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Monday, February 27, 2006

when it rains, it pours...

I don't even have to ask if you've ever had "one" of "those" weeks where it just seems that all of Hell's fury is unleashed against you in small incremental rations. It wasn't like anything profoundly traumatic happened, it was just the compound fracture of everyday life heaping its fruits of depravity into your whicker basket. Let me give you the horrific timeline (I'll edit it some so as to not bore you with my bellyaching)...

Last Saturday out of no 31 year old left foot just started throbbing with pain. It wasn't an ankle sprain and I couldn't trace it back to any particular strain, but as I leaned into my car to grab a cd, I felt a little click and a sharp pain. I thought nothing off it at first thinking it was probably a pinched nerve or some irregular anomaly that would wear off within the next few minutes. Oh no, I still feel it today. I've been limping all over the place. I'll get back to this a little later on in the blog.

Early in the week, I just felt a malaise over my heart. Again, I couldn't attribute it to much of anything specific, but I could feel the oppression wrapping its tenticles around my heart and squeezing the life out of me. On Tuesday, I went out ot lunch with this guy and somewhere in the middle of going to lunch and getting back to the office, I lost my new cell phone that I just got three weeks ago. I had lost my cell phone for about a year and finally we were up for a free replacement. Three weeks in, it's gone and I haven't a clue as to where it went. I was mildly ticked. Remember, it was early on in the week and it was just the start of my not so good very bad week. I looked and looked, limping from one location to the next, but to no avail. I felt like an immature, irresponsible smuck. I just got my new cell phone and I would have to wait one year and 49 weeks to recieve my next free replacement.

Wednesday was where things really heated up. After I worked that day, I went home before Tech Team meeting and Band Practice only to find a bill hanging on the door for our gas. I was expecting it to be a ton less than the month before since we had gotten new windows and new doors put it over the past few months. I opened it up and to my "shock and awe", it was more, much more! I felt my jaw clench and my spirit shrivel. I walked into the house and before I could say it, Heidi said it first, "You aren't going to believe this!" as she held up another bill. (At least it appeared to be a bill from across the room) "What?" I sighed. "We just got a notice that our taxes went up significantly this past year and we have to pay x amount more that we already paid." (let me just say that the x amount was four figures and beyond our ability to pay I assure you.) I lifted my little door hanger gift for her to see and we both just sat there stunned in the living room as the contricting squeeze of financial insecurity took it's hold and twisted our stomachs into knots. (those of you with financial pressure know this feeling intimately) I went back to church a shell of a man. With every blow, I felt large chunks of my heart breaking away and floating out to sea. I couldn't even hide my crestfallen spirit that evening.

Thursday was my day off. Heidi had a ton to do that day between cleaning and running errands, so I was home with Taylor and Aly for most of the day. Believe me, there are days when parenting is nothing short of bliss, but when you're worn and weary, it can be the most exhausting and emotionally demanding responsibility on the planet. All I could think about was "nap time", a break in the day when the girls go down for a nap and I can rest my mind and body on our pillow top matress. I laid them down and for some reason, they weren't interested in taking a nap on this day. This is rare. Usually they go down so well, but they kept waking each other up and playing and talking and giggling and singing. I was infuriated, but there was nothing I could do. Spanking doesn't usually calm a kid down bringing about feelings of is counter productive around nap time. So I was left with one option, forget the nap and take them downstairs and watch another cheap Barbie animation. Some days, I can stomach the cheezy princess lingo, the gaudy fairy tale motif and the whole bit, but on this day, every scene just reminded me of the futility of life. I know, that's a weird reminder, but I couldn't shake the feeling of waste and worthlessness. I just had no ambition. And I'm abnormally ambitious for anyone who knows me.

I was gearing up to make a recovery on Friday. It was my second day off and I intended to relax and read and write and refresh my weary and crippled body. My foot continued to ache, but I set out to get some used crutches and beat this thing. We took the girls to school and Heidi headed out to clean a couple houses. I played with Taylor at McDonald's playland and then went to the YMCA to lift weights. (Guys with a noticable limp don't fit in at the Y). I picked up Aly from School and then we went to Taco Bell to get some lunch and head over to the School to eat with Kami for her lunch period. She complained some of feeling sick, but we thought she was just trying to get out of school. No sooner did I get home and get Taylor and Aly down for their naps that I got a call from the school to come pick up Kami. She was complaining of an ear ache, soar throat and a fever. A couple of guys were working on our bathroom pounding and clanking around (did I mention that these noises don't help the body relax) and since they were from my church, I asked if they would stay with the napping girls while I went to get my eldest from school. When I picked her up, I brought her home and called Heidi to see what I should do. This was no ordinary sickness, she was moaning and holding her head like she was about to explode. Heidi set up an appt. immediately and rushed home. We decided that she could take the two younger ones to clean with her (not very enjoyable) and I would take Kami to the doctor.

The problem was, the car was about out of gas (my fault) and so I told Heidi I would have to take her to clean and along the way fill a gas can and bring it back to fill up the car. I was so ticked at myself. Taking her to clean was the opposite way of the doctor's office, but we had no choice.

We arrived at the doctor's office (the same doctor I just visited the day before to get an x-ray on my foot (there was no conclusive evidence of any bone problems...he looked at me like I was faking it!) I held Kami as this doctor tried to get simple things like vitals. Kami is deathly afraid of doctors because of all of her surgeries and medical exams over the years. When it came time for the doctor to swab her throat to see if she had strep, Kami callapsed in uncontrollable hysteria. I tried gentle encouragement, whipers of love, embraces of affection, until I was left with no other option than threatening her with a group of nurses coming in to hold her down. She was so terrified, I couldn't be mad at her, but oddly enough, I was fighting that emotion. My heart had little capacity for patience and I felt like a brute beast inside. Finally she let the doctor do what she had to do, but not without dry heaves and convultions and weaping and nashing of teeth. It was horrible.

We were given a prescription and Heidi said that I could stop by Meijer's drive through pharmacy to get it filled. I waiting in a line of cars for about fifteen minutes while Kami moaned in the back seat. I finally got to the window and gave her my little sheet with the scribbles of the doctor indicating what medicine Kami needed. She couldn't find her name in the computer for the longest time and then realized she was spelling it wrong after a couple minutes. Eventually she came to me and said (I thought) "It will be a couple minutes". So I waited with this screaming child for about two minutes until I heard the sound of the women's voice coming through the speaker trying to get my attention through my closed windown. I rolled down my window and she said, "Sir, I need for you to pull over to the parking lot." I said, "I thought it was just a couple minutues." She said, "No, it's about 20 minutes." I was fuming by this time. I pulled over to the parking lot and it took me about 1 minute to realize that Kami wasn't going to make it for that long. She needed a bed and a puke pan. I raced her home (10 minutes away) and decided I would get the construction workers to watch her while I raced back to get the medicine. I got the gas can and thought I would get some gas for the car while I was at it. I got into town, filled the gas can, went over to the drive thru pharmacy and waited in an even longer line of cars to get the prescription. I finally got it after about twenty minutes and raced home to get some to Kami. Just then, Heidi called and needed to be picked up, so I left my sick girl with the construction workers and went a grabbed her and the little ones.

In my haste to get her in a timely fashion, I forgot that a full can of gas was in the back. You guessed it, it tipped over and spilled all over the place. The car smelled so bad I felt like Kueter in Dukes of Hazzard. Heidi was rightly mad, and I was about to blow a gasket. I raced them home and Heidi sent me into town again to get some saltine crackers for Kami. While I was gone, she puked and Heidi had to clean that up. While Kami was puking Heidi heard a loud crash in the kitchen and low and behold a couple glass containers fell and crashed into a thousand pieces on the floor. The 30 minutes I was gone didn't let up for Heidi at the homefront.

I got to Meijer...a place that I felt like I'd been to about twenty times that day and started walking to the entrance. I could barely walk my foot was in so much pain. I had been on it all day running to and fro and it was about spent. As I walked through the doors and was greeted by an elderly women offering me coupons, I looked to my right and my eye caught a little parking lot of three wheeled scooters primary reserved for the eldery. My foot hurt so bad that I thought, "I need one of those." I mozzied over to the Amigos (or whatever they're called) and hopped on one. I flipped a switch and started backing out when I was brought to a neck wrenching halt. I forgot to unplug it from the wall. Woopsie Daisy! The senior citizen greeter women came over and gave me some advice, she knew these machines like the back of her hand. She help me out and sent me off into the wonderland of groceries. The little tires didn't rotate more than 20 times when I was overwhelmed with the realization that everyone was staring at me and that I was Lowell's #1 Space Cadet worthy of a front page article in the Ledger. My heart started racing and my stomach got all those butterflies you get when you're experiencing a rush. And you know what? Do you think I could find the saltine cracker aisle? Nope. I'm tooling around in this battery operated moped with a little steel basket on the front and I can't find crackers. The whole time I was just praying that I wouldn't run into anyone that I knew. I feared that I would, which explains the whole rush feeling. My adrenaline was just surging through my veins. I finally got some crackers which looked kinda lonely in that little container hangin off the handle bars, so in my embarrasement for using this scooter to pick up a box of saltines, I felt compelled to fill it so that I looked legit. I quickly manuvered my way to the ice cream aisle and picked up two boxes of ice cream bars. It filled the basket quite nicely.

As I was making my way to the check out line, I spotted (of all people) a guy that I went to college with in Clarks Summit, PA. I couldn't believe my eyes. I dodged a hippi couple and hid behind a huge stack of Juicy Juice boxes. When they passed, I darted out into the open and made my way to the self check out line. My credit card wouldn't process and so I was caught there for what seemed like an eternity. I parked my little three wheeler, and hit the road faster than you could say, "Jason is a raving moron."

I returned home to find my wife about ready to string herself up in the garage. Eventually, we put them to bed and just recounted the horrors of the week. I could share more, but my fingers are sore. I think I'll soak them in the same tub of epsom salt water that I'm soaking my feet in right now. Lord Jesus, come quickly.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

broken people...

This past weekend we had several baptisms in our church. We have three services each weekend, one on Saturday night and two on Sunday morning. Each service had at least one person being baptized.

I got to baptize the couple on Saturday night. It was a husband and wife combo. This was his second marriage and her first. He had spent over half of his life bound to the bottle holding onto it for dear life. Alchoholism was a way of coping with the disappointments along the way and had become his dearest friend in times of crisis. He had tried AA over 5 different times and each time gave back into the irresistible draw to drown his problems with a twelve pack. But 6 months ago, he picked himself up and tried again and this time, things were different. He came to a point in the middle of this program where he collapsed and gave into the persistant love of God that had been hunting him down for years and years. Upon his return home that night, his wife saw, as she put it, his Jesus eyes when he walked through the door. He has been sober for 5 months and this past weekend, I was privileged enough to get to baptize him. While he stood in the water prior to baptizm, he shared of how he's still fighting demons every night in his sleep. His wife told the congregation that almost every night he screams out in his sleep, "God, help me! I need you to fight the demons for me! God come and help me!" She wakes him up and he's dripping in a cold sweat. He then turns on the bath water and takes a warm bath to cleanse himself before getting back in bed and giving sleep another shot. The night before his baptism this happend two times. Two dreams, two baths. But he said, "I count it a privilege to suffer for Christ." His wife got baptized, too. She was a shy, bashful person before, but somehow when she was in front of everyone, she was bold and fearless. Her smile illuminated the room. And as they both emerged from the waters of baptism, they hugged and the whole community blessed them with a standing ovation that lasted for what seemed like an eternity.

On Sunday morning, we had another baptism. This was a women who had been attending our church for almost a year. A frail women with long black hair with gray roots and yellow teeth from the nicotene stains, dark eyes and leathery hands. Her name is Mary and she is a scitzophrenic. She was pacing back and forth prior to the service and I went up and hugged her. I asked how she was doing and she responded like she always does when you ask her how she's doing, "I'm getting fat." She is obsessed with her weight though she can't weight more than 110 pounds dripping wet. I told her that I was excited about her baptism and she said that she was nervous. I assured her everything would be ok. When it came time for her to be baptized, her husband Dave, whom I baptized this past year stood by her side as he's been doing for almost 15 years know. He shared a little of Mary's story since she was too bashful to do it. When he shared his love for her he leaned forward and kissed her in front of everyone. They clapped. I cried. Then Phil, the other paster, told a story of how Mary came into the office to asked if she could be baptized and eventually posed the question, "What I really want to know is, 'Does Jesus really love the mentally ill?'" It was at that point, looking at her standing thigh deep in water that my eyes teared up and my throat tightened with delight. I swallowed back some of the emotion and through fuzzy focus kept my gaze upon Mary and her thin frame. She sat in the tank and Phil asked her husband to come around to help him baptize her. She blurted out in her raspy voice, "He probably wants to drown me!" Everyone laughed. Problem is, she probably somewhat believes that. She came into the office yesterday and I told her how moved everyone was by her baptism. I told her that people were crying everywhere. She walked out of my office awkwardly. I thought I offended her. She then walked back in and asked, "How many people were crying?" I said to her, "Alot, Mary, an aweful lot." She smiled and walked back out. It was the first schizophrenic I'd ever seen baptized. I hope it's not the last.

On Sunday morning second service, another women was baptized. She stood and proclaimed that she had been sexually abused when she was younger and developed a resentment toward God but that he had continued to pursue her and draw her back. She was baptized and moments later, her husband, who wasn't planning on being baptized, decided on the spot that he wanted to as well. She just wept as he stood and shared his story. He grew up in a family with a schizophrenic mother. His dad tried to protect him from it, but could only spare him so much agony. Both of his brothers died, one of which died recently in a car accident. His background is so messy he couldn't even come close to sharing the tip of the iceburg. But his wife just stood beside the hot tub and wept at the powerful hand of God that moved him to baptism that day. Everyone just cheered when he came out of the water and he put his hands in the air like he just won a gold at the Olympics.

I just met with a guy for lunch that got saved on Sunday while watching this baptism. He didn't grow up in church and had only been coming for about two months. He just told me that he has never felt so moved in all his life. I asked him what about the service moved him and he said, "I don't know, I just was crying and thinking about how relevent everything that was being shared really was in my life." Interestingly enough, he brought his friend with him that day and was welling with tears right next to a person that was there for the first time. It was the first time he had ever taken communion, too. He said that he had never understood as clearly as he did that day what all of this meant. He didn't know how to phrase what he had experienced to me, and it was refreshing. He didn't use any of the words or phrases or verses that you're used to hearing when you think about conversion. He simply used words like, relevent, moved, crying, understood, spiritual connection, opened eyes, desire, etc. This movement that I'm a part of here is really getting to me. It's making me realize how far I've been from broken people and how insensitive I've been for so many years to where they're living and where they're coming from.

There is nothing more exciting to me now that being with the broken. We're all mentally ill. We're all addicts. We're all empty. We're all abused. We're all hurt. We're all searching. We're all human. And the more I orbit around those realities, the more I find myself thankful for a Savior. A Savior that meets me where I'm at, picks me up, and draws me into where he is. As I'm squeezed into his chest, his heartbeat is soothing me today.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Sip #25 (the final installment)

New International Version

“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor, he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners. To proclaim the year of the Lords favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.” – Isaiah 61:1-3

I’m not sure when my expiration date is, but I have one. It’s breathing down my neck with its warm exhale reminding me that my time is short. I have but one life to inject my vaccine of goodness into this world, I simply must spend it doing this kind of ministry:

Ennobling the poor.

I want to bring nobility and dignity to those who feel like society's suckers. I want to believe in them and help them succeed. I want to acknowledge my own poverty of spirit and allow that to sink in to the soil of my soul. I want to yoke myself with the impoverished, feeling the weight of having nothing. This is what I want.

Binding up the broken.

I want to handle fragile hearts with care. I want to be a haven for the hurting and a bastion for the broken. I want to draw poison out of wounds and stay by their side as long as it takes for healing to occur. I want to breathe belief back into their jaded and jilted heart. I want to see beyond the crooked smile to the cracked heart beneath, and then I want to pick up the pieces and put them back together by the grace of God. This is what I want.

Freeing the captive.

I want to reach through prison bars to touch the captive within. I want to break through the thick walls that people erect around their hearts. I want to sing freedom songs, pray freedom prayers, preach freedom messages, and have freedom conversations. I want freedom to be the feeling that people have when they walk away from an encounter with me. This is what I want.

Releasing the lost.

I want to be a beacon in the night for those wandering in darkness. I want to cast a vision for the blind that brings sight to their hollow eyes. I want to be a seeing eye dog for those who have lost the will to want. I want to speak shafts of light into the dungeons where their dreams are chained down. I want to unleash the paralyzed passion pent up in humanity calling it out of hiding and into daylight. This is what I want.

Comforting the mourner.

I want to draw along side the crestfallen extending my arms as a refuge of refreshment. I want to collect tears and lift heads. I want to quell fears with the assurance of my friendship. I want to get on the ground with the fallen, shed tears with the crying, and clear a path to the nearest smile. This is what I want.

Beautifying the ugly.

I want to see the beauty in the ghastly. I want to cultivate a buoyant heart than floats when everything else is sinking. I want to breathe beauty into hearts that feel like worthless wastes of time. I want to reintroduce people to their original glory that throbs just beneath the wreckage that hides the holy. This is what I want.

Gladdening the hopeless.

I want to make people happy. I want them to experience the joy of being alive and to celebrate the smallest things that remind us of the preciousness of life. I want to distract them from their pain by attracting them to their purpose. I want them to remind them of the good and motivate them to give it a chance again. I want to find humor in disappointment and joy in suffering. I want to smile at Satan and wish him farewell as I enter into life armed with joy. This is what I want.

Praising the depressed.

I want to listen until my ears bleed to the sullen soul in need of a centering friendship. I want to sing lullabies to mentally ill rocking in their chair and staring at the air. I want to hold the hand of the disabled and peck the cheek of a widow with a kiss of kindness. I want to wink at the world with a “yes” in my eye providing that gust of wind for those whose sails have been flapping in the breeze. This is what I want.

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is all over this kind of life. This is the anointed life. This is the good news. This is the gospel.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Chip #24

New International Version

“Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” – Colossians 4:2-4

I’ve always been an “Insider”. I was born into a wonderful Christian family. We had morning devotions and evening prayers. We had a family night filled with games, Bible stories, and singing around the piano. My mother would tickle the ivories and we would break into four part harmony like little cherubs. We went to church early for Sunday School, attended Junior church, and finally were promoted to “Big” church. We attended Sunday nights which were generally a lamer version of Sunday morning with less preparation and more spontaneity. Then there was Wed. night prayer meeting which was about 10% of the congregation gathering to give various requests and concerns with an occasional “unspoken” prayer request thrown in for good measure. I never understood those, but they always said God did and that was all that mattered.

At age five, I packed my bags and headed to the smallest Christian school imaginable, though I didn’t know that at the time. I attended there for thirteen years and graduated with two other guys, one a lifer, like me, the other came in mid stream and never really got his oars in the water if you know what I mean. My other buddy and I were lifers, insiders, and we knew the ropes. I loved being an insider.

I listened primarily to sacred music, with an occasional song that had that demonic syncopated rhythm, you know, the kind that makes plants shrivel and die. I played Christian basketball and Christian soccer, and went to Christian arts competitions. I ran in Christian marathons and sang in Christian cantatas. I went to chapel once a week to sing and listen to another preacher share another message. (that’s four messages a week not counting Bible class) I memorized half the New Testament. Our school would take a whole book and polish it off bit by bit throughout a school year. What makes that even more astounding is that I memorized it in the King James Version. Sure, there were times I didn’t know what I was saying, but the point is that I was getting the Word in me and “It won’t return void”, at least that’s what they kept telling me.

I graduated from a Christian High School and quickly transplanted to a conservative Christian Bible College, Baptist even. Lord knows that I couldn’t handle being out of the bubble too long before encountering shortness of breath and unspeakable temptation. I attended there four years and acquired a degree in Youth Ministry. I went from there right into the youth pastorate and have been doing full time ministry ever since. Other than working at a Fruit Farm during the summers, I was pretty much quarantined from the contagious virus of secular society for the last 31 years.

I’m not saying that I didn’t go to the mall or hear rock music in the grocery store on occasion, but the bulk of my time has been spent in the cocoon of Christianity. It has protected me from much harm to be sure, but it has also bred in me a mindset that is very destructive. I tend to be suspicious of outsiders. I was taught to fear them and flee them. They were guilty until proven innocent. That tends to infect you with a critical eye and cautious heart in their presence…I think they can smell it, too.

This verse has deconstructed so many harmful patterns I’ve developed over the years. I no longer have the “break the door down” approach to evangelism. I want for God to “open doors”, and he regularly does, especially when I pray for it like this verse suggests. I also have become more comfortable with the gospel being a mystery. No longer do I have to “dumb down” the gospel in order for people to “understand” it. I think one of the most compelling facets of my new found faith is the texture that mystery has added to a, once, bland understanding of God. I love sharing with people the mind bending nature of God and leaving them awed at the unexplainable, yet undeniable beauty of the mystery of His heart.

It’s a paradox, however, because this verse bids us to present the mystery “clearly”. But this is not unnerving to me anymore, because along with mystery, I’ve cleared out some space in my heart for “paradox” as well. Somehow, I don’t have to sugar coat God, but I also need to make sure I’m taking great pains to present him purely and accurately. I don’t want people to walk away from me with a distorted and diseased idea of God, I’m responsible to clearly communicate his mysterious love.

This is the part of love, “be wise in the way you act toward outsiders”. I get that. We have our inside jokes and our inside language and our inside friendships. The problem with outsiders is that have an outlook. And their outlook is vastly different from an insiders “inlook”. When we don’t take that into consideration, seeking wisdom in our relationship with those who don’t have the same outlook, we get cocky and snooty. We tend to expect the world to be wise in the way they act toward us. We wait for them to get a clue and meet us where we’re at in our understanding. The Bible is clear, it is our responsibility to act with wisdom in our relationships with the world, not vice versa. We are the ones who must adjust our conversations and adapt our interests and alter our agendas to meet them where they’re at instead of forcing them to climb up into our ivory tower of understanding.
I want my conversations to be flavored with a submissive spirit toward the world. I am their servant. I am seeking to understand them first. I am listening to their views first. I am going to their world first. There is nothing quite so beautiful as the feet of one who moves toward the world in humble love. God, teach me this virtue.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Cud #23

New International Version

“When I consider the heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet.” - Psalm 8:3-6

This question of man’s worth has been posed for countless centuries and it only seems to be picking up speed recently in circles of theological debate. I can readily see the argument for seeing humans as piles of worthless dung. Just as this Psalmist notes, compared to the vastness of the universe and the understandable busyness of God to care for each component of creation, man has to rate somewhere between the lint in my navel and the scab on my elbow.

“What is man that you (God) are mindful of him?” Where do we fit in the universal pecking order? What could we possibly possess that makes us worthwhile? Could it honestly be true that God’s “mind is full” of me? Compared to the infinite galaxies sprawling beyond the tracing of our understanding, how could we be of any value whatsoever in the grand scheme of things? All these comparisons and queries are valid and reasonable. It does seem quite absurd that we should hold our head high as if we mattered in the light of eternity. “Who do we think we are anyhow?” Something feels humanly right about coming to the conclusion that I am no one special and worth less than nothing. It’s almost as if we like the masochistic approach to finding the meaning of our lives. It’s easier than wrestling with the possibility that we have inherent worth bestowed upon us by our Creator. It’s simpler to live as if we have nothing to offer. That abdicates our responsibility to leverage our worth conscientiously and passionately.

David answers the age old question immediately as if to diffuse all doubts and to dispel all myths. Human beings, against all reasonable doubt, have been crowned with a glory that exalts them to the highest seat of honor in all of creation. What is this glory that messes up all mathematical equations and the seamless arguments of the apologist? What is this honor that adorns humanity like the royal robe of a king? Has King David lost his marbles asserting such humanistic heresy? Is this just the wishful thinking of a man who can’t stomach the reality that he is but a dust mite and his value that of rabid gnat? Or does this King understand the merit of the human soul, the “weight of glory” as C.S. Lewis called it. Like it or not, we are immortal beings created to live forever. We are not disposable and we cannot be extinguished from existence. Our spirits are everlasting and their value is directly adjoined to the value of God. To demoralize ourselves would be to spit upon the image of God, for we are bearing that mark. To trivialize our place in this world would be to downplay and belittle the very Creator who shaped us in his likeness.

Everything is under our feet, that is to say we are the kings and queens of creation second in command only to His Majesty. Giving ourselves credit or value doesn’t in any way contradict or challenge God’s measureless and boundless significance, in fact, it argues for it. There is no greater witness to the worth of God than the living likeness of a human being. When we reason, we do so with an inherited mind. When we feel, we do so with an endowed emotion. When we act, we do so with bestowed breath. Our glory is but a shadow of his presence. Our honor is simply a shaft of his resplendence. To live in self-denial, self-abasement, and self-mutilation, is to mar and scar the image meant to point people to the substance.

I want to promote the glory of the human heart. I want to celebrate the image of God born out in the presence of a person fully alive. I want to validate our worth in a Christian world hung up on self-deprecation and self-depreciation. There is a bigger message than original sin, it’s original glory. It preceded the fall and it will not be snuffed out by the doctrine of human depravity. We are sinners, yes, but we are first image-bearers. Let us not forget where we came from in our effort to make sense of where we are. We have meaning. We matter. We are the crown of creation bearing the glorious image of our beautiful Creator. Soiled though it is, sullied with the mud flung by well meaning Christians, our glory latently pulsates below waiting to be unveiled. This glory makes life worth living.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Strand #22

1 Corinthians 2:1-5 (New International Version)

“1 When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. 2 For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. 4 My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, 5 so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power.”

In an age of dirty religion known for ebullient ministers giving eloquent sermons from elegant pulpits, we need to digest these verses. So many pastors are lauded for their stellar performances each weekend that I think they’re developing superiority complexes. It only galvanizes their misled pursuit of professionalism. I, for one, constantly have to fight the urge to plasticize myself sharing only those facets that showcase my strengths.

Check out the things that Paul seems to counter-intuitively divulge about his ministry mindset. He wasn’t banking on his slick speeches or witty wisdom to wow people into a conversion. He wasn’t hiding his weaknesses or fears behind a generic smile of confidence projecting himself as the churches “spiritual specialist”. His message and his preaching were less flashy and more fleshy (much different than fleshly). He had stopped the persuasive gimmickry and the motivational pep talk approach to presenting Christ. He wasn’t even afraid to look afraid anymore. Trembling was a part of the paradigm. It was if he had tried the modern ministry motif of his day, and had given up on it altogether.

I think people are sick of following power pastors. The slight of hand and spiritual smoke screens aren’t fooling anyone anymore. They look at the sharply dressed man standing behind the lectern wearing a lapel mic and wonder what’s he’s really like. They know they’re not getting the whole story. They know that there’s more than meets the eye going on behind the curtain. They know he has to be lost for words sometimes or gripped by fear or wrestling with questions…though they have yet to hear him admit these inner conversations. They want to see a chink in the armor, not to say, “I thought so!” but more, “I hoped so!” I think people want to see the full orbed Christian life modeled by their leaders…the good, bad and ugly.

And the best part about this is that God demonstrates his power when we stop projecting ours. When we shed the shell of professionalism, we get a peek at what life looks like when the Spirit is running the operation. No more putting your best foot forward every Sunday morning. No more clever spin doctoring of personal failure. No more editing of the less than comely parts of being a pastor while also being a human. And you know what; I think it would be less schizophrenic than the lifestyle of living with a secret identity. I think sometimes the term “pastor” is an alias of paralysis. A fictitious pseudonym that we can live to glue together, prop up and hide behind.

If weakness and fear and trembling are not a regular part of my message, I have disqualified myself from ministry. God’s power can only be unleashed when I take off the “power tie” and tell my ego where to get off. The masquerades and charades have to stop. It’s about Christ crucified, and that doesn’t get across to people until I’m crucified first.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Flake #21

New International Version

“My roots will reach to the water, and the dew will lie all night on my branches. My glory will remain fresh in me, the bow ever new in my hand.” – Job 29:19-20

There is nothing that scares me more than getting old. It’s not the loss of eyesight or hearing or teeth either. I think it’s the loss of heart I see in so many that tumble into adulthood. No longer curious, they are satisfied with easy answers. No longer adventurous, they are satisfied with comfortable surroundings. It’s like their roots rot and their dew dries. They get hollow, withered and brittle. The verdant and vibrant freshness of their soul surrenders and gives up the ghost.

I read this verse and it captures in poetic language what I yearn for as I age. Like wine, I dream of getter better with age. I want deeper roots pressing down into the dark, moist, rich soil of the soul. I want there to be a greenness about my lifestyle that drips with the nectar of hope and passion and possibility. When people rub up against me, I want them to get soaking wet with wonder and expectancy. I want my spirit to ooze a profound “Yes” so that others find themselves refreshed in my presence.

When I think of “glory”, I think of that God-image that was kissed into us by the lips of our Creator. I believe there is a way of staying in touch with this glory that causes some to have a greater capacity of inspiration. They ascend to a higher plain of passion and purpose producing a magnetic freshness that is infectious and contagious. I want that part of me to be peeked and poised as I get older. I don’t want that to be the portion of my life that gets buried under the debris of duty. I want to remain “gloriously” fresh.

“The bow ever new in my hand.” What an awesome way of looking at things that can become familiar. Instead of familiarity breeding contempt, there is a regeneration of newness that makes the commonplace surprisingly new. The idea is that the older I get, the newer I become. My body grows old as my spirit grows new. I want preaching to be newer with every sermon. I want writing to be more innovative. I want relationships to be more inspiring. I want marriage to grow in romantic intimacy. I want fathering to be fresh. I want friendships to be expanding to higher levels of honesty and depth. “The old has gone, the new has come.” 2 Cor. 5:17

Here’s some dew that was laying on my branches recently…

I find myself wandering, which leads to wondering.
This quest for the “tree of life” leads to questions…
“What am I here for?”
“What was I made to be in the beginning?”
“What would happen if Eden was released inside me again?”
I’m left with wishful thinking and thoughtful wishing.
Is it me or are we meant to be more than what we’ve settled for?
Something in me resists asking that question,
Yet, at the same time, I feel unable to stop it from surfacing.
It’s like I can run, but I can’t hide
from the whisper within telling me another story about my life.
Part of me wants to make like I don’t hear that persisting voice
and the safer side of me gravitates
to nurturing life’s smaller dreams.
Meager, yet manageable.
Small, but simple.
Dwarfed, but doable.
These serve as a tiny vent to the billowing dreams within,
but fail in there attempt to appease the original longings of the heart.
Dreams and desires give way to little lives
and I sit here again on the porch of paralysis.
What was made to soar sours.
What was crafted to run rots.
What was wired to dance dies.
What was designed to sing sighs.
With every passing day, I lose heart.
Within wearied hands I clutch the dreams
slipping from my feeble fingers.
Pulling ever so harshly against me
is the world of temporary pleasure
and I’m tempted to yield to its overwhelming advantage.
But I don’t. I can’t.
I’ve tasted the goodness of tears spilling from a noble heart.
I’ve heard the sound of a thousand tongues singing the tune of eternity.
I’ve felt the stirring of a joyful presence
tugging me toward the unknown.
I’ve caught a glimpse of what could be and what should be
and can’t settle for anything else or less.
Why can’t I just let go?
Maybe because I would start dying upon the release.
Maybe because I see the wonderful world of immortals laughing at the
ignorance of a soul who would set down a ruby to pick up a rock.
And so I hold on to my heart…and dream.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Kibbles and Bits #20

New International Version

“Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue, but with actions and in truth.” – I John 3:18

I’m full of it. “Full of what?” you might ask. Full of the stuff that has brought disgrace to the reputation of God over the last couple millenniums. Full of religious gibberish. I can be a bag of hot air filled with endless, empty words. Talk is cheap and I can be the biggest cheapskate on the block. I can speak with convincing conviction about complete nonsense. I can come across believable when I’m struggling to believe what I’m saying. I’m full of it, from head to toe. I can wag my tongue until in cramps.

It’s almost as if God is saying, “Shut up would ya’! Enough already with the religious rhetoric, you’re making me sick.” I don’t want to do this anymore. I don’t want to give the world any more cause to hate Christians. We are communication Casanova’s tickling ears until they’re cherry red. We have radio stations, television networks, and bookstores. Coffee shops, concerts and conferences. We have more words plastered on t-shirts, billboards and websites than are found in the Bible. The world could give a rat’s rump about our next New York Times bestseller. They could care less about our broadcasts or podcasts. They are looking for a move, not a mouth. They’re getting ear fatigue. I don’t blame them.

They want to see some action. They want to see the hungry fed and the naked clothed. They want to see our hands dirty and our eyes bloodshot. They are dying to know whether we mean what we say when we preach about having a burden for the world. Though they’ve heard enough, they haven’t seen enough. As it says in the Gettysburg address, “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.” No wonder so much evaporates into thin air around the church. There’s little memory of that which costs no more than words.

It seems to me that an apology is in order from the church to the world. A personal confession of sorts asking forgiveness for the verbal abuse we’ve dished out over the years. The draft might go a little something like this, “It seems contradictory that we are using words to apologize for words, but a letter is long overdue cataloging our disgraceful conduct as a band of people claiming to represent God. For a people so avid about following the “Word made flesh”, we have done a wonderful job of turning him back into words. You must know that it was never supposed to be this way. We were supposed to carry on the legacy of living out our values instead of crafting them into clever acrostics and cheesy marquee signs. We know better than to rely on words to convey the deepest mystery of the gospel. We have traded incarnation for information and you are paying the price for our deliberate disregard of Jesus teaching to love with action and truth. We have not visited the sick, taken in the stranger, fed the hungry, hugged the unlovely, adopted the orphan or provided for the poor. We cannot blame anyone but ourselves for this gross disfigurement of God’s face in this world. For all the damage we have caused with our empty words and lofty sermons, we humbly seek your forgiveness. Though this simple letter could never make up for the carnage we have caused, I hope that it at least demonstrates our deepest sorrow for not loving you enough to act on our beliefs. I hope that I can give you more than my word when I say that we will do our best to show our love with our life from this day forward. Again, I am sorry for the hurt we have caused since the departure of Jesus. He is not to blame for the mess we’ve made.”

So much more could have been said, but I guess that would be too easy. The best apology we could make would be to start taking action. God, don’t let me find satisfaction in giving picturesque descriptions…move me into need and help me meet it.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Slice #19

New International Version

“To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy which so powerfully works within me.” – Colossians 1:29

I struggle. I struggle a lot. Years ago, I expended tons of energy to shroud this reality under layers of togetherness. Exposure was out of the question; to me, composure equaled character. It seemed like grown ups were cover ups expecting more out of the youth than they expected out of themselves. I honestly can’t remember hearing any adult admit weakness when I was growing up. It led me to believe that my foibles were atypical and unique to me. My lust, my insecurity, my jealousy, and my fears were my issues and mine alone.

I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to read about all the nimrods and screw-ups and perverts and psychopaths and addicts in the Scriptures who aren’t afraid to shed the shell of the poser, and share their honest to God feelings and dealings. Noah was a naked drunk, Abraham was a liar, Jacob was a conniver, Moses was a murderer, Samson was a numbskull, David was an adulterer, Solomon was a ladies man, Jeremiah was a basket case, Jonah was a bigot, Peter was a loudmouth, Paul was an egotist, and these are just a few of the characters that make up the mosaic of the messed up morons used by God to get the message out.

“Struggling with all his energy…” If I must struggle, and I must, I want to do it with the energy of God. There is a God-energy that is available to those who willingly enroll in the adventure of the Christian life. It is so easy to tackle tasks that I can accomplish with my own energy and pass up any undertaking that goes beyond my capacity. God energizes the ones who join the struggle to advance the kingdom. I have felt surges of that energy at times when I knew I had bumped up against the ceiling of my own ability and was relying solely on the capabilities of God. I wonder how much God-adrenaline I have passed up simply because I stay close to shore in my attempt to control outcomes. There is a rush reserved for those who place themselves in the fat middle of the wrestling mat and invite struggle to take its best shot.

“…which so powerfully works within me.” I’m a realist just like the next guy. I find it hard to believe God is shacking up inside the likes of me. And it’s even harder for me to connect with the idea that he is carried away with activity under there. Yet as hard as it is to comprehend, God is running an operation inside my mess and working around the clock to empower me to meet the tasks I face. As I struggle, a power is unleashed from within to weather the storm. He is talking me through trauma and off ledges. He is releasing His Ghostly presence (I don’t generally use that term to describe the Spirit, but it seems to carry an appropriate tone to it in this case) to walk me through valleys of doubt. I believe in the mystical presence of the God-ghost within who moves powerfully in my weakness to demonstrate His energetic ways.

All this is easier said that done, I know. But somehow I feel that if it’s left unsaid, I will leave it undone.