Thursday, November 29, 2012
My counselor leaned forward in his chair, gave me his full attention and with earnestness in his voice, invited me to envision with him hope. His hope for me was that I'd be able to walk out of his office, thinking about myself the way he thinks of me and with joy say, "Now what do I want to do?"
That question has been rumbling around my brain for the past 24 hours. What is it I want to do?
I love to write. I love to share the gospel. I love how it shapes us, redefines us and is the reality that is so bigger than any of us. If I can't write, I know I'd be very very sad. So I want to write. And I want to write about the gospel.
I love people. Well I do and I don't love people. People are complicated. But they are infinitely interesting and I want to work with them. I don't want to get holed away somewhere alone, burying myself in a coffin of to-dos.
But most of all, deeper than I even know, the divine within me, Jesus himself, is calling me to walk according to a rule. A rule that I am a "new creation." This rule frees, this rule enables me to breath, this rule is about peace, mercy, love and hope, real hope.
And as I think about this new rule and it's hope and all that I want to do, I'm encountering a deep longing to live near my family (my parents and siblings). But they live in the Pacific Northwest.
We've moved here to Orlando to take up a place with Cru High School (formerly known as Student Venture), and rather than feeling like I've struck gold, found the place where I belong, I've grown disillusioned, sad and weary. I'll be the first to admit that I'm not a very good minister, but I will not back down from the truth that God is ministering through me. So I'm conflicted.
Many people suffer similar frustrations with their jobs, thinking they are out-of-place, getting over-looked or not using their giftings. And many have gone before me and had a dream and chucked it all only to find that they're not any better off "near their family". Yet I do wonder about my family...
And I'm in a tricky circumstance I'm not even sure I should be blogging about. I'm a fully-supported missionary financially, and this may cause friends and partners to doubt I am where God wants me to be. Or it may even make them think I've lost the vision of reaching those who haven't heard the gospel. It hasn't.
But honestly, most of me believes right now, in this moment, that I am here simply because I didn't know what else to do. Crazy right?! I raised financial support for 2 years, put my family on the line through a big move, and now am wondering if I did it all out of fear of not knowing what to do.
So what do I want to do? I'm not sure. But I know one thing. The God that created this new rule, this fact that I'm a new creation, will not only take care of me and my family but enable me to do what I most truly want. Not my will, but his will be done.
I write all of this in the hope it connects with you, and for the selfish fact that I just wanted to get some of this out of my head.
Tuesday, November 27, 2012
My friend looked up at me, winced and said, "Are you ready to go through the Gospel presentation video script? I hear it's really shitty." I smiled and nodded enthusiastically, and not just because I enjoy hearing swear-words. I'd just read the script and it really was bad.
Here's why: The video script we had been given to review was based in a coffee house where too young women, one Christian and one not, have a discussion about what Christianity is all about. So far so good, even if it is cliche. But then as we read we noticed that when the Christian began to share the gospel she sounded like a robot. Surely she can't have hardly believed what she was sharing, even if she was fictional.
She talked about how a perfect God loves us, how sin cuts us off from this perfect God, how Jesus bridges the gap to God by his perfect death, and how we can receive God's perfect gift if we pray a prayer (it was probably a perfectly scripted prayer as well). "Perfect," I was thinking, "all we need are more perfect gospel presentations about perfection."
God didn't offer Jesus up to suffer his wrath and essential hell for us because he simply wanted us to be morally perfect! Jesus wasn't God's formula for perfection, as if God was a divine perfectionist.
This reminds me of a radio commercial I hear all the time. It goes something like this: "Have you ever done anything wrong? No? How about the time you took that paper-clip from the office? Did you know that stealing is a transgression against God's holy and perfect law? Did you know that any offense cuts you off from the perfect and holy God?"
Really!? So you can go to hell for paper-clip stealing?!
Is Christianity such a petty religion, is the gospel so truncated, that the best we can do to describe our rebellion and hatred towards God is paper-clips? Is the gospel about being perfect?
Yes the gospel is about being perfect. It says so in my Bible. But it's also about so much more. I believe that the gospel is primarily relational.
Here's my short take, if I have to make one without the time to go into explaining Israel: God created us as his beloved children. Satan tempted us to mistrust and disbelieve in God's love, so we rebelled and went our own way. So God, being the extremely merciful and loving type that he is, put in action the bravest rescue attempt known to mankind. He put his life on the line for us, so that we would not only know his love and enter in to it, but have something like the cross to point to whenever we are tempted to doubt it again.
So the gospel is not primarily about moral perfection. If that's all it is, we might as well just say "Thanks God," and be on our merry way. No the gospel, I believe, is about God showing a perfectly unbalanced love towards us.
Paul above said it was because God was "pleased" with him that he revealed Jesus to him. I can't think of one perfectly good reason God would do that. Why reveal Jesus to someone who murders Jesus followers?
Was it just so Paul could have a perfect record and think of himself as sinless? No, I believe Paul's life reveals a much deeper motivation than that - namely the very fact that God was pleased with him and wanted him, even though he was a sinner.
Tuesday, November 20, 2012
And that night the angel of the LORD went out and struck down 180,000 in the camp of the Assyrians." - 2 Kings 19:22&35
My fate is intertwined with the LORD's. I know that I am just as unfaithful as the nation of Judah when they faced it's marauders the Assyrians. I deserve the taunts and the heckles. But God won't have it. For his reputation is all mixed up with mine.
It's weird how God does this. It's strange this sort of love. That he would take up my cause and make it his own really doesn't make too much sense. I'm not better off than the Assyrians, and Judah's king Hezekiah had to be aware of his nations unworthiness when he took his nations threat into the house of God. He had to know that he wasn't better off. His nation was just as arrogant, unfaithful and idolatrous.
Yet he knew something about God so he went, and there he rolled out the scoll of the Assyrian's taunt. From here God does the rest, wiping out 180,000 of the invaders.
Do I believe that God cares that much about me? Or has my sin and unworthiness clouded my understanding of God's covenantal faithfulness, in which our fates are bond together.
It all seems to good to be true. That a God would make my cause his own is out of character for gods. But there you have it. This is the God of Israel. And when the clouds of condemnation and disaster gather, I am sure glad he's mine as well.
Thursday, November 15, 2012
"The people of Israel are oppressed, and the people of Judah as well. All their captors hold them fast, refusing to let them go. Yet their Redeemer is strong; the Lord Almighty is his name. He will vigorously defend their cause so that he may bring rest to their land, but unrest to those who live in Babylon." - Jeremiah 50:33-34
I know my prison well. I can see the rocky walls, a damp trickle of water running down one of them, and the scratches in the smoother places of dates, names, crimes and resentments. I star at them in fear. The bars are rusty, the prison cold, I see my shackles I know so well, and hear the chains clank and as I curl up for warmth.
I prefer my prison. In my life of wrestling with anxiety and depression, I know that I often choose my prison.
This week I've spent a couple days in bed "sick". I know it's not good to stay in bed when you're wrestling with anxiety and depression, but I've given in. I just don't want to face all the craziness that is in my mind, so I've slumbered and rested, and oddly I do feel better.
But in retreating and seeking my needs first, I've hurt others. I missed a friend’s appointment who really wanted to be with me, I missed a gathering at work where I could have served. I've gone into prison mode, locking myself off from the world, because my unrealistic fears were just too big.
A friend leaned across the table this morning and said, "I won't let you do that. I want to be with you. I experience Christ through you."
My captors hold me fast. Fears of what people think of me, what's expected of me, how I measure up, whether I am liked, whether my sin is leaking out, whether people see my shame on my face, it all holds me fast, gripping me with vices daring me to try to step out of prison, or out of bed.
Ever have those mornings like mine? They need a lot of coffee. Ha.
My Lord is STRONG. The LORD ALMIGHTY is his name. He whispers to me, "Son, my dear son, get up. Walk into your world for it is my world. I will vigorously defend your cause. My people shall arise and see me bring them joy and their land rest."
Now how about that? God wants me to take joy in my weakness. To walk out in confidence that he is strong and I am not. To rejoice when I feel vulnerable and want to stay under the covers. To rejoice when I find strength from him to go out and be me, a freed prisoner. Me, broken yet mending, blinded by time in the dark, but rejoicing at the sun on my face. For he is bringing rest to me and the land.
Sometimes setting foot in God's ways is the most painful and scary thing in the world. I so prefer my prisons, my methods and modes of being ok with myself and the world around me. Hell, it's all I'm used to and Hell is all I'm used to. But wait that's not true, I know of a prison breaker, a strong redeemer. The LORD Almighty is his name.
Wednesday, November 14, 2012
(I've been absent for a little bit, as I've been doing more personal journaling and creative writing exercises, but I want to share bits and pieces of what I write.)
Our closet’s horrible creak was worth it. The door would open to shelves full of our most prized toys. Deep shelves would reveal treasures and we would revel in play.
My brother and I were bound together in our delicious imaginations and adventures. We became more than brothers, we became copilots, coexplorers and confidants. Laughter and jokes as we dug into the shelves. Action figures spilling out with weapons tiny weapons falling in cracks.
What lies in those shelves still? My mind is awash in the mystery of those deep shelves and the joys they held for us. Remote control cars and model airplanes. Home made rockets and stuffed animals.
The door slid shut for inspection, only to be opened again for adventure. Heart beat rising in anticipation of adventure. It was our Narnian wardrobe to new worlds. Through toys we lived lives we couldn’t. We expected and reveled in our futures. All the while knowing we were in the fortress of room, of house, surrounded by love.
Those shelves had to be deep. They contained more than dreams, containing hopes, and great passions. Old projects left to fall apart were drawn out again with joy. Always discovery and rediscovery, this was a joyous closet.
Reaching back one might find amongst airplane models, dust bunnies, loose change and what-it toys that lit the brain with new possibilities, new places or fond forgotten joys ready to be re-explored. My brother’s projects could be found here, making it a place where I could see and find his creativity.
Slight guilt at looking through his stuff, but excitement at what toys of mine may resurface. Chewbacca’s belt and !AHAH! all of our action figures weapons, stockpiled for a war-time need. That’s where they’ve been! The screech of that closet is unforgettable.
Also it almost always came off the runners. Its doors swung, and were made of cheap metal, but inside it was full of goodness.
Thursday, November 1, 2012
Sure I like watching words flow across the page and all that. But I hope I'm reaching deeper into the well of who I REALLY am and who God REALLY is as I write.
I believe I am. And I'm excited to continue writing. I feel compelled to write. It's something I have to, if nothing else than to kill the editor/perfectionist/jerk within.
I've got to beat him. I've got to be drawn into the world of the senses: sight, smell, sound, touch. It's what writing for me is all about, getting dirty.
I want those grubby finger-nails I had as a kid again. I want to scratch the surface of rich brown loamy dirt and come away uncovering treasures. Writing is about exploring just that. And hoping in that. Is there treasure to be found?
Writing too represents freedom. If I can't say something than I've got to ask why? I've got to figure some stuff out, hash it out, have it out and take it to my God.
Writing is also about wisdom. If I don't put stuff down, things don't quite lodge in my core. Does that make sense?
I can't wait to become more proficient at this, and I know it will take hard work, but it's totally worth it.
It's worth escaping the prison of my mind and playing in the garden of God's rich treasures.
I've been listening to NPR a lot recently and they're obsessing on the election. Some poor four-year-old girl phoned in crying saying "I'm just so tired of hearing about Mitt Romney and Barack Obama." I feel her pain.
If I don't write I'll get stuck just like NPR. Obsessing on one thing with no-where to go. So writing for me is a form of prayer as well. It's basically me just crying out my big WAAH! to God. I've got to let it out, or I'll get distended and bloated.
Sometimes I feel like a fool for pursuing this life of a writer. It's scary sharing your secrets. But if I don't share and others don't share, I feel like we'll literally (ha) suffocate in our isolated thoughts. That's why I read as well. I need to hear and find wisdom from others who are reaching out.
So in case you were wondering what keeps me going other than patent narcissism, there you go. I hope you to can find a way to express your longings, desires and struggles as well. Perhaps you could leave a comment :). Something like "I read this."
I don't know much about me these days. I'm hopelessly addicted to escape. I like to ride my bike and jump it, buy bike stuff and dream of biking adventures. Often I just wish I could bike all the time.
But then there's another part of me. A place of shame. A sadness I feel at all the trades I make. Trading time as a father for biking. Trading time with my spouse for biking. Trading energy and joy for biking. I'm finding that I'm getting a raw deal in my trades.
I think we all do this. We sacrifice, in a sense, the good things in life for the not-so-good. We sacrifice our real spouses for imaginary spouses, we sacrifice real parenting for imaginary parenting, we sacrifice and sacrifice and sacrifice.
God says he doesn't want these. He's tired of them and so am I. What he desires is a contrite heart. Something like that.
He wants me to enjoy this whole comprehensive human flourishing thing. Sure he wants me to mourn my broken desire to hold on to stuff, but he also wants me to lighten up, or rather let him lighten me up.
Satisfaction is too heavy a burden for me to carry. I just can't attain it for more than a moment or a day. And if I do find it, especially if it's in the wrong place, I feel less me, less real.
I feel like I become a ghost of who I am when I pursue life in the wrong place. Hell, I feel like I'm less me all the time.
One day I will be me. I will have union with the one who loves me so much and I love so little. That will be a good day.
But for now I press on, trying not to give up hope, and embracing this God of a million-and-one chances. He's not trying to get me to figure out this whole life thing, he's just asking me to come to him with my hunger, pain and restlessness.