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Friday, October 29, 2010

Tetelestai and things that are never finished.

It’s still dark outside and I just dropped Kami off at Middle School. We left the house a little early so that we could stop at McDonalds for a little daddy/daughter time before she crashes into her day. I treasure those times to be able to sit across from her and poke around her heart turning over stones. I’m sort of nosey when it comes to my daughters. Kami still loves being interrogated with questions, so her tender heart welcomes these little daddy dates.

Right now, I’m sipping my Grand Rapids City Blend medium coffee at Ella’s Coffee Shop and peering out the window with sleepy anticipation. It’s still darker than my coffee outside, but the lights of passing cars and the glow of the eastern horizon are a harbinger of the twists and turns of another Fall Friday. The world is waking up and I’m watching it with sleepy seeds lodged in my tear ducts.

Heidi and I have been painting the exterior of our house recently. It’s been so fun. We are running out of good weather by the day so time is of the essence. I hope to finish up the painting today, but the most difficult parts of the house are before me. Cy Floyd brought out a boom with a bucket, so I feel like a power line electrician what with all the electronic controls and the hydraulic extensions. Last night, I painted the highest point of my house where the ridge of the roof comes together. I felt like I was on a ride at the fair as I swung out and extended as far as the lift would take me. The bucket would bounce with the wind and as I looked down at the braced base keeping me from tipping over, I felt my insides tighten with anxiety. Not the kind of anxiety that is paralyzing, but the kind that leaves an aftertaste making you hungry for more.

I also switched out three exterior tights yesterday, and not just changing the bulb, which to this point has been the extent of my electrical expedition. I actually went to Lowes, purchased three fixtures, got the tools I needed, took out the old units, and preceded to replace them with the new ones. At first they didn’t work and I shook my head in dismay not knowing how to troubleshoot the problem. But as I thought through the installation steps I had taken, one thing came to mind that nagged me. When I twisted the wires together I felt like I may not have taken enough time to ensure good connection between the house wires and the fixture wires.

I took them apart again and spent extra time making sure that I twisted them together with the plastic nut that forces them together tightly. I fasted them to the brick on either side of the garage, went inside where the light switch is and turned them on. Because of my limited background as an electrician, I pessimistically anticipated failure. Much to my alarm, the lights worked and put off a small glow just as I imagined they would. I felt a surge of fulfillment course through my veins like my blood was filled with the colored sugar of a pixie stick. I was high on accomplishment.

As I cleaned the area and swept up the broken glass from the old fixtures, it was the best feeling in the world to know that I pressed toward the growing edges of my capabilities. I basked in the joy of setting out to do something and then executing the task to completion. It even felt good to experience the struggle of misassembled parts forcing me to scratch my head and stroke my chin in puzzled bemusement until the light went on (no pun intended) and I tracked the problem to its source coming up with the solution that led to success.

I realized that ministry doesn’t provide the same feeling very often. When you’re painting you know what you did and what you have left to do. When you’re installing a light fixture, you tear out the old and put in the new, and it’s done. You get to stand back and bask in the movement from what was to what is. You have more finality. You know when you’re done.

In ministry, I will paint someone and they will either unpaint themselves in the meantime or paint over what I painted with an entirely different color. I will change a broken fixture, install a new one and when I see them again, the old one will be reinstalled and the new one will be on the ground next to it. I will plant a tree in the front yard and the next day it will uproot and plant itself in the back yard. I feel like I’m constantly repainting, reinstalling, and replanting. The job in never quite done, and just when you think it is, it’s not. The point I’m trying to make is that enough is never enough and you never enjoy a sense of completion. You never reach a destination; you’re just on this never-ending pilgrimage “toward”.

So that’s why physical labor feels so good. When you mow your lawn, it’s mowed. When you paint your house, it’s painted. When you plant your bushes, they are planted. And you can sit back and bask in the feeling of accomplishment, a job well done. And that feels so good.

Sometimes when your world is surrounded by the nebulous unquantifiable world of spiritual growth, it’s refreshing to attach to the tactile world of physical labor. You can lay your head on the pillow at night and muse: “I did this and that today and it’s done. All done.”

And then I can feel the heart of Jesus when he said, “It is finished.”

Tetelestai.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Surgical Touch of a Parent...

I went on a triple daddy date last night with my three beauties. We sat in a restaurant and devoured food together like ravenous beasts, scavenging varmints. I love sitting at a table with them and sharing conversation over food.

This particular date, I decided to bring along a journal with a red pen. The whole way to the restaurant they were drilling me with questions about the notebook. “Why are you bringing it with us? What is it for? Etc.” When we finally arrived, I left it in the car and Aly reminded me, “Dad, don’t forget the notebook!” Oh, yeah. I almost forgot.

Honestly, I didn’t have a clue as to why I was compelled to bring the notebook on our date. I just wanted to be ready for something unexpected, just in case. I had no plan of attack, but my daughters thought I did. They were little “Curious George’s” about the mysterious journal and its purpose on our escapade. Unbeknownst to them, I was making it up as I went. But there’s something fun about adlib.

As we ordered our meal and consumed the bottomless rolls doused in butter, I cracked open the notepad, took the pen, and wrote something atop the first page: “The First Memory of My Childhood”. They tilted their heads trying to read what I scrawled on the page. Kami and Taylor had to read almost upside down since they had the misfortune of being on the other side of the table. Almost in unison they said what is the kneejerk expression of a childhood ego, “Can I go first?”

I started with Kami and gave her a few chances to retrace her childhood for first streams of consciousness. What glory flowed from her remembrances. I worked from my eldest to my second-born and finally my youngest. I was enjoying watching their eyes look up into the empty air and off to their left accessing the lobes of their brain that store the data and drama of story. There are few things that make my daughters come more alive than rehearsing memories.

I moved to the next page and wrote on the top of the page: “Most painful things I have ever had happen to me.” They exploded with memories of broken arms, falling off bikes, emergency room visits and the quintessential “car accident” with their mother. They love talking about stories of physical pain inflicted and endured.

Topic #3 – “Who do you look up to?” Taylor was first this time and she quickly looked up toward the sky (rather ceiling since we were in a restaurant) and pointed to God in heaven. I had to rephrase my question since she was thinking about up as a direction instead of an affection. As they shared their hero’s and mentors, I probed into the why behind their answers and mined out some helpful content. Kami said she looked up to Leslie (our youth pastor’s wife) and I asked her if she ever talks to her and she said, “No, because I don’t have any problems yet.” Hahaha. I was pleased to see that all our girls still consider their mom and dad to be atop the list of “looked up to” souls.

The next pages cataloged topics like: “What is the scariest memory you have?” and “What was your favorite memory?” and “What do you wish we could do this next year?” That one brought about lively conversation. They started with temporary things like Disney and selfish desires, but each of them moved to things like “visiting an orphanage or adopting a child”. They have such a heart for kids that have very little, stateside or overseas. We talked about how cool it would be to care for people in an orphanage and when we could take a trip as a family to a place like Africa or South America. I really want to do that.

We ended with the question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Aly wants to work at a bookstore or train animals. Taylor wants to be a masseuse or a veterinarian. Kami wants to be a combination of a realtor, cake decorator, NICU-nurse, gymnast and photographer. It will be fun to watch these desires unfold into what will really capture their heart into their adolescence and beyond.

They want to do more things as a family. They want a dog. They want a teahouse in a tree house built in the backyard in the clump Ash. They want to adopt. They want to watch home movies as a family more. They want one more trip to Disney…especially the Animal Kingdom. They want to write a song and sing it as a family in our church (we’ll see about that one).

All in all, my girls have all kinds of dreams and desires, memories and moments, wounds and wonderments….and I love spelunking into the caves with them to extract these things from their little hearts. They are learning to articulate and express these things that have wordlessly been stored away in their souls, latently waiting to be exhumed and exposited for further discovery.

It’s so easy to just go to dinner and think that is a date. But the date begins when you take your surgeon’s scalpel and perform an operation on your children’s hearts. We simply mustn’t settle for empty exercises as the end of the means. They are a means to the end. The end being where it all begins, heart connection of the richest fare.

Children are gift of God, blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.

Friday, October 22, 2010

My daughter's hero...the "Daddy" Action Figure...

Life has become a race to see how long I can maintain the lead in being my daughter’s hero. There are other competitors vying for the top spot. I can see them catching up to me as I circle the track. They used to be so much further behind than they are now; I used to think they couldn’t possibly challenge my position as the frontrunner. I no longer feel so confident.

I can hear the pounding furry of feet on the track right behind me. Not just one challenger, but a pack of challengers eager to usurp my rightful place and to take the lead. It scares me that someone other than Heidi or I might “take the lead” in my daughter’s lives, but there’s coming a day. If it doesn’t happen through the tension of peer pressure in school, there will be man who will intersect their life and take their tender eyes off of me. He will take the lead, take them from me…I will fall into second place and increasingly eat the dust his heels kick up. I’m having a hard time knowing that “second place” is on the horizon one way or another.

Right now, I’m the man in their lives. They kiss me and me alone. They snuggle with me and me alone. They pray with me and play with me…I am the boy in their little world. I am the strength they rest under; I am the male figurehead, the masculine presence that functions as the “joy of their desiring”. I am. Other boys might induce a crush, but their love for me crushes any crush, outloves any love. I stand alone as the defender of their hearts. Not to be sacrilegious, but in their eyes, “I am that I am”. They don’t know any differently, not yet anyway. But they will; it’s only a matter of time.

Right now I get the sense that they would buy an “action figure” of me if it were available at Toys ‘R Us. (I’ve been thinking about creating one for them.) I can sense at times that I am that heroic to them. That otherworldly. Just last week I was singing a song I wrote for them and the way they looked at me spoke of something akin to “worship”…hero worship. As I was finishing the song I shuttered at the place I have in their hearts right now. I am still in “first place”. I may not be for long, but for now I am and it’s a powerful treasure to hold in the palm your hand. I have them wrapped around my finger. But the tie is loosening with every year.

They will increasingly come to realize that I am far from the “I AM”. In many ways, they will see very clearly that my name is “I AM NOT”. I am not the all-seeing one, the all-knowing deity, and the all-powerful figure of indestructible, impenetrable strength. They will increasingly see my flaws, the chinks in my armor, and the thorns in my side. They will come to know my gaping gaps…my mortality, my humanity.

But for now “I am”. I am their picture of God. I play a God-like role in their world. I paint the picture of what it feels like to be loved by God, touched by God, talked to by God, hugged by God, kissed by God, watched by God, swung around by God, read to by God, whispered “I love you” by God. I still am “action hero”-worthy in their eyes.

The last few days, I can hear the sound of feet catching up to me. I am in first place today, but there is coming a day when I may not even be in the race in their eyes. I will be on the sidelines cheering them on as their biggest fan. It is a hard transition from the frontlines to the sidelines. But in either role, they will know that I am “for” them…completely and competitively for them.

Today “I am”.

Tomorrow “I am not”.

Carpe Diem.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Naked Thoughts of a Pastor...

I thought I would take you spelunking down into the heart of a pastor. I don’t know if you want to know what dwells deep down in the cave of the pastor’s soul. I don’t know if these caverns will offer you a glimpse that helps or hurts your pilgrimage of faith. I don’t know because I don’t think pastors often feel the freedom to share openly and so we don’t know what would happen if they did. There isn’t good intel because there aren’t many case studies; sufficient data hasn’t been compiled because we don’t have the lab rats who have surrendered themselves to research for the benefit of the next generation. It’s dangerous to share your naked thoughts before a clothed world, especially as a leader of “the clothed ones”. A “man of the cloth” dare not over-share and remove the “cloth” and with it the clout.

But, nonetheless, here are some of my naked thoughts. I’m sorry if they unnerve you. I assure you, they unnerve me all the more; they happen to be happening inside my chest cavity...

- I can’t believe how other people affect me. I know this could be touted as a badge of honor, but it is a double-edged sword. It is the key to the shepherding instinct and it is also the key point of entry for the enemy to devour your innards.

- The undulations of people’s emotions deeply impact the quality of my life. I wish it were not so. I wish I could exist painlessly apart from the goings on of other people’s stories, but alas, my day rides the roller coaster of people’s ever-changing circumstances, and their actions and reactions to that set of circumstances.

- I am racked with doubt on certain days as to whether anything I’m doing is making any sort of “deep difference”. I see the superficial difference all the time, the pats on the back, the “good sermon pastor”, etc. Those things are a dime a dozen. But the anchored life change over the long haul, the setting of your gaze to the plow and not looking back, the enduring and abiding change wrought by the Spirit of God…that is rare indeed. Am I a voice of one crying in the wilderness? Does what I do matter or am I all wrong in my approach?

- I am embarrassed to admit this. I shutter to share, but there are times when people say they won’t be at church for the weekend—especially when I’ve heard it a couple times from a couple of different people in a short period of time—I feel impending doom cover me like ominous, depressing clouds. I know my spirit should not be daunted by people not attending church because they are going up north for a color tour, or taking a couple weeks off to hunt for mushrooms, or checking out for a season because their kids are in sports, or—and this one is killer—they are just tired and need a week to catch their breath. This should not affect me as it does. I should understand people’s needs and the complex lives they lead and live. I shouldn’t look toward the weekend with doom thinking that everyone is bailing and the movement is in jeopardy, but I struggle to not go to that place.

- I tire of hearing people’s stories. There is nothing I love more than hearing the backstory of someone’s life, and yet I find myself burdened to carry the weight of someone else’s disappointment and regret. I feel guilty that I don’t know everyone’s name let alone their story. I feel like my brain is seized at times like a computer screen frozen in place, crashing under the weight of overload. I know that I’m not alone and that others are doing things I can’t and listening to lives that I can’t and leading people that I can’t, but there is this nagging sense that people are mad at me because I don’t talk to them enough or inquire of their lives enough or meet with them enough or care about them enough. I can’t shake this feeling that people are mad at me. Sometime I even wake in the morning dreading my day because all I can think about is “how many people I’m going to let down” compared to the “few that I’m going to help”. I will hear people say in my head, “You spent time with them, but not me! You helped them, but you didn’t help us! What about me? Are you ever going to get in my life?” I live with these voices screaming at me. I know that I do what I do for God, but knowing that doesn’t always make these feelings of being a disappointment go away.

- I struggle with being mad at people for their presuppositions and angles and agendas that they project onto me, push onto me. I can hear it in people’s questions and their statements. I hate it when people share with me their experiences and want me to carry on those experiences. They want me to implement their “pet ministry”. They want me to love the bible study that changed their life as much as they do. They want their ideas and their good memories to be perpetuated and propagated through my ministry. If they are about Worship, they want to peddle their wares of worship, if they are into bible study, all roads lead to bible study…and not just any bible study, but the particular bible study that changed their life because that is the best one in the whole wide world. If they are into social justice, I must be an activist with a firm grasp of compassion ministries because the bible clearly says that true religion visits the poor and the orphans and the widows…all other religion is rubbish. People tend to think they are unique, like they are the only one who is sharing with me their opinions about what is best and what worked for them and what should happen next and what would change everything, if only… And all the while, I carry the myriad of opinions not wondering at all whether they are all good, they are indeed, but wondering obsessively about which ones I should heed and champion, if any, knowing that if I choose one, I won’t choose ten which translates into 1 person loving me and 10 people hating me. I wish God would just tell me what he wants, but I don’t get a memo from him like pastors do on TBN unfortunately. I’ve been waiting for that day, but until them, I have to listen to people, seek the Lord and His Word, consult with wise counsel, and come to a decision based on discernment. There is no silver bullet, though I think others think pastors possess one.

- I have a hard time sleeping during certain seasons of ministry. I’m tired beyond description, but I can’t bed down for some reason. My mind is restless with thoughts of implosion, thoughts of personal incompetency, thoughts of potential miscommunication that leads to miscommunity, thoughts of mistakes and failures that are inevitable. I get scared that I’m missing something, forgetting something, living in denial of something. I fear that I’m out of balance and that my kids are witnessing my gradual demise. I’m overwhelmed by the plethora of decisions that demand clear thinking, godly perspective, unbiased leadership, sharp intelligence, masterful management, and humble-hearted teamwork without faking a false humility to get a desired outcome. Sometimes I lay in bed and I can’t make sense of what I’m thinking because it’s so bizarre that it isn’t tethered to rational thought. I go from fearing there is sin in my life to wishing I could fly to Europe to wanting to go into my kids bedrooms to pray over them to role-playing meetings that I’m going to have the next day and what I’m going to say if they say this or that. I will have “meetings before the meetings” that last longer than the actual meeting. The worst part is that most of what I was quixotically dreaming up was a waste of time because reality didn’t play out according to my worst fears. I toss and turn in a personal torture chamber of my own making.

- I worry about my age and if all the aforementioned weaknesses are telltale signs of the immaturity and prematurity of my leadership. I wonder if other leaders are even-keeled and stable because of something they’ve discovered with age that I have yet to stumble upon in my youth. I wonder about all the things I don’t know that I don’t know and what affect that is having on the people under my care. I need a sage to speak into my heart, but in his absence I mentor myself, sage myself, father myself, pastor myself…and I don’t always know if what I’m telling myself is the truth or my version of it. I don’t know if I have what it takes on certain days and for some reason the affirmation of the masses doesn’t help.

- Because of the drain and strain on my identity, I sometimes look for love in all the wrong places. Sin becomes more appealing and temptation is ratcheted upon so many notches I wonder if anyone else is being run through the gauntlet like me or if this is unique to pastors. Anger courses through my veins making me want to punch something, swear at something, and damage something. Jealousy overcomes me as I see other people living in the apparent lap of luxury and coveting their life of ease and recreation. Lust burns in me telling me that I’m missing something, that I’m wanting something that I rightfully deserve, needing something to tell me, “I like you. I want you.” And when you’re beat down and hungry for peace and joy and a life of substance, it’s amazing how vulnerable you become to sin of all shapes and sizes. You feel like you’ve done your time, paid your dues, laid down your life and now it’s your turn to be happy, your turn to sow your wild oats, your turn to chuck caution to the wind, your turn to be selfish…like all the people you’re meeting with and trying to hold together that are living for themselves. There comes a time when you want to live for yourself. You are so empty, so dry, so needy yourself that temptation whispers into your ear: “I’m here for you and I’ll take care of you.” These whispers are all around me all the time and I fight them off like hungry piranhas. The problem is that you’re so tired from fighting for everyone else, that you struggle to muster the energy to fight for yourself. It seems like life has become nothing more than moving from one battle to the next. And when something says to you: “Stop fighting and come over here and find rest”. It’s alluring. All this to say: Pastors fight temptation like nobody’s business.

I could go on…suffice it to say that I hope my cave doesn’t make you cave in. I share my cave partly because it helps me fight for what I know is true under what appears to be true. I stand naked before a clothed world beckoning them to join me in dealing honestly with life as it is, not as we wished it was. I long to lead a band of people toward stark raving honesty, not spit shined duplicity. I know of no other way to stay honest myself and breed that honesty in those around me than to bear witness to my own life in a candid instead of canned way.

Thank you in advance for treating my thoughts with grace.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Parenting 101...Broken walls into Break walls.

Last week I spent a day with God. Several church planters and myself went up north for the express purpose of drawing away from the busyness of life, the deep weeds if you will, and getting away with the Reason for it all, of it all. I had no idea how much I needed that.

On the morning of our day away we drove to the nearby town of Frankfert, MI which is a little town right on the coast of Lake Michigan. Frankfert is a village that is busy with tourism during the prime summer season, but when we were there it was a quiet and quaint location, like the kind you would see in an independent film. I'm not sure why I think that, but it seems like independent flicks are filmed in towns that have these idyllic little settings and simple people that speaks of tranquility and serenity. This was that place.

We were dropped off at the beach and every man went his separate way to find a divine little nook to be with God. Immediately my eyes peered out over the fog laden water and caught a sight that drew me like a moth to the flame. It was the top of a massive lighthouse out on the end of a long breakwall. That was my place.

I made my way to the breakwall and started the quarter mile walk out to the lighthouse. The morning was the stuff of legend...no wind, no sound, no clouds. The air was crisp like a fresh picked apple. The water was aqua like it had been treated with greenish-blue food coloring. The waves crashed into the northern side of the breakwall and the harbor on the southern interior was glassy and placid. Beautiful.

As I reached the lighthouse, I noticed a ladder that went up the side of the steel exterior leading to a balcony perched about halfway. I looked for signs of prohibition and found none, so I scaled the iron ladder and climbed into this cement nest filled with cobwebs and bird droppings. I spent a couple minutes cleaning the area with my winter gloves so that I could sit still and peaceful-like atop the fog-covered coastline. I was just above the fog making the sunrise exquisite and the mist mystic like a postcard or something.

As I sat there looking out across the peaceful harbor protected by these breakwall bastions, I was mesmerized by the metaphor right before my very eyes.

Lately I've been thinking about parenting and trying to get my mind around scatterbrain thoughts that having been bouncing around in my head. Some days I feel great about my parental exploits. Other days I feel like rubbish. My kids are moving targets growing faster than I can keep up with. So what worked yesterday has to be tweaked today, keeping me on your toes. There is no rest for the weary, or so it seems. I buckle under the weight of the calling on some days. I feel like the expectations I put on myself and the external pressures I feel with the fleeting days of influence in my girls' lives scares the daylights out of me. I don't always feel equal to the task is what I'm trying to get at.

But as I looked at that breakwall, strong and sturdy, God hit me between the eyes and under my chest cavity. "You are a breakwall, Jason. You take the hits for your girls so they have a safe harbor for their hearts." As I looked to the left of the breakwall, the waves crashed viscously against the immovable cement deadened in their attempts to reach shore and reek havoc. It took their rage, their restlessness, their danger, their damage and absorbed it, creating a peaceful place on the other side to dwell in safety and security.

"I know you feel like a broken wall, Jason, but with me you are a breakwall. I turn broken walls into breakwalls, Jason. That's what I do. That's how I roll." Broken walls into breakwalls. I nodded my head and soaked that word in.

That's the kind of dad I want to be.

Lord, make me a breakwall for my girls so when the day comes for them to be breakwalls for their kids they will have it in them to do so. You are my lighthouse, I am your breakwall.

You are the light, I am the fight.

Lamentations 2:18-19

18 The hearts of the people
cry out to the Lord.
O wall of the Daughter of Zion,
let your tears flow like a river
day and night;
give yourself no relief,
your eyes no rest.

19 Arise, cry out in the night,
as the watches of the night begin;
pour out your heart like water
in the presence of the Lord.
Lift up your hands to him
for the lives of your children,

who faint from hunger
at the head of every street.

Friday, October 08, 2010

The Third Way..."Calvinism vs. Amenianism".

The time has come to plunge into what our culture calls the “nitty gritties”. Keeping things generic and general creates a safe distance between my naked heart and the hearts of people simply because everyone can conveniently modify the things I say into their particular hermeneutic. But I want to move toward specific issues that grate my heart and have for years. I realize that I’m playing piƱata with a bees nest, but I don’t know what else to do.

For a sliver of context you must know that I grew up Baptist for the first 30 years of my life. Not just any kind of Baptist either, but the fundamentalist strain. I love many parts of my heritage and if given the choice, I would probably chose the same life due the rich indoctrination of the centrality of the Scriptures, the holiness of God, and the supremacy of Jesus. I went to a Baptist College and became a youth pastor in a Baptist church upon graduation and served there for nearly 8 years of fruitful and enjoyable ministry. I love my roots.

Nearly 6 years ago I felt called by God to go into church planting and grafted into a church plant that was a year old. One of the interesting shifts in that time was moving from a Baptist church anchored in Calvinistic heritage to a Wesleyan church anchored in an Armenian heritage. I wrestled with that move wondering if it was a lateral move, an upward renaissance, or a downward spiral. It’s funny how the dogma of your training kicks into gear when you’re considering these issues. I did not make the move without much deliberation and trepidation.

To make a long story shorter, I took the plunge (some thought I was plunging into doctrinal dissipation) and am thoroughly glad I did, if for no other reason than to see the false perceptions that both sides have of each other.

I grew up hearing that Armenians believe you can “lose your salvation”, sarcastically called “eternal insecurity”. In my six years of serving in the Wesleyan Denomination, I haven’t heard that spoken of one time. Not once. I have neither seen hide nor hair of this mindset. It seems to me that “one side” finds a hair-line fracture in the “other side” that doesn’t align with their theology, and then they give it a “scary name” to load the doctrine with emotional allergies that surface like hives in “fear-based” apologetics. I’m not sure Calvinists realize how ridiculous their claims are outside their “infighting”.

But the same is true for Armenians unfortunately. I’ve heard them talk of those who believe in “once saved always saved” as the “faith only” sect of Christianity. The sarcasm of this statement picks up on the belief that Calvinists believe that once you “say a prayer” you’re set for life and don’t have to worry about nothin’. Works are not only worthless in your salvation; they are unnecessary in your sanctification. But this couldn’t be further from my experience as a Calvinist. I never got the sense that you could do whatever you wanted once you “asked Jesus into your heart” (a theological misnomer in itself since the Spirit is the occupier of the human spirit, but who cares). That’s not what they were preaching from any pulpit I was under growing up.

In fact, I have changed nothing in my orthopraxy whatsoever because there is such an identical orthodoxy, it neither warrants is nor necessitates it. Both sides through generational brainwashing have come to despise each other when for all practical purposes neither is actualizing their theology in the extreme terms of which they are accused and demonized.

The one side scares people with the thought that you could at any time “lose your salvation without a moments notice” while the other scares people with the thought that all you have to do is “pray a little superficial prayer and then you can live like hell” when neither represents the other with even a remote sense of accuracy.

So for the next few entries, I want to talk about what I feel is the “adulterated” contagion that causes such a rift between two legitimate lines of logic. Both have cooked their own goose in my humble opinion, and I’m ashamed of both.

Could there be a third way that has eluded us?

Monday, October 04, 2010

The Third Way..."neither/nor".

Proverbs 30:6-8

7 "Two things I ask of you, O LORD;
do not refuse me before I die:

8 Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
give me neither poverty nor riches,
but give me only my daily bread.

9 Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
and say, 'Who is the LORD ?'
Or I may become poor and steal,
and so dishonor the name of my God.

______________________________

Once again, God speaks to the danger of either/or thinking. The fact of the matter is that everyone has to seek wisdom in whatever situation they find themselves. There is danger on both sides of any issue.

This passage promotes, in case you didn't see it, a neither/nor way of thinking. Which is similar to both/and, but not completely aligned. It focuses on the negatives that dwell in either polarity. Either extreme leads to a destructive end...either you disown God because you don't needs him anymore, or you dishonor him because you don't trust him anymore. Neither great options.

Jesus even quoted this very concept in the "Lord's Prayer" when he said, "Give us this day our daily bread." Based on the context of this verse, Jesus was after something greater than a "once for all" approach to godliness. It will be a daily consultation with God, a daily surrender to his move, a daily reliance on him for your sustenance, your survival. When you lock into "one or the other", you move away from him and into your sacred and secured position of self-reliance and self-settling.

"Settling" into a belief system for the sake of personal comfort takes you away from a "daily bread" openness to God. We are people who want to know where our next meal is coming from before we can relax. We want to secure our "weekly bread", or "monthly bread", our "yearly bread"...heck, who am I kiddin'...we want our "lifetime bread"! We don't want to stay in a daily conversation following God into the mystery of the moment. We want the final answer today on all questions pertaining to life and living. The more we can climb into a construct or constitution, the better we feel about ourselves.

I've noticed something about Christianity that bothers me immensely, namely, the language we chose to promote our preferred patterns of living. Books are written and the titles given to them speak a "one and only" language that easily drifts toward a pride that comes with exclusivity and polarity.

Just think about some of the books that hit the "best sellers" and what they name themselves:

"Growing Kids God’s Way" isn’t the only and best treatment on Parenting.

"21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership" isn’t the only and best book on Leadership.

"Wild at Heart" isn’t the only and best way for a man to live a wild Biblical Masculinity.

"Financial Peace University" isn’t the only and best method for experiencing Financial Peace.

"Freedom in Christ" isn’t the only and best path to finding freedom in Christ.

"The Purpose Driven Life" isn’t’ the only and best way to find purpose in life.


All of these books are great...I've read them and grafted pieces of each into the truth-trunck of my faith. But to say that any one of these is the "end all"-"know all" treatment of their respective fields of interest is to truncate truth in my opinion. Each of them isn't as important as All of them. They all "see through a glass darkly" hitting on some things and missing some things all at the same time. Each of these models needs other models to fill in their blind spots. And whether you or I know it, we all have blind spots. Every opinion has blind spots. We only see what we can see. There is no omniscient opinion other than God's and we would do well to not deify our position as the long lost "holy grail". There is only one "all-seeing eye" and it is neither you nor I.

When you write something and title it "Growing Kids God's Way"...you are not thinking rightly about yourself or God. It should be titled something like, "An exploration of God's thoughts on raising kids". This keeps us searching for the "Daily Bread" on the bottomless subject of parenting looking for God to reveal new truths that we never saw before. No matter the topic, we are only ever going to see it "through a glass darkly" and the sooner we acknowledge our inability to be the "Sovereign Sage" on particular subjects, the sooner God will speak his heart to the hearers. Our need to "lock in" causes us to come to pretty hasty and half-hearted conclusions.

So Lord, help me as I limp toward you with my mortal mind. Help me to resist settling for "either/or" when it's foolish to do so. Help me to get better at being ok with "neither/nor" when life calls for that kind of stance on an issue. And above all, help me to hold convictions without letting go of You. No matter the issue, keep my heart humble and my mind poised.

I need you, Lord. Every hour I need you. Give me this day my daily bread.

Friday, October 01, 2010

The Third Way..."avoid all extremes".

Ecclesiastes 7:16-18

16 Do not be overrighteous, neither be overwise—why destroy yourself?

17 Do not be overwicked, and do not be a fool— why die before your time?

18 It is good to grasp the one and not let go of the other. The man who fears God will avoid all extremes.

___________________________


It is very good to grasp firmly to the one without letting go of the other.


But this, for some reason, is demonized in our culture. The third party never gets traction. The Tea Party, though making a go of it, is battling a system of thought that is etched into our very souls. This thought is quite simply "either/or" thinking. We are programmed from birth to whittle every possible scenario into two categories. The capacity to dwell in between crying and vying extremes is the weakest, most atrophied, muscle in the modern human spirit. To many, it is unconscionable to "halt between two opinions", "ride the fence", or live in the "happy medium". These terms are generated to scare you out of the middle and into one or the other. It makes you feel stupid and juvenile to refuse to espouse either completely or both incompletely. This is sad.


I find the most intellectually engaged are "quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to become angry". If I could tamper with this little piece of wisdom from James 1 it would be this, "Quick to listen to the whole story, slow to form premature opinions, slow to get ticked when people don't see things your way."


Another one of my favorite texts in the Scripture says, "The man who thinks he knows something does not yet know as he ought to know." Simply put, "Stupid people think they have a corner on the truth." Arrogance and the need for control leads us to prematurely and immaturely form belief systems that are air tight and impregnable by clearly unfolding truth as it presents itself to us each and every day. I look back on about every season of my life apologetically humbled that God put up with my arrogant and myopic vantage points along the way allowing me the grace to confidently presume infallible world-views and God-views. In hindsight, I was foolishly imposing my flawed hermeneutic on those I was leading...and that with little humility and less maturity.


Again, I'm not talking about things that are clear in the Scriptures. I'm talking about things that get read into the Scriptures that need not become the focal point. The squabbling over "jots and tittles" making mountains out of molehills and, worse yet, molehills out of mountains. Sin is sin and we need not tamper with ways to make it less so. But issues, soapboxes, theological positions pieced together by, no doubt, bright and well-meaining minds should be put through the "car wash" of Ecclesiastes 7:16-18 before being deified and enshrined as God's Gospel Truth, once and for all.


This notion of calling people who want to "grasp the one without letting go of the other" a liberal group of viral vagrants is rubbish.


"The man who fears the Lord avoids ALL extremes." I think there is a way of being radical without being an extremist. But I'm not sure either word describes what God is really going after ultimately. I think when we get caught up "trying to be" something quite impressive we forget who we are in the trying. You forget "to be" when you're "trying to be". And it is in "being" that God emerges most beautifully from a human soul.


All this pressure to perform on the fringes of fanaticism hasn't gotten us anywhere in Christianity and it certainly doesn't impress God so far as I can tell.


But I'll go into that another time...