Mar 292013
 

 

The music video to accompany today’s post features a song I didn’t like it when I heard it. The verse ‘I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart…’ over dark minor chords was so dissonant I found it annoying. But it grew on me. And on Good Friday, it captures well for me the tension between joy and sorrow.

Observing Lent over the last few years has made a tremendous difference in the way I experience Easter. As the day gets closer my anticipation begins to build, until on Good Friday I am once again shaken by the enormity, the gravity of the sacrifice of Jesus.

It is wonderful and strange to worship the suffering servant, the man of sorrows. I don’t think I could worship a God who was only transcendent, only sovereign, only king. That God could not truly know me.

 It’s in the picture of God limiting himself, choosing weakness over power, and sharing in my trouble that I find hope. That’s true for both his life and his death. Jesus worked as a manual laborer for 30 years before beginning his public ministry – so when I experience the wave of depression going back on Monday to a job that meaningless, he knows. He has done it.
 It is as Jesus screams with me, “My God! My God!? Why have you forsaken me?” that I find the comfort of common suffering. Sinless, he nevertheless knows what it means to be separated from the Father. He knows pain even unto death. (We thought him smitten of God, and afflicted.)

And on Sunday, as I celebrate the resurrection of the man-God Jesus, I worship him knowing two things:

First, that by his resurrection his life as the suffering servant was vindicated. He was man, but God too.

Second, that he is only the first-fruits of the resurrection. All creation streams after in his wake. It is only a matter of time before all will be made right – only a little while. And I consider that this present suffering, this groaning-as-in-childbirth of all creation, is a light and momentary affliction not worthy to be compared with the weight of the glory that is to come.

 Posted by at 11:22 pm
Mar 082013
 

I’ve been thinking about atrophy lately.

If you’ve seen Kill Bill: Vol. 1 you probably remember the sequence in which The Bride is in the process of escaping from the hospital, despite the fact that she can’t use her legs. Why can’t she use her legs? Because she’s been in a coma for four years and her muscles have atrophied to the point of uselessness.

So after managing to kill 2 men and haul herself into a truck, Uma Thurman’s character sits and stares at her toes, willing her useless muscles, tendons and nerve endings to return to functionality. She mutters to herself repeatedly: “Wiggle your big toe. Wiggle your big toe.” And because the movie is a fantasy, it works. Her toe moves and, hours later, she drives away.

Kill Bill is an insane and entertaining movie. On the other hand, we know reality dictates that muscles don’t work unless you use them. And I think this is a transferable principle. Skills and talents also have to be exercised to avoid atrophy.

I’m viewing the posts I’ve shared this week as physical therapy for my writing. Writing was once a major part of my skill set, even of my identity (perhaps unhealthily so.) I’ve written entertainment interview pieces and wince worthy op-eds for a newspaper, starting with the teen page when I was maybe 14 years old. I wrote fund-raising letters for a good-sized non-profit. I’ve always been good with words.  But I’ve let years of working multiple jobs, having and raising kids, financial stress – in other words, life in general – keep me from exercising this skill.

So I’m rusty. But as I want writing to be a major part of my life again, I have no choice but to just write.

Here I am, just writing.

Mar 082013
 


Disclaimer: You may find this post to be abstract navel-gazing foolishness. But I’m afraid I’ve not done enough navel-gazing lately, so here it is.

The unexamined life may not be worth living. But the examined life can hurt.

I have been recently reminded that our actions always reflect our beliefs – the deep-down ones, not the carefully formulated and appropriately intellectualized versions. This truth has been worming its way into my brain again, and forcing me to take a closer look at myself. To be honest: I don’t like everything I see.

There is a level of self-examination and reflection that morphs into self-absorption. That’s not what I am attempting or recommending. And I don’t think most people I know are in danger of that extreme. Most of us, for that matter, likely run to the other side of the room. If we know we’re struggling, we’ll look everywhere but inside ourselves for the truth about why. We may turn to external distractions and dependencies – movies and TV, good books, alcohol, purposeful  over-scheduling and busyness  – to avoid looking into the center of our selves.

But if I refuse to know myself, to examine my motivations on the deepest level, I forfeit the possibility of change. I since I believe we can change,  I choose also to believe that the temporary pain of this reflection is worth the joy of becoming more fully the person I am intended to be.

 

 

Mar 042013
 


I angered a friend the other day. It turned out to be a fantastic experience.

I meant to encourage him and came off like I was ball-busting. My friend has a lot of stress in his life right now, and that was just enough to push him over the top. I was oblivious, of course.

Not 30 minutes had passed when he caught up with me again and said “Can I talk to you soon? Now’s not a good time, ’cause I’m kind of pissed off… but soon, after I’ve had a chance to think about it?”

I wasn’t even sure what he was talking about at first – whether what he was upset about had something to do with me or he just needed to talk. Over the next day I gave it some thought and realized how I had probably come across in my intended encouragement; and by the time we talked he was able to acknowledge that I probably hadn’t intended to be a butthead. So I was able to apologize for my poor communication and explain what was behind the words I said, and we ended the conversation closer than when I gave offense.

Why is this notable? Well, stuff like this happens all the time between friends. In a healthy relationship, particularly one that’s important to you, this is how things are done. But in an unhealthy relationship or one that’s not valued by one or both parties, the offended person just stays offended until there’s little to no friendship left. And that, unfortunately, leads me to think that many of our relationships within the family of the church are either not healthy or not valued.

I’m the son of a pastor, and I grew up in church, and I’ve seen more relationally unhealthy behavior than I like to remember. When people get mad at someone in church, they ignore them… or they just leave the church. I was reminded recently that our actions always reflect our beliefs – so I can only conclude that most believers do not actually believe that God who is our father has made us one eternal family. If we did believe it, we would treat each other differently.

This is probably why Jesus and Paul and just about every writer of the New Testament spent words to tell us that God has made us one family, and that we are called to love and serve each other wholeheartedly.

For God’s sake, for the gospel’s sake, and for each other: may we have the faith to learn to love well.

 

 Posted by at 11:00 pm
Mar 012013
 

I first discovered Cash around age 18. Despite – or perhaps because of – growing up in West Virginia, I carried a strong disdain for country music through my teen years. Then in college, one of my friends surreptitiously introduced me to the Love, God, Murder collection. I was fascinated by the idea that Cash could sing with all his heart and soul about all three of those topics, and the songs drew me in.

Then came the American IV album, featuring Cash’s rendition of Hurt. I never recovered. That took me to the earlier American recordings and eventually way back into his whole catalog.

Most of what made Cash so great was not musical virtuosity. The voice was distinctive, but the guitar playing was nothing to write home about. While he transcended genre boundaries, he didn’t break a lot of new ground. What made him a legend was his emotional genius. He was more honest with us than we are with ourselves. When he covered songs like “Hurt” and “I See a Darkness,” he made you forget anyone else ever touched them.

Cash’s legacy as a Jesus-loving, broken man will not often be matched. I hope someday I can preach with the force with which he sang.

 

 

 Posted by at 3:28 am
Feb 252012
 

I don’t know what, at the moment. But I’m sure it’s true.

Darrell over at SFL posted yesterday inviting people to share some of their less-than-finest moments. The comments range from funny to poignant.

It reminded me of how many things I’ve thought, written and said in public before that now make me wince. As a young teenager, I wrote opinion for our city newspaper’s teen page on things like why Christian rock was no better than worldly rock, and why 7-day young earth creationism was the only way for me. I think the newspaper’s circulation range was in the neighborhood of 50,000 which means more people saw those than will ever read this. (I would link to them, but they’re safely behind a paywall now.)

That’s gotten me considering how my thinking on stuff from music, to education, to theology has shifted, changed, expanded over the last 10 years. Part of that may be my time of life – I’m turning 30 this year – but I think there’s more to it than that.

I hope I am always willing to reevaluate, to learn, to grow. I don’t want to be static.

I still have plenty of firmly held convictions. My goal is just to be humble as I hold them.

 Posted by at 12:00 pm
Feb 142012
 

Ash Wednesday is just around the corner – Lent kicks off on February 22nd this year. If you want to know why I find Lent worthwhile, click here. If you’re interested observing it yourself, here’s a round-up of resources:

Lent for Everyone Bible reading plan: This is a daily reading plan in the Gospel of Matthew. Each day’s reading also features a devotional written by my favorite Anglican, NT Wright. (Yes, more favorite than other guy with initials for a first name.)

Daniel Montgomery of Sojourn Community Church in Louisville KY has written a couple of great blog posts: 5 Reasons You Should Observe Ash Wednesday and How We Do Ash Wednesday at Sojourn. Obviously these focus more on the kickoff, but they contain some good thinking about Lent in general. Also, he links to this Lent playlist for Spotify. (You need Spotify installed to open the link.)

If you’re planning worship gatherings for the season, check out this page from Calvin College. There’s a good article here about different ways of observing, which notes the Reformed tradition has not always looked fondly on such.

If you know of more resources, I would love to hear about them. If you’re new to this, hopefully these will provide a starting point.

 

 

Feb 132012
 

I know, I’m supposed to complain about how Valentine’s day is just a commercial creation of greeting card and candy companies. Of course it is. It’s also a great opportunity to praise my wife publicly, so I’m gonna do that now.

We have been married almost 7 years, and the love I felt for her on our wedding day is vastly outclassed by the love we share now.

She has an unflagging, consistent faith that God is going to take care of us.

She never stops believing in her husband. (Or at least in moments of doubt, she hides it well.)

I have never once questioned that she will always be faithful to me. She is loyal, devoted, loving, constant.

She has given me the two most beautiful little girls I’ve ever met. And she cares for them well, sometimes around the clock. On weeks when I work 65 hours, she gets it done at home and I while I miss my kids, I don’t have to worry about they are doing because they are in the best possible hands.

She keeps the medicine cabinet stocked so well that stuff falls out when I open it about 50% of the time. I can triple-check, get mad, and complain to her at which point she will go in bathroom and pull it off the shelf. Actually, this principle applies to most items in our entire house.

She loves breakfast food. She eats cereal multiple times a day, and she especially loves the sugary stuff that’s meant to make your three-year-old act like she’s on crack. I scoff at the sugary cereal she buys, and then eat it at night after she goes to bed.

If it weren’t for her, I might not not live in New Hampshire. We’ve been here more than five years now, and it’s more home than home would have ever been. I hope I get to be a New Englander til I die.

She turns the heat up entirely too high, and I only have the heart to turn it down about 60% of the time. Thank God for budgeted billing from National Grid.

Did I mention how loyal she is? I have done some stupid stuff in the 8+ years we’ve been together, and she’s always forgiven me – eventually – and never put me down. She only builds me up.

I should not neglect to mention that she’s a good-lookin’ woman. I know you know this if you know her, but I will take this opportunity to remind her. She is beautiful, and more beautiful now than when we met.

Now I’m going to break a rule and change voice:

Becky, I love you. I am incredibly thankful that you are my wife and deeply honored to be married to you. I hope we get another 60 years together, and that we are sitting together on a porch swing  looking forward to our 90th birthdays.

 

 

 

 

 

 Posted by at 10:07 pm
Feb 122012
 

Photobucket
Or, Lent for Former (or even current) Baptists.

I certainly did not grow up observing Lent. I had only the vaguest idea what it meant (outside of the McDonalds Filet-O-Fish) and certainly no mind to apply it to myself. I thought of it as a Catholic thing, not a Christian thing.

That started to change a couple of years ago when a friend surprised me by telling me he was giving up alcohol for Lent. The concept intrigued me, but the season had already started so I just let it go. In 2011, though, I decided to join him.

What I discovered was that sacrificing something I enjoyed for nearly 7 weeks and letting my desire for it serve as a prompting to pray was a deeply valuable spiritual experience. And I have never enjoyed the celebration of Easter more.

Reflecting on last year has convinced me that I’ll be observing Lent again as it begins later this month. And in preparation, I’ve been learning a little bit and thinking through what this season will look like for me.

In case you’re as clueless as I was two years ago: Lent begins on Ash Wednesday – February 24th this year –  and ends with celebration of the resurrection on Easter Sunday. Many who observe it will fast on both Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. It is also common to pick something that brings you pleasure and fast from it during Lent. The Sundays during Lent are considered ‘mini-Easters’, and it is acceptable to break your fast on those days. (Of course, many choose to continue their fast through those Sundays as well.)

Lent is not only about giving something up. The three practices the Catholic church encourages their followers to focus on are prayer, fasting and giving, especially giving to the poor. I want to engage in all three leading up to Easter this year.

At one point I probably would have dismissed all of this as just empty religious ritual. It certainly could be that. But practices like this, when done for the purpose of focusing our minds and hearts on Jesus, can be very helpful. This Lent, I’ll be trying to let my small sacrifice drive me to prayer and unity in the sacrifice of Jesus, and celebrating the resurrection with all the more joy when Easter Sunday arrives.

 Posted by at 9:02 am
Feb 052012
 

Photobucket
Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
(Isaiah 53:4-6 ESV)

The final chapter in the Mark Driscoll/Gerry Brashears book ‘Death By Love’ speaks of Jesus as the truest revelation of the nature and character of God. They share several ways in which Christ’s life, death and resurrection reveal the Father. They highlight this passage, which reveals God as our healer and the self-sacrifice of Jesus as the means through which we are healed.

There is a bone-level brokenness in everyone I know. We don’t do what we should, we do what we shouldn’t, we hurt those who should receive only love from us. We are greatly sinned against; we are great sinners. Human darkness is evident from the evil that so regularly invades our news headlines and our lives.

Into that brokenness comes Christ – not at first as the sword of judgment, but as another who is greatly burdened. (He has borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows.) But I deny my brokenness, and so I scorn brokenness in others. Instead of seeing God, I see one on whom rests God’s judgment. (yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.)

In the end (it seemed) God’s judgment did rest on him. But it wasn’t for his own sin; he was the only true innocent. It was my judgment that was poured out on him, and in taking it he became the source of healing for me, and for all who are broken. (By his wounds we are healed.)

 

 Posted by at 5:35 pm