Thursday, July 15, 2010

July 15th already?!

Isn’t it amazing (and unsettling!) how quickly life can get away from you? I can’t believe it’s July 15th already. I always think the summer will be a time of rest and relaxation, but this summer has been a sea of change: friends have moved away, students have headed off to college, lots of new faces have moved into town. It’s seems like everyday I find some part of life irreversibly altered from what it was before. In all the change, I’ve found anything but rest - more like frustration and fear. It’s enough to make you want to put the breaks on even though you know you can’t.

Yesterday, I came across one of my favorite quotes, a statement by the theologian Kevin Vanhoozer: “Faithfulness sometimes requires change, not sameness.” It reminded me that whether I like it or not, life is change. If I’m to remain true to my calling, faithful to my family, and loyal to my friends, then I must change with along with life’s circumstances. To resist change is to abandon one’s post. For example, if I want to keep being a faithful dad to my children, I can’t keep treating them like they’re babies when they’re not. Likewise, if I want to be faithful to my wife, I can’t simply keep loving the woman I married, I have to also learn how to love the woman she has become and is becoming.

The best example of this faithfulness through change is God himself. In the book of Lamentations we’re told “Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning;” God doesn’t just rely on yesterday’s compassion; he keeps speaking his mercies afresh into our lives every day. His compassion never fails because it is constantly new. What a word to us who are trying to be like him. Are you attempting to hold onto yesterday? How might that be causing you to miss out on being faithful today? How can your mercy, love, compassion, and faithfulness, be new this morning?

Your love, O LORD, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies – Psalm 36:5.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

No dumb questions?

It’s been said that there are no dumb questions. I’m not sure if that’s totally true. I once read an article in which the first question a reporter asked two men who’d been trapped in a mine for almost two weeks was, “Does it feel good to be out of the mine?” Obviously, some questions are better than others. The best questions don't waste any time getting to the heart of the matter. Have you ever known somebody who had the spiritual gift of inquiry? Certain people just know how to ask good questions. Take the difference between my wife and myself. Alyson can discover more about a person in a five minute conversation than I will in an hour. Why? She asks better questions.

And yes, sometimes, good questions can initially sound like dumb ones. How many times have you asked, “Do you have the tickets?” when headed to an event of some type. It sounds like a dumb question, unless you’ve forgotten the tickets (and who hasn’t?). Or perhaps even dumber sounding, “Do we know where we are going?” when headed out on some trip. Sounds dumb, until the only answer anyone can come up with is, “No, I thought you knew.”

One of the best questions we can ask at church or in our lives is one that at face value might sound the dumbest: “Who is Jesus?” It’s so simple a question and one so central to our faith, that it can sound silly asking it. We think it’s something that as Christians, we don’t need to be asked. We’re Christians. We’re church goers. We know who Jesus is. Right? The trouble is, talking about Jesus is not the same as knowing him. The old negro spiritual sang, “Everybody talking about heaven ain’t going there.” Jesus put it just as bluntly, “Not everyone who says Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven.”

I had to laugh when I read a quip in Brian McLaren’s book, A Generous Orthodoxy, in which he noticed an evangelical tendency to equate our knowledge with Jesus with how many times we can say his name in a sentence. You can see how this gets carried to absurdities. We put Christ’s name on key chains, t-shirts, coffee mugs, bumper stickers, etc. (and yes that's a Jesus LED light keychain pictured above!). You name it, we’ve Jesus-fied it. While much of this Jesus merchandise comes out of pure intentions (and some of it certainly out of greedy intentions), it has the negative result of commodifying our Lord. Jesus starts looking more like a pitchman for a product, more like Tony the Tiger, than the Savior of the world. McLaren pointedly asks is Jesus our mascot or our Master?

When put that way, the question, “Who is Jesus?” doesn’t sound dumb. It sounds down right prophetic. It’s a question that gets to the heart of the matter. As believers, our basic answer to this important question is the baptismal confession “Jesus Christ is Lord.” We sing it in many of our songs. We use it as a title in our prayers. It’s been said in churches for two thousand years. But what does it mean to say Jesus Christ is Lord? What does it mean to you?

We look at this Son and see the God who cannot be seen. We look at this Son and see God's original purpose in everything created. For everything, absolutely everything, above and below, visible and invisible, rank after rank after rank of angels—everything got started in him and finds its purpose in him.– Colossians 1:15-16 (The Message).

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Everybody says just be yourself. . .

Most of what I’ve watched on TV over the last three decades has slipped from my memory, but I do remember one particular interview I once watched in which a baby faced, socially awkward, teenage boy confessed in anguish, “Everybody just says be yourself, but when I am, nobody likes me.” I don’t remember the context of the show, or even why this individual had been chosen to be interviewed, but that line has haunted me through the years. Who of us hasn’t thought something similar? Who of us hasn’t watched others engage in all sorts of destructive behavior because of similar fears? I’m not just talking about teenagers. In reality, there are a lot of thirteen year old souls running around in grown up bodies – people terrified that if people knew who they really were, no one would love them.

In the now classic film, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Audrey Hepburn plays one such tortured adult, New York playgirl Holly Golightly. Like many people, Holly has learned to mask her fears with a happy face and a stiff arm. She’s friendly with everyone but intimate with no one. As the plot of the movie unfolds, Holly develops a relationship with her neighbor Paul, who falls in love with her. In the last scene of the movie, Paul confesses his love for Holly. So afraid of love, Holly simply lashes out, she accuses Paul of trying to cage her with his love. She declares that she can’t belong to anyone. Frustrated, Paul pulls over, steps out in the rain, and prepares to leave, but pauses long enough to speak the truth into Holly’s broken heart. “You know what’s wrong with you, Miss Whoever-you-are? You’re chicken; you’ve got no guts. You call yourself a free spirit, a ‘wild thing,’ and you’re terrified somebody’s gonna stick you in a cage. Well, baby, you’re already in that cage. You built it yourself. And it’s not bounded in the west by Tulip, Texas or in the east by Somali-land. It’s wherever you go. Because no matter where you run, you just end up running into yourself.”

Some of us, like Holly, are so afraid that we can’t be loved we simply don’t give others the chance. Or like the young seventh grader, convinced no one could like us for who we are, we attempt to be anyone but ourselves. But the wonderful promise of scripture is that God loves you just as you are. Not because you’ve got it together, not because you’re perfect, not even because you’re good at loving him back. No, God loves you because that is who he is. “God is love” 1 John 4:16 assures us. And doesn’t that take the pressure off? Regardless of what the world thinks, I am loved. So there’s no need to worry if you are an insecure thirteen or an insecure 93 – God loves you just as you are.

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear - 1 John 4:18a