Thursday, June 24, 2010

A love that doesn't grow tired

Have you ever had a job or a day or a season of life that you thought might never end? Well, John Isner and Nicolas Mahut are in the middle of playing a tennis match that might not ever end. As of yesterday evening, they were all tied up 6-4, 3-6, 6-7 (7), 7-6 (3), 59-59. For those of you who don’t follow tennis, let me just say that’s the most absurd score I’ve ever seen. Usually a set goes to six games. But in the fifth set you have to win by two games. They’re now tied at 59 games a piece in the sixth set. It is easily the longest recorded match in Wimbledon history. The play, over ten hours of it, has been suspended twice for darkness and will resume sometime today. It’s remarkable that one of the players hasn’t simply passed out from exhaustion or simply given up out of despair. What will be the reward for the eventual winner? More tennis! When it’s all said and done, regardless of who wins, this match will go down in history as a great testament to two competitors’ ability to persevere.

This match stands out not only for it’s uniqueness in the tennis world, but also for the great contrast it provides to life as we normally experience it. We live in a world that increasingly seeks to define excellence only in terms of immediate results. What can you accomplish today? Can the coach turn the team around this season? Can the new CEO make a profit for shareholders this quarter? Our fast paced world seems to have given up on viewing perseverance as a mark of greatness. We want success and we want it now. If something takes too much of our time, we think it’s not worth doing.

And yet, the greatest things in life require not an abundance of skill so much as an abundance of perseverance and stick-to-it-ness. Take for instance love. We often think the greatest loves are those that come with the most emotion or the deepest feelings. But perhaps the greatest loves are those that simply do not give up. Mother Teresa once wisely commented, “Do not think that love, in order to be genuine, has to be extraordinary. What we need is to love without getting tired.” The apostle Paul put it another way, “Love . . . always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers – Galatians 6:9-10.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Never too old for story time


Today the children of our church head off to Kid’s Camp. Last year the theme was something about superheroes (see above photo). The theme of this year’s camp is “Slime Time.” Would it be bad of me to say that I’m glad I’m not going? Getting slimed just isn’t as fun as it used to be. I’ve noticed as I get older that many of the things that I found entertaining as a child have lost some their appeal - like dipping everything on my plate in ketchup; or spinning around until I fall over; or going swimming no matter the temperature or how blue my skin has turned. I usually have to learn these lessons the hard way. At last year's camp I enthusiastically hurled myself down the slip-n-slide only to come up with a broken rib!

Paul once wrote that as we grow older we put away childish things, but too often we mistakenly include in the list of childish things to put away not just childish behaviors but anything that went along with childhood itself (like curiosity, or openness to the future, or even faith). Specifically, I’m thinking of how often adults think they’ve outgrown the stories of our faith. Remembering children’s camp or Vacation Bible School, we sometimes come to think of stories like Moses and the crossing of the Red Sea, David and Goliath, Zacchaeus the wee little man, as nothing more than “Children’s stories.” Stories we can put away along with our Legos and Tinker Toys.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The reality is, there are no children’s stories in the Bible, only stories meant for all of God’s children regardless of their age. These stories reveal to every aged person what God is like and what we are like as well. These stories remind all of us that our stories and God’s story go together. Eugene Peterson, in his excellent book, Eat this Book, puts it this way:

The Scriptures, simply by virtue of their narrative form, draw us into a reality in which we find ourselves in touch with the very stuff of our humanity; what we sense in our bones counts. It is a story large with the sense of God, a world suffused with God, a world permeated with God's spoken and unspoken word, his unseen and perceived presence, in such a way that we know that it is the world we were made for; the world in which we most truly belong. It isn't long before we find ourselves imaginatively (imagination and faith are, again, close kin here) entering the story, taking our place in the plot, and following Jesus" (pp 47-48).

I might be glad that I’m getting to avoid “Slime Time” over the next few days. I can honestly say that I’m getting a little old for that. But no matter how old I grow, I’m glad to know, there will never come a day I outgrow story time.

Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it. – Mark, 10:14-15

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Take the difficult classes

Not too long ago, I read a conversation on Facebook (would you say overheard? overread?) between two women who had graduated from my Alma Mater, Truett Seminary. They were recalling their favorite professors. One woman mentioned two of my favorites, Dr. Ngan and Dr. Olson. The second replied that she hadn't taken those two professors for fear of losing her 4.0 grade point average. I thought to myself, what a loss! Yes, both professors had high expectations for their students. Yes, neither class was a sure "A". But, oh, what this person missed by dodging these experiences.

At this point, I don't remember my grades in either of these classes, but I do remember much of what they taught and how they taught it. I remember the thrill of looking at the Bible in a new way or the excitement of discussing theology – why it mattered and what we were to do with it. Those classes helped shape me into a better minister. Even more so, they helped shape me into a better person, a better follower of Christ.

Once you get past school, most people aren’t going to care at all what your GPA was. Who you are (or who you've become), on the other hand will matter immensely. I’ve come to the conclusion that learning is more valuable than a grade, wisdom more lasting than a GPA. Don't dodge the difficult classes - or jobs or challenges or relationships. They may be the ones that shape you most of all.

How much better to get wisdom than gold, to choose understanding rather than silver!
– Proverbs 16:16

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Thankful

Today, Alyson and I celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary. Last night, just for fun, we pulled out our wedding video to show the kids. They’d never seen it and are still young enough to think that sort of thing is interesting. We all laughed at how young and skinny everyone looked. I noticed how dated all the videographer added graphics now appear (not to mention it’s all captured on VHS). Sophie couldn’t get over some of the hairstyles. John Curtis, meanwhile, not having a full grasp of the fact that the world existed before he did, couldn’t figure out why he wasn’t invited to Mommy and Daddy’s wedding. He took great offense at this oversight on our part.

Ten years later, I’m struck by how much life has changed in the past decade, often without my noticing. At least half a dozen of our family and friends in attendance that day are no longer with us, a truth that struck hard at my heart upon seeing their faces once again. Many others live in such distant places we hardly ever see them. A few we haven’t seen since that video was filmed. Like the church scattered out in the book of Acts, the church of our past has scattered to the far corners of the earth. There’s a friend who’s now a missionary in the Middle East and another serving in China. It also was striking to realize how many new friends the Lord has blessed Alyson and I with since that day. Forget the logic of it, I’m with John Curtis on this one. There are some folks who’ve become so important to us, it is a little difficult to grasp that they haven’t somehow always been a part of our lives.

As we turned off the video and moved on to life in the moment, I felt a deep sense of gratitude for my wife who’s still my best friend; for my family who brings me greater joy than I knew was possible; and for the great cloud of witnesses that I’ve been privileged to live this life alongside, even if just for a brief while. If you’re reading this, then there is a good chance you are a part of that group. So please know, like Paul did with the Philippians, I thank God every time I think of you (even if I’m laughing at the hairstyle you used to sport!).

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from this first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus – Philippians 1:3-6