Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Fifteen: An Ode To Her

Society has bleached love, taken out its complexity and sacrifice, turned it into a pastime. Writers and filmmakers exploit it for box office success. Pop music strips it of all its substance leaving us with a toy by which to entertain ourselves. We've insulted love, categorizing it as a mood, and putting it on the shelf alongside Happy, Sad, and Hungry. We use it to scratch our needy places, and when the itch appears to subside we are not sure what to do with it. We misunderstand love, or at least I have and still do.

That's why God gave me Mary Beth. Today we celebrate 15 years and for 15 years she has taught me about love. She loves 'til it hurts, pours her soul into my soul. My wounds become her wounds and my fears become her fears. Love compels her to be a part of me.

She loves me because it is rational: I take care of her, I'm kind (most days), and I try to serve her. But rational love is just that: it makes sense. Big deal. It is like math, "Of course 2 +2 = 4." We all get the rational side of love. We exhaust ourselves attempting to prove that "loving me" is rational. Mary Beth didn't have to teach me about rational love.

She teaches me about the irrational side of love, the love every human being craves but so many seem incapable of giving. It is a love that finds you in your darkest place, a place where your secrets no longer have dungeons in which to camouflage their shame, a love that finds you standing there empty-handed with absolutely nothing to offer: not a scrap...and says without hesitation, "Yes! You! You right there! I love you!" Such love speaks more about the Lover than the object of love.

After 15 years she is still teaching me about love. We have had the best of times. We have had the worst of times but her love is constant. I love Mary Beth! She is a precious gift and deep soul. She shows me the heart of God. She is fiercely loyal. She is still beautiful, and I'm so thankful for the 15 years of her life she has given to me.

I would put our marriage up against any marriage, not because it is perfect but because it is just the opposite: imperfect, blemished, and scarred. Because of its fault lines, we refuse to be roommates. We refuse to play house. We refuse to pretend. We have had to look past each others' eyes and into the deep recesses of the heart. And, it is in the scars that our souls have learned to touch.

I love you Mary Beth!

I'm thrilled about the next 15 years!

Happy Anniversary! 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Lessons from a Prostitute: Don't Be Good

Last December, my family made it from Trenton, MI to Ft. Worth, TX in 18 hours. We might as well have driven in separate cars, because we spent most of the trip deepening our relationships with "Steve Jobs" and "Satoru Iwata" on our iPods, iPhones, and 3DS's. (Warning! Old Man Moment...nostalgia). When I was a child there were no uphill-both-ways-to-school routes, but we did spend long road trips interacting through "car games," which always ended in a family feud.

Password was one of our favorite games. The game consists of two pairs of teams. A member from each team selects a secret word and then provides clues to the other member to help her identify the secret word. The teams alternate giving clues until one of the team members guess the secret word. Here's an example:

Secret word: "Chicken"
Possible clue: "Colonel Sanders"
Possible clue: "Crossed the street"

Got it?

Let's play a game of Password. I'm going to give you a clue and you try and guess the secret word. Here we go. The clue is, "Prostitute!"

I don't know your guess but I bet it wasn't the word "Good," and my online thesaurus would agree with you. It suggests synonyms like "betrayer," "deceiver," and "cheater." And yet, scripture commends a prostitute as a hero of the Christian faith!

Hebrews 11, the Who's Who chapter of the New Testament, lists Rahab the prostitute alongside the all-star characters of the Old Testament. She is listed alongside Abraham, the original B-I-G P-O-P-P-A; alongside Isaac, Jacob and Joseph, the Patriarchs; and alongside Moses, the stud prophet!  In fact, Rahab gets more screen time than David... the boy wonder, the giant-slayer, the KING, the man after God's own heart! The Hebrew writer says this about the Lady of the Night (Heb. 11:31):

By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had received the spies in peace.

But he is not the only one who holds Rahab up as an example. Jesus' own brother shines the spotlight on Rahab too (James 2:25-26):

Likewise, was not Rahab the prostitute also justified by works when she welcomed the messengers and sent them out by another road?  For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead.

If you have grown up hearing Rahab's story, what I just wrote doesn't shock you. Your familiarity has desensitized you to its messiness. Perhaps I can rekindle the awkwardness of this story by asking you a question, "Have you explained what a prostitute is to your child?"

"Well...they are too young?"
"Oh, not yet. They don't even know about 'sex.'"
"Ummm...not sure how to do that."

Precisely.  It is a grungy story and yet Rahab is held up as a Christian example attention: not GOODNESS but FAITH.  God used her because she had faith and not because she was good. The story of Rahab dispels some false Christian notions about faith and goodness. In upcoming posts, I will explore further what Rahab teaches us on this topic of faith and goodness. But I want to begin with this statement: 

Faith rather than goodness is the foundation of your relationship with God .

Christianity is about faith rather than goodness. It may be easy to nod and say, "Amen," but it seems so many Christians and non-Christians are obsessed, not with being good, but with being seen as being good. We spend vast amounts of energy and time shaping the perception of others. We speak, act, and hint so that "he" or "she" will think I am good. 

A preacher-friend of mine ministers at a congregation where they provide envelopes in which to put your tithe. He says they receive empty envelopes EVERY week. Why would you take the time to put an empty envelope in the offering plate? One reason: the appearance of generosity. You want others to think you are good. 

If we stood you up in front of 300 people who knew you and asked, "By a show of hands, who thinks [insert your name] is a good person?" and only two people raised their hands, you would be devastated! You would probably lose sleep. You might even slip into a depression. 

We want others to think we are good, and as a result we often make Christianity about goodness. "He who looks the most like Jesus in the end wins. He who has the most Fantasy Christian points is the 'goodest!'"  We even use church as a badge of goodness. How many times have you heard or said, when vouching for someone's character, "She goes to church!" as if to say, "She's a good person."

Trying to be good...well...trying to look like you are good is exhausting. Chill! Your relationship with God is about faith, not goodness. So...for today, quit trying to be good.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Yes, JT for Background Music!

"But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed."
Matthew 5:16

Since 2004, I try to yearly vanquish into the wilderness for 24-hours: just God and me (and usually some kind of camping equipment). I do not take vacation time. I consider it ministry. There is a part of me that always feels guilty, but that part of me needs to "shut up." Western society lives at a dizzying pace, to our detriment. Culture considers slowing down a weakness, but Jesus found it necessary. I've decided I need more SOLO RETREATS rather than less...even once a month. It makes me a better minister, a better father, a better husband, and a more peaceful human being.

There are four necessary components to my solo trips:
  1. Wilderness. I feel closest to God when I am surrounded by his natural world: trails, rivers, mountains, lakes, trees...
  2. Scripture. I always meditate on or memorize small sections of scripture. This trip I centered on Psalm 146-147.
  3. Silence. I always go alone.
  4. Exercise. God designed the body to move. Exercise relieves stress, calms my body, and clears my mind.
This week, I took a 4 hour road trip to Western Michigan, the Manistee National Forest. The whole trip took 18 hours. As I lost myself in God's beautiful creativity I asked him to teach me, to speak to me. Although I have never heard an audible voice, I do believe his Spirit works on my heartI medidtated on two key ideas during this retreat:

 Psalm 146:3-4 reads:
Do not put your trust in princes,
    in human beings, who cannot save.
When their spirit departs, they return to the ground;
    on that very day their plans come to nothing. 

I like to plan for the future, whether that's retirement, health, growing my career, building a church. As a result, I spend a lot of mental energy living in the future. The Psalmist says, "There may not be a future."  When I die, all the planning, all the striving, all the effort is pointless. Many of us are so focused on and planning for "When..."
When I graduate...
When I get married...
When I get the job...
When I get the bigger job...
When I retire...
When I...

...that we miss the "Now." Life is fragile. Don't waste today simply planning for tomorrow. Today may be your only tomorrow: savor it. Don't spend your life planning for a day that may never come. Today is a gift. Celebrate it!

As I kayaked down the Manistee River I moved in rhythm, in harmony with God's creation. I felt peace. Shalom (health, harmony, peace, wholeness) defined God's intent for creation, but our sin shattered his shalom into a billion still does.  Sin always undoes God's shalom; and busyness does as well. Busyness pushes against harmony; it drives the human being faster and harder than its engine was designed to endure...which leads me to "work."

Work is a good thing. God created it. He designed us for it. But work and the modern notion of career are two very different things. Work in the OT is better understood as "caring for and tending to." Man's original job was to care for creation, not to oppress it and conquer it - to work in harmony with it. Work moves in rhythm with God's shalom, while careers are often characterized by busyness. Work is a matter of finding food, constructing shelter, and clothing your body: basic needs. Careers are a matter of reputation, increasing/maintaining your standard of living, and achievement: luxury. Work focuses on the "now." Careers focus on the "when." Work breeds contentment. Careers are never satisfied. Rest is a friend to work. Busyness boosts careers.  Time to get to work!

***All photos and videos shot with the stellar iPhone 3GS. Shut up! Yes, I know there is a iPhone 5. Anyway...the cheesy video is best watched without enlarging it, since enlarging it greatly diminishes its already poor quality.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Incomplete Thoughts Connected Only by the Heart

I've been preaching from Joshua this month...a story of conquest, battles, blood, horrific slaughter, and then midway through the tale it reads, "Then the land had rest from war" (11:23b). I find myself, at this point in the story, exhaling in relief, and it immediately takes me to the words of Jesus: "Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you REST" (Matt. 11:28).

Rest? That is not my experience of life, and not my experience of the Christian life either! From what I have observed, it doesn't seem to be the experience of others. People are always after something. I'm always after something. I'm a driver...a fidgety, restless soul. Even in my hobbies I'm pushing: running, cycling, hiking. What am I chasing? What are you chasing?

As I sat in various airports over the last month I've been overwhelmed by the amount of people: people coming and going, talking and typing, eating and reading. As I sat at a standstill on the 101 in LA, pinned-in by a sea of Audis, semis, and 1993 Toyotas, I realized that the world, except for an infant's handful of people, was unaware and indifferent to my existence. 7,000,000,000 people! Yes...I want you to see the zeros! 7,000,000,000 people coming and going, talking and typing, driving and texting, working and spending, climbing and building, pushing...striving...seeking...


And I wondered. What if when I come to the end of my life, just a few breaths left in the tank, and my heart asks me, "So what did you do with your life?" I will think. I will be tempted to list accomplishments, projects completed, degrees accumulated, people taught, races run, family loved...but I wonder if the truth will be, "I strove."


I can't be lazy. I don't want to be unproductive, but I don't want to spend my life striving. Perhaps when I learn to rest in Jesus...I will find the space to quit striving, the space to LIVE.

Then the land had rest from war...