Tuesday, March 27, 2012
Friday, May 6, 2011
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
The second stage comes when you realize how well your parents know you as an individual. I’m not talking about how they know what to buy you for Christmas or that you only wear white crew cut Nike sox or even that you won’t eat cheese unless it is melted first. They know our tendencies, our weaknesses, and our strengths.
My mom is the best at this. When I was playing sports she knew that the only way to raise my level of competition was to tell me as it is. “You dribble the ball too much…Don’t let that little punk push you around…my Dad can run faster than that and he has a fake hip…that forward made you look like an eleven year old girl dressed in her Sunday best walking on her tiptoes because she doesn’t want to get her white nylons dirty.” You know, the standard pump up lines. To other onlookers this may have seemed cruel but it was always the best way to show me love. She knew that the constant pats on the back and “Great effort. You’ll get them next time…” didn’t work for me. Thanks mom!
There is a third stage that parents don’t even know about. It is the little things they say that kids remember years later and take encouragement from. My mom and dad had a phrase they used to say often, “Children are a blessing from the Lord.” It is hard to capture the way they say it on paper because there was always a bit of sarcasm in their voices as if they were trying to convince themselves the words they just said could actually be true. This phrase was usually said when I was being annoying. Like when I would bounce a basketball off the wall and shake the whole house or throw slippers at my mom when she was trying to watch football. Sometimes they would say it in the grocery store when I kept asking for the Wolverine action figure we just walked past or when I tried to convince them to buy frozen pizza for every meal.
I didn’t realize until this week the depth of truth contained in this phrase. To be honest, I have struggled teaching for the last couple of weeks. Not because I have no desire to do so or lack of subject matter. It was because of lack of results. It seemed like every week I got up front and taught a lesson that connected very well on a Middle School level but it just went in one ear and out the other of my students. I work at a church consisting mostly of “church kids”. These are the kids that have been in church their whole lives and who think their lives are right on track because they can quote scripture in a quiz team practice. These are kids just like me. And they frustrate the life out of me sometimes.
Last Wednesday I prepared a lesson out of John 3 about our need to be born again and I laid it out straight just like my mom used to do. I said, “Nicodemus was a man who thought he had everything figured out because he kept all the commandments, wore all the religious garb, and new the law backwards and forwards. But Jesus came along and said ‘All your traditions and empty sacrifices are worth nothing because you have no relationship with me. You need to be born again.’ Some of the students in this room are just like Nicodemus. You think your life is on the right track because you do all the good religious things your parents told you to do but you have never surrendered your life to Christ.”
The room was full of unbelieving stares. I had pretty much told them that some of them were headed for hell and didn’t know it. After the message, two boys came up to me; Greg and Andrew. Both of them live in the inner city and neither of them have a dad in their lives. They are the exact opposite of church kids. They know their lives are a mess and there is no reason to hide it. They both told me that they wanted to be born again. I had the unbelievable privilege of walking them both through the plan of salvation and leading them to Christ! As soon as they left that night I heard my mom’s words ringing in my ear…Children are a blessing from the Lord. Except this time there was no sarcasm. They were words of absolute truth with deep and rich encouragement for a struggling son. They truly were a blessing to my life.
Those two young men gave me more encouragement then they will probably ever know, but that would never have happened if my parents were not willing to speak biblical truth into my life. We never know if our words grab onto anything between one ear and the other. Sometime it feels like we are speaking to an empty room. Parents, speak truth to your kids. Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” Your words are not falling on empty ears; it just might take a while to sink in. Teachers, Children are a blessing for you too. They may seem like little aliens who inhabit the earth for the sole purpose of robbing you of all happiness but every once in a while you get a glimpse of their blessing in your life.
My parents had another phrase… “Walk it off.” They would use this one whenever I was hurt or when I was acting like I was hurt to get some sympathy. I just burned my tongue on some coffee that was as hot bacon cooked with napalm and need to put into practice what my parents taught me. So I’m going to go walk off this tongue situation. Thank you mom and dad for the encouragement this week and thanks for reading!
Tuesday, August 17, 2010
I also learned middle aged men dancing is one of the most fascinating things I have ever seen. I don’t know what it is about 50 year olds that makes them move so funny. There is a weird progression to their dancing. First, there is the conservative phase. This usually takes place when they are dragged onto the dance floor by their wives and realize that everyone in the room including the woman with a walker has more rhythm than they do. This type of dancing usually involves little more than rocking back and forth from foot to foot. Second comes the acceptance phase. This comes a result of realizing that dancing is fun and it doesn’t matter that you look like a wooden toy. This type of dancing usually involves wild flailing of the legs and sometimes arms. People move from stage one to stage two very quickly when alcohol is involved. The third phase is called compensation. This occurs when the middle age man realizes that everyone stares at him when he is “cutting a rug”. The man then tries to compensate by acting like he actually knows how to dance. He pulls moves like the lawn mower, the sprinkler, the really bad moon walk, the worm, the shopping cart, and the country stomp. Finally, there is the phase of defeat. This happens when the older man is either hurt by his violent jerking or when he is laughed off the dance floor. When I’m at family weddings and see people dancing I sometimes feel like I am watching an obscure mating ritual of a blue footed booby (the bird) and it makes complete sense to those involved but to those watching it is either awkward or really funny.
Last but certainly not least I had the privilege of watching my family members interact; particularly how my parents gravitated towards my 6 month old nephew Atreyu. They are like putty in the hands of a new born. They talk in weird voices, make baby noises and tell anyone who will listen how great it is to be a grandparent. This reminded me of my relationship with my heavenly father. When I draw close to him and rest in his arms he is just like my dad when he holds Atreyu; full of joy, protective, willing to do anything for his grandchild. God loves to hold his children and loves when they abide and take rest in his arms. He takes pleasure in our obedience and in return we find peace and contentment when we don’t struggle to get free of his grasp. It is amazing what God can you when you sit still, watch, and be open to his leading.
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
Life can be surprising sometimes. Some people hate surprises and even get mad at you when you don’t tell them what they are getting for their birthday or that they are having a surprise party. These are the people who need to be able to predict everything and hold grudges against weather men when they feel the slightest drop of rain. Then there are sane people who generally like surprises because it makes life interesting. I say generally because there are two types of surprises; the bad surprises that no one likes and good surprises that some of us like. A bad surprise is like when your parents go on vacation and you think they will bring you back some weird novelty t-shirt and they actually bring you back a book mark. A good surprise is like when your parents go on vacation and you think they are going to bring you back a weird novelty t-shirt and they actually bring you back a pet giraffe.
We also all have expectations…about everything…even stuff we don’t think we have expectations about. Take this morning for instance. When you woke up and opened your eyes and expected to still be in your bed that is in your room that has at least four walls and a ceiling. When you wake up and find yourself sleep next to a highway in a puddle of brownish red fluid you hope is either engine oil or power steering fluid and your expectations aren't met you get a surprise. In this case, it’s a bookmark type of surprise.
I say all this because it has been well over a week since I returned from my trip to New Orleans and I have had time to process the events that took place there. I had the expectation that it would be primarily a work trip that would strain me physically but leave my emotions undisturbed. I got a surprise…a pet giraffe kind of surprise. I was overwhelmed with the poverty but delighted by how Christ’s love was shown in such a dark place. I want to share with you a few of the most important insights I had while in Louisiana.
One of the days down there we had our stuff ganked. That’s New Orleans speak for, “some of our belongings were stolen out of our van while we were working less than 30 feet away.” We were a bit frustrated at first but eventually we came to the conclusion that it was just stuff. Later on I came to a little better conclusion I think. I had been praying for a while that God would allow me to help the poor and minister to them in their need. I had no idea what this would look like. I had no idea that it might look like a guy steeling our IPod, cameras, and cash then pawning them off so he can feed his family.
The situation brought Job 1:21 to mind. “Naked I came from my mother’s womb and naked I shall return there. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” None of that stuff was really ours. It was God’s to use and control as he pleased. Whenever the Lord takes away it is for a purpose. Sometimes he takes away to lessen our dependence on certain things and increase our dependence on him. I think in this case he might have taken away from us so he could give to someone else. When I think like this I feel like a twisted sort of Robin Hood. Instead of “steal from the rich and give to the poor” it is “The poor steal from the rich cause they need it more.”
Another day we grilled out at our worksite and asked the neighbors to come over and join us. The neighbors were known drug dealers and prostitutes. In fact they were selling drugs and women out of the house we were working next to. While we were eating burnt hot dogs and listen to the neighbors share their Katrina horror stories I started to think of how judge mental and selfish we usually are. We avoid homeless people because they smell bed and always ask for money and forget that they are people created in the image of God who desire to be acknowledged and loved as a part of society just like the rest of us. We see a poor guy on the street corner asking for spare change with a bent up card board sign and we tell him we don’t have anything because he might use the ten bucks we have in our wallet to go buy drugs or booze. But when asked what a person must do to enter the kingdom of heaven Jesus told the rich man to sell all he had and give it to the poor. He didn’t say, “Sell all you have and give it to the poor unless you think they are going to use the money to buy a 40 oz. bottle of cheap beer and get hammered before 9:30 in the morning.” Oh, by the way, Jesus was a homeless guy who had nothing but the sandals on his feet and the clothes on his back. He relied on good people in the community to provide for him. I wonder how long he would have survived in our communities where we avoid poor people like we avoid the Ebola Virus. James 1:27 says, “This is pure undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father, to visit orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” How does your “religion” line up?
I say all this at the risk of sounding emergent. I’m not. I don’t mean to preach to anyone besides myself, but as Christians (or maybe just some denominations) sometimes we pride ourselves in having the entire Bible figured out. We know how to do word studies and we study Greek and Hebrew so that we know exactly what the Word meant in its original languages. When it comes to the application and practice of Scripture we fall in line behind the Pharisees and ignore God’s two greatest commandments. Love God, Love others. Simple. We “say” we love God…Remember Matthew 25?
Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.' Then the righteous will answer him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?'And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.'
Sometimes the best way to love God is by loving his children, especially the poor, rejected, homeless and needy children.
Ok, I am now stepping off my soap box.
So I got a pet Giraffe on my trip to New Orleans. But the Giraffe beat me up a little bit. My heart was broken for the people of that city. But I also learned that poor people don’t just exist in New Orleans. There are people all around me that need my help, my love and more importantly they need to recognize that they have the love of God. I know most of you didn’t go on the trip with me but I hope this gave a glimpse of what happened. We have so much to be grateful for. And yes I know I ended that sentence with a preposition and my wife will want to make me change it. Thanks for reading!
…and go feed a poor person today.
Friday, April 16, 2010
I have this friend named Zack. He’s not a tee ball coach. Zack and I met when we were freshman in college and we hated each other. We were always in competition with one another…who had the best best friend, who would be a better vice president (I definitely won that competition),who was better at dodge ball. You know the really important stuff. One time we were playing dodge ball against each other and he and his best friend tag teamed my best friend Mike. Zack flat out tackled Mike into the curtain that separated the gym and Frank hit him in the face with a dodge ball while he was on the ground. (Actually I don’t know if he hit him in the face but it makes the story better.) So Zack and I hated each other. That was until I had to work with him.
We were both counselors at Teen Leadership Conference and we even had to sleep on the same floor. I discovered that the reason I hated Zack was because he was exactly like me and in some weird way I thought he would somehow make a better me than me so I had to hate him. Once we got to know each other we became really good friends. We came to an understanding that we really weren’t that different. In fact, after we graduated Zack and I spent two weeks together traveling around the country with our friend Tommy in his white Dodge Neon. When Zack got married I was supposed to be an usher. But I thought the wedding was the next day (who has a wedding on a Friday?) and I missed it. Zack was also a groomsman at my wedding.
My relationship with Zack reminds me of my relationship with Donald Miller. Not that I know him personally or anything but I read his books so that means I know him. When Miller first emerged on the scene with his book Blue Like Jazz I hated him because I heard his book was edgy and had some radical ideas. Jessica bought me the book when I was a Sophomore and I refused to read it. Eventually I read one of his other books, Through Painted Desserts and loved it. In fact, it was that book that inspired us to take a trip around the country. But for some reason I still didn’t like Donald Miller. I was like an old person who refused to listen to rock and roll because they think it will make the worship Satan when all it will really do is make you stomp your foot rhythmically and perhaps bob your head.
Finally, after four years, I decided to bite the bullet and I read Blue Like Jazz. And guess what, I loved it! Just like with my friend Zack I figured out the Donald Miller and I weren’t that different. Sure he has radical ideas and some of the things he says don’t line up perfectly with scripture but neither does everything I say. This book never claimed to be a theology text book. In fact it claims to be just the opposite. The subtitle is , Nonreligious thoughts on Christian Spirituality. If you read this book you probably won’t agree with everything the author has to say or what he does but I guarantee you will agree with one thing, Donald Miller is transparent and real.
There are two types of Christians; those with very simple faith who simply believe and those with un-simple faith who ask all sorts of questions. Donald Miller and I both fall under the un-simple type of faith. I find myself thinking like John the Baptist sometimes. He sends a messenger to Jesus to see if he really is the Messiah. Jesus doesn’t rebuke him, in fact he calls him blessed above all me born of women (Luke 7:28). I question things a lot. In my mind there aren’t too many nicely packed answers in Christianity. I think it boils down to how I don’t understand why a perfect God would send his Son to die for a worthless sinner like me and actually want to have a relationship with me. It doesn’t make sense. So I ask questions. I think that’s why I relate to Donald Miller in this book.
Blue Like Jazz is a story of Miller’s spiritual journey and the questions he asked along the way. He doesn’t pull any punches and he isn’t afraid to talk about normally avoided topics. He’s just a normal guys telling you what he thinks. His writing style is humorous, thought provoking, and simple. All though Blue Like Jazz does need to be read with discernment, it is a great book for thinkers or for people who don’t have it all figured out and don’t mind saying so.
Here are some of my favorite quotes…
“To me, God was more of an idea. It was something like a slot machine, a set of spinning images that doled out rewards based on behavior and, perhaps, chance…If something nice happened to me, I thought it was God, and if something nice didn’t, I went back to the slot machine, knelt down in prayer, and pulled the lever a few more times.”
“There are plenty of things that are true that don’t make sense. I think one of the problems Laura was having was that she wanted God to make sense. He doesn’t. He will make no more sense to me than I will make sense to an ant.”
“Because of sin, because I am self-addicted, living in the wreckage of the fall, my body, my heart, and my affections are prone to love things that kill me.”
“Out of sight, out of mind. I’d forget about it for a month until I cleaned my room, and then I’d lift up a pile of dirty clothes and there would be my Bible, staring up at me like a dead pet.”
“I want you to understand that God has never been nor ever will be invented. He is not a product of any sort of imagination. He does not obey trends…He was answering your prayers because He is a God of compassion. He could have left you to Satan. Don’t complain about the way God answers your prayers. You are still living on an earth that is run by the devil…your problem is not that God is not fulfilling, your problem is that you are spoiled.”
“Passion about nothing is like pouring gasoline in a car without wheels. It isn’t going to lead anybody anywhere.”
“For so much of my life I had been defending Christianity because I thought to admit that we had done something wrong was to discredit the religious system as a whole, but it isn’t a religious system, it is people following Christ, and the important thing to do, the right thing to do, was to apologize for getting in the way of Jesus.”
“I like the idea of loving people just to love them, not to get them to come to church.”
“I will love you like God, because of God, mighted by the power of God. I will stop expecting your love, demanding your love, trading for your love, gaming for your love. I will simply love. I am giving myself to you, and tomorrow I will do it again. I suppose the clock itself will wear thin its time before I am ended at this alter of dying and dying again. God risked himself on me. I will risk myself on you. And together, we will learn to love, and perhaps them, and only then, understand this gravity that drew him, unto us.”
“Too much of our time is spent trying to chart God on a grid, and too little is spent allowing our hearts to feel awe. By reducing Christian Spirituality to formula, we deprive our hearts of wonder.”
“At the end of the day, when I am lying in bed and I know the chances of any of our theology being exactly right are a million to one, I need to know that God has things figured out, that if my math is wrong we are still going to be okay.”
Ok, back to my words and my thoughts. I am going to write a book someday. It will be witty and thought provoking and will probably have a clever title and an eye catching cover and I’m sure no one will read it. I don’t blame them. I wouldn’t read a book by most of the people I know. I think Donald Miller wrote this book because he had a hunch that Christianity was hard for more people than just him. He was right. This book is a great encouragement and I hope you will take time to read it. I mean you took time to read this dumb blog so why not pick up a book by someone who actually knows how to write. Thanks for reading!
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
I only mention this because despite the fact that I don’t use it, the box of kleenex is half empty. This is why I gave the kleenex box a second thought (did you know that when you type the word kleenex Microsoft Word automatically capitalizes it? It is really annoying because I don’t want it capitalized because I am not promoting one type of facial tissue over another.) I started to think about where all the kleenex went and started to discover that I only used it when I had a spill in my office as if it were made for the same purpose as its brother the paper towel. One time I spilled an entire can of Mountain Dew on my desk because I was trying to reach a twenty dollar bill that someone had dropped behind my desk. My desk phone is still sticky from the incident. I think I use a third of the kleenex in that box to clean up that one spill.
When you teach a lot everything that happens in your life becomes an illustration for something else that happens in your life. This half empty kleenex box is a great illustration of my current life situation. I have been really tired lately. More so than usual. I get up every morning to lift weights at 6:00 am. And usually I get up with minimal effort but in the last week or so it has been like getting out of a tar pit wearing a weighted vest that is strapped to the bottom of the tar pit…meaning it has been really hard to get out of bed. I have been catching myself fall asleep in the middle of the afternoon like an old man waiting to die. My wife and I both value rest. We try to get close to 8 hours of sleep as often as possible. I get exercise. I eat three meals a day. So why am I so tired? I felt like I was running on half empty. It doesn’t make sense.
At least it didn’t make sense until I saw that half empty box of kleenex. I was being emptied by things that slip past my mind like they don’t even exist. I was tired because things you don’t normally think would make you tired were in fact making me tired. I using my resources to do normal everyday things just like a normal runny nose depletes the source of kleenex. But just like forgotten spills and grease stains from old pizza cut my supply of tissues in half so too did some invisible vacuum suck the energy out of me. When I gave that box of tissues a second thought I also gave my last couple of weeks a second thought. What was making me so tired?
I discovered four things were draining me. Three are real and one I made up. First I found that I was just going through the motions. I woke up, worked out, went to work, came home, ate dinner, watched TV, and went to bed. How boring is that? When your life is a chore, you can’t help but be tired. I wasn’t really living life. I just existed. I was working, but I wasn’t really fulfilling my purpose. My life had for a moment tuned into just a day filled with moments instead of a day filled with opportunities to enjoy what God has created.
Second, I was burdened by a weight that wasn’t just mine to bear. Well, actually several weights. I have been teaching a relationship series at church and some of the research was just wearing me out. The amount of kids in Middle School who are having sex, addicted to pornography, and considering taking their own life just makes me sick (and tired). I have also been talking with some students who are struggling with stealing, homosexuality and drugs. So while I thought I was resting my mind was actually going a million miles an hour. I was working like an ant trying to plug a giant hole in the Hoover dam with a grain of rice. I tried to conceive ways to solve all the problems of the world when I really should have just handed my heavy load of to God and let him carry it.
Third, I found out that my cats were sneaking into my room at night and sticking a straw between my third and fourth rib and literally draining my energy. Yes cats know how to use straws and yes your pocket of energy is located between your third and fourth rib.
Third, to take care of my lack of community I went to the local skate park and hung out with guys who wore jeans with a lot of holes in them and smelled like the only shower they had taken all week was in a cloud of weed smoke and a splash of whiskey. I like those guys because they are real. They don’t try to impress you with how righteous they act. I like to hang out at the skate park because I think if Jesus was born today instead of 2000 years ago he probably would have hung out with skateboarders who smelled like weed and their girlfriends instead of tax collectors and prostitutes because they really need Jesus. That’s just my opinion though.