Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Freak Out!

"Don't freak out." - guy sitting next to me in Starbucks

Here I am in one of my favorite destinations, my private home away from home, my beloved Starbucks.  It's the place where for $15 you might get full, or treat a friend, or enjoy free wifi.

As was sitting here, the guy beside me just related to me that he's a Christian (pointing to my bible - it's always a give-away and makes me feel proud to have it out in public - like I can withstand the persecution of being seen with a bible.  "Gasp, Phil's so brave!"  I have been known to turn it upside down.  "Gasp, Phil's an infidel!"), that he has spent most of his life reliving his old mistakes because he was sold the lie from the pit that life is about getting saved, feeling guilty over sin and trying harder.

He related all of this in a very direct fashion, the gist of which was that I don't need to freak out, which makes me feel a little uncomfortable sitting next to him right now.   He probably doesn't know that people looking into my soul sort of makes me freak out.

He continued to share, very briefly and tersely I might add (he's probably an angel and knows that I don't really don't want to talk right now) that life is about finding something God's doing and going there and doing it with him - you know, Rick Warren stuff.

It's true.  I'm not asked to live in a cycle of shame, remorse and guilt - and then repeat.  God doesn't want me living my life on my toes.  He probably wants me more like on the balls of my feet, or even better in the "athletic stance" they emphasized so much in high school phys ed.  God wants me firmly planted on his grace, free to engage, free to give and free to revel in his goodness.

But what's missing from what my friend said here beside me?  Not too much, because he said that we'll still sin, we'll still have to deal with real stuff, it's going to be hard and as Christians we've got to be in it for the long haul because God is.  But I guess what I sense missing is the possibility that we can take our repeated inability to not feel guilty, yes even that, to a God who forgives.  Even our inability to revel in God's goodness and his redemption we can take to God.

Of course I'm totally splitting hairs, and the guy beside me is balding, so it's probably not fair.  But hey, I like to write and we who like to write (nerds) have to be allowed to be in angst, that's one of the greatest things about writing: angst makes for good story-telling.

But with angst God brings refreshment.  I'm reminded of one of the verses I meditate on in Psalm 63 "God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you.  My soul thirsts for you in a dry and weary land where there is no water."

I guess the church needs "get er done" people like my friend here, who's probably running three businesses through his laptop as I drone on trying to figure out what to say on my blog, as well as people like me who when faced with something to do, are confused, scratch their head and wonder why all the directions are in Japanese.   Who speaks Japanese anyways?!

I think that's another reason God calls people in communities to follow him.  He knows that we need all types.  That the "get er done" type will remind the "freaking out" type to see his redemption, and the "freaking out" type will remind the "get er done" type not to walk up to complete strangers and pass out advice like it's the last day of the world.  No that's too mean.  No the "freaking out" type can help the "get er done" type to remember that there's tension in the Christian world, and that not everything is black and white.  Everything's more blue, yellow, green and redish in my opinion anyway.

Anyhow, even though Starbucks is pricey, some of the interaction you get here is priceless.  So here's my plug for my fake little home away from home.  Try it out sometime.  Most people freak out here anyways, as they've had to much caffeine.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Vroom, Vroom

David looks up at me with his head cocked back, hair matted under his biking helmet (he's always sweating btw) and a smile spreading across his dirty face that could make mothers cry for joy the world over.  I'm a father of course so I simply note it with "Cool."

I took my 3 year old - getting close to 4 now - to the skate/bike park on one of my early morning bike rides, and to say he was beside himself with joy may be to understate his emotions.  I'm not exactly sure what kinds of thoughts and feelings run through my 3-year-old's brain but my guess is when he's scooting around a bike-park and going over "jumps", he's thinking something like "Vroom, vroom, vroom, fast, fast, fast, cool, cool, cool."  I hope his thoughts are relatively uncomplicated and he's free to just revel in the joy of what he's doing.

I was sharing this with a friend of mine and he was sharing with me how it kills him when his son's hopes get so up about a new hobby, only to be crushed by it's lack of fulfillment.  But David doesn't seem to be there yet, maybe because he has such a plethora of hobbies to choose from.  Last night we played soccer, baseball and dodge-ball and by the end of it he was begging to wrestle.  The kid's inexhaustible.

As his father/caretaker/egg-him-on-to-try-everything-guy, I just get beside myself by how much David relishes life.  I know life is going to let the little guy down.  But he's showing me something profound about how God must look on us.  And I have to admit that I'm not exactly sure what it is.

But here's what I think it might be:  God must just love it when we're having fun.  He must love it when we get so consumed in what we're doing that we can't think any thoughts but "Vroom, vroom" ones.  He must love the artist/creator in each one of us.  And I know for a fact that for him, this has got to be his heaven.

While seemingly we're really not that important in the grand scheme of things, it's an amazing that God allows his world to revolve around us in such a personal way.  And we bring him glory when we really enjoy this world he's given, when we trust in the boundaries he's set and perhaps most deeply when we take our blood, bruises and disappointments from life's fall to him.

Recently I've been struck by the over-emphasis on personal religion in western Christianity.  I believe God saves us in community and into community.  But God is concerned with the individual as well, and David's showing me this better than anyone could.  And don't even get me started on Teya.  She's a world unto herself!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012


"Because you have made the LORD your dwelling place - the Most High, who is my refuge - no evil shall be allowed to befall you, no plague come near your tent."  - Psalm 91:9,10

Last night, ants on the bathroom floor again.  Crawling into bed, ants on my nightstand.  This morning, ants on the breakfast table.  I used to like ants.  No more.

I realized that my attitudes had shifted towards ants, when directly after meditating this morning, I began flicking their little thoraxes against our breakfast table.  It's glass, and it was gross, but I want them dead.  Even when I am at most peaceful with the world around me, ants have got to go.

Something in the verse above reminded me of my ant problem.  As ants have been invading my dwelling, I'm thinking, "Maybe we should I move into a tent" because, if I read the text carefully, "no plague (shall) come near (my) tent" (stupid joke alert applause please).

But if I'm honest this morning, I've got bigger fish to fry than ants, and ants aren't fish.  I've got brokenness and evil invading my life and my fear is, it will be a plague to my dwelling and those I love.

I hate sin.  Probably more than I hate ants.  The problem is sin still grips me, entices me and invites me to rest awhile and taste of it's fruit.  When I do listen to sin, and pursue it, I always find myself in the same place - trying to flick the "sin ants" from my house one by one.  I'm just trying to put out fires.

Now, what would be really nice would be if there was someone out there that new how to get to the sin ants' nest.  Someone that could seek out and destroy sin ants at their source.

Well what do you know?  As Christians we have this source in God, and though his methods and timing are totally unlike my own, I bet they are more effective.  So on days like today, I need to call the ultimate exterminator-terminator.  Plus while he's dealing with my sin problem, maybe he'll rid my small world of ants.  

I hate ants.  And I'm pretty sure the story about Solomon and the ants is a lie.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Impossible Parenting

My kids faces beamed pure joy as they rode the little mini-train at Downtown Disney this afternoon.  I was thinking, "Wow, that was worth the 4 dollars it cost to get their tickets."

I've have this haunting feeling these days that my family is headed for a financial crisis.  I'm not exactly sure where it comes from, but I know that as we're fully supported missionaries, it's probably a pretty common specter among our kind.

But as we got we were drifting through the man-made pond, taking our 5 minute "fairy-ride" back to our parking lot, I started thinking, "How much of this has to do with trust?  Am I really trusting that God is the true care-taker of my family?  Will he do it?"

As a parent, I'm constantly being asked to let go.  Even from the get-go, the minute I wake up and am faced with all of my demons and character flaws, I'm thinking, "I'm supposed to be a father again today Lord?  Shouldn't you do some 'right-sizing' in your organizational structure?"

I know that I struggle with a melancholy bent.   If you haven't noticed, you haven't been reading my blog.  But in regards to parenting, us "melancholics" may have a more realistic picture of what's going on.

Here's what I mean: We're asked to feed, bathe, brush, scrub, wipe and repeat, these little humans throughout the day, and that's simply caring for their physical needs.  Then we're supposed to teach them character, wisdom, integrity, honesty, and everything they need to fear the Lord, all the while hearing the maxim "To lead with our lives, not just our words" tumbling around our head and condemning us (something like that, I can't think of the maxim right now, though I am impressed that I know the word "maxim").

The task of parenting is enough to drive sane people crazy and crazy people sane.  On top of all the impossibilities, I'm 35 now, and Teya, who's already faster than me, will ask something innocent like, "Let's play tag" not knowing that she's about to see her father break down and cry.  Last night she patted my stomach, pondered in surprise for a second, and then jiggled it and said "Daddy, you're fat!"

I'm telling you this parenting thing is no good for anyone.  But I'm reminded of the verse where Jesus says fat men like to squeeze through small places because all things are possible with God (I know it's the "rich man" Mr. Sunday School Star).  Somehow the fat man's hope is getting me through these parenting days.

Oh (I lost my train of thought in addressing all of the impossibilities of parenting) and I'm not supposed to worry about finances?!

"Impossible parenting is, being how but in world the someone has it to do."  - Yoda (I saw a lot of Star Wars paraphernalia at Disney today, which is odd, because Disney had nothing to do with Star Wars right?  Sort of like Yoda, popping in with this quote at the end.  I don't think Yoda ever parented.  He's always spouting off wisdom about stuff he can't do.  What a little green jerk.  I sympathize with Luke.)

Monday, March 19, 2012

God Will Not Lie

"Once for all I have sworn by my holiness;
I will not lie to David." - Psalm 89:35

Sometimes it feels like God's lied.  Sometimes I'm not sure that the "new life" within me is going anywhere, if I'm any different and if change is happening.

I'm struck this morning by the seeming slowness of God and my own unresponsiveness (I don't know how to extract the two).  I've heard that his schedule is not our own and that he doesn't move according to our own time-tables, but what really gets me is stubborn slowness of my own sanctification.

I was laying in bed last night just thinking about this: Why if I'm a "new creature" do I feel so old?  Why do the sin patterns in my life take so long to extract?  Where's the victory and new "creatureliness" that God promises?

Sin can be a discouraging thing.  And who I often think about in times like this is someone like the apostle Paul, someone who had no time for sin, he was simply so in love with God and with his task of spreading the kingdom.  But that can't be accurate can it?

So sometimes with me, and I guess I'm moping a bit, I feel like God lied.

So where's the twist, where's the gospel turn-around this morning?  How am I going to tidy up this little mess of a post and turn it into something hopeful.

Honestly, I'm not going to.  Sometimes the gospel calls us, as a speaker reminded me, to "sit with tension."  And I guess all I've got is this to hope in: the gospel is not a formula, it's a person, who we will sometimes think lied.  But he hasn't lied.  His promises always prove true right?  And his promise to me out-trumps his seeming slowness and my lack of growth and faithfulness.

If it's true, if the gospel is really true, then I know that I for one will be slack-jawed when it happens.  But sometimes it just feels like God lied.  I think it's OK to feel this way.

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Fam'

I've taken a brief hiatus from writing as I've been in the Pacific Northwest, riding bikes with my brother, hanging out with my parents, sister, spousal in-laws and nieces.

But I'm back, and the creative juices seem to be flowing again.  My writing process goes something like this, in case you're curious: I pick up my Bible, do a bunch of structured reading until some tension within me feels like it's about to go snap, and then I write.

This morning though, I don't have anything too big to write about, or at least anything that boiling in my belly (that sounds really painful).  So if you don't want to read something really random and pointless, I advise skipping to one of my other posts - unfortunately most of those are pretty random as well, so you might want to skip reading them altogether and simply look at the pictures.

But I think I'll write about family, since I've just been with them (it's kind of a no-duh).  While I was in Vancouver and Seattle, I was able to reconnect to something that has always been a source of the good life for me.  I was travelling alone, away from the responsibilities of home, husband, and father, and I had time just to curl up in bed at night, look out at the bright lights outside my window and just be a kid again, with everything taken care of for me, and a mind free and comfortable to wander.

And my adventures with my brother, are worthy of a post all to themselves.  We decided to build up a bike for brother's pastor and friend, and when we were done, we just had to ride it before we gave it away.  Yes, it was too beautiful of a bike and the trails near Seattle were just begging for us to apply all of our skills in an attempt to find speed, adrenaline and general "bad-assness" coursing through our beings.

Well Taylor and I found our trails, and while they were "bad-ass", we were not.  I'm not saying we were complete wusses, but the jumps and drops and generalized craziness we found, had us contemplating selling our bikes and buying bikes with training wheels and pink tassles.  And while we were able to go fast, and jump a little, I learned a few more things about me that I had forgotten.

I learned that I love getting dirty!  I learned that I love riding in snow one minute and drizzling wet mud the next - I particularly love the sucking sound my tire makes when leaving mud.  I learned that I love hidden beautiful places that hardly anyone goes to or knows about.  I learned that I still am 10 years old inside.  I learned that I still love the crisp, clean air, fueled by evergreens.  And I learned that I still love these adventures with my brother.  He's a good man whom I'm honored to know and learn from, but just as good he's my friend from childhood, who can take me back to some of the best things in life, like giggling until we snort actual snot about something really, really stupid.

After our adventures, we came back home to my brother's wonderful wife and four girls, and they regaled us with stories of their lives and adventures of their own.

And then it was great to be with my parents, sister and new brother.  They all welcomed me into their home in Vancouver and demanded nothing of me, but simply loved and cherished being with me.   Mom made my favorite: carrot-cake, announcing that "It's healthy for you!" and I spent the weekend relishing the fact that my favorite desert is good for me and is a good substitute for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Hurray!

Then my sister showed me her art project that she's been working on for her Master's in Christian Studies at Regent, which was staggeringly beautiful.  Pretty amazing that my little sister is all grown up, married and such an amazing artist!  She's a kindred spirit.  We seem to be very alike in how we think about life, and it's always a delight to be around her and it was great to find out more about the man she's chosen to love.  He's a fascinating and fun individual himself, the kind of guy you feel honored to know.

All in all, it was the trip my heart had been longing for.  A trip to reconnect with my family and find refreshment.  But it was something more.  It was a trip into my past in the present.

Hang in with me here, because this might get hard.  Vancouver, and in particular Regent College, is where I first found out that I struggle deeply with depression.  It was about the year 2000, when I pretty much had a nervous break-down (after beating a performance track horse to death) and was forced to go on bed-rest and move in with my parents.  There they could keep an eye on me during the day while Melissa worked.  It was both a humbling and terrifying time.

I remember not being able to control my thoughts.  I remember the violence that was going on inside me.  I remember simply wishing I was dead.

But one memory that sticks out is my counselor's reaction to one of my most sober admitions - that I found her attractive. I had no intentions, but just to admit my thinking felt like THE CRIME above all crimes. As she is a friend of my mom's and a friend of mine, not to mention my professor/friend's wife, I thought that it was totally inappropriate to think of her as attractive and that she would be shocked and would reject me as her patient immediately.

But something else happened, something glorious.  Her face beamed with delight, she laughed and shared with me that all of her male patients had commented that she was attractive at some point, and that she simply took it as a compliment.

This came at a pivotal time, for rejection would have been the last straw for me, with my violent thoughts and now admittance of what I thought of at the time as inappropriate thoughts.  That's what I was waiting for, rejection.  But what I got was acceptance and healing.

My whole life I've been waiting for the shoe to drop, for disaster to strike and to lose everything.  Having actually come close to losing my mind, I know how fragile and tenuous life can be.

And whether you've had a loving family like the one I have above, which isn't perfect - we have our flaws - or have come from a painful home where you've suffered, I believe that my experience last week may have something in it that is universal to all of us.

We all yearn to be known, and loved anyway.  But we know that what we know about ourselves could wind us up in jail.  We know that to actually be known could be a terrifying experience.  We know that to be exposed should be the end of us.

But the good news for all of us is that we have a home in God.  We have someone who knows our unknowable traits, laughs like my counselor, loves us, bakes carrot-cakes for us, and invites us to have grand adventures in his creation, not to mention giggle until we snort snot out of our nostrils.  We have a God who wants us to embrace our inner ten-year-olds, or better said actually embraces our inner ten-year-old.  We have a God who will never let the shoe drop.  He will never leave us or forsake us.

And we have a God who invites us to become a family with other believers, revealing our secrets and warts and finding that, simply because of Him, we are not rejected by them either.  Maybe that's the most profound truth of the Gospel:  where we expect rejection (and justly so) we find acceptance, where we expect terror we find peace, and where we expect judgement we find grace.

Where we expect rejection, we find family.

Thursday, March 1, 2012


I just got done reading a long series of posts from a blogger that I've grown to respect and admire, and then, shock of shockers, he said something I disagree with, or rather if I said I agreed with it or wasn't sure about it, I could get myself into hot water real quick.  This has me thinking about what I know and what I don't know, or more importantly why I often claim to know certain things.

If I'm being honest, which my Mom used to remind me is a good thing to be, I've got to admit that much of what I believe I don't believe because I've thought through it critically, but because I admire the people or want to be like the people who hold such beliefs (thank you Tim Keller and mysterious blogger).  But as this is not very scientific (which is everything in our culture isn't it?) it can put me in a place of precariousness about my own personal epistemology.

If I think one way, people are comfortable about my world and life view and pat me on the back, but if I think another way, or begin asking questions in a certain direction, then I'm liable to have people praying for me, questioning my sanity or even my salvation.  I know for a fact (and we all do don't we) that some questions could land me in a heap of trouble, especially if you're a "professional Christian."

This afternoon, as I think about this stuff, or think about thinking about this stuff, knowing that there's a lot I don't know, I get a little tense.  Say if there's a lot I don't know, how dare I hold on to things dogmatically? To not be dogmatic in certain areas could bring with it social, institutional, and (though I know I am loved unconditionally) even familial difficulties.  Am I truly allowed to doubt everything?

I believe that as Christians, doubt is a lost art.  Many have written on this.  Heck many who have far more intelligent things to say about it have written books and stuff... and thingies.

I read NT Wright today on epistemology (which should get me a few back pats, unless I'm reading about his views on justification).  In his article, "Can a Scientist Believe in the Resurrection?" he concludes that Christians are given, in the resurrected Christ himself a new way of knowing.  It's kind of weird and I'm not sure I understand it (it is NT Wright after all), but in the resurrection of Jesus a new creation has come and we not only know through the categories of history and science, but we can know through a new category - love.

“Love is the deepest mode of knowing, because it is love that, while completely engaging with reality other than itself, affirms and celebrates that other-than-self reality. This is the mode of knowing which is necessary if we are to live in the new public world, the world launched at Easter, the world in which Jesus is Lord and Caesar isn’t.”

Maybe this is why Wright rightly (ha) uses doubting Thomas as the recipient of a new kind of knowing, that which begins with "My Lord and my God!"  I believe it is the crowning statement from any human (other than Jesus) in the bible up to that point, perhaps of the entire bible, for in it we find faith, hope and love (see Wright).  To know in scripture is to be deeply related to someone.

Imagine the impact we would have if we Christians moved away from dogmatism and rigid elitist group mentality, bordered and guarded by our fear and insecurity, and frankly a lack of belief in God and the gospel, and began engaging the culture with this new epistemology that was rooted not in the intellect (though it requires it) but in the very person of Jesus Christ and in his love.

If our Christian institutions encouraged this kind of knowing (and I'm not saying they always don't), the world would not only see our love evidenced in our faith, hope and confidence in Christ, but the world would also see our humility, candor and freedom to doubt in Christ.  This could be a really good thing.  

One thing I know, Jesus.

"I've got a question Jesus."