fills everything in every way. 
 - Paul, on the Church