Wednesday, December 17, 2008
I came for your questions of what you don’t know
But you can’t see the answers unless I go
So give me your hatred and give your diseased
Give me your tired and I’ll take them with me
It is a difficult time for my family. We find ourselves in a situation where money is tight and about to get much, much tighter. My first thought is that we won't be able to make it - I'm not sure how you get from where we are to where we have to go. Right now we are frustrated and stressed out in ways I'd never have imagined. I am stressed to the point of psychical exhaustion. I've begun to doubt - to worry.
It seems to me you can handle these types of situations three ways: loose yourself in activity so you forget, try to work harder in order to earn your way out, or open the word and hit your knees. I've done all three. In that order. It's odd to me that the last thing I try is the thing that seems to have the best success rate.
I heard the Jon Mclaughlin song today and it made me wonder how true those words really are. There is a lot of hatred and disease in the world and I am very, very tired. Is Jesus taking us with him? Did he really take those things on himself and rid us of them? A lot of times it feels like he didn't. There are certainly times when I experience love, and healing, and rest. However, right now, in the day to day, I don't feel those things and He seems far away.
Someone I love very much wrote a beautiful blog about Emmanuel - God is with us. She talks about God being involved in every aspect of our lives and how she (we) often miss it. There have been so many moments where I have experienced God. I have seen the earth from 6000ft - I know he is creator. I am sitting in a comfortable home - I know he is provider. I am well - I know he is healer. I have community, friends, and family - I know he is good. He is love. He is Father. I have a hard time with Emmanuel. It's in the tiny moments between moments that we discover if He is with us. The world is loud and these moments often go unnoticed. In times like these the question for me is not, do I experience Emmanuel? Because I don't - I'm missing it. The question for me now is, do I believe Emmanuel?
Thursday, December 4, 2008
I've been struggling lately. I feel like I'm right on the edge of a great move of God in my life, but the anticipation and resulting restlessness and silence are suffocating. As long as I've lived in the silence - as much time as I've spent waiting - I still don't handle it well. Lately I've thought I've done everything possible to get close to God. I've been intentional about creating time and space for him. I took a long flight last night for that express purpose. I was alone at 6000 ft - waiting. I took my ipod and listened to Christian music - I created the environment, He didn't show. I went to bed last night feeling like I'd done everything I could. Sometimes God shows up and sometimes he doesn't. He's the wind. Right?
As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. 2 Timothy 4:5I read 2 Timothy tonight. I read pretty fast and tonight I was reading just to say I did it and kind of skipped over the first few chapters, but 4:5 caught my attention. This is what I've been feeling lately. I have to do something. I don't know what, but I really feel like I need to be more actively following Christ. I really think I've got the sober-minded thing ok and I know I've endured some suffering, it's the last parts I'm on now. Do the work of an evangelist - I have no idea what that would look like in my life, I'm sure I'm not called to be a vocational minister. So how do I fulfill my ministry? How do I know what my ministry is? This verse is comforting because it confirms that I do have a ministry - the desire to fulfill it is there. I just don't know what it is. After this verse grabbed my attention I went back and re-read the verses preceding it. I found two things:
1. What I don't want to be but fear I am fairly often.
For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, 4 treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power... 7 always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth... they will not get very far. 2 Timothy 3
Way too much of that sounds like me. In this moment it's the part about always learning but never arriving at knowledge of the truth that scares me. I think that's exactly the question I've been asking myself. With all of the reading and meditating - with the time and space I've created - why am I not getting it?
2. I haven't been reading the right things.
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3I read some really great blogs and some really powerful books written by some brilliant and gifted people, but I don't loose myself in the word of God. The last place I think to look is the one place with ALL the answers. I need to be taught - trained. The middle of this passage points directly at the two things I want most to be: A man of God - competent. That's right, competent. I would like to be great, famous and wealthy. I would love to be respected and remembered, but at my core - in the distant places of my heart - I want most passionately to just be enough. I can think of nothing grander than to be a competent man of God. I want, so completely, to do every good work- to be equipped - to fulfill my ministry. When I take time to read the Bible it always points to one place to find those things. I need to be close enough to God to be consumed by his breath - to be lost in his word.
Monday, December 1, 2008
I just can't shake this felling that I need to be doing something. I've spent so much of the last six years in cruise control - waiting. That has to stop now. I think it has or is beginning to. I do think flying is a step in the right direction for me. I'm doing something, finally. I'm really excited about it, and kind of proud of it, but I'm finding it difficult to be satisfied with just doing.
Mark 13.33-37: “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake– for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.
This is a pretty well know little piece of scripture, I can't tell you how many Sunday School lessons I sat through on it growing up in church. We talk a lot about being ready, we sings songs and write books about being left behind. We want to make sure everyone is saved. I'm all for that, please don't misunderstand, nothing excites me more that seeing people come to Jesus, but I sometimes feel like we leave it at that. Like once you're saved you're ready and you can kind of take it easy. I'm not sure I'm ok with that. Recently the phrase in these verses that stands out most to me is, "each with his work." I just can't shake the feeling that I've got to be doing something.
Matthew 25.14-19: ”For it is just like a man about to go on a journey, who called his own slaves and entrusted his possessions to them. To one he gave five talents, to another, two, and to another, one, each according to his own ability; and he went on his journey. Immediately the one who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and gained five more talents. In the same manner the one who had received the two talents gained two more. But he who received the one talent went away, and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.”
Every time I read these verses I want to quantify. It seems natural to me that the guy with ten is better than the guy with one. Ten is better than one, it seems so simple. It's not. It seems to me that maybe the issue isn't how many points they finished with, maybe the point is whether or not they were willing to play the game. We know the master gave out the talents according to ability, he knew the third servant wasn't going to be able to do much. I wonder if the master would have been angry if the third servant lost his talent in the market. I don't think he would have. He knew the servant had limited ability, I don't he would have been surprised to find him with nothing. I think the master was angry because the servant didn't risk anything. He should have taken what he had and used it to engage a world desperate for the master's influence.
My all time favorite Christmas song is The Little Drummer Boy. I love it. It may be my favorite thing about Christmas. I have about a dozen versions of it on my Ipod and around this time of year I can always blame it on FM radio if someone catches me cranking it in my truck. I love that song. So much of it appeals to me, I feel like a little boy most of the time - I never have anything fit to bring - I consistently find myself lost in the loving smile of our Savior. I'm convinced that's the point. You may not have much - no resources - very little ability, but you've simply got to engage in any way you can. It's our calling and our command to play our best for Him. Pa rum pum pum pum.
Friday, November 21, 2008
I got to fly twice on Wednesday. It was awesome. I flew a Cessna 172 over to Crossville and then a Piper Warrior to Greenville. It was so clear you could see forever, on the night flight you could see Knoxville from about 30 miles out. Perfect day to fly. I think the total on both the flights was just under 4 hours. It was a good day. I think a lot of what I loved about it was both flights were with other people who love to fly. I found myself wondering, out loud, why everyone doesn't do this. Both times the other person up with me echoed the sentiment. It was really nice to not have to worry if they were enjoying themselves. They loved just being up there, it wasn't the company or the experience, it was enough just to be at 6000ft. Why doesn't everyone love this like I do? It's difficult to understand how anybody could see the world from there and not be moved. Really moved. How can you fly and not think, this is what I'm supposed to be doing? I half expected the other people I've taken up to, upon landing, mortgage their houses or sell their kidneys or something just to be able to do it again. That didn't happen. Everyone seemed to enjoy it. I heard words like fun - nice - great - awesome. Those are fine - polite ways to describe it, but they don't do it justice. For me, flying is not fun or nice - it's life changing. It's passion - a calling. Something I can't shake or let go of. I have to do it. It's become a part of me.
I have this same kind of experience at church, a lot. I've talked about the fund raiser we had the other night, it happened there. Several people who had never been to our church were there, people who aren't a regular part of that community. They had fun, it was nice. What? I really believe that kind of community is what we were created for. I believe the heart of Jesus was blatantly on display. I don't see how you could be in that room and not feel God's love and grace. It was not nice or fun, it was life changing. How could anyone be there and not be moved? Really moved.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
In The Meantime - you should check this out. Another great writing about the waiting.
But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.
Trapped in your own mind waitin on the Lord
Or huntin wit the word that cuts like a sword
Let me take your hand, guide me
Ill walk slow but stay right beside me
Hide me, hold up I take that back
Protect me and give me the strength to fight back!
It's been a really strange week for me spiritually. Something is changing. For the longest time I've been waiting, I really felt like that was all I could do. The night had fallen and all I could do was wait for the dawn I knew was coming. It was such a big deal for me to actually be able to believe light was possible I found rest and peace in the waiting. Somewhere in the dark I became restless, I needed something to do - something to call my own - I needed a dream. God provided. He awoke a passion in me that I thought died six years ago. On November 2 the first part of that dream came together. I am a private pilot. Since I was a very small boy I've wanted to fly airplanes, now I can.
I really expected to be concerned with only two things these days, waiting on dawn and flying. I've been feeling a little like that isn't enough (changing the address of this blog to Advance the Dawn should have been my first clue). It seems lazy or something. I feel like there has to be more. Why should I act in my professional life and not in my spiritual life? Someone once said that sometimes I wait well and sometimes I wait poorly. Well, I've been waiting poorly. I've confused waiting with inaction. I think this feeling of uneasiness with the waiting started with the In The Meantime blog I hope you just read. I don't want to be some stupid virgin falling asleep when I'm supposed to be waiting. I recently read the verses in James and found it interesting that when James talks about perseverance (I think its basically a tougher word for wait) he also says to be "a doer who acts."
Lately when I find myself praying "Let me take your hand, guide me. I'll walk slow but stay right beside me. Hide me." Something in me screams (in the voice of DMX), "Hold up, I take that back. Protect me and give me the strength to fight back!" It just seems to me lately that I've got too many weapons - know too much truth - Serve a God too big, to just sit and wait. I hate to say it, but it is as simple as DMX says, you're either in the trap or you're hunting. Why wait when you can hunt with the word that cuts like a sword?
So, what does that look like? How do you fight back? James tells us exactly what that looks like.
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. 1:27
Sunday night my church had a fundraiser to provide groceries to needy families in our community. We went to a great little jazz bar in downtown and had desserts and coffee while listening to some really great musicians. It was the best night of community and fellowship I've had in a while. Everything was donated so every penny of the ticket price went to putting food on tables. I felt pretty good about just being there. My job is slow right now and I'm trying to pay for flight school so money is tight. The ticket price was a big deal (in my own selfish little world). We had to stay home and eat sandwiches to be able to afford the tickets. I know, its pitiful, an American eating sandwiches at home. There is a Five Guys in our town for crying out loud. So, I've made the sacrifice. I was there, but I kept hearing both James and DMX in my head (they make an interesting duet). The beautiful young lady who organized the whole thing made this statement (roughly), "there are people going hungry in our community and I am not ok with that." Dammit, I'm not either and I'm going to do something about it. I thought about the small amount of money in my wallet and my even smaller bank account, and then I thought about the widow and all her might.
2and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. 3And he said, "Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. 4For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on." Luke 21
I love the symmetry of the Bible. God uses the widow to both show us how to fight and as a powerful reminder that we can. We have the strength to fight back.
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
It was one he could understand
He was showing his love
And that's how he hurt his hands
I went on a short flight over to Crossville tonight. It gave me the opportunity to really be alone. The weather wasn't great, it was raining off and on and visibility was poor. I say really alone because the clouds above me blocked out the moon and stars and the there isn't much between here and Crossville. I don't know of a time I've ever felt further removed from everything. Once I got outside Knoxville's airspace I turned the radios down and listened to the IPod. Tonight was a Nickel Creek night.
During The Hand Song I found myself looking at my own hands. These are hands that can fly an airplane. Hands that carry my daughter to bed. Hands that hold my wife. Hands that wear a symbol of my marriage and a reminder of my father. I was feeling pretty good until I noticed the small scar on the knuckle of the pinkie finger on my right hand. A scar I got winning a fight in the 8th grade. The same hands I use to hold my daughter I've used to bloody. These are hands of violence. Hands literally marked by violence and anxiety. Mine are hands scarred by my sin. So are His.
I know it was love. Its not really the same, but I've held my child up in scarred hands. I can't explain it any better than that. It's a love I can understand.
You got to chase a dream, one that's all your own
Before it slips away
When you're flyin' high, take my heart along
I'll be the harmony to every lonely song
That you learn to play
When you're soarin' through the air
I'll be your solid ground
Take every chance you dare
I'll still be there
When you come back down
This song is so amazing to me. It speaks directly to and about me. I got my pilots license about a week ago. It was the single greatest achievement of my life. The one and only time I chased a dream and actually made some progress toward catching it. I find relief in finally finishing something. I know I still have a long way to go before this path I'm on finds its end, but its so nice to cross that first checkpoint. I've written before about the peace I find in flying, about the focus and clarity it often brings. The only other activity that's ever even come close to providing those things is writing.
I'm not sure I would have ever found the desire or will to pursue a career in aviation if it wasn't for writing. Its interesting to me that amidst the joy and release of flying I almost let it slip away. I forgot why I started writing - lost touch with that part of myself. Just a few days ago I spent a lot time talking about how in succeeding I learned what it is to finish, to resist the urge to quit. Yesterday I quit. Its amazing that I didn't even see it. I really thought blogging had run its course, that I was finished.
I'm so thankful to have people who are my solid ground. Its nice to have someone care when you fail. I'm thankful to have people who simply won't stand for it. Yesterday I quit. Today I got, "like hell you do." So, here I am.
At church last week we had one of those "keep your chin up" kinds of services. I know they're necessary right now, people are freaking out. I'm not. I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing, its the first time in my life I've been even remotely sure of that (aside from moments previously mentioned). Anyway, the message was about a really dark time in Israel's history. They had been under siege for so long they were basically living in a sewer, oh, and all they had to eat was each other. So their army ran away and their king had his eyes put out and his sons killed and then their city was burned and they were made into slaves. It was a rough couple of years. So they find themselves slaves in some Godforsaken foreign land and throw in the towel. They hang their harps in poplar trees and refuse to sing songs to or about God. I sort of know how they feel, hell, I've been there. Hung my harp right up in some stupid tree and walked away. So I'm sitting there in the service thinking it sounds about right. I mean, what would you do in a situation like that? I know what I do, I quit.
About this point I start getting real uncomfortable, not because the message is getting to me but because I begin to see what they plan on doing with that huge tree they've got sitting on stage. They plan on making me walk up there and in front of everybody take a little paper harp off the tree and promise never to put it up there again. I hate that crap, I really do. We all know no one takes that seriously. Its peer pressure. Its like when everybody at that made for TV church down the street stands up at the same point in the final worship performance (usually coincides with the climax of the song and a spectacular light show). We all know few of those people are actually moved by the song, I'd bet most of them are so busy thinking about lunch they don't even realize they've stood up. Its mob mentality. You can't force people to make a decision with peer pressure - you can't make me so uncomfortable I have to act. I will not make a decision for Christ because everyone is watching and I'm embarrassed not to or because the really spiritual people are doing it. Its not real that way. That being said, there is a pair of jeans in my floor right now with a little paper harp in the back pocket.
Here's the thing, this time I was one of the few. It was real for me. I don't want you to think I wrestled with it and came to a decision. God was very clear in that moment that this decision was not mine to make. I've just recently gotten my harp down, I don't get to put it back. I got angry and quit once before. The question now becomes; did I learn my lesson? I think I did. I know where that road leads. I'm not exactly on fire in my spiritual life right now. In fact, things are pretty quite on the God front. Its been quiet before, but this is different. I know where I'm going now. I've been a quitter before; I quit teams, I quit school, I quit jobs, relationships, and church. I quit on myself and on God. Somewhere in those stupid paper harps God reminded me that I'm not that guy anymore. I'm on the other side now. I've come to far to ever quit again.
Tonight I got to feel what it was like to finally succeed. I didn't have a senior season (in college)- I don't have a diploma. Tonight was the first time in a long time, if not ever, that I achieved something I set out for. Tonight I learned what it feels like to succeed. It changes everything.
I think the decisions I've made in the past will affect my relationship with God for a long time. I don't think of him the same way and he doesn't deal with me the same way. I think this is how our relationship is going to be; times of intense passion and growth followed by deafening silence and searching. Tonight, in the quiet distance of 6000 feet, I was reminded of what it will take to find success in my spiritual life. I have no choice, throwing in the towel is not an option. I will continue to sing, continue to play, and continue to wait.
Ed is referring to a rafting trip he took through the Grand Canyon and the way he experienced God in that place. Every time I hear this song I think of my places - places that have been beneath my feet at times when I have really experienced God. Loveland Mountain in Colorado where I discovered God's awesome creative power and beauty. The Beaches of Ocho Rios, Jamaica and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina where I first played in the ocean with my wife on our honeymoon and my daughter on our first family vacation. There is a barren mountain top in Peru where I found a heart for the oppressed, the poor, and the hungry. There are lakes, hunting leases, and back porches where my father became my friend. There's an overlook in Lenior City where I've left so many unanswered questions, and lonely roads through the Smokies where I've found so many answers. These are places that are special to me, places that feel Holy. Sometimes I think that if I ever get to visit some of these places again I may not be able to resist the urge to take my shoes off. These are the locations of my burning bush, places my heart has built alters. Tonight when I heard this song none of these places came to mind.
I've often given the church a hard time. I've been pretty upset with the church in general for quite some time now. That's beginning to change. In small group this week we talked about the great commission. The topic of people being hurt by the church was brought up. It got me talking about this guy I know that I generally feel is horrible at telling people about his faith. He does it often, and I respect that, but the way he does it bothers me. It turns a lot of people off. You can see people's eyes glaze over and feel the energy drain from the room when he starts talking about Christianity. I've always wanted to avoid being associated with or compared to him. I want to say, "I'm not like that. That's not me." The problem that I'm starting to see with that is that in the only way that matters I am like him - he is me. We are brothers. Part of the same body.
I learned this lesson for the first time several years ago. I was going through a rough patch and so I starting acting like a real ass. I said some really mean things to people that I really love. One night on the way home from dinner my wife was getting on me about it and I told her that I didn't see what it had to do with her. She informed me that if I kept acting like a jerk no one was going to want to hang out with us anymore. She said that if people quit wanting me around she would end up stuck at home with me all the time and never get to see her friends. It turns out no one is going to call my wife and ask her to come hang out and insist that she leave her jerk husband at home. We are so closely connected that you can't take one and leave the other. You get both or neither.
I've been guilty of asking people to do that with the church. I don't think it can work that way. It doesn't do any good to say to someone that has been hurt by the church, "well, that church sucks. We aren't like that. It won't happen to you here." That's a lie. We are like that. It probably will happen to you here. We cannot separate ourselves from the body of which we are a part. It wouldn't do my wife any good to say, "sorry my husband's a moron, but I'm really nice and will make a good friend." People will reject her for her association with me, no way around it. I think in that situation she did the only thing you can do. She had a difficult, honest, and (until now) private conversation with me and I'm betting she prayed real hard and real consistently that I would get my act together. I'm now convinced that's the way the church should handle its differences.
I've been thinking about this for a while now, but it wasn't clear to me why until I heard Canyon tonight. I've always know that I'm a person of extremes. I'm either hot or cold. On or off. Lately I've been off. For some reason I starting reading over my blog again today and it was a great reminder of where I've been, who I am, and the way God has moved in my life. I also noticed something else - I either write a lot or not at all. God is either the most important thing I my life or I shut him out all together. Tonight as I began again to wrestle with my relationship with God all these passages of scripture, old testament stories, and parables began running through my mind, it was like a snapshot of who God is and what he wants from and for me. It was me revisiting my foundation. Reconnecting with a truth so deeply buried in my heart that no amount of abuse from the world will ever be able to shake it loose.
Tonight as I listened to that familiar song it wasn't mountains and beaches my heart retreated to, it was Sunday School rooms and AWANA classes. It turns out the church I so often criticize and try to distance myself from was, is and always will be my foundation. It is the portion of earth beneath my feet.
I've felt really run down lately. Starting to feel old - In a lot of ways I'm starting to be old. I think maybe I'm a little bored. I'm not sure why that is, I think it may have something to do with my job. I'm not a big fan of it right now. I'm thankful to have it, but its wearing me out a little. Things aren't going as smoothly now as they have in the past. Things are tight, its hard to sell anything right now. Last year was a great year and that's killing me this year. I never used to miss my goals but I've been missing bad lately. The thing that's frustrating is that I'm working harder than I did last year. I bet my managers doubt that, but I am. I'm working harder and making less money. That sucks. What really sucks is I get the feeling people at work think I'm slacking off or don't care. Not true, but I can see how they would think that. I really think it has very little to do with anyone else in the office, it's hard for me to go in there everyday knowing I'm failing. It sounds dramatic to me to say failing but that's what it is. I hate failing.
So that's where I was when I heard this Andrew Peterson song today. Old. Tired. Bored. Unsuccessful. It sucks to be any one of those things but to be all four at once makes it really difficult to not throw in the towel. I was driving around trying to find the energy to make the next call when I heard Little Boy Heart Alive on the Ipod. It's not a song I listen to often. I don't have it memorized. I loved it today. I love it for its references to The Chronicles of Narnia (The Dawn Treader book is my favorite and the part about the lion not being tame is about the best part in the whole series). There is so much in this song I would love to spend time with (distant thunder, ancient song, kingdom calling, tale to tell just to name a few) but I think more importantly for me today is why it moved me the way it did.
I think it reminded me of the life I should be living - a life I lost touch with. It's the life I've been designed to live. I was beginning to get all John Eldridge thinking what I needed was a little adventure. You know climb a mountain, shoot an Elk kind of stuff. The thing is that's not really the way I live. I mean I go hiking like once every five years or so (I do still live in East Tennessee) but it's not like I can do that all the time. Besides that crap's exhausting to. I didn't stay with the Wild at Heart stuff long (I love and recommend that book). It occurred to me that I'm doing the man thing just fine. No, its not being a real man that I forget how to do. It's being a boy. I forget how to play - what it is to play. I'm Captain Hook.
I started to get really depressed about it. I can't pretend. I literally have no imagination left. What this song helped me do today was connect those feelings of play I experienced as a boy with what I get to do as a man. I began to remember all the things I do that feel like play. I fly an airplane like three times a week. What little boy doesn't dream about that, I sure did. I promise taking off in a real airplane makes you want to laugh in a way throwing a paper one never could. Just last week I played in the ocean with my best friend (who also happens to be my wife). Several months ago I ran through Dollywood, that's right, Dollywood, and rode roller coasters in the rain. I run in the yard with my dog. I play peek-a-boo, with my 11 month old daughter, but still it's peek-a-boo. Can't play that without either feeling like a kid or a moron.
I am designed to play. Play is one of the few things we didn't have to be taught to do. If we take time to remember we all know how. In the busyness that is our lives we get bogged down in responsibility and concern. We worry and work and struggle. We forget to play. Today I was reminded that I can and should still play - that my little boy heart is still alive.
Part of every misery is, so to speak, the misery's shadow or reflection: the fact that you don't merely suffer but have to keep on thinking about the fact that you suffer. I not only live each endless day in grief, but live each day thinking about living each day in grief. -C.S. Lewis-
Tonight was slow. I've said, and thought lately, that God often causes pain or hurt in order to slow things down and get our attention. Tonight things slowed down for me again. I told someone once that I think the two ways Satan gains influence in our lives are with God's permission and with ours. Tonight I gave him an in and he took it.
I'm not sure how it happens. Something bad happens and I go numb. Tonight it was Wii. Most of the time its TV or the Internet. I make noise - I ignore. It didn't work for me tonight. I'm not sure it ever really does. Anyway, I let my guard down. I began to feel sorry for myself. Before I knew it Satan had gotten in. I really hate him. He reminds me of all the things I hate in myself. When Satan brings the hurts of my past to the surface it's not heal them, he picks at them - inflames them. I swear, for a minute tonight something in me hurt in a way I haven't felt in a long time. The kind of hurt that makes your stomach knot up and your fist clinch. The kind of hurt you can't control or understand. Tonight I gave Satan just a little window and he drug all the darkness I've spent the last eight years burying back in through it.
One of the things I've come to love most about my Savior is his willingness to be where I am. If I've learned anything in recent years it's to look for him. I read the story of Nicodemus' encounter with Jesus recently. When John talks about Nicodemus he refers to him as the man who came to Jesus by night. Yes, in fear and uncertainty Nicodemus came to Jesus by night - but he came. It's interesting to me that the story doesn't mention that Nicodemus knocked on the door and woke Jesus up. It doesn't mention Jesus stumbling to the door in his pajamas wiping the sleep from his eyes. I'm just speculating, but I imagine Jesus was already in the street, waiting. I imagine all the disciples and Jesus having one of those long dinners and Jesus excusing himself saying he'd like some fresh air. I imagine Nicodemus coming around the corner in the dark trying to figure out how he's going to talk to Jesus without anyone knowing only to find Jesus leaned against the wall waiting for him. What Nicodemus found was a savior eager to meet him. He got Jesus at his best. John 3:16, the most powerful and precise explanation of the gospel message, was spoken to one man - in the shadows.
21 And when Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered about him, and he was beside the sea. 22 Then came one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name, and seeing him, he fell at his feet 23 and implored him earnestly, saying, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live.” 24 And he went with him.
This is what I read tonight. I'm not sure how to explain why this hit me the way it did. I think it was probably the words "my little daughter" followed by "he went with him." You see, I think the reason I was so bothered tonight is because it's the first time I've really dealt with past failures since becoming a dad. It scared me a little. I was afraid somehow I would let her down the way I've let others down, that my hurt would become her hurt - my burdens her burdens. My little daughter deserves better than that, my little daughter deserves a daddy that Jesus goes with.
I'm reminded once again that there is no place my Savior won't meet me, no place he's unwilling to go. Tonight sin created a moment, but it was invaded by Truth. Tonight Jesus gently whispered truth into the shadows. Tonight I got Jesus at his best.
I had just left the hospital after being there with dad all day. He had a surgery that didn't go well, in fact, it did nothing but weaken him further and reveal more problems. Before the surgery there was hope - after there was none. The cancer that we thought was isolated in his liver had moved into his stomach and intestines. They were both shutting down. I don't remember much of what happened after we talked to the doctor. There was a lot of crying. I didn't. I was numb. The rest of the night at the hospital is kind of hazy. I don't remember getting in my truck to drive home, but I remember my phone ringing. It was late and I was driving, but I figured talking to someone would be a good distraction. It was Claire. "How's he doing?" It was a question I had heard countless times in the preceding several months but something about the way she asked it moved me. My mind flashed back over my friendship with Claire and I knew it was safe. I could tell her. "He's dying, Claire." It was the first time I admitted it to myself, and for the first time since dad got sick I cried. In my truck on Alcoa highway in the middle of the night a call from a dear friend allowed me to begin to deal emotionally with losing my father. When I got home several of my best friends were already at my house. It wasn't unusual. They did that a lot. I'm not sure what I would have done if they hadn't been there. God uses that night to show me that he has surrounded me with community. That he does provide. That he is there when you need him. It boggles my mind that he points to that night.
"He's dying, Claire." I felt it happen. I know that was the moment. As those words left my mouth I quit believing God is good. The truth of those words was more powerful than anything I had learned in Sunday School. My faith failed - my world darkened - night fell.
When you're down and out...When evening falls so hard; I will comfort you. I'll take your part. When darkness comes and pain is all around, like a bridge over troubled water I will lay me down. -Simon & Garfunkle
It occurs to me, because it’s been pointed out, that the presentation of my story here is incomplete. I've left out a key figure - told a story without one of its leading characters. I've done this primarily because she is, quite simply, more than I have words to express.
I met Kyla for the first time when I was in the eighth grade. She was so cute. It was her eyes I noticed first, which is pretty remarkable for a 15 year old boy, anyway, she had brilliant green eyes, curly brown hair, a smile that could (and continues to) light up the darkest night, and this laugh that just makes you want to sing. She'll roll her eyes at this, but I've loved her since that night. I got to hang out with her again at a couple of different parties that summer, and just before school started back it happened - we danced. It was one of those awkward middle school dances, but I knew (the best you can at 15) that I'd never really be able to hold anyone else. I asked her out a couple weeks later, actually I don't think I did, I think she just hit me with a preemptive no. I spent the next few years totally alone, unable to enjoy the company of other girls. Ok, that's not entirely true.
Our senior year I started going to her church. We'd all go out after church and she and I would ride together or sit next to each other. I slowly began to remember how I felt that night we danced. It wasn't long before I was totally crazy about her again. One night after church everyone was going to a restaurant that I didn't care for so I decided to just go home. Kyla decided to go have sandwiches with me. We had grilled cheeses, and then made out. That was almost ten years ago.
Since then our stories have been the same, or are so interwoven it’s impossible to tell them apart. Everything that I've experienced, thought, or felt in the last decade she's been a part of. It’s difficult to know how to incorporate her into simple versions of my story because she has been so many different things. Kyla is my best friend. She has been girlfriend and fiancé - companion and playmate. She is my shelter - my home. She is a shoulder to cry on and a hand to hold. She is my sail and my anchor. She is salt and light. She is my daughter's mom and my lover. She gives me hope and allows me to dream. She has, literally, enabled me to fly. She loves without limit and gives with all that she is. She is perfectly created for and uniquely equipped to handle me. She is all that I am and all that I'll ever be. She makes me better - she's the reason I want to be. She is my wife - my flesh - my story.
I had Bridge Over Troubled Water played at our wedding primarily because dad liked it, but, even then, it was clear that it perfectly expresses the way my wife loves. Kyla is my bridge. People talk all the time about having someone to take the journey of life with - Kyla is more than who I go with, she is how I get there.
I hate goodbye. I really do. I suck at it to. Several months ago some good friends moved to Ohio. When we left their apartment on their last night here I kicked their damn U-Haul. I didn't know what else to do. Goodbye is so bad for me that if you invite me over to your house you'd better be prepared to have me there for a while. Its so hard to leave. I hate to give up the moment.
I once told someone that I didn't ever really miss anybody. I'm not sure why I said it, its an outright lie. The truth is - I miss people constantly. I'm overly sensitive to the void people leave behind. I often think moments are as affected by the absence of people as they are anything else. The day I got married - had a baby - bought my first truck, I felt my dads absence. When I tee off at Lambert I hate that Meeuwsen isn't here. During quiet dinners, loud parties, and afternoons by the pool I miss me some Claire. It occurs to me that I have pieces of my heart scattered all over the place. Family in California and Georgia - friends in Ohio, Texas, South Carolina, New York, and Chattanooga. I miss them all - all the time. As I drove away form my friend tonight I remembered the pain of goodbye.
Its seems almost cruel sometimes the way we have to relive our hurts and failures. I do believe that things in my spiritual life have turned around. For so long I ran from God, now I'm headed back home. I love knowing that I'm now headed in the right direction - I hate that its on the same road. I wasn't prepared for this. I find myself hitting the same potholes I thought I had left behind. The slippery slopes of rebellion that I had so easily slid down before have become mountains I have to climb. I'm not saying I want to get off the road and I'm definitely not saying I want to turn around, its just difficult sometimes. I've driven to Colorado a couple times and I can safely say I hate driving I-70 through Kansas. If I didn't know what kind of skiing the Rockies had waiting for me driving Kansas would make me want to kill myself.
God is faithful to remind me. When I got home tonight I put my daughter to bed. She fell asleep in the truck on the way home so I had to move her from the carrier to her crib. It was one of the sweetest moments of my life. She didn't really wake up when I picked her up but she breathed real heavy like she knew she was home. As I moved her she snuggled into my chest with her head on my shoulder. I couldn't put her down. I stood there in the dark for a long time just listening to her breath. I can't explain what it his to hold your child close to you like that. I do know that I would have done whatever it took to get her home.
For this child I prayed. -1 Samuel 1:27
Its clear to me this world is not our home - that we were not meant for this life. There is something inside us that screams - I want more, I am more, I want to go home. Its an odd feeling - missing a place you have never been, longing for a life you've never had. These feelings often come to me at the weirdest times and usually only in small flashes. In times of betrayal, hurt, and loss its there - You know something just isn't right, not only with this moment but with this place. Its there in the good times as well. When we celebrate life, triumph, and community it sneaks in - we know there is still something more. If we're honest I think we would say that its always there - lurking in the deepest places of our souls. We are homesick. It has always been difficult for me to understand how I could long for a home I had never seen - miss a place I have never been - love something I have never known.
My best friends' sons were dedicated to the church today. It has been a beautiful day. We got to stand with them as they gave their boys back to the Lord - it was not as dramatic as the way he gave them us (yes, us). The boys were born premature and had to spend the first 47 days of their lives in the NICU. For 47 days God was faithful, through the highs and lows - joy and pain He was there. For 47 days their parents watched the hand of God work in that hospital. For 47 days I learned what it was to miss what I had never seen - to love what I had never known.
I came across a blog about a week ago by a guy named John. The battery on my laptop went dead and I lost the page before I got a chance to really read it. I'm not sure how to find it again, but the few sentences I read have really had an impact on me. Most of what I'm going to put here comes directly from what I remember of his post. John, if you happen to stumble across my blog the way I stumbled across yours, thanks.
I re-read the story of the Prodigal son again a few weeks ago. Its not my favorite story in the Bible. I don't care for it because in my experience its not actually how things work. I've talked a little about my anger and rebellion and attempt to return home. When I turned for home I felt like God had moved or something. My story is the Psalms 13, "how long will you hide from me? Will you forget me forever?" Kind of story.
I think the problem for me was not that I got home and God had moved so much as I had turned for home I just hadn't gotten there yet. It seems I ran further than I thought. I talked in an earlier post about the day I came across Psalms 13 and felt like God had cracked the door in a dark room. I couldn't see much, but I had a direction. For the purposes of this story that day was the day he turned the porch light on. I'm on my way home, its night and the road in dark but I know the way and I'm sure He's waiting.
This is the mind set I had when I read the prodigal son last week. I thought in this new frame of mind I would enjoy the story more. There was something about it that still made me uncomfortable. I couldn't figure out why I wasn't real excited about coming home until I read John's blog.
I've said before that I learned some things growing up in church that turned out to be destructive. I was told at an early age that when I died, at the judgment, I would have to give an account of my life. I was told that at the judgment God would ask (something along the lines of), "Why should I let you into Heaven"? I hadn't really thought about it, but it turns out that was really affecting the way I approached God. In the story of the prodigal son it just didn't seem right to have the father run out to the son throw his arms around him and ask, "why should I let you come home"? We all know that boy didn't deserve to be allowed back in the house. I know that I don't either.
John suggested, and I now imagine that when the father met his son on the road that day the question may have been, Have you realized who you are? Its a much nicer question. It suggests that its your identity and not your actions that welcome you home.
On my journey I have learned more about who I am. The answer to that question is very close to my heart and still very difficult for me. Its something I haven't felt or said in a long time. The closer I get to home the more I feel it. I become increasingly aware of who I am. When the day breaks and the Father sees me in the distance I'm ready to meet him. When we meet and the question is asked I will fall into his embrace and say, "I am your son."
Tuesday, July 1, 2008
I've been really trying to get into theology lately. I've come to one conclusion: I don't like the language of theology. I don't like it because I don't like being categorized. It seems you can't have a biblical discussion anymore with someone whose been a Christian longer than ten minutes without them throwing some fancy title at you. Why is it that people want to try and sum up what they believe in one word? (I'm OK if that word is Christian). Why do you need me to fit in a category? I think a lot of that is intellectual laziness. It would take a long time to really explain what you believe so you just put a big fancy word on it and hope people are so intimidated by your vocabulary that they don't ask anymore questions.
Maybe this bothers me so much because I defy categorization. I've spent quite a bit of time trying to decide which one of those theological labels fits me best. I can't find one. I think I may be looking in the wrong part of the Bible. I've been focusing on the New Testament, maybe the list of labels and corresponding outlines of their respective theologies is in the Old Testament. Right after the ten commandments, maybe I should look there. Leviticus sounds like a book that might be rich in Christian terminology (I already checked the concordance in my Bible, nothing).
What I do see in the Bible is a story of a God who loves - who pursues. I see healing and restoration. I see creation - redemption - salvation. I don't see labels. The Bible uses words like child - beloved- brothers and sisters. We are the church - the bride. We are set apart, known, chosen, and saved. We are joint heirs with Christ. If you must label me - if I must carry a tag. There is one title I'll proudly carry - one label I'll gladly wear. Hello, I am redeemed.
Sunday, June 29, 2008
And His lightning conquered everything around
That dark had to flee
Several nights ago I went outside to let the dog take a piss. It had been storming all day so it felt fresh. The air smelt clean and there was a slight breeze. It was really late (sometime between 1 & 2 in the morning) - quiet. There was no moon and the sky was clear over our house. I turned off the light on our mailbox and laid in the bed of my truck for a while. You could see more stars that night than I had ever seen from our house. The thing that made it so impressive was that there were thunderstorms all around. At the edges of my view there were huge dark clouds that were moving fast, but above me the sky was clear and still.
I felt and thought so much in that moment. I felt small and insignificant for a while. Then I began to feel like that night- the hole in the clouds - the breeze- the stars were all there for me. I'm not sure why God created the rest of the universe (maybe just because he could - for fun, maybe because he can't help but create, maybe its all just an overflow of his creative beauty) but that night I became certain that it was all there the proclaim his name to me, in that moment. I thought about how huge the universe is. I thought about how powerful light is. One tiny ray of light created by a distant star can penetrate billions (I'm sure that's too small of a number) of miles of space. I thought about my dad. I read somewhere that light from some stars takes so long to get to us that we may be seeing a star that burned out long ago. The star is gone, but its light remains.
My favorite thing about the other night was the lighting. It was all around me but I couldn't see it directly. I never saw a single bolt of lightning, but every now and then a distant strike would light up the sky. It would wash across my little opening in the clouds and all the stars would disappear. As quickly as it came it went away and I was left anticipating its next strike. That's often the way God shows up in my life. He has rarely been as bright or (obviously) consistent as the sun. I always have the feeling he's out there, somewhere just out of sight. It often becomes easier to focus on lesser lights. I get caught up in things, experiences, and relationships. They are my stars. I'll be cruising along fine and BAM, lighting. When God shows up its impressive. It becomes difficult or impossible to focus on anything else. In those moments everything else fades into the background and there is only Him. I am startled, often frightened. Stunned. Amazed. Completely in awe. I am comforted. Inspired. Moved and forever changed.
I've come to enjoy experiencing God this way. Do I long for dawn? Yes, more than anything. But there is something wildly exhilarating about knowing God is out there, just waiting. I think this is good for me because through most of my early life I was living a high noon type of spiritual life. I think I sort of took it for granted. I may have even come to resent it a little. I talked with a guy once that had spent several months in the Arctic Circle. The whole time he was there the sun never went down. He said it was nice for a while but it eventually became exhausting. He couldn't sleep, his body clock got all screwed up. He said he found himself hoping for and even seeking out darkness just so he could feel normal. I've said that but now I'm not sure its a great analogy. I never wanted to be out of the light, never sought darkness. I do think I became exhausted. My Christianity was based more on adherence to rules than reliance on grace. That'll wear you down after a while.
I have become thankful for the night. The transition was a bitch, but the rest is nice. Its here in the night that I've experienced times of real peace. I've begun to see and experience the heart of Christ. Growth isn't as constant as it might be in the sun, but when the lightning comes its powerful and change happens instantly. Between strikes there is calm - between them I find Jesus. Yesterday I was unable to understand and experience God and Jesus at the same time. I saw God's hand, but not Jesus' heart. I hope that when tomorrow comes I'll be able to simultaneously experience both (I think that's the center point of the cross). For now I'm grateful for the experience of the night - resting in the arms of Christ, waiting for lightning to strike again.
Thursday, June 26, 2008
Monday, June 23, 2008
I have a God whose tears fill the scars that cover my heart. -Lindsay Mizell-
I have two very close friends whose compassion leaves me in awe. Its hard for me to understand how one individual can be so willing and able to help carry the burdens of so many. I love to be around these people, it makes me better - more aware. I will say, however, that it also annoys me a little. I often think they get so caught up in the needs of one they loose sight of the big picture. In my opinion they are in such a hurry to come to the rescue here and now that they forget to address or even recognize root cause of the problem. The simplest example to explain is the belief that pharmaceutical companies are evil and the government should step in and force them to sell medicine at a fair price. In most ways she's pretty conservative, but show her that one old man who can't open the mayo jar because he couldn't afford his arthritis medicine and she goes all to pieces. She wants to government to step in and make his medicine affordable. Now, we all know (as does she) that the problem with that is government sucks at it. Need an example? Check out Canada. The solution to the problem is to keep the government out of it and let the market regulate price. Takes too long for my friend. While we're waiting on that the old guys hands keep right on hurting. The difference between she and I is that she sees the individual in pain now and I see a major problem that needs a long term solution. I do this with everything - except my own life.
A while back in a small group a friend of mine was telling the story of Lazarus and began to talk about Jesus weeping out of compassion for the pain Mary and Martha felt. As he talked about Jesus' compassion he become so moved that he began to cry himself. He looked right at me and through his tears told me that Jesus wept for me, for my pain. It really pissed me off. The part of the Lazarus story that gets me is the part where Jesus waits around for Lazarus to die before he does anything. Lazarus didn't have to die, no one had to hurt. It angered me that Jesus would allow the pain and then act hurt by it himself. If Jesus didn't want Mary and Martha to hurt he should have come when they called him. If he really cared he would not have let them experience that pain.
This story has been difficult for me lately. I've seen so much of the heart of Jesus that is so beautiful. The story of Lazarus seems so strange to me now. It shouldn't - I've seen it played out in my life and the lives of people I love so many times over the last ten years. The only difference is we don't get to see our loved ones resurrected - yet. I know Jesus lets us hurt but I also know he weeps for us. Its difficult for me.
It has occurred to me lately that the reason its so difficult for me to understand is that in this story I'm the one hurting . That makes it difficult to see the big picture. I want God to prevent my hurt - put a band-aid on my wounds. Jesus sees a bigger problem - one that requires a long term solution. Christianity is a long run experience. In the long run the best thing for the world is to see Jesus. The only way to fix the problem is to have God glorified and his name lifted up. Jesus let Lazarus die so we could see that God has power over death. Jesus allowed Mary and Martha to hurt in order to show a dying world that there is hope.
I don't think Jesus wept as much for Mary and Martha as he did for a world that is lost in a broken system. Jesus wept because things are not as they should be. Jesus spoke of his coming kingdom, a kingdom where the blind received sight, where the lame walk and the dead rise. He spoke of a perfect kingdom - free from pain and despair. I believe the man in Jesus wept in longing for that kingdom. I believe the God in him wept because he knew what it would take to usher it in.
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
Monday, June 16, 2008
"Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle, or it will starve. It doesn't matter whether you're a lion or gazelle - when the sun comes up, you'd better be running."
I took my dog through a car wash tonight. My wife and daughter were both in bed (one sick the other an infant), the Lakers had just stretched the series to game 6, and wasn't even close to tired so I figured I'd go for a drive. Duke loves to ride in the truck so I took him with me. I hadn't planned to get the truck washed but I drove by and the truck was dirty so I figured why not. I let Duke in the cab and settled in with my milkshake (I love having a milkshake in a car wash, weird but true). It became obvious pretty quick that I wasn't going to be able to enjoy the milkshake.
I turns out my big boxer dog is a sissy. As soon as the wash started he freaked out. He laid in the back floorboard for a while and whined, then barked and pawed the window, then just paced back and forth. He ended up on my lap watching the horror out the window. During the soap cycles he watched nervously as the machine moved down the truck. During the rinse cycles he laid with his head on my leg and growled deep down in his chest. When the wash was over I couldn't get him out of my lap so I pulled out of the bay and opened the door. Usually when you open any kind of door Duke is out in a dead run, but this time he just sat up on my lap sniffed the air and growled. He would raise up like he was going to jump and then loose his nerve. After a few minutes the lure of fresh air and open spaces became too much and he took the leap. You should have seen him run once he hit the ground. Not from anything or to anything he just ran because he could - because he loves it. He wasn't afraid anymore, he was free.
As I watched him run around the parking lot I couldn't help but think about how similar I am. I do the same thing all the time. God puts me in a situation I'm unfamiliar with or does something I don't understand and I do the same thing. It seems like when I'm not sure what to feel I just run through them all until I find one I can handle. Most of the time, like Duke, I settle on a combination of fear and anger.
This being Father's Day I'm sure you know where this is heading. That's where I was - afraid and angry. For years after dad died I didn't do church on father's day. I played golf, drove through the mountains, slept in - anything to avoid going to church and listening to some preacher talk about what a great father God is. Last year was different. Kyla was pregnant and I was technically a dad. I had to go. I'm glad I did. Not because I got to stand up and be recognized, because I had the opportunity to share my story.
Several weeks before last father's day I ordered a poster from a website where I get a lot of my favorite tee shirts. It is a picture of a Bible opened to Jeremiah with 29:11 underlined. I didn't get it because I like the verse, I'm not sure if I even read it before I bought it. I got it because I thought, as a Christian, it would be good to have a poster like that in the house and it was only a dollar. Several days after I put it up I was having a particularly bad day. Father's day was so close people had begun to plan for it and I wasn't sure what to do. I didn't want to go, but I didn't feel like there was anyway around it. I sure didn't feel like a dad. I came out of the nursery and as I rounded the corner into the den the words or Jeremiah jumped off the wall at me, "I know the plans I have for you. Plans to prosper not to harm. Plans to give you hope and a future." I that moment I heard God as clearly as I ever had or have since. I heard him say, "You know that I will take. Now know that I will give, that I am good."
Its difficult sometimes for me to remember my dad the way I want to. The images of the last several weeks of his life a so terribly powerful that they often overshadow the previous twenty years. I can see him in that hospital bed sick - weak and yellow with his hair all fallen out. That's the memory I most often have of my dad. However, I find that when I'm doing something I love (especially if its something that he loved) all the other memories of him come rushing back. When I play or watch basketball I can see the first video he ever shot of me dunking in a game. I got a steal and was in front all by myself and he got so excited he watched with his eye and not the camera and missed it. I can hear him yelling and then explaining to the camera how great it was and how he couldn't believe he didn't get it on tape. Every time I take off in an airplane as soon as the wheels leave the ground I can see his smile. His face bright with barley controlled excitement. I loved the way he tried to act like he wasn't just a big kid, like it was no big deal. I swear I think things like that excited him more than they did us, he always seemed be having more fun than everyone else. At night when I sit alone in the dark I can still hear his voice, all of our best talks were in still dark of night after curfew. I would come in from being out and he would be there, sitting quietly in the dark. I would come in and sit with him, sometime we would talk - more often then not we just sat there together in the dark. He always seemed to know what to say, what I needed to hear. Tonight in the dark of my kitchen, with my daughter asleep in the next room, I hear the echo of his voice again.
Run. God has opened the door. There is nothing to fear. You are free. Run.
Thursday, June 12, 2008
I was talking to someone the other day and they kept referring to their "own personal testimony." The thing that bothered me about it was that they never shared it with me (I guess that's why they call it personal). That bothers me for two reasons: 1. I'm nosy 2. It really could have touched me in some way and I think sharing it is the least they could have done. I know your testimony is usually an intensely personal thing but I don't think its a excuse to keep it a private thing. I think its a special sort of arrogance to assume God changed you just so you would be happy. God changes things, its what he does (when he's not creating them). Your personal testimony is not yours, its God's.
Having said that it occurs to me that I haven't shared my story (in its entirety) with you.
I got saved when I was six or seven in a church in South Georgia. I don't remember much about it. The pastor's name, the prayer I prayed, the feeling I had - all lost to time. That always created a problem for me. You hear people all the time talk about how God radically changed their lives. I spent years embarrassed by the simplicity of my "conversion experience."
Over time I began to doubt if I was ever really saved. It seemed to me that being saved is something you would remember. It was on a little mission trip doing some revivals with a pastor that God began to show me the truth of my testimony. The pastor we went with had a nasty habit of asking you to get up in the middle of a service with no prior warning and give your testimony. I knew I had to come up with something. As I began to think about my story I began to pray. That was it, I prayed. Why, because I am saved. It occurred to me that God had saved me from the things others had been delivered from, he just did it before I had the chance to be hurt by them. I'm convinced I was saved the minute I stepped out of the pew as a child, but I also think its something I grew into. As I grew God grew. When the world pushed to increase its influence over me God pushed back. I am his - always have been.
Before I get into this next part I want you to know that I love the church. It was the church that introduced me to Jesus and when I turned away it was the church that paved the way back. That said, I think in all my years of attending church I never really got a clear picture of who God is. They tell you a lot of nice stories in Sunday School. You hear a lot of pretty sermons in "big church." They paint a picture of a God who is nice and fun. A God that gives, and God that defends and protects. Its a picture that is altogether accurate and beautiful. The problem is that it is also incomplete. God gives, but he also takes. He is merciful, but he is just. They tell you how simple it is to be saved, how basic the gospel is. They often fail to mention that God is infinite and we are not. They don't tell you that God will do things you won't understand and if you bring it up they tell you to have faith. The church likes to shy away from difficult questions. The thing is, life is difficult. When my dad died I was not equipped to handle it. I had no framework through witch to understand a God who would let that happen. How could God be good and my dad be dead at the same time? I couldn't make sense of it. For me it became an either or sort of thing. Either God is good or my dad is dead. Every minute of every day I know dad isn't here. Its hard to have that kind of certainty with God. I didn't know what to think or feel. Doubt and confusion created an emotional void, anger quickly filled it.
Most of the rest of the story is contained in earlier post so I won't go through it again. The important thing to know now is that I know God is good. Not because good things have happened in my live but because God had allowed me to see more of his heart. I see it in my community. I realized how and to what extent in a recent conversation with someone I hadn't seen in like ten years. She lost her husband several years ago and asked how I dealt or deal with dad's death. I told her that I have great friends and that I leaned on them really hard. She asked how they helped and without thinking I said,"they leaned right back." I meant it in the Forrest Gump, don't sleep with our heads in the mud, sort of way but it made realize that the thing that helps me the most is not their strength. Its their vulnerability. I want to know I am not alone in my pain and doubt. I want to feel normal. Not having a dad makes me feel like an outsider, an orphan. I need to know how God changed you because it helps me understand how he changed me. I need to know that my story is your story. The only way that can happen is if we both tell ours.
Monday, June 2, 2008
And again I see my yesterdays in front of me
Unfolding like a mystery
You're changing all that is and used to be
I feel like my discussion of pain was both incomplete and inaccurate. So I'm going to try and revisit that in a minute, but first I'd like to talk about the Old Testament. A friend sent me a link to a blog site where a guy was talking about stoning. He seems to think its a practice the church (and society in general) should bring back. That's the last I'll mention him (he's obviously a complete moron) the problem it created for me is that it got me looking up information about the Old Testament. It turns out that a lot of Christians seem to want to apologize for or dismiss the Old Testament. That really bothers me. I know that Jesus fulfilled the law so we're not subject to it, but that's not grounds to dismiss over half the Bible. I don't get offended, but I think I was as close as I've ever been today reading that crap. The Old Testament is a beautiful picture of who God is and what he wants for his people. To me it has always been a story of how far God will go to restore, about his willingness to pursue and rescue us. The Old testament is about love not anger - hope not judgment - promise not punishment. The laws and the consequences for breaking them seem harsh if not viewed through the cross. Why, on this side of the cross, would we afraid to discuss the harshness of Old Testament law? It seems a perfect opportunity to mention that Jesus paid that price. Yes, the price for rebellion is high, but it has never been ours to pay.
Ok, so my problem with my previous post on pain is that it seems to suggest that pain is what we were created for. That was never where I was coming from. I do think that pain is what's left when hope and beauty are gone, but I don't think its the whole story. I think the reason I'm uncomfortable with my last post is that I've has a little shift in my understanding of my struggle with pain. I used to think that I was 200% man. 100% fallen and 100% forgiven. I thought my struggle was with the other side of who I am. My dark side, the spirit battling the flesh. The problem with that is that it suggests that the blood of Christ did completely cover me, that somehow my sin is still part of my identity. I've come to realize how destructive that view is.
I had a little moment in my car outside a Mexican restaurant last week. Something I was counting on had fallen through and I thought I wasn't going to be able to do some things I was planning on. It seemed so typical. I had really thought this was going to be different. I knew I was doing what I was supposed to be doing, so I couldn't understand why God would end it before it ever started. I was devastated but not surprised. I heard this Garth Brooks song on the ol' IPod (God's favorite way to communicate with me) and it was like God was asking me what I was actually afraid of. I was afraid that things would always be what they had always been.
It seems my struggle is not with dual identities, its with a past I can't completely shake. I remember. I remember quitting, failing, loosing. I have of history of loss and disappointment. I don't have a problem identifying what I should do, I have a problem getting it done. Its difficult for me to believe its going to be different this time. In those moments of doubt and fear God has always found a way to reach me, reassure me. This is my time. I've been waiting so long to be completely healed. I know that this is my moment. I may not be able to forget my past, but I believe God has the power to change it. Its time I shake off whats left of my former self. Its time to change all that used to be.
This new position shifts the way I view pain. I used to think it was the default human feeling (wow, its sounds really bad to say it that way). I no longer think pain is what happens when we the good is gone. I think its what happens when what we were created for is in conflict with what we're actually doing. For me this has played itself out in countless different ways. Its easy to identify most of the time. When someone dies, when relationships end, we understand that it wasn't supposed to be that way. We know we're created for community and when we loose that we hurt. I think we were created for more than just life and community. I think God gives us individual passions. I think they all in some way reflect the heart and personality of God. I've been reminded of mine. Its always been there, I'm excited to rediscover it.
I don't think this new thing is the answer, but I believe its an answer. Its another piece in the puzzle. God has been at work in my life for so long. He's revealed himself in powerful ways. I have a better understanding of who I am and who I'm supposed to be. I've been given community and family. Its nice now to have something to do.
Sunday, May 18, 2008
Different People with a common pain
A simple box in the hard red clay
where we left him to always remain
My mom has no feeling in her fingers, she can't. She takes things out of the oven with her bare hands. I apparently saw her do things like that too much growing up and not long after I got married it bit me. My wife and I had been slow cooking a roast all day and she asked me to take it out of the cooker. Now, I had seen my mom take a roast out of the cooker like a million times and she never used a pot holder. I grabbed the lid on the cooker and it burnt the crap out of my finger tips, but what hurt worse was the steam that came rushing out when I picked the lid up, it burnt the entire back of my hand. It hurt, bad. The thing is, looking back on it I have trouble really remembering the feeling. I know it hurt, but I don't hurt now thinking about it. That is the chief difference between physical and emotional pain.
I think those preachers who talk constantly about hell in order to scare people into salvation are focusing on the wrong aspect of hell. It would suck to burn for eternity, but I think the thing that makes hell, hell is the separation from God. Being burnt is bad, being utterly alone is worse. Its like the fiery furnace those guys in the old testament were thrown in. I imagine that was as close a representation of physical hell as there as ever been. The thing that kept it form being painful was the presence of God.
I once heard a very smart pastor say that the two things that most deeply penetrate the heart of man are beauty and pain. I think I only partly agree with that, it seems to me that pain is just the absence of beauty. Like dark is the absence of light or cold is the absence of heat. I think that in a fallen world pain is the default. A heart that wasn't created for this world hurts when the world is all it has. The things of God -community, fellowship, love - infuse our hearts with beauty. In His absence there is only pain.
I'm constantly amazed by our (my) ability to love. We can love so hard and so completely that the recipient of that loves becomes a part of us. That's both beautiful and dangerous. I think its a beautiful picture of the trinity. I think we can love like that because we were created in the image of a God that loves like that. The problem is that we often (and should) love people that aren't going to be around forever. We are going to have to say goodbye. I've often thought that fellowship and community are all I currently know of heaven. I'm thankful that goodbye is all I'll ever know of hell.
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
like a pair of angel's wings
You are my family.
- Ryan Long-
I met Claire in the sixth grade and loved her instantly. There is so much about her that I love, but I think the thing that I love the most is that she is beautiful. In every way, Claire is beautiful. I hope I don't need to explain that because I don't think I can. I'm not only talking about pysical beauty, she is, but its not the point. I don't know how to explain it and I should have thought it through before I got into it. I guess the bottom line on Claire is that she is the kind of beautiful that affects you - touches you - moves you. I am different - better - because I know her.
I've know Aaron for a long time. Since before High School. Aaron is a great man. He's a great husband (That probably has a much to do with Sharron being amazing as it does with him), a great father, he's a great pastor. He has without a doubt been set apart by God to do special things. God's anointing is all over him. The thing is I don't really care about any of that. I know he's great, its obvious that he's different, but to me he'll always be the guy I played ball and rode wave runners with. He is my friend. That said, I don't think that its a coincidence that Aaron has been there in some of the most powerful moments of my life. It may be just a numbers thing, but I think God has used him in my life in a very intentional and powerful way.
I guess I met Lindsay in High School too, but I didn't get to know her until she started dating Daniel (who I'll get to in a minute) a couple years ago. Lindsay is the only person on this little list that didn't know me before dad died. That has always been huge for me. I let the devil convince me that most of my other friends loved me for who I used to be. They know what I was like before I was broken. Lindsay doesn't and I want her to see what I can be. She knows and has accepted that I've been hurt and I'm comfortable with her seeing that in me. The thing is, she's been hurt too. (I think in one way or another we all have). Lindsay, more than anyone else I've ever know, hurts gracefully. I don't mean graceful like a ballerina. I mean graceful like Jacob's wrestling match with God. At times its difficult to tell who's holding on to who (whom?). She is all wrapped up in God's grace. In that grace there is healing. She has taught me how to hurt gracefully and in that brought healing to my life.
Daniel has been my best friend since the 5th grade and is the only person I've ever given that title to. We have done life together. Every phase, aspect, and major event of my life has been influenced by him. He's been an inspiration, shield, and balance. I respect Daniel. He's done more with less than I would have thought possible. He's the reason the rest us us don't have any excuses. The beautiful thing about Daniel is that he doesn't see it that way. When the rest rest of us talk about the bad hands we've been dealt he doesn't complain, I used to think it was because it didn't want to be negative, I'm pretty sure now its because he doesn't see negative. With Daniel there is no bad or good pitches. He just takes whatever is thrown at him and knocks it out of the park. Its fun to watch. I think the reason he and I get along so well is that he balances me. I'm all over the place. I am an extremist. He is steady. Daniel brings calm - peace. I dare you to be in a bad mood when he's around. I should also mention that God talks directly to Daniel. He's never said that, you can just tell. I'm not sure what else I can say. You won't find him on my family tree, but he is my family.
Well, that took longer than I expected. I'm going to save the common pain discussion for later. I know you can't wait.