Thursday, August 25, 2011

Don't like change? Don't follow Christ.

This week marked the beginning of the school year for a majority of the children in San Angelo. Some have had a better start than others. Most of the kids I talked had some measure of nervousness about the new school year. Almost all the parents I spoke with did. One of the basic truths of life is that people generally prefer what they know over what they don’t know. This is as true for adults as it is for our children. This tendency holds even when what we know isn’t that good. Time and time again, we’ll prefer the misery we know over an alternative that is uncertain.

This common human tendency to prefer the known over the unknown works against our relationship with Jesus, whose first and most frequent word to us is, “Follow me.” Follow me in serving others. Follow me in praying for your enemies. Follow me into a deeper relationship with God. Follow me to the cross.

Instinctively, I think we know that a relationship with Christ means change, which is why we church people prefer religion over relationship (and nobody loves predictability at church more than preachers!). Religion helps us keep God at arm’s length. We’re able to consistently check off the boxes of what we’re supposed to believe and do (and not do) in such a way that we never hear Christ’s voice to step out into the unknown.

Religion kept Jonah away from Ninevah and the possibility of an enemy’s repentance. Religion had the potential of keeping Peter away from Cornelius’ house and a stranger’s salvation. Religion threatened to keep Paul fighting against a new work of God, all because his religion had convinced him that God didn’t do anything new. Only a word from God (and a giant fish) convinced these guys otherwise.

I’ve become convinced that if God hasn’t recently challenged our preconceived notions about life, other people, morality, even God's will, then we might not actually know God, not the God revealed to us in that rabble-rouser Jesus Christ. No, if our god is constantly confirming our suspicions about other people and our fears about this life and our vision of how the world should work, there’s a good chance the god we worship is only an idol created in our image. That god might be safe and predictable, but he’s not a god that saves.

Only Jesus saves, and he is constantly calling us to leave what we know so that we might follow him into the unknown, unpredictable, but ultimately incomparable kingdom of God.

For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known – 1 Corinthians 13:12.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Help! I've lost control!

The drought. Riots in London. The Warren Jeff’s trial. The Economy. The gridlock in Washington. I don’t know about you, but I’ve about given up on watching the news. It’s too depressing. The world seems like it’s coming off its hinges. Sometimes I prefer to live uninformed, so that I can keep up the fa├žade that everything is ok in this life.

But even if I build a wall around my house and cancel my cable and internet connections, I can’t totally escape bad things from happening. Illness, conflict, and troubles of all sorts wreak their havoc in the most personal ways as often as they make global headlines. As much as I’d like to control everything in this life, I can’t.

I’m reminded of a word from Barbara Brown Taylor: "’I've lost control!’ That is what good people say when bad things happen to them. ‘I've lost control of my life!’ I have said it myself, but it is not true. Human beings do not lose control of their lives. What we lose is the illusion that we were ever in control of our lives in the first place, and it is a hard, hard lesson to learn.”

Is it ever. I, along with lots of other people, buy in to the myth that if I just do things correctly, my life will be orderly and safe. I also buy into the collective version of that myth, if we just do things correctly, if we legislate correctly, if we defend ourselves correctly, if we worship correctly, life will be orderly and safe. We will manage to keep things under control.

But we’re not in control. I’m not in control. None of us ever were. God is, even if it doesn’t always seem like it. Part of the problem, I think is this. If I was in control, we’d all be safe and secure. But God’s concern doesn't seem to be that we are safe, but that we are being saved. There is a difference.

Being safe involves my present circumstances. Being saved involves the state of my soul. Being safe means keeping evil at bay. Being saved means overcoming evil with good. Being safe necessitates looking out for me and mine. Being saved calls on us to trust the only One who cares for all. Being safe means trying to control my life. Being saved means giving my life over to the One who will one day, maybe not today, but one day, make all things new.

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” – Romans 8:18.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

What's in your box?

The other day, my four-year-old son, John Curtis came into my room with arms wrapped around a cardboard box that he uses to tote small toys around the house. He joyfully declared, “Dad, look what’s in my box.” Fully expecting to see a pile of his favorite toys or, because it’s John Curtis, a bug or two, I was completely caught off guard when I looked into his box and saw cash – lots of cash. John Curtis, looked up at me with a smile, and said proudly “I’ve been good at finding money today.”

“John Curtis, where did you get this money?!” I asked. It was way more money than he had in his piggy bank. I was sure of that.

The tone of my voice must have clued him in that I was not happy. His smile disappeared, his head lowered, and his will to speak disappeared.

“John Curtis, I have to know where you got this money, so that we can put it back. We can’t go around taking other people’s money.”

John Curtis admitted that some of it had come from his piggy bank, but not all of it. Some he reluctantly confessed had come from his sister’s bank. “O.K.,” I said, “and where did the rest come from?” Like I said, there was a lot of cash in that box. Minutes passed. Finally, he walked over to where my wife keeps her extra cash and held a finger out indicating the final victim of his crime spree.

After returning all the money to its rightful owners, we had a long talk about what it means to respect each other’s property and about the honest ways we can “find money” each day.

I was recounting this story to a friend, when she wisely noted, “At least he came and showed you the box. Sounds to me like he was looking for some kind of indication about whether or not this was a good thing to do.”

Her comment got me thinking, how often do I bring my box to my heavenly Father for review. “Hey God, look what I did today. Look what’s in my box.” How often do I bring before him what I think is a good thing I’ve done, just to make sure?

“Look how good I was at defending my honor today.”

“Look how good I was at getting revenge.”

“Look how good I was at getting what’s mine.”

“Look how good I was at playing it safe.”

If I’m honest, I don’t do that very often. Mainly, because I’ve got a few years on John Curtis, and I know that often what I think is good God does not. God looks in my box and says, “You were very good at that today. Unfortunately, that’s not something we want to be good at.” Who, really, wants to have those kinds of conversations? John Curtis didn’t enjoy the correction he received. But, how else can we learn God’s ways? We aren’t perfect, but God has promised to make us so. The only way for that to happen is for some correction to happen along the way. The good news is that we can trust that God’s correction will be full of the grace and compassion of a loving Father as he points us in the direction of true life.

I want John Curtis to keep trusting me enough to be willing to show me what’s in his box. If that’s the case, I’ll need to model the way by trusting God enough to keep showing him what is in mine.

“God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” – Hebrews 12:10-11

New video from the Preemptive Love Coalition

My friends over at the Preemptive Love Coalition know how to make cool videos (see below). But what they do day to day in bringing about reconciliation through healing - that's infinitely cooler than even their videos.

Reconciliation Through Healing from Preemptive Love on Vimeo.

If violence 'unmakes' the world, healing rebuilds it.

Generations of 'unmaking' resulted in a backlog of children born with heart defects, but a $670 lifesaving heart surgery can change everything for a child and their family. It can provide the healing that leads to wholeness.