Thursday, April 24, 2008

Watcha wearing?

For yet another week, our community continues to find itself in the national headlines. On many of the national news websites, stories concerning the FLDS continue rank as some of the most popular. One of the superficial things that the media has begun filling headlines with is the dress of the FLDS members. Obviously, there are more important issues; nevertheless, few of us have missed the stark contrast between the FLDS members’ clothing and the rest of society. The women’s pastel, prairie style dresses and old time hairstyles certainly give them an other worldly appearance – which I think is the point. No one will look at one of these folks and mistake them as a regular member of society.

It’s had me thinking a little bit about our own appearances. In Jesus’ prayer in John 17, he highlights the fact that though his followers live in this world they are not of it. But what does that mean? Are we to wear different clothes? Have different hairstyles? Maybe. Our dress should reflect God’s kingdom values at work in us. Believers should avoid both clothing that is immodest and clothing that makes others feel inferior. As important as those issues are, I don’t think Jesus is primarily speaking about the way we dress, at least, not primarily about how we dress our bodies.

Paul expounds upon this idea of being set apart from the world and says that the main difference is in how we dress our hearts, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity” (Colossians 3:12-14). That is, the way in which we are most supposed to be set apart from the world around us has to do with whether or not we've put on Christ. We should be clothed with the qualities of our Savior. So, how’s your heart dressed today? Is it time for a change of clothes?

For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” Galatians 3:27.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Ask and ye shall receive

The other day, Sophie and I were sitting in the living room enjoying a relaxing evening. As we sat there, Sophie looked up at me as only little girls can look at their daddies and said, “You know, Daddy, I didn’t eat very much for supper.” Now, I knew where this was headed. Anytime Sophie starts in with the I-didn’t-eat-very-much-for-dinner routine she’s on the hunt for dessert. And I knew very well that what she wanted was one of the brownies my wife had recently made. I could have just given her the brownie, I didn’t mind her having one. In fact, I was looking forward to one myself. But Alyson and I have really been working with Sophie on asking for things directly, so instead of instantly granting her unspoken wish, I decided to play her game.

“Oh yeah,” I said, “Are you still hungry?” Her eyes lit up, no doubt with visions of chocolate and milk. “How about a banana, then?” I added.

Her face fell and then twisted as she pondered her next step. “Sure, half a banana. You can eat the other half,” she replied. So, the two of us sat there eating a banana. After we finished, Sophie again looked up at me, undaunted in her quest for chocolate sweets, and commented, “You know what kind of food we haven’t had in a long time?”

“No, what’s that?” I responded.

“Brown food,” she said.

“Brown food? Hmmn,” I fictitiously pondered. Her exasperation built with Daddy’s apparent denseness. I continued, “I guess we haven’t had brown food in a while. I guess we could have some beans or some bread . . .”

“No, no, no,” she interrupted. She’d had enough. “Brownies, Daddy. Brownies are brown food. Can we please have some brownies?”

I smiled, “I’d love to share a brownie with you.” And we did. What’s the point of all this? Why did I force my daughter to go through verbal gymnastics just to get dessert? The point is, I didn’t force her at all. I just wanted her to ask. Had she asked for a brownie to begin with, I would have gladly given it to her. This verbal dance she does in not asking for something may be cute as a three year old, but it’s hardly a mature form of a communication for a healthy relationship. She needs to know that she doesn’t need to manipulate me into giving her what she wants. She needs to learn to ask me directly for what she needs. Will I always give her what she asks for? No. She can’t have ice cream for breakfast, but often, perhaps more often than she realizes, I’d be glad to give her what she wants if she’d just ask for it. What I want more than anything is a true relationship with Sophie, one in which we trust one another, one in which we care for one another, one in which we openly communicate with each other. To teach her that lesson, it means sometimes no giving her things that I’d gladly give her until she asks for them.

Weeks after the incident above occurred, I was listening to a sermon on prayer. The speaker asked the question, “Why does God want us to ask him for things that he already knows we want?” I don’t even remember how the preacher answered his own question. My mind went straight to Sophie. God wants me to ask him for the things I want, both for myself and for others, because he longs for true relationship. God wants me to grow up in Christ, so that I no longer presume upon his grace or fear his response, but am mature enough to boldly approach his throne and ask for the desires of my heart. Will he sometimes tell me no? Sure, God is not a cosmic vending machine. But often, perhaps more often than I realize, God will gladly give me the desire of my heart, because to do so, is exactly what he’s been longing to do all along – if only I’d asked.

Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart” Psalm 37:4.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Gawk, Gossip, or Pray?

This week our community has become a focal point for much of the country with the removal of 401 children from an FLDS compound near Eldorado. Our hearts have gone out for these women and children as we’ve attempted to comprehend their way of life and the possible abuse they have endured. We find ourselves asking, “What can we do?” At first, it may seem like there’s not much we can do. The situation seems out of our hands. As I’ve thought and prayed over the last few days, here are my thoughts on that question.

In the near future we can pray, and pray, and pray some more. Pray for the women and children and their wellbeing. Pray for the CPS workers, law enforcement agencies, and judges who will have a direct hand in the legal outcomes of this case. Pray for CASA volunteers who can stand as advocates for these young victims. Pray for volunteer groups like Baptist Child and Family Services, the Red Cross, the Salvation Army and others who are assisting with basics like food and showers. Pray for doctors and nurses who are providing medical care. And while we might not want to, in accordance with Christ's command, we should also pray for the alleged abusers.

Here’s my challenge to you, anytime you are tempted to gossip or gawk at any part of this situation, attempt to turn that natural curiosity into an opportunity for prayer. It doesn’t have to be flashy or even public but should be earnest and humble – God please intervene in this situation. In addition to praying, be a good neighbor. If you know someone who is directly involved in this situation, do something to help or encourage them. Mow a lawn (or after last night’s storm, pick up some limbs), write a note, drop off a meal. Don’t be intrusive, don’t be nosy, but do something that will hopefully encourage them during a very difficult time.

As difficult as it is to look beyond this situation, it will eventually pass from the headlines and the nightly news. That doesn’t mean child abuse will cease to exist. April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. It’s unfortunate that something of this scale has to happen to help us become aware child abuse in our midst, but the reality is that child abuse isn’t limited to the grounds of strange religious groups. Child abuse happens in our neighborhoods, too. Don’t allow this tragedy to pass without raising your awareness of the chronic need for child advocates, foster families and more. What can you do? More than you think.

He took a little child and had him stand among them. Taking him in his arms, he said to them, "Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me." Mark 9:36-37

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Third String

Against all odds, I made the eighth grade basketball team. Just barely. Like all third stringers, I only played when the outcome of the game had already been determined and we were either way ahead or way behind. I do remember one occasion, however, when the game came down to the very last second and I was on the court. It shouldn’t have been that way. When I and the rest of the benchwarmers took the court my team enjoyed a substantial lead which we had subsequently squandered. I kept looking to the bench waiting for the coach to yank us and put the starters back in. I could see the starters, leaning forward in their seats ready to reenter the game. They were thinking the same thing. The coach? He kept looking back at us and yelling, “Come on, boys, play some defense.”

Admittedly, I thought the coach was crazy. “Play some defense” . . . we were playing defense, only, very poorly. As third stringers, we weren’t idiots, only incompetent. We knew defense was supposed to look differently, but if we knew how to put that into practice then we wouldn’t be third stringers. If the coach wanted something different he’d need to look elsewhere, but he didn’t. The lead slipped away with the seconds until there I was back peddling down the court as one of the opposing team’s players picked up a loose ball and began pressing down the court with just a few seconds to go and one point down. It happened in a moment. There was the planting of feet, a collision, two junior high boys crashing to the floor, and a whistle. My heart sank. I’d fouled him. A couple of seconds left and I’d fouled him. He’d make his free throws, win the game, and be the hero. I’d be the goat. Or so I thought. But that wasn’t the call. Offensive charging was. It was our ball. We’d won the game. Amazing. And yet, for all the excitement, I still thought the coach was crazy - he should have pulled me ages ago and we wouldn’t have had to face such a tense situation.

I sometimes think that same thing about the church. While I know that the church is supposed to be the place where we love one another like Christ loves us, where we give the world a glimpse of the life to come, where we help folks discover their place in the kingdom of God, I’m fully aware of how far short we come to living that calling out in a consistent way. Far from being a well oiled machine of God’s kingdom here on earth, the church is an inefficient, awkward, mess run by what appears to be a bunch of amateurs. And yet, for as much as we think God should abandon the church and move in a different direction, he doesn’t. He leaves the church right where he originally placed her as his method of spreading the good news of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth. We scratch our heads in disbelief. Then we remember God’s message of grace that even the worst of us can be a vital part of his team. And then it hits us, we’re still on the team because we’re the prime examples of God’s grace. If sinners like us can be a part of God’s team by his grace, then so can anyone else.

Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things – and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him” 1 Corinthians 1:26-29.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Open to being fooled.

Happy April Fool's Day! I don't know about you, but April 1st is not my favorite holiday. I'm not a huge practical joker nor do I like being tricked. However, our resistence to being embarrassed can prevent us from experiencing some of life's greates moments. I came across this quote from Alan Jacob's book The Narnian, "Those who will never be fooled can never be delighted, because without self-forgetfulness there can be no delight, and this is a great and grievous loss." It reminds me not to be so self-consumed with being right or knowledgable or wise that I miss out on the sheer delight of being a part of this world God has made.