Archive for the ‘Life’ Category

Death and Comfy Chairs

May 9, 2018

Today I got to sit down with Chuck.

Every Wednesday I’m privileged to sit down with Chuck for about an hour.  We meet in his study, where I sit on a lovely leather love seat and he in his office chair, his dog oftentimes expectantly moving back and forth between us as we talk without rush.  We are comfortable as we sit, remembering and laughing and talking about past, present and the future.  Especially the future.

Chuck is dying.  He knows this better than anyone, and I think it affords him in the midst of this process a clarity of thought which is breathtaking at times even as it is heartbreaking and jubilant.  As a follower of Jesus Christ death is an unpleasant visitor but neither completely unexpected nor totally to be feared.  He won’t, after all, be the final visitor.  He comes and we go  and then we part company with him again, never to have to share his cold congeniality ever again.  Chuck trusts this.  And as he sits in his comfy chair he is comfortable thinking about the future both individually and on a larger scale, and taking the stance of one who is curious, not cowardly.

Comfy chairs have not been a major part of Chuck’s life until recently.  More often pick up trucks and chain saws.  Shuffling ordnance off the coast of Vietnam during heavy shelling.  Chuck and death have crossed paths on more than one occasion, as he’s happy to admit with a twinkle in his eye that defies the ravages of illness in his body.  He has time and need of comfy chairs now, at the last.

We talked about the future, about the decisions that congregations are sometimes called to make about the future and how to approach it, and I know such conversations are no stranger to Chuck either.  He’s spent his life trying to help people make decisions about life and death, individually and on a larger scale.  He knows firsthand the difficulty of such a decision, and all the amazing blessings that can flow from it.

We talked about drug and alcohol recovery.  How hard it is to start.  How much harder it can be to maintain it.  The statistics are sobering (pun intended).  Chuck ran a special program for inmates at the county jail to help put them on the path to real recovery.  That program won all sorts of accolades from people local and statewide for the impressive statistics racked up, particularly the percentage of graduates who were still clean and sober five years later.  The interesting aspect of today’s conversation was that long-term recovery is harder for women than for men, when I would have thought it just the opposite.  Even in his prestigious program, only 39-41% of the men were still clean and sober five years later.  But only 31-32% of the women were.

One of the reasons for that is  that women often have children.  Children, who were taken away by the courts at some point because of Mom’s addiction and related issues.  Once Mom has completed a requisite or voluntary treatment program, she wants to get her kids back, and the courts are eager to give them to her.  The problem is now she has left the program (often times a residential program) and now has her kids with her.  How is she as a single mom (which the majority are effectively, if not actually) going to get a job as well as a place to live while watching her kids or ensuring that they are getting to and from school?  Is she going to make enough to feed all of them and pay rent?  The pressures mount.  It’s easy to slide from an apartment after not making rent into a pay by the week or day hotel which is even more expensive.  Maybe you start selling dope again to help pay the bills.  Maybe you have a few drinks to try and sleep at night because you’re so worried about all of this.  Maybe you prostitute yourself.  In any event you’re back in environments that foster addiction and substance abuse.

The only real option for people entering recovery is half-way houses or sober living houses.  But these are often not much cheaper than other housing options, and kids aren’t allowed to live on site so that makes it undesirable for a woman trying to reunite with her kids.

We talked about how wonderful it would be if there was a place that a woman could go to after completing residential rehab.  Rent would be free for a period of time to help give her time to lock in a job and start earning money.  She would  be able to have her kids come and live with her.  And in exchange for the free rent, there would be requirements – attending regular recovery meetings, regular drug/alcohol checks, curfews, limitations on who can be on site.  But also required classes on parenting and other life skills.  Bible studies and required church attendance.  And ideally a strong Christian on site not simply keeping watch on everyone but also building relationships with the ladies and helping to connect them to their church family.  After a period of time fractional rent would be paid each month, incrementing gradually to full rent, and perhaps to a decision to move out into fully independent living.  He spoke with amazement, and I could see lists of organizations flitting through his mind, all the people who understand what needs to be done and could be done and the many beautiful things that could come out of it, but don’t have anyone to share that vision with and no way to bring it to fruition themselves.  All the people who would gladly lend a hand or even a few dollars to make it real.

In the span of 20 minutes or so, this beautiful vision sprang into being.  It started with a need as well as a desire, and sprouted out as we tried to think of how not simply to meet a need, but to meet the ultimate need that all people have, which is to be anchored in relationship with the God who created them and died for them and offers them hope and strength and comfort not just temporarily but eternally.  A beautiful vision of what could be rather than fearful worry about what might be.  A looking forward to something different rather than an obsessing about the past or the familiar, but which grounds itself both in the past and the familiar as the only means of making something new and different possible.  Within short order we had a rough, verbal sketch of what this all could look like and incorporate.

Of course a sketch isn’t a finished product, but it’s something that you can hang up on the refrigerator, or pass between friends in comfy chairs to help start sharing a dream or a vision, to help see areas that need a bit more thought or other options that could be included.  Eventually it requires getting up out of comfy chairs to start working with pencils and calculators.  It requires the hard work of determining what it would take to reach this dream, and further, determining what each person is willing to contribute towards realizing it.

Dreams and visions often start in easy chairs, in quiet contemplation.  Some start from the perspicuity of a life drawing to an end; new vistas opening up and familiar terrain suddenly transformed and illuminated in their light.  Visions can start in easy chairs but will eventually require the dreamers to stand up and stand together to determine if this is a way forward they’re willing to pursue and encourage and support others in as well, or if it’s a good idea but not the right idea for this particular time and place.  But by that point we’re up out of our chairs and on the back patio or in the office and we might as well look around to see what other visions are being discussed and find out if perhaps one of them is right.

Because comfy chairs, like death itself, should never be permanent.

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Real World Education

April 10, 2018

I  awoke this morning, the first full day of vacation, to the sounds of our kids inquiring about breakfast.  It was about 8:30am.  We instructed them to start getting breakfast ready and we would be up and out shortly.  The routine is fairly consistent.  Heat the water for tea (and my daughter’s coffee).  Start toasting the bread.  Set out the hard boiled Easter eggs.  Wash the fruit.

I emerged groggily a few minutes later.  The kids were in action and everything was going well.  I noticed that they had the gas stove apparently turned up to high and there were some flames on the outside of the kettle.  I told them to turn down the burner a bit as I went to the bathroom.  Whilst there, I ruminated on the blessing of having older, responsible children.  I suppose I could have mused about the wonderful job of parenting and educating we’ve done, but of course that task is not finished yet.  Instead, I pondered how we should prepare the kids better for the real world by teaching them to use a microwave.  We haven’t owned one in over a decade now.  We know we’re an anomaly, but our kids ought to at least know the basics.

I emerged and was puttering with the kids to get things ready.  The kettle was still flaring up at the bottom and now it was smoking as well.  What’s wrong with it?  the  kids wanted to know.  Why is it dripping oil? they wanted to know.  I went to take a closer look.  Something about the kettle didn’t look right.  What’s that odd tab at the bottom?  Wheels and gears cranked angrily and fuzzily into gear.  I lifted up the kettle and peered under it.  The bottom had separated.  Odd.  If the bottom was separated, why didn’t the water all pour out?  And what was that mess of smoldering wires in between?

It was at this point that I realized the kids had mistakenly placed an electric water pot onto the gas stove.

Whoops.

(In defense, the kids *do* know how to operate an electric water pot – we have one at home!  But this one looked very much like an actual tea kettle!)

So I did have the chance to give some microwave lessons after all.  And to purchase a new electric water pot for the owners of the Airbnb we’re staying at.  What a wonderful learning opportunity!

Ugh.

 

Acknowledging Mistakes

April 3, 2018

One of the hardest things for people to do is acknowledge that mistakes have been made.  It seems so harsh and judgmental.  So in the interest of avoiding pointing fingers (especially at ourselves!), we often times continue down a path that was started years ago simply because the idea of changing course seems too depressing or offensive.  The result is that there are times when we end up someplace we never wanted to be, yet claim that there can’t possibly any alternative options that might begin to lead us where we’d prefer to be.

The Church is like that sometimes, just like families and cities and nations and PTA boards and any other gathering of people can be.  But it’s vitally important to be able to say This isn’t working and move down a different path that might lead us to different outcomes.

I agree completely with this brief essay, and the conclusion that separating children from their parents in worship is – while aimed at a good goal – a big mistake.  Parents do need breaks, but there are a variety of ways that breaks can be given without removing children from worship until they’re 18, at which point they are expected to become adult members and proponents of the congregation, to be involved in something they’ve actually been excluded from all of their life.

There are other ways to help parents without removing the children.  Parenting is hard work, to be sure.  But it’s work that has to be done and it has to be done in Church just like it has to be done at the grocery store and restaurants and everywhere else we take our children.  Church as a community should be able to find all sorts of ways to assist parents in receiving the message and worshiping without breaking up the family to do so.

This essay has apparently sparked a lot of controversy.  But we need to remember that we can decide that something wasn’t a good idea without demonizing the people who initiated it – with good intentions and towards good goals.  We just have to be able to say that it was a mistake and we need to change direction.  Too much is at stake not to.

 

Grinding Back Into Gear

March 15, 2018

At some point I have to listen to my own sermons and apply Scripture to myself.  Zinzendorf’s mantra keeps running through my head.  Preach the Gospel.  Die.  Be Forgotten.  This is what I’m called to do, blessed to do, challenged to do.  And there have certainly been more challenges this year than I’ve had in a while!  As such, I haven’t felt much like sharing here, and it didn’t seem to be something helpful for myself.  However, I’d like to think that in some small ways, this blog helps me to share the Gospel.  Helps me to think through the application of God’s grace in my life and the world around me and find my place in the midst of all of that.  Perhaps it’s even helpful at times to others.   And if so, it’s time to shake off the debris and get back to the work at hand.

That means I need to finish my project regarding alcohol and Scripture, among other things.  And I need to get back to being myself to the best of my ability, knowing that I can’t speak to everyone, so I’ll continue to speak to those who will listen and pray the Holy Spirit’s blessing and guidance towards that end.

Soli Deo Gloria. 

 

How Your Kids and Grandkids are Dating

January 25, 2018

Coming of age in the 80’s, the possibilities of who to date were limited by who I knew and what they knew about me.  Possibilities were limited to the social circles I moved in – school, work, and church.  In high school I thought it was exotic that some people would date people who went to a different school.  I went to a big high school (my graduating class had over 900 people in it), so while I might not know the girl who caught my eye, I could network socially (with actual real people, in person) to dig up information that would help me determine whether or not I they were someone I might be interested in asking out, and whether I stood a chance in asking them out.  Life was further simplified by the fact that regardless of the first answer, the second answer was nearly always a resounding no.

But I digress.

Things didn’t change a lot in the workplace.  You’d meet the new co-worker, chat a little bit around the copier, and between those interactions and the input of co-workers, figure out the answer to those same two questions.  Church was the same.

There were places you could go, of course, to meet different people that you might want to date but weren’t likely to meet at work or school or church.  But there were also stigmas to certain degrees about such encounters as well.   Bars, nightclubs, the local mall, video arcades.  I personally didn’t find those options terribly appealing or effective, but I know that some people did, and still do.

But people today of dating age evidently consider those options claustrophobic and very limiting.  Why limit yourself to potentially dating just people that you know casually at school or work, or have seen in those environments?  Aren’t more options always better than fewer?  How about eliminating the human factor in social networking and just rely solely on what a person looks like and how clever they can be in 2-3 sentences?  What could possibly go wrong?

So early on in the Internet, people were working out ways to meet people for romantic possibilities, and now in the age of mobile phones we have not only dating web sites where people can take the time and effort to input meaningful answers to help others determine if they might be compatible (or to make up completely false stuff they hope sounds good to others), but there are myriad dating apps that provide a face and a very short bio as the sole criteria for determining possible interest.

With little more than a face and a concise, curated online persona, they determine whether to swipe left (pass over) or swipe right (express interest in) to begin chatting and determining if they want to meet up in person.  But just because they meet in person doesn’t mean that they really know each other after texting each other or maybe talking on the phone.  In fact, odds are that they don’t even know the other person’s last name until well into the relationship, according to this Wall Street Journal essay.

Young folks now find it creepy that someone would want their last name, presumably to look up more information about them online.  So they’re not divulging last names in favor of nicknames until they determine the relationship is important enough to risk revealing their fuller online personality.  The story opens with a vignette of a young woman at dinner with a man she’s been dating for three months, and it’s at this point that he asks her for her last name, cluing her in that he was elevating the relationship level.  I’ll assume she didn’t know his last name either, and this wasn’t a problem for either of them.

Considering that in our culture having sex by the third date is considered normal (if not a bit on the late side), this means couples are doing a heck of a lot more than just having dinner together without knowing anything more about the other person than what that person chooses to tell them or show them on the date or via online texts and phone conversations.

Is it just me or is that really weird – regardless of the sex aspect of things?  It seems to highlight all sorts of things about how dating is approached these days.

  1.  People find it unsafe to share with a suitor the details they routinely share with the hundreds or thousands of acquaintances, friends and family they are connected with online.
  2. The assumption is that everyone is dating (or just hooking up with for casual sex) multiple people at any given time, therefore the need for more personal information is unnecessary unless the relationship is moving beyond the casual hang-out or hook-up to something more serious (and I presume exclusive).
  3. Actually having other people who can provide information helpful to us about someone who has caught our eye is a thing of the past.  Perhaps because of the 2nd item above, people prefer anonymity in dating, hiding their friends and family from who they’re seeing, and visa versa.
  4. Wanting to be able to validate that what someone claims is true about themselves is actually true is now seen as creepy and in itself a reason to potentially quit seeing the other person.

It’s not that people haven’t always been able to lie in relationships.  If you met a cute girl at the mall or a bar you had no idea whether what she told you about herself was true or not.  That was the understanding, at one level or another.  And perhaps part of the appeal.  And perhaps that’s why I never really found those dating options appealing.  It made much more sense to me to have a better idea of what I might be getting myself into rather than seeking out a series of essentially blind dates with people I knew nothing about.

But if this is now the norm for things, which I can’t help but think is problematic.  According to this Pew Research study from two years ago, while the stigma of online dating has declined, and while more people claim to be using online dating services and apps, only 5% of married couples at the time reported they met online.  I’d be curious what those rates are now.  If that rate remains low, it could indicate that people are using dating apps more for hook-ups and casual sex than with any real intention of a serious relationship.  Which would make the information they provide about themselves potentially even more suspect, which would justify not sharing any more about themselves than they absolutely have to – including last names.

Which means that people need to be honest about what they’re hoping for from online dating sites or apps, and regardless of their intentions personally, recognize what the intentions likely are of the people they’re hoping to meet.  Hoping to meet and date a stranger you meet by chance isn’t any less dangerous or unreliable than it ever has been.  But it likely is a lot more so.

 

 

 

True Spirituality – Section 1 – The Law and the Law of Love

January 24, 2018

This is the second in a series of posts analyzing Francis Schaeffer’s book True Spirituality.  You can find the first post here.

If we’re going to talk about what it means to live the Christian life, a life of true spirituality as a Christian, then we have to acknowledge that the only way such a discussion has any value is if those engaged in it are actually Christians.  It makes no sense to explore what the Christian life might look for anyone other than a professed Christian.  The challenge then becomes what is the definition of a Christian?  There are certainly no shortage of options.

Is being a Christian defined by your membership and participation in a particular expression of the Body of Christ, like the Roman Catholic Church or a Baptist Church?  There are folks in both those parts of the Christian body that would answer yes to this question, but I disagree that such positions are Biblically supported.  I can appreciate Rome’s argument that they are the one true Church because of apostolic succession, but apostolic succession isn’t a Biblical definition of what makes one a Christian, though it certainly is a nice tradition to be able to point to.

The Biblical definition of a Christian is one who looks to Jesus of Nazareth as both the human son of Mary and the divine Son of God, through whom alone we receive forgiveness and therefore reconciliation with God the Father.  Put more simply, I believe that my only hope of reconciliation with God the Father despite more moral guilt is the death and resurrection of the Son of God, Jesus the Christ.  Nothing I do or say can improve upon or add to what Jesus did.  I can only accept it as being done for me, or I can reject it.  Accepting it makes me a Biblical Christian.  Rejecting it makes me something else.

All of this is wrapped up with that concept of moral guilt just mentioned.  I’ve not met anyone – of any philosophical or religious bent – that thinks they are perfect, completely free from flaw or moral guilt – a violation of some universal or personal standard of behavior.  Everyone I’ve ever talked to has been willing to admit that they aren’t the person they think they should be, let alone the person others think they should be or that any particular philosophical or theological tradition thinks they should be.  We all fall short.

Some will  say that there are no greater ramifications to this than a limited sense of disappointment or harm to others, that there is no Higher Power to be offended by these failures or that any possible Higher Power simply isn’t offended.  For such folks, the idea of the necessity of a Savior is confusing and complicated.  What do I need to be saved from?  What are the long-range ramifications of my moral failings?

The Bible asserts that there are long-range ramifications that can potentially be eternal.  The Bible asserts that there is a higher power, and that our moral failures and corresponding moral guilt is first and foremost an offense against this God, and only secondarily an offense against ourselves or others.  Your real problem isn’t your love of gossip, or your uncontrolled temper, or your lust or greed or whatever – your real problem is that these things are an offense against a holy and perfect God, the creator of all things including you, and the definer as well as the embodiment of the moral law you have violated (whether accidentally or intentionally).   Your lust may be a danger to yourself and others, but it is first and foremost an offense against the God who created you as well as the others that may be involved in your lust.

Having violated this moral law, having offended against the demand for perfection issued by a righteous and holy God, I have no way of making up for my violations.  I can neither stop them completely, nor in any way make up for past violations.  Saying sorry doesn’t cut it.  And I have nothing to offer the all-powerful Creator of the Universe in exchange or compensation for my offense.

Therefore, if there is to be any hope for reconciliation, it must be initiated by the very God whom I offend, and on his terms alone.  The Bible gives us the unlikely good news that God has indeed initiated this very thing, and details the specifics – accepting the death and resurrection of the perfect and holy Son of God as a gift to me, despite my sinfulness.  In faith, I receive the offered perfection of the Son of God and dressed in his blood-soaked clothes, I can stand before God and be pronounced holy and perfect and clean.

This is the starting point of the Christian life – my acknowledgement that such is my predicament and such is my hope and confidence for salvation.

I would argue this has nothing to do with emotion, though emotion may well be appropriate  at the moment these truths break through to one as real and true.  It doesn’t matter whether I feel saved or not.   What matters is whether this is my honest profession of faith.  Am I trusting God and his Word to me or am I not?

You can’t just act like a Christian, you have to be one, and being one requires your trusting the promises of God rather than rejecting them in favor of some alternative.

All that being said, what we have said is that accepting the promises of God the Father in God the Son by the power of God the Holy Spirit is the beginning of the discussion of and actual living out of the Christian life.  But it is only the beginning.  Schaeffer compares this to our physical birth.  Our physical birth is necessary as the condition for our existence in the physical world.  In that respect it is the most important aspect of our lives because it is the absolutely essential starting point of our lives in this world.  But from another perspective, it is the least important moment because once it’s done, it’s over with.  New things become of primary concern once we have been delivered into the physical world.

So our spiritual birth through profession of faith in Jesus  as our Lord and Savior is both the most and least important part of our Christian life, depending on your vantage point and what it is that you want to talk about.  Just as nobody would claim that, once being physically born there is nothing more to living life in the physical world, nobody should claim that the moment of placing one’s faith in Jesus for forgiveness of moral guilt against a perfect and holy God is the end of the story of the Christian life.  Theologians distinguish this act of putting our trust in Jesus as our savior as justification, and the living out the Christian life now made possible because of this faith as sanctification.  Being broken and sinful (despite being forgiven), we are ever tempted to switch these two around, putting the cart before the horse and making the living of a Christian life a prerequisite for saving faith in Jesus.

The question for the new (and old) Christian is what next?  For an adult convert to Christianity this may most often take the form of a list of things once considered acceptable but which are not acceptable now that this person claims is a follower of Jesus.  But the Christian life is not simply a matter of Thou Shalt Nots.  Naturally there are those Christians who realize this and may react against the list of requirements and insist that they should be done away with.  This might be appropriate, unless what one is really getting at is the desire to do the things prohibited by the lists of Thou Shalt Nots.  If your ultimate goal is just making the Christian life easier, or more palatable to non-Christians, you’re headed down the wrong path just as surely as those who make the Christian life all about following zealously the Thou Shalt Nots.

Luther dealt with the Law and the Christian life in this way:

A Christian man is the most free lord of all, and subject to  none; a Christian man is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to every one.

That is because behind the Law – the Ten Commandments and every other instruction from God to his people whether universal or particular –  there is a deeper Law, the Law of Love.  The Law that says my ultimate concern is less the minute attendance to the Law, but how my attendance to the Law expresses love towards God and neighbor.  Jesus was rather critical of the Pharisees who gloried in their self-righteousness but lacked love for others (Matthew 23:4).  The Law is not given to make us miserable, but rather to show us how to love our neighbor and our God.  The spiritual life of a Christian should be a realization of this more and more, which of course transforms the reason why we seek to obey the requirements of the Law.  Not out of peer pressure or a sense of self-righteousness, but because we trust that in observing the Law, we are more apt to be loving God and our neighbor.

Thus obedience to the Law is always primarily an inward, internal thing.  It may well manifest itself externally, but this is not a good indicator of the inward rationale.  I may not kill someone, but that doesn’t show whether I really love them or am simply afraid of going to prison.  So as we consider the Christian life and Christian spirituality, we need to distinguish between an external, loveless adherence to the Law (which Jesus was constantly criticizing others for) and an adherence to the Law motivated primarily by love for God and love for neighbor rather than out of fear or a desire to be accepted by others.

To move towards this is to intentionally cultivate a trust and reliance on God for all things and in all things.  The ways that I sin against God and against others tend to happen when I am not trusting God and resting in his provision, but rather out to procure for myself, on my terms, what it  is I think I need or want.  Thus the Law against coveting is really the first Law broken before any of  the other nine are!

The Christian is called to trust God’s promises that as St. Paul writes in Romans 8 for those who love God all things work together for good.  That means both in my blessings as well as in the areas that I wish were different.  Both in my victories as well as my struggles.  Both in my satisfaction as well as my malcontent.  If I don’t have something that I think I ought to, or that I really want, I have to trust that, rather than resorting to sinful means to procure it, I need to trust that  God the Holy Spirit is perhaps using my lack or want for his purposes, which are always good (unlike mine!).

In the Christian life, therefore, each moment I have a decision to make – will I give thanks to God for his good gifts, or will I focus rather on what I don’t have and cultivate a sense of bitterness or entitlement that quickly leads me to coveting sinfully and then sinning in thought, word, or deed?  Part of Christian spirituality then is to deal with life moment by moment, opting intentionally to trust that whether I am particularly pleased about something or not, God the Holy Spirit is still capable of working all things towards good.  I am never justified in sinfully violating God’s will in me.

Another way of saying it might be this:  The Christian confesses a faith and trust in an all-mighty and all-knowing God, and also an all-loving God.  God has created every individual in the context of a struggle between good and evil.  Every Christian is called to resist evil as they are enabled, to fight against it in their particular context or vocation.  But trust in such a God means that we ought to trust him to put us where in this struggle He knows best.  And that we trust that his decision is not arbitrary but ultimately for our best and good.  This should assist us as we strive (like St. Paul) to be content (trusting of God) in all things.

Finally, if we are to begin describing the Christian life we can’t simply speak in terms of what is forbidden, the Thou Shalt Nots.  Rather, we must speak both in those negatives but also in positives.  Not only what we in our sinful brokenness are restrained from but the blessings we are promised, the gifts of God’s Holy Spirit and the fruit they produce in our life.  The Christian life cannot be described simply by what we don’t do, but I think that for many people (Christians included) this is the first way we think of it.   I’m a Christian so I don’t fool around before I’m married.  I’m a Christian so I don’t kill people.  These are all well and true, but they are external aspects of an internal spirituality, and they are ultimately only part of the story.  If the negative aspects of the internal Christian life – the Thou Shalt Nots have an external  manifestation, then it should be equally expected that positive, cultivated aspects of the internal Christian life will also have external manifestations.

 

True Spirituality – Preface

January 23, 2018

This knowledge puffs up, but love builds up….And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died.  Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ.  

1 Corinthians 8:1b, 11-12

This is part of the Epistle lesson assigned for this Sunday.  It’s a powerful passage, and it has much to do with several different issues that have been raised in our congregation in the past three months.  At heart it is a reminder that our goal is not to be right, but to ensure  that what we do is not injurious to the faith of a brother or sister in Christ.  Throughout my life this has been a lesson I have been trying to learn and share with others in Christian community, a lesson that is rarely well-received and is often the first to be forgotten the moment there is a disagreement about something or other.  As our community strives to make decisions together, and as my community struggles in part with depression and other aspects of living the Christian life, these verses and others from Paul are so very helpful to me.  They don’t necessarily make things easier, but that’s not Paul’s point.

I pair these words with these words from Francis Shaeffer’s introduction to his book True Spirituality:

Gradually I saw that the problem was that with all the teaching I had received after I was a Christian, I had heard little about what the Bible says about the meaning of the finished work of Christ for our present lives. 

The Christian faith is not simply a moral code.  Nor is it simply the guarantee of a happy ending after death.  Rather, it is an assertion that how we live here and now has purpose and meaning both to ourselves and the world around us.  We do what we do (and refrain from certain other things) not out of a legalistic coldness but out of the understanding that the Biblical teachings about how to live have a definite impact not just on ourselves but on those around us.

What a beautiful thing to remember.  In joy or in sorrow, in conflict or in harmony, our goal is to reflect the love of Christ in our lives to one another.  That this is not only a goal but an expectation – something that can be achieved (little by little and of course imperfectly always) here and now, today.  Not by some sort of mystical escape to  a mountaintop away from the issues of daily life, but in that daily life itself.

While I reviewed this book a while ago, I’m going to start blogging through it – something I haven’t done a lot of for years.  But I want to capture my thoughts as I go through it again to create a study for our members (or anyone else) that will help them deal with the why and how and what of the Christian life, and how it affects everything we do and say and think and feel.

Advent Lessons

December 12, 2017

Advent.  Adventus.  Coming.

These words are my stock and trade this time of year.  This is the Christian life in general, but in Advent we focus on this reality.  We are a people who are waiting and anticipating  a coming, an arrival, a return.  We all nod in agreement.  We’ve been through this before.  Sometimes for years and years and decades and decades.  This is who we are, yes.  This is what we do, yes.  Come, Lord Jesus, Come.

But sometimes – perhaps oftentimes – this feels perfunctory to me.

Yes, come Lord Jesus come.  But in the meantime, I have presents to order and bills to juggle during the Christmas season.  I have obligations at work and the additional obligations of social functions and other activities after work.  I have children who want to hang Christmas lights outside and a tree to purchase for inside.  I wait but I forget that I’m waiting because there is so much to be done.  And while the reality of my waiting does impact not just what I do but how I do it, at times the anticipation factor seems very, very muted.

But I’ve learned a lot about waiting this Advent.  More perhaps than ever before.  In the last week and a half our part of the country has been ravaged by fires.  They seemed to erupt all at once, in multiple places throughout the southern and central portion of our state.  Power outages and fast moving flames created an uneasy tension and fear.  How far would the fire spread?  While other fires around the state were quickly contained, the one nearest us raged on, growing to the fifth-largest in state history and threatening multiple communities, including our own.

For the last week and a half I’ve fumed in frustration trying to find reliable and updated information to keep my family informed as well as my congregation.  There have been discussions with my wife and family about what-if scenarios.  Every night and morning I’m scanning multiple sites to try and cobble together a picture of the situation.  I want to ensure that my parishioners and my family are as safe and informed as possible.  It’s easy to get lost in an emergency and panic.

I know what waiting feels like.  Waiting for news updates.  Waiting for reliable information.  Waiting to hear if someone in the affected areas is safe.  Every day is shaped by the reality of wanting to know the best information and make the best choices possible.  Every day is marked by wanting to be prepared.  I don’t know if the fire will come, but I know it might and I want to be ready for it.

Advent.  Adventus.  Coming.

How much I have to learn still about waiting for my Lord.  Craving his Word each day as the guiding power that sustains and centers me, allowing me to make wise decisions and good choices.  How gracious He is in leading and teaching me, calling me day by day always back to his promises and his Word, always waiting for me to remember what I am waiting for.

Come, Lord Jesus, Come.

 

Reunions and Other Missings

November 6, 2017

 

Sonny sits by his window and thinks to himself

How it’s strange that some rooms are like cages.

Sonny’s yearbook from high school is down from the shelf

And he idly thumbs through the pages.

Some have died, some have fled from themselves.

Or struggled from here to get there.

Sonny wanders beyond his interior walls,

Runs his hands through his thinning brown hair.

~ Paul Simon, The Obvious Child ~

 

This Saturday past was my 30-year high school reunion.

I wasn’t there.  As I wasn’t there for the 20th or the 10th.  I flew out of high school a bat out of hell, swearing never to return, never to reminisce, never to idealize the living hell that had been four years of my life.

But time is strange and treacherous and this many years out there was an actual a tug, a curiosity that bordered on yearning at moments.  Who were these people now?  For that matter, who had they been then?  I hate that I was curious.  I’ve stayed in touch with the people I was close to in high school beyond the constructs of class reunions, a group of folks I can count on one hand.  We talked briefly about meeting up at the reunion.  I said I wouldn’t go to the reunion but I would come into town to see the rest of them around it.  In the end it came to nothing and I don’t think any of the others went.

Pictures of the reunion have fluttered across Facebook since Saturday night, and I’m relieved that I didn’t cave in to the passing of years and the desperation for connection across the decades.  The people in those pictures were strangers.  Not just strangers in the 30-year removed sense, but strangers even in my memories.  I knew some of the names but they were not people I ever hung out with in high school.  I only shared classes with a few of them.  I might as well have walked into a room full of complete strangers for all the reminiscing I would have been able to do with those folks.

Out of a class of 900 there were maybe 40 people there.  They had things to relive together, I presume.  Shared memories and experiences.  I would only have shared a coincidence of timing with them, and geography.   We were in the same walls for the same four years and passed through similar classrooms at alternating times of the day.  But the memories aren’t there.  Only the reminders of who I used to be, or who I wasn’t, and I hang out enough with those shadows plenty already.

It looks like everyone there had fun.  I certainly don’t fault them for going.  Part of me is jealous they could share things together that I can’t.  Or perhaps time smooths over the different social classes and standings so folks who never had much in common 30 years ago are suddenly long lost brothers and sisters.  Perhaps the ache for who they were is so strong such incidentals mean little compared to seeing a name and a face that might remember who they were, might be able to give some insight or a reminder of a forgotten incident, rekindle a forgotten feeling.

As for me, I have to side with Thomas Wolfe –  You Can’t Go Home Again. Or perhaps you can, but I can’t.  Why deny the obvious, child?

Intergenerational

October 23, 2017

I frequently lament – and testily disagree with – our Church culture (maybe it’s yours too?) that stresses and exalts youth and young people.  It struck me that in some ways it’s like only wanting to talk about Jesus as a baby.  Youth, the future, it’s so beautiful and innocent.  It’s also not very challenging.  It doesn’t demand that you do what it wants, the way it wants.  It demands accommodations, but leaves  us in large part in control of things.

Jesus didn’t stay a baby and it’s interesting we know so little about his youth.  We are led to move beyond the wistful hopefulness of gazing at a helpless baby and impossibly young parents, to being challenged to discipleship by a fully-grown Lord and Savior.  It’s easy to simply focus on Christmas and disregard Lent and Easter.  Many Christians do exactly this, and it’s undoubtedly as ill-fitting and misguided as trying to orient a congregation to lure in young people who will stay and propagate and continue the congregational life.

Last night we had another great Happy Hour.  Several new people in the mix.  A musician from our congregation, laboring to hash out a jazzed-up version of A Mighty Fortress on saxophone with an acoustic guitarist.  A potential love-interest for one of our regulars.  A couple from our congregation who visited once a long time ago but, despite their own work with college-aged people for years – have insisted that they’re “too old” to come and hang out.

I got to have conversation with a couple of the guys.  One talking about his relationship status (or lack thereof).  Another curious about the fascination with Christian community that has driven my wife and I all our lives together.

We have a strange and I suspect unusual dynamic on Sunday nights.  Our house has become home to these dozen or so people.  They don’t worry about knocking or ringing the door bell.  They come right in and know they’re welcome.  They bring their friends, roommates, co-workers, and potential love interests.  They add their gifts of food and beverages to the mix and find their seat at the table to join in the next round of whatever game is being played, or wander out back to talk by candlelight, or find a seat off to the side waiting to see who wanders over for quieter discourse.

While my wife and I are well-acquainted with college and young adult ministry, the last time we were actively involved in it we were a lot closer to their age.  Now we’re not.  We’re more like parents.  But sufficiently different.  Different enough that they feel comfortable to be – at least as I imagine it – themselves.  Who they are right now, with these people, in this stage of life.  They don’t have to adopt or fall back into the familiar roles and rituals of being son or daughter at home.  They’re just Derek or Kenny or Brooke at our house.  They can be the adults they are becoming with adults who don’t have preconceived notions or hopes about who those adults should be.  It’s a different conversational dynamic, a different dynamic of identity.

They often talk about how much they value not just being around my wife and I as people their parent’s age, but how they also enjoy hanging out with our kids as adopted, much younger siblings.  And they also have voiced how they appreciate having others who are even older attending and hanging out.  Gleaning perspectives and insights from those who are much further down the path of life than the rest of us.

I wonder how many opportunities and options there are for this sort of dynamic.  Without the power dynamics inherent at work or school.  Just people of different ages and backgrounds gathering together with the understanding that everyone there wants to be there, and wants good things for themselves and the others.  A place where the peace of God the Holy Spirit in Christ flows underneath us like an underground river that occasional surfaces in song or theological discourse.  Something we all at one level or another float along on or dip our feet and toes into, even though our doctrinal understandings might be more fluid than the Holy Spirit himself.

It reminds my wife and I of L’Abri, which has served as an inspirational lighthouse of sorts as we seek to navigate the sometimes treacherous coastlines of Christian community in various incarnations.  I still draw great insights from reading Francis Shaeffer’s works (book review soon to come).  I don’t know if our following along side his footsteps will ever develop into anything quite so formal as his teaching and lecture sessions, I believe that God the Holy Spirit is at work in our informal Sunday evenings, and pray for the guidance as to where to place our next footsteps, trusting that however that might look, it will continue to advocate for multigenerational interactions that convey the faith and refresh it regularly.  In doing so I pray we faithfully follow from the manger to the cross to the empty tomb to the Day of our Lord’s return!